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February Blahs Busters

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail February Blahs BustersIs anyone else feeling the February blahs? It’s not uncommon to battle the blues mid-winter, so I thought I’d offer up some February blahs busters, as well as invite you to contribute yours. You won’t be surprised that they are related to diet and exercise. But that’s not only because of my profession (and passion). It’s because they truly work.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Stutz, made by actor Jonah Hill about his therapist, Phil Stutz. He wanted the wider world, particularly those who did not have access to therapy themselves, to have the tools that Dr. Stutz gave him to manage his own mental health issues. The first thing Dr. Stutz asks people to do is work on connecting with their Life Force. He represented this as a pyramid of three layers of relationships: with the physical body, with other people and with yourself.

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail February Blahs BustersThe first layer of this is to get your physical body working, in terms of proper diet, exercise and sleep. What really caught my attention was Stutz saying that improving these three things can account for 85% of the initial improvements in mental health. I repeat, 85%! And what is so empowering about this is that beneficial changes in these areas are well within our grasp.

Below are some of my favourite February blahs busters in each area. They may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how few people actually do them. And I invite you to add your favourite February blahs busters to the blog comments.

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Sliding Down a Sugary, Slippery Slope

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Sliding Down a Sugary Slippery SlopeAre you sliding down a sugary, slippery slope?  You know the one I mean.  The one that begins innocently enough in the fall with a slice (or two) of Thanksgiving pecan or pumpkin pie and then a wee bit of Hallowe’en candy a few weeks later.  You gain momentum with heaping helpings of holiday treats followed by boxes of Valentine’s chocolate.  Before you know it, you’re gathering and gobbling the Easter bunny’s chocolate eggs (not to mention, if you love them as much as I do, hot cross buns).  Suddenly, you find yourself awash in sugar.  You have more of a sweet tooth than you used to and sugary treats have become a daily ritual, not just a holiday indulgence.

Does this sound familiar?  If so, you’ve just slid down a sugary, slippery slope.  I know I have.  Read on for more about how easy it is to do this and why you really, really want to climb back up.

And I hope you’ll join me for my I’m Sweet Enough 7-day No Sugar Added Challenge (more on this at the end of this post).

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In Search of Sisu & Scandi Winter Wisdom

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Sisu and Scandi Winter WisdomWinter “frostrates” me.  I have to work at not letting it get me down.  I was thinking recently that this coming winter might be even more challenging with the pandemic and all basically putting a chill, so to speak, on my usual ways to keep my spirits up.  My Finnish grandmother, who embodied sisu, came to mind and I said to myself “C’mon Laurie, tap into some of that sisu that Grammy Saimi passed on to you!”  Then, lo and behold, I was perusing Overdrive and The Finnish Way:  Finding Courage, Wellness and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu (by Katja Pantzar) popped up as a recommendation.  Seems Google really is listening.  So here is what I learned about sisu and the Scandinavian wisdom of hygge and lagom in my exploration of Nordic winter ways.  This winter I’m determined to chillax!

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Cultivating Resilience

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Cultivating ResilienceI want to chat a bit today about resilience. Or to use a sailing metaphor, since I am learning to sail, keeping on an even keel in rough waters.  It’s something we tend not to think much about until we realize it’s lacking.  But it is hugely important to focus on and cultivate resilience each and every day.  I chose the world cultivate carefully as it means to develop a quality but also to prepare ground for sowing or planting.  Cultivating is careful tending to facilitate growth.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

This summer certainly didn’t shape up to be what I expected.  Nor did spring for that matter and I imagine autumn will follow suit.  In fact, the biggest belly laugh I had lately came in response to one of those coronavirus jokes circulating on the internet.  I’m paraphrasing here but it was something along the lines of “anyone who was asked in 2015 ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ was wrong”.  How true!

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Rest & Digest Menu

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Rest & Digest Menu This is the companion menu for my previous blog post, What Happens in Vagus Doesn’t Stay in Vagus.  In it, I discussed how the vagus nerve sends its “rest & digest” and anti-inflammatory signals using a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.  As you might have gathered from the name, choline is a major component.  The body cannot produce choline, so it must come from your diet.  The “acetyl” part comes from acetyl coenzyme A.  This is produced when we metabolize dietary fats and sugars.  Keeping this metabolic pathway humming along requires carnitine (found primarily in animal foods), vitamins B1, B2, B3, chromium, lipoic acid and Co-Q-10.

So I designed this menu to feature choline-rich foods such as eggs, chicken, peanuts, cod and broccoli.  Frankly, if you want a megadose of choline, beef liver is your best bet but I know that it isn’t in everyone’s top 10, or even top 40, so I didn’t feature it here.  I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention that beef liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there so you might want to consider developing a taste for it (and always buy organic when it comes to liver).   I also designed the menu so that it meets the daily requirements for vitamins B1, B2 and B3 (in fact, it has double the B3) and to include foods containing the other nutrients mentioned.

Below, I shine the nutritional spotlight on eggs and broccoli.  But the key is to eat a variety of quality, whole foods with a rainbow of vegetables.  Or, as Dr. Navaz Habib said in his book, eat “green, clean and lean”!

And do as the man pictured above does!  Okay, maybe the hand mudra is a bit much but the best way to get into “rest & digest” mode is to take some time to breathe deeply and be present while you are eating!

Sign up here to receive the recipes for this month’s menu.  I hope you enjoy them and share them with your family and friends!

Rest & Digest Menu

Breakfast: Spinach & Goat Cheese Omelette (enjoy an orange on the side and it will contribute vitamins B1, B2 and B3)

Lunch:  Chicken, Broccoli & Apple Slaw with Peanut Sauce (whip this up in no time using PC Organics Broccoli Slaw – leftovers store well for 3 days)

Dinner: Coconut Cod Tacos with Mexican Black Bean Salad (this dinner alone has 22 grams of fibre to feed the good bacteria in your gut)

Join The Nutritional Reset community here to receive this month’s menu today (as well as each month to come)!  And read on for some nutritional tidbits about a few foods featured in the recipes…

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What Happens in Vagus Doesn’t Stay in Vagus

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail What Happens in VagusThis month I thought I’d talk about what happens in vagus.  No, that is not a typo. I don’t mean Vegas, the land of mega flashy casino-hotels, but vagus as in the vagus nerve. I have just spent the last several days wandering around vagus and I must report that what happens in vagus doesn’t stay in vagus. And, not only that, gambling with the health of your vagus nerve is not an optimal strategy.  Yet many of us do this unknowingly. Let me explain…

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Stress Less Menu

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Stress Less MenuThis is the companion menu for my previous blog post, Stress Less This Summer.  As promised, it focuses on foods that have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and/or promote relaxation.  These include salmon, yogurt, poultry, turmeric, green tea, dark chocolate and bananas.  I will discuss the first two below.

It also is stress-free to prepare.  The breakfast salad is pretty much a quick assembly job of readily purchased ingredients.  For lunch, make the soup on the weekend and portion it into grab-and-go mason jars for a quick reheat and eat meal.  And dinner is also a salad where the components may be prepared in advance at your leisure.  So all you need to do when you get home is toss it all together.  No cooking!  This is a mercy in this heat.  To keep you well hydrated, I’ve included a green tea lemonade you can sip on all day long.  And to keep you cool, I’ve finished the day with a frozen treat.

Sign up here to receive the recipes. I hope you enjoy my Stress Less Menu and please do share these recipes with your family and friends!

Stress Less Menu

Breakfast: Smoked Salmon Avocado Yogurt Bowls (the only stress-trigger here is finding yourself without a ripe avocado, so plan in advance)

Lunch: Lentil Masala Soup (an appetizing, aromatic, all-in-one meal with loads of satiating protein and fibre)

Dinner:  Thai Chopped Chicken Salad with Peanut Sauce (to make this even simpler, you can use a prepared fresh slaw mix…I like to blend two or more of PC Kale, Broccoli or Beet Slaws….and feel free to use thawed frozen mango chunks to reduce prep time even further)

Hydrate in the heat:  Iced Green Tea Lemonade (add a pinch of Himalayan or sea salt to replenish electrolytes;  also, green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid studied for positive effects it may have on brain health and anxiety reduction )

Cooldown Dessert: Chocolate Banana Ice Cream (this is truly a revelation – frozen bananas and cacao powder whipped up into a creamy, cool, tasty treat)

Join The Nutritional Reset community here to receive this month’s menu today (as well as each month to come)!  And read on for some nutritional tidbits about a few foods featured in the recipes…

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Stress Less This Summer

Toronto Holistic Nutritionist Laurie McPhail Stress Less This SummerI simply must begin by sharing the irony here.  For this post on how to stress less this summer, I’ve been reading The Stress Solution by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee on my Kobo.  Generally, I love my Kobo.  It is handy to carry around and the highlighting and note function is useful.  When it works, that is. 

As it turns out, my Kobo has become as buggy as a sticky, humid Toronto summer day.  While reading this book, it crashed more times than I can count (pretty much every time I opened it).  I’d dutifully reboot but then it always put me back to the beginning of the book and randomly removed highlights I had made.  In short, reading The Stress Solution on my Kobo totally amped up my stress levels, had me looking a lot like the woman pictured at left (in terms of tearing my hair out…unfortunately my hair isn’t so nice and long and I am about a quarter-century older) and ready to commit Kobocide!

On the sunny side, however, it gave me ample opportunity to try out some of Dr. Chatterjee’s sage advice for relieving stress.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list nor a comprehensive text on stress reduction, simply a subset of suggestions that worked best for me.  Read on for my fave tips on how to stress less this summer.

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