18-Month CBD Check-In

So, it’s been 18 months of using CBD every day and many of you ladies were curious to know how it’s going. Here’s what’s changed since I started taking it, what I’d do differently looking back, and my plans for how to use it going forward.

TL;DR: I can’t imagine my life without CBD. I wake up well-rested almost every day, which still feels novel after struggling with sleep for years.

The backstory: why I started taking CBD

After college, I developed sleeping issues that I couldn’t seem to resolve. It took me forever to fall asleep and then I hardly ever woke up feeling well-rested, even if I’d slept for 8+ hours. If you’ve had sleep issues, you know the struggle.

Having a daily morning meditation practice solved the falling asleep quickly problem. But until CBD, nothing I tried for nearly 7 years helped me get restful, restorative sleep. CBD works on the endocannabinoid system, related to homeostasis, so it’s not surprising that it can help with recovery.

This is the oil I take – 3 droppers nightly under the tongue right before bed. 

What’s changed since I started taking it daily

Not to be dramatic, but everything – no joke. My sleep issues are gone, and that’s life-changing. I still take CBD daily and have no plans to stop. 

Here are the direct improvements I’ve seen, and which evaporate once I stop taking CBD for a while:

  • Waking up rested 90% of the time. I’ve beaten this drum already, so I’ll leave this one here.

  • Feeling energized all day instead of having waves of exhaustion. You know when you get really bad sleep and by about 1 or 2pm, you feel a sense of tiredness wash over you? That used to be my way of life and it hardly happens anymore.

  • Being totally functional on minimal hours of sleep. Before CBD, if I’d get less than, say, 7 hours of sleep in a night I’d feel like a hot mess. Now when that happens, I may feel a little draggier than usual, but I’m still mentally sharp and can show up fully for my life.

  • Feeling best on fewer hours of sleep – 7.5 hours now, instead of 8.5 before. You probably know that we all have a certain duration of sleep that’s optimal for us. Well before taking CBD, that was about 8.5 hours for me (which is hard to get on a regular basis!). Now, I do even better on 7.5 hours. That’s 7 hours a week given back to me to do things other than sleep. 

All of the results I’ve noticed are related to rest and recovery, which is the area in which I think I’d been lagging the most. Other people use CBD to help with anxiety, chronic pain, and certain medical conditions, though I can’t personally attest to those uses. If you’re interested in them, check out “The ABCs of CBD Oil.”

What I’d change if I were to do it again

I’d change 2 things, both budget-related, since CBD costs a pretty penny.

First, I’d change my mindset to see CBD as an investment rather than a luxury. It costs $50 a month, and much of the time that felt like a lot for a measly supplement-type purchase that I seemed to have to constantly replenish. But now that I see that CBD is part of the 20% of my behaviors that yield 80% of my results, I’d save the unnecessary mental back-and-forth about whether or not to repurchase it immediately and just see it as a leveraged expense.

Second, I’d simplify my life by buying the economy-sized CBD oil. It’d lower my cognitive load since I would only have to worry about replenishing every few months and minimize the risk of being CBD-less between bottles (which happened a few times and didn’t go so well).

Going forward

The one thing I’m adding to my CBD routine is buying CBD capsules that I can take through airport security in a more incognito way. Although hemp has been legalized and I’ve flown with CBD oil in my carry on before, I’d rather put capsules in a Ziploc bag to keep them with me safely while on the go.

Hope this was helpful! Keep me posted if you give CBD a try or want to share your results.

My Typical Grocery List

Grocery List 1

Call me crazy, but I love seeing what’s in other people’s grocery carts – it gives me inspiration for new meal ideas and food products to try out. So today, I’m sharing my typical grocery list with all of you. While it’s always worth following the beat of your own food drum, I hope this will help clarify, organize, and inspire you when you grocery shop.

If you’ve read my other blog posts (like Meal Planning 101 or Grocery Shopping 101), you know part of what makes my healthy eating routine sustainable is that I’ve set up rinse and repeat systems for my wellness habits – and the grocery list is no exception. Though my grocery list looks a little different from week to week, there are definitely staples that I almost always buy so that I can eat healthy while saving precious brain space for other decisions. I use some of those ingredients for pre-planned meals, and others for more spontaneous dishes that allow me flexibility.

Part of how I think efficiently about my grocery list is by identifying what I need to get in categories – proteins, healthy fats, veggie carbs, and starchy carbs – because each time I prepare my plate, that’s what goes on it. And while my goal is never to have a perfectly healthy shopping list, because that’s an indication I’m actually on an unsustainable track, I do focus on buying about 80% unprocessed foods. I also usually buy the best sourced foods possible, which is obviously expensive. But I prioritize eating whole, nutritious foods and sacrifice other areas of my budget to make it work.

Here’s what I generally get to last me 3-4 days, assuming I’m only buying for myself:

ValerieBisharat-GroceryList.jpg

From these items, and combined with spices at home, I’m able to mix and match ingredients to make breakfast veggie scrambles, homemade bunless burgers with different permutations of fixings, Buddha bowls, taco-style bowls, pasta/zucchini noodles with marinara sauce, and salads.

Here’s an action step to walk away with: start or continue to build yourself a grocery staples list categorized by proteins, healthy fats, veggie carbs, and starchy carbs. That’s the most important part of my list-making process. It’s a helpful way to expand what you eat and keep your plate balanced.

Happy eating!

Salad Shirazi Recipe for Summer

Salad Shirazi 1

Some recipes take you back – back to certain memories of yourself, thoughts you can’t otherwise access, and support from your ancestors.

I was reminded of this fact recently when I found myself sick as a dog. I could hardly sit up straight, much less eat anything. I’d think through the contents of the fridge and everything sounded downright awful.

Then it hit me: I could devour every bite of Salad Shirazi. Salad Shirazi is a tomato cucumber salad originating in Shiraz, a city in the southwest of Iran. Growing up half Iranian-American in California, I used to fill my plate with it at family gatherings. I hadn’t made or even really thought about Salad Shirazi in years, but it shot to mind as a way to rejuvenate and heal myself on some small level. Plus, spring had just blossomed and it sounded like a super refreshing complement to the heat.

So, during the prep process, I took a little greater care than normal to chop the ingredients, toss them thoroughly, and present the salad beautifully. I reflected on the ways this salad was more than just cucumber and tomato, calories and macronutrients – it was bringing up warm family memories, offering me comfort, and reminding me to slow down and savor the small moments.

Now that summer’s here, it’s a perfect time to make Salad Shirazi more often. It stands on its own or pairs perfectly with kebab or roasted protein.

Here’s the recipe if you want to try it for yourself!

Salad Shirazi Recipe (serves 4)

Salad Shirazi 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 Persian cucumbers

  • 2 ripe tomatoes

  • ½ small red onion

  • ½ lemon (or lemon juice in a pinch)

  • 2 tsp dried mint (you can also use fresh mint)

  • Dash of salt

  • Dash of black pepper

Salad Shirazi 3
  1. Slice the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion into very small, bite-sized pieces. This helps the vegetables better absorb all the different flavors of the salad. Then, combine the sliced vegetables in a bowl.

  2. Squeeze the fresh lemon into a cup and remove any seeds that may have fallen in. Pour the lemon juice into the bowl according to your taste. (Hot tip: before pouring in all of the juice, check to see how much juice is sitting on the bottom so you’re not stuck with a pool of it half-way through eating.)

  3. Add the dried mint. If you’re using fresh mint, chop it very finely first.

  4. Add the salt and pepper to taste.Toss thoroughly.

  5. Refrigerate the salad for at least 30 min before eating (if possible). The salad is best served chilled and it helps bring out the flavors of the lemon and the mint.

Happy eating!

The Quest for the Perfect Water Bottle

My boyfriend used to carry around this one huge, metal water bottle everywhere he went. Working on his computer? There was the bottle. Lifting weights at the gym? Water bottle. Zoning out on public transportation? There it was!

I quickly noticed his routine of always having his water bottle on hand and was, quite frankly, impressed with his dedication to hydration. I viewed – and still do! – hydrating as a small act of self-care, but realized I had been neglecting this ritual, treating it instead as a chore. I was trying to force myself to drink the recommended 3L of water a day rather than delighting in how proper hydration made my body feel, look, and behave.

So I realized that what I needed to do to return to this feeling of self-care was to develop a routine like my boyfriend’s – but not just to always have water handy. I wanted to enjoy every moment of that self-care. I know it sounds a little crazy, but I wanted to find a water bottle that excited and enticed me to drink water! Something that was convenient, delightful (read: cute) to use, and that was made from safe and eco-friendly materials. That way, I could hydrate with peace of mind and in a sustainable way.

But instead of adding “water bottle” to my shopping list and picking up the next one I came across, I decided to dive deep into the research and find THE perfect one. Perfect meaning pretty, seamless to use, and made from the safest and most sustainable materials I could find. It took hours and hours, but it was worth it. Now whenever I use or recommend this bottle, I have peace of mind that it’s a great, healthy option.

Here it is!

bkr’s 1L “Spiked Tutu” in opaque ballet.

bkr’s 1L “Spiked Tutu” in opaque ballet.

P.S. – This isn’t a sponsored post. I’m just obsessed with this water bottle.

What exactly is it?

It’s bkr’s 1L glass water bottle housed in a silicone sleeve (and has a fabulous name – the “Spiked Tutu!”). As an added bonus, bkr is a woman-owned business.

They have lots of different colors and styles (including sans spikes, in case your vibe is more classic). The silicone sleeve makes it more durable.

I specifically chose the 1L size over smaller ones – more on why below.

Why did I choose it?

5 main reasons:

  1. The safety of the material – I wanted glass, not plastic or stainless steel. The concern with materials like plastic or stainless steel is that certain harmful compounds from inside of the water bottle can leach, or transfer, into our beverages. And then, we ingest them. Glass is considered a safe material to drink from.

  2. The sustainability of the glass bottle. bkr is 100% recyclable, silicone sleeve and all.

  3. The aesthetics. I meannnnn, look at it. Drinking from a cute bottle is one of those simple pleasures that makes hydrating more enjoyable and more frequent.

  4. The utility. It’s easy to hold and carry around throughout the day. The silicone sleeve makes it easy to grip and you can either throw the bottle in your purse or carry it around solo by holding the hook at the top of the lid.

  5. The large size. No matter what, I wanted a 1L bottle so I only had to worry about filling it up 3x per day rather than, say, 15x (this makes hydrating more sustainable). That worked out perfectly because the 1L bkrs have a wider lip than the smaller sizes, which makes them the easiest to fill up.

To this day, I love it just as much as the day it arrived in the mail!

How much does it cost?

The 1L bkr bottles start at $48 (I know, I know 😭) and run up to $60. They have a 15% off discount code for the first purchase if you sign up for emails. There’s also free shipping over $50.

I address whether this bottle is truly worth the cost below. Spoiler alert: it definitely was for me and I wouldn’t be recommending it if I didn’t think it was a good investment.

Does it truly matter to drink out of glass instead of plastic or stainless steel?

Since drinking water is something we all do every day and not just occasionally, I think drinking out of glass is worth prioritizing. It’s one way we can all reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals like BPA and heavy metals.

But that said, it’s not something to stress about, necessarily – make a plan to switch to glass eventually and move on.

If I use a BPA-free plastic water bottle, isn’t that enough?

Unfortunately, not necessarily. Ever since all the bad press about Bisphenol A (commonly known as “BPA”) came out a few years ago, companies have been removing that particular compound and calling their products “BPA-free,” when in fact they contain many very similar compounds of different names that are equally harmful and sometimes worse.

Will a glass water bottle break?

It’s definitely not an item to hold up in the air and drop off a balcony, but the silicone sleeve helps prevent cracks and breaks. I’ve used my bkr consistently for a year with no issues. I also read a bunch of reviews before pulling the trigger and there were very few reports of breakage.

That said, be careful if you take the sleeve off to wash it and consider keeping it away from young children. Like any glass products, it should not be exposed to rapid temperature changes or extreme temperatures. In other words, don’t put it in the microwave or freezer and it’s best not to leave it in a freezing car overnight.

bkr will also replace your bottle for free if it breaks within the first 90 days.

Is the big size convenient?

In the big picture, I think it’s more convenient than smaller options because it only requires 3 or so refills a day as opposed to 4x that.

With that said, the bottle is definitely bigger and a bit heavier than, say, a small, soft plastic water bottle. But I still carry it in my bag and consider it a small price to pay for a safe, cute, environmentally-conscious way to drink water.

How should I wash it?

It’s dishwasher safe (you can put it right on the top rack with the sleeve on!) or you can wash it by hand. Refer to bkr’s care FAQs here.

A word to the wise: I find the silicone sleeve really hard to remove unless the bottle is wet. So whenever I want to wash it, I rinse the bottle under the sink first to make it more slick.

$48 is a lot. Is it worth it?

Of course, money is subjective, but here’s my take: if you’re currently spending money buying single-use water bottles, then yes, it’s worth it, and if you’re wanting to invest in your health then yes, this is a meaningful item to spend money on.

Transitioning to drinking from glass isn’t necessarily urgent, so you could always wait and make this purchase down the line.

What are the downsides?

It doesn’t fit into car or cardio machine cup holders, but the smaller size bottles fit most cup holders. The lip is also smaller than other options out there, which means I often spill a little bit when refilling it (nothing major, just have to be attentive to my aim!). As mentioned above, it’s also bulkier and heavier than some other materials and it isn’t cheap. None of these are deal breakers for me, but perhaps they are for you.

bkr bottle2

Small moments of joy

I never pictured myself writing over a thousand words about a water bottle (haha!), but this bottle has made a subtle but important shift in my day. Hopefully this helps you infuse a little more joy into your hydrating routine!

Tips for Building Confidence to Lift in the Gym as a Woman

Gym Confidence 1.JPG

Each day was the same: I’d step onto the treadmill, kick up the speed, and fly through a few miles. Next up was another self-explanatory cardio machine (the StepMill – an underrated tool but that’s a story for another day!). Last, I’d wind through one of the less traveled areas of the gym to reach the colorful set of dumbbells tucked away in a quiet cove. A few sets of curls and lateral raises and the workout was complete.

Like many women, my workouts used to be mostly cardio punctuated by the occasional weights. This worked well to get my feet wet at the gym – and of course, promoted a healthy heart and overall athleticism.

But the more I learned about exercise and physical transformation, the more it became clear I needed to start lifting if I wanted to reach my goals (I wanted to look like I worked out, not just feel like I did). And I learned that the weights needed to be a lot heavier and more frequent than I’d ever considered.

For one, research shows that lifting has a whole host of mental and physical benefits (see this article for more). It’s the key to unlocking a more athletic-looking build and it improves balance, reduces the risk of some injuries, lowers the risk of osteoporosis, and increases self-esteem, just to name a few.

Even if this is all well and good, though, actually stepping onto the weight room floor can feel nerve-wracking. It’s usually a bunch of sweaty guys who at least seem to know what they’re doing. Where do you fit in?

This post is a guide to getting more confident lifting in the gym as a woman. This is one of the most common challenges I hear from my community, so I wanted to cover it in depth. Hopefully you’ll find something hear that speaks to you.

Three main obstacles to lifting

Many of the issues women face getting off cardio equipment and onto the weight room floor boil down to the following:

  1. Not knowing what to do during a lifting workout. This is a practical gap in knowledge that makes the distance between wanting to lift and actually doing it feel wider.

  2. Feeling intimidated about how other people perceive you. Maybe you’re worried that everyone thinks you don’t know what you’re doing or that they’re judging your body.

  3. Feeling timid about taking up space. It can be scary to navigate around people to reach certain equipment or carve out space to work!

Identify which obstacle most affects you – sometimes, awareness is all you need to set solutions into motion.

First, learn what to do

This might sound super obvious, but having tangible knowledge about how to fill a lifting workout will increase your confidence in itself. It’s kind of like preparing for an important meeting: when you have a game plan ready, your mind can focus on executing the plan rather than stressing out over the details.

To start out, I recommend learning a few exercises in whatever way you choose (perhaps something from YouTube or an experienced friend), implementing them for a few weeks, and evolving from there. Once you get started, you’ll gain traction and new knowledge – the important part is getting out there so the process can start.

Take the exercises you’ve learned and create a workout game plan before you walk into the gym each day. Know exactly how many repetitions and sets you’re doing. Specificity begets confidence! Keep in mind that you’ll want to be progressing each week, implementing gradual, methodical increases in the intensity of the exercises you’re doing. For example, in Week 1, you might do 4 sets of 6 reps of lateral raises, then move up to doing 4 sets of 8 reps during Week 2.

Overcoming intimidation

So once you know what to do, how do you grow the confidence to actually do it? Here are a few things to think about.

First, other people's opinions simply cannot hold you back from getting healthier. You deserve good health just as much as the next person, so try focusing on the importance of that above what Sally next to you might think. No one else has to live in your body, so why should they have a say in how you care for it? Go get what’s yours!

Second – and this is said with love – check your ego at the door. Our egos are the proud, protective voices that don’t want to see us shaking and quivering in our push-up position, giving the exercise our all even if we expose ourselves as beginners. Our egos don’t want to see us hanging from the pull-up bar, squeezing ourselves a quarter of an inch into the air, working on what will one day become a full-blown pull-up. Our egos want us to appear perfect and though that might fly in other areas of our lives sometimes, it will never help us improve in the gym. Lifting requires struggle. Check your ego at the door.

Third, let yourself be a beginner. We’ve all got to be beginners before we can be anything else, so why do we try to skip this step or expect ourselves to already be past it? It’s a logical fallacy. When we’re new and allow ourselves to be, we look at the world in a totally different way – one where we’re actually better at problem-solving.

Last but not least, consider every little moment of intimidation an opportunity to grow. Being intimidated at the gym isn’t a bad thing – it’s actually a gift that can be maximized for your benefit. Any time you notice yourself feeling intimidated, nurture the moment by walking yourself through one of the above mindset shifts. With time, these small moments of growth will add up to having more confidence on and off the gym floor.

Getting more comfortable taking up space

It’s easy to feel like people in the gym are operating under a whole other set of rules and you’d rather be a fly on the wall. But critical to getting more confident in the gym is learning how to assert yourself properly so you have the space and equipment you need to work out.

This all starts with having a plan (see the “what to do” section above!) because from there, you can mentally map out where you need to be in the gym and when. It’s much easier to take up space when you feel like you have a clear direction.

While there’s a lot to say about gym etiquette, it boils down to this: don’t interfere with people while they’re in the middle of something just like you wouldn’t do in other spaces. If part of your plan involves walking past someone lifting heavy dumbbells, wait for them to be done with their set before proceeding. If you need the equipment or space someone else is using but you aren’t sure when it’ll free up, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the person how many sets they have left while they’re resting.

When it’s time to interact with someone in the gym, I recommend taking a deep breath and doing your best to exude confidence. People tend to respond to whatever cues we give them so by trying to embody confidence, you’re more likely to produce a result that actually makes you feel that way.

Putting it all into practice

If you’re feeling inspired to pick up some weights, take a moment to write a little “to do” list to help you get going. It might involve asking a fit friend to teach you some new exercises or planning out your workouts for the week.

Have fun!

Xoxo
Valerie

Granny Power Walking

GPW

I lace up my sneakers and slip into my coat. It’s been a marathon day sitting in front of the computer, so I’m excited to shake off the dust and move my body.

I get to the bottom of the stairs and set off for a lap around the apartment complex. It may take a few steps or a few minutes, but eventually I feel myself start to delight in the moment – both in moving my body and in the humor of doing what I affectionately call the “granny power walk.”

It might sound unassuming at first, and I’m the first to tout the importance of challenging workouts, but the granny power walk – or a medium-pace outdoor walk – gets a lot of bang for its buck.

For one, it’s time you spend moving rather than sitting, which in itself is helpful. But for another, it’s restorative, convenient, and free, making it a great complement to any strength training routine and especially useful for busy seasons of life. It even boosts creative thought.

Here are some ideas for getting started with granny power walks of your own.

What exactly is it and how do I do it?

I think of the granny power walk as a focused walk intended to help me reboot and get light exercise. (I never thought I’d find myself defining the term “granny power walk,” but I’m not mad about it!)

Ideally, I go for an hour, which is often doable since there’s no commute time involved. Sometimes I get warm and even break a little sweat, but my heart rate isn’t very elevated (it’s fairly flat around my apartment grounds). The point is to recenter, not to increase cardio capacity or build strength.

Walking is “me time, so I do what’s relaxing. That means minimal texting, phone calls, and email. Because walking often sparks creativity, I shoot off texts or emails here and there, but only when it’s truly inspired and not if it’s interfering with my peace.

What I do focus on is how my body feels. I’m not spacing out. I’m focused on having healthy posture and walking in a way that protects my joints. I believe one of the biggest joys of moving your body is feeling athletic and powerful as you do it!

Because the granny power walk should be relaxing, I suggest wearing comfortable clothing and shoes that won’t be distracting or restrictive, especially once you warm up part way into your walk.

When should I do this?

As you can tell, you can power walk during most times of year! Proper clothing is the key. I walk 9 months out of the year living in the Northeast.

There are 4 main times you might consider doing a power walk:

  1. During an especially busy stretch. It helps you move your body without spending essential time going to and from the gym – plus if you’re overstressed and underrested, it won’t add to those stressors like a tough workout might.

  2. As a complement to strenuous exercise. You might strength train and do cardio 3-4 days per week and power walk 1-2 days of the week.

  3. During your lunch break on a day when you can’t make it to the gym. Just make sure you have the proper footwear!

  4. After getting home late from work. When the day stretches on, you might find yourself hesitant to go to the gym in the late evening – especially if you’re worried it’ll interfere with your ability to sleep (which can happen!). This is the perfect time to come home and set out for a power walk, assuming it is safe to do so in your neighborhood.

As far as time of day, I recommend power walking whenever you need a boost of creative thought and brain power – for example before you need to write or sink your teeth into a big project.

I’ve personally found two times that work best for my needs right now: in the morning, on a day when I’m not yet clear on my priorities and feel overwhelmed, or in the late afternoon when I need to reboot and reassess work priorities before finishing for the day. In the first case, I use my walk to recenter and remind myself that I have time for everything, and then one by one make sense of how to best approach what I need to get done. I’m always amazed at how quickly an overwhelming day becomes doable when I take the time to reflect on a game plan. In the second case, I often feel my brain power start to peter out by late afternoon and know I won’t be able to work as efficiently if I don’t move my body first. So I use the walk to rest my mind and let decisions come to me rather than forcing them.

The bottomline

Walking isn’t a replacement for more challenging movement, but it is a great tool to keep in your back pocket for days that call for more proverbial space and less effort. Often the hour I spend away from screens and simply breathing fresh air is the most useful, fulfilling time I spend all day.

Budget-Friendly Wellness Habits

Budget Wellness Habits 1

I called one of my dear friends for advice. I’d just started my business and was living in New York City, trying every which way to piece together how to eat whole, healthy foods on my modest new business owner budget – and this friend had experience in that area.

“So, my question is, how do I eat organic?” I paused. “It just… doesn’t seem.... POSSIBLE...”

We both burst out laughing. It was funny because there was so much mutual understanding about the absurd struggle it can be to do very basic healthy things. So often, price is the elephant in the room when talking about wellness.

Here’s what I’ve learned both out of my own necessity and through my coaching practice, though. While some healthy products or services aren’t accessible to everyone – which in some cases is absolutely not okay – there are lots of free healthy habits that those at any income level should know about. And that’s what today’s post is all about.

As you’re reading the list, note which habits resonate with you the most and give them a try today. Pick and choose what works for you and adapt them to your own daily life if you’re inspired to do so.

Here are my top habits for well-being on a budget:

1. Journal.

Research shows journaling – especially by hand rather than typing – can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also improve your memory, boost your immune system, and better your mood.

You might decide to journal when you’re having a challenging moment and want to process your feelings, or simply as a regular daily check-in. Get creative with what you journal about, but an easy way to start is by doing stream of consciousness journaling – or getting still and writing the truest words you can find without worrying about the flow or mechanics of what you write. It can also be helpful to write about what you were grateful for that day, or about what you appreciate about yourself. As a last example, you could choose a relevant daily prompt to address a few days in a row.

Try to journal at least a couple days a week. The effects are cumulative, so the more regularly and consistently you do it, the better.

If you don’t already own a journal, writing on whatever paper you do have will work just fine. I’ve also found some amazing journals in the clearance sections of T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s – $3.99 for journals that last me about 5 months with daily journaling!

2. Keep your electronics dimmed and on Night Shift mode 24/7.

The writing’s on the wall – research shows blue light isn’t great for long-term eye health and it certainly disrupts our natural sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production, which can result in hormone issues, weight loss resistance, and even weight gain.

When you put your devices on Night Shift mode and dim the brightness, some blue light gets cut out, lessening the impact.

It can take a couple days to get used to the darker, warmer-toned screen and you’ll want to go back to “normal” whenever you’re doing something that involves assessing color, like reviewing imagery for work or editing photos.

3. Drink more water!

I know I mention this a lot, but it can’t be said enough. Drinking more water is seriously one of the cheapest, easiest ways to have more energy, feel alert, and promote weight loss, if that’s your goal. Three liters a day is a good starting place for people of many body weights. If you have trouble getting yourself to drink water, try using a cute mug or bottle!

4. Recharge by spending time outdoors.

You know when you find yourself walking in nature, maybe in the forest or on the beach, and feel yourself exhale with peace? Nothing stands in for the effects of spending time outside, whether that’s taking a hike or walking outside after work.

During particularly busy days, I like to schedule a walk outside to reboot my brain. I’ll accomplish as much as I can, then lace up my shoes and briskly walk around my neighborhood for 30-60 minutes. The fresh air and sounds of chirping birds helps me recenter, feel more creative, and assess the best way to finish my work for the day.

5. Be screen-free for the first 30 minutes of the day.

There’s a big difference between scrolling through Instagram or replying to emails just after turning off your alarm and taking a bit of time to wake up without any external inputs from technology. Of course, there are some instances in which you might need to get online first thing, but often it can wait 30 minutes until you’ve had a glass of water, made the bed, brushed your teeth, or otherwise kicked off the day. Many people see a direct relationship between when they hit the ground running and have a reactive day, and conversely when they center themselves before the day begins and have a more proactive day.

6. Meditate. If you don’t already know how, get started with free guided meditations.

Time in meditation multiplies your time in focus and effectiveness. It can also reduce stress and anxiety and improve decision-making.

If you’re new to meditation, I recommend checking out the Insight Timer app (not a sponsored mention), which has 15,000+ free guided meditations.

This is what Insight Timer looks like in the Apple App Store.

This is what Insight Timer looks like in the Apple App Store.

Here's where to find the library of free guided meditations.

Here's where to find the library of free guided meditations.

7. Dim the lights to wind down for bedtime.

One way to help keep a healthy body clock and get adequate, restful sleep is to create the conditions for good sleep before bed. In other words, dim the lights to help your body get the cue that it’s night time and start shutting down.This can also help you psychologically wind down from the day and get more restful sleep.

Putting it into action

Pick a habit or two that spoke to you and try it out. Chances are if it stood out to you, you’ll get a lot out of it! As always, keep me posted on how it goes for you.

Xoxo

Valerie

References:

  1. Journaling may improve memory, boost immune systems, and better moods:

    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/emotional-and-physical-health-benefits-of-expressive-writing/ED2976A61F5DE56B46F07A1CE9EA9F9F/core-reader

  2. Blue light can disrupt natural sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

  3. Sleep deprivation may result in hormone issues, weight loss resistance, and weight gain:

    https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825

All About Keto – And Why You Might Want to Skip It

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Necessary medical disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any medical condition. Consult with your doctor about making any changes to your diet.

I’ve been getting a ton of questions about keto lately that I wanted to address here on the blog – what is it, is it good for me, is it sustainable, will it really help me lose weight and allow me to feel my best, healthiest self?

This post will cover all of that. I’ll get into some of keto’s benefits and drawbacks and give you my overall take on whether you should give it a try. My main focus is always on helping you live a healthy lifestyle that you can do forever, so that’s the lens from which I’ll be looking at this.

Overall, keto’s got a certain appeal: legitimate science to back up *some* of its benefits and a clear cut methodology to follow. In fact, “keto” was the top health-related search term on Google in 2018 (in the U.S.).

But the bottomline is this: research suggests that keto is a helpful treatment for some medical conditions, including seizures, traumatic brain injuries, and diabetes. If you don’t have any of those health problems, however, I’d recommend passing on it without thinking twice. For most people, eating extremely low carb isn’t sustainable whatsoever – and even if keto’s used as a temporary weight or fat loss program, it doesn’t teach you best practices to keep up once you reach your goal.

At the end of the day, we all have to do what’s right for us. I hope this post helps you do just that.

What’s keto and how does it work?

If you’re already fairly familiar with keto, go ahead and skip to the next section.

“Keto,” short for “ketogenic diet,” is a nutritional protocol that calls for eating foods with very high fat, very low carbohydrate, and medium-high protein content. On the keto diet, carbohydrates usually make up around 5-10% of your daily calories, compared to the 25-50% that many other eating styles adhere to. (Are red flashing warning lights going off in your head yet? This is extreme!) There are a few different variations of the keto diet, but in general, they have that trait in common.

For example, if you were following keto, you’d expect to nearly avoid foods like grains, fruits, beans, and sugary foods in favor of meats, poultry, fatty fish, greens, non-starchy veggies, and nuts.

The goal is to enter what’s called “ketosis,” or a metabolic state in which you have heightened levels of ketones (compounds made from the breakdown of fats) in the blood. When you’re in ketosis, you tend to feel more mentally focused and you’re more efficient at burning fat because your body’s breaking fat down for energy. Being in ketosis also lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, which has a whole range of health benefits that go beyond the scope of this post.

Keto was actually developed about 100 years ago to treat epileptic seizures in children. These days, it’s made a comeback as a medical protocol, but also as a diet marketed to the general public… which is where things get a little sticky.

What does the research say?

There are three camps to consider here: keto’s benefits for medical conditions, weight loss, and general health. The research is still ongoing and relatively new, with some promising factors.

As far as medical conditions go, keto has been shown to be helpful for some cases of:

  • Diabetes and prediabetes

  • Traumatic brain injuries

  • Epilepsy

  • Neurodegenerative diseases

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Definitely work with your medical professional if you’re interested in exploring keto as a medical intervention. My education is in food and fitness – I’m not a doctor!

How about keto for weight loss? Multiple significant pieces of research (including a review of studies on the topic and a 600+-person research trial) have concluded that a low carb diet isn’t better than a low fat diet, or vice versa, for optimal weight loss. Why? Weight loss results from being in a calorie deficit, which can be achieved by eating either low carb or low fat. So the takeaway is to choose whichever type of diet you can maintain. Sustainable weight loss comes from being able to eat in a way that’s relatively healthy over a long period of time and improves your quality of life.

So why’s keto everywhere these days?

This chart shows the trends in Google searches for the term “keto” between 2010 and 2019, with a noted increase in the number of searches in 2016 and a greater increase in 2018.

This chart shows the trends in Google searches for the term “keto” between 2010 and 2019, with a noted increase in the number of searches in 2016 and a greater increase in 2018.

A few reasons:

  1. It plays into (unwarranted) carb phobia. Just like fat was villinized in the ‘80s, carbs have gotten an unfair bad rap. The truth is, they exist in nature for a reason.

  2. It’s extreme – and there’s an appeal to that. For some, that extreme might appeal because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be healthier. For others, the extreme could appeal because it promises instant gratification. In any case, intensity is often sexy.

  3. There’s solid science touting its benefits. This isn’t just your next made up magic pill – it’s backed up by convincing science, which makes it harder to recognize as a fad.

My take: keto doesn’t teach best practices and it’s not a way of life

As I mentioned earlier, the research showing keto to be an effective treatment for some medical conditions is pretty promising.

But would I choose eating around 5% of my daily calories from carbs as the first line of attack for losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle, either as a short or long term strategy? Absolutely not. I’m wary of any approaches that nearly cut out entire categories of foods and I think you should be too.

As a short term approach, keto might work to lose weight and improve other health markers, like insulin sensitivity. But what happens once we lose some weight? How do we eat after that to maintain it? We’re sort of back at square one because keto doesn’t have any built in guidelines for sustainability or forever eating. There are better ways to lose weight short term that do teach us best practices for care and nourishment and that help us maintain them over time.

As a long term approach, it’s worth considering if eating severely low carb is truly a way of life for you. Ask yourself: is it really realistic to imagine spending the rest of my life eating almost all proteins and fats with hardly any carbs (remember, that’s not even just no pasta or sweets – that’s also little fruit and tons of protein and fats for life)? Then, there’s the question of whether it’s healthy to nearly cut out an entire category of food over the long haul. If you ask me, sure, there are some people out there who can maintain keto and have a high quality of life with great health markers over time. But that’s just not most people.

In general, many of keto’s benefits can be approximated with a sensible, healthy diet – and without all the drawbacks.

Consider the benefits of keto:

  • Mental clarity – can be approximated with adequate quality sleep; drinking enough water; eating meals of proteins, healthy fats, veggie carbs, and sometimes starchy carbs; and meditation.

  • Fat loss – can be achieved with a sensible diet and without cutting out entire categories of food.

  • Lower blood sugar and increased insulin sensitivity – again, can be achieved by eating mostly whole foods, adequate protein, healthy fats, veggies, and some starchy carbs.

And now think about some of the drawbacks:

  • Food obsession – we all know how it goes when we try to rigidly abstain from certain foods for a prolonged period of time. It takes up tons of mental energy and often results in us sacrificing other important areas of life.

  • Low energy and poor workouts – after a while, eating low carb will probably compromise your energy and your workouts will suffer.

  • Compensatory eating – feelings of deprivation often lead us to swing in the other direction and even binge eat. Even if you can maintain keto for months or years at a time, there’s still a significant risk of compensatory eating on the other side. Not worth it, if you ask me.

In sum, keto has recently and understandably been in the hot seat of many weight loss conversations, both for and against. But ultimately, if you’re looking for the most strategic, efficient way to lead a healthy lifestyle forever, I’d say skip keto and get back to the basics.

What are your thoughts on keto? Tell me below!

References:

  1. Keto was a top health-related search term on Google in the United States in 2018:

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/21/health/health-questions-2018-google-explainer/index.html.

  2. Keto may be beneficial for people with certain medical conditions, including epilepsy, diabetes, and gut imbalances:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581442

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633336/

  3. Carbohydrates usually make up around 5% of daily calories on the keto diet:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

  4. Keto diet basics, including what to eat and what not to eat:

    https://perfectketo.com/

  5. Keto was developed approximately 100 years ago to treat epileptic seizures in children:

    https://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-the-Ketogenic-Diet.aspx

  6. Low-fat and low-carb diets produce similar weight loss results:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035144

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679559

  7. Finding a diet that is personally sustainable is significant for weight loss:

    https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo20088

  8. Keto is likely not sustainable for the average person:

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089

    https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/717451

  9. Food deprivation often leads to binge eating:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694569/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10942913

Making Peace With My Belly

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With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I’m sharing a story about my path to body love and deep self-acceptance. Especially my relationship with my belly, the part of my body that used to bear the brunt of my self-criticism and that I know many other women are dissatisfied with at some point or another. It’s a story of the path to unconditional self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance.

This winter, I was laying on the massage table, face up, with my masseuse Beth’s fingers working away at the tension between my hip and stomach when I got transported back. As she hit a certain depth, I flashed to a moment that was defining in terms of becoming friendly with my belly – after years of pain.

Remembering this moment not just intellectually but in my muscles was such a beautiful reminder that some of my richest, most healing moments came out of incredible challenges.

The particular moment I flashed back to was during an otherwise ordinary yoga class years before in which a tide turned. It was a dark, brisk evening and towards the end of class, our teacher Marti asked us to lay on our stomachs, rolling up a bath towel to place on the inside of our hips – right where Beth was working.

“Slowly rock back and forth to flush the toxins out of your liver,” Marti said.

It seemed easy enough.

“Now, as you’re working, ask what this area of your body would say to you,” she continued. “What would it say if it could talk?”

Almost before I understood what was happening, the words “you’re so mean to me” came from my belly.

You’re so mean to me,” over and over again. “You’re so mean to me.”

Tears started spilling out of my eyes and all over my yoga mat. But they weren’t tears of despair, with a heavy, difficult feeling. They were release and relief. Catharsis.

Finally, after years of scrutinizing my belly, looking at it in the mirror and always trying to make it smaller, I could hear what needed to be said to feel free. After years of overinvesting in outside wisdom, like how many calories and macronutrients to eat, and then letting go of rigidity in search of a routine I could do forever… I could feel exactly where I stood with my body. After trying to criticize my way into loving my belly for so long, I could see why my negative self-talk wasn’t working or creating the life I wanted. Perhaps more importantly, after releasing so much emotion, finding solutions felt like the easy part.

I walked out of the yoga studio into the darkness that night about 100 pounds lighter. And in the following months, I diligently worked to nurture that relationship with my body. Little by little, a small bit of confidence and growth had become a lot. It was novel – the most me I’d felt.

Here’s what I did (and still do!) that helped:

  • Regular yoga practice: I continued showing up on my mat regularly, eager to know myself better and better. Yoga helped me learn to relate to myself in a new, gentler way than other forms of movement. I think everyone can get something out of yoga, including a more peaceful relationship with their bodies.

  • Journaling: I’d sit down each night to journal and reflect on the successes from the day – and identify a solution for the challenges going forward. Research shows journaling can help you process emotions, which can decrease stress and help you form new, more loving patterns.

  • Digital detoxing: This was a big move, but I deleted my social media accounts to reconnect with my own opinions rather than those I was absorbing and mistaking for fact. For you, this might mean putting your phone on airplane mode on the weekend, deleting social apps off your phone, or installing a temporary social media blocker to spend less time on social.

  • Letting go of what wasn’t meant for me to make space for what was: I broke up with someone who wasn’t showing me respect in a (hopefully!) straightforward, yet loving way. This left me with more mental space and energy for other things that nourished me more, like new friendships and writing.

  • Proactive research: I studied a lot about the areas of my life I thought needed work. I spent dedicated time – a few hours a week, at least – seeking answers and knowledge. Healing takes time, learning, and effort.

  • Bringing love back into the kitchen: Instead of cooking in a distracted way, I slowed way down – chopping, stirring, and plating as an act of of love. It may sound small, but making your cooking time meditative and joyful shouldn’t be underestimated.

We’re all on our different paths, so our routes to body love will all have unique twists and turns, challenges, and joys. It can be so hard to remind ourselves that beauty has nothing to do with what our tummies or bodies look like and everything to do with what we define as beautiful. It’s an experience worth fighting for, and one that I only encountered in adulthood, because we all deserve to feel at home in our bodies and comfortable in our skin.

Sending you all lots of love this week and always 💓

Tackling the New Year the Forever Plan Way

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Since health is such a significant area of life, it’s likely some of your New Year’s goals involve working out or eating well – in all senses of the word.

So amidst new year diet “resets” and unnecessarily extreme workout routines – which might seem inviting if you’re feeling sluggish or frustrated after the holidays – here’s the 411 on how to tackle the New Year the Forever Plan way.

In case you’re new to the blog, when I say the “Forever Plan,” I mean a lifestyle you can picture doing indefinitely, regardless of any wellness struggles you might have previously endured. It takes proper guardrails, practice, and a little (okay, a lot) of tenacity.

Here’s the short list of healthy habits to devote your attention to, the characteristics of a sustainable routine, and what to do when – not if – you mess up.

But first: excitement vs. stress

If you’re anything like me, you find working towards important goals, like tending to your health, pretty exciting. But that excitement can easily turn into stress – maybe we can’t stop thinking about the thing we’re trying to change, we enter a cycle of self-doubt, or we feel clenched and tight-chested when that thing crosses our mind. We often place high expectations on ourselves and feel pressure to excel.

So before proceeding, it’s worth asking: “Am I excited or stressed about my New Year’s intentions?”

When it comes to living a Forever Plan, excitement is a big indicator that our approach will be sustainable while stress is often a sign that something in our approach, mindset, or goals needs tweaking before we proceed.

Excitement often means our desire to take care of ourselves comes from our own desire to be well rather than as a need to prove ourselves or compare ourselves to others – that we know we can succeed no matter what (a key belief for sustainability, to be sure!).

On the other hand, significant stress is usually an indication that we need to pause, examine our motivations, and adjust the sails. If you’re in that boat (pun intended), think about the following tips as things to work towards rather than as something to take on all at once. You might find that you’re already doing one or more of these healthy habits – or feel genuinely excited to get started – and see how that one thing evolves into the rest.

What are the characteristics of a healthy routine you can do forever?

Getting into a sustainable routine is about more than what you do. It’s also about how you do it. Many healthy lifestyle approaches teach you the what – what specific foods to eat, what kind of exercise you should be doing, etc. – but not how you’re going to build these habits and work them into your life.

So let’s get into the how. There are three big success principles here:

  1. Focus on the 20% of healthy behaviors that get 80% of the results. Have you ever tried to fill your day with healthy habits but then swung in the other direction, doing precisely none of them? Yep, me too. Instead of attempting to boil the ocean, living a Forever Plan is about being devoted to the biggest dial movers diligently and joyfully.  More on what those are in a second.

  2. Work on mindset, not just tactics. Making healthier choices the majority of the time is a matter of understanding not just what to do, but how you personally make decisions. It’s a mental game of being aware of your thoughts and redirecting them to stay focused on your goals just as much as it is about hitting the gym and eating greens.

  3. Use the 80/20 guideline, which is about eating whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time and having more indulgent items the rest. We simply aren’t designed to completely eliminate any food groups and so the goal shouldn’t be to cut them out, only to feel deprived and swing back to the other side of the pendulum. By allowing ourselves to indulge some of the time, we end up eating healthier a much larger portion of the time.

So how do we do that?

The 7 major dial movers

Certain behaviors have a much bigger bang for your buck than others. For example, regularly drinking 3L of water per day is way more impactful for how you feel, look, and think than eating a serving of goji berries. Both are healthy habits, but drinking water is a big dial mover.

The key behaviors to reach your “goal body” are simpler than we might expect. They include:

  1. Eat 3-4 meals a day made up of a protein, healthy fat, and veggie carb plus starchy carbs at some of these meals, depending on your goals. Implementing this well alone will transform how you look, think, and feel. This is a great habit to focus on by itself for a month or two before introducing more habits.

  2. Move your body at least 4 days per week. Weightlifting will help you change your body composition the most, but in the long term, simply moving more than not is what matters.

  3. Drink 3L of water per day. Being hydrated gives us more energy, makes us more alert, and helps all the systems in our body function properly. Simply drinking more water can be the energy boost I need for the day.

  4. Get enough restful sleep. For most adults, that means 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep with as few distractions as possible, especially the ones we can control. So try unwinding before bed, reducing exposure to blue light at night, sleeping in a cool environment, and not checking the phone during the night.

  5. Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day. Meditation aids in stress reduction and helps us think more clearly.

  6. Visualize your goal, including the obstacles it’ll take to get there. Life is busy, and so refocusing on your goal each and every day keeps you pointed in that direction.

  7. Journal at night. Process what went well and what didn’t during the day and lay out a schedule for when you’ll do your healthy habits the following day.

If all you did for the rest of your life was focus on these habits (barring any medical conditions), you’d probably be in very good shape (pun intended).

What to do when, not if, you make a mistake

I definitely struggle with accepting my mistakes in other areas of life and know how painful it can be to redirect the ship after making a healthy habit mistake. The fact is though that we’ll all make mistakes. So having a plan for what to do when that happens is key. It’s part of the whole game plan!

My approach to making mistakes comes down to three steps:

  1. Learn from it

  2. Move on

  3. Take your next healthy step.

Learn from why you strayed. Did an old decision-making pattern set in that should be replaced? Did you not plan enough in advance? It’s all information that’ll help you make more aligned decisions going forward.

Move on. Easier said than done – and this takes practice – but beating ourselves up about mistakes doesn’t actually get us closer to where we want to go. Next!

Take your next healthy step. Refer to the section on the 7 dial movers and lay out a little schedule for how each will fit into your day. Then, execute your plan for the first one and go onward from there.

I hope this sparks inspiration for your most fulfilling, healthiest year yet. Keep me in the loop about your progress by coming over to Instagram @valeriebisharat. I love hearing from you!