Optimizing Weight Loss with Hormonal Balance

Published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Feb 2014

Are you struggling with losing weight?

We all know that there is no magic pill, potion or powder. And I am not here to tell you there is. Any long-term successful weight loss program requires a healthy eating plan and a program of regular exercise. However, there is some information that may be useful to you on this journey. Information that may explain why you’ve had such a difficult time losing weight despite doing everything “right”, and how just a few changes might make all the difference.

Many of us have been on multiple weight loss programs, eating as healthy as we know how and exercising as much as we have time for. And somehow the weight just won’t budge. This is because, as much as we have been told time and again that weight loss is merely a mathematical equation (calories in must be fewer than calories used), there is actually more to it, especially if we wish to keep the weight off. Namely, hormonal balance.

Do you know that our bodies create 3 hormones that cause fat-building and others that cause fat-burning? Though most people think of hormones as only relating to male and female characteristics (sex hormones), we have many others that serve vital purposes in our bodies. They are chemical messengers created by our endocrine glands including our thyroid, pancreas, adrenals, pituitary, hypothalamus, etc. If we can better regulate our 3 fat-building hormones then our fat-burning ones will work better and make our weight loss goals more attainable.

So, what are these 3 hormones?

1.  Cortisol.  Produced by our adrenals glands, we need cortisol in small amounts to get us out of bed in the morning and ready to start our day. But, it is also produced in reaction to stress and to stimulants such as caffeine. When produced in excess, this hormone negatively impacts our blood sugar metabolism, depletes our adrenal gland function over time, and puts weight on us in the middle of our bodies (think lower abdomen and muffin top) as well as upper back (buffalo hump area).

Action steps to help balance cortisol:

  • Reduce your stress levels and stress responses. Adopt a stress-reduction practice, such as meditation, yoga, breath work, or prayer; anything that has you feel calm and emotionally uplifted afterward. Of course, acupuncture qualifies, but you also need something that you can do in the moment, when you need to bring your stress levels down quickly. Even taking a stroll outside can be stress-relieving; anything that is sustainably pleasurable to you without being taxing.
  • Eliminate or restrict caffeine intake, including coffee, tea, energy drinks and sodas. (If you must have something, the best option is one cup of green tea in the morning. Green tea doesn’t spike cortisol like coffee and black teas do.)
  • If you have pain, get acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic or other treatment to address the cause of it. Pain, especially chronic pain, is a major stressor, and triggers significant cortisol release on a regular basis.  It is very likely that if you have chronic daily pain, it will be quite difficult for you to drop weight until you can get the pain under control.
  • Allow yourself plenty of sleep. Sleep is amazingly healing to the body, to recharge the adrenal glands, and to heal the damage done to your tissues and glands as a result of too much stress. Sleep also triggers the release of growth hormone, which is a fat-burning and anti-aging hormone. The more stressful your life, the more sleep your body requires. Aim for 9 to 10 hours per night.

2.  Insulin.  Insulin is released by the pancreas after we eat. Our bodies turn all of our food calories into “blood sugar” or glucose, so it can be used by our body cells. Insulin ushers glucose from the blood into muscle cells and other cells to fuel them. However, if our body cells already have enough glucose from the previous meal, insulin instead diverts that excess glucose into our fat cells, making them grow bigger.

Action steps to help balance insulin:

  • Avoid sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup and white sugar), refined carbs (especially white flour products), and overeating at meals. All of these spike the blood sugar releasing large amounts of insulin.
  • Do not skip meals (yes, this includes breakfast). This drops your blood sugar too low so that you will be more likely to overeat and make unhealthy choices at your next meal. It also slows your metabolism.
  • Use regular exercise to burn up the glucose in your muscle tissues. This way insulin can feed your muscles, rather than your fat cells, with the glucose from your meals (and even burn fat to feed your muscles). This does not have to be high intensity exercise (even walking, bike riding, or yoga can be great options). Try to do at least 30 minutes of some type of physical activity every day. Exercise also triggers the release of growth hormone, like sleep does.

3.  Estrogen.  We all need estrogen. Women need more and make more estrogen than men do. However, we are all exposed to toxins in our foods, water and air that mimic estrogen in our bodies. These chemicals can displace our natural estrogen from the estrogen receptor sites on our cells. As a result, our displaced estrogen instead goes into our fat cells, growing them larger, typically in the hips, buttocks and thighs.

Action steps to help balance estrogen:

  • Reduce exposure to chemical toxins. These include hormones in non-organic meat, poultry and dairy, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, genetically modified foods (which always contain higher levels of pesticides), preservatives, plastics, chemical household cleansers, bug and weed killers, chlorine bleach, and personal care products containing artificial fragrances, parabens, phthalates and sulfates. Drink only filtered and purified water.
  • Be loving to your liver. It is your liver that must process all chemicals and toxins in our bodies, as well as excess hormones such as estrogen. Liver function is also vital for the proper functioning of all of our hormones, including thyroid, blood sugar balance, adrenal sufficiency and sex hormone balance. When it gets overburdened in its job due to too many toxins, the liver can fall behind in performing all of its vital work for us.
  • The liver loves fresh lemon water, beets, green veggies, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables, organic apples, fiber rich foods, plenty of clean water, and flax seed. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, fast food, trans fats, deep fried foods, artificial food additives, fumes of all types, vehicle exhaust, smoking and unnecessary drugs. And, reduce or eliminate intake of animal proteins, to give the liver a well-deserved break.

If you have weight or bloating in your upper abdomen, this could be excess fluid build-up from your liver struggling to keep up. In addition to the above action steps, it is recommended to reduce sodium intake and consume more potassium rich foods such as avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, beet greens, tomatoes, spinach and peaches to help flush this excess fluid.

Take these action steps and expect to have a much easier time dropping the pounds. If you find that you are still struggling, come in for an evaluation. You may have a deeper imbalance that we can address with acupuncture, herbs and more specifically-targeted nutrition. These could include a clinical or subclinical thyroid imbalance, adrenal gland imbalance, sex hormone imbalance and/or a liver burdened with too many toxins, all of which can be improved, and in many cases optimized, through natural means.

Please note that if you are on medication for any hormonal or glandular condition, you should not stop your medication. You can safely implement the above suggestions while on your medication. If you wish to get off of your medication, or reduce the dosage, this is something we may be able to do, gradually, with proper natural treatment, and with the appropriate lab work findings, while keeping your prescribing physician in the loop.

Recommended Viewing:  Hungry For Change.  This documentary is available on Netflix.

Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM

Shifting our Inner Conversation

Monkey-Mind:

You know that voice in your head that is always chattering away? The one that is usually telling you something is wrong? Or will go wrong. Or that you aren’t good enough in some way? Or that your house, car, job, boss, spouse, family, or life situation are somehow bad or in the wrong, or not enough, or too much? You know what I’m talking about; we all have it.

Lately, I am finding it increasingly important to address my “monkey-mind” (as the Buddhists call it, referring to its restless and uncontrollable quality), and get real about all the unhelpful bull-pucky that it spews on a regular basis. I am convinced that being aware of the incessant blithering in our heads, and consciously shifting our inner conversation, is vital for finding contentment and furthering health on many levels. Yes, you heard that right – the ceaseless chatterbox in our minds is likely negatively impacting our health.

This is because that mental conversation has a subconsciously programmed “default” setting to focus on something we think is wrong, something we DO NOT want. To put it succinctly, it is complaining.

This inner complaining is the biggest source of the stress that we feel. We all have stressful events and situations in our lives; but it is the monkey-mind constantly regurgitating the negative thoughts and feelings about those situations that perpetuates and compounds our experience of stress.

Plus, it actually creates more to complain about. It is self-perpetuating. Take this example…

It is 2 am.  You woke up and can’t get back to sleep:

What do you do? You tune in to your monkey-mind complaints…

“…darn it…why am I awake… I have to get up at 6…of all the days this week, tomorrow is my earliest day…why did it have to be tonight…this is so unfair…I have such a busy day tomorrow … maybe I have too many blankets on …what time is it no…how much sleep time have I lost…this is so frustrating….”

Does this sound familiar? What am I focused on here? That I can’t sleep and how awful it is that I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about what I DO NOT want. In no way is it helpful. In fact, the big irony is that listening to the monkey-mind complain is actually keeping me awake!

Once I become aware of my mental complaining, and its uselessness, then I can consciously choose to focus on something else: perhaps some soft music, the sound of the cat purring, or my own breath; and this is when I can fall asleep easily.

The Law of Attraction:

Much has been written about the Law of Attraction recently. It says that we attract into our experience that which we think about most, be it good or bad.  And, that the more emotionally charged those thoughts are (again, good or bad) the stronger the attraction of that situation into our lives. (If you are not versed in the Law of Attraction, do a Google search; it is very interesting.)

Most often the Law of Attraction is described as a phenomenon of subconscious or even spiritual manifestation.

Whether or not you subscribe to the spiritual aspect of the Law of Attraction, the fact remains that negative thoughts produce very tangible stress chemicals in the body which invite mayhem; wreaking havoc on every system of our physical bodies, making us more susceptible to pain, inflammation, dysfunction and illness, and doing nothing good for our mental & emotional state.

In addition, these stress chemicals and negative emotions trigger reactive behaviors in us that further harm our physical bodies and mental outlook.

How about another example…

Feeling Fat:

Ladies, how many of you are not happy with what you see in the mirror?  Most of us have very negative monkey-mind, complaints about our bodies.

When you look in the mirror, what is your mental conversation? Are you grateful for this AMAZING, living, breathing, moving body which is a miracle of science and engineering, with all of its automatic chemical messaging, electrically pulsing, fluid pumping, cell dividing, self-healing, energy producing, idea forming, memory recalling, fact learning, emotion feeling, offspring making and tissue building functions?

Are you in awe of this mind-blowingly complicated masterpiece of life, forged of water, earth and air, which has the ability to sense, react to, affect and interact with its environment and with other living beings, providing us a vehicle through which to appreciate the beauty around us?

Or do you think your thighs are too fat?

And, when you are thinking about how fat your thighs are, do you feel inspired to treat this incredible, dynamic, body-mind-spirit complex with love, nourishing food, fresh air, adequate rest and movement that feels good and energizing? Or do you feel badly about your body? What happens when we feel badly about our bodies? We feel compelled to wash down a bag of Cheetos and a box of Cinnabons with a 2 liter of Diet Coke, while lounging on the couch watching Netflix.

So now, along with the stress hormones, our arteries are pumping with high levels of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, artificial chemical additives, saturated fats, sodium, and preservatives, all of which increase inflammation and oxidative damage to our organs and tissues. Not to mention, we’ve made our thighs even bigger! We have created more of what we DO NOT want by listening to and reacting to our monkey-mind.

A Perpetuating Cycle:

Of course, there are countless other examples of reacting to the inner blithering that leads to many other dangerous (even illicit) behaviors, in an attempt to escape the bad feelings that our own thoughts have created. Addictions of all sorts often have their roots here: alcoholism, substance dependency, food addiction, sex addiction, and adrenaline-rush seeking.* Even behaviors that seem healthy to the casual observer could be taken to unhealthy extremes when used to escape the monkey-mind.

These escapism behaviors, though they provide a temporary respite, simply reinforce the bad feelings. It is a vicious feedback cycle that we all get stuck in to some degree or another. The more we are caught in this perpetuating loop, the more it saps our energy, vitality and sense of wellbeing.

Can we Stop the Monkey-Mind’s Complaints?

It is nearly impossible to stop thinking about something. For instance, if I say, “Don’t think about a lion wearing a Santa hat,” what comes to mind? A lion wearing a Santa hat, of course. Our suggestible subconscious minds do not acknowledge the words “no”, “not”, “don’t”, “won’t”, “never” and “shouldn’t.” So, telling our monkey-minds to stop complaining is ineffective. Typically we end up just complaining about our complaining. Instead, we need to shift our focus to something else: something positive that we DO want.

Several years ago I purchased a series of hypnotherapy CD’s. The set included CD’s for weight loss, insomnia, success at work, etc. After the initial relaxation exercise on the weight loss CD, the therapist started making simple statements aimed at shifting the subconscious thoughts and reactions about food:

“My body drops excess weight effortlessly”…“I eat only when I am hungry”… “It feels good to exercise daily”… “I do not overeat”…

…WAIT…WHAT??  Did he really just say, “I do not overeat.”? The subconscious mind doesn’t understand “not” so the focus of that statement is overeating, which is something that we DO NOT want. He should have said, “I eat only until I am pleasantly satisfied,” changing the focus to something that we DO want. I turned off the CD and never listened to any others in the series.

Having a Say in the Matter:

There are a large number of disciplines that we can use to alter our inner conversation. They may be referred to as “stress-relieving” practices because they refocus our minds away from the source of the majority of our stress, our monkey-minds. This creates a shift in our mental attitude and emotional state, releasing us, at least for a time, from the perpetuating feedback cycle discussed earlier. These practices allow our bodies a break from the assault of our stress hormones and unhealthy escapism behaviors.

These stress-relieving practices include, but are not limited to: hypnotherapy, certain forms of talk therapy, focused breathing, spiritual dancing/singing/chanting, guided relaxation, prayer, gratitude practice, meditation, and yoga. Many of these have been around for millennia, and are still practiced by people the world over.

These practices don’t directly address the monkey-mind. Instead, they redirect our focus elsewhere by using one or more of the following techniques:

  1. Making a conscious effort to focus on something we DO want (as in hypnotherapy’s simple, positive statements, certain forms of talk therapy, a request prayer, or creating a new possibility for our lives),
  2. Making a conscious effort to focus on something we are grateful for (as in a gratitude practice, certain forms of talk therapy, or a thankful prayer),
  3. Making a conscious effort to focus on something other than words (such as our breath, the rhythmic movements of a dance, or the resonance of sound in a song, chant or instrument.)

How do these practices differ from escapism behaviors? Escapism behaviors are automatic reactions to the monkey-mind. There is no conscious thought as to why we are doing them, and what long-term effect they are having. Nor are they truly reducing the amount of stress we are imparting upon our bodies and minds. We don’t feel a sense of inner peace or contentment afterward; in most cases, we actually feel worse.

In contrast, stress-reducing practices require conscious effort to refocus the mind away from indulging in and reacting to the monkey-mind. Plus, every one of these techniques has been proven to have beneficial effects on physical and mental health. And, after the practice, we feel a sense of peace, calm and tranquility.

Some Great Options:

Journal-writing can be quite helpful to work through inner chatter, as long as you then shift into writing/thinking about what you DO want, how you might go about creating that in your life, and perhaps even what you are grateful for. Gratitude shuts down the negativity of the monkey-mind very quickly.

Prayer is a powerful stress-reliever, and can produce even more inner peace and health benefits if you omit the words “no”, “don’t”, “won’t”, and “not” from any requests, keeping all statements simple and positive. Again, expressing gratitude is wonderful here as well.

Meditation is also amazing. The difficulty in meditation for most people is that they try to think about nothing, and all they hear is the monkey-mind. Instead, try focusing on something specific. For example: imagine a beautiful rose. Picture its every detail: the lines and folds of each petal, the colors, the scents, the soft, velvety feeling. Imagine it with as much detail as you can muster. That is a simple meditation; it takes your focus off of the incessant chatter.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, do a search for meditation apps.  Some of these can be quite helpful.

Yoga is my favorite practice lately. My body always feels great after practice, and the focus on the Ujjayi breath (or “ocean breathing”) is effective to quell the inner blithering. My experience of yoga can be summed up by my new favorite yoga shirt which says “Awareness, Consciousness, Harmony,” reminding me to have Awareness of my monkey-mind, to Consciously redirect my focus, and to enjoy the resulting inner Harmony.

Practice, Practice, Practice:

All of these stress-relieving disciplines require conscious effort to practice in order to reduce the impact of our monkey-mind. Of course, the chattering will pop in during your practice; so, as soon as you become aware of it, without judgement, simply redirect your focus back to your practice.

This is why it is called a practice! The more we do it, the easier it becomes. And the more often we practice, the more benefits we receive to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

As we approach the bustle of the Holiday Season, I encourage you to take time to practice some of these techniques. Even just a few minutes a day can make a world of difference in how you feel. Give yourself this wonderful gift.

Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM

*If you are suffering with an addiction, it would behoove you to seek the appropriate professional help.

The Possibility of Your Healthiest Self

I see many different types of people and medical issues come through my door, and I often wonder what it is that has some people experience such incredibly dramatic, positive results, and others not as much.

Obviously some problems inherently will respond better than others. This is true for all therapies and conditions. But even with the same condition in similar types of people, I can often see wildly varying results.

I have come to the conclusion that it has to do with the future “possibility” that the person is holding in their mind, and “living in to,” meaning they are taking the appropriate inspired actions to create.

What do I Mean by Possibility?

Let me back up for a minute. In this context, when I say “possibility,” I am using a very specific concept from Landmark Education that I will do my best to describe. It is at once a vision, a goal, a dream, and a choice to make one’s life what they wish it to be. But, it is more than wishful thinking or day dreaming, because it involves purposefully moving toward that condition or situation with specific actions that create measurable results.

It is similar to the idea of setting goals and creating an action plan to achieve them, but with the additional spark of inspiration, which infuses the goal with power and passion. A possibility that we create for ourselves may seem completely unrealistic or pie-in-the-sky to others, but it doesn’t matter, because we are truly inspired by this possible future reality that we’ve created for ourselves. So much so that any obstacles we encounter on the way become trivial in our minds, even the doubts of other people.

In fact, often our own inspiration becomes contagious and inspires others to not only cheer us on, but to consider possibilities for themselves that they may not have entertained before.

How About a Real Life Example:

I will use a bit of my own history to illustrate:

At age 23, recently out of undergrad school, my boyfriend of 4 years and I were splitting up, and I wanted to get out of my home state of Ohio. I had recently been intrigued to learn about massage therapy and natural wellness, so I picked up a Massage Magazine and thumbed through the school listings in the back.

Without realizing I had done so, I had created the possibility of moving to a completely different place, learning massage therapy and creating a whole new and great life for myself.

I was drawn to a school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, (you can’t get much more different from Ohio!), so I packed a trunk full of clothes, a few of my favorite books, my cat, and my bicycle into the back of my boyfriend’s pick-up, and he dropped me off in Albuquerque on his way home to California. He stayed long enough to help me find a dumpy 150 sq ft studio apartment attached to an old house in the University’s “student ghetto.”

West Mesa Albuquerque, Spring '97

West Mesa Albuquerque, Spring ’97

I didn’t know a single person in New Mexico, or have a car, or any furniture except for a small, thin futon on the drafty wood floor. It was winter. My cinder block apartment was not insulated, and I had to keep the heating bills low, so I slept in 2 layers of clothes under blankets, with hat, scarf and gloves. My water pipes often froze, rendering my tiny shower useless, so I had to sponge bath with water that I warmed on the rickety gas burner that served as a stove.

And most people thought I had completely lost my mind.

But none of this mattered to me. Why? Because I was living in the possibility I had created: going to massage school, meeting new friends, and creating a great life for myself. I knew these unpleasant things were not my life; they were a temporary nuisance.

I worked 3 part time jobs, all within walking distance, to make ends meet and put myself through massage school, plus I pulled extra hours in the massage school internship clinic for tuition assistance. Not a problem; none of this seemed like drudgery or burden.

The possibility that I had created for myself was so compelling and inspiring, that my attitude was one of adventure. I didn’t consciously set out to have a good attitude, it was just present as a result of the possibility that I had created for myself. And, as a result of my attitude of adventure, adventure showed up in my life!

Hiking Summer 1999

Hiking in Pecos, Summer ’99

I purchased an old used car, and when my apartment lease ran out, I took the opportunity to move into a nicer house with 2 roommates, one of whom had become a good friend and massage school classmate.

I fell in love with another classmate. Eventually, we got an apartment together, and later a house outside of town, on a small organic farm. He was an outdoor adventurer, so we hiked, camped and backpacked all over New Mexico and Arizona.

After that relationship ended, I moved into a community house with a wonderful group of massage therapists and natural healers. We did yoga every morning at 6 am, and we never locked the door to the house; all of our friends knew they were invited anytime, so like-minded supportive community was ever-present. It was here that I created a new possibility…to attend acupuncture school and become a Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Looking back, my entire 6 years in Albuquerque was one adventure after another, far more than I ever could have imagined: befriending many diverse and amazing people, learning wonderful new information and skills, wrestling demons from my past, connecting with spirituality, falling in love, breaking a few hearts, and having my own heart broken several times, working various jobs, and changing residences (my cat and I lived in 10 different places in those 6 years).

Backpacking in stream Oct. 2001

Backpacking in Gila Wilderness, Oct ’01

Other adventures in New Mexico included: spontaneous midnight road trips to the Jemez mountain hot springs; countless hiking and backpacking trips through mountains and streams discovering magical, isolated oases of nature and beauty; writing notebooks full of poetry and journal entries; living the night-life and traveling around the country with my sister-friend Laurel; taking Landmark Education classes that gave me whole new perspectives on life and the world and relating to others; and, eventually, sharing in a new possibility with another set of friends, of moving to Florida to start my acupuncture practice and settle down into a family.

To look back now, the life that I created during those years in New Mexico really shaped who I have become, and my life path ever since, all because that day back in Ohio I had created a possible future for myself, of massage school and a new life, and I didn’t let inconveniences or setbacks get to me.

How Does This Relate to Health?

The point is that I think the same is true for health. The things that I dealt with during those first years in Albuquerque could have really gotten me down and sent me slinking back to Ohio with my tail between my legs. But, because I was “playing a bigger game” by living into a future possibility that inspired me, those things seemed small; they were just situations that needed to be handled to get where I was going.

The same can apply to health. It is my experience that those people who “play a bigger game” by creating for themselves an inspiring possibility of vibrant health gladly do whatever is necessary to make their health the best it can be. These are the people who are so inspired by their vision that they willingly make the dietary changes, the lifestyle modifications, the commitment to regular acupuncture treatments, stress relief activities, exercise, etc, without feeling  deprived or burdened, and are not derailed by setbacks.

These are the people who see the most dramatic changes in their health and realize the most benefit.

Those who don’t create this vision of future possibility often muddle along, not really changing anything in their lifestyle or taking the appropriate actions, because the game they are playing is a small one, only focused on momentary pleasures, where they might feel deprived or burdened by the actions necessary for a real transformation. Because they have no inspiring vision creating the attitude that will get them the results they are looking for, they want the proverbial “magic pill” to fix everything for them.

So, How About You?  What is Your Possibility? 

I challenge you to create a possibility vision for yourself. What do you want to feel like when you wake up in the morning?  How do you want your body to feel while you are going through your day? How do you want to look?  How do you want to experience life in and through your body?

Sometimes, in order to know what we do want, we need to know what we don’t want. What are the health issues that are getting you down? Are they stopping you from feeling vibrant, joyful and free in your body? Or maybe you wish to be an inspiration to others? Your children perhaps?

Really envision your healthiest, most vibrant, energetic, joyful self, and know that it is yours, if you just keep choosing the appropriate inspired actions. What is your ideal vision of yourself and your health? Play a big game! Get so inspired by your vision of your possible future, that every day you are excited to take another step toward it.

I can’t wait to hear your stories about living into the possibility that you create for yourself. And if you need some help getting there, or figuring out the appropriate actions for the possibility of vibrant health that you’ve created for yourself, just give me a call.

Happy Adventuring Onward to Your Healthiest Self,

Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM

Easy-to-Digest Foods for Upset Tummies, updated

(published in Tampa Bay Wellness, April 2013)

Do you have a “touchy” digestive system? Many people struggle with digestive problems. This could include anything from an occasional mild stomach upset, stomach flu, or food poisoning, to morning sickness, frequent attacks of gall bladder, gastritis, colitis or irritable bowel.  Or even the side-effects of chemotherapy treatment.

Chronically uncomfortable digestion, such as nausea, heartburn, reflux,  cramping, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea can be more than just uncomfortable; poor digestion is associated with other health complications, including malnutrition, dysbiosis, unhealthy weight gain or loss, weakness, and headaches.

Acupuncture to strengthen the digestive function is very helpful for these conditions, as are Chinese herbs tailored for the specific condition. And, for individualized dietary recommendations, it is best to see an acupuncturist trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition. In the meantime, this article will outline a few dietary suggestions that will help most people feel better.

We will start with the most easily digested foods first, and progress to the more difficult.  Remember, these are generalizations. Everyone is a little different, so you may find that a few of the foods in some of the earlier categories need to be set aside until you are feeling stronger, or that you are okay with eating some of the later category foods sooner.  And always heed any food allergies or sensitivites that you have.

STEP 1:  CLEAR FLUIDS

Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea can make you not want to eat at all, but it is essential to remain hydrated with plenty of clear fluids. Warm or room temperature liquids are preferable since cold fluids can cause or worsen cramping.

One of the best clear fluids is coconut water: the liquid from the inside of the coconut, (not to be confused with coconut milk, which is a thick, white liquid made from the coconut meat).  All natural coconut water is typically tolerated better than plain water and has an ideal ratio of electrolytes, minerals with a small amount of natural sugars to keep you optimally hydrated and lightly fueled.

Other good fluids to sip include clear broths and warm teas:  for nausea choose ginger, peppermint or chamomile; for cramping pain choose chamomile, peppermint or fennel.

STEP 2:  CONGEE and MASHED & STEWED FRUITS

Congee:

Congee is the foremost of the easy-to-digest foods in Oriental medicine, used for all types of imbalanced digestion.  It is a great food to start with after you’ve been unable to eat.  In addition to being easy on the system, it is said to “nourish the Digestive Qi (energy).”  Congee is a thin gruel or porridge that is often used as breakfast in parts of China. There are many recipes available online, but I will give you the basic formula here:

I recommend using brown rice, millet, quinoa or buckwheat, as these are gluten-free, and usually easy-to-digest. Use 1 part whole grain to 5 parts water.  Cook on low for several hours. I usually cook this in a crock pot overnight on the “low” setting.

Small amounts of various fruits, vegetables, or spices may be added, depending on your individual TCM diagnosis. Examples include ginger, cardamom, raisins, chopped carrots and apples, which add a touch of flavor and texture to the congee, but are well-cooked for easy digestion. Or your acupuncturist may prefer you to use vegetables such as zucchini, celery, water chestnuts. Either way, go easy on the added ingredients, because the blandness of the congee is what makes it gentle on the digestion and nourishing for the Digestive Qi.

You can also put cooked congee through a blender to feed to infants and toddlers with “tummy problems”. Again, ask your acupuncturist for which herbs, spices, fruits or veggies may be added to your child’s congee for his or her condition.

Mashed & Stewed Fruits:

Another good option at this stage is a little bit of mashed banana, blended papaya, or a pudding made from the two mixed together. Both are very easy to digest and soothing to the stomach mucosa. Banana is better if you are having diarrhea. Papaya, since it contains some natural digestive enzymes, can be helpful for constipation. Applesauce (preferably unsweetened) is another great option. You can add a pinch or two of dried ginger to any of these fruits, to further assist their ease of digestion.

You can also try some stewed fruits, such as pears, prunes and figs, particularly if you have constipation.

STEP 3: OTHER WHOLE-FOOD STARCHES & FRESH FRUITS

When your system can handle more solid foods, try some plain baked potato or sweet potato (remove the skin initially if you need to), winter squash (such as butternut squash, acorn squash or pumpkin), cooked summer squash (zucchini or yellow squash), and cooked root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, or daikon radish).

You can also have plain whole grains such as rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat.  You can add oatmeal (the old-fashioned kind, not the instant), or whole grain or sprouted grain toast. In fact, all cooked starches should be well tolerated at this point, except for dry beans.  Avoid butter, oil or sauces for now, and no spicy foods.

Once you can easily digest the plain, cooked starches, you should also be able to digest most fresh fruits, though citrus, pineapple and tomato may still be a challenge. Eat your fresh fruit at room temperature, instead of chilled, for better digestion.

STEP 4: COOKED VEGETABLES & GREEN SMOOTHIES:

Cooked Vegetables:

As your digestive system continues to strengthen, you can eat a variety of cooked vegetables, but initially avoid the cruciferous ones (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussel sprouts) since they can be harder to digest.  I recommend making a large pot of vegetable soup in clear broth.

Avoid using too much oil or butter to cook your vegetables.  Steaming or roasting them is better than frying.  You can also sauté them in broth.  Go very easy on the flavorings, spices or sauces, at least at first, until you feel your digestion can handle them.

For protein, you may eat a small amount of plain, cooked whole beans (not refried) with your cooked vegetables.  If you eat meat, this is where you can start to add small amounts of organic roasted chicken or wild-caught, small species fish.  Be sure to cook both of them well, to kill parasites and bacteria.  Use animal protein more as a meal accent, and not as a large part of the meal.

Green Smoothies:

You can also start adding some raw, green, leafy vegetables to fruit smoothies. This way, you receive the benefit of the green leafy vegetable, but it is blended for easier digestion.  Green smoothies are a wonderful way to intake green leafies, while only tasting fruit. Start with spinach or leaf lettuce, since they have very little of their own taste.

There are many green smoothie recipes available online, but you can take this simple recipe and improvise:  Add 1 cup of spinach to 1 banana, 1.5 cups of berries, and 1 cup of water or coconut water and a few pinches of dried ginger or cardamom. Blend until smooth and enjoy.  Avoid adding ice, dairy or sweeteners.

STEP 5:  RAW VEGETABLES, FATS & PROTEINS:

Raw Vegetables:

At this stage, you can to add in raw vegetables and salads.  Of the raw vegetables, those which are fruits (cucumber, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash) are the easiest to digest, while the cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc) are the most difficult, and you may need to only eat them cooked.

Iceburg lettuce is difficult to digest, and has the least nutrients of all leafy greens, so use romaine, leaf lettuce or spinach for salads. You might find that the darker leafy greens, such as kale, swiss chard, or collards need to be cooked for you to digest them well.

Fats & Proteins:

Of the fats and proteins, avocado is the easiest to handle, and a few olives are fine for most people. Both coconut and peanuts can be a problem for those with gall bladder congestion.  Other nuts and seeds in small quantities are fine for some, but those with diverticulitis will likely need to avoid them.  If you eat animal-based foods, organic chicken and wild-caught, small species fish, as well as organic eggs (start with just the whites) may be eaten.

Vegetable oils, butter/margarine, fatty meats, and dairy products should be eaten sparingly if at all. These foods are very heavy and put a lot of burden on the Digestive Qi.

FOODS TO AVOID

Besides those fats and proteins listed above, other foods to avoid with poor digestion are wheat (including white flour and whole wheat), sugars, artificial sweeteners, greasy foods, highly processed foods, and chemical additives. Some people with reflux or heartburn may also need to avoid spicy foods.  The most highly allergenic foods are dairy, corn, wheat/gluten, peanut, and soy.

FOOD COMBINING

Some people find that proper food combining makes all the difference for their digestion. Food combining is based on the chemistry of digestion: starchy foods require alkalinity to digest, whereas proteins and fats require acidity.  And fruits are best eaten without any other type of food because they digest much faster than any other foods.

The premise is that when you combine foods which require opposite types of digestive environments, then the chemical reactions neutralize each other, causing digestive stagnation, fermentation & putrefaction. This can lead to digestive distress, poor nutrient absorption, overgrowth of bacteria/yeast, lowered immunity, fatigue, pain and other illness.

There are many sources for learning about food combining, but to make it simple: Don’t eat starches with fats or proteins; Non-starchy vegetables can be eaten with EITHER starches OR proteins/fats, but not both at the same time; Eat fruit alone; Allow 40 minutes after eating fruit, 3 hours after a starchy meal, and 4 hours after a protein/fat meal before eating a different type of meal.

IN CONCLUSION:

When your Digestive Qi is strong, your digestion is smooth and effortless, you have vibrant energy, and your whole body functions better. Try these suggestions. But, if you find your digestive problems are persisting, I encourage you to seek an acupuncturist trained in nutrition to help with your individual condition.

Also, for more on Nutrition from the Oriental Medical perspective, See Nutrition, Part 2. 

Dawn Balusik
727-475-4710

Tips for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers

It is Springtime…and the trees and flowers are in bloom.  For seasonal allergy sufferers, this is not such an enjoyable experience.  But, I am here to share some tips that may make your Spring a little easier.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, respiratory allergies are related not only to the function of the energy of the Lung (which also includes the nose, sinuses, throat, and windpipe), but also to the function of the digestive system, or Spleen Qi.  (For more information on how digestion affects our immune and other body systems, refer to Nutrition Part 2 post).  Together, the Lung Qi and the Spleen Qi contribute to what is known as the Defensive Qi, which acts as a shield for our bodies, keeping us from being so sensitive or vulnerable to allergens, bacteria and viruses.

Keeping all of this in mind, there are several things you can do to minimize your allergic reactions:

1.  Eliminate dairy products from your diet. This includes anything made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, including yogurt, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, cottage cheese, feta and all creamy or cheesy dressings and soups. Animals’ dairy products are very difficult for humans to digest, depleting the Spleen Qi, and often creating a lot of excess mucous (or Dampness) in the digestive and respiratory systems, which restricts breathing airways, and traps more allergens in the respiratory passages for the body to react to.

Eliminating dairy products usually results in a clearing out of excess mucous within 3 to 8 weeks, and a much less reactive respiratory system.

2.  Determine if you have any “gateway” allergens.  Dairy products can also be quite allergenic themselves, even if you don’t have obvious digestive distress after eating them. For many people, they can act as what I refer to as a “gateway” allergen. This means that consuming dairy products could make you more allergic to other eaten or inhaled substances.

An example that comes to mind is a woman my mother knew when I was young, who was only allergic to her cat when she ate eggs. And I’ve had many patients who, once they eliminated dairy products, were no longer allergic to trees, grass or dust. In fact, my own husband’s allergy and asthma problems were reduced by about 80% when he eliminated dairy products.

The most common “gateway” allergens are dairy, wheat, eggs, soy and corn. Interestingly, all of these common “gateway” allergens are also considered to be Dampness forming foods, according to TCM.

It would be a good idea to get a food allergy test done, to find out which foods your system reacts to.  As you eliminate the worst offenders from you diet, you may find that your respiratory allergies clear up as well. (If you need one, I can supply you an easy-to-do food allergy test kit.)

3. Avoid sugar.  While sugar itself isn’t an allergen, it is a burden for both the Spleen Qi, and the immune system, often making it more reactive against allergens, and less effective against pathogenic microbes. Sugar also feeds many of the microorganisms that the immune system needs to keep at bay on a daily basis, making you more susceptible to colds, flu’s and other infections.

4.  Take probiotics. These supplements are comprised of the beneficial bacteria that line our digestive and respiratory systems. These helpful micro-organisms assist our immune system in keeping populations of harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and yeasts in check. Taking antibiotics, corticosteroids or chemical nasal sprays can destroy large numbers of our beneficial bacteria, leaving us more vulnerable to future infections.

Unfortunately, modern life expose us daily to chemicals that kill these vital allies: fluoride and chlorine in tap water, many types of medications, and antibiotics in meat, dairy and poultry are the most ubiquitous sources. While we can never fully restore all of the colonies of beneficial bacteria that should be living in our bodies, we can do our best to restore as many of them as possible with a high quality, multi-strain supplement. (I do carry high quality probiotic supplements if you would like to get them from me).

5.  Avoid being outside in early morning, or at dusk.  This is when the most offending allergen plants are in bloom, and the pollen concentrations are the highest.

6.  Keep your home’s windows closed, and the A/C fan running, to filter the indoor air.  Be sure to change your air filter every 30 days during high pollen seasons. Consider getting your carpets steam cleaned, or replacing them altogether. Wood, laminate or tile is much better than carpet for chronic allergy sufferers. (If you need the name of a good carpet cleaner in the Tampa Bay area let me know.)

7.  Be sure you don’t have an indoor mold problem. This is a very common issue in the damp conditions of Florida, and it can be very dangerous. I’ve treated many extremely ill patients who lived in homes that had mold problems which were ignored or treated improperly. If you have even the slightest suspicion that you have a mold problem, you owe it to yourself to get your home inspected. (Let me know if you need a referral to a good mold inspector and/or mold remediator in the Tampa Bay area).

8.  If you still are suffering, please call for an appointment.  You may just need some acupuncture and Chinese herbs to finally bring you relief.  For some great testimonials on the effectiveness of acupuncture and herbal treatment for allergies, check out the testimonial page on my website.

Have a wonderful Spring!

Dawn Balusik

727-475-4710

 

 

Reflections, New Perspectives and Wishes for 2013

I just returned from an unexpected trip to New Mexico to help a good friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer. When I lived in New Mexico, over 10 years ago, this friend was a sister to me, and her parents my family. So, when the news arrived of her diagnosis, and that she could use some assistance following abdominal surgery, I wanted to be there to help in her day-to-day care, to be a moral support, and to share with her the information I have learned over the last 3 years regarding diet and lifestyle for cancer care.

Much time was spent happily preparing organic, vegan meals for her and her boyfriend, while listening to jazz on Pandora, cleaning out her kitchen cupboards of expired or unhealthy foods, preparing her Chinese herbs, driving her to various medical appointments, taking advantage of a bit of energy she had to go shopping when she felt stir crazy, catching up with each other’s life events, watching comedies together (laughter is healing!) or educating the family on the merits of a whole food, organic, vegan diet, especially for bodies fighting cancer.

But, in the quiet moments, I did a lot of reflecting.

Simply being in New Mexico, a place that is dear to my heart, provokes introspection, as does being away from my everyday life for a week.  These were compounded by this time of year – winter holidays – which always trigger reflection for me.  And to further deepen this contemplation, of course, was my friend’s diagnosis.

I thought about her, our friendship, what she meant to me over the years that our lives were intertwined, and the years that have passed since then; the ways in which she helped me to grow and develop as a person; my ever expanding appreciation of the incredible person that she is; and the profoundly difficult journey she is now required to make.

I also found myself contemplating what it means to have a cancer diagnosis. How it instantly asks you to scrutinize your priorities; life looks wholly different when you must make your healing your number one daily priority. And when, at age 35, you realize all of your plans now must be put on hold, and may never be the same.

She is doing an amazing job of staying optimistic and positive, for which she has every reason, since her type of cancer usually responds very well to treatment. While I cannot speak for what my friend is finding during her own introspective moments,  I can say that some questions are standing out for me:

What if I were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow? What would I change about my present life? And why? And, perhaps more importantly, why would I need to have cancer to re-evaluate my priorities and make changes? I think these are worthwhile questions for all of us to consider.

As a rule, my friend has always been a great teacher for me, simply by her own example. My pondering of these question found her life to be, yet again, a great teacher:

Friendships.  I was struck by the number of visitors that my friend had during the week. She has cultivated so many beautiful friendships with people who brought meals, groceries, gift cards, flowers, hugs, smiles, laughs, babies, moral support and love. I was floored, pleased, and a bit envious of the community she has built around her. This was in stark contrast to my life: though I know many people, I only have a few close friends, and those I rarely see. My life is very busy, I work a lot, and I’m an introvert, which means I need alone time to recharge. So I don’t find much time for socializing, making new friendships, or deepening existing ones. If I had cancer, would this change?

Being in Nature.  One reason for my love of New Mexico is the mountains and the desert. It is difficult to explain, but this landscape feeds my spirit in a way that no place else yet has. When I lived there, I could go to the mountains whenever I needed to reconnect – with my own center, with universal love, with God – to gain a higher perspective on my life. The mountains and their view over the valley “fill my cup” so to speak.

I’ve not yet found a place in Florida that does this for me as powerfully. But, I have now resolved to try. It must become a priority to find the natural places near home that feed my spirit. It is when my cup is full that I am the happiest, at my best, and the most effective in my contribution to others.

Having Fun.  Again, my friend is a teacher for me. She and her boyfriend partake in many activities they find enjoyable, completely outside of their jobs: taking and teaching dance classes, renovating their house, running a booth at a consignment store of mid-century furniture and décor (and shopping for items with which to stock it), looking at houses for sale, traveling around the world, making and selling beaded jewelry, hosting parties and entertaining at their home. These things bring them obvious pleasure.

While I will probably never take on as many different activities as they have, I certainly feel an obvious lack of enjoyable activities in my life, for too much time and energy spent working. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my work, I do. But one needs to create balance in life. It is time to reconnect with “play” and find those activities that bring me joy.

Focus on Health.  Like most healthcare providers, I am not as good about taking care of my own health as I should be. While I eat a healthy vegan diet, get regular acupuncture and massage, and take herbs, which keeps me feeling good, there are things that could be improved: I often eat sugar when I am stressed, I don’t always get enough sleep or drink enough water or exercise enough, and sometimes I rely too heavily on caffeine.

During my stay in New Mexico, my friend treated me to a massage from a deep-tissue therapist with whom she works. It was amazing and very intense. I knew I needed the deep work, so I let myself breathe, laugh, grimace, resist, release and sob through it. I felt completely emptied out afterward, like a wet washcloth that had been wrung dry.

The therapist encouraged me to continue to get deep tissue work, reminding me of the importance of releasing emotions that get trapped in body tissues (“cellular memories”). I was already familiar with this concept: it is not uncommon for patients to shed some tears or experience emotion during or after their acupuncture treatment.

But this reminder had me wonder about my friend and her cancer. Was there an emotional component to the development of her cancer? There exists research that says many cancers are diagnosed or develop shortly after an emotionally traumatic event in the person’s life. It is an important possibility to explore, and it underscores the need for routinely releasing emotions in a healthy way as another aspect of health care.

Being Present.  A short time ago, I read a quote on Facebook that says something to the effect of:  if you are depressed, you are living in the past; if you are anxious, you are living in the future; it is only in the present moment that you can experience true peace, contentment and joy. Since reading that, I’ve been “trying on” this bit of simple insight in my life.

Every time I feel melancholy or blue, I examine my thoughts, and they are, in fact, dwelling on times or events that have passed and in some way wishing for their return, in order to experience them again, or change something that happened. And when I feel nervous my thoughts are on something that hasn’t happened yet – something I must do, haven’t completed, or am fearful might happen. And, usually, when the actual event does occur (if it does), it was not worth all the worry and anxiety that I created around it.

But, when I get present – become aware of my surroundings, see what is around, listen to sounds around me, sniff for any aromas, feel the temperature of the air, notice the position of my body, and how it is feeling right now – it has an immediate calming effect.

I am beginning to realize that this moment is no less magical than any of those times in the past for which I am longing. And, it is in being present that I am able to enjoy myself. I notice that I have the most fun when I am completely present, and not giving in to the “hamster wheel” that my mind can spin ad nauseum. It certainly takes practice, but it seems that being in the present moment is giving myself permission to be happy.

Gratitude.  As an extension of the previous point, I find that being present is the only place from which to notice all the wonderful people, situations and things in my life, that I could be grateful for. I think that gratitude is a powerful agent of healing on many levels and is important to make into a daily practice.

Love.  Lastly, I notice that when a crisis is going on, like serious illness, that I appreciate people more. I become less self-conscious about telling my friends and family that I love them. When something makes me stop long enough to remember that we all have a finite amount of time here together, it becomes more important to let others know they are loved and appreciated. Why wait until something major is happening?

So, once again, I thank my friend for being a great teacher. Life is a canvas of many colors, textures, shadows, lights, connections, and puzzle pieces, and she always seems to help me gain a new perspective on it. She is an amazing person; I am very grateful for her, I love her deeply, and I wish for her a speedy recovery and profound healing.

May your 2013 be full of friends, fun, experiences that “fill your cup”,  good health, happiness, gratitude and love.

Dawn Balusik

Chocolate Decadence Smoothie

(recipe:  vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)

Sometimes you just have to have some Chocolate!  This green smoothie is a great way to quell your worst chocolate cravings AND have your body thank you!

Chocolate Decadence:

3 large handfuls spinach, romaine or leaf lettuce
1 apple, core removed
1 cup almond milk
2 Tbsp cacao powder (raw, if you can get it), or carob powder (if you prefer).
2 Tbsp raw hemp seeds or raw cashews, or 1/2 avocado
2 to 4 dried dates (pits removed; soaked in water for 30-60 mins to soften).

Put all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.  Enjoy!

Optional Additions to Chocolate Decadence:
1.  Add 2 Tbsp natural almond or peanut butter for a “reese’s cup” version.
2.  Add 2 to 4 drops peppermint extract for a “peppermint patty” version.
3.  Add 1/2 cup cherries for a “chocolate covered cherries” version.
4.  Add 1 banana for a “chocolate covered banana” version.

Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM