Can Diet Calm an Anxious Mind?

foods to calm your nervesAnxiety. It’s a common ailment. When my clients list their medical history, anxiety is often on the list. It seems to be more prevalent than ever. Maybe we are now recognizing and diagnosing it more often, but it is not uncommon for a person of any age, even children, to report various levels of anxiety.

What is anxiety? Many confuse it with stress, but it’s actually more than that. Whereas stress is the body’s physical response in the moment to a situation, anxiety differs in that the physical response continues far after the situation is over. It is almost as if there is no switch to turn “off.” These physical responses can include increased blood pressure, excessive trembling or sweating, chest pains, insomnia, headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, constipation and/or diarrhea, indigestion, and even rashes or what feels like allergic reactions. The physical manifestations clearly can be many and may cause harm to one’s body over the long term.

The levels of anxiety can be varied as well. I am not a psychiatrist so I won’t get too far into this, but it can range from general anxiety all the way to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

The first step to take if you feel you have anxiety is to talk with a mental health professional. That way you can find out where you are on the spectrum and hopefully even find out where the anxiety is stemming from.

Second, which is where I come in, is supporting your body through this process with proper diet. Studies have shown that specific foods can play a huge part in reducing overall anxiety and improving the body’s ability to cope and recover.

While a healthy, balanced diet is what we typically recommend, let’s break it down into specific foods you can choose to support your brain and mental health.

Foods to Calm Your Nerves

1. Foods high in B Vitamins: Many of the B vitamins are known to help with anxiety and mood. Some great choices include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (at least one large handful of raw greens daily is ideal!) Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens
  • Avocado
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
  • Beets
  • Bananas

2. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids: The Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA) we know are very beneficial for the brain and may do wonders for your mood. These are foods such as….

  • Seafood including wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies
  • Plant sources with pre-cursors to DHA and EPA include flax seed, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts
  • High-quality fish oil supplement

3. Fermented foods: Numerous studies have shown that our gut microbes talk to our brain. Crazy, isn’t it? Supporting a healthy gut environment, therefore, is an important consideration for our mental health. Fermented foods include:

  • Cultured dairy products, such as high-quality yogurt (few ingredients, low sugar), kefir, buttermilk, cultured butter
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles and other pickled veggies
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Natto

4. Foods high in antioxidants: Inflammation can definitely put stress on our brains. Fight inflammation with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory foods. Antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, can also help increase the body’s production of dopamine.

  • Anthocyanins: blueberries, cherries, grapes, blackberries, pomegranates, red cabbage, purple asparagus
  • Vitamin C foods: Oranges, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango
  • Others: goji berries, dark chocolate, herbs and spices (especially turmeric)!

5. Hydrate!: While not a food, keeping up good fluid intake is so important! Dehydration increases stress on the body which can only exacerbate anxiety. While straight up water is a great choice, teas can also have a very calming effect on the body. Aim for 8 cups per day and even more if sweating excessively.

Foods That May Stress an Already Anxious Mind

While eating more of certain foods can be helpful, we also need to cut out those foods that are increasing stress on your body. These are likely nothing new to you, but they are good reminders!

1. Caffeine

Not everyone reacts adversely to caffeine, but if you are one of those who do, caffeine can definitely raise your anxiety level. Try cutting it out for awhile to see how you respond. On a personal note, someone in my own family did this recently and it did wonders for their mood and overall stress level!

2. Sugar

No surprise here, but sugar increases inflammation, raises blood sugar, and overall is harmful for your brain. Dial it back and choose naturally sweetened foods like fruit instead.

3. Gluten

For some, gluten can be very inflammatory and therefore impact your mood and well-being. Try taking a gluten vacation for a couple of weeks and see how you feel.

4. Processed foods, especially fast food

Another no-brainer, but fast food and other highly processed foods are very low in actual nutrition and high in refined carbs, sugars and additives. Ditch the drive-through and seek out healthier alternatives.

5. Artificial sweeteners

A component of many processed foods, I single these out because they may be harmful to our guts and therefore impact brain health. Some of my clients have even reported headaches and other reactions from these sweet additives. Go for the natural sugar if forced to choose but in very small amounts.

6. Avoid any foods you are allergic or sensitive to

Some of you, knowingly or unknowingly, may be suffering from food sensitivity reactions. These reactions cause inflammation which can exacerbate stress and anxiety. If you aren’t sure which foods are causing you problems, an elimination diet can be a good first step. Seek guidance from an RD like myself to help tailor such a plan or dig deeper if the offending foods are elusive. For difficult cases, I like using MRT food sensitivity by Oxford Biomedical for decisive answers (

Hopefully, this gives you a few specific food ideas to get started! Again I will reiterate that if you are struggling with anxiety, seek professional help. Don’t do this on your own. Along with expert advice, change up your diet to give your brain the support it needs!


How to keep your (diet) sanity during the holidays!

holiday foodsYep, it’s here, Christmas season! While this is a joyous occasion for most, are you one of those dreading the stream of Christmas parties, office treats, and edible gifts? The amount of sugar can seem endless. Even for the most motivated it can be incredibly difficult to resist overindulging, if not for lack of willpower than simply due to pushy people who seem to take extreme offence when treats offered are refused. What is with people sometimes? I’ve noticed this more frequently when clients tell me about weaknesses. Often times they feel out of control with their choices because of the people around them. How often have you seen people make a scene of someone choosing to avoid something simply because they don’t need the extra calories. Usually the first questions are things like “Are you allergic?” or “You don’t like the dessert I made?” It then proceeds to “Are you on a diet?” which then leads to an announcement to everyone that you are indeed on a diet, as that must be the case, and furthermore pointing out how skinny you already are, etc, etc. It can be downright rude at times. When the answer is “I just don’t need to eat that,” people don’t know how to respond. Some might wonder why you are even there, given the point of most occasions is to join together and engage in gluttony.

How to handle these tricky situations? First of all, be confident and be upfront. No one is going to take responsibility for your diet choices except you. Own your decision and don’t be ashamed. DO NOT feel compelled to eat anything you do not want to, especially around the holidays. Of course be tactful and polite, but politeness does not mean giving in to the food pushers.

Other ideas? Make sure to bring a healthy option to share so that there is something you can enjoy. Fill your plate with it. Also, if you do take something that ends up not tasting as good as you would like, or you are simply full and there is still food on your plate, it’s ok to throw it out. Believe me, I am not a fan of wasting food and I do everything I can to avoid it, but in the case of foods that aren’t even healthy to begin with, it’s ok to let it go. Dis-enroll from the clean plate club.

Lastly, make it a point to socialize, thereby over-riding the idea that food is the main point of the party. Show others that gatherings don’t have to be all about food. You can still have a good time without packing on the pounds.

Now, what if YOU are the food pusher? First, congratulate yourself for realizing you have this habit. Then, start respecting people’s food choices. Never force or shame someone into eating something. It’s not good for their health and frankly it makes you stressful to be around. Focus on enjoying time with others and letting them (and yourself) feel free to make the decisions food-wise that are best for them. Everyone will have a better time as a result.

Instead of dreading the holiday get-togethers, look forward to them! Eat healthfully, surround yourself with fun and laughter, and celebrate this season in the way that brings you the most meaning. Merry Christmas!

National Vegetarian Awareness Month: The Popularity of Being a Vegetarian

It’s National Vegetarian Awareness Month, and with that we have a nutrition guest blogger from Chicago to enlighten us on the reasons for and considerations around the Vegetarian diet. Thanks Tracy!

The Popularity of Being a Vegetarian

By: Tracy Williams

Has vegetarianism become a popular lifestyle? Is it really a healthy dietary choice? Ten percent of people consider themselves to be vegetarians, according to a Gallup poll in 2013. Being vegetarian was once a food choice considered to be unusual. Currently, according to a Harris Interactive Survey, 3 percent of U.S. adults also indicate they never eat poultry, fish or seafood. One third of vegetarians consider themselves vegan, which means they do not consume dairy, eggs and honey.

Why do some people choose to be vegetarian? There are many reasons. They may become vegetarians because of health concerns. A vegetarian diet could decrease the risk and symptoms of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Others may feel that large scale meat and poultry production is unsustainable for the health of the environment. People also point to issues of water quality, overuse of antibiotics, and other concerns. People also believe there are ethical reasons to avoid animal products or meat items.

There are many types of vegetarians in society. When you have vegetarian friends over for a meal, it is important to know what vegetarian practices they have decided to follow. Vegans avoid all animal products, eggs, dairy products or even honey. Fruitarians eat only fruits, seeds, nuts and other plant components that can be gathered without harming the plant. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, but not eggs. A Lacto-ovo vegetarian eats eggs and dairy products. This is the most common group of vegetarians. Pesce vegetarians include fish in their diet. Pollo-vegetarians eat fowl, such as chicken and turkey, but avoid red meat and pork. Flexitarians mainly eat vegetarian diet, but will occasionally make exceptions, especially during holiday or party meals.

There are health management benefits for those who are vegetarians. People who follow the vegetarian dietary plan are typically able to maintain a desirable body weight and have a lower body mass index (BMI). Vegetarians have less cardiovascular disease, cancers, and gastrointestinal disorders. Whole food plant based diets consistently show a lowered risk for many chronic diseases. Vegetarians tend to consume higher amounts of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and overall cholesterol.

There are possible nutrient deficiencies when restricting animal foods, but these can be avoided by choosing a wide variety of foods. B12 deficiency is one consideration. B12 is necessary for red blood cell maturation, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. B12 deficiency can be avoided if a person consumes adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from dairy products, which is usually sufficient. People who are vegan or follow the macrobiotic diet will need to get vitamin B12 from enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a vitamin supplement. Adequate iron intake is another consideration. Iron is important because it provides oxygen binding in red blood cells to be carried throughout the body. Dietary sources include enriched whole grain products, legumes, nuts and seeds, veggies, molasses and prune juice.

Open communication between the client, their family and their dietitian will help vegetarian clients choose the right foods to support their health.


Tracy Williams is a nutrition consultant in her local suburb of Chicago doing nutrition education and freelance writing on nutrition topics. She has her degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois.


Book Review: Attract Your Ideal Weight

Attract Your Ideal Weight: 8 Secrets of People Who Lose Weight and Keep it Off    By Zaheen Nanji

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to lose weight successfully and maintain it while others never succeed despite repeated attempts? I ponder these questions myself, frequently in fact. Well this book seeks to uncover why. The author, a health coach and motivational speaker who has clearly worked with hundreds of clients in the area of weight loss, wrote out what she has seen as the 8 reasons people are successful at permanent weight loss.

Her theory is simple. If, for example, we look at successful people to learn how achieve greatness, and to wealthy people on how to manage money, and to organized people on how to manage our time, why don’t we look to thin people on how to be at a healthy weight? I mean, these are the people making healthy choices day-in and day-out. Somehow thin people make choices that keep their weight in check and their lifestyle in line with their goals and values. The author’s premise is, then, that we need to dig into some of these behaviors to see how they might apply to others who are struggling. Cleary another diet book is not the answer, so this approach is a breath of fresh air.

The book is divided into 8 key areas or “secrets” that should be addressed in order to change ones thinking about food, weight and happiness. Specifically, there are several key thought patterns and behaviors that need to be challenged. In what I think is probably one of the most important, secret #1 talks about self identity and the importance of relinquishing the connection between your behaviors and who you are as a person. Once you can separate those, you can start to more easily change those behaviors while remaining true to yourself. That realization alone can help people move to the next level of accepting themselves and making positive changes.

Other important areas she hits on includes drilling down on your true motivations for diet and lifestyle change, breaking change into manageable pieces, learning what your values are and aligning your life with those concepts, becoming more in-tune with your own body’s cues, learning from failure instead of succumbing to it, and taking full responsibility for your lifestyle and change.

The focus of this book is not to tell you what to do (most of you already know WHAT to do!). In that sense it’s not another diet book. The goal is to help you actually DO it. That is the hardest part. The mental component is so critical. We can talk healthy nutrition all day long but the key is how to implement that in a way that is sustainable and successful to meet your goals.  How do we stop thinking about our weight and instead focus on being healthy and happy? These tips will get you there.

Overall, I strongly agree with all of the points the author makes. These areas are so important in allowing someone the freedom and ability to make lasting change. It takes the focus off of food and calories and places it on motivations, internal cues, and WHY you are seeking change in the first place. Just the realization that you need to address these areas can be an amazing first step for someone struggling with yo-yo dieting and the feelings of failure.

The one drawback is that each section is rather short and leaves much more to be desired in the areas of education and learning how to apply the particular principal. For this reason I would highly encourage anyone attempting to follow these steps to seek the guidance of a Dietitian or health coach to walk through this path with them in order to make sure you are applying each correctly. Additionally, the author’s website has more materials and information that can be helpful as well. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out your true motivations or why you desire change without some objective counsel to help. If you have based your happiness on the scale for years it can take some time to re-wire your thinking to a new paradigm. But certainly it is possible with these tips and some guidance.

To bring in my own personal experience as perspective, I am fortunate to be one of those people who rarely obsesses about my weight. As I was reading this book I was able to pinpoint the different areas she mentions as tools I use in managing my own weight without even thinking about it. I eat to feel good, and so that guides my food choices. I exercise to feel strong both mentally and physically, not to lose weight, and so that motivation keeps me moving. I was able to recognize that many of my motivations and WHYs of doing what I do are for reasons other than weight. Furthermore I listen to my internal cues of hunger and fullness and understand what foods work for my body and what foods don’t. I rarely eat past being full and I avoid foods that make me feel weighed down or bloated. That’s not to say I don’t have days where I eat terribly, but instead of feeling like a failure, I pick myself up and get back to my healthy lifestyle. I don’t let minor setbacks ruin everything. As someone who has been following these guidelines somewhat subconsciously, it was educational to see it written down on paper in an easy to digest format. This will help me as a practitioner be better able to educate others on following these same principles.

So, if you are about to buy another diet book, please don’t. Have a read through these 8 secrets to keep the weight off for good. Here’s to a healthy holiday season and a successful, diet-free start to 2015!

Check out the book on Amazon.

On the web: Attract your Ideal Weight

Late Night Food Rant

As I was writing a blog post this evening about foods I thought people should never consume (that post to come soon), I got to thinking about why people in this country don’t eat healthier. We have access to everything. And by that I mean every-frickin-thing. Every type of food you can envision is sitting in our grocery stores or readily ordered with one click of a mouse. It’s incredible if you think about it. But then we eat like shit. Seriously. We are one of the most overweight countries in the world yet we have the greatest food variety and arguably the greatest amount of disposable income, much of which “could” be spent on food.

So as I was writing, the overwhelming thought occurred to me. It’s because we as Americans are lazy. L-A-Z-Y. I wish you could hear me say the word aloud because it would sound like lay- ay –ay –ay –ay –zeeeeee. We don’t want to think about food, heaven forbid we learn about it, and if it could somehow be handed to me through my television screen, well then, all the better.

All right, all right, I know I’m getting a bit judgmental. But I am not going to lie. I see a huge discrepancy in this country. We don’t have money for food. I hear that line ALL THE TIME. No money for food. We are so poor. And yet we have money for cell phones, data plans, big screen TVs, vacations, sweet rides, designer handbags, and lots of junk food. I can only imagine teachers have the same gripes. No money for education, but money for just about everything else. That’s how I feel about food. Our government provides education, so suddenly the value in it goes down. Our government subsidizes crappy food to make it cheap, and so suddenly our expectation is that everything should cost a nickel.

Friends, the nourishment we put in our body should cost money. Have you ever seen a rich farmer driving a Benz and living in a mansion overlooking the water? Neither have I. These people are not price gouging. They are trying to make an honest living. Let’s pay what the food is worth. And what you are paying for is quality food, not doused in chemicals, not subsidized by the government, and grown with love and care. THAT is the food we should be eating. THAT is the food that nourishes our body and prevents disease. THAT is the food that our kids should know and love.

So if one more person tells me how expensive our local PCC or other organic co-op markets are ….

Ok, I’m off my soap box now. Back to my original blog writing. This is what happens when I’m home alone in the evening, just me and my computer. Feel free to tell me if I’m off my rocker or if you agree. Not trying to judge, but let’s be real. Food is important. The only people making a killing in this endeavor are those that sell junk. Don’t buy junk.

New Year’s Resolutions: How to make goals that stick!

Happy New Year!

Are you embarking on any New Year’s resolutions? If so, how are they going? Many are resolved to start eating better and exercising in the New Year. A great plan, I can’t disagree. The problem is, as always, where to start? What’s the plan?

Questions I often get asked come January: Which diet plan is the best? Which types of exercises would help me lean up in the shortest amount of time? Aren’t bananas bad for you? I heard sweet potatoes are way too starchy, right? Should I be a vegan?  Should I eat according to my blood type?  Is paleo really the way to go? Is it true low fat diets aren’t that healthy? Do I need to detox?

Oh wait, I get asked these questions all year long. But they are particularly pertinent this time of year as people really intend on embarking on true lifestyle change. Honest to goodness I hope those of you in that boat are tremendously successful. We know the statistics, however. Forty-nine percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions will have some success but not consistently. Twenty-four percent will fail at their resolutions altogether. And even of those who “achieve” their goals, only 49% will actually see those results continue past 6 months. Why are we so terrible at keeping to our aspirations?

A recent article in Psychology Today gives some insight into that very question. In the article professor Peter Holmes and colleagues point to a phenomenon called “false hope syndrome.” The premise is that most of us make goals that are completely unreasonable and unrealistic, thereby condemning our pursuits from the get-go. As the author states, these goals are not only unrealistic, but also “out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. Essentially we aspire to thing we don’t actually believe we can be or achieve, and in the end this negatively influences how we perceive ourselves.

Yikers, eh? We sabotage ourselves, plain and simple. The other problem? We aren’t specific enough in what we hope to achieve. “I want to lose weight” is somewhat of a goal, but it doesn’t tell us how, by what measure, and when we can expect our clothes to fit better.  That type of goal is easily pushed off to next week, next month … only to be revived again next January as the new goal that will set life right again. But we must take caution. Interestingly enough the author points out that while we are typically taught to make specific, measurable goals, we need to be careful not to set our parameters too narrow. Otherwise we run the risk of doing everything in our power to achieve the “goal,” forgetting that once the goal is achieved we will likely swipe the sweat of victory off our brow, sit in our brief satisfaction of winning the war of mind over matter, and then let life resume it’s usual course until we are back where we started … or even worse.

So what is the takeaway here?  First of all, our goals need to be SMART. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Us dietitians use this acronym frequently as it really helps guide one in making a solid and well thought-out plan. It does run the risk of defining the parameters too narrow, as mentioned previously, but it’s a good place start.

That being said, our goals also need to be broad enough to allow for some variation and course-correction if the actions we choose to achieve our goals end up not working out. Have you ever had an injury when embarking on an exercise plan? If that were to happen you need the flexibility to change gears but with the same end goal.

Keeping those ideas in mind, what would you say if someone said their goal is to lose 30lb by summer doing P90x videos every day and eating only fish, nuts, berries and kale? Specific, measurable, realistic and time-bound? Yes. Attainable? Umm, that’s debatable. Flexible? Not so much. If you injured your ankle as a result of those intense workouts, what would you do?  What if kale makes you gag and fish makes you break out in hives? As you can see, not setting your goals carefully and appropriately can bring down the whole plan if things don’t go as expected. I think that’s called life.

Now, even though you have all this planned out, in writing even, one last critical tool you need is mindfulness. You can make all the SMART goals you want but if you are not continually checking in with yourself and reminding yourself of the reason for your goals, you may scrap your plans altogether once it feels difficult and uncomfortable. Don’t forget, change is never easy, even with the best laid plans.

I found some good tips on mindfulness via Psychology Today here and another unrelated post here.

I also love Intuitive Eating which heavily involves the process of being more mindful. For those of you with weight loss and healthy living goals, these principles are critical ingredients for success. Check these out and employ as necessary during your journey.

Some good reading, should you be so inclined.

If you have already made and embarked upon New Year’s resolutions, now is the time to check your plan and see if a few adjustments need to be made for long-term success. If you have yet to make your goals but hope to do so, now you have the tools to make a plan that is well thought out and more likely to be achieved with the mindfulness piece in place. Remember, the overarching goal is true lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Here’s to making 2014 your best year yet!

Holiday Intuitive Eating and 10 Things You can Do to Stay Slim and Trim Through the New Year

Happy Holidays …  click to hear how I mean this to sound

The Holiday season is here! This time of year is special for so many, with gatherings of family and celebrating the meaning of many wonderful occasions. As humans, an integral part of our gatherings is food. We bond and connect over meals. We partake in each other’s lives by cooking and sharing food with one another. Offices becomes full of home-baked treats and parties are chocked full of special goodies that only are created and shared during the Christmas season. It would be rude to turn down best friend Sally’s peppermint chocolate cheesecake that she worked on all afternoon or Grandma Ruth’s handmade Stollen using the recipe handed down to her from her parents. In the midst of all this, how does one participate in the season while keeping, how shall we say, the waistline in check?

It’s tough, I’m not gonna lie. But it is possible. Let me first say I’m not going to advocate that you dismiss all this wonderful food in the name of health (caveat here for those with serious food sensitivities, Celiac disease, etc … not talking about. You all  know what you need to avoid because it’s mission critical for your health. Ok, let’s carry on…) Health is important, don’t get me wrong, but also important is sharing with one another and respecting one another’s customs and traditions. And food is an important tradition for many. In fact, you probably have many food traditions that you have or plan to pass along to your family. I know I do, and most of those are not sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free piles of mush passed off as “cake” or “cookies.” You all know what I mean. I love you alternative bakers, I really do because I’m one of them, but don’t pretend it’s just as good as the real thing. Because it’s not. There I said it.

Do you know how I survive? Rule #1: Don’t make anything forbidden. The MINUTE something becomes off-limits, you crave it all the more. I never realized this truth until I was pregnant. I swear (both times, in fact) the MINUTE I became pregnant all I wanted was sushi and sandwiches with lunchmeat. Why is that???? It was seriously frustrating. I think I ate California roles and other cooked sushi delights at least once a month for 9 long months. How often have I had sushi since? Maybe twice. No joke. So, don’t make anything forbidden. Give yourself permission to eat and ENJOY. Capitalize enjoy. Underline enjoy. Italicize enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t eat it. Go find something you do. There is huge freedom in that. If something is forbidden you will eat it even if you don’t enjoy it. When it’s now in-play, at any time, the game changes. Do you see what I’m saying?

So what this does is give you permission to enjoy Aunt Ruth’s carb-laden Stollen, and Sally’s full-fat peppo-choco cheesecake. But hey, think about taking a smaller piece. Savor every single morsel. The minute it stops tasting good (usually this is after only a few bites) stop eating. Take the leftover or another small piece home and know you can enjoy more later. What freedom that gives! And usually that insatiable power food has over you dissipates over time.

Another key tip is to check in with yourself. Yeah, give yourself a howdy doody and ask how are you feeling. Crazy, I know. Ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry right now?” If you are, how hungry are you? Ready for a small snack or ready to eat an entire horse? When you are feeling that small tinge of hunger start mentally preparing for what you can eat that will be satisfying and hunger-fulfilling. That means you need to reach this point before you are ready to eat the flesh of a horse. If you have already reached that point, well, you are in trouble. But if you can catch yourself before that intense hunger hits you are way more likely to make healthy and reasonable choices. Check in with yourself frequently and make smart choices.

The last tip I have? Don’t beat yourself up!! We ALL make poor choices at times. Some more than others, yes, but however many less-than-ideal food decisions you make, brush yourself off and move on. Tomorrow is another day. Beating yourself up only sabotages future choices and pulls you further and further down a path you don’t want to go. Forgiving yourself for food mistakes allows you to start the day afresh and make healthy choices going forward.

By using these simple tips this season you are on your way to intuitive eating. Intuitive eating allows you to navigate any food situation without overeating and berating yourself. The guilt and shame dissipates. The poor choices grow less and less. You gradually become confident in your choices, even if they are not 100% virtuous all the time.

As a Dietitian, people always want to know how I eat. Paleo? Low carb? Vegetarian? Ummm, none of the above. I eat what I feel like eating. I avoid my food sensitivities, of course, but apart from that, I do eat carbs (aiming for the healthier ones most often and cutting back on the wheat and other grains), and I do eat meat (opting for grass fed and such as much as possible), I eat fruit & veggies (mostly organic), I eat sugar, I eat legumes, I eat hemp seed, I drink Kombucha …. ie, I eat all sorts of things. Nothing, apart from foods that mess with my immune system or are flat out bad for you because they are not food, is off limits. I’ve seen people look surprised when I take several different types of desserts as a party. Damn right I love me a good cake. Not dairy free you say? I make exceptions from time to time, to my detriment of course. =)

Friends, just listen to your body and stop the insane food rules. You’ll lessen your stress and maybe even loosen that belt at the same time. I realize this whole process looks very different for each person so if you need help, just ask!

Now, apart from just the intuitive eating aspect, there are some simple tips and tricks you can use at parties and get-togethers to help you be successful in avoiding excess calories. Good luck and enjoy!

Danielle’s Holiday Eating Tips

  1.  Don’t skip meals! This often sets you up to eat more later. It NEVER reduces overall calorie intake.
  2.  Along with not skipping meals, have a hearty, healthy, high-protein breakfast. This sets you up to make healthy choices later in the day.
  3. Try starting the day with some heart-pumping exercise.
  4. Always listen to your hunger/fullness cues. Stop eating when full or no longer enjoying the food you are eating.
  5. ENJOY your food. Don’t be riddled by guilt for your decisions.  Just eat and enjoy, giving yourself permission to eat if you are hungry and if you really savor the flavor and texture. If you do “mess up” and eat too much, just move on the next day.
  6. Avoid cocktails if possible; they are high in sugar and calories. Wine in moderation is a better choice.
  7. Avoid random snacking as much as possible. Have water close by to avoid grazing.
  8. Have dessert, but start with half a portion. If you still really want more, give yourself permission to do so. Oftentimes a small portion is entirely satisfying.
  9. Drink lots of water throughout the day, especially between every alcoholic beverage. Dehydration is often mistaken as hunger. Stay hydrated!
  10. Most importantly, have a good time and enjoy your friends, family and good conversation. Don’t obsess about food the whole time!

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays everyone!

Boys at Westlake

The Lowdown on Initiative 522


Alright Washingtonians, it’s getting real in the Whole Foods parking lot again. The right to know about GMO (genetically modified organisms) food is at stake. Frankenfoods are about to take over and destroy our earth. You are about to be one giant lab experiment unless we stop GMOs in their tracks. Or is that really the truth?

Initiative 522 is “an act relating to disclosure of foods produced through genetic engineering.”1 What is genetic engineering you ask?

The genetic engineering of foods is the process of inserting specific changes in the DNA of plants to create or enhance traits that would make them more resistant to disease, produce better yield, or change their nutrient profile. Traditionally crop traits have been altered by cross-breeding, but changing DNA can target the desired outcome much more specifically in less time and with less error.2,3

The bill we have before us, therefore, is to tell the legislature and food manufacturers that we have the right to know if these methods are being employed in the food we are choosing to consume. The goal is to label genetically engineered (GE, this is often used interchangeably with GMO) foods to alert consumers who might wish to avoid them. As stated in the initiative, “currently there is no federal or state law that requires food producers to identify whether foods were produced using genetic engineering. At the same time, the United States Food and Drug Administration does not require safety studies of such foods.”4

I think given the choice, most of us would say “Uh, yeah, I should get to know what is going in my body.” I mean if you think about, more often than not we are privy to information telling us where our clothes were made, where our cars were manufactured, and what chemicals are in household products. It makes sense that we should also be allowed to know if the food products we regularly purchase are in part derived from genetically modified ingredients. Most large food companies and other organizations/groups however, think no. They make some decent points worth considering, so let’s take a look.

First point: We already do have methods of knowing for sure whether a food is GMO-free. Most GMO-free products have a label stating as such if given verification by the Non-GMO Project.5 It’s similar to the stamp of approval given if something is organic. We don’t require labels for non-organics, so in the same way we supposedly should not require labels for non-GMO’s. Those products that don’t use them will let you know. In fact, any product labeled as “organic” will also be GMO-free. That’s a fail-safe way to know for sure.

My take on this? I don’t think a GMO-free label is enough. In my opinion many products and companies will choose not to label themselves as GMO-free even if they do not contain them simply to avoid looking different from other products on the shelf. Also there may be backlash from giant conglomerates that want to make sure all products appear equal. I can only imagine there must be immense pressure to keep the status quo. Ok No Campaign. So far not convinced.

Second Point: Anti-labeling advocates state that studies show most consumers ignore or overlook food labels.6 This, then, would put undue strain and financial expense on manufacturers while providing no real benefit to the majority of consumers.  The Washington Research Council estimated in their position paper that the price on groceries would increase, on average, from $200-$520 per year per family. Most of this would hit lower income families.7

Well first of all this doesn’t make much sense for low-income consumers given point #1. If organic foods are the only options for low income families wishing to avoid GMOs then definitely their food costs are going to go up. We all know organic foods on the whole cost more. There are many products out there, however, that are not organic but may actually be GMO-free. This will give low-income consumers the power to choose and be more educated. Also, the fact that many consumers don’t use or ignore labels is a moot point in my opinion. There are many of us that DO use those labels and so that is simply a sweeping generalization they are trying to use to limit our right to know.

Third Point: Another big point of contention with the pro-GMO folks is that GMO foods are somehow unsafe. They take issue with the claim that the genetic engineering of plants and animals is, as the Yes Campaign puts it “an imprecise process and often causes unintended consequences. Mixing plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes in combinations that cannot occur in nature produces results that are not always predictable or controllable, and can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.”8 Opponents contend that in fact these processes are quite precise and that the “changes” (ie consequences) are known because they are targeting very specific genes with predictable outcomes. The scientific method that researchers hold themselves to will ensure the process is designed, controlled, and reproducible.

Oh hold that thought one second. What a coincidence that I was just reading in this week’s Economist a whole article dedicated to the danger of bad science9, whether intentional or not. I’d like to pull out a few quotes worth noting.

“Academic scientists readily acknowledge that they often get things wrong. But they also hold fast to the idea that these errors get corrected over time as other scientists try to take the work further. Evidence that many more dodgy results are published than are subsequently withdrawn calls that much-vaunted capacity for self-correction into question. There are errors in a lot more of the scientific papers being published, written about and acted on than anyone would normally suppose, or like to think.”

“John Bohannon, a biologist at Harvard, recently submitted a pseudonymous paper on the effects of a chemical derived from lichen on cancer cells to 304 journals describing themselves as using peer review. An unusual move; but it was an unusual paper, concocted wholesale and stuffed with clangers (a mistake or blunder) in study design, analysis and interpretation of results. Receiving this dog’s dinner (meaning a mess or muddle, so says the internet) from a fictitious researcher at a made up university, 157 of the journals accepted it for publication.”

Clearly we have problems with science in many realms, from actual errors scientists unwittingly commit to the journals themselves not carefully scrutinizing the science before publication. What a mess. I think we have every right to be doubtful of the science backing the safety of GMOs given this is such a relatively new area of science and the stakes for some of these mega food corporations are so large that they have every incentive to promote and encourage science backing their claims. Remember all the science saying that fat and cholesterol caused heart disease? We now know it’s WAY more complicated than that. In the mean time people have continued to get heart disease who might have been helped or saved if the science had been accurate.

In my opinion, whatever the science says at this time, it’s still all a gamble with our health. At the end of the day, I feel everyone has the right to know in order to make an informed choice for themselves and their children.

Fourth Point: The No Campaign also points out some discrepancies with the fact that many other countries in the world already require mandatory labeling. These countries include Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, The EU, and Russia (yes, Russia), among other countries. Currently 64 countries ban or require GMO labeling.10 While this is an undisputed fact, the No Campaign states that the nature of their laws differ widely and are not nearly as strict as I-522 seeks to be. Many of these countries allow for a small percentage of GE-inclusion without requiring labeling. Some also don’t penalize those whose crops may have been inadvertently contaminated with GE material as our new law would. We would be showing far less tolerance while the rest of the world allows much more leeway.

Hmm, interesting point, however I don’t see why we should vote down this law for being too strict. Heaven forbid. Yes, no doubt it’s sad that some crops have been inadvertently contaminated, and they should probably be given a ton of money by whoever was a careless jerk (insert cough that sounds like the word Monsanto), but I still want and need to know if that unfortunate food is coming into my home if not for the sole reason of keeping it out of the mouths of my young children.

Side note here. For the record, I get to decide what my kids eat. Not Kraft Foods. Not General Mills. Not Nestle. And certainly not Monsanto. I DO. I don’t care how “safe” you tell me they are. Even if they are safe, I GET TO DECIDE! Did I make my point clear? It’s the same with anything else, like the hot topic of vaccinations. I GET TO DECIDE. Any moms in the house hearing me on this one?

As for the small percentage of inclusion that some countries allow … whatever. That is their prerogative. I like the zero tolerance stance. Let’s know for sure. Maybe companies will even feel the need to tell us the percentage and we can then make an even more informed decision on our purchase, but I think going for complete transparency is a great idea. What else ya got?

Fifth Point: The No Campaign has one more last-ditch attempt to get you to vote I-522 down. They point out that while yes, many foods will be labeled under this new law, there are unfortunately way too many exemptions that allow foods such as meats, dairy and restaurant meals to escape labeling.11 We would be missing the whole picture, so to speak. There would be more confusion than actual education.

Seriously? If the exemptions were for specific foods known to be genetically modified (like soy, corn, etc), well then I’d take issue. But meat, dairy and restaurant food?  The difference with meat and dairy is that these involve animals that may or may not have eaten GMO food. It’s not that they themselves have been genetically engineered. Still a concern, but not quite the same thing. And restaurant food? That is an issue we can tackle later. What we are talking about is the majority of food purchased by the average consumer in the grocery aisle. And what we are also talking about is a first step in education and labeling. I don’t believe this law was intended to be all-inclusive. You have to start somewhere. Let’s get this ball rolling and see how we tackle the other concerns later.

I’m sure I’m missing a few other random points that have been argued against the case of labeling, but overall, I don’t believe the No Campaign’s arguments are strong enough. All it looks like to me is an enormous attempt by large food corporations to keep consumers in the dark about GMOs. Yes, maybe they are safe and we shouldn’t be making such a fuss …. but maybe they aren’t. When has big business ever had the general public’s best interest at heart? I don’t trust them to care about my health in the least, so it’s up to us consumers to face this issue and take a stand. Please join me, fellow Washingtonians, and vote YES on I-522 this November.





1. Initiative Measure No. 522. Full Text.

2.  “Genetically Engineered Foods.” Medline Plus. 05 July 2012.

3. Whitman, Deborah. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” ProQuest. Apr 2012.

4. Initiative Measure No. 522.

5. The Non-GMO Project.

6. No on I-522.

7. “Initiative 522: Costly, Flawed, and Ill-Conceived.” Washington Research Council. Sept 2013.

8. Initiative Measure No. 522.

9. “Trouble at the Lab.” The Economist. Oct. 19-25 2013: 26-30.

10.  Label GMOs.

11. Price, Bill. “Analysis of Washington State GMO Labeling Initiative I-522.” Biology Fortified. 15 February 2013.


Other Resources:

No Consensus on GMO Safety. European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility.

“Why Genetically Modified Foods Should be Labeled.” The Huffington Post. 4 Oct 2013.

Companies Opposing Your Right to Know:


Articles Discussing the Issue of Valid Scientific Data:

Hiltzik, Michael. “Science Has Lost It’s Way, at a Big Cost to Humanity. Los Angeles Times. 27 Oct 2013.

Begley, Glenn and Lee Ellis. “Drug Development: Raise Standards for Preclinical Cancer Research.” Nature. 483, 531-533. 29 March 2012.

Bohannon, John. “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?” Science. 342, no 6154, pp 60-65. 4 Oct 2013.

Buckwheat Waffles: Vegan, Gluten Free … Or Not

Uh oh, here I go again. A-n-o-t-h-e-r buckwheat recipe. To my credit it’s been over a year since I posted the last one, but yes, this one is somewhat similar in nature. But this is WAFFLES, not pancakes, and that means we get to use a waffle maker which makes this recipe infinitely easier, especially if you have kids tugging at your feet while making them. Slap waffle batter in said waffle maker, slam the lid, and tend to whiny child until the beeper goes off. That’s often how my mornings go.

What I love about this recipe is you can modify it in so many ways. If you aren’t concerned about dairy, eggs or gluten you can go all out. If you are, you can be super restrictive and yet still come out with a great product. I’ve tried this recipe every which way and they all come out soft and tasty.

That being said, my favorite way to make these is to use coconut milk as the liquid and coconut oil for the fat source. OMG, it is coconut heaven. Spread on some cashew butter and a little maple syrup and …. are we still having breakfast here or is this secret dessert? My littlest one loves it too, despite being denied the maple syrup. He chows it down slathered in cashew goodness and doesn’t know the difference. I will admit, I’ve given him a few of mine before, dabbed with a smidge of maple syrup, and he gives me this wide-eyed look of somehow being denied, up to this point in his life, this amazing flavor combination. Yeah, he’s a foodie in the making.

Now, this recipe will make quite a few standard waffles so just be sure to store these little friends in the fridge or package and freeze for future reheating. I find leaving them at room temp often makes them crunchy or tasting rather stale.

If you need a reminder as to why buckwheat is good for you, read this lengthy yet comprehensive review.

So… go down to PCC, pick up some of Bob’s buckwheat flour, and go for it. Viva la buckwheat!

The Best Buckwheat Waffles Ever

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup regular flour (or GF white flour or another cup of buckwheat flour)*
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups “milk” (regular milk, buttermilk, coconut milk, soy milk)
2 eggs (or 2 Tbsp flax seed mixed w/ just enough warm water to form a soft gel)
½ cup oil (melted butter, coconut oil, walnut oil, almond oil, etc)**

*If you use something besides regular all-purpose flour you will likely need to add more fluid. Simply add more “milk,” water or a combination of the two until you get a thick but pourable batter.

**While any oil here will do, choose something that will add favorable flavor to your waffle. Canola or olive oils will not. Almond and walnut will, however I sometimes wonder about the heat with such delicate oils. Coconut oil or butter is your best bet for flavor and fat stabilization. But, up to you. Play around with it.

1. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.
2. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl.
3. Whisk wet ingredients into the dry until well combined. If you are using regular flour be careful not to over mix and over-work the gluten. Mix and whisk sparingly. If using GF flours, whisk to your little hearts content!
4. Turn the waffle maker on. Let mixture rest while waffle maker heats up.
5. Pour batter onto waffle maker (I use a half-cup measuring cup as my ladle which seems to work well, however I don’t fill it completely).
6. Cook until your waffle maker deems it has made an acceptable product. If you have trust issues with your waffle maker, then watch it carefully to avoid burning. Otherwise, close lid, tend to child/husband/bills/Facebook/whatever until light changes or machine beeps.
7. Place on cooling rack until ready to consume.
8. Slather with some sort of butter or nut butter and a light sprinkling of maple syrup.
9. Watch your children beg for them every day.

Pics to come!

The Imperfect Dietitian

I’m the Food Police. At least that is how many people view me. I can’t tell you how many times people have made explanations or excuses for the food choices they make in front of me. It’s cool, I’m not judging. I eat “bad” foods too. In fact, many people are surprised what they see me eating sometimes. It’s not all quinoa salads and green smoothies at my place. Can I tell you a secret? I eat doughnuts. I eat cake. I eat fried chicken. I eat pastries with my coffee. Like right now. Mmmm.

I love reading the blogs of other dietitians and nutritionists. They are so virtuous, what with their bountiful gardens, daily excursions to farmer’s markets, frequent forays into the kitchen to experiment with almond flour or the kale they just picked from their garden, and postings of recipes incorporating the latest superfoods. I want that to be me, I really do, but it’s just not.

I have a garden, but it’s small. Sometimes I forget to water it. Then it dies. I do go to our local Farmer’s market on Sundays. But some days my one-year old decides to nap through it, or we are out doing a family outing, or I’m simply too tired. I do try and experiment in the kitchen, but with a little guy tugging on my leg and the older one wanting to “help”, my focus is well, a bit off. And recipes? Well there is one area where I excel. In following, that is. I follow recipes to a “t.” My brain has little room for creativity these days. Creating recipes, well that is for another day. Maybe when the kids are in school? Besides, have you seen how long it has taken for me to get back to blogging? My goodness.

All I’m trying to say is that I’m not perfect. Yes, the Food Police is not perfect. When I tell people that I see their eyes roll right into the follow-up question. “Sure, but how do you stay so trim and in shape? I simply look at a doughnut and gain weight.” That’s where I bring up the 80/20 rule. Have you heard of it? The premise is you live healthy and virtuous 80% of the time. The other 20% is where you splurge a little. Have a piece of cake at a birthday party? Go for it. Have a few drinks with friends on a Saturday night? Why not. If you’ve been eating healthy all week and incorporating a decent amount of exercise, some indulgence here and there is perfectly fine.

Like I said, I do eat doughnuts. Every day? Heavens no. Maybe once or twice a month, and quality counts. Krispy Kreme, no way. Mighty O Vegan Donuts = YES. And cake? Yeah, again, like once a month at a get-together or if I get inspired (or coerced) to bake something at home. Pastries with my coffee? A little sweet with my coffee is sometimes nice, but I never eat the whole thing. I never forget about portion size.

The rest of the time I’m eating whole foods, a lot of it fresh from PCC (our local organic grocer) or the West Seattle farmer’s market. I’m drinking lots of water, and more recently I’m doing more green smoothies with coconut milk and eating a ton of fresh summer fruits. I’m also exercising, almost every day. I know exercise is a sticking point for many, but people, you have to move! You have to get that heart rate up and you have to sweat. There’s many ways to achieve this and I can offer recommendations for gyms, trainers, and methods, but exercise is vital. As I once overhead someone say, burpees can cover a multitude of sins.

I really hope this helps you see that many of us in the health industry are not perfect. We like to indulge and splurge as much as the next person. And we all have times in life, just like you, where we just can’t be as healthy as we aspire to be (kids/family obligations, job schedules, illness, etc). The key is to be as health-conscious as you can most of the time and let that other 20% go. It’s that easy.

Of course, if you need help with that pesky 80%, give me call. =)

Mama makes me delicious food.