Nourish Your Body. Feed Your Soul. Shine Your Light.

Category: Connect (Page 1 of 3)

Sharing Our Stories: Our Vulnerabilities Are Fire

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I had the privilege of being part of a special event hosted by lululemon on Monday night.

Ten women from Baltimore’s health and wellness community, were invited to share our stories of courage, bravery, and vulnerability. Each of us connected our journey with a line or phrase from lululemon’s powerful poem, Enough Already.

The room was full of passionate, powerful women committed to making a difference in their communities and in the world around them. They are business owners, athletes, dancers, yogis, mothers, sisters, friends, and teachers.

I knew one friend was going to be sharing a deeply personal part of her story for the first time publicly, and my heart broke but also cheered for her in her moment of courage.

When we create safe, inviting spaces for each other to open up and be human without shame and judgment, we give each other permission to be brave. And so often we find freedom on the other side of vulnerability.

We spoke our truths and bared our souls.

We shared our stories of abuse, bullying, loss, pride, doubt, fear, worthiness, success, setbacks and shame.

We offered each other grace, forgiveness, love, support, and compassion.

We laughed together, cried together, and danced together.

We were courageous, brave and vulnerable.

We were human.

Shout out to the lululemon team, our awesome MC Nick Ehrlich, and the other women who spoke – Mimi Washington, Dani Yarusso, Michelle Stafford, Lola Manekin, Elyza Dolby, Ardyth Hall, Jennifer Lake, Esther Collinetti, and Jessica Klaitman

Sharing our stories is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other and shed light on the dark places in our lives we hope no one ever sees.

We are more than what we’ve done, more powerful than our past, and by grace we are renewed, redeemed and remade.

The band Tenth Avenue North sums up what I think all of us were feeling on Monday night in these lyrics from their song, “You Are More.”

What a relief, a message of hope that all of us need to hear and be reminded of regularly.

It’s tempting to allow our past to define us, to continue to judge ourselves for regrettable decisions we’ve made, or to keep going on the same guilt trip over and over again to atone for our mistakes and shortcomings.

But that is not how we are called to live.

We are called to live in boldness and to stand in the truth that we are never too far gone because there is no expiration date on grace. There is no limit on love.

The story I shared was rooted in the phrase, “My vulnerabilities are fire” from the Enough Already poem.

Being vulnerable, honest, and open has been key to my growth and healing, especially over the past year. I know some of you wanted to come but weren’t able to make it, so I uploaded the video to YouTube and included it here!

It was a powerful evening, one that required each of us to show up fully and to be present and real with each other.

I was struck by how unique each woman and her story was yet how similar our shared struggles are.

The overarching messages from that night are ones that many of us struggle to believe and embrace – that we are enough, that we are worthy, that there is enough room at the table for all of us.

That each of our unique gifts, contributions, and stories are needed in this world.

That all of us are called to shine.

That we burn brighter together than we do apart.

It’s time for more collaboration and less competition.
It’s time for us to rally around each other, not talk about each other.
It’s time for us to rise up together, not push each other down on our race to the top.
It’s time to believe the truth that we are worth it.
It’s time to believe that we are enough.

 

An Unexpected Gift: It Pays to Be Kind

Be kind. 
Whenever possible. 
(It’s always possible).

I’m intentional about being kind to people.

The more days I spend on this earth, the more I realize that everyone is struggling with something or hurting in some way. Each of us is doing the best we can with the skills, tools, and support available to us in the moment. Being kind to others is the least I can do to add goodness into the world and to make someone’s day a little brighter.

Recently, I was at a store in the mall buying a few Christmas gifts.  As I went to check out, I did what I always do and asked the cashier, “How is your day going?”

She paused, looked at me with a bit of surprise and responded, “Oh, uh, wow, thanks for asking. It’s going pretty well.”

I couldn’t help but think of how many people had purchased something that day without making eye contact with her or trying to engage with her in some way. I’ve heard stories of how brutal retail can be during the holidays, as stressed out and hurried customers make last-minute purchases. The least we can do is acknowledge another person’s humanity rather than looking at our cell phones as we check out. Make eye contact. Ask how he or she is doing. Be intentional about engaging with them.

Be kind.

You may find that sometimes, in the most unexpected ways, kindness pays you back.

An Unexpected Gift

Each winter, my husband Bill and I spend a few days in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a mini-vacation. We love to walk around the shops, go out to eat and wake up without an alarm. Sometimes we even walk on the beach in our sweats. I look forward to our time there each year.

This year, on our first night there, we decided to check out a new restaurant, Henlopen City Oyster House. I’ve had good experiences using yelp! and this place got 4.5 out of 5 stars from nearly 500 reviews, so I entered into the night optimistically. We were seated at a small, cozy table backing up to the front windows.

Within about ten minutes, an older couple sat down at the table next to us. Bill had ordered a winter mule, and I got my usual hot water and herbal tea. As Bill and I were waiting for our meals to come and enjoying a beet salad, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the couple next to us were both on their phones and not saying much to each other. I was being a bit judgmental, as if I’ve never been in that situation myself…

Our meal arrived, and I could see the couple checking out our plates, so I turned to them, smiled, and said, “He got the scallops, and I got the rockfish.” They appeared a bit flustered, as though I’d caught them in the act of cheating off a neighbor’s paper, but I love engaging with people in conversations about food. I’ve asked my neighbors countless times what they’ve ordered, if it looks good to me. It was my way of connecting to them and being friendly.

We told them it was our first time dining there and asked if they’d been before. It seemed they were regulars, as they knew several people in the restaurant, including the staff. They live in Philadelphia but have a place in Rehoboth. The man told us that they’d just spent a week with family, including a two-year-old and nine-month-old grandchildren, and commented how fun but tiring it can be when kids are that little. We said the same about out our two nieces and nephew. I have no idea how my sister-in-law does it! She’s like superwoman.

The man asked Bill what he did for work, and Bill told him he is an elementary school teacher. “I was, too,” the woman chimed in. “I taught middle school.” She interrupted herself and told us to enjoy our dinner, so we got back to our conversation.

The bulk of our dinner conversation centered on reflections from the year ending and planning for the year to come. I was feeling frustrated with myself for not giving more of my time to other people. I spent so much of this year focusing on myself and recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus that I’ve been feeling selfish and self-centered. I asked several questions over dinner:

  • How do I want to spend my time in service to other people in ways that require me to sacrifice in some way?
  • What do I so deeply care about that I want to devote my time and energy to it?
  • What really stirs my heart?

Bill reminded me that the couples connection and communication workshops we are going to facilitate is one way we’ll serve the people around us in 2018. We talked about being more intentional with our giving and reconsidering some of the causes we donate to financially, so we can feel more connected to what or whom we are supporting.

As we finished up dinner and were waiting for the waiter to bring us our check, he came back to our table empty-handed. He was standing behind Bill, facing me, as he bent down and quietly said, “Your check has been paid for.” 

“What?” I asked incredulously, looking at Bill, who was equally shocked.

Our waiter averted his eyes to the couple sitting next to us, smiled, and walked away. I turned to the couple.

“Seriously?! Thank you so much. That was so kind of you!”

They smiled humbly and said, “Merry Christmas. Pass it along to someone else. Enjoy your time in Rehoboth.”

My eyes welled up with tears, and I asked if I could give the woman a hug. Her eyes were a bit glassy, too, and she hugged me back. Her name was Jean, and her partner, Mike.

In all of our years of dining out together, something like this had never happened to us, especially not for a $100 tab.

We walked out to the car giggling like five-year-olds, still stunned by the generosity of two strangers. I was struggling to rationalize why they would have done what they did because we didn’t need it. We could have paid for our dinner. In his loving and gentle way, Bill reframed the situation for me, “We just spent our whole conversation talking about different ways we can give to other people. That was a reminder that it’s okay to receive sometimes, too.”

Receiving is a gift, too. It gives others the opportunity to bless us and bring us joy. It can be so hard to receive sometimes though, can’t it? Instead of trying to rationalize why someone is being kind or generous to us, what if we were to just receive their kindness as an act of love and simply say, “Thank you”?

Starting Your Day Intentionally

As we close out this year, I encourage you to look for ways in which you can be a blessing to someone else today and every day. It is in giving that we receive. Ask this question as you start your day, so you can begin to be more intentional with your time and resources, no matter how abundant or scarce they are:

How can I be a contribution today? 

And if prayer is part of your life, as it is mine, pray this prayer to start your day:

God, show me who you want me to bless today.
Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear the things you want me to see and hear. Help me to notice people.
Help me to give from what I have.
Help me to be kind.

For more on kindness and paying it forward, check out these past posts:

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to message me!

15 Inspiring Songs that Got Me Through 2017

As many of you know by now, 2017 was a challenging year for me – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I spent the first half of the year recovering from mono and started seeing an amazing counselor this summer, who has been helping me reframe my thoughts and get into a better place emotionally.

During the first half of 2017, in particular, when I was dealing with the worst of being sick, I felt alone, scared, overwhelmed, frustrated, and sad frequently. I would cry almost every day at some point because I didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling well, why I was feeling so low, and when I would feel better.

But there’s a silver lining to sickness and despair.

We realize we can’t power our way through it but need to tap into others and into a higher power in order to come out on the other side feeling a bit more whole and healed.

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5

One of the ways I felt supported, encouraged and loved during this year was through music. Music has always had a special place in my life. I spent hours of my childhood and adolescence belting out the likes of Amy Grant, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Shania Twain. I sang in gospel choir in college, and connected with my now husband over a piano in a church on our college campus. I’ve sung at one of my best friend’s weddings.

Music was a significant source of inspiration that picked up me when I was feeling desperate and alone this year. It inspired me and breathed life into me when I felt hopeless. The right song with the perfect lyrics came at just the moment, and I would often cry as it happened, feeling so seen and covered.

Music is powerful and can bring us through times of trial and tribulation. It has for me this year. Below are a few of the songs broke into my heart this year. They came on the radio (95.1 WRBS) or on Pandora at the exact moment I needed them. They gave me hope, comfort and life. I hope they do the same for you or someone you love. Share them with a friend or family member going through a tough time. You never know what song might touch their soul and bring them hope and healing.

Inspiring Songs that Got Me through 2017

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win
You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

He started something good and I’m gonna believe it
He started something good and He’s gonna complete it
So I’ll celebrate the truth
His work in me ain’t through
I’m just unfinished


Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I’m a mess and so are you
We’ve built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do

Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest


Just because you’re broken
Doesn’t mean you’re hopeless
Go ahead and turn the page
Don’t be afraid of better days
Put the past behind you
Grace has redefined you
You don’t have to stay this way

There’s a brokenness inside of you
There’s a wound that still reminds you
Of the fear, shame and rejection 
You have seen it, you have seen it
You know it’s time to get up
But your heart’s paralyzed, you’re so stuck
You’re past the point of trying again
You’re defeated, you’re defeated
But something inside you can’t deny
You hear the call of your creator
I made you for more, unlocked the door
I wanna restore your glory
So rise
Breaking the dark, piercing the night
You’re made to shine
An army of hope
Bringing the world
A radiant light
A radiant light
You were made to rise, rise

Oh, my soul
Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control
This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming
And no one would blame you, though
If you cried in private
If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows
No one will see, if you stop believing
Oh, my soul
You are not alone

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley I know I am not alone

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?
I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

I know it’s all you’ve got to just, be strong
And it’s a fight just to keep it together, together
I know you think, that you are too far gone
But hope is never lost
Hope is never lost
Hold on, don’t let go
Hold on, don’t let go
Just take, one step, closer 
Put one foot in front of the other
You’ll, get through this 
Just follow the light in the darkness 
You’re gonna be ok   

Where were You?
When I had no one to turn to
You carried me through
On your shoulders, black and blue
I never knew
The footprints in the sand were You
Were You
One set of footprints, on a path I’d been on
Now I know they were Yours all along

Well I called your name a long time ago
And you sprung a well from a heart of stone
But I was careful then what I let you see
Only thought you wanted the best of me
The less I trust you, the less I grow
The more you love me, the more I know
I don’t have to be afraid to show all of me, all of me


But sometimes I still try to take control
Cause I get scared when I can’t see the end
And all You want from me is to let go
You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still


There is a wrestling in my heart and my mind
A disturbance and a tension I cannot seem to drive
And if I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear
To sit here in this silence and really hear You

What will You ask of me?
Will I listen to Your voice when You speak?

Help me to move, help me to see
Help me to do whatever You would ask of me
Help me to go, God help me to stay
I’m feeling so alone here
And I know that You’re faithful
But I can barely breathe
God help me

How about you? Are there any songs that have lifted you up and inspired you in times of difficulty, pain or suffering? I’d love to know! Feel free to share them below.

How I Recovered from Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

Prior to February 2017, I had never heard of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had just been diagnosed with it after being sick for four months and not knowing why.

Fast forward seven months, and I know more than I ever thought I would about EBV because of the incredible coaching and guidance I have received from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines. An acute form of mono, EBV occurs more frequently in immunocompromised people, especially after periods of prolonged or intense stress or hormonal changes. The stress that had been accumulating in my life up to that point had nowhere else to go, so it took me down for the count.

As I wrote in a previous post, EBV has been a gift, even though it has been frustrating, confusing and overwhelming to deal with. Since sharing my story, multiple people have reached out to me asking me what I did to treat the virus and quiet it. The truth is, once you get EBV, you always have it, so once it’s been activated, you have no choice but to make some changes to your lifestyle. Most people have the virus in their body but never experience its activation. I had the perfect storm of circumstances come together to turn it “on”.

I’ve since learned how to calm it down, restore my immune system and get my energy back, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I’m forever grateful to my nutritionist, Kasia, for guiding me through this healing process. If you know someone struggling with EBV, tell them to contact her!

1) Rest

This was the most important thing I did.

And one of the toughest.

I had to prioritize sleep more than ever before. In the past, I could easily get a second wind at 10pm and just keep going until midnight reading, writing or watching mindless TV. After EBV, sleep was no longer a negotiable behavior. I consistently got about nine to ten hours of sleep each night in the three or four months following the diagnosis. My body needed additional time to recover and repair itself, so I gave it what it needed. Getting inadequate sleep suppresses the immune system and can trigger a cascade of hormonal changes, which can trigger EBV reactivation.

I also gave my body a break from movement. Any physical exertion at all seemed to set me back, so that meant no exercise for several months. Gentle walks and gentle stretching or yoga every now and then seemed to be okay, but my body needed to rest in every way, including physically. It took me almost six months to recover the vigor I once I had physically, which was frustrating but necessary. Since then, if I’m feeling mentally or emotionally run down, I am more aware, and I choose to be gentle with my body and movement on those days.

I love taking epsom salt baths, started reading even more than usual, wrote in my journal A LOT, listened to music, read my devotional, and was frequently diffusing calming essential oils like lavender and frankincense.

2) Slow Down + Create Space

Yup. This sucked. I didn’t want to do it. I thought I could keep being superwoman and superhuman.

EBV was the only thing that got my attention and made me take changes to my life seriously. Hormonal changes due to stress and even that time of the month can trigger EBV, so reducing stress is super important.

Prior to the virus, I would jam pack every day and week with as much excitement as I thought I could handle. Sometimes that meant four speaking gigs in one week, often with new content. I had no idea how exhausting that was for my mind and body, even though I love speaking. I had to email my boss and our CEO letting them know the seriousness of the virus and asking for support in terms of time and staffing. I knew I had to protect my calendar, which meant no more than two speaking gigs in any week. Period.

Slowing down meant saying “no” to people, late night socializing and exciting “opportunities”, so I could take care of myself and respect my need to create space in my life.

I’m still working on this, but I am so much more aware when I’m heading in a not so good direction that I catch myself before I go off the deep end. I also started seeing a therapist to start processing and working on some of the emotional and psychological factors that cause me to run myself into the ground. I know I have a lot of emotions inside that I have not acknowledged or addressed that send me into a spiral, and I am committed to getting to the root of them, too!

3) Connect to Community

As someone who finds it easy to be alone and crawl into a hole when I’m feeling down, I’ve learned in the importance of reaching out to people and bringing them into the muck with you. I can’t tell you the number of people who were praying for me, with me, and over me during this time.

I felt like there was an army of love behind me, pleading for my healing.

There were multiple days when I was at an 8-session spiritual gifts training at my church and was so sick I just sobbed out of desperation and pain, and people weren’t repelled by it; they came closer to me. When I was at my worst, people were checking in on me, asking how I was doing, sending sweet text messages, and stopping by to see me. I’m so grateful for all of the people who loved me so well through this period of time.

If you’re going through a difficult illness, REACH OUT to people. ASK FOR HELP. BE VULNERABLE. It’s one of the best things I ever did and that lesson has stuck with me ever since. I feel closer and more connected to my friends and larger community than ever before.

What a gift.

4) Supplement***

Kasia was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable in this area. She was in the process of finishing her final PhD project for a degree in Functional Nutrition and had selected EBV as her topic of choice. Lucky for me! She put me on antiviral, immune-boosting, energy-restoring supplements, which I have listed below.

Exact dosages should be determined by a healthcare provider with experience with EBV.*** For that, Kasia has no equal.

  • Licorice Root Extract (NOT Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice): One of the strongest anti-viral foods out there, I took this every either in the form of tea or a capsule from Vital Nutrients. Licorice root is contraindicated for people with hypertension, as it increases blood pressure. My favorite tea brand is Buddha Teas Licorice Root tea. I buy it at MOMs Organic Market.
  • Selenium: strengthens and protects the nervous system; antiviral
  • L-Lysine: strong antiviral amino acid
  • NAC: anti-replication of the virus and cell system support (energy)
  • Vitamin D3 + K2: increases energy levels and immunity, boosts mood and balances hormones; antiviral
  • B-vitamin Complex: supports balanced moods, healthy energy levels, and the nervous and immune systems
  • Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin NOT cyanocobalamin – read the label): strengthens the nervous system and increases energy
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: prime modulator of inflammatory hormones
  • CoQ10: a natural antioxidant synthesized by the body that can improve energy production in cells
  • Magnesium: anti-inflammatory for nerves; nerve calmer; reduces constipation
  • Vitamin C: strengthens immune system and flushes out EBV toxins from the liver
  • Vitamin A: immune system support
  • Turmeric: active ingredient curcumin helps strengthen the endocrine and central nervous systems
  • Probiotics: digestive system support. Make sure to get these from foods like naturally fermented sauerkraut (HEX Ferments, Farmhouse Culture, Bubbies brands). Otherwise, use a high quality probiotic with a variety of strains (at least 8 different kinds) and 10-50 billion CFUs.

A few other supplements and herbs I didn’t use that can be helpful are red marine algae, nettle leaf (get in tea form), 5-MTHF, lemon balm (tea form), elderberry, red clover, star anise, rose hip tea, cat’s claw.

***As with any health condition, especially one as serious as EBV, consult with a trusted health care provider. My choice would be Kasia!

5) Eat to Nourish and Heal the Body

Every bite I consumed was intended to calm the raging inflammation in my body and heal my digestive system. I was already dairy-free and gluten-free, which helped because gluten and dairy tend to be key triggers of autoimmune conditions and promote gut dysfunction. They tend to trigger EBV symptoms, too. I pretty much nixed sugar, alcohol, caffeine, corn (digestive irritant) and even eggs for a while because they can aggravate EBV, according to Kasia’s research.

Here are some of the main foods I consumed a LOT of because of their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and gut-supportive properties.

Veggies: celery (whole plant and juiced), sprouts (I LOVE Potomac Sprouts Company sprouts), cilantro, spirulina, asparagus, spinach, artichokes, parsley, sauerkraut, fermented veggies, lettuces except iceberg, green beans, winter squash, zucchini, kale, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, fennel

Roots: garlic, ginger, turmeric (try this turmeric golden milk smoothie!)

Fruit: wild blueberries (try this blueberry avocado smoothie bowl), pears, bananas, red-skinned apples, blackberries, melons, raspberries, papaya, apricots, pomegranate, grapefruit

Other: coconut oil, bone broth, herbal teas made with licorice root, ginger, fennel, chamomile, nettle leaf, lemon balm, red clover or rose hips

That’s a wrap, my friends. I hope it helps you and anyone you know on a journey of healing autoimmune conditions or chronic illnesses like Epstein-Barr Virus. Be patient and give your body what it needs to heal, and it will respond.

Sending love and light to all of you!

The Gift of Sickness: How EBV Changed My Life

Most people would not think of sickness as a gift.

When we’re sick, we tend to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, confused and irritable. Most people would hardly call those feelings “gifts,” but I’ve learned that some gifts come in unexpected packages. Sometimes we’re given gifts that we would have never asked for that end up being more valuable than the thing we thought we wanted.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been through a journey with sickness that I’ve shared little about with you. I’ve continued posting recipes and tips and tricks all while going through an incredibly challenging time with my body and my spirit.

It’s time to share what I’ve been going through and learning in the process of this time of transformation and growth. My wish is that you find hope for your own situation in the midst of mine. When we are honest and vulnerable about our own struggles, we invite other people to be honest about theirs.

Gift #1: Pain is the body’s way of bringing us back to the present; it grabs our attention.

It was Valentine’s Day 2017.

Instead of enjoying a romantic dinner with my husband, I’d been home sick all day and was at the doctor’s office feeling depleted, exhausted and in pain, so tired I felt like I was going to pass out.

It was the fourth time in four months that I’d been sick for a week at a time with symptoms of fatigue, pain in my throat, swollen lymph nodes, and listlessness. I just didn’t feel like myself. My voice was always one of the first things to go as a result of each bout of illness, which was problematic, considering how much of my time I spend speaking, presenting and consulting. I love to sing, too, and I hadn’t been able to do that joyfully and fully for months. I couldn’t seem to get to the root of why I kept getting sick.

I felt isolated, alone, defeated and scared. 

I sat next to my husband, Bill, and across from Dr. Bill Rollow, an M.D. trained in integrative medicine, who has become my parents’ doctor and mine in recent years. He understands how the body operates as an interconnected system rather than a set of disconnected symptoms. He approaches his patients with an abundance of gentleness, kindness and love and seeks to identify the root cause of why someone isn’t well.

As I was lamenting how awful I felt – sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, low energy, malaise, a cough, congestion – Dr. Rollow asked me:

“Would you say this is the result of pressures from the outside and work, or would you say that it’s more self-inflicted?”

Without hesitation and with a great deal of conviction, I knew the answer:

“Oh, it’s totally self-inflicted. 

I do this to myself.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks, as I sat in a state of sheer desperation, realizing how much of what I was experiencing was brought on by my own demands. It was my relentless drive to achieve, succeed, and be perceived as worthy and valued throughout school and in my career that brought me to this point of exhaustion.

A lifetime of striving, proving, achieving, and performing.

My body and soul were tired.

We talked candidly about how I would have to decide that I wanted my life to look differently if I wanted to feel differently. I would have to change some things if I wanted to start feeling better and heal emotionally and physically. I had to be honest about how much I tend to set my personal needs and health aside for the sake of my career and my desire to get ahead.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rollow said he was going to test me for Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was. I’ve come to learn that EBV is an acute form of mono that many people have in their bodies but that does not often manifest full blown. It tends to be brought on by prolonged stress and other hormonal changes. It’s more likely to occur in an immunocompromised person. I fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve learned that many doctors don’t think to test for EBV right away and often test patients for things like Lyme disease, lupus, and mono when they have symptoms like mine. Fortunately for me, Dr. Rollow knew better. When the lab results came back, it turned out his suspicions where confirmed; all of my EBV antibodies were elevated.

Each month when the virus reactivated, I would get more and more dejected and distressed. I felt like my body was betraying me again, as it had for much of my life with chronic ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, bronchitis, acid reflux, and amenorrhea.

What was going on?

Will I ever feel better or like myself again?

Why was this happening to me?

I’m supposed to be the healthy one.

In the midst of my desperation, I was given the gift of hope.

Within a week or so of receiving the news about Epstein-Barr, I received an email from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who has helped my body heal from years of other dysfunctions and ailments. She is finishing her PhD in Functional Nutrition and sent this email to her email list serve on February 28th.

No way. 

I couldn’t believe it.

She’d picked Epstein-Barr Virus.

“Here’s your sign, Rachel.”

Suddenly, I had hope.

As I’ve shared before, Kasia has been instrumental in my healing journey and has given me hope before. I immediately reached out to her to let her know I had the virus she was studying and had no idea what to do about it. She was eager to help.

As I began working with her, I learned what a nasty virus EBV is and how it ravages your immune system and can wreak havoc on your neurological system as well, left unchecked. In my case, it camped out in my throat, which was a primary cause of losing my voice. I learned that stress and hormonal changes trigger reactivation of the virus, which meant I’d have to make some lifestyle changes and reprioritize sleep, friendships and aspects of my job. I added in even more nutrient-rich foods to my diet and started taking about a dozen different supplements to restore my immune system and fight the virus (I’ll share more about that later!).

Within a week of treatment, I felt like a switch had been flipped and started to feel energized again. It was amazing how quickly my body responded.

Sickness was my body’s way of saying, “Hey, listen up. Something’s not working here. Pay attention.”

Gift #2: We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

The more I reflected on why I’d gotten to this point, the more I realized this virus was a symptom of a deep-seated issue. Growing up, I felt like I had very little social value and worth in my peer groups, so I sought my worth in other places and found it in achievement.

If they wouldn’t embrace me socially, surely they’d find value in what I could bring to the table by being smart. It was hard for me to see how I brought value if I wasn’t being useful to someone in some way. The idea that just being me and not doing anything to earn acceptance was foreign to me. I pushed myself academically and made sure I was always performing at the highest level.

I’d show them I was worthy of attention by achieving. 

As soon as school ended, I sought the same validation in my career. I pushed myself to be a leader in my field, to create and design new initiatives, to build my job from scratch, with little to no model for how to do that. And I did. I’ve won awards and received national accolades for my work. The satisfaction that followed was always temporary and just another opportunity for me to up the ante on myself.

C’mon, Rachel. What’s next?

Don’t settle. Don’t get complacent.

You might be outdone. You’ll be forgotten.

I put work ahead of everything else, partly because I love what I do, but also because I wanted to keep “winning” in my career. I wanted to keep showing everyone how worthy I was of attention, praise and love.

I pushed and achieved my way right into sickness.

But instead of resenting it, I’ve come to embrace what this time of healing is teaching me.

Getting sick in that way made me realize the way I was living wasn’t working. Something had to change.

I had a lot of time to reflect, think, read and write during the weeks I was home sick. That alone was a gift. But, more than anything, this journey is teaching me that I maintaining my former way of living is not sustainable and that I don’t have to do this on my own.

Instead of trying to conquer this challenge by myself, I’ve sought support and help, not only from my nutritionist but also from my workplace, the Baltimore health community, and my church. I’ve had people praying for my health and healing each week and checking in on my regularly. I talked to my boss and explained what was happening, and he supported me in setting healthier boundaries at work and getting support.

I’m spending more time talking and hanging out with my friends and am fostering new relationships. I have more community and a stronger support network around me now than I’ve ever had before. I’ve come to realize how lonely life would be with lots of professional success and no friends to share life with, but that’s the path I was on, blinded by my own ego.

Seeking growth and opportunities to challenge myself are hardwired into who I am, and I know I will continue to pursue excellence in my career, but not at the expense of my health and relationships. I’ve learned two lessons in the midst of this healing time:

Connection is more important than all of our success.

Gift #3: Transformation happens when I’m not in charge.

This has been an incredibly humbling time for me. My EBV journey has reminded me who is in charge of and in control of my life – God, not me. It’s like I was playing God, thinking I could run the show and fix any issues that arose by myself.

I don’t need help.

I’ll hold the world on my shoulders.

I can do it ALL.

But I can’t, and no one ever asked me to.

I remember back in November when I first started experiencing symptoms of fatigue and a recurrence of vocal strain. I was so frustrated. I was talking with my friend, Heather, and she said something so profound that I will never forget:

“Maybe there’s something you need to hear, but you need to be quiet enough to hear it.”

Oh.

In the midst of my constant striving and busyness, I didn’t leave any room for quiet.

Maybe losing my voice had a purpose other than frustrating me. Maybe being forced to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing had a purpose. Maybe there was something I needed to hear; maybe someone was trying desperately to get my attention – God, friends, family, my body – but I was so busy being important that I missed it.

For years, I had ignored the voice beckoning to me to “SLOW DOWN” and “BE STILL.” Just yesterday, I heard the song, “Still” three times on Pandora Radio.

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All you need for me to be is still

Being quiet and sitting in the unknown is so challenging for me, but I know it’s one of the gifts EBV has given me, and for that I’m grateful. It has given me the time and space to be transformed, initially against my will, but now for what I know is my greater good.

I feel like I’m more supported and loved than ever before. I am not in this alone. All of the frustration, overwhelm and pain were not without a purpose. In fact, I’ve already met several people who have told me they or someone they know is struggling with Epstein-Barr, and they don’t know what to do about it.

At the very least, perhaps I can offer them some of the perspective I’ve gained and the hope I’ve experienced.

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom passed on to me by my friend, Stef, about finding purpose in the midst of the pain:

6 Tips for Healthy Meal Planning Made Easy

Meal planning can feel overwhelming, intimidating and even repetitive and boring. It’s one of those things that we know we “should” be doing but rarely prioritize. Planning your meals and cooking from scratch gives you more control over what you’re putting in your body. It puts nourishment in your hands vs. someone else’s. When I consistently plan meals, I feel better, save money and time, waste less food and find that mealtime is less stressful because I know what I’m having ahead of time.

I’m about to finish a two-part series on meal planning at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore. We had a great time coming together to talk about strategies for why and how to meal plan in a way that feels less intimidating and overwhelming.

I thought I’d pull together some of the top tips from the first session to support you in better meal planning! Here are my top meal planning tips:

1) Stock Your Pantry

If you have convenient, accessible, nourishing foods in your pantry, fridge and freezer, you’ll be more likely to eat those foods! It might sound too simple, but that’s what it takes. Start by cleaning out your pantry by tossing anything that is expired or isn’t supporting your health and wellbeing. Once you’ve done that, replace those items with nourishing ones instead.

I love this video from Whole Foods about how to stock your pantry. It includes all of our pantry staples. Check it out and notice which foods you tend to not have on hand. Canned beans, grains, and nuts and seeds are must-haves for us, in particular!

2) Spice It Up

Herbs and spices are an easy and inexpensive way to add variety and flavor to your food. We tend to shop in the bulk spices section at MOMs Organic Market, so we just get what we need for more obscure spices and continue refilling our glass jars for the ones we use on a regular basis. Here are our spice rack staples:

  1. Cumin
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Oregano
  4. Thyme
  5. Rosemary
  6. Sea Salt
  7. Black Pepper
  8. Chili Powder
  9. Curry Powder
  10. Turmeric
  11. Coriander
  12. Bay Leaves

3) Follow the 50/25/25 Plate Ratio

This is not a hard and fast rule, but it is something that helps me mentally map out a meal. Whether it’s in the form of a salad, soup, or side, half of my plate is made up of vegetables. Fruit is often something I snack on or put in my smoothies. Some of my favorite whole grains or starchy veggies are quinoa, brown rice, bean-based pasta (like Tolerant Foods), squash, spaghetti squash, etc. My protein source is either plant-based or animal-based, depending on my mood and what my body is craving at the time.

Notice how relatively small the protein portion is on the Harvard School of Public Health’s healthy eating plate compared to the typical American plate. Also, protein is in a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, and beans, so keep that in mind, too!

4) Follow a Simple Process

I shared more details about our favorite cookbooks and meal templates in this post from a few weeks ago about What We Eat: A Peek At Our Weekly Meal Plan. I’m also a big fan of Precision Nutrition’s infographic about meal planning and how to combine spices in your meals. It’s super helpful!

  1. Look at your week and determine how many meals you’ll need.
  2. Look at what ingredients you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
  3. Using a cookbook or online tool to find recipes that use those ingredients.
  4. Make a list of ingredients that you need to complete those recipes.
  5. Go grocery shopping.
  6. Wash, chop and cook veggies when you get home. Mark containers with masking tape, so you know what recipes they go with. Make bigger batches of recipe that will hold up well in the fridge for a few days ahead of time (grains, beans, stews, chilis, oatmeal, muffins, frittatas, roasted veggies).

5) Use a Recipe Template

I’m a fan of meal ASSEMBLY vs. meal planning because I like the idea of mixing and matching different ingredients to form a variety of dishes. The Environmental Working Group has a fantastic recipe guide arranged in template-style, and you can download the PDF here for free. Here are a few more of my favorite combinations:

Mason jar meals are one of my favorite meal templates. This is the Carrot & Chickpea Mason Jar Salad we made during the class. You have to try it!

6) Change Up Your Meals & Get Inspired!

As technology continues to expand, there are more meal planning and meal kit delivery service companies than ever before that make the process more fun and exciting.

Try a theme night focused around a certain topic like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, What’s Left Wednesday (leftovers), Fiesta Friday, Souper Saturday, Salad Sunday, etc. If you know every Tuesday is tacos, you’re just changing up the ingredients but can reuse spices and core ingredients like wraps and shells.

I also encourage you to check out these options for meal planning services and meal kit delivery services.

Online Meal Planning Services

Meal Kit Delivery Services

How about you? Do you have any go-to meal planning tips? Feel free to share them below. I’ll be sharing more ideas about batch cooking, food storage and time-saving tips and tools in the next post!

My Top 8 Real Food Snack Bars

I spent the afternoon with a client in DC and did a sampling of my favorite snack bars. It went so well and was so well received that I thought I’d put together a quick blog post to give you the details about what we tried and learn how to pick out an “upgraded” nutrition bar.

With our on-the-go lifestyles, it can be easy to prioritize convenience over quality, especially when it comes to eating. Instead of sitting down for a meal, many of us grab a snack, like a protein or granola bar. Unfortunately, many of the bars on the market these days are packed with some not-so-nourishing ingredients and as much sugar as a candy bar. Not only that, but the ingredient list contains dozens of ingredients that you’d never find in an at-home pantry.

Here’s the secret.

To maintain balanced energy and to satisfy hunger, you’ll want a bar that has a combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats and a lower sugar count. When we eat something containing fiber and protein, it helps to slowly release blood sugar, so we don’t deal with spikes and drops that trigger irritability and other not-so-pleasant physical and emotional symptoms.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar per day for women and no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar per day for men. That’s not much. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when picking out a bar:

  1. Aim for single digit sugar content…or close to it. When you’re looking at a label, remember that 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Fortunately, the next round of nutrition facts label will include information about added sugars.
  2. Opt for 5+ grams of fiber to keep you feeling full. I look for about 20% fiber on the nutrition facts panel.
  3. Go for at least as much protein as fiber. I look for protein to at least equal and (ideally) exceed sugar content.
  4. Look for an ingredients list that contains real food vs. “isolates” and unfamiliar words. I look for bars containing ingredients that, for the most part, I could make on my own.
  5. Try to eat actual meals as often as possible, and use these bars in a pinch!

Here’s a list of the bars we sampled (and a few extras!). I’ve indicated whether they are gluten-free (GF), dairy-free (DF), vegan (V), or soy-free (SF). I also listed how many grams of sugar / fiber / protein are found in one variety of each type of bar. One of my favorite things to do, which you’ll see below, is to share the story behind the bar, so we can connect more with our food, where it comes from and how it makes us feel.

Purely Elizabeth 

GF, DF, V, SF

Why I Like Them: I’ve been a fan of Purely Elizabeth’s granola for years, so I was excited to find out that they now make paleo-friendly, grain-free granola bars. The bars have a crunchy and chewy texture and are made from a base of nuts and seeds including cashews, sunflower kernels, pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. They’re lightly sweetened with coconut sugar and powered by Reishi, an adaptogenic superfood and medicinal herb (AKA the “Mushroom of Immortality”). Each bar has 6-7 grams of sugar and 5-7 grams of protein.

Flavors: Peanut Butter (7g sugar / 7g protein), Chocolate Sea Salt, Coconut Cashew and Banana Nut Butter.

Where to Find Them: On their website, Roots Market, Balduccis, and Thrive Market.

GoMacro Thrive

GF, DF, V, SF

Why I Like Them: I love the story behind this company. Amelia (the founder) and her family grew their own food and were entrepreneurs who made money selling the food products they created. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she modified her diet to be plant-based and created GoMacro bars.

When I first saw these Thrive at MOMs Organic Market I was excited. I love when new products are introduced that prioritize real food ingredients, nutrition, and flavor. I was at the Green Festival in DC last weekend and Go Macro was there sampling all of their bars. My favorite was the Ginger Lemon one. Now I just need to find who sells it near me!

Flavors: Ginger Lemon; Almond Apricot; Caramel Coconut; Blueberry Lavender; Chocolate, Nuts & Sea Salt; Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip.

Where to Find Them: MOMs Organic Market (some varieties), Whole Foods, GoMacro.com, Wegmans, The Fresh Market. You can fill out a request form on their website to request them at stores near you.

EVER BAR

GF, DF, SF

Why I Like Them: When I first reviewed these bars about two years ago here, I was impressed by how much fiber and protein they contained and how short the ingredient list was. To this day, they are still my go to bar because of the purity of ingredients and how filling they are. EVER BARs are paleo-friendly, non-GMO, and locally made in Olney, Maryland! I could also identify all of the ingredients as “food,” which isn’t always the case with bars.

While most bars list whatever sweeteners they use as one of the first three ingredients (because those bars are more sugar than anything else), EVER BAR has sweeteners as their last few ingredients, and the primary ingredient in every bar is organic hemp seeds. They’re a little chewier and denser than most bars, but I don’t mind it because I know I’m getting high quality nourishment.

Flavors: Almond Cranberry (my fave), Cinnamon Ginger, Blueberry Cashew, and Green Power. The Cinnamon Ginger bar has 11g sugar / 6g fiber / 12 g protein. The other bars have a similar profile.

Where to Find Them: MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans, LivityFoods.com, Amazon, Dawson’s Market.

Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed Bars

GF, SF, DF

Why I Like Them: These were recommended by my friend Jen, and I’m so glad she told me about them because I didn’t even know they existed! The pepper one is REALLY peppery…but I’m a pepper lover, so I was okay with it. I definitely want to try the Cinnamon Spice one next. I’ve had the Health Warrior Chia Bars before but didn’t even know about this line of sweet and savory bars. They’re lower in sugar and have a good amount of protein but are a bit lower in fiber than I’d like.

Flavors: Cinnamon Spice, Honey Cracked Pepper & Turmeric, Dark Chocolate. The Cinnamon Spice bar has 7g sugar / 2g fiber / 8g protein.

Where to Find Them: Amazon, Health Warrior, and Lucky Vitamin. The best deal is on Amazon!

Primal Kitchen

GF, SF, DF

Why I Like Them: I was initially drawn to these bars because they were a new product at the grocery store where I shop. When I took a closer look, I was impressed by the protein (15g) and fiber (5g) content and pleasantly surprised by the low sugar content (only 3 grams!).

Monk fruit, a Chinese herb cultivated for centuries by Buddhist monks, is the primary sweetener. Much like stevia, it’s a natural zero calorie way to sweeten without the blood-sugar raising effects of sugar. It can have a bit of an aftertaste, so my favorite bar was the Macadamia Sea Salt one.  The 15 grams of protein come from nuts and seeds and collagen from grass-fed cows. Here’s the scoop from their website:

The collagen protein used in Primal Kitchen Macadamia Sea Salt Bars is collagen hydrolysate from grass-fed cows, which is broken down into individual amino acids and easier to absorb and digest, so it’s a preferable alternative to taking collagen in, say, capsule form.

Flavors: Macadamia Sea Salt (3g sugar / 5g fiber / 15g protein), Cashew Coconut Bar, Dark Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Hazelnut. To be honest, I didn’t really love the chocolate flavors and prefer the Macadamia Sea Salt bar most.

Where to Find Them: MOMs Organic Market, Thrive Market, or PrimalKitchen.com.

EPIC

GF, DF, SF

Why I Like Them: These are Bill’s favorite bars, so I had to highlight them. They’re paleo-friendly, high in protein and low in sugar but typically don’t contain fiber, so I like to pair them with some crunchy veggies. Think of them as an upgraded form of jerky made with responsibly-raised animals that were fed their natural diet. Inspired by the diets of our hunter gatherer ancestors, these bars combine high quality meat, wholesome vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. The chicken sriracha bar is our #1 pick!

EPIC foods begin with a living animal. We believe that all ruminants should consume diets they were biologically intended to eat and roam freely outdoors. As a result our beef, venison, wild boar, lamb, and bison are raised on open pasture just how nature intended. We continuously strive to convert ranchers to this pasture based livestock model, and through our products, create financial incentives to help change American agriculture.

Flavors: Beef, Apple & Uncured Bacon (2g sugar / 0g fiber / 11g protein); Turkey Almond Cranberry; Venison Sea Salt Pepper; Beef, Habanero & Cherry; Chicken Sesame & BBQ; Chicken Sriracha; Lamb, Currant & Mint; Wild Boar Bacon; Bison Bacon Cranberry; Smoked Maple Bacon; Smoked Salmon Maple.

Where to Find Them: They have over a dozen varieties, and you can find them at MOMs Organic Market, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and EpicBar.com.

KIND

Why I Like Them: They are low in sugar, and you find buy them anywhere – airports, gas stations, grocery stores, and beyond – and that’s why I recommend them. KIND has a few lines of their bars (Nuts & Spices, Sweet & Spicy) that are low in sugar (6 grams or less). They also contain a decent amount of fiber and protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied. When I spoke at the WELCOA conference last spring, I shared the story behind KIND bars, so if you’re not familiar with it, I’d encourage you to check out this article about the amazing story behind the bars.

Flavors: I opt for the lower sugar Nuts & Spices Line. My favorite flavors are Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt (5g sugar / 5g fiber / 6g protein) and Cashew & Ginger Spice. Other flavors include Madagascar Vanilla Almond, Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Almond Mint, and Black Truffle Almond & Sea Salt.

I’m also a fan of their Sweet & Spicy savory bar line that includes flavors like Roasted Jalapeno (the crowd favorite at the tasting), which contains 6g sugar / 3g fiber / 10g protein. Other flavors in that line include Thai Sweet Chili, Chipotle Honey Mustard, and Sweet Cayenne BBQ.

Where to Find Them: Just about everywhere. From grocery stores to gas stations and Amazon, everyone carries KIND bars. 

RXBAR

GF, DF, V, SF

Why I Like Them: The group of friends who created these bars were frustrated by the lack of transparency and real food ingredients in the protein bars they were eating. They wanted to come up with a bar that was simpler and honest about what was in it. What you see is what you get. Each package includes as the final ingredient, “No B.S.” I’ll be honest and say these taste more like what you’d expect a protein bar to taste like and have a bit more sugar (even if it’s natural) than I’d like, BUT I just love their transparency and accessibility, so I’m in.

Flavors: Their most popular flavor is the Chocolate Sea Salt (15g sugar / 6g fiber / 12 g protein). Blueberry, Coconut Chocolate and Maple Sea Salt, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Mint are their most popular flavors. For more flavors, click here.

Where to Find Them: Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, RXBAR.com.

Aaaand that’s a wrap! What are your favorite snack bars? Any that you love that I’m missing??  I’d love to know what you think, so feel free to comment below.

Meet Crunchy Kat: Living Well Made Easy

For the past three and a half years, I’ve written every single post on this blog. I love sharing what I’m learning and creating, but I also have a desire to build community in a more intentional way. For that reason, I’m going to start introducing you to some amazing people I’ve connected with along my journey, so you can get to know them and what they have to offer, too. These are people I align with philosophically and people who bring hope, light, nourishment and passion to the world with the goal of making it a better place.

My hope is that you will connect with these great people, too, and follow their work to learn about different aspects of health, wellbeing and nutrition that I may not cover. We’re better together 🙂

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend and fellow blogger, Kat Downs from Crunchy Kat. I think you’ll really love her and will be inspired to check out the cool work she is doing, too. Here she is!

I first met Rachel at a Swapfoods Swapple tasting back in February, and I could immediately tell she was someone I wanted to get to know. So when she asked if I wanted to write a guest post for her blog, I was pumped!

In getting to know Rachel, it’s clear we have a lot in common. I love Rachel’s post on her food philosophy because mine is almost exactly the same!

I launched Crunchy Kat in August 2016, but I’ve been learning about health and wellness for more than five years. I’ve always had an interest in food and nutrition, even though I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist. I’m an average person and a former athlete, and by all accounts, I was a fairly healthy person. But I’ve noticed that I feel so much better when I feed my body real food.
I didn’t always used to be like this though.

I’ve always loved food, but it’s taken me awhile to refine my eating habits, and it’s still a work in process. I’ve realized that I feel better when I eat a mostly gluten-free, dairy-free diet, but it’s sometimes hard to make those choices.

I’m the first one to admit that I like to streamline things in the kitchen.I believe food and cooking shouldn’t be complicated, so on Crunchy Kat I talk a lot about eating real food with simple ingredients. You’ll never find me whipping up a 12-course meal all day on a Saturday. That’s just not my thing! I’m all about simple, healthful recipes that are quick and easy. Click the picture below for some of my favorite salad dressing recipes!

I love thinking about where our food comes from and how it sustains us. I also love researching information about what’s in the products we put in our bodies and on our skin. I’d been spending so much of my free time finding better food and beauty products that I decided to share what I was learning with others.
My goal is to take the work out of it for you and offer solutions I’ve found. I know how confusing and overwhelming it can be to eat well, so I want to bring healthy products and options to people who don’t have time to do the research themselves. I want to help people make good choices when it comes to food.

One of my favorite things is to do is grocery shop or visit a farmer’s market. I love exploring the grocery aisles for new products and dreaming about how I can incorporate them into my next meal.

I like offering easy-to-follow recipes for people who may not have the energy to think about their next meal. Because of that, experimentation in the kitchen is something that excites me, but I know not everyone has time for that. That’s one of the reasons I started Crunchy Kat.

Some of my favorite things to experiment with are smoothies (like this cherry banana almond butter smoothie), energy bites (like these coffee cacao bites), easy weeknight meals (like this cauliflower fried rice), and homemade dairy-free milks (like this coconut milk). And you can always find me posting impromptu recipes on my Instagram account.

Would you try any of these recipes? I’d love to know which ones you might like to try! Thanks for letting me hang out with you today! 🙂

Mediterranean Spring Salad with Easy Avocado Dressing

As someone who used to hate salads and didn’t eat them until midway through college, I’ve come to love them and enjoy them as a regular part of my meals. What I love about salads is how many nutrients and colors you can mix together at one time and how versatile they are!

I tend to put my salads together based on whatever I happen to have in the fridge at the time. I start with a base of greens, add in chopped or shredded veggies, toss in some source of protein, and add something crunchy like nuts or seeds…or in this case – crunchy Mediterranean veggie patties!

Most veggie burgers I’ve tried have been pretty nasty and full of ingredients that I wouldn’t find in my pantry, so I stayed away from them for most of my life.

That was true until I tried Hilary’s Eat Well Burgers at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in 2015.

I’ve been a huge fan ever since, and we always have them stocked in our freezer. What I love about these burgers is that they are free from gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, and eggs, and they are made with real food ingredients – nothing weird. Oh, and their taste and texture are SO good! I’ve even heard someone describe them as a healthier hush puppy.

They have a bunch of different varieties of burgers, including the following: Root Veggie, Hemp & Greens, Adzuki Bean, Kimchi, Curry, Spicy Thai, Black Bean, and the “World’s Best Veggie Burger” Original flavor, which is their best seller. We buy them at MOMs Organic Market and Wegmans. To find where they are sold near you, click the Find It Here Link beneath the product on this page.

The dressing came to be when I opened my fridge and saw an avocado and a lemon and decided to put them together to see what would happen. It was a success!

This salad is packed with anti-inflammatory, nourishing, plant-powered ingredients and is full of flavor and a variety of textures to keep your taste buds and your tummy happy 🙂

Mediterranean Spring Salad with Avocado Dressing

Servings: 2

Ingredients

Salad
6 cups leafy greens (I used a greens and radicchio blend)
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup broccoli or other sprouts
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6 mini Hilary’s Eat Well Mediterranean veggie burger patties, cooked according to package instructions

Dressing
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
Flesh of 1 avocado
1.5 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
1/4 tsp plus a pinch sea salt
Fresh black pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Toss all salad ingredients together in a bowl and set aside, except burgers.
2. In a mini food processor, pulse the garlic until finely minced then add remaining dressing ingredients and process until smooth. You may have to scrape down the sides and repeat. Alternatively, you can try to mash the avocado and whisk ingredients in a small mixing bowl by hand, but it won’t be as smooth.
3. Toss dressing with salad (it’ll be thick) and top with veggie burgers. Feel free to chop them up to the size of croutons!

My Food Philosophy: What Matters Most

Are you paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? What diet are you on?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked questions about what “diet” I follow. I get it. It can be tempting to categorize ourselves and to label the way we eat.

We have a desire to know “the way” and what the right answer is when it comes to what we “should” be eating. But I’m not a huge fan of labels. They can be limiting, restrictive, and isolating.

If I had to describe the type of food I eat, I would say it is colorful, mostly plant-based, with a focus on whole, real ingredients that I can pronounce. I eat to feel good, not just for the next five minutes, but for as long as possible. I’ve found that gluten and dairy-based foods don’t make my body feel good, so I don’t eat them. I prioritize the quality of my food and want to know where it comes from and whom my purchase impacts.

But I’m not “on a diet,” and I don’t eat this way to prove anything to anyone.

A few years ago, I interviewed a local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Kristapps Paddock, and I’ll never forget what he said.

Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that’s accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

Isn’t that true of most diets?

We don’t question them. We accept them as truth because some celebrity, health expert, or friend told us so.

Unfortunately, this has brought us to a place of not questioning things, not asking why, not getting curious. We don’t stop to notice if they are working for us. One of the most helpful and transformational things we can do when it comes to what we eat is to question everything. To get curious. To pay attention to our body’s signals.

We know more than we’ve ever known about food and nutrition, but there is still so much more to learn that it doesn’t make sense for us to be polarizing when it comes to eating. It drives a lot of people away from conversations about nutrition. While the same general principles are universal (i.e., eat food, not too much, lots of plants), the nuances may not be. Everybody is different, so what’s most important is that we get curious about what works for US (not our neighbor, co-worker, friend or family member).

So, instead of adopting a dogmatic attitude toward eating, I have a food philosophy. It captures my approach to eating, the mindset I have around food, and what I believe to be true. It communicates what I’m about and how I want to think and feel when it comes to food.

It’s not irrefutable. It’s not scientific. It’s not the only way.

It’s empowering. It’s clarifying. It reminds me of what is true for me and my body. It’s what I’ve come to learn works best for me.

As you read it, I invite you think about which parts resonate with you. If anything does, try to hold on to that idea and let it guide the eating choices you make this week. If you want to take it to another level, try coming up with your own version of a food philosophy!

My Food Philosophy

I believe food matters.
I believe my body matters.
I believe I matter.
I believe I’m more than a number.
More than a dress size, calorie count, or scale reading.
I believe in being curious about what I eat and noticing, without judging, how food affects me.
I believe in connecting with my food, how it makes me feel, where it comes from and the impact it has beyond my plate.
I believe food is a way to connect with my body, my community, and my purpose.
I believe in slowing down and savoring food, noticing its textures, aromas, and beauty; pausing to express gratitude for the beauty on my plate.
I believe in enjoying food without anxiety, guilt, shame or judgment.
I believe in elevating the quality of my food and eating the highest quality available.
I believe in upgrading my diet to crowd out whatever is not working for me.
I believe in eating food that tastes good AND makes me feel good.
I believe in being open to exploring and trying new foods.
I believe food is inherently amoral (neither “good” nor “bad”).
I believe I am responsible for my eating choices.
If I’m going to eat it, I own it (I’m not “cheating”).
I believe having energy, glowing skin, a strong immune system and a positive mood are signs that I’m giving my body what it needs.
I believe in fueling and nourishing my body with whole, vibrant, healing food, so I can feel alive and energized and fulfill my purpose here on earth.
But I believe food is only part of the puzzle when it comes to being our best selves.
Food matters, but there is more to living well than eating well.
Friendships, community, connection.
Peace, patience, kindness.
Faith, grace, joy.
Love.

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