When we think of mindfulness or the act of becoming more mindful, we are often consumed with notions of reclusive meditation, or hiking in pristine, outdoor spaces removed from the chaos and buzz of urban living. But if we had to go to that much trouble to actually practice mindfulness...
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Nope, I'm not one who is perfectly organized. I still have clutter on my desk and in certain areas of my home. But lately I have been particularly paying attention to the clutter in my life that does not come from stuff. There's plenty of websites out there that deal with the stuff.
We normally think of clutter as physical objects, but there are many types of clutter that aren’t. Cluttering our mind with too much information, cluttering our body with too much food we know isn't good for us and cluttering our schedule with too many commitments are examples of other types of clutter. If there is no space in our schedule, then we have no space to to focus our attention to healing, ...
I know a lot of people think of the holidays as a chance to pig out on some family favorite recipes. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat great food, but I also love to take the time to think about the holiday as a time of gratitude. Its nice to be reflective on those people around you that you want to appreciate.
Which brings me to gratitude. Gratitude, and those who practice it regularly tend to be happier, have less stress, stronger relationships and increased vitality! Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude have increased happiness in people. One of my favorite gratitude studies (documented by that great group of folks, Soul Pancake) in this great video (7:13). Spoiler alert: there are tears & laughter at the same time!
So how does one build gratitude into their daily life as a habit? Habit is essential, because at the end of the day, when willpower runs out, habits are what bring forth lasting behavior that can be relied upon. Habits are they key to success with implementing change. Habits become how you live your life, without question, or pressure or judgement.
Last year I was listening to the Health Bridge podcast, and one of the hosts, Pedram Shojai, introduced a fascinating Taoist topic, the 100 day gong. A gong is a concept that during a 100 day period of time, you set actions you will take each day for the purpose of personal growth. Traditionally, these tasks tend to be physical, mental and spiritual. During this period of time, you commit to restructuring your life around doing these tasks every. single. day! If you miss one day, you start over again with day one. Doing a 100 day gong is a way of making that important commitment to yourself and holding yourself accountable if you fall off of the wagon.
Now I know that the New Year tends to mark the time when we list out 20+ things we are going to start doing on 01 January. The list usually looks like this: "Exercise more, eat better, get more sleep... " etc. And I also know that I can overachieve the overachiever tendency! So I am picking ONE thing that I want to build as a new habit: Gratitude. Im going to do 100 day Gratitude Gong.
For me that means writing down, or expressing in a photograph something that I am grateful for each day. My friend Oliver Asis (go check out his photography, btw) who documented his 100 days of gratitude last summer. I thought that was a fantastic idea. So, each week, I'll post one of my practice samples to the Toréa Rodriguez FDN Facebook page to share with you how I am doing! And if you want to follow me on Instagram, I'm sure I'll be posting some over there as well. If any of you wish to join me, please let me know (leave a comment or drop me an email) and I can set up a group for us to share our Gratitude Gong's together!!
What sort of actions are you taking for the New Year? Anyone else committing to a gong? Share your thoughts in the comments!
This post originally was published as a guest post over at Mickey Trescott's AutoImmune-Paleo blog. This post is similar to one I wrote a few weeks back, but I expanded it into a step-by-step action plan. If you have never checked out Mickey's blog, or her cookbook, then spend a little time over there today. Her cookbook is fantastic to have around when you are considering a AIP approach to diet.
The Autoimmune Protocol. Just saying those words can lead to overwhelm in some people. No matter whether coming from a SAD (Standard American Diet) or coming from already eating a real food diet, the thought of making so many eliminations can be daunting. This certainly was the case for me. But in my heart of hearts, I knew I wanted to try the diet to see if it could help make me feel better.
I have been eating a real food diet for the past 4 years since being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease. And for that, my diet morphed into being completely processed-food free, grain free, legume free and almost dairy free (I still ate sheep/goat cheese, butter and occasional ice cream). But in the last year, I realized that I might feel even better if I eliminated some of the other foods, as outlined in The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne. I already know that I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal, but I was really worried I would quit if I could not do it “right”. So, instead of taking the stairs two at a time, I decided to take them one at a time and break it down into simpler steps.
First, I broke each of the food groups into their own category. This helped because I was no longer facing this huge list of “no foods.” Even if I read a long list of “yes foods” the long list of “no foods” meant I was seeking individual ingredients out and constantly having to make decisions. For me, this leads to instant overwhelm and with the shorter list of categories, I could start feeling some of the anxiety lifting. My summarized categories turned out to be: Sugars, Nightshades, Nuts/Seeds, Dairy and Eggs.
Then, I sat down and wrote out how how I would replace those items with other foods or habits. You see, I have crutch foods. I’d find a food that “worked” and I would stick to it. Breakfast? Eggs. Afternoon snack? 80% Dark Chocolate. Dessert? 100% Dark Chocolate. You get the idea. But now, I had to find a way to replace those things. So I wrote out some ideas for how to replace the repetitive foods that were going to be eliminated. Of course, I referenced recipes on Sarah Ballantyne’s site and in Mickey Trescott’s Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook to help me! Also in that process, I realized my sweet cravings were often after meals. So I decided to take short walks after meals instead of reaching for the dark chocolate. Now, your list might look different than mine, but I will share my list with you below.
And finally I set forth a gradual schedule for me to make small changes that, over time, lead to the complete elimination plan. This was new for me, being the “all in” kind of gal. I knew that I needed to phase this in, else I may give up entirely if I slip up. So small moves. I decided to eliminate a single food group every 3 days. During that 3 days, I’d be able to get used to my substitutions and plans from step 2 to easily prepare by shopping ahead of time. By the time 15 days rolled around, I had all of the food groups eliminated. Ta da! Full blown AutoImmune Protocol, baby!
Here is my schedule and set of replacements. You can easily use mine, but you will probably gain more benefit and insight by creating your own. I decided to eliminate the food groups based on what I thought was going to work best for my schedule, or what I thought was going to be easiest. To that end, I left eggs to be last. Interestingly, I discovered that transitioning away from my daily egg-breakfast crutch wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it to be.
I can really see a difference with going full AutoImmune Protocol. Since eliminating those 5 food groups, I noticed my nagging skin issues (psoriasis on my face) have cleared up, my number of severe fatigue days are reducing, and my weight has started to normalize. These are things I have not been able to make any headway on over the last 4 years, so this is a good indication that something in those food groups was contributing to immune system overload. I am also super grateful that I took the time to simplify the elimination portion of the AutoImmune Protocol. I feel that this eliminated a lot of the stress and worry that would have accompanied my transition otherwise. If you’d like help simplifying your own elimination plan, feel free to reach out here or hereand I’d be happy to help!
Our bodies are built to stay in a state of homeostasis, or that is to say a state of balance. So when we are normally exposed to stress, the body can respond with the adrenal glands, but typically returns back to that state of homeostasis. So for example, back in the day when we lived in caves and hung out by the fire, if we took a walk and got chased by a lion, we’d produce an acute stress response. This “fight or flight” response kicks in with the Autonomic Nervous System and causes many physical reactions. Our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases, the airways in our lungs open wider, blood circulation increases, the adrenals release cortisol and adrenaline… all of this so that we could run like heck to get away. But then later, back at the cave resting, our adrenals return to producing the same levels of cortisol and adrenaline that they do when they are in a state of homeostasis or calm.
Fast forward to present modern life and our picture is quite different. We don’t have lions chasing after us every day, but we do have plenty of external and hidden stressors that invoke the same “fight or flight” response. External stressors could be problems in a relationship (emotional stress), losing a loved one, or getting into an accident and ending up with physical injury. The hidden stressors are not as apparent, however, and could be getting exposed to toxic chemicals (say from cosmetics or household cleaning products), chronic sleep problems or deprivation, internal infections (parasites, bacteria, yeast, viruses), use of alcohol, caffeine, or drugs, etc., even eating foods that are inflammatory (gluten for example) or foods you may have sensitivities to can cause hidden chronic stress in the body.
Even our lifestyles contribute to stress: high-achievement, over-productivity, use of computers/screens for too many hours in the day, watching violent or stressful television, never saying no to opportunities, sacrificing sleep and recovery for achievement - most of those don’t sound so bad… in fact our modern society rewards high-achievment and the mom of 5 who can hold down two successful careers simultaneously! But this "low level" chronic stress can accumulate over time. These chronic levels of stress are just as damaging as the acute levels of stress if kept up for some time.
As you can see, we are surrounded by stress. And when we have this relentless pattern of acute and chronic stressors constantly at our door, the body looses its ability to respond and recover the same way it was designed for the occasional acute stressor. Over time, the adrenal glands can’t keep up and they loose their ability to produce the same level of response, and eventually if taken to the extreme, could loose their ability to produce a response at all. This is one of the key reasons why one should take steps in their life to reduce and manage stress as much as they can.
Now there may be no way for us to get rid of 100% of the stress given the modern life and we can't control *everything*. But there are quite a few things one can do to reduce their stress overall. Here are just a few examples of stress reduction and management:
- Work out emotional conflict with people and/or terminate relationships that are toxic or unhealthy
- Find time to rest, relax, mediate, or read a book
- Make sure recovery is part of your exercise program - often times we workout to the extreme (chronic cardio anyone?) and forget to set aside recover
- Evaluate the chemicals in your home and take steps to eliminate them or replace them with less toxic versions (trust me, apple cider vinegar and baking soda go a long way!)
- Make sure you are eating a diet free of foods that cause inflammation (ahem, gluten, sugar...). If you are allergic to cranberries like I am, don't eat them a ton during the holidays :)
- If you are in a job you hate, get out and find something you love
- Likewise, if you live in a house with black mold, get out or get it treated
- Take long walks on the beach (seriously!) or in a park - try to get out in nature as much as you can
- Sedentary lifestyles are also stressful, so make sure you are walking and incorporating movement as much as you can
- Take a digital sabbatical or reduce your overall screen time
- Really consider if its worthwhile to volunteer at every. single. opportunity
- Get good sleep, like 8-9 hours each night, in a dark quiet space
- Investigate with a health professional (like an FDN practitioner) if you have any hidden infections or malfunctions
- Reduce your exposure to bright light (blue spectrum) at night - this will help produce more restorative sleep
- During the day, get some sun exposure to increase your Vitamin D production