Expanding One’s Comfort Zone

Hello beautiful people! And hello… September?

Wow, summer certainly did go by fast! It was a whirlwind for me, with big adventures and tons of exciting changes and amazing new opportunities. These last few weeks have been consumed with finishing up writing my Masters thesis so that I can soon complete my degree. I’ve been itching to write this blog post because I’ll be discussing something that I feel is so important to talk about. However, I think that perhaps a part of me also wasn’t quite ready to write this yet, as I was still reflecting on the events of this summer. So, what have I been up to and what’s prompted me to write a post about expanding one’s comfort zones?

I look back to three years ago and I would have been afraid to drive a mere two hours on my own to go to Toronto. It’s not a difficult drive, nor am I a new or inexperience driver. However, taking such a journey on my own was outside of my comfort zone. The thought of making that drive alone seemed quite intimidating. It wasn’t until I did it that I realized, it really wasn’t so scary after all. Voila! In making the drive alone I had unknowingly expanded my comfort zone just a bit.

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Beautiful BC, Canada

Fast forward to last September, 2015, and I find myself boarding a plane all alone to go out to British Columbia to visit friends. This was the trip that really pushed the limits of my comfort zone. It was spontaneous and exciting! I’d never really traveled alone and the though of doing so was intimidating. So many “what if’s” ran through my mind; a dozen reasons not to go. But I felt it was something I had to do and even though I was afraid to, I was determined that despite feeling the fear, I’d do this anyways. And in those moments, my comfort zone was again expanded as I set off to travel in BC.

Fast forward again to this summer, July 2016. I’m once again getting on a plane alone, this time from Toronto Pearson International Airport, heading off for Europe. My biggest solo adventure yet! As this would be my first solo trip to another continent, I opted to go with a tour group so that I could get a feel for solo travel. It was a whirlwind of a trip! In fifteen days we visited several countries, big cities, and cute little towns. I saw and experienced incredible sights and moments, and met some of the most wonderful, beautiful people.

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Lovely canals in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We started in London, England, and from there went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amsterdam was beautiful and charming, with it’s pretty canals and plenty of fun night life. The next day before we left I wandered around the city, stopping in several cheese shops along the way, taking it all in.

From there we went to Germany, and what a beautiful country it is! Stunning scenery and friendly people. Our first stop was the little town of St. Goar on the Rhine River, where I saw the worlds largest free hanging cuckoo clock. The town was was so quaint, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d traveled back in time as I walked along it’s old streets and colourful buildings.

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The Rhine River in St.Goar, Germany

The next day we visited Munich, which is a wonderful city with beautiful old streets and buildings. That evening we visited a traditional beer hall, taking in the sights, sounds, and lively atmosphere. I am not a beer drinker, however on this occasion I did enjoy a ‘rattler’ at Hofbrauhaus. I will certainly be returning to Munich in the coming years, next time for Oktoberfest!

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Charming Munich, Germany

Austria was our next stop. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much from Austria as I didn’t know all that much about it. However, this turned out to be one of my most favourite stops along our way. The countryside was incredibly gorgeous, with mountains and rivers and green fields. As a nature lover, these are the sorts of features of a place that I am often drawn to. We made a few stops along the way, one of which was in the Austrian Tyrol mountain range. Most of the group was going for a white water rafting excursion, however given my health limitation with respect to water, I sat that particular event out. Instead, I decided to go for a hike on my own and found a path leading up to the base of a mountain. I found a quiet, private spot and decided to do a bit of yoga, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice yoga in days and being a daily yogi, I was starting to miss it. The experience was such a memorable and beautiful one for me. Alone with nature and at the base of a mountain in Austria, doing yoga. It felt surreal really, that I was here in this place and on my own, feeling perfectly comfortable and content alone with myself.

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Beautiful mountains in Tyrol, Austria

I had started to learn from my trip to BC that by traveling alone and challenging my fears and hesitations, I was subtly expanding my comfort zone with each experience and moment. And so, as I practiced yoga in the Austrian mountain range surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature, I felt the most tremendous gratitude for this opportunity to travel alone, for this perfect moment, and for the personal growth I was experiencing on my journey.

From Austria we made our way into Italy. The landscape was different but equally beautiful in its uniqueness, as the places before had been. Our first stop was Venice. With its narrow streets, tall buildings, bridges, and waterways, there was no shortage of beautiful things to see. While wandering through the streets I again felt as though I’d been transported back in time.

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St.Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy

The weather was hot and I enjoyed delicious pistachio gelato in St. Mark’s square. Sometimes I felt as though I was in a dream, that I couldn’t really be here in such a remarkable place. And yet, here I was. So many times during my trip I had little “pinch me” moments like this, where I had to remind myself that my experiences were genuine and that through them I was evolving into another person, expanding my comfort zone little by little.

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Getting ready for our gondola ride through the canals in Venice, Italy

The next stop was Rome, and boy was it hot! Walking around the city center and seeing the ancient buildings and ruins was such a surreal experience. I’m a bit of a history fan and have always had a deep interest in ancient civilizations. There’s something fascinating and authentic about the way people once lived and interacted with their surrounding that draws me in. Perhaps it’s because I feel there’s so much one can learn from examining history, both the good and the bad aspects of it.

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Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

We spent two days in Rome, touring the city, eating more gelato, and visited the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and the Colosseum, among others. It was an incredible experience to walk through structures that had been constructed centuries ago, and to learn more about the city and culture.

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The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

From Rome we traveled to Florence, my favourite of our three Italian destinations. It really is a beautiful city full of history, beautiful architecture, and lovely people. Ahh, and let us not forget… more gelato! We did a walking tour in the city that day and visited well known historical sites. The atmosphere of Florence was what really completed the experience for me though, between the laid back vibe, fantastic food, and the stunning buildings, it’s definitely on my list of places to return to.

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Enjoying the beautiful views in Florence, Italy

Given my love of nature (and cheese and chocolate!), I was quite excited to leave the hot city scene behind as we headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The views as we drove through the mountains were absolutely breath taking. Beautiful lakes below, mountains engulfed in fluffy clouds, and crisp, fresh mountain air. So much natural beauty in one place. In Lucerne we were fortunate enough to go on a guided boat tour around the lake, which afforded us incredible views of the charming city and picturesque mountains.

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View of the mountains from the boat on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

That evening a few of us decided to try traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Now I’ve eaten fondue a decent number of times, but never before had I tasted such delicious cheese fondue! Unfortunately, our time in Lucerne was short, however the experience was no less memorable and I certainly plan to return there one day to spend some time exploring the mountains and all that Switzerland has to offer.

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Spectacular view at dinner of Lucerne, Switzerland, by night

Our last and final stop was in Paris, France; such an old and historically rich city. When I arrived I was amazed by how lovely the city was, with incredible monuments and beautiful big buildings. That evening we went to see the Eiffel Tower. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much but when we got to the tower and as we traveled higher and higher up, I was in awe. The views from atop the tower were spectacular and you could see the entire city sprawled out for miles around.

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Paris, France, at dusk from atop the Eiffel Tower

Back on the ground, the view of the tower at night – all lit up and standing huge against the black night sky – was truly incredible. I felt so grateful to be there in Paris, in that moment, with the beautiful new friends that I had made on this journey. I remember thinking to myself: this is living. I’m not the same as I was when I started this adventure, and I won’t be the same after.

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, by night

The next day was spent wandering around Champs-Elysees, a famous street in Paris, and basically eating all things delicious and pastry-like, such as custard tarts and pistachio macaroons. That evening, and our groups final evening together, we went to a Cabaret show. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was so thankful that I had decided to attend the show because it was a truly magical experience. Not only was the dinner delicious, but the show was so much fun with tons of dancing and singing! Should you ever find yourself in Paris I highly recommend checking out a Cabaret show.

After the show we made our way to one of the local pubs for a few cocktails and to say our goodbyes. After spending almost two weeks with such incredible people, and making so many new friends, it was really difficult to say goodbye knowing that I may never see some of them again. However, they and the experiences we shared together will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Final days in Paris, France, exploring the city…

Once back home, I finally had time to stop and reflect on my adventure and experiences, and about how I’ve changed and grown. A few years ago I never would have expected that I’d hop on a flight to Europe alone, to go on an adventure with strangers. However, looking back over the past two years or so, this now made sense to me as it was a logical progression in the continuous expansion of my comfort zone. Once afraid to travel anywhere alone for various reasons, I now really enjoy the experience and embrace it wholeheartedly!

Often when I tell others about my travels and upcoming travel plans they say “aren’t you afraid to go alone?” And it’s true, at one time I absolutely would have been afraid to travel alone, but as I’ve challenged my own perception of my comfort zone I’ve unintentionally expanded it. Now, I intentionally seek out experiences and opportunities to expand my comfort zone, as I believe this is integral to personal growth. This is not to say that I am not afraid (because sometimes I am!), or that I am devoid of feeling doubtful in my success. However, I choose not to focus on this fear as I feel it serves little purpose. Instead, I choose to challenge these fears and doubts because from my perspective, there are only two outcomes: I will either succeed, or I will fail and learn from the experience. Either way, the end result is personal growth and an expansion of my comfort zone which, as far as I’m concerned, is a wonderful opportunity that I am continuously grateful for.

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Visiting the Louvre while in Paris

So, now that I’ve tackled some of Europe and expanded my comfort zone in the process, what’s my next move? After spending a few quiet weeks back home, I already began to feel restless knowing that soon I would be finishing my Masters degree, and felt I needed a new and bigger challenge. I’ve wanted to go to Australia for years now, and after meeting so many awesome Aussie’s during my trip, I decided that once I completed my degree, now would be the perfect time to go on a big adventure! I applied for an Australian working visa on a whim and was approved within a few days. Following this, I have started planning my trip down under and applying to jobs there. My hope is to have something set up before I go, and I will of course be blogging about my travel experiences while I’m there as well!

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My next adventure: Australia! (PC: Google Images)

I’m sure some people may think I’m a bit mad, taking off to Australia to potentially start a new life there. It may not seem like a very ‘safe’ or stable thing to do, but I firmly believe it is the right choice for me. Am I nervous to travel to the other side of the Earth alone to go on an adventure and start a new chapter in my life? Heck ya I am! But that’s another reason I am determined to do this.

I am confident that this is the next step for me on my journey of personal growth by continuing to challenge and expand my comfort zone, and cultivate true happiness…

So, after this rather lengthy blog post which I hope you’ve made it to the end of (hehe), I want to leave you with a challenge to expand your personal comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you must take off and travel the world if that’s not something that interests you. Expanding your comfort zone can start with something as simple as trying to cook a new dish or meal that interests you, or taking a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been, but have wanted to go.

It’s okay to start small, but it’s simply getting started that’s the key

In the words of Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – So, wonderful people, I challenge you to keep moving, keep challenging yourself, and to keep expanding into new spaces, ideas, and places; to continue to cultivate personal growth and happiness by expanding your own comfort zone.

Until next time, wishing you infinite health and happiness!

XO Julie

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Year Cancer Free Anniversary

Hello Lovely People!

Today is a pretty special day for me – it’s the 10 year anniversary of my surgery! On this day one decade ago I was at Victoria Hospital getting a stage IV malignant tumor removed from my throat, along with my thyroid and voice box. Apparently, after the 10 year mark it’s unlikely that the cancer will return, so it looks like I’m in the clear! 🙂

I find myself filled with mixed emotions on this day. Happiness and gratitude to still be alive and not just well, but flourishing. But also feel some sadness for having lost such an intimate part of me – my voice; it’s a strange feeling knowing that a part of you, part of what makes you who you are, is missing. I feel hope as well, for my future and the possibility of achieving my dreams, and for having the opportunity to help others to learn how to grow and thrive.

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Achieving one of my many dreams – Graduating with an Honours Degree in Psychology!

I believe it’s no mistake that I survived. I think that certain things happen for a reason, just as certain people come into our lives for a reason. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences over the last 10 years. Contemplating what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown. I can say with surety that I am proud of who I am today.

 

This evening I’ll be celebrating dinner with my family, as we always do on this day. However, in celebration of this milestone I would also like to share with you 10 things that I’ve learned in my 10 years since my whole world changed:

1) While anger can be useful to help you get through certain experiences, it does no good to hold on to it longer than is necessary. Holding on to anger is like consuming poison that, day by day, will drain your energy, happiness, and life. For many years I allowed anger to consume me. Learning when and how to leave anger in the past, to let go, and move forward is a key step towards actualizing one’s potential and flourishing.

2) Happiness comes more easily when you focus not on the things that are out of your control and that which you don’t have, but rather on those things over which you do have control, such as your attitude. There are many things that will inevitably happen in life which are out of our control. However, we always have the ability to decide how we choose to react to our given circumstances, and the extent to which we allow them affect us. Remember, as said by psychologist Carl Jung – “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” 

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Cultivating happiness and personal growth through adventure! (Emerald Lake, Alberta)

3) As the years go by and I get older, I’ve come to realize and appreciate that the most important things in life are not material, but rather experiences and memories made. Relationships with others, opportunities to learn and grow, adventures, helping others – including those those who can never repay you – is what makes life worth living. Being grateful for each day we have, as we never know when it will be our last.

4) I used to be so insecure and hate the things about me that made me different from others – namely, my whisper voice. But now that I’m older (and arguably wiser hah) I’ve grown to appreciate those things that make me unique; to embrace them. Now for me personally, I can think of little worse than to spend my one life being perfectly ordinary and unexceptional. This is not to say that I don’t still experience insecurity, as we all do. However, as I discussed in this post on insecurity and personal growth, the key is learning how to challenge ones insecurities when they arise, so that you may overcome them, grow, and thrive.

5) Our experience in this world is greatly a matter of perspective. For the longest time all I wanted was to be “normal”, but what is normal? It’s so subjective. What’s normal for some may be bizarre for others. My point here is that learning to live with an open mind and an open heart, and to consider a multitude of perspectives, fosters personal acceptance and growth. “Normal” is a fallacy we create to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t really exist as it’s entirely dependent on our perception and perspective of things, events, people, etc.

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Challenge your perceptions of normalcy, accept and love yourself – learn and grow

 

6) In these 10 years I’ve realized that, with respect to dating and love, I needed to learn to love myself first, and to be content with being on my own, rather than looking for someone to love me. I’ve come to appreciate that I need not wait to meet the “right” person to start living my dreams. Sure, this may seems obvious but learning how to embrace and practice self-love and acceptance was one of the greatest, and most rewarding, challenges I’ve overcome. Learning how to accept and love oneself is paramount to personal growth and happiness.

7) As I’ve discussed in a previous post on the Value of Vulnerability, I’ve learned that not only is it okay, but also necessary, to be vulnerable. Embracing vulnerability helps one to be more open to others and to life. Many of us have been conditioned to perceive vulnerability as a weakness, but is it really? I think not. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate that having the capacity to accept and embrace ones vulnerability is instead a strength. It was only through allowing myself to be vulnerable and embracing it, that I was able to let go of my anger, move forward with my life, and cultivate happiness.

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Embrace vulnerability and open yourself up to life! (Adventures in Ucluelet, BC, 2015)

8) One of the most exhausting and toughest lessons I’ve had to learn is that depression is not a black hole from which there is no escape, though I appreciate that it can sometimes feel this way. As I discussed in my post on my personal journey with depression, it CAN be over come. However, this requires that you truly want to heal; recovery and healing are a choice. You must both want it and be open to it. It was not until I decided to take accountability for my circumstances and an active role in healing 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.

9) Life gets busy, and it’s easy to push relationships with loved ones to the back burner, because we tend to (falsely) assume that they will always be there. My close call with death and the struggles I endured afterwards have taught me that life is indeed short, and the relationships we have with those we care about are essential; we should strive to appreciate and nurture them, as we never know when that person could disappear from our lives. Make time for loved ones, whoever they may be, while you can – family, friends, significant others, pets, yourself – as you never know when their (or your own) time will expire.

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Appreciate those you love and care for – celebrating my birthday with baby Calvy!

10) Our time here in life is finite – it will not last forever. Having come close to death, I no longer fear it. What I fear most instead is failing to live while I have the opportunity to do so. By stepping outside of my comfort zone, I’ve grown tremendously, and I encourage you to do the same. Travel, explore, try new things, meet new people! Be vulnerable, uncomfortable even, because this is how you learn and grow. Challenge yourself constantly, even (and especially) if it’s something the scares you! I’ve never lived far from home, but in June I’ll be moving to Vancouver Island in BC, and let me tell ya – I’m nervous as all get out about it! haha. But I feel this is the next step in my journey and I’m excited to see what the future has in store for me 🙂

Well, here are 10 of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in the past decade. I hope you’ll find some meaning in these, perhaps some inspiration, or hope. Please, do not allow life to pass you by. Embrace it, live it, and savour every last precious moment you have!

Wishing you health, happiness, and love!

xo Julie

Stress + Anti-inflammatory Pineapple Turmeric Smoothie Bowl

Hello and Happy Friday, everyone!

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.

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The body’s response to stress (source: google images)

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.

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The stress response (source: stress & 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

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Organic Turmeric Powder

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!

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Anti-inflammatory Pineapple Turmeric Smoothie Bowl (topped with chia seeds, shredded unsweetened coconut, and pecans)

As always, try to use fresh, local, organic ingredients when possible. For one serving of this delicious smoothie you’ll need:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 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

Method:

  • 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! 🙂
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Yummy and Nutritious Anti-inflammatory Pineapple Turmeric Smoothie Bowl

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.

Wishing you great health and much happiness!

xo Julie

 

Depression: Part I – My Journey

Hello lovely people!

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 (genuinelyjulie87@gmail.com), 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.

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Graduation from the Honors Specialization in Psychology Program at Brescia University College, London, ON. (2014)

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!

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Embracing life and learning how to flourish! (Photo: Emerald Lake, Alberta. 2015)

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!

Ukee 2015
Step outside of your comfort zone, say yes to adventure, flourishing, and happiness!    (Photo: Ucluelet, BC. 2015)

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.

Ukee sunset 2015
Embrace your journey! (Photo: Ucluelet, BC. 2015)

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.

xo Julie

Matcha-Turmeric Anti-inflammatory Smoothie

Happy “Matcha Monday” All!

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.

Matcha turmeric smoothie 3
Today’s “Matcha Monday” Recipe: Matcha-Turmeric Anti-inflammatory Smoothie Bowl

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.

Matcha
Matcha Green Tea

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.

turmeric
Organic Turmeric Powder

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!

Matcha turmeric smoothie 2
Matcha-Turmeric Anti-inflammatory Smoothie Bowl topped with chia seeds, One Degree Organics Brown Rice Cacao Crisps, shredded coconut, slivered almonds, & mint.

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:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 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
  • 1 tsp matcha
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Optional toppings: shredded unsweetened coconut, One Degree Organics Brown Rice Cacao Crisps, almond, pecans, walnuts, chia seeds, mint.

Method:

  • 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! 🙂
Matcha Turmeric smoothie 1
Even Calvy wants in on this delicious and healthy Matcha-Turmeric Anti-inflammatory Smoothie Bowl!

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.

Wishing you health and happiness,

xo Julie

 

The Value of Vulnerability

Hello Beautiful People!

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).

Me and theo 2015
Altruistic behaviour – caring for orphaned baby squirrel, Theo (Summer 2015)

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.

Social bonds
Social bonds – my wonderful family & two of my beautiful best friends for over 20 years (June 2014)

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.

me 2008
About a year after treatment (Spring 2007)

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.

trying to golf - Bc 2015
Stepping outside my comfort zone and learning how to golf in Shuswap, BC. 2015

 

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 

Ucluelet BC
Experiencing my “spiritual awakening” in magical Ucluelet, BC, Canada

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.

Punta cana 2016
Happiness with feathered friends in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (2016)

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.

emerald lake 2015
Exploring beautiful Emerald Lake, Alberta, Canada (2015)

With love and gratitude,

xo Julie

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! 🙂

Cashew Crusted Cod & Mushroom Kale Quinoa

Hello Lovely People!

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.

Calvin + Little Dragon 2016
Calvy and his bff, Little Dragon, relaxing inside on a cold winter day

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!

Cashew cod + quinoa
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:

Cashew Crusted Cod

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cod fillets, defrosted (if using frozen)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, ground
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, divided (approx. 2 lemon wedges)

Method:

  • 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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Method:

  • 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!
cashew cod + quinoa 2
Yummy Cashew Crusted Cod + Mushroom Kale Quinoa

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! 🙂

xo Julie

 

 

 

 

 

Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl

Happy Monday Wonderful People!

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!

Tropical Matcha Smoothie bowl 1
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.

Matcha
Matcha Green Tea

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.

Avocado Matcha Smoothie Bowl 2
Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl topped with raspberries, blueberries, hemp hearts, and cinnamon

Here’s how I make the Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl! (1 serving)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 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)
  • optional: 1 handful spinach

Topping ideas: fresh fruit, granola, One Degree Organics Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps, shredded unsweetened coconut, walnuts, pecans, almonds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Method:

  • 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! 🙂
Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl 2
Tropical Matcha Smoothie Bowl topped with One Degree Organics Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps, shredded coconut, and pecans

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! 🙂

Happy “Matcha Monday” y’all!

xo Julie

 

Insecurity and Personal Growth

Happy Saturday everyone!

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.

Emrald lake Alberta
Feeling happy (and a little chilly) at Emerald Lake, Alberta Canada (2015)

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.

Black Cherry smoothie bowl
Eating a nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation in the body and may decrease symptoms of depression (Black Cherry Avocado Smoothie Bowl Recipe)

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.

Emrald Lake Alberta 2
Exploring Emerald Lake, Alberta, Canada (2015)

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.

Ucluelet BC
In Ucluelet, BC, 2015… One of the most enlightening travel experiences I’ve had yet!

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.

Adventures in BC
Exploring Beautiful Tofino, British Columbia (2015)

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

xo Julie

 

Maple Matcha Latte

Maybe it’s the Canadian in me but I love maple syrup! And not the fake stuff – ew. I’m talking about the real 100% pure maple syrup. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive compared to the fake “maple flavored” syrup (that’s actually loaded in highly processed sugars and quite bad for you), but I assure you it’s worth it to invest in the good stuff!

Real maple syrup can not only be used as a natural sweetener, but it also tastes great root veggies like carrots and beets, on squash or brussels sprouts, and who doesn’t want an excuse to enjoy pancakes or waffles? heh I know I do!

Maple Syrup
100% Real Canadian Maple Syrup

I’m sure I mentioned this at least a dozen times but I also love matcha! It’s fun to experiment with it and see what kinds of cool tasty recipes I can come up with. Sure, not all might turn out great but I could also end up creating the next great thing! From talking with friends and family I get the sense that many people often view cooking and making meals as a chore. And I’m sure that’s exactly how it feels if you’re not willing to have fun with it. Rather than seeing it as a tedious task though, try viewing making your next meal or snack as an opportunity for culinary adventure!

This might sound silly, but hear me out. If you’re doing something you enjoy you’ll be more likely to do it and doing something you enjoy facilitates positive mood states. Studies have shown that a positive emotional state allows individuals to be more creative thinkers and to find what they’re doing more enjoyable.

So, next time you enter the kitchen ready to try a new cooking experiment consider this: sure, your experiment might not turn out great – this is always a possibility. However, it could also turn out to be the next amazing recipe that all of your family and friends are asking for and can’t get enough of. There’s only one way to find out!

Anyhow, coming back to matcha. It’s delicious and has an abundance of health benefits, which you can learn more about here. However, I wanted to make sure these weren’t just biased claims or anecdotal evidence, so I took a look through the published scientific journals. Here’s what I found:

Experiments have demonstrated evidence supporting the positive health benefits of matcha. For instance, in a recent study by Xu and colleagues (2016) published in the journal of Food and Function it was found that matcha significantly lowered blood glucose levels, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and oxidative stress caused by a high-fat diet. The authors concluded that “Matcha has beneficial effects through the suppression of the blood glucose (BG) accumulation and promotion of the lipid metabolism and antioxidant activities. Moreover, the water-insoluble part of Matcha is suggested to play an important role in the suppression of diet-induced high levels of lipid and glucose” (Xu et al., 2016). Pretty cool eh?!

Matcha
Matcha Green Tea from David’s Tea

So now that I’ve given you some of the science behind what matcha does and have hopefully convinced you of how awesome this stuff is, I’d like to share a fun recipe I came up with!

Matcha lattes are one of my most favourite beverages out there and while playing around in my kitchen I discovered I can actually make them at home from scratch, and I don’t even need one of those fancy frothing machines! All it takes are the ingredients, a small pot, and a single serve blender such as a Magic Bullet (a hand mixer or immersion blender might work too but I haven’t given it a try).

Maple matcha latte 2
Maple Matcha Latte in my favourite Turtle Mug heh

Here’s how to make 1 serving of my (oh-so-Canadian) Maple Matcha Latte:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp. real maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. matcha
  • 1/4 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Method:

  • Combine coconut milk, maple syrup, and vanilla in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in cinnamon and matcha. Continue stirring and heat to desired temperature.
  • Transfer mixture into a single serve blender (such as a Magic Bullet or Ninja) and blend for about 30 seconds. This is what will give it that nice frothy texture on the top.
  • Pour into a mug, garnish with cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, or whatever else you like.
  • Smile and enjoy! 🙂
Maple matcha latte
Maple Matcha Latte garnished with cinnamon

This healthy, dairy free treat is so yummy and complements any morning, or chilly evening for that matter, perfectly. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!

Wishing you health and happiness!

xo Julie