Tag: institute for integrative health

Stop Playing Small…Who Are You NOT to Be Great?

I was going to write an entire post dedicated to a recipe for a yummy chicken salad from one of my favorite blogs, Nourishing Meals.

The authors of that blog have also written a few of my favorite cookbooks, including Nourishing Meals and The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen.

Asian Chicken Salad

But because of all of the exciting events over the past week, I felt more inspired to reflect on and share a life lesson that has really transformed my life and what’s possible in it.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how Bill and I started the year by declaring how we wanted to FEEL (vs. a laundry list of all the things we wanted to ACCOMPLISH) in 2015. I narrowed down how I wanted to feel to five words and have intentionally taken action to do things that make me feel RADIANT, CLEAR, FLOWING, CONNECTED and WORTHY.

When I’m speaking, teaching, or presenting about a topic near and dear to me, I feel radiant, flowing and connected. Something in the deepest part of me unlocks and I radiate only goodness and positivity. I become the best version of myself.

I feel energized, inspired and ALIVE.

I lose track of time. I’m in a “flow” state, and everything seems effortless.

I’m joyful. I’m authentic.

I’m boldly and unapologetically me.

What a relief that is.

I haven’t always felt so CLEAR or so completely myself.

In March 2015, I was recognized by WELCOA as the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the Country, and won a trip to San Diego to attend their summit. I had the privilege of being able to share a few words with my peers during an acceptance speech and was stoked to do that.

As I was sitting at the conference listening to all of the awesome speakers, I thought to myself, “I want to do that one day.” 

I reflected on the time I spent in San Diego at the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) Summit and the American Journal of Health Promotion Conference, and I wrote down a list of declarations on the last page of my journal.


It’s been pretty mind-blowing to see how many of those intentions have become realities over the past 6 months.

On a warm, sunny day in late August, I received a call from Sara Rauch, the Director of Strategy and Planning for WELCOA. She invited me to be one of the speakers at the 2016 WELCOA National Summit in Orlando!

I was elated/joyful/on top of the world/stoked and couldn’t stop smiling. It was literally a dream come true.

Since then, a few of the other intentions I’d written down in April have come to be.

1) I’ve spoken at multiple SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conferences.

I presented at the Maryland State conference in Ocean City in September, at Chapter meetings for the DCSHRM and Baltimore County SHRM, and most recently, at the Carroll County SHRM’s Annual Fall Conference. I’m slated to speak at the Montgomery County SHRM and possibly two other regional SHRM groups in 2016.CCSHRM2

2) Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak at a CEO group in Baltimore. The event was put on by the Hunt Valley Business Forum and was focused on Health and Wellness for the 21st Century Woman. I was one of the four panelists, each with different areas of expertise in the health and wellness field.

My friend and favorite group exercise instructor Jacob, who I’ve known for nearly a decade, invited me to be on the panel, and I felt SO alive and invigorated before, during and after the event. I met some amazing women who are doing great things in Baltimore and beyond.

hvbf flyer3) I’ve had the privilege of presenting at the Institute for Integrative Health multiple times.

I co-presented a Sweet Confessions event with Dr. Chris D’Adamo in July, taught a Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids cooking class and workshop in September, and felt totally on fire and “in the zone” teaching this week’s workshop, “Going Gluten-Free without Going Crazy.”

GF collageIMG_2458

Have you ever walked away from a project and just felt like, “THAT is what I’m meant to do!”?

That’s exactly how I felt after Wednesday’s class. It was incredible!

We’re in the process of planning programs for next year, and I’ve been asked to speak at the Annual Health and Wellness Conference put on by the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and hosted by the Institute for Integrative Health in April 2016. I’m pumped!

I share all of this with you not to brag or be arrogant but to prove that point that we have to BELIEVE things are possible in our lives and make room for them before they’re likely to happen.

If we NEVER think we’ll get that job, have a healthy and thriving relationship, run that half marathon, cook from scratch, get a raise, or be happy, then we probably won’t. If we believe deep down that something is impossible, then subconsciously, we’ll do things to sabotage anything that comes close to looking like what we actually want to happen in our lives.

We’ll end up shutting it down before it even has a chance to come into being.

In the spirit of transparency and being totally honest and open with you, I feel compelled to share that one of my deepest fears and insecurities is that people won’t like me, that I will be TOO successful and that, ultimately I will be alone.

I know it might sound crazy to hear me say that, but ALL of us, no matter how “successful” or accomplished we become, deal with those feelings in some way or another.

Because of that, I have to be hyper aware of that tendency, so I don’t sabotage myself or sell myself short. I love what Marianne Williamson has to say about that…


That inspiration comes from her book, A Return to Love, and the complete passage reads like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So, what about you?

What would your life look like if you were honest with yourself about what makes YOU radiate and bring light and joy into the world?

Each one of us has the power within us to be great.

So stop playing small. 

And start living the life you were meant to live!

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 4: The Best Choices for Natural Sweeteners

In this fourth and final post of the Sweet Tooth Truths series, I’m going to give you the scoop on natural sweeteners. From agave to yacon syrup, we’re going to take a look at some of the most common natural sweeteners and what we know about how they impact our bodies.

One of the common questions that stood out during the Sweet Confessions talk was, “How much sugar should/can we eat?”

The reality is that even the experts can’t seem to agree on a magic number. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests no more than about 12 teaspoons per day, while the American Heart Association (AHA) says 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

Regardless of whom you ask, the main thing to keep in mind is that we don’t want to eat a lot of sweeteners, even if they are from natural sources. They’re meant to be used in moderation but aren’t an essential part of our diet.

They just happen to taste really good and make food more enjoyable 🙂

Dr. D’Adamo rounded out his presentation making this point about sweeteners in general:


So keep that in mind as you read through this list of sweeteners and what’s recommended for each.

If you want to get even more detailed information about each of these sweeteners and others not covered in this post, check out this website. It’s an excellent resource!


The Basics: Indigenous to Mexico & South America, agave is the slow boil of sap of the agave plant. There are many species, but it’s usually derived from “Blue Agave.” Tequila is fermented agave. Agave is marketed as a “low glycemic” sweetener because its glycemic index (GI, which measures the impact of a carbohydrate on our blood sugar) is 15, but it’s primarily made up of fructose, which can be tough on our liver and favors fat storage.

agaveWhere to Find It: Syrups, cereals, nutrition bars

The Controversy: Most modern agave is highly refined, full of pesticides, genetically-modified and has minimal antioxidant content. “Raw” & organic agave is less refined and likely more nutritious but we want to limit consumption even if it is raw and organic for a number of reasons:

  • Very high in fructose (up to 90% fructose compared to HIGH fructose corn syrup which is 55% fructose!), which is primarily metabolized in the liver
  • Increases triglycerides (fat in our blood) and VLDL (dangerous cholesterol)
  • Increases appetite


The Basics: Obtained from South American shrub yerba dulce, stevia is an herb that has been used for thousands of years for sweetening. It’s nearly calorie-free and is 100 times sweeter than sugar but can have a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Where to Find It: Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, stevia extracts, flavored water, diet soda, yogurts


The Controversy: In the 1990s, it was rejected by the FDA, Canada and Europe for use as a sweetener because of concerns over reproductive problems in rats and hamsters, but it has been used in South America and Japan for many years. In 2008, the FDA classified stevia as GRAS (“Generally Regarded as Safe”), and the food industry started including it in beverages and marketed it heavily as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.

The other compound in stevia has not been linked to tumors or reproductive problems in rats over several generations. However, those studies were funded by the food industry and can be found here and here.

There have been few independently-funded human studies on stevia, but those that have been done have found it does not increase blood sugar more than placebo and lowers blood pressure.


Choose your stevia wisely. As always, read labels, choose organic if possible, avoid additional ingredients (for instance, Truvia contains erythritol and natural flavors and Stevia in the Raw contains dextrose and maltodextrin), and use stevia in moderation until more is known.


The Basics: Honey is made when bees collect flower nectar, combine it with salivary enzymes, and store it in their hives. Honey has been used as food & medicine in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese Medicine, and by the Greeks for over 5,000 years.

There are many varieties of honey, including clover, buckwheat, manuka, thyme, lavender, etc. The color varies by the nectar of different plant sources. There are also several forms of honey, including liquid, creamed and honeycomb.

Where to Find It: Cereal, granola, yogurt, nut butters, nutrition bars


What Science Says

Honey has multiple health benefits, including the following:

Reasons for Concern


  • Use in moderation because it’s high in sugar (GI = 50, but relatively high in fructose)
  • Best choice: organic (less exposure to pesticides), local (likely to benefit seasonal allergies), raw honey (more enzymes, nutrients)
  • Darker honey has more nutrients (include buckwheat, honeydew, manuka)
  • Traditional or creamed is not likely to have any health difference but is traditionally easier for teas, and creamed honey is easier for spreading

Other Natural Sweeteners


Blackstrap Molasses

“Unsulphured” blackstrap molasses has the most antioxidants and potassium of any natural sweetener and come from cane sugar manufacturing. It’s also very high in iron, so it’s sometimes used as a supplement for people who have anemia—Phillips (2009) J Am Diet Assoc. 109(1):64-71. Be aware that, despite its health benefits, it has a GI of 55 and is 30% fructose, so it’s not suitable for diabetics and should be used in moderation, as with all other sweeteners.


Maple Syrup

This natural sweetener comes from the sap of maple trees. Rich in antioxidants and high polyphenol (protective nutrients in plants) content. Dark maple syrup is high in magnesium, potassium, etc. (Theriault (2006) Food Chem 98:490–501). Its GI is 54, and it is about 35% fructose, so use it in moderation.

Make sure you are buying PURE maple syrup (not Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima, which are usually full of high fructose corn syrup). We prefer Grade B maple syrup, as it’s darker and richer than Grade A.


Coconut Palm Sugar

With a look similar to brown sugar, coconut palm sugar comes from the flower blossoms growing on palm trees, which produce a liquid nectar. It has a low GI (35) and low fructose content (<30%), so its use is encouraging but does not yet have much supporting science. Also, even though it contains more vitamins and minerals than white sugar, it doesn’t contain any fiber and is essentially pure sugar, so enjoy it in moderation.

I use coconut sugar in my Snickerdoodle bites and this fruit crumble.
Snickerdoodle Bites

Luo Han Guo (Monk Fruit)

The plant is native to southwestern China, where it has been known for hundreds of years and used for medicinal purposes. It’s used as a natural, zero-calorie sweetener with a glycemic index of 0, so it’s suitable for diabetics. It’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Here is a site with more info about Monk Fruit.

Yacon Syrup 


A natural sweetener made from the root of the Yacon plant in South America. It contains fructooligosaccharides, which promote the creation of beneficial bacteria in our digestive system, and helps to “bulk up” our stool to remove waste from the body.

Several studies have shown Yacon syrup to be effective as a weight loss tool, but it’s very expensive (about 30 times as much as sugar!), so it’s not widely used.



Usually dried or in the form of date sugar or date paste. They’re a better option than other sweeteners because they are a whole food and are high in tannin antioxidants. Like most dried fruit, they are high in fructose, so moderate your consumption. I prefer Medjool dates to Deglet dates because they have more of a caramel texture and work better in recipes.


The best “sweetener” for many health benefits, including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Enjoy a variety because different berries have different nutrients.

So, there you have it! Those are some of the top natural sweeteners to include in your diet. It’s ideal to eat them in moderation, but food is meant to be enjoyed, and they make food more enjoyable for sure 🙂 Didn’t see a sweetener you’re curious about on the list? Check out this guide or a FULL list.

If you want to go back and check out the previous posts in this series, here they are!

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 3: The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners

In Part 1 of this series, we learned why we can’t get enough of sugar and just how much we’re eating. In Part 2, we talked about the secret to cutting sugar cravings and having all-day energy, something most of us have struggled to do in the past.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at artificial sweeteners, so we can get clear on why so many people are concerned about consuming them.

In the final post (yup, I had to add a Part 4!), we’ll focus on the best options for natural sweeteners. These are the types of sweeteners that I use in sweet treat recipes featured on my blog, so many of them will be familiar to you 🙂


After I finished my portion of the Sweet Confessions presentation, Dr. Chris D’Adamo, an epidemiologist and nutrition researcher, who serves as the director of research at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, taught us all about the skinny on artificial and natural sweeteners.

He started off his talk explaining that the hormone insulin is secreted by the pancreas soon after the sweet taste is experienced on the tongue, whether the substance contains calories or not.

In other words, the body is fooled.

It expects glucose (energy!) to hit the bloodstream, but it gets none. This may result in increased appetite soon after.

So, despite our best efforts, when we’re ordering diet sodas, teas and juices, we’re not doing ourselves any favors.

As Dr. D’Adamo was presenting information about artificial and natural sweeteners, one of the phrases he said throughout his portion of the talk that I thought was key was this:


Keep that in mind as you read about these sweeteners.

Our goal is to minimize and, ideally, remove these artificial chemicals from our diet because they don’t support health, but Dr. D’Adamo stressed the importance of not letting an occasional ingestion make you feel like you’re doomed.

That’s not the goal!

He walked us through each of the most common artificial sweeteners and why we want to be aware of and concerned about them. For each sweetener, I’ve included what it is, where we often find it, and why it’s controversial.

Feel free to share this information with anyone you think would benefit!

Acesulfame Potassium (AKA Ace-K)

The Basics: FDA-approved in 1988 and 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Where to Find It: In thousands of products, including sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, alcoholic beverages, dairy products, ice cream, desserts, gelatins, jams & jellies, baked goods, chewing gums, toothpaste, mouthwash, pharmaceuticals, yogurt, cereals, processed fruits & vegetables, salad dressings & sauces, condiments & relishes

The Controversy: Most safety testing was done in the 1970s but was poor quality. The mice studies haven’t been of sufficient length, and the minimum toxic dose and maximum tolerable dose haven’t been evaluated. Ace-K hasn’t been thoroughly tested in humans.

Two rat studies suggested that it might cause cancer. It was for those reasons that in 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting ace-K in soft drinks. In addition, large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product of ace-K, have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs.


The Basics: —Discovered in 1965, it’s nearly calorie-free and about 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Where to Find It: —Thousands of foods, including Nutrasweet, Equal, diet soda, “sugar-free” products, cereals, low-calorie drinks, etc.


The Controversy: The FDA concluded there was no conclusive evidence of human harm and approved it in 1981. Yet 75% of food additive-adverse events (the most common of which is headaches) reported to FDA are linked to aspartame.

The source of the information is super important.  —100% of studies funded by aspartame manufacturers have found aspartame to be “safe” BUT —92% of independently-funded studies found that aspartame has adverse effects.


The health concerns linked to aspartame consumption are pretty unsettling:

Because consumers have caught on to the dangers of aspartame, the food industry has been renaming it, so make sure you read your labels!

  • “Neotame”: FDA-approved in 2002 and 13,000 times sweeter than sugar
  • “Advantame”: —FDA-approved in 2014 and —20,000 times sweeter than sugar (!)

For more info about aspartame and its impact on our health (so important to share with anyone drinking diet sodas or juices!), check out this free documentary on YouTube:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

The Basics: There’s a lot of controversy around this man-made liquid sweetener extracted from corn stalks that has been added to our food since the 1970s. Many have identified HFCS as one of the drivers of the obesity epidemic. It’s a very economic sweetener, about half the price of sugar. It tastes just like sugar, browns when heated and provides color in baked foods, thickens and stabilizes processed food and extends shelf life. It’s great for the food industry, but not so great for us.

Where to Find It: Soda, juices, salad dressings, bread, candy, ketchup, syrup, snack foods


The Controversy: The debate includes one group of people who advocate for banning HFCS entirely because of concerns about it being a poison to the body. The Corn Refiner’s Association argues that HFCS is “natural,” since it is originally derived from corn and, therefore, safe. But Robert Lustig and other researchers say, “It’s terrible, but so is all added sugar.”

HFCS consumption is concerning for the following reasons:

Fructose is also the primary sugar in fruit, but, unlike HFCS, the fructose in fruit is packaged in the presence of other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and water, so our body responds to eating a handful of berries differently than drinking a can of Coke. Fructose is more concentrated in dried fruit, so pick fresh fruit as often as possible, especially berries, stone fruits (apricots, peaches, cherries), and citrus as your preferred fruits.

Are you concerned you might be consuming too much fructose? Ask your doctor to order a serum uric acid test. If you’re above 300 ”mol/L (5 mg/dL), consider lowering fructose intake and retest. This test is also used to diagnose gout.


The Basics: Discovered in 1878 as a coal tar derivative (serious yuck), it’s nearly calorie-free and 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Where To Find It: Sweet ‘N Low, cookies and baked products (heat-stable), diet soda, jams and jellies, —toothpaste


The Controversy: It’s been under scrutiny since it was introduced in the early 1900s. The main controversy was in 1972, when a study linked it to causing cancer in lab animals. The FDA removed the warning label in 2000 and removed it from the U.S. carcinogen list in 2010, but saccharin is still banned in Canada.

Other reasons for concern include:


The Basics: FDA-approved in 1998 and 600 times sweeter than sugar. Its claim is that it’s “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” It’s often used interchangeably with “Splenda,” but they’re not the same thing. Sucralose itself is essentially calorie-free, but —99% of Splenda packets contain dextrose and maltodextrin, which are sugars that negatively impact our blood sugar. So, technically, Splenda is not calorie-free or sugar-free.

Where to Find It: Splenda, foods with Splenda label, baked goods, sugar-free candy, chewing gum, diet soda, low-sugar nutrition/snack bars, pharmaceuticals


The Controversy: Since it’s one of the newer sweeteners to hit the market, it doesn’t have many human studies and there are no long-term human studies. In a Splenda-manufacturer-funded study, which reviewed over 100 studies, the FDA determined no conclusive evidence of human harm.

Here are some of the reasons you may want to think twice about that yellow packet:

Sugar Alcohols

The Basics: Occur naturally in some fruits. On the label as maltitol, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, etc.

Where to Find Them: Sugar-free candies, chewing gum, low-carb & diabetic-marketed foods, baked goods, toothpaste, etc.


The Controversy: Overall, they are less risky than artificial sweeteners, but often have laxative effects. Most increase blood sugar and may damage gut bacteria that’s essential for optimal health.

The best options for sugar alcohols are erythritol (no impact on blood sugar and only 60% as sweet as sugar) and xylitol (inhibits oral bacteria growth, protects against cavities BUT is lethal to dogs in small amounts). Make sure you check labels because they are often combined with other more harmful artificial sweeteners.


In the fourth and final post of this series, we’ll take a look at natural sweeteners, which ones are the best choices, and why. I learned a lot and know you will, too 🙂

Resources to Learn More About Artificial Sweeteners

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 1: Why We Can’t Get Enough of Sugar

This is the first part of a 4-part series recapping the recent Sweet Confessions event I was part of at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore! Part 2 will take us through how to cut cravings and eat for energy, and in Part 3 we’ll cover which sweeteners to avoid or minimize and which ones are the best choices.


Earlier this year, I wrote in my journal that one of my goals this year was: To speak at the Institute for Integrative Health.

This past Thursday, I had the honor and privilege to do just that!

The night started with a Healthy Happy Hour and was supported by some of my favorite food vendors, including Zia’s Cafe/Plantbar, Jinji Chocolates, Mamma Chia, and KIND, as well as other local advocates of wholesome food and health education, such as Real Food Farm and Mission Thrive.

Tiih picstiih eventTIIH

I had my own Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen table and was giving out samples of my homemade Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Bites, which were a HUGE hit!

A little 3-year-old girl came back for thirds 🙂

They’re made without refined sugar and use natural sweeteners, including Medjool dates and raw coconut palm sugar.

They also contain blood-sugar stabilizing cinnamon and satiating sources of protein and healthy fats. We’ll talk more about why that’s important in the second post in this series!

me table tiihdonutholes tiihSnickerdoodle Bites

You could feel the energy in the room as everyone mingled and sampled the delicious eats.

We made our way into the main room for the Sweet Confessions presentation with Dr. D’Adamo. I was excited to see friends, clients, and peers there!

I started off talking about how I’ve always had a sweet tooth and grew up loving Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, Fruit by the Foot, Gushers, Mike & Ikes, and everything in between.

I had fruit snacks in my lunch box, Little Debbie treats as part of an after-school snack, and loads of candy for every holiday.

We watched a funny clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show that shows just how strong our emotional connection to sweets is.

Check it out for a laugh 🙂

We love sweets because they taste good and make us feel good. But most of us don’t realize how biologically wired that preference is!

Our taste system has an important job – to decide whether to accept a food; it serves as the gatekeeper. Michael Moss writes about this in his book Salt Sugar Fat (a highly recommended read!).

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had very little access to sweet foods, but “sweet” meant that a food was safe to eat and would provide energy, something that was unpredictable and hard to come by at that time.

The sweetest thing they likely had access to were berries – a far cry from the Sour Patch Kids and fruit snacks I loved so much as a kid. In our talk, our goal wasn’t to vilify sugar. We simply wanted to raise awareness around how much most of us are eating and to consider how it might be impacting our health and how we feel. Rather than “telling” everyone to avoid sugar entirely, we talked about how to make the best choices when it comes to sweeteners, so we can still enjoy them.

So, how much sugar are we eating? Let’s take a look.

In 1822, we consumed an average of 45 grams of soda every 5 days – that’s about the amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of Coke.


Fast forward to 2010, and the average American is eating 765 grams of sugar every 5 days – the amount of sugar in 17 cans of Coke! That’s about 22 teaspoons a day or 130 pounds of sugar per yeara person worth of sugar.

Our bodies haven’t adapted to how much sugar we’re pouring in on a daily basis. And it’s not just in the form of sugary candy. Sugar is hiding in foods we may not even suspect.

One of the most helpful tips I’ve learned about how to spot sugar in food is to memorize this simple stat:


Once I started paying attention to that, it totally changed how I shopped for any packaged foods.

I was shocked to find out how much sugar was in seemingly “healthy” foods like yogurt, granola bars, and even smoothies.

Take a look at one of the comparisons below and find many more on the Sugar Stacks website.



Yogurt and a pack of Gushers fruit snacks have the same amount of sugar?

What’s going on?

How did we get here?

A lot of our current eating habits can be traced back to the introduction of the first dietary guidelines in the U.S. in the late 1970s.

The initial recommendations that were set to be released were to significantly reduce sugar intake along with consumption of red meat and dairy products. The sugar, meat, and dairy industries were infuriated by these recommendations and lobbied to have them softened, which is exactly what happened.

So, instead of cutting back on sugar, the release of the McGovern report villainized saturated (and ultimately ALL) fat.

The result was that our intake of refined, enriched and processed carbohydrates skyrocketed beyond anything we’d ever seen with the introduction of low-fat, no fat, fat-free, and lite products.

We stopped eating fat, starting eating refined flour and sugar, and we started gaining weight.


It’s not just that we’re now suddenly weak and don’t have the willpower to resist sweet temptations that seem to surround us at all times. It’s that we’re trying to resist a biochemical drive on a daily basis, especially when it comes to foods like sugar.

One study done in rats was designed to test their preference for sugar-sweetened water compared to intravenous cocaine. 94% of the rats preferred the sugar-water, suggesting that rats can become sugar dependent under certain circumstances, which may translate to human conditions.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, explains how this process of dopamine release happens in the human brain.

When we eat sugary foods, the brain gets flooded with the pleasure chemical – dopamine – and starts reducing its number of dopamine receptors in order to keep things balanced. This is called downregulation. In other words, we need MORE to get the same effect or “high.” This is known as tolerance.

When drug addicts become tolerant to the effects of a drug, they start increasing the dosage to get the same effect. Lustig suggests we’re doing the same thing with food in this video.

Many of us experience sugar highs and lows throughout the day that affect everything from our energy levels to mood and even weight.

So, if this drive to eat these foods is so strong, how do we address it in a way that doesn’t center around deprivation and dieting?

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the secret to cutting cravings and controlling blood sugar instead of letting it control us!

Upcoming Events: Sweet Confessions on July 23rd

Join me on Thursday, July 23rd at 5:30 at the Institute for Integrative Health for “Sweet Confessions.”

We’ll start with a healthy happy hour at 5:30 with an engaging talk by Dr. Chris D’Adamo and me starting at 6:30. The event is FREE but space is limited, so please register here.

SweetConfessionsFBtimeline 2

Join Me for a “Sweet Confessions” Event in Baltimore on July 23rd!

Back in February, I was printing business cards in preparation for a presentation at a women’s retreat.

I checked Facebook and saw that my Facebook page for Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen had a new “Like” from the Institute for Integrative Health. 

“That sounds like a neat place,” I thought to myself as I clicked on their map to see where they were located.

Imagine my surprise when I found out they are right here in Baltimore!

In addition to being a beacon of hope for health care and focusing on integrative and holistic health, the Institute offers a variety of free and fee-based programs throughout the year to spread the message of hope, health and happiness to the community.

I’m so excited to be partnering with them and one of their nutrition gurus, Dr. Chris D’Adamo, to teach a fun workshop called “Sweet Confessions” on Thursday, July 23rd at their center on Fleet Street in Baltimore.


Before the talk, there will be a Healthy Happy Hour featuring yoga mini-sessions, raffles, and special discounts along with complimentary drinks and snacks from B’More Organic, Helene’s Kitchen, Jinji Chocolates, KIND, Mamma Chia, and yours truly, Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen. 🙂

During the talk, Dr. D’Adamo and I will be sharing what we’ve learned in a way that is fun, engaging and refreshing. We’ll help clear up all of the confusion and give you the scoop on everything from agave to xylitol!

I’ve had my own challenges with sugar over the years (I’ve always had a sweet tooth!) but have learned how to make the best choices for sweeteners for my body without guilt or judgment.

I’ve also learned how to prepare delicious sweet treats using real, whole foods instead of refined sugar and flour and will have some of them to sample during the Healthy Happy Hour!

The event is *FREE* but space is limited, so make sure you register here as soon as possible.

I hope to see many of you there! 🙂

An Inspiring Day of Hope, Happiness and Integrative Health in Baltimore

I first saw signs advertising the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Health & Wellness Conference a few years ago.

The topics and speakers always sparked my interest, but the timing never seemed to work with my schedule, so I never went.

After spending the past three years learning how to listen to my body, help it heal from years of medication use and poor diet, and optimize my health, I’m more passionate about the power of functional, integrative medicine than ever before, and I knew I had to go.

For the first time ever, the conference was held downtown at the Institute for Integrative Health’s facility on Fleet Street in the old Broom Corn factory. The recently renovated building has been converted into an open, inviting, vibrant space designed to provide an environment for innovative thinking, convene leaders and visionaries to promote true health care, reverse the sick care crisis, and educate the community about integrative health. Health is extremely important and it has been known that marijuana can have medicinal purposes, this includes physical and mental health, you can check out a medical marijuana card provider. A marijuana card provider is handy to get yourself a marijuana card – looking after your health!


Attending events like this and being surrounded by such brilliant, passionate, like-minded people energizes and inspires me and reminds me of why I do the work that I do.

As I wrote back in January, there is a special gift that comes from being with “your people.”

The conference started with some mingling and breakfast provided by my go-to healthy and nourishing meal choice in Towson – Zia’s CafĂ© – and Belvedere Square – Plantbar.

Daniela Troia, who owns Zia’s CafĂ© and Plantbar at Belvedere Market, uses whole, unprocessed, nourishing, vibrant food as a platform to promote health and wellbeing in Baltimore and beyond.

Not only did they serve breakfast, but they also provided snacks of veggies and hummus, fresh cold-pressed juices, wraps and salads for lunch and a chocolate ganache brownie for an afternoon snack. YUM!


Following the morning mingle, everyone convened for a Welcome to Wellness led by a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Brian Berman. He is the President and Founder of the Institute for Integrative Health and Director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine.

Dr. Berman has dedicated his career to researching and promoting complementary and integrative medicine, and in 1991 he founded the first U.S. academic medical center-based program for integrative medicine.

He started the conference by asking,

“What is wellness? What is health?”

Those two words have a range of meaning depending on whom you ask.

Dr. Berman’s comment about how integrative health can change the future really resonated with me. I share his vision:



I firmly believe this to be true and am honored to be part of such a transformational movement that has already helped and will continue to help so many people restore and optimize their health.

We were then led through a centering morning chanting session with monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, who will be at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mt. Washington speaking, singing, praying and creating a sand mandala from now until May 14th.

To learn more about these events, click here.


The rest of the day was filled was passionate speakers sharing the latest research and life learnings about a variety of integrative health topics.

While we know food is important to overall health and is something I write about a lot on this blog, non-food nourishment is equally important.

The conference was filled with both forms of nourishment and truly focused on integrative health and the connections between our mind, body and spirit.

The first session I attended was about the science of happiness and forgiveness and was co-led by Drs. Delia Chiaramonte and Dahlia Hirsch.


A whopping 50% of our happiness is hard-wired and inherited while a mere 10% is influenced by our circumstances. That means 40% of our happiness is changeable. We have the power to influence that.

The most fascinating thing I learned in the session on happiness was that writing and talking about negative things in our lives increases our happiness, while intentionally dwelling on and THINKING about positive things that happen boosts our happiness. Talking and writing about positive things doesn’t change our happiness, but dwelling on the negative decreases it.

So, when bad things happen, write or talk about them, but try not to mentally dwell on them. When good things happen, think about them over and over again.

We can actively increase our happiness by doing these things:

  • Identifying and using our strengths and making note of how we’ve used them each day
  • Looking for the good, even in tough situations
  • Purposely ruminating over positive experiences (instead of forgetting them and fussing over the not so good stuff)
  • Nurturing social connections
  • Committing to a gratitude ritual, whether it’s keeping a journal, reflecting on three appreciations before bedtime each night or writing a gratitude letter to another person and reading it aloud to them

As we shifted from happiness to forgiveness, we were challenged by Dr. Dahlia Hirsch to consider,

“What ideas are running your life? Your body?”

This resonated with me, as I’ve been struggling with some negative thought patterns lately and feeling “stuck” in my thoughts and my body. It can be so hard for us to forgive ourselves and other people.


She reminded us that we CHOOSE what to focus on. We can either focus on being frustrated, stuck, annoyed or angry, or we can choose to forgive to free ourselves from those feelings.

The question that stuck with me the most was this:

“What do I have to give up to have peace?”

It’s something each of us can ask ourselves.

Whether it’s a feeling, a relationship, a job, a wrongdoing, or something else entirely, what are you holding on to that is preventing you from having peace in your life?

We transitioned from happiness and forgiveness to the healing power of touch. I’ve experienced this myself in the past through massage therapy, chiropractic care, and most recently, acupuncture. Donna Audia, the main speaker for the talk, is an integrative therapy nurse and team lead for the integrative Inpatient Care Team at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

She opened with talking about the anti-inflammatory response of shock trauma patients to acupuncture and had to make a shift in her own mindset from “intubating and sedating” patients to using healing touch to help and heal them.

Donna captured her patient philosophy in one brief statement:

healing patients

I LOVE that.

Imagine if every health care provider adopted that same mentality. The epidemic of health that Dr. Berman is calling for could be here sooner than we thought!

What stuck with me the most from our session was the knowledge that 20 seconds of continuous touch releases the bonding, trust, and safety hormone oxytocin – for both the giver AND receiver – assuming the touch is wanted.

As part of the session, each of us had an opportunity to buddy up with someone else at our table and alternate giving each other light back rubs. My partner was a beautiful young woman named Maura, who at the age of 19 is discovering what health means to her, as she has battled with weight and smoking, but is determined to change her life. I encouraged her that what she is going through and growing through will ultimately be used to help and inspire others.

It’s in our struggles that we become relatable and real and connect to other people. Imperfect people are the greatest inspirations.

I plan to stay in touch with her, so I can continue to follow her journey. She will be a voice of change one day, and her story will impact more people than she ever thought possible.

She said something so profound that I had to write it down:


Wow. Wisdom from a 19-year-old. Isn’t it true for so many of us?

We’ve so deprived ourselves of genuine, meaningful, healing human touch and connection that we reach for other things to satisfy and fill us – from food to alcohol to cigarettes and even credit cards.

The next time you hug a loved one, see if you can hold it for at least 20 seconds or offer to give them a back rub for at least that long.

There is healing power in touch.

Before heading to lunch, I attended a session on increasing sustainable, healthy local food led by Louise Mitchell, who has worked with one of my company’s clients, Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown.


Louise taught us about the importance of eating locally, which usually means the food has traveled under 250 miles from farm to table, whereas most conventional food has traveled anywhere from 1,500 to 2,400 MILES before it reaches us.

A lot of the tips she shared about how to make eating sustainable, locally grown food more affordable are captured in this blog post about how to eat organic without going broke.

She also shared great information about the harmful health effects of pesticide use (what is sprayed on conventional, non-organic produce to keep it looking “perfect” and bug-free):


I learned about the work of Dr. Jim Duke, and the “green farmacy” he grows on his farm in Fulton, Maryland, where anyone can volunteer. I plan to check it out this summer! To learn more about his work and the farm, click here.

One of the most useful tips Louise shared was how to pick the highest quality and safest meats and poultry, so here you go. We want to eat:

  • Pasture-raised pork and poultry
  • Grass-fed and grass-finished cows, dairy products, and lamb. This means they are fed grass throughout their entire lives rather than being grain-finished, which is what helps “fatten up” and marble beef, but is not how cows are designed to eat. Check out the Eat Wild website to find sources for this type of meat near you.

Also, I teach this in the workshops I lead, but it’s worth reiterating that the word “natural” on a food label is unregulated and has nothing to do with how the food is produced. Don’t buy the marketing hype!

To learn more about sustainable farming, check out these resources:

After lunch, I was honored to attend a keynote presented by Dr. Chris D’Adamo, a nutrition researcher who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. He also teaches workshops at the Institute for Integrative Health.

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D'Adamo before his keynote

With Dr. Berman and Dr. Chris D’Adamo before his keynote

We learned the top tips to optimizing gut health, which many of you know is a passion of mine because of my own healing journey. I’ll be sharing those tips in a separate post because there was just so much great information that I can’t do it justice by summing it up here!

Dr. D’Adamo shared how over 50% of our immune system activity is in our “gut,” which starts in our mouth and ends, well, you know where 😉

Because of poor diet, stress, alcohol intake, and years of antibiotic and medication use, many of us have compromised our health and immunity and are dealing with the consequences in the form of everything from bloating, abdominal pain, reflux, allergies, and colds to rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety.

According to Dr. D’Adamo, the bottom line is this:


That’s right. We can heal and be well. The body is incredibly resilient. We just need to give it half a chance to do its thing.

Dr. D’Adamo will be teaching a series of workshops about What Science Says about Dietary Supplements in May and June, and I will definitely be attending! Click here to learn more and register.

After going through an energizing movement routine led by Lynne Brick, we finished out the day by attending a few more workshops.


The first was a healthy cooking workshop led by Jennifer Helene, who emphasized the message that it’s not about deciding between being healthy OR enjoying food.

It’s about having it all.

Healthy food can be both nourishing and delicious, and I seek to constantly reinforce that point in every recipe post I share on this blog.

She said it’s about becoming the best version of ourselves and planning for the space between where we are now and where we want to be. It’s about making a commitment to our health and ourselves and not letting excuses get in the way.

As Jennifer said,

“Invest today to save tomorrow. Be in action every day without guilt.”

She shared some delicious recipes with us, and you can find more of them on her website.

The second part of the experiential workshop was led by Susan Weis-Bohlen, an ayurvedic expert, who taught us about the different doshas – mind/body constitutions that are reflected in our physical characteristics, temperaments and emotional traits.

My friend Susanna having her ayurvedic pulse points read by Susan Weis-Bohlen

My friend Susanna having her ayurvedic pulse points read by Susan Weis-Bohlen

I learned that I am DEFINITELY Pitta dosha, known to have a “fiery nature” in both spirit and body.

According to the Chopra Institute, “Pittas have a powerful intellect and a strong ability to concentrate. When they’re in balance, they are good decision makers, teachers, and speakers. They are precise, sharp-witted, direct, and often outspoken. Out-of-balance Pittas can be short-tempered and argumentative.”


Want to discover your dosha? Check out this free quiz.

To learn more about Susan’s ayurvedic and vegetarian cooking classes at her home in Reisterstown, check out this link.

The day closed with a workshop that dove deeper into digestive health, specifically as it relates to adverse food reactions, allergies, sensitivities and intolerances led by Erin Peisach, a registered dietitian who sees patients at the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine. I’ll include the highlights from her workshop when I share the write-up about Dr. D’Adamo’s session in a future post.

Reflecting on the day, a few key insights stood out to me that summarize the mindset behind the day.


Sue Berman, Dr. Berman’s wife and Executive Director at the Institute for Integrative Health, noted,

“It’s great to have a day to be nourished in so many ways.”

I wholeheartedly agree. I wish more people could experience what TRUE nourishment looks and feels like and how transformational it can be for our health and our lives.

So many of us look to a TV show, book, “expert,” or doctor to “fix” us and tell us what to do. Part of what I’ve learned along my journey to healing my body and boosting my health is that I have responsibility in the process. I had to start listening to my body and stop ignoring and suppressing the signals it was sending me about how I felt.

That’s the secret.

At the close of her session on ayurveda, Susan Weis-Bohlen declared a truth that captures the essence of functional medicine and integrative health and the gist of the day. I hope it resonates with and inspires you to start paying attention to your body and take back YOUR health!

power within

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