I hope you’ve all had a wonderful weekend. I’m going to keep this post short and sweet, but I really wanted to share with you this tasty and healthy turmeric latte recipe I came up with.Turmeric makes for a particularly healthy addition to your diet, because it has multiple anti-inflammatory effects. This is really helpful for reducing inflammation in your body, which can be caused by multiple factors, but of relevance here mainly diet and stress.
Anyhow, back to turmeric. As mentioned, turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory, from which curcumin is derived, and it’s especially effective in reducing inflammation. Curcumin exerts anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body through its ability to regulate a range of inflammatory mechanisms, such as the enzyme indolamine (IDO), which is expressed in various types of immune cells and is activated by pro-inflammatory cytokines. IDO also plays a role in depression as it affects synthesis of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter central to mood regulation (Lopresti et al., 2012; Sompayrac, 2012). Importantly, curcumin has been shown to inhibit the activity of IDO, and to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines (Lopresti et al., 2012).
Another great resource for learning more about turmeric and curcumin can be found from this article published by Authority Nutrition.
Okay, so perhaps you’re wondering how to get more turmeric into your diet? Turns out there are a lot of simple, healthy ways to do so. There are several turmeric supplements now available in health food stores and online. The one I personally use is this particular type from Thorne research, which I selected because it was shown within the research to be effective and it’s had several positive customer reviews online, but there are many other good options available as well. Bottom line, before selecting a supplement be sure to do your own research so that you’re able to make an informed choice.
Another way to get more turmeric into your diet is simply by eating it. This is where my easy and delicious Anti-inflammatory Turmeric Latte recipe comes in. Good news is that you don’t even need a fancy frothing machine to make this one; a Magic Bullet or other single serve mixer will do the trick!
To make one serving, here’s what you’ll need:
1 cup coconut milk (or milk of choice)
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp raw honey
pinch of nutmeg (about 1/8 tsp)
Pour milk into a small pot over medium-low heat. Add in remaining ingredients, whisking to combine.
Once mixture is warm (do not boil), carefully pour into your Magic Bullet (or some type of single serve blender) and blend for about 30 seconds. This is what makes it frothy!
Carefully remove the lid and pour slowly into a mug. Garnish with more cinnamon or nutmeg if you like.
Pause to think of one thing you’re grateful for, smile, and enjoy! 🙂
You can feel good about drinking this particular latte knowing that the turmeric will help to reduce inflammation in your body. What better way to kick off a new day than with a healthy latte that is good for your body and mind? Best part is that it tastes great too!
I hope that you’ve had a wonderful week. Mine has been pretty hectic with trying to finish the manuscript I’ve been writing for submission to a scientific journal, but I’m almost there. During busy times like this I find it can be especially challenging to keep on track with eating nutritious food and maintaining good health, but I also know that it’s during these times in particular that eating well is essential. How so? Here’s a quick physiology lesson to explain:
When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones such as corticotropin releasing hormone and cortisol, which influence the body and the brain (Molina, 2013). You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response; this the innate reaction to stress that our body undergoes when it experiences a stressor, whether real or perceived. The result is a rapid change in physiological and cognitive processes such as increased heart rate, widening of the pupils, narrowing of focus to direct attention towards the perceived threat, and behavioural changes (Nelson, 2005). This is the acute stress response.
The purpose of the stress response is to help promote survival by helping to focus ones energy and attention on the threat. Generally, this system has worked quite well throughout history, helping us to avoid danger and to survive. However, in many current societies we are now subjected to significantly more stress, particularly of the psychological and social nature, compared to ever before. This results in a state of chronic stress whereby the body is constantly flooded with more stress hormones than are necessary, and for a longer period of time. The longer this continues, the more negative effects there are on an individuals body and mind, and the more likely they are to experience detrimental effects to their physical and/or mental health.
Another issue with stress is that it increases inflammation in the body. As I’ve discussed before, inflammation has now been implicated in numerous illness and disease states, especially those chronic in nature. From obesity, to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression to name a few, inflammation seems to be a key factor driving these conditions. The main point to take away from all of this is essentially:
Chronic stress = increased inflammation = increase risk for disease
Fair enough, but you might be thinking “stress is a fact of life. What can I really do about it!?” As it turns out there is actually quite a bit you can do to help manage stress and reduce inflammation in your body. A first step is simply accepting that you CAN do something about managing your stress, followed by seeking out strategies and developing healthy and effective ways to cope.
The most effective strategies involve managing stress from a holistic perspective. That is, addressing both psychological and physical aspects of stress. This can involve things like practicing meditation and yoga, which I’ve personally found to be really helpful, to maintaining a healthy diet and consuming particular supplements.
For more tips on how to manage stress psychologically, check out this brief article from the American Psychological Association, along with this one from Simply Psychology. Choosing to educate yourself on how stress affects your body and mind gives you more control in making informed decisions that will nurture optimal health.
As far as dietary supplements go there are numerous that have been suggested. However, one in particular, the spice curcumin which is derived from turmeric, appears to be especially effective in reducing inflammation. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body via its ability to regulate a range of inflammatory mechanisms. For instance, the enzyme indolamine (IDO) is expressed in various types of immune cells and is activated by pro-inflammatory cytokines, and plays a role in depression with respect to serotonin (a neurotransmitter central to mood regulation) synthesis (Lopresti et al., 2012; Sompayrac, 2012). Moreover, curcumin has been shown to inhibit IDO expression and activity, and to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines (Lopresti et al., 2012). What you can take away from this is that:
Turmeric (curcumin) is a potent natural anti-inflammatory and can easily be incorporated into ones diet
Many curcumin supplements are now available at health food stores and online. The one that I personally use is called Meriva-SR, and it has a potent slow release formula. I chose this one because it was shown within the scientific literature to be effective, and after reading numerous customer reviews I was confident in it’s efficacy.
There are of course other ways to integrate turmeric into your diet. It can be used in a wide range of recipes, but one of my favourites is this Anti-inflammatory Pineapple Turmeric Smoothie recipe I came up with!
As always, try to use fresh, local, organic ingredients when possible. For one serving of this delicious smoothie you’ll need:
1/2 frozen banana
1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple
1 cup coconut milk (or milk of choice)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey
Place avocado, banana, and pineapple into your blender (I use a single serve Magic Bullet), and add enough milk just to cover the top of the mixture. Add in spices and honey. Blend until smooth.
Leave in a cup if you’re on the go, or pour into a bowl and garnish with your favourite toppings for a delicious smoothie bowl breakfast.
Smile, think of one thing you’re thankful for, and enjoy! 🙂
The avocado and banana give this smoothie a creamy texture, plus healthy fats and fiber from the avocado, while the pineapple adds a sweet tropical flavour. To be honest I was skeptical when I first tried making this as to whether it would taste any good, and I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it actually was!
I hope you’ll enjoy this healthy delicious smoothie as much as I do. It’s a great choice if you’re having a stressful day and need a nutritious pick-me-up to give you a boost of energy to get you through. Plus, you can feel great knowing that the turmeric will aid in reducing inflammation in your body, helping it to restore homeostasis (ie. balance) more efficiently.
I hope your week has been off to an awesome start! I’ve been trying to finish the manuscript I’m writing which is due by months end for presentation of my research findings in a scientific journal. While I’m looking forward to hopefully having my paper accepted and published, it certainly is a LOT of writing and I’ve had to put extra effort into staying focused.
Keeping on track with my fitness program and healthy eating has also been a little more challenging given the circumstances, but I’m almost there and looking forward to having this manuscript finished and submitted. As for the follow up post on my last piece in which I discussed my personal journey with depression, it’s a coming soon 🙂
The science behind depression is pretty complex and it’s a topic I feel deserves considerable attention. I’ll be doing my best to communicate the scientific information in such a way that makes it approachable and clear. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share such information about depression with you as I feel knowledge helps one to develop awareness and understanding, which fosters acceptance, and counters the stigma that tends to be associated with many forms of mental illness, including depression. So please stay tuned for that post.
Okay, lets talk about food! I don’t know about you, but when I’m under pressure and feeling a little stressed I tend to crave sweet treats. Unfortunately, as I’ve discussed before sugar does some pretty bad things to the body and mind (you can learn more on the specifics of this here), so finding a balance between satisfying my sweet cravings and keeping things healthy has been my focus.
While experimenting in the kitchen the other night, I happened to come up with a pretty darn tasty treat that also so happens to be reasonably healthy, and both gluten and diary free: Apple Pecan Maple Crumble!
This yummy treat is quick and simple to make, and reasonably healthy for a dessert. Real maple syrup replaces the traditional granulated sugar that most dessert recipes call for, or if you prefer honey can be used instead. It should be noted that maple syrup, while a healthier alternative to granulated processed sugar, still contains a considerable amount of sugar which is why it’s best consumed only in moderation. More information regarding the nutritional components of maple syrup can be found from this article published by Authority Nutrition.
So, how does one make this gloriously delicious dessert, you may be wondering? Well… let me tell you! As always, please try to use fresh, local, organic ingredients when possible. This recipe makes about two smaller portions, or one large one.
For the bottom…
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into small chunks
2 Tbsp dried dates, coarsely chopped (or raisins)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp real maple syrup
For the topping…
3 Tbsp gluten free oats (or regular if you prefer)
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
2 Tbsp pecans, chopped
1 Tbsp coconut, shredded and unsweetened (optional)
Grease two small (or one medium sized) oven safe ramekins with coconut or olive oil.
For the bottom layer, combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss gently to combine apples and dates with the spices and maple syrup. Pour mixture into greased baking dish.
In another bowl mix oats, ground flax seed, coconut flour, and cinnamon together. Add in melted coconut oil, then maple syrup. Stir with a fork until mixture is thoroughly combined and forms a crumbly consistency. Stir in pecans.
Top the bottom apple layer with the crumble mixture. Sprinkle with unsweetened, shredded coconut if you like.
Bake uncovered in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown (note: time may vary due to differences in individual oven temperatures, so keep an eye on it and adjust timing accordingly). Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Pause to think of one thing you’re grateful for, then smile and enjoy! 🙂
Well folks, I hope you enjoy this tasty treat as much as I do. This healthier alternative to traditional fruit crumble recipes is quick and easy to prepare, and aside from the extra sugar from the real maple syrup, it’s nutritious too! This is also a great one for anyone having digestive motility issues, such as constipation, as the ground flax seed and coconut flour are very high in fiber, which helps to move things along the GI tract and promotes gut health.
Wishing you all a wonderfully happy and healthy week!
I hope you’ve had a terrific week! Today I want to share with you a topic that is very close to me: Depression. As I have personally experienced depression for many years, and also studied and conducted research on it, I have quite a bit to say on the topic. For this reason I’ve broken this topic down into two parts. The first of which that I will share with you is my personal journey with depression. The second part, which I will post over the weekend, will discuss some of the scientific evidence relevant to depression.
When I started writing this piece I wasn’t sure exactly where to begin. I feel I have so much to say on this topic and so much knowledge to share, it’s tough to decide what to focus on. For the purposes of keeping this somewhat brief, I won’t go into a lot of detail. However, if there’s something you read that peaks your interest and you’d like to learn more about it, please leave a comment, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or contact me on the Genuinely Julie Facebook page, and I’ll be happy to chat more with you about it.
To give you some perspective on the prevalence of depression among cancer survivors and the general population, according to the literature both cancer patients and survivors tend to be at a greater risk for developing depression both during treatment and afterwards (Harrington et al., 2010; Raison & Miller, 2003; Spiegel & Giese-Davis, 2003). The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that among the general population, approximately 8% of adults will experience a major depressive episode at some time during their lives (CMHA, 2015). Depression is one of the most prevalent illnesses and the leading cause of disability worldwide (WHO, 2015), and has considerable economic, social, and personal implications.
The first time that I became depressed I was about 16, and its onset was triggered by a stressful family life event. I simultaneously developed an eating disorder, which I later realized was a maladaptive coping mechanism, that I struggled with for two years. When I turned 18, I was prescribed antidepressants for the first time. This did help some with my eating disorder, however I continued to experience low levels of depression, and struggled with a very negative self-image; I did not like myself and I hated my body.
Then came my stage IV laryngeal cancer diagnosis, which was a highly stressful and traumatic event, triggering another and more severe depressive episode, which would last for several years. The combination of the physiological along with the psychological and emotional trauma culminated in me becoming extremely depressed. At times I even recall contemplating suicide.
I also developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the trauma I experienced with my cancer, particularly the surgical aspect. Losing my voice, and having to adjust to a different way of breathing and speaking, along with the quite noticeable physical markers (ie. my scars and tracheotomy), was very difficult. As I had fairly severe body image issues prior to my cancer diagnosis and treatments, the new circumstances I faced only magnified my insecurities and self-loathing.
For those who have never been depressed, I realize that it can be difficult to comprehend the experience of it. However, I caution to withhold judgement as it’s difficult to truly appreciate how it feels to have no hope for your future, to feel as though no matter what you do you will not be able to overcome adversity, to feel completely alone, and to suffer tremendous emotional pain. But that is how severe depression often feels.
For many years I was angry to be alive, had little confidence in myself and minimal hope for the future. So what changed? In short: my attitude.
Aside from my longstanding fascination with behaviour and the mind, I expect a key reason I went into psychology was because I’d finally decided to try solving my own issues, because medication wasn’t doing the trick and I was sick of being depressed. In 2011 I began my studies in Psychology at Brescia University College. The experience and knowledge I gained in my three years there helped me to learn and grow tremendously, and slowly I began to overcome my depression as I gained confidence in myself and my abilities. I realized that just because I only had a tiny whisper voice, that didn’t mean I couldn’t achieve success. I excelled and graduated with honors one year ahead of schedule.
I then began my master’s degree where among my many research interests, I became fascinated with learning more about inflammation, the gut microbiome, and its role in depression. This led to my interest and passion in nutrition, for which I am now taking a program to be certified as a Holistic Nutritionist. I’ve continued to educate myself on the role that nutrition and diet play in depression, overall health, and wellness, and slowly I made positive changes to my diet and lifestyle.
Along side my educational experiences, I began seeking out different resources and approaches to help facilitate my healing. This led me to yoga, meditation, and learning to practice gratitude daily and embrace kindness, which have been tremendously helpful to me in overcoming depression. I also read many books. Two of which that I found to be most helpful were “Happiness” by Buddhist monk and scientist Matthieu Ricard, and “Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression” by Miriam Akhtar.
Here I am now, nearly 10 years after my cancer ordeal; I have overcome a lot of obstacles, one of the most daunting of which was depression. I have not only survived, but have learned how to flourish, cultivate happiness, and embrace life; and I know that regardless of your circumstances, YOU can do this too!
I now want to say to those struggling with depression: I know it may feel like you are alone and that there is no hope, that you can’t overcome it, and that your suffering will never end. But you can overcome depression, and you will. However, achieving recovery requires that you truly want to heal. This point is critical to understand:
Recovery and healing are a choice. You must both want it and be open to it.
For many years I wasn’t open to healing, and so my suffering continued for far longer than it needed to. I had a pessimistic attitude and my perspective was that life was cruel and unfair. I had victimized myself, and so my depression persisted.
It was not until I decided to take accountability for my circumstances and an active role in helping to heal myself that my life began to change positively. No one could make me do that, except for me. The same is true for each of us.
It is your choice to pursue recovery, healing, and to flourish.
No one can do this for us, we must do it for ourselves, recognizing that this is part of our own unique journey; a journey that will likely not be easy, but rather quite challenging. But the reward of gaining back and embracing your life, and of learning how to flourish and cultivate happiness are undoubtedly worthwhile!
I am content that after many years of taking antidepressant medication, I am now off of it and feeling better than ever! That being said, I want to be clear that I do not advocate nor advise for anyone to stop taking medication they are currently on; that is an important discussion to have with your doctor. What I do want to emphasize however, is that medication is not a cure but instead addresses certain symptoms temporarily. This is accomplished by altering specific neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain (Meyer & Quenzer, 2005). Moreover, the effectiveness of antidepressant treatment can vary greatly from one person to another, and depends on several factors such as genetics (Papiol et al., 2007), environment, and lifestyle choices. For some people a reduction in symptoms may be experienced, for others there may be no effect, and still for some symptoms may actually worsen.
Depression is a multidimensional illness involving physiological and psychological, including cognitive and emotional, components. This is why a holistic approach to treatment and recovery, which addresses both physiological (eg. nutrition, stress management, physical activity, herbal supplementation, etc.) and psychological (eg. emotional wellness, cognitive and behavioural treatments, stress management, etc.) aspects, is most likely to be successful (Greenlaw, n.d.; Hollen et al., 1992; Williams, 2001).
Ultimately though, one must first decide that they want to recover, and be willing to take action to facilitate this.
I am not so naive as to think that I will never again face depression. I know that I am more susceptible to it due to a variety of reasons. However, I have also developed confidence in my ability to overcome depression, along with an understanding of how to recognize what triggers may cause it to resurface. I have developed effective, healthy coping strategies and ways to counteract depression when I feel it trying to take hold again. The great news is that these are skills that you too can learn and develop!
Unsure of where to begin? A good first step is choosing to be open and honest, both with yourself and others, and realizing that it’s okay and natural to feel vulnerable and insecure. I’ve discussed both of these topics in more detail in previous posts which you can find here: insecurity and personal growth, and the value of vulnerability.
Remember: This is your journey. Embrace it. Discover what works for you. Learn and grow.
I will end here with a quote that I remind myself of daily: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – C. Jung
This quote has become somewhat of my mantra as it reminds me that no matter what life throws in my path, whatever my circumstances may be, I always have the opportunity to decide how I choose to respond and the extent to which I allow circumstances to affect me, and so do you.
I hope that everyone had a lovely weekend and wonderful Valentine’s Day! Here in Ontario the weather was quite cold and we got a LOT of snow. Fortunately I was able to keep warm and got to enjoy some family time over the weekend.We did some baking, and I made us enchiladas for dinner Sunday night.
After dinner we got cozy and put on the new James Bond – “Spectre” film that recently came out. I’m a pretty big James Bond fan, particularly of the Daniel Craig “James Bond” (he just does it so well – and looks great doing it hehe!). I did however, also enjoy a few too many not-so-healthy sweets over the weekend, which I’m feeling the effects of a little bit today. But all-in-all it was a pretty great, relaxing weekend.
You may already be aware of the mounting evidence suggesting that sugar has numerous negative effects on both physical and mental health. However, if you’re just learning about this now and would like a little more information, this article by Authority Nutrition does a nice job of briefly summing it up.
In short, sugar is linked to inflammation (as it tends to increase activity of pro-inflammatory mechanisms in the body), which appears to underlie many disease states, particularly those chronic in nature, enhancing their severity. Inflammation has been implicated in everything from diabetes, to heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and cancer, to name a few.
So sugar enhances inflammation, which fuels chronic disease states, yet sugar is almost everywhere, or so it seems. How can we counteract it’s negative effects? Obviously, a key first step is reducing and limiting ones intake of highly processed, high-sugar food and beverage items.
An optimal approach is to try consuming mainly fresh, local, and organic foods when possible, and to minimize your consumption of processed items. But consuming some processed food can be tough to avoid, thus it’s critical to pay attention to the nutritional information provided on the packaging. Nutritional labels give you a breakdown of what’s in the product and the ingredients that were used to make it. I appreciate how confusing ingredient lists and nutrition labels can be; to better understand them check out this article which walks you through how to read and make sense of all that info.
Another way to minimize the detrimental effects of sugar, but still satisfy your sweet tooth, is by using natural sweeteners such as raw honey or real maple syrup. For instance, raw unpasteurized honey has some scientifically validated beneficial health properties, such as antioxidants and the ability to reduce some pro-inflammatory cytokines. More on this can be found here. However, be mindful of the fact that even these natural sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.
Additionally, there are several spices and other herbal compounds that have shown efficacy for antioxidant properties and reducing inflammation. One of these is of course matcha green tea. I go into more detail about matcha’s health benefits in my Maple Matcha Latte post from a few weeks back.
Another natural anti-inflammatory is the spice Turmeric, from which curcumin is derived. Considerable scientific evidence has demonstrated that curcumin exerts anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body via its ability to regulate a range of inflammatory mechanisms, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines (Borre et al., 2014; Kulkarni et al., 2009; Lopresti, Hood, & Drummond, 2012). For more information on the health benefits of Turmeric (and curcumin) check out this article by Authority Nutrition.
Alright, now that I’ve given you a little background on how sugar and inflammation can threaten your health, and a few ways to counter this with natural compounds, I’d like to share this nutritious, anti-inflammatory smoothie bowl recipe I came up with: the Matcha-Turmeric Anti-inflammatory Smoothie Bowl!
This smoothie has a naturally sweet taste from the pineapple (or mango if you prefer), a creamy texture from the avocado, undertones of matcha, and a touch of spice from the turmeric and cinnamon. Here’s how to make it:
1/2 frozen banana
3/4 cup pineapple, fresh or frozen (or mango)
1 cup coconut or almond milk, unsweetened (add more if needed)
1 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey or real maple syrup
Place the first four ingredients in a single serve mixer (such as a Magic Bullet) or blender. Add in honey, matcha, turmeric, and cinnamon.
Blend until the mixture is pureed and thoroughly combined.
Pour into a bowl (or leave in a travel cup if you’re on the go) and top with your favourite healthy toppings.
Smile, think of one thing you’re thankful for, and enjoy! 🙂
I hope that you’ll enjoy this nutritious, anti-inflammatory smoothie! It’s a great one to start the day with as it will fill you up thanks to the fiber from the avocado and pineapple, and keep your energy levels up too. The anti-inflammatory properties are a wonderful way to help your body re-establish homeostasis (ie. balance), particularly after a night out enjoying some sugary cocktails or after eating a few too many yummy sweet treats.
After the positive response to my post on Insecurity and Personal Growth last week, I thought this very honest, raw post would be a fitting follow up. It also so happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day tomorrow, which can be rather difficult for some, as well as the 10 year anniversary of my official cancer diagnosis. Today I’m going to discuss the value of vulnerability.
I’m curious: how many of you upon the mention of “vulnerability” automatically associate this with weakness and negative connotations come to mind? Likely a great many do, and that may be because in many societies we have been socially conditioned to perceive vulnerability as a weakness. (It should be noted that limited research exists on this and there appear to be cross-cultural inconsistencies within the literature).
However, perhaps vulnerability isn’t a weakness at all. Consider this: humans are social creatures and many traits we exhibit have been evolutionarily preserved. By this I mean that since our early ancestors, qualities in individuals that were useful, such as altruism, stuck around because such qualities helped promote survival. However, for the most part qualities that were maladaptive (such as an inability to cooperate with others) and did not help an individual to get along with their social group were unlikely to be passed along to future generations (through reproduction).
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, feeling vulnerable is something all of us have experienced at one point or another. It’s innate and has been evolutionarily conserved, therefore it must serve some sort of beneficial purpose to survival. So why are we taught to perceive it as a weakness? Could it be instead that those who allow themselves to be vulnerable in social situations are actually at an advantage? As research suggests, this may indeed be the case.
Allowing oneself to be vulnerable facilitates social bonding and helps cultivate closer relationships with important individuals. Historically, this would have helped with survival because it’s good to have someone who’s “got your back” when things get rough.
Yet in the modern emotionally constipated climate in which we live, the notion of being vulnerable has all but been suppressed.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” – Brene Brown
Given the evidence, it is plausible that we are actually fighting against years of evolution for an adaptive and beneficial trait. Further, perhaps this discrepancy is resulting in negative consequences regarding our ability to function socially and build the close, intimate relationships we often crave with others. Moreover, this suppression of innate vulnerability may be fueling the increasing levels of anxiety and depression which many individuals now struggle with.
From my own experience, I’ve come to understand that vulnerability IS a good thing, but requires balance. Here’s a personal example: On February 14th 2006 I was diagnosed with a stage IV malignant tumour in my throat. I was told that if I did not undergo surgery to remove my larynx (voice box), followed by chemo and radiation, I would without a doubt soon die. I still remember lying in the hospital bed hiding under the covers, crying for hours. Then came the rage, as I angrily told everyone I’d rather die than have to end up with no voice, all alone, and unloved (oh the theatrics and naivety of teenagers haha, but I genuinely believed this would be my future at that time). I had resolved not to receive the surgery; to simply allow myself to die rather than face a future of struggle and uncertainty.
What made me change my mind were my family and friends. I saw how much this hurt them and how afraid they were, and it broke my heart to see their pain. I’m a very empathetic person and find it distressing to watch others suffer. Fortunately, this motivated me change my mind and I agreed to have the surgery.
After the surgery physically I recovered quickly. It’s amazing how rapidly the energy returned to my body once I didn’t have an enormous tumor sucking the life out of me (quite literally). But soon after came the chemo and radiation treatments, which nearly did kill me. I underwent 6 weeks of radiation and 3 intense chemo sessions. The chemo made me extremely sick. Then there was the radiation, which burned my skin, scarring it and the underlying tissue. Due to the pain and nausea, and fact that everything tasted metallic (a side effect of the treatments) I could eat very little. But I’m stubborn and I refused to give in to my broken body. It was my anger and the walls I’d put up since my diagnosis that I believe got be through it. I’d resolved to be invulnerable. To show no weakness to the disease that was trying to take my life.
For example, the radiation suite was on the basement floor of the London Regional Cancer Center and there was a flight of spiral stairs to get from the main floor to the basement (or of course there were also the elevators). I’d decided that no matter what I would take those stairs every single day, down and back up. Though near the end I was so weak I literally had to crawl up them (what a ridiculous sight I must have been hah), I still forced myself to take the stairs. I laugh about it now, even though I recall how at the time it was exhausting for me to do this. But this was my way of fighting back and proving to myself that I was not vulnerable, but rather I was tremendously strong. Death was not an option.
My (perceived) invulnerability had served it’s purpose: I survived. However, after all of the struggle and treatments my walls did not come down, but rather stayed up for years. Unfortunately, it took me several years to realize that I needed to let my walls come down in order to move on with my life. I needed to learn how to be vulnerable again. This was a terrifying prospect for me. I’d experienced considerable trauma and the emotional and psychological aftermath nearly consumed me. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable anymore, but I knew that I needed to learn how to cultivate my vulnerability so that I could start living again.
And so I began meditating and practicing yoga. Reading as many books as I could (“Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard, is one of my favourites and has helped me greatly), and learning all I could on how to open myself up to others and to the world; on how to be vulnerable again.
One of the most influential sources that helped me rediscover my vulnerability was a TED talk by Brene Brown, in which she discusses the power of vulnerability in a delightfully humorous way, and how it IS ESSENTIAL to allow oneself to be vulnerable. Because, as you will learn:
Vulnerability allows us to connect with others; to experience joy, happiness and love
Please, if you do one thing today make time to listen to this talk because the message is tremendous and truly life changing, especially if you’re struggling with how to allow yourself to be open to others and the world; with how to be vulnerable and accept yourself. I still get shivers when I listen to this talk; it’s truly brilliant.
What I can tell you about vulnerability based on research that has been done, as well as my own experience, is that it is not a bad thing. Indeed, in the years since my cancer I’ve come to understand that those who allow themselves to be vulnerable are the stronger ones. It’s easy to put up walls to protect yourself from the pain and fear you may feel by putting yourself out there and being open to others and to new experiences. It takes far more courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable and open, knowing full well that you may get hurt and you may fail.
And that’s okay. Pain and failure suck. No one wants to experience that, and yet without it how can we grow? If we’re not making mistakes and experiencing things there is little opportunity for growth.
I would now like to challenge you to be vulnerable. Let down your walls and open yourself to life. Be curious. Go on adventures. Learn and grow. Step outside your comfort zone. LIVE! My experience has taught me that life is brief and can end very suddenly and unexpectedly. So please don’t hide behind your walls and shelter yourself from life, because you only get this one.
You will feel fear, and it will be uncomfortable, and that’s perfectly okay
Do not allow whatever it is that you fear stop you. We all have fears. Acknowledge that fear, then walk right through it. I am no longer afraid of dying. Having almost done it before, it doesn’t scare me anymore. What I’ve realized and what I now fear most is the prospect of not allowing myself to live, savor, and experience every opportunity this life offers me.
One of the most remarkable characteristics I’ve come to appreciate about individuals is their ability to overcome adversity, to adapt and to heal, so long as there is a willingness to be open to recovery. This requires vulnerability. It’s taken me nearly 10 years, but I have finally learned to be vulnerable, and I’m a much happier and more fulfilled person for it, able to love and accept love. Whatever walls you’ve built, for whatever reason, consider that perhaps it may now be the time to let them down and to let life in.
With love and gratitude,
ps. If you’re ready to take a step outside of your comfort zone, leave a comment about something that you fear or which makes you feel vulnerable. Simply getting it out in the open is the first step to overcoming it! 🙂
I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful week. Mine has been a productive yet hectic one between meetings with students, and writing a manuscript for submission to a scientific journal presenting my findings from a study I did on the effect of oxytocin on pro-inflammatory cytokines and sickness behaviour. With any luck (finger crossed) it will get accepted and published.
We’ve been getting a lot of snow here in Ontario and the temperatures have dropped again so it’s pretty chilly. I recently decided I’d like to learn how to snowboard, and having acquired a snowboard and boots from my wonderful aunt I think there will finally be enough snow on the ground for me to go out and give it a try. Should be interesting… dun dun dunnn lol.
Calvy hasn’t been enjoying the weather much. He loves to get outside and play. So with all of this snow he mostly lies around and sleeps, has a few rowdy spurts here and there throughout the day where he bolts around like a maniac, and snacks. He will be happy when spring is here and he can spend all day outside, hunting leaves and such heh. Oh to be a cat.
I’ve been keeping on track with my Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide fitness program which I recently started, and so far I’m really enjoying it. I like that it’s challenging yet quick (each workout is only around 30 minutes), as this approach compliments my busy schedule very well. Another plus is that it can be done at home and requires minimal special equipment, which I really like as I’m not a fan of going to the gym and prefer to do my workouts alone. I’m certainly feeling (and starting to see) the results of this program!
My healthy eating has been right on track too. Interestingly, I find this healthful practice much easier to be consistent with than I do exercising. My assumption is that since I’ve already established the habit of healthy eating and cooking for myself, it has become ‘second nature’ to now engage in healthy dietary practices. Not to mention coming up with fun, nutritious meals is a great break from all the writing I regularly do, especially lately!
As you may have noticed I mostly stick with vegetarian-type dishes because well, meat doesn’t really appeal to me. But occasionally I do like to enjoy some fish or seafood. One awesome recipe that I love to make which is quick and delicious, yet healthy is Cashew Crusted Cod with Mushroom Kale Quinoa!
Based on ingredients I had at the time I actually adapted my version of this recipe from the original “Almond Encrusted Tilapia” which I found on a wonderful blog called Fit Foodie Finds. I’ve tried the Almond Tilapia recipe and it’s super tasty as well, so if you’re a fan of tilapia please check this one out. However, I for whatever reason seem to prefer the cod-cashew combo (ha! try saying that five times fast). I find the cashews add a little extra sweetness to the cod, and I prefer the taste of cod a bit more than tilapia.
The fish only takes about 10 minutes at most to make, while the mushroom kale quinoa takes maybe about 20 minutes (and can be prepared ahead of time if need be and then warmed up). Equipment wise, you’ll only need some type of food processor for the cashews (I use a Magic Bullet). Alternatively, if you don’t have a food processor you can put your cashews into a plastic bag, wrap it in a dish towel, put it on the floor and stomp on them (yes, I’ve done this before haha). I know this sounds ridiculous, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and this honestly does work (albeit not as well) if you find yourself without a food processor. Not to mention if you’re feeling stressed and agitated stomping on some cashews may help to alleviate these feelings in a more productive way 🙂
Alright, enough chit chat. As always try to use fresh, local, organic ingredients when possible. Here’s how you make 2 servings of my Cashew Crusted Cod and Mushroom Kale Quinoa recipe:
Drizzle both sides of cod fillets with olive oil, then coat the side of the fish that’s facing you with ground cashews and a pinch of black pepper. Meanwhile heat coconut oil in a pan over medium-high heat.
Place fish in pan with the cashew crusted side down, then top the uncoated side (that’s now facing you) with remaining cashews and a bit of black pepper.
Cook fish for about 2 or 3 minutes then flip. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes more, or until fish flakes with a fork and cashew crust is golden brown on both sides.
Remove from heat and spritz with fresh lemon juice. Serve hot and enjoy!
Mushroom Kale Quinoa
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cups fresh kale, washed & chopped
3 – 4 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup onion, diced
1.5 cups cooked quinoa
1 tsp turmeric
salt & pepper to taste
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
Cook quinoa according to package directions, then set aside.
Meanwhile heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add in onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until starting to soften. Reduce heat to medium and add in garlic; saute about 2 minutes more.
Add in mushrooms, kale, turmeric, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, cover and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms and kale begin to soften.
Remove from heat, add in warm cooked quinoa, and stir to combine (Note: If you’d like a little citrus flavor, spritz a bit of fresh lemon juice on at this time)
Think of one thing for which you’re grateful, smile, & enjoy!
Here you have it folks: a quick and nutritious meal that’s easy to prepare and oh-so-yummy! This one’s perfect for a busy weeknight, since it won’t take a lot of time to prepare. To make things even easier, try having your veggies prepped in advance and ready to go. You could even cook your quinoa ahead of time, then simply reheat it when adding it to the veggies!
For those of you with little ones, the cashew crusted cod recipe can easily be adapted to make a healthy version of fish sticks for the kids by simply cutting the fish into strips, then prepare and cook them in the same way. This is a much healthier and more nutritious (and better tasting!) option compared to the processed stuff you find in the frozen isle of the grocery store.
On a final note: this meal is also dairy and gluten free! Turns out quinoa is actually not a grain, but rather a pseudocereal seed. However, issues with gluten can come into play when quinoa has been processed in a facility alongside grain products. More on this can be found here. Thus, when purchasing your quinoa just be sure to look for that which has been processed in a grain free facility or that is certified to be gluten free.
Well it’s about time for me to get back to writing up that manuscript. Until next time, happy eating, folks! 🙂
I’m starting to think we should call Monday’s “matcha Monday’s”. Is that cheesy? Perhaps a little eh (lol) but I think it’s kind of catchy too. I know many people dread Monday because it tends to bring with it the start of a new work week. So perhaps adding a little matcha green tea to your Monday’s will help brighten them a bit? Heh It’s worth a try I suppose!
Given that logic, it’s settled: “Matcha Monday’s” it is! And in honor of the delightful delicacy that is matcha, I have a tasty recipe to share with you all: the Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl!
But first lets have a quick review on why matcha is just so darn awesome and great for you!
In short it’s a powerful antioxidant, has select vitamins and minerals, lowers blood glucose levels, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and oxidative stress, among others. A great resource to learn more about the health benefits of matcha can be found here. One of my previous posts for the yummy Maple Matcha Latte also goes into more detail about the health benefits of matcha and scientific evidence supporting such claims.
This recipe also features avocado, which boasts several nutritious benefits including healthy fats, fiber, and numerous vitamins and minerals, to name a few. You can learn more about the health benefits of avocado here. I try to incorporate one avocado each day into my diet. However, I understand that many people aren’t a fan of the taste or texture of these nutritious little items. Fortunately though, when combined in this smoothie recipe the taste of the avocado becomes undetectable while adding a creamy texture that compliments the smoothie perfectly.
The other key ingredient in this recipe is pineapple (or mango if you prefer). Pineapple is noted as having powerful anti-inflammatory properties, are packed with Vitamin C (among other vitamins and minerals), and not to mention a delicious taste! Nutritional properties and health benefits can be found in more detail here.
Combine all this awesomeness together and what you get is a nutrient packed, delicious tasting, creamy smoothie that’s going to keep you full and energized for several hours! I recommend having this one for breakfast, but it also makes for an easy and healthy lunch. Feel free to toss on whatever toppings you prefer, or if you’re on the go leave it in a cup and skip the fancy toppings to make for easy sipping. As always, try to use local, fresh, and organic ingredients when possible.
Here’s how I make the Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl! (1 serving)
1/2 frozen banana
3/4 cup fresh or frozen pineapple (or mango), chopped
1 tsp matcha
1 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized honey (or maple real maple syrup)
1 cup (approximately) unsweetened coconut or almond milk
optional: 1 Tbsp coconut flour for added fiber (this is great if you’re having trouble moving things along your digestive track)
Place avocado, banana, and pineapple in a single serve blender (or regular blender) with enough liquid just to cover the ingredients.
Add in honey and matcha (and coconut flour here too if you’re including it; you’ll want to add about 1 or 2 more tablespoons of milk as well if you do).
Blend ingredients together for about a minute or so, until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Top with your favorite healthy toppings.
Take a deep breath, smile, and think of one thing for which you’re grateful; serve cold and enjoy! 🙂
I hope you’ll find this nutritious smoothie as delicious and enjoyable as I have!
This is a great recipe if you need an extra (and filling) boost of energy to get you through your day. It’s a lovely one for kids as well, since all the healthy stuff is camouflaged for those picky eaters out there, and it has a naturally sweet tropical taste from the pineapple! Give it a cool name (I’m thinking something that has to do with The Hulk or Ninja Turtles with all of that green? heh) and you’ve got a winner! 🙂
This post is a more personal one. Some of you may relate to this, others may not. With so many big changes recently happening in my life, thoughts of insecurity and fear of the unknown have often come to my mind. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years and I’m no stranger to the insecure, self-defeating, negative internal dialogue that tends to pervade the thoughts of those struggling with these conditions.
Fortunately I’ve found ways to overcome these challenges, which I’d like to share with you. I also want to share my experience as I know it can often feel like you’re facing depression and/or anxiety all alone. You know there are others struggling but the experience can feel extremely unique to you, and you may feel isolated and as though no one can truly understand how you feel. I get it. I’ve been there too.
I used to be very insecure. I placed far too much value on my own appearance and developed a near obsession with maintaining control over all aspects of my life. While rigid control gave me a false perception of comfort, it was not until years later that I realized I was actually closing myself off from the world and from life. In the wake of challenges that life was presenting me, I’d forgotten how to live and how to enjoy life.
I suppose it was my pervasive need for control and my vanity that ultimately facilitated the development of an eating disorder. During that time I recall being very unhappy, anxious, and depressed. Then came my cancer; a stage IV tumor that had nearly engulfed by larynx (ie. voice box). I was on the path to an early grave within a few months. Fortunately, I survived the aggressive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and slowly my physical health began to return. However, now having no voice and the physical challenge presented by the tracheotomy, my insecurities and lack of confidence in myself became more pronounced than ever before.
Again I fell into depression and this time it was much worse. I remember feeling entirely hopeless, consumed with grief because I felt like I lost a part of me and that my situation would make it impossible to connect with others and achieve my ambitions in life. For many years I struggled with this. Trying slowly to pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together. To get back to who I was. But this wasn’t possible because having gone through these experiences how could I ever be the same person I was before it all happened? Looking back now I laugh because it seems so obvious to me that this was a pivotal event in my life that beckoned an opportunity for growth. However, at the time it felt like a black hole sucking me into darkness and I had little hope.
This went on for years, until finally I began to realize that I would never again be the Julie I was before and that I was in control of how I chose to let my circumstances affect me. I started putting the pieces of “me” back together, while adding the new pieces I’d gained in the years since. I learned to let go of that rigid need for control. I realized that there are far more important things than physical appearance. And I finally had to confront my anxieties and insecurities regarding my feelings of inadequacy.
I sought out alternative treatments, approaches, and experiences which opened me up to the world again. I found yoga and meditation very helpful in the healing process and read several books (“Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard was among the most influential for me). I’ve learned much about how diet and nutrition influence inflammation and how it can either enhance or minimize anxiety, and especially depression.
For instance, accumulating evidence suggests that inflammation is likely an underlying factor in depression, and that one’s gut microbiome and diet can have major impacts on the development and severity of depressive symptoms. I suppose this is one of the major reasons I’ve become so interested in nutrition and diet and seek to share this life-changing information and nutritious recipes with others.
Coming back to my discussion on insecurity, today I consider myself to be a pretty confident person and have worked hard to minimize my insecurities. But don’t get me wrong, many still lurk in the back of my mind and occasionally try to again gain control. When faced with a new challenge or endeavour I might find myself thinking things like “You’re smart and you’d be good at that, but how could you do it without your voice? You can’t”. However, my years of education in psychology have taught me how to recognize these negative thoughts, and I’ve developed strategies to stop them in their tracks and alter the content to reflect a more positive (and realistic) perspective.
When I begin to have negative thoughts telling me “I can’t” or “you’ll fail” or “they won’t like you”, I immediately challenge them in a way that allows me to alter the pervasive thoughts, followed by subsequent behavioural modification. This approach is a strategy used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
As an example, my internal dialogue might then go something like “Okay, if you “fail” what can be learned from this? What constitutes a “fail”? I then reason through my thoughts logically to challenge the negative and destructive cognitive patters. This allows me to view the situation in a more realistic way, altering my perception of the circumstances and facilitating a more positive approach to tackling any situation.
The main reason I wanted to share this post is to emphasize that we all have insecurities and lack confidence in a few or more areas of life. And this is completely okay! It is perfectly normal to feel doubt, particularly when you begin to tackle something new and push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
One thing I’ve learned more recently regarding pushing ones boundaries is that each time I step outside of my comfort zone, I grow tremendously as does the confidence I have in myself. At one time I’d have been terrified of traveling alone. Now having done it a few times I realize I actually quite enjoy the experience. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and the uncontrollable.
I realize that building confidence and learning to be secure with oneself is both a process and a challenge, but it’s absolutely something you can achieve if you truly desire to do so. This is because confidence, and subsequent alleviation of insecurity, is something that you can learn once you have the appropriate tools to develop it!
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on how to tackle insecurity and build confidence was actually from this TED talk based on scientific evidence that basically said: “fake it ‘til you make it”. And what do you know, it works!
Life is a journey and we’re not meant to know what’s coming. That was one of the toughest life lessons I’ve learned to accept (being a “recovered control-freak” and all hah). Presently, the thrill of adventure and exploring new places, the unknown, and meeting new people is something that drives me forward; seeking out new opportunities to travel and explore the many marvelous things this life has to offer.
Helping others brings me tremendous satisfaction and happiness, giving me a sense of purpose. By opening myself up to the world and to life, I’ve become passionate about fostering my own personal growth and helping others to do the same!
Until next time, wishing you health, happiness, and personal growth
I hope you’ve been having a marvelous week thus far. As some of you might know, earlier this week I celebrated my pup Oscar’s 9th Birthday! We celebrate every year and it’s so much fun. I think I get more excited about the dog birthday parties than I do about my own birthday haha. It was a wonderful occasion and this year I made a healthy veggie stirfry for my mom and I, while the dogs enjoyed some all natural “duck stew” for Oscy’s birthday dinner, followed by Timbits for dessert.
Oscy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and one of the sweetest pups out there. His interests include sleeping (and snoring excessively loudly haha), eating, and walking around the back yard sniffing stuff. Oh, he also likes to eat dead birds that he comes across which mighty hunter Calvy has left behind (gross, I know), watching TV (not even kidding he actually watches it especially if it’s an animal show) and enjoys playing with plush toys.
All in all he’s a wonderful dog and one of the kindest souls out there! It’s tough to believe he’s already 9 years old! Where has the time gone? We came into each others lives when he was just a pup and I can’t imagine my life without that big fluff ball.
From visiting Santa at Christmas…
To dressing up at Halloween…
And of course celebrating Birthdays…
Oscy loves to join in on the fun and have a great time. I think it’s safe to say that he thoroughly enjoyed his birthday celebration, as did we!
As I mentioned, I’d prepared a healthy veggie stirfry for my mom and I to enjoy for Oscy’s “Birthday Dinner”. It was loaded with fresh veggies, ginger, and I prepared a simple and slightly sweet soy based sauce to accompany it.
This recipe is a quick and easy one that only takes about 30 to 35 minutes to make (including veggie prep, which takes the most time), so it’s perfect for a busy week night dinner. To make things easier try cutting up the veggies in advance so they’re ready to go and you’ll have a healthy and nutritious dinner ready in 15 minutes!
Here’s what I did (makes about 4 serving) for my Ginger Veggie Stirfry:
2 bell pepper, cut into 1″ chunks
1 medium onion, cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
3 – 4 garlic cloves, diced
2″ pieced ginger, peeled and diced
1/4 cup cashews or peanuts, unsalted
2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
3 cups cooked rice noodles (I use vermicelli), whole wheat spaghettini, or brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup green onion, diced (to garnish, optional)
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
6 Tbsp warm water
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp turbinado (raw) sugar or honey
1/2 tsp fresh grated (or dry powdered) ginger
For sauce: in a glass bowl, melt coconut oil. Then add in soy sauce, water, sugar or honey, and ginger. Whisk gently to combine. Set aside.
For stirfry: Heat oil over medium-high heat; add in peppers, onion, mushrooms, and broccoli. Saute for about 5 to 8 minutes or until beginning to soften.
Meanwhile, cook noodles or rice according to package directions, then set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add in garlic and ginger. Saute about 5 minutes more, then add in nuts. Stir to combine, saute about more minutes.
Reduce heat to low, add in sauce stirring to coat and combine, then add noodles or rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
Garnish with fresh green onion (if desired), serve hot and enjoy!
And here you have it folks: a tasty, nutritious veggie packed stirfry dinner ready to go. It tastes great as “left-overs” as well, though I do recommend reheating in a pan if possible rather than a microwave to maintain the delicious flavours. This meal can easily be made gluten-free by using a GF soy sauce and rice noodles. As always, when possible do try to use local, fresh, organic ingredients.
If you give this a try I’d love to know your thoughts and see photos! (#genuinelyjulie) Please like and share if you’re a fan of this recipe 🙂
ps. I will soon have the Pinterest “Pin It” function available on here for sharing my recipes too!