Update on The Joy of Less

Monday, May 23, 2016

Estrogen Dominance

You might think Estrogen Dominance sounds cool, like the name of an all-girls rock band. Or maybe the latest form of S and M performed by women with PMS. But that's where you'd be mistaken. Estrogen dominance is distinctly uncool. It's an unfortunate situation that women can face at various ages and for various reasons. It can cause a whole host of symptoms and none of them are pretty.

I can tell you firsthand that estrogen dominance is disturbing and painful. I've been suffering with ridiculously swollen and tender breasts (you'd think I just gave birth!) but there are many other effects of excess estrogen. These include: moodiness and irritability, headaches, depression, fatigue, bloating, heart palpitations, weight gain, joint pain, insomnia, fuzzy thinking and memory loss, even gall bladder disease. To name just a smattering.

The good news is: there are natural and safe remedies to combat the annoying and even debilitating symptoms of estrogen dominance. I've already written about some of these remedies. Today I will take you on a tour of all the supplements you can try in order to tame your hormonal fluctuations. Of course, see your doctor if you have any cause for concern about perimenopause. All my recommendations have been taken from Before the Change; Taking Charge of your Perimenopause by Ann Louise Gittleman.

Clicking on any of the links below with take you straight to Amazon.com where you can make these purchases. I will receive a small percentage for providing this link. Thanks for your support!

1) Flax seed oil. Helps to balance excess estrogen, enhances immune system, fights cancer (especially breast cancer), lowers cholesterol levels, reduces risk of osteoporosis, and makes insulin more effective. Do not heat! You can take the oil by the spoonful (1 TB per day) or by the capsule, or grind fresh flax seeds into a powder and sprinkle on a salad or in a smoothie. Store oil in fridge.

2) Black Currant Seed Oil. A potent source of GLA- helps cramping, breast tenderness, anxiety, irritability, headaches and bloating. Also boosts immune system, fights cancer, relieves arthritis, and stops the progression of nerve damage due to diabetes. Not to mention: enhances beauty by producing a dewy complexion, reversing collagen loss, soothing dry skin, combating wrinkles, while preventing dandruff! Take 1000 mg. twice daily.

3) Magnesium citrate. Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: nervousness, anxiety, irritability, muscle cramps, depression, insomnia, constipation. Check your supplements before purchasing--magnesium oxide is not easily absorbed. (I've written an entire blog about magnesium if you want more info.)

4) Evening primrose oil. Can help with headaches, irritability, joint pain, mood changes and water retention.

5) Vitex also known as chasteberry. Can help with breast tenderness, cramps, hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and water retention.

Besides taking these supplements, a low-sugar diet and daily exercise can help with most perimenopause symptoms. Be sure to drink plenty of water, decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption, and develop a practice for relieving stress, like yoga or meditation. Take good care of your self!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trick Yourself into Losing Weight

Why is losing weight so hard? In a word: habit.

We all have deeply ingrained habits. These habits are hard to change. Not impossible, but difficult. We all know people who have lost weight, maybe even a hundred pounds, and gained it all back. Why would this happen? These people slipped back into old habits, habits they never really let go of.  
The only way to lose weight permanently is to make permanent changes.

Here's another word: discipline. Discipline is the opposite of habit. What you do habitually takes absolutely no discipline. It just happens. Do you have to force yourself to brush your teeth before bed? No, it's a habit. You just do it without thinking about it.

Most people think weight loss is a matter of discipline. But discipline is very difficult to sustain. Discipline takes a lot of effort. It makes us tired. And the second we relax, habit takes over.

So what is the answer? We must make weight loss a habit.

In order to reverse the tendency to GAIN weight, we need to substitute better habits for the ones we already have in place.

For example:

Current scenario: You roll out of bed at the last possible second. On the drive to work, you stop at Sugarbucks and purchase a mega-grande caramel frothy coffee drink containing over 1000 calories and 6 billion grams of sugar. This is your breakfast.

SUBSTITUTION #1: You drive a different route to work and choose to stop at a different coffee shop where you purchase a small black coffee and a delicious yet nutritious breakfast sandwich. This new combo is low in sugar, high in protein and fiber, gives you plenty of energy to fuel your morning, and keeps your blood sugar steady.

SUBSTITUTION #2: You set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier, make yourself a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich at home, save at least $5 per day, and use some of that money to pay for a mani/pedi at the end of the month.

SUBSTITUTION #3: You set the alarm for 30 minutes earlier, leave your sneakers by the side of your bed, lace them up before you're even out of bed, head outside for a 20 minute run, grab a quick shower and a coffee smoothie containing all the protein, fiber, healthy fats, and supplements you need to start your day.

These are just 3 possible scenarios that would all be a significant improvement. Each one of these new habits would result in weight loss. In fact, you might want to take baby steps toward your weight loss goal by instituting each of the above scenarios, one at a time, for a week or even a month, before moving on to the next.

In order for a habit to work, it's important to make it as easy as possible to perform. If you have to remove all your dry cleaning from your treadmill before turning it on, the chances are good you will never use that piece of equipment. Remove all the impediments to taking the action that you desire. This is the reason I suggest leaving your running shoes by the side of your bed: so you can put them on without thinking. Trick yourself into becoming more active. Keep your I-pod next to your bed, all charged up and full of your favorite songs. Grab it as you head out for your run.

Keep in mind that habits take time to form. You may need to repeat the same action, on a daily basis, for about a month before you've developed the new habit.

Try not to change too many things at once. Substituting a new morning routine, for example, is a major step toward losing weight and creating a healthy lifestyle. So don't try to fix every bad habit at once. Give yourself at least a month to institute a change before adding another new habit.

Frustrated? Need a helping hand? I'm available for weight loss coaching. We can work together through email, telephone, or face to face support. Leave me a message if you need a coach.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Are your Affirmations Working?

Affirmations. Mantras. Those words we say to ourselves, over and over, to bring about a desired outcome. I've been repeating 3 affirmations daily for about 3 months now. Are they working?

I'd like to lie to you and tell you that all my hopes and dreams have come true as a result of simply writing down my three daily affirmations. But I can't. When I agreed to take on my position as Head Blogger (okay, only blogger) here at Balance Salad, I swore an oath of honesty. And TMI. Let's not forget about all the over-sharing I promised to my readers.

The truth is: my affirmations are a load of crap.

My Number One affirmation is 1) I am filled with energy and enthusiasm.

This is a freaking joke. I am a total sloth. I'd like to blame this unbelievably wet, cold, and gray weather we've been having now for almost a full month, but I doubt the sunshine would perk me up much. I tried to cut out my second cup of coffee, but that caffeine is the only thing keeping me vertical for the second half of my day. Every time I write this affirmation, I just want to laugh. Not a sweet little giggle, but a maniacal cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West.

My second affirmation is 2) My body is strong and resilient.

This is another bald-faced lie. My body is a train wreck, falling apart, piece by piece. I have a burning sensation that is probably tennis elbow, a torn calf muscle, a wonky knee, chronic tendonitis in my Achilles, excessively tender and enormous breasts, and a recurring headache with stuffy nose and sinus pressure. Enough said.

My third affirmation is 3) I have so much left to learn.

Okay, this one is true. But the whole point of writing this affirmation is to dredge up some excitement about all the stuff out there I can learn. How to paint pet portraits. How to make cheese. How to kayak. Yet, I'm having trouble feeling even the slightest inclination toward taking any of this on. Sure, it would be awesome if I could paint my dog's portrait. But that would involve purchasing paint and brushes, probably an easel and a smock, taking a bunch of classes, making a ton of terrible paintings before seeing any progress, finding the time for all of the above. Just thinking about it makes me so tired, I need to go take a nap.

Yesterday on Facebook a friend posted something that amounted to a list of affirmations. It went something like this:

"My butt looks perfect. My smile lights up a room. I'm doing awesome at life."

I might have forgotten something, but this was the gist of it. And I thought: this is more like it.

My body may be falling apart, but my butt still looks good. I can't really see it, but my husband says it does and I choose to believe him. My smile might not be an orthodontist's dream, but it's contagious and that's what really matters. I choose to share it, even if I'm feeling like doggie do-do. I'm not sure if "awesome" really describes how I'm doing at life, but I'm putting myself out there and I'm making an effort. I choose to consider that awesome enough.

Maybe I've found my new mantras.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars

In my continuing quest for healthy(ish) desserts, I have combined fresh rhubarb from my garden with store-bought strawberries (mine are still small and green) in a cheesecake format. Instead of baking the whole thing in my usual pie pan, I switched to a 9x13 rectangular Pyrex pan in order to accommodate the added ingredients.

The cheesecake batter is basically the same one I've been using for years, except I added some fresh lemon zest and cut the sugar back to one quarter cup. The tart batter complements the tartness of the rhubarb, balancing out the sweetness of the strawberries.

I've baked the cheesecake in stages, beginning with just the crust for 10 minutes to allow it to set. Then I added the rhubarb and berries and baked again for 20 minutes. I added the cheesecake batter last, with a topping of sliced almonds, and baked the entire thing for another 30 minutes. A total of 1 hour in oven time.


1 cup rolled oats
1 cup almond flour
2 TB coconut oil
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Pulse all crust ingredients in food processor until finely ground and beginning to stick together. Dump mixture into bottom of 9x13 cake pan and press lightly with fingertips to form crust on bottom of pan. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Remove from oven.

2 cups diced fresh rhubarb
2 cups diced fresh strawberries
1 TB white sugar

Arrange rhubarb and strawberries evenly over crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Return to oven for about 20 minutes or until strawberries begin to soften. Remove from oven.

3 large eggs
16 oz. cottage cheese
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teas. vanilla extract
1 teas. grated lemon zest

1/2 cup sliced almonds (set aside)

Blend all ingredients well. (I like to use a handheld blender.) When batter is smooth, pour over berries and rhubarb evenly. Top with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until batter is set and almonds are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing into bars. Chill for several hours or overnight before serving. ENJOY!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Five Fast Fixes for your Fitness Program

I've been teaching dance-based fitness classes forever. Well, almost that long. Way before Zumba existed, I was trying to draw non-dancers into danced-based exercise classes. Why? Simply because I couldn't make a living teaching dance to adults. Children, sure. But anyone who wants to teach dance to grown ups has to trick them into attending. Hence catchy and intriguing names like "Zumba." "What could that be?" "Sounds like a Caribbean drink made from rum and parrot feathers." "Yum! Let's check it out."

Let's say you've already found your favorite fitness program. Maybe you like to jog or lift weights or do yoga. Whatever it is that you do to stay fit, I'm betting you can improve on it with just a few easy tweaks. Not twerks, but tweaks. Twerking could be dangerous and should be avoided.

1) Are you using your entire body? Some exercises only emphasize the upper or lower body. Running, for example, employs a repetitive motion which only uses a few select muscles of the lower half of the body. On the positive side, running burns tons of calories, uses almost no equipment (except maybe running shoes) and requires no gym membership or facilities. If you are an avid runner, you might want to balance all that lower body activity with some upper body strengtheners. A few push-ups, pull-ups, and burpees would be a great start.

2) Are you emphasizing only one facet of fitness? Let's take jogging as our example. If you jog a long distance at a set pace, and never switch things up, then you are mostly working on endurance. This is certainly valuable, but you aren't gaining strength, speed, flexibility, balance, or coordination. An excellent all-around fitness program should help you make gains in all these aspects. Add some hills, maybe an obstacle course, try some sprints, jog backwards and sideways, and take some time to stretch out when you finish a workout.

3) Do you use the body's full range of motion? Keeping your movements small, or doing everything halfway, severely limits the development of the muscles. Some examples: doing half-squats instead of full squats; baby push-ups where you lower your body a few inches instead of all the way to the floor; biceps curls which include only a small fraction of the complete arc. Not only do you just work a small portion of the muscle, instead of the whole length of the muscle, but you also miss out on the potential for stretching and elongating the muscle while instead creating short, tight muscles. To fix this problem, pay attention to how far you are able to go in each exercise. Work slowly to build both strength and flexibility by moving through a greater range of motion each time you workout.

4) Do you sign up but neglect to show up? This may sound odd, but it is not uncommon for people to register and pay for an exercise class and then never attend it. Or possibly attend one single class and never return. It may seem obvious, but signing up for a class will not make you fit. Reading about weight-lifting form and technique will not make you stronger. Dreaming about having a six-pack will not chisel your abs. There is only one way to get fitter. Get up and move!

5) Are you bored? Even the most brilliant and creative fitness classes might, on occasion, get a little old. If you've been doing the same exact workout for months or even years, it might be time to switch things up. The body acclimates fairly quickly to any workout that doesn't change. Try running a different route, or better yet, try biking or rollerblading instead. If you're a dancer, try hip hop or salsa instead of ballet. If you are completely comfortable in your workout, that's a sure sign that you aren't making progress. Find a new challenge!

Leave a comment below if you've found the perfect fitness program that meets all your needs!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For Women Only: Breast Tenderness

Several of my friends have told me that breast size increases with menopause. This was quite the opposite of what I expected. I thought most women would experience a decrease in cup size. But after reading numerous articles on the subject, I've discovered that breast swelling and tenderness (which might also be described as PAIN!) is fairly common during perimenopause.

Why am I writing about this particular subject? Lately, I've been doing a lot of bra shopping. I can barely squeeze into bras I was wearing comfortably just a few short months ago. The rest of my body parts have remained consistent, while my breasts are beginning to remind me of my postpartum breastfeeding days. Swollen and quite painful. Not fun.

In case anyone else out there is going through the same thing, I thought I'd share some natural remedies for breast discomfort due to PMS or perimenopause. My sources include articles by Dr. Christiane Northrup and Dr. Aviva Gold (http://avivaromm.com/good-bye-breast-tenderness-7-natural-treatments-you-can-count-on).

Because breast tenderness could be a warning sign of breast cancer, it is advised that you see your doctor if you have any symptoms or changes in your breasts. But according to everything I've read, breast pain is almost always due to excess estrogen or a hormonal imbalance. The natural remedies I am going to share are designed to help you balance your hormones through diet and lifestyle changes. I can't personally vouch for any of these suggestions yet, as I'm just starting this program today. I'll get back to you and share what has worked for me if and when I have any success.

1) Drink plenty of water. Isn't that a hoot? I've been blathering on about water lately (due to a muscle tear in my calf) and here is yet another reminder to stay hydrated. Elimination of excess estrogen is key to relieving breast pain. Drinking plenty of water promotes healthy digestion and elimination, detoxifying the liver, and reducing the amount of estrogen in the body.

2) Ditch the caffeine and alcohol. Did I really just type that? Yes. Sadly, I did. I'm not sure how closely I will comply with this advice, but all sources say caffeine and alcohol are both clearly linked to breast pain. I'm quite addicted to my morning cup of coffee. I can attempt to switch my afternoon cup over to green tea, which still has a small amount of caffeine, but much less. I already drink very little in the way of alcohol, so I'm hoping I don't need to cut out the tiny amount I occasionally enjoy!

3) Reduce inflammation. Any inflammation in the body can cause pain. You might feel pain in your joints, muscles, headache, stiff neck, back, or in the breasts. Reducing overall inflammation in the body will help with ALL of these symptoms. Try eating less red meat and more fish. Increase consumption of healthy fats: olive, avocado, and coconut oils are good examples. Eliminate transfats found in margarine, shortening, and packaged baked goods. Eat less sugar. Add spices such as ginger and turmeric which reduce inflammation.

4) Eat lots of healthy stuff. You might think I already do this, but I tend to balance eating lots of nutritious foods with a small amount of treats. I'm going to now make an EXTRA effort to consume LOADS of fresh greens. Stuff like kale, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts help eliminate excess estrogen from the body. Foods like cucumbers, celery, melon, and cranberry juice also act as diuretics to help reduce bloating and water retention.

5) Add some natural supplements to your diet. Dr. Romm prescribes 2 TB. freshly ground flax seeds on a daily basis. You should grind them fresh (you can use a blender or coffee grinder) and add them to shakes, smoothies, or salads. Eat them raw, not cooked. Flax seeds contain plenty of fiber for healthy elimination as well as good oils. Also add seaweed to the diet for increased iodine which is key to a healthy thyroid gland. Magnesium citrate is suggested to help with elimination and sleep issues. Natural vitamin E has been shown to help most women experiencing breast pain.

6) Reduce stress. Stress is a major factor in hormone disruption, inflammation, and pain. We cannot avoid stress completely, but we can find practices which help us cope with stress. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, chanting, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and other practices can help. In addition, Dr. Romm prescribes breast massage. Find a scented oil you like and massage your own breasts, in or out of the shower, for a few minutes at least several times per week.

7) Try herbal remedies. Evening primrose oil is commonly suggested for menopausal symptoms including breast tenderness. Vitex or chasteberry is another common herbal remedy reported to positively affect many menopausal complaints. Because we are all unique, what works for one woman may not work for another. Sometimes these remedies can do the opposite and bring on breast pain. I'm going to try everything else first, and then turn to herbal remedies if I still need relief.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It Has to Hurt

What motivates us to make a change for the better? Do you want to lose weight? Get fit and strong? Learn to water ski? Write a best selling novel? Beat cancer? In order to do any of these things, you will need to make some changes to your current lifestyle.

Change is difficult. We tend to resist change. Why? I guess because change is scary. Anything new or different could be a threat. We like to be comfortable. Even if our comfort zone is killing us.

I recently tore my calf muscle in a dance class I was teaching. The pain was so intense, I could barely walk. If a bear had lumbered down the hallway, I would not have been able to run away. I would have been eaten, then and there. I wouldn't be writing this blog right now.

But this injury, and the pain it brought me, taught me something important: I was dehydrated. How could I let myself get into that state, where my body was vulnerable to this kind of injury? I got lazy. I got sloppy. I didn't put in enough thought and preparation. I let stuff slip through the cracks. I spent too much time scrolling through Facebook.

It's way too easy to get distracted from the things that really matter. For me, my body is my instrument. It is my avenue for expression. It is my tool for teaching. If I don't take excellent care of my body, I could lose my job, my career, my livelihood, my main source of joy and mastery in this world. And yet, I sit on my ass scrolling through my FB newsfeed instead of making sure I drink a full liter of water before I go out to teach.

I realize this makes no sense. We human beings are brilliant creatures. And complete idiots.

We are constantly tripping ourselves up. Instead of making the right choices, the best choices, we choose to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, experiment with the latest drugs (prescription or otherwise), have unprotected sex with strangers, gamble away hundreds or thousands of dollars, eat an entire pizza, or spend another 45 minutes on Facebook looking at akita puppies. (Guess which one of these I am guilty of...)

So here's what I've decided: it has to hurt before we are willing to make a change. If we aren't significantly uncomfortable, we're just going to put up with the status quo. We need a smack in the face in order to see the light.

So where will you get your smack? Do you need to end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning? Do you need to hit rock bottom and break a few bones? Or is this blog post enough to jar you into making a change?

Let me know.