The Food We Eat

Good Digestive Health Post #5

What we put in our bodies is as important as how our digestive system functions. So obviously, no discussion of things to know about the digestive system would be complete without mentioning the importance of what we eat.

Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body.  That is why it is important to eat organic whole foods and animals that were pasture raised without antibiotics.  But what nourishes some of us, might harm others. I’m sure by now you’ve heard about certain foods that cause an adverse reaction in many people: dairy, gluten, even other grains and nightshade vegetables. But for a small portion of the population, it could be raw vegetables, certain fruits, nuts or shellfish.

A person with a food allergy could have a wide array of reactions: from immediate vomiting to anaphylactic shock or potentially even death.  Others who are allergic might get a rash, or hives or something annoying and even alarming, but not life threatening.

It is much more difficult to pinpoint when someone is intolerant – as opposed to allergic – to a particular food.  There are many new tests that measure food intolerances that have come out in recent years, but some of these tests are unreliable and could give false negatives or positives. Some practitioners use muscle testing to determine what foods are problematic for their patients, but that diagnostic practice can be unreliable.

There are clues that we can use to try to detect a food intolerance.  Overt symptoms such as intestinal gas, abdominal pain or diarrhea might be common for some people and, so long as you are paying attention, you will see the correlation between what you eat and how you feel.  A good way to pay attention is to keep a food journal, complete with a section explaining how you felt at several points of the day.  That way, you might see a pattern or patterns between your diet and your wellbeing.

But for some people, the symptoms are not as obvious. Asthma, arthritis, inability to lose weight, depression, anxiety and even neurological disorders might stem from food intolerances.  For one person, taking an irritant out of the diet could turn ill health around immediately while for another, it might take a very long time and include multiple steps.  But if you have not felt well for some time and no pill or medical intervention is helping, looking at your diet will always be a good idea – it is, after all, the least invasive way to treat.  A good rule of thumb is that it takes at least 30 days to rid the body entirely of a food that might be harmful.  So, begin an elimination diet by taking out one food at a time for at least 30-60 days.  But with this approach it is important to know that there can be absolutely no cheating – even a small amount of food that you cannot process or digest can trigger a systemic response.

It is possible that if a person eats an extreme amount of a certain food (eggs, for example) a person can become intolerant to that food.  Sometimes, all it takes is holding off on eating that food for a period of time before reintroducing it at a later date.

In the end, the food we can handle is highly individualized and depends on many factors – genes, personal history with a particular food, the presence of a leaky gut (generally caused by antibiotics), toxicity in the environment, lifelong dietary habits and exposures.  Which is why there is no magic formula for healing from a food intolerance.  The good news is that you have the power to heal yourself – your body knows what to do, it just needs you to do a little detective work to find what you need.

Our Microbes, Ourselves


Walk into almost any ethnic market or restaurant and you will find something they all have in common: fermented food.  From kimchi to kosher pickles, fermented soybeans to miso, kimchi to kefir.  These foods have been around for centuries because as long as humans have been cooking, they have been creating living foods that not only last outside of refrigeration, they bring life into our digestive tract. Life – by way of bacteria.

The standard American diet doesn’t include much by way of ferments. But fermented foods give us live cultures that help populate and repopulate the microbiome that is vital to a balanced digestive tract.  It is no longer news that the bacteria living in our guts and elsewhere on our bodies are much more important than anyone ever knew.  It is becoming common knowledge in medical circles that the microbiome is crucial for good gut health and is connected to our brain and central nervous system.  How that connection works, exactly, is not yet entirely understood.  What we have learned is that there are ten times more bacteria living on and in us than cells in our entire body. Yet 80% of the microbes in our guts we can’t even see on cultures. We have so much to learn.

We know that microbes have their own immune systems, which in turn affects a person’s immune system and metabolism. Those bacteria might be the reason why we crave certain foods or wish to avoid other foods.  Microbes can even facilitate altruistic behavior and some say, these little life forms might even be part of our personalities.  Scientists have begun to study and understand that depression can be reduced significantly in people who have taken lactobacillus. They’ve also discovered that serotonin changes microbes. Indeed, some in the scientific community have theorized that the bacteria might actually be controlling us, instead of what we always assumed was the other way around.  Microbes have their own reactions to toxins – so, while studies might show that round up and glyphosate might be safe for humans, it might not be safe at all for our microbes.

So how did we do such a spectacular job of disrupting these incredibly important ecosystems in our gut, where good bacteria coexists yet overrides the damage that can be created by bad bacteria? The answer is, us. Both the food and medical systems here in America have gone overboard with antibiotic use and abuse. Antibiotics can wreak havoc on us. As a practitioner and a parent, I have seen how they can impact digestion, the immune system and even neurological development- particularly in those who had chronic ear infections as a young child. I have also seen antibiotics as the miracle drugs they are- they did in fact save my son’s life.  However, science has recently begin to prove what many practitioners have known for years- that antibiotics not only kill bad and dangerous bacteria but also the good bacteria that our guts need in order to properly digest and extract the nutrients from the food we eat. For many individuals, everything could be working well in the digestive tract, but the absence of enough good bacteria in the colon could lead to a variety of ailments or disease.

Antibiotics also have had a significant impact on our food system and led to superbugs that are impervious to the drugs.  We also are building up immunity to so many of these incredible life saving medicines.  All the while, we have been wrecking our digestive systems by killing good gut flora that keeps our guts in balance and allows our digestion to function optimally. Antibiotics have saved thousands of lives over ­­­­­­­­­­­­­decades but we are now just beginning to understand the detrimental effects.

Now we are forced with the task of improving and restoring our microbiome – which is no simple task. Probiotics can make a small but specific impact.  But just buying the most expensive probiotic: a) might not be necessary;  b) might not help you; and c) could cause a candida (yeast) overgrowth.  Until we know more about this mysterious ecosystem and, specifically, until you know more about what exactly is missing in your gut, it is best to eat your way to good health because a good long term diet could have a huge impact on your microbiome. This means eating prebiotic and probiotic fermented foods like whole milk, grass-fed, preferably raw yogurt or kefir; live, fermented vegetables (sorry, pickles made with vinegar don’t count- a helpful pickle needs to be fermented); organic raw vegetables; and making your own kombucha (the mass produced commercial products sadly don’t have much in the way of real live cultures).  And unless it’s absolutely necessary, stay clear of the antibiotics. Instead, talk to your doctor about using natural antimicrobials like raw, local honey, garlic or apple cider vinegar, to name just a few.

Source: 2017/8/29/our-microbes-ourselves

Breaking Down the Importance of Hydrochloric Acid



News flash: Hydrochloric Acid is good for you (in the right amounts).  Old fashioned American eating habits were in sync with this fact – but our current habits are not.


Picture a couple out for a night on the town in the 1920s:


*They peruse the drink menu and order cocktails prepared with bitters;

*They’ll nibble garnishes of celery and olives and perhaps they’ll eat spinach with their meal;

*They sit down for dinner and the waiter brings glasses of water – the rims adorned with lemon wedges;


Perhaps you do not associate these foods with good digestion or  HCl, but in many cultures and over many generations, people who know food and drink, know that HCl is necessary for proper digestion.  And, they know that certain foods, such as lemon, apple cider vinegar and bitters, can help stimulate your body’s natural production of HCl.


Now, you might not know if you are low in HCl production, so what might give you a clue?

*You experience heartburn or gas;

*You sometimes see food particles in your stool (sorry, not as much fun as talking about cocktails);

*You are bloated, constipated or have indigestion.


In proper digestion, when food (mixed with saliva) enters your stomach, HCl and other gastric juice is secreted and breaks down proteins into peptides.  Peptides are smaller strings of amino acids, vital nutrients which the body can use.  If proteins are not broken down, the immune system might perceive those proteins to be foreign invaders and launch an autoimmune response – the result can be inflammation, food sensitivities or disease. The presence of entire proteins instead of broken down amino acids may lead to food allergies, to anaphylaxis shock, to other symptoms typical of an allergy, such as sneezing, breathing difficulties, skin rashes, headaches, nausea, or even, in severe cases, death. And these problems result from just a very small amount of food proteins which don’t belong there.


HCl also is the first line of attack against any pathogenic microorganism or bacteria, parasite, yeast or viruses. When HCl is secreted, it is almost pure acid and necessary to create a balanced pH in the stomach.  At that point, the enzyme pepsin digests these microorganisms and they become food for the existing gut microbes.  When the pH is out of balance, these organisms can thrive and create havoc – a common problem is Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori), which can increase the risk of gastric cancer.


Approximately 90% of Americans produce too little HCl.  This is due to our culture and our food.  When we eat too quickly, we do not stimulate enough HCl production. Also, the standard American diet no longer incorporates HCl stimulators like bitters and vinegar– which used to be staples in our cuisine. 


So how do we boost our HCl production to appropriate elevels?  Eating apple cider vinegar or bitters helps a lot.  Lemon and Manuka honey are also very effective.  Celery, spinach, chard and kale all have dietary fibers and stimulate HCl.  If these foods do not help your HCl production, there are food supplements that can help, notably digestive enzymes and Betaine HCl – but do not begin here and make sure to consult a provider before diving in.  In the case of HCl stimulation, if you can do it naturally and without supplementation, you are less likely to need these aids long term. 

We Are What We Drink: Water For Good Digestion


 They say that water is life. 

Indeed, 70% of the Earth is covered by water.  55-65% of an adult’s body is made of water (the number is even higher for infants and children), the human brain is 75% water.

So it’s no wonder that human beings, on average, cannot go more than 3 days without water.  We literally are what we drink.

Experts have said for years that people should drink 64 ounces of water each day – and for good reason. Water is vital.  It delivers oxygen to our cells, which gives our cells energy. It enables our cells to distribute essential nutrients within our bodies. It removes waste products like toxins that our organs reject.  Water helps to lubricate joints and provide oxygen for easier breathing.  It regulates our body temperatures so we don’t overheat.  It enables normal electrical properties in our cells (including neurotransmitters) and empowers natural healing in the body. That is why so many health issues result from dehydration; without water, our organs cannot properly function.  This is especially true for the gallbladder, pancreas and stomach, the three main organs involved in digestion. Indeed, signs of dehydration range from seemingly benign food cravings to weight gain, heartburn, constipation and even ulcerative colitis.

But knowing when to drink water can be almost as important for digestion as knowing how much to drink.  Drinking copious amounts of water, or any fluid, during meals is not good for good digestive health.  Water can dilute your stomach acid to the point that it cannot properly break down your food, and as a result, large particles of food end up in places the body cannot recognize.  This can cause a whole host of issues such as leaky gut, reflux and even an autoimmune response.

So, how do you know if you are dehydrated?

For starters, if you’re thirsty or your fingers are pruning, you are already dehydrated.  So you must get ahead of dehydration and drink at least 8 glasses (of 8 ounces) of water daily.  But remember, you want the water to reach your cells – you don’t want it go to right through you (as in, drink a glass of water, urinate 10 minutes later).  If you are having a retention issue it might be because you are low on electrolytes or minerals.  You can drink your water with a dash of good sea salt or high quality electrolytes. You can also dress up your water like you’re at the spa, or use the following foods to help you reach your daily dose.


Fruits and Vegetables with High Water Content:

Watermelon, Strawberries








Pineapple, cranberries, oranges, raspberries


Apricot, Blueberries, Plums


Apples, Pears


Cherries, Grapes


Cucumber, lettuce


Zucchini, Radish, Celery




Green cabbage


Cauliflower, Eggplant, Red Cabbage, Peppers, Spinach





So, the next time you’re irritable, moody, depressed, anxious or have a headache, ask yourself: “How much water have I had to drink today?”

5 Things to Understand About Good Digestion

One of root causes of so many common ailments and diseases is poor digestive health. Different people suffer from poor gut health for different reasons, but there are some explanations that are quite common and in some cases, preventable. In my work with clients, I always ask some preliminary questions – and the answers often reveal some basic and important things that these clients never even noticed about themselves.  Some clients realize for the first time that they are dehydrated.  Others realize that eating on the go is making them sick.  These preliminary questions help so many people feel much better very quickly.  Along those lines, I will dive into the basics of good digestion for the first few posts and then get more nuanced as the weeks progress.  No matter where you fall on the continuum, I hope you learn just one new thing about your digestive health.  As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions.


Eat with intention:  Good Digestion starts in the brain

One of my favorite things about Winter is walking into the house and delighting in the deep aromas of thyme and rosemary, perhaps a savory broth or something charred and flavorful; I know there is a delicious (and usually nutritious) meal waiting for me.  I am lucky, my husband, like me, loves to cook and enjoys creating in the kitchen.  I take a wiff and ingest the steam and smoke that escapes the pot in preparation for what I know will be a scrumptious meal.

At this point, my body is already preparing for dinner.  Each smell sends a signal to my brain that I am going to eat- very soon.  This message gets relayed to my salivary glands, food is coming!  I then sit down, take a deep breath, look at the gorgeous table in gratitude, and on some occasions, I even bless my food. These rituals, passed down through generations dating back to old sages, religious figures, tribal leaders and the like, can be very spiritual.  For some folks, they are based in religious observance.  For others, it is an exercise in mindfulness. But no matter the origin of what inspired you to pause, these actions actually help the body begin the digestion process.  When I eventually take my fork to my mouth and take my first bite, everything is online.  I begin to chew and bam, out comes the requisite saliva necessary for the proper breakdown of food- that food and saliva have now combined into ­­­­a bolus.  That bolus eventually goes into the stomach where acid breaks it down so that the nutrients in our food can be absorbed in our small intestines.  This critical step is the basis for good digestion and good health- if our food doesn’t break down in the stomach none of the other important steps of digestion and elimination will work.

So, how do we prevent poor digestion if we don’t cook or have someone to cook homemade meals for us? We are busy, we eat on the go – in the car, while we walk, at our desks.  We often eat for sustenance, when we realize we are hungry.  Or the opposite, when we are bored and are emotionally eating.  In both of those circumstances, we are less likely to be mindful about what we are doing.  We lack ritual and forgo the smelling, the looking, the salivating- we dive right in before our brain has activated the digestion process.  When this happens, our enzymes do not release, we don’t properly break down our food and myriad problems may arise.  So how do people on the go let their bodies fully prepare for digestion?

The old sages were onto something.  Indeed, nearly every religion has some sort of grace or blessing prior to eating.  Perhaps it is because we eat at least three times daily and it is a constant way to connect to the divine.  Maybe it gives us pause for gratitude that we live with abundance and can afford to eat.  Perhaps it serves as a way to get us ready for the spiritual practice of eating – especially if it is something grown from the earth. All of these things might be true.  But it definitely is true that eating with intention and readying the body to eat serves the practical and physiological purpose of triggering digestion before we even bring food to our lips.

So next time, think twice before you shove something into your mouth while you’re looking at your computer, driving your car or walking to your next meeting. Give yourself just a few moments of readiness before you eat and see if you can feel the difference.

What’s the Skinny on Fat?

Back in the early 90s, I remember gorging on Snackwell fat free chocolate cookies, biting into the not at all moist center, wishing, with each chew, that the taste of chalk would subside. It’s not as though I craved these domes of fluffed up chemicals, rather, I ate them because they tasted good enough for cookies that were healthy. In those moments of weakness I basically got high on sugar (the ingredient they used to replace fat), crashed, then would reach for the box and realize I had already finished the entire thing. I know I was not the only one.

The fat free movement may have started innocently enough - hydrogenated fats found in processed foods do cause cardiovascular disease. But the food industry capitalized on this by telling us we shouldn’t have any fat, and that we should only eat “fat free.” They created an untold number of new products that we had to purchase or else we would get fat. Or sick. Or die. Fat free crackers, yogurts, cheeses, milk. Heart healthy margarines and egg replacers.

“Fat” was a four letter word.

Until we learned, fat free was just another fad. The diet police were wrong, fat free foods don’t prevent weight gain. The health police discredited the movement as well; The British Medical journal confirmed in October 2013 that indeed, saturated fat was NOT bad for the heart. Time magazine told us to Eat Butter in 2014.

Yet, low and non fat foods continue to fly off the shelves. So why the disconnect?

Perhaps the food giants don’t want us consumers to understand the nuances between healthy fats and unhealthy fats, saturated or unsaturated, trans fats or hydrogenated fats. But know this, all fats are not created equal.

Good fats are essential. Good fats serve as the building blocks of our cell membranes and our hormones. We need good fat so that every organ in our body can function efficiently and effectively. Fat helps us burn energy slowly and it prevents us from craving carbohydrates. Fat is satiating so we are nourished without overeating. Fat does not compromise our cardiovascular system, promote weight gain or suck all of our energy. It is hydrogenated fats and trans fats and processed vegetable oils that are the real problem.

Good fats are fats that come from whole food sources, animals fats or cold pressed olive, flax and avocado oils (among others). Indulge in fatty fish, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, eggs. And try to break those old habits- drink whole milk, not skim. Eat full fat, not non fat yogurt.

And if you really want to eat a cookie, eat one cookie. One real cookie, made preferably from grass-fed butter, cream and organic, pastured eggs - not one of those nasty Snackwells.

Homemade Almond Milk


The new alternative milk craze (almond/cashew/hemp/coconut and good ‘ol rice or soy) is in full gear. These products take up nearly an entire aisle of Whole Foods (or your local equivalent)! This is a good thing for those of us who don’t do well with dairy - it allows us to try different varieties of nut milks and have some non dairy milk on hand in case of a culinary emergency. However, the commercial brands, even the best of them, contain some or many undesirable preservatives (think carageegan) to keep them fresh for a longer shelf life. It really is incredibly easy to whip up some homemade almond milk if you have a good recipe and a high-powered blender. And trust me, once you go homemade, you will never want to go back to commercial.




1 cup raw almonds, soaked in water

3.5 cups filtered water

1-2 pitted Medjool dates

1 whole vanilla bean chopped (or 1/2-1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

small pinch of fine grain sea salt, to enhance flavor


Place almonds in a bowl and cover with filtered water. It’s preferred to soak them overnight (for 8-12 hours) in the water, but you can get away with soaking for 1-2 hours.

Rinse and drain the almonds and place into a blender along with 4 cups filtered water, pitted dates, and chopped vanilla bean.

Blend on highest speed for 1 minute or so.

Place a nut milk bag over a large bowl and slowly pour the almond milk mixture into the bag. Gently squeeze the bottom of the bag to release the milk. This is a tad labor intensive and messy, but trust me, it is worth it.

Rinse out blender and pour the milk back in. Add the cinnamon and pinch of sea salt and blend on low to combine.

Pour into a glass jar to store in the fridge for up to 3-5 days. Shake jar very well before using, as the mixture separates when sitting. Enjoy!

Bonus: The leftover almond meal is great for gluten free baking recipes- I also use it as a filler for homemade veggie burgers and salmon patties.

The Road to Healing

Welcome to Themindfulgut where I will share what I have learned on my lifelong journey from chronic pain and illness to good digestive health and overall wellbeing. The science is clear: better digestive health will help with metabolism, nutrient absorption (which is the root cause of so many ailments) and a better mental state. It is possible to feel better and live a healthier and happier life, simply by understanding the importance of what we eat, learning what our body needs and then eating and living mindfully.

At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease or IBD). Ulcerative colitis is an auto-immune disease that affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) causing severe abdominal pain and gastrointestinal bleeding, among other things.  There is no known cause of Ulcerative Colitis and there is no cure, other than to remove the colon. I resigned to live a life where I casually took nine capsules of medicine daily, always felt mildly uncomfortable and often was in pain.  I lived with the disease by managing it, which worked for many years.  Until it didn’t.

When I was in my late twenties, I saw top specialists for a variety of physical ailments, but no one was connecting the dots.  I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), psoriasis, spondylitis - all autoimmune disorders - but no doctor saw that these issues were related. The doctors treated symptoms individually, but there was always something going on - and as time marched on, more symptoms arose. When I spoke to my doctors about ways I could change things for myself by way of diet and nutrition, I was told there was nothing I could do to help myself other than take my drugs and try to reduce stress.

So I did what I could to reduce stress.   Yoga and psychotherapy helped.  I ate a diet of mostly organic foods.  Although I was ill into my thirties and was sick during both of my pregnancies, none of my doctors seemed alarmed.  Indeed, I was told that I was high risk for getting colon cancer and lymphoma, but it was understood that since I was being monitored by the top doctors in New York City, whatever disease I might get would be caught early enough to treat.  This was unsettling, but I felt there was nothing I could do except trust these highly regarded experts.

It was not until my infant son began to have health problems, that I learned I could heal myself.  In order to understand and resolve his health and developmental issues, we went to a very progressive developmental pediatrician.  We completely changed my son’s diet, eliminating dairy, gluten and soy.  In solidarity with him, I took dairy out of my diet.

Amazingly, within five days, some of my son’s physical and neurological symptoms diminished. And within weeks, my colitis and many of my other ailments began to disappear. Six weeks after taking dairy out of my diet, and putting myself on omega 3 and probiotic dietary supplements, my gastroenterologist of ten years performed a colonoscopy and said,  “I don’t recognize you. Keep doing whatever you’re doing”. One year and another colonoscopy later, my doctor said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d never know you have ulcerative colitis.” After that visit, I took myself off of the drugs entirely.  One year later, my doctor said there is no sign of the disease and that he saw no evidence that I ever had ulcerative colitis.

This was diet. I now live disease-free and drug-free.  I have educated myself through reading, research and learning from various alternative and open-minded medical practitioners.  I am now a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, where I help people understand that they, too, can take control of their health and see dramatic shifts in their physical, neurological and mental health. It is not too late to reverse the effects that your diet or your genetics or your microbiome has inflicted on you. You don’t need to accept poor function or chalk things up to the effects of aging. Our bodies have an innate intelligence that can guide us to healing. The key is to find, in your specific case, how best to get on that healing track. Hopefully these articles, recipes, mindfulness exercises and alternative therapy recommendations will help you find a way to help yourself.

Avocado, Spinach & Date Smoothie

This creamy and delicious treat is packed with omegas, niacin, zinc, protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese and healthy fats that will keep you satisfied for hours. The Coconut, flax and chia all have anti-inflammatory properties that keep your body in balance and leave you feeling cleansed and nourished.


2 Cups Coconut Water

1 Cup Spinach

4 dates (pitted)

½ large or 1 small Avocado

½ tsp Flax seeds

½ tsp Chia seeds

Crushed ice as desired

All ingredients can be mixed together in a high powered blender.  If a Vitamix or other high powered blender is unavailable, make sure to grind the seeds and finely chop the dates prior to mixing.

Breathe Into Your Digestion

I sat on my meditation cushion and could not stop thinking:  What am I going to eat for lunch today?  What do I need to buy at the grocery store?  Oh no, I forgot to call back the school.  I never did pick up that dry cleaning. Meditation can not possibly be a beneficial exercise, I am not getting anything out of this.

I always thought it was a positive trait to be a thinker, but now I’m beginning to doubt it – I can’t turn it off.

I told my yoga teacher about my inability to stop thinking.  This is not working for me- surely there is something else I can do to get the same benefits one gets when meditating.

Just come back to the breath, she told me.

Everyone has thoughts, even the most committed practitioners.  Do not judge yourself or think that you are “bad” at meditating because your mind wanders and you begin to think about things – random things – things that might even make you anxious.

The key in that moment is to notice the thought, see it float by, then return to focus on the breath.

When you concentrate on the breath, and return to focus on it once your thoughts are adrift, you are training your brain to focus on one thing.  You are channeling your mind to go inward even during moments of distraction from the outside world.  This takes much practice.   Monks have been at it for centuries.  Even the most committed yogis practice returning to the breath.  We all have thoughts.  We all wander.

When we live in our mind, in the past or the future, we might hold onto pain or regret.  We might live in fear – which inevitably affects our physical body.  Focusing on the breath and living in the moment is how we begin to let go – let go of our tension and let go of whatever negativity might be occupying our thoughts.  This is how we truly release the stress that can affect our physical body.  When our body is stressed, our digestion suffers.  We suffer.

By focusing on the breath we can learn to return to the most basic moments in everyday life.  The next time you are in a stressful situation or you feel discomfort in your body, take a moment to sit.  In your home, in your car, in a café.  Stop and inhale deeply, expanding first in your belly, then the ribs and then the chest.  Then on an exhale in the opposite direction.  If you do this for several breaths and focus on what you are doing, a calm will return to you.  Breathe into your digestive system and notice how it feels.  Just as in meditation, it might feel odd at first.  You might not see any immediate changes.  But keep trying, a little every day.  You will eventually feel a shift.  You will feel more connected to your body and you will have the skill to calm your body and your mind in any given moment. You will be alive in the present moment – not living in your mind – able to help your body get the calm that it needs.

The Truth About Tea

Seth Goldman knows a lot about tea.  I had the good fortune of hearing the TeaEO of Honest Tea  speak at an event at The Aspen Institute in Washington last week. I drink about five to eight cups of tea each day and am conscientious about eating organic foods whenever possible, and I was shocked when he explained why we should only drink organic tea.  In his experience of visiting the tea gardens and understanding the tea trade, he learned that if pesticides or other chemicals are used or sprayed on tealeaves, those chemicals are never washed off at any point in the picking, exporting, inspection or importing process.  The pesticides generally stay on the tealeaves until we pour hot water on them to makes ourselves a pot to drink.  Come to think of it, as shocking as this was, I’m even more shocked that something so basic was never on my radar to begin with.

When choosing loose leaf or wrapped tea, always choose organic.  This is one case where rinsing or washing off toxins won't be possible.

On Meditation, Loneliness and Inflammation

Talk amongst yourselves . . .

A recent study confirmed the long held belief in yoga and in healing circles that meditation decreases illness, inflammation and depression.  One thing however that this new study suggests is that people who meditate are also less lonely- further decreasing inflammation and depression, leaving practitioners of meditation in overall better health.

Loneliness is one of those human emotions that all people experience but few discuss.  Talking about it can make us seem needy or depressed, and could possibly make us more lonely by alienating us from other people.  That said, we all have moments when we feel alone, unheard or situated in a place where we cannot relate to anyone else.

For many years I struggled with colitis in silence- I never shared any real details of the disease with anyone for I feared others wouldn’t understand my plight or would find it boring.  Sometimes, I just didn’t want to bring myself down by talking about it.  Now, I realize that my avoidance may have been one of the things that kept me sick for so long.

Many people are finally speaking out about Colitis and Crohns Disease and those suffering are finding community through the internet and other channels.  Hopefully this will eradicate the notion that people suffering from Colitis or Crohns have to go it alone.  Because now we know, this could be one of the important factors preventing us from healing ourselves.


I was mixing the second of five concoctions that I would ingest that day.  This cleanse was serious; five drinks and one colonic each day for five days.  No solid food.  Just water. As I stood at the kitchen counter, intently mixing bentonite clay, psyllium seed husks, apple pectin and peppermint leaf, I turned to see my husband staring at me with amazement.  “Do you think I’ve gone over the edge?” I asked.  “Well,” he began, “I just feel like you should be wearing a sari, not an outfit from the Barney’s sample sale.”

I saw his point.  I had changed significantly since embarking on a journey that began in 2009 when, in an effort to stand in solidarity with my son as we dealt with his apparent GI disorders, I took dairy out of my diet.  It was so radically beneficial for me, I went further.  I helped myself by changing my diet in other ways, deepening my yoga practice and finding and releasing the great stressors in my life.  Over the course of four years, I went from buying food only sold at my neighborhood co-op, to reading the labels at the co-op, to making many of my own ingredients in order to cut out additives and chemicals - even those generally deemed harmless. I also went weekly to a craniosacral therapist, participated in a yoga teacher training program, and started writing as a way to deal with the difficulties in my life.  I came up with the idea for this blog in an effort to share the nuggets of knowledge I managed to pick up along the way with a community of like-minded people.

As most readers of this blog probably know, there are many of us out there; individuals with autoimmune disorders seeking answers and advice as to how best to cure, or at least minimize, our afflictions.  We look for community to connect, share ideas and commiserate.

Meghan O’Rourke is one of those people, as she explains in her beautifully written piece that appeared in the August 26, 2013 New Yorker magazine, entitled “What’s Wrong With Me.”  O’Rourke’s essay chronicles her struggles with autoimmune disease and the mysteries surrounding her illness.  She is always aching, fatigued, in pain and confused about her ailments.  She is unsure what is going on with her body and wonders how she can get the energy and strength she needs to get through the day.  But she goes on to talk about a deep emotional side-effect of her journey – a fear that her efforts to heal and understand her body were altering her identity from person (perhaps with some mysterious ailments) to patient.  She engages with other sufferers online.  She completely changes her diet by eliminating many foods and she turns to a varierty of supplements, vitamins and minerals.  She engrosses herself in the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for a month.  She makes her own almond milk (no easy task), brushes her body to help stimulate her lymphatic system and rid herself of toxins.  She swallows pills and liquids that can make one gag.  It is very compelling and extremely familiar.  And although it’s working – she is healing herself somewhat – she questions whether the incremental medical gains are worth the nagging feeling of obsession and seeming loss of self.  Her excellent piece challenges us to look in the mirror and ask the questions she asked:  have I gone over the edge?  Am I letting all of this define me?

Those of us with disease do have choices.  We can immerse ourselves in the world of the healing.  We can read everything, connect to others with similar struggles, change our diets, our habits, our environments and open our minds to new therapies and answers so that we can change our bodies and live a healthier life.  But along with that comes the risk of becoming obsessive about these ideas and driving ourselves and our loved ones nuts.

Of course, we also have the choice to do nothing, avoid change and carry the risks that go along with just living (in some cases for many years) with disease.  In our efforts not to get sucked into the fanatical world, we can go on living a “normal” life and hope for the best.

We also have the choice to find balance.

O’Rourke chose to eat well (but not always following everything to the letter) while living her life and accepting her disease.  I chose to immerse myself completely.  I allowed my journey to unfold before me, taking me on retreats to learn about proper digestion , working with different healers and eating many different foods.  All of this has worked wonders for me on a physical and psychological level.  But when I asked my husband if I had gone over the edge, what I was really doing was asking myself.  I realized that I might have been farther gone than I was emotionally healthy.  For years, I had followed a strict diet and created many wonderful new recipes which I loved.  But once I moved to Vermont and had more time on my hands, I went many levels deeper.  Defeating illness became my life.  That moment in the kitchen gave me pause; it alerted me that my ability to dive so deeply, while incredibly helpful and useful, could also be causing me to lose myself in a never ending quest.

The yogis say that just by noticing and acknowledging one’s behaviors, we can create the change we need.  By acknowledging, out loud, that I was close to fanaticism I was able to see things more clearly as how to approach my illness.  Yes, I continue to educate myself and encourage my family to try certain foods.  I still watch what I eat and try new things.  In fact, this week my son and I are eating soup, trying out the GAPS diet (so we can both possibly eat dairy again one day). But by taking a moment to pause, I was able to see this all in perspective.  What came out of this for me was the importance of living mindfully and with intention to feel good both physically and emotionally.   For me the key is focusing on family, friends, work, interests and hobbies - so that this disease is a part of my life, but isn’t it entirely.

Say What? There’s Dairy in my Indian Food?

You’d think I’d have learned by now. One would assume that after eating dairy free for three years I would know to ask restaurants if there are any secret milky ingredients or definite no-nos in my dinner that are not mentioned on the menu. I assumed that because so many vegetarians and vegans I know eat Indian food, I could safely order an Indian dish or two and not worry about it. I also assumed, incorrectly, that since Indian food follows Ayurveda, translated as the “traditional medicine" of India and known as the sister science of yoga, it would be dairy free. Enter ghee, clarified butter made from cow’s milk. As I learned from Cooks Illustrated last month, ghee is from South Asia and is used in most Indian (as well as Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, and Pakistani) cuisine as a base for many dishes. Here is what you need to know about ghee: Ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat, which is the good fat that we all need. Ghee has a very high smoke point and doesn't burn easily during cooking. Because Ghee is composed of short chain fatty acids, it metabolized very readily by the body. Therefore, ghee might work for you if you are cutting out casein, the protein found in dairy. But, if you have an issue with lactose and you eat some ghee, you might as well chomp on butter. For me, lactose is the enemy. Cutting dairy out of my diet has been amazing for my wellbeing, but since I quit it, having even the smallest bit of lactose can send my body into a fit of rage. So, last night when I went to our local Indian restaurant to pick up dinner, I asked if they used ghee in any of the dishes we ordered. The woman told me that they do not use ghee, rather, they use vegetable oil. Ok, not as authentic, definitely not as healthy given the trans fats, certainly not Ayurvedic, but for me, better than ghee. When I explained to the restauranteur why I asked the question, that I did not eat dairy, she said, “oh. Well, our curries all have cream in them”. Whoa! Who knew that for so many years I was not eating simple ghee, but cream- the creme de la crème of intestinal irritants?!? I wondered how many times I’ve eaten dairy inadvertently and why I was unable to detect it. I suppose I always chalked it up to my body’s natural cycle of having good days and bad days and contributed pain and other symptoms to factors that I could not isolate. Now, I know better. Even the most health conscious among us can get into trouble when we make assumptions. And you know what they say about assumptions . . .So now I just ask. I got my meal made sans cream. It was delicious.

Poached Eggs with Spinach and Onions

It’s so easy to overdo it during the holiday season. To become derailed. Bumped off the healthy wagon. But when you make the decision to start your day off with something delicious and nutritious, it can really put you in the right mindset for the rest of the day. Check out this wonderful breakfast dish that is filling, very easy to make and full of vitamins and nutrients - it’s inspired by a breakfast that I had recently at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. You will want: 1 small onion (yellow, sweet or white) 4 cups spinach or baby spinach 1 small shallot 1-2 tsp freshly grated ginger (or substitute with the same amount of powdered ginger) 2 large or jumbo, organic, free-range eggs (preferably local) Extra Virgin Olive oil Sea salt and pepper to taste.

Chop the onion and shallot into bite-sized pieces and sautee in olive oil. After onions soften and start to become translucent, add in ginger, a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Add spinach and more olive oil, sauteeing all ingredients so it covers the pan. Lower heat and carve two depressions into the mixture - do not dig so deep that you can see the bottom of the pan - this is where you will poach the eggs. Crack one egg into a small bowl, checking for shells. Then pour the egg into one of the depressions. Repeat with the other egg. Cover the pan for 1-3 minutes until the egg whites become opaque and the yolk is covered. Use a spatula to carefully take mixture out of the pan and serve.

*I recommend making this dish in a cast iron skillet or ceramic pan if you have.

Soothing Vegan & Gluten Free Butternut Squash Soup

As the weather begins to chill, try keeping your body warm with some comforting soup. I love Butternut squash for its delicious flavor, brilliant color and wonderful health benefits. This recipe is simple to make and soothing for the body with its healing and delicious spices.* You will want: Butternut Squash - 2 medium or 1 large 2 medium-large sweet yellow or white onion 2 large or 3 medium cloves of garlic 4 sage leaves 3 thyme sprigs 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1/2 teaspoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon cardamom 16 oz vegetable broth (more or less depending on how thick you like your soup) 1/2 cup- 1 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon sea salt cracked black pepper to taste

Put the whole squash in the oven at 425 to roast, about 40 minutes, until tender. It is finished when your fork can easily slide into the squash and the skin will be well done. While the squash is roasting, chop and saute onions in enough olive oil to coat the pan. Cook until translucent or even burnt, depending on your taste. Add garlic, crushing it first to maximize its flavor. Peel skin off the squash, remove the seeds and add to onion and garlic mixture. Add vegetable broth and remaining ingredients. Cover and let simmer on low for 10-30 minutes, adding more broth if needed. Puree with hand held device or mix in blender and serve!

*Try not to be overwhelmed when you see the amount of spice I've added to this dish. You can add more or less of each ingredient, take out what you don't like or add your own that I didn't suggest. Each time I make this soup I try different flavors depending on my mood, what my body is craving and what I have on hand!

Transition To A Healthy Lifestyle

I was not born this way. I was not born into a family of hippies, vegetarians or yogis. I was not born watching what I ate, supplementing with vitamins or meditating.

I grew up in a suburban Philadelphia community where my friends and I went to TGI Fridays after the movies, ate cheesesteaks and soft pretzels and drank plenty of alcohol once we got to high school and college. We really didn’t think much about our health, the food we ate, where it came from or why the produce looked so shiny in the supermarket.

Like most people, my friends, family and I did talk about losing or gaining weight. That was the one subject that to us, marked how healthy we were.

The house where I grew up was stocked with cans of diet soda, boxes of Sweet N’ Low, frozen Weight Watchers desserts and diet salad dressing. My parents have been on one diet or another since the Carter administration.

One day back in 1999, my cousin told me that her New Years resolution was to cut out all artificial sweeteners. I didn’t understand why she would do this or how she could! How can one drink coffee without lots of cream and Sweet N’Low? But she shed light on how these chemicals could really harm us and that it would be a noble effort to rid them from her diet. It made sense to me, so I did it.

First, I switched from Diet Coke to Coke. Coke was so sticky sweet I could taste the syrup. I somehow got used to regular Coke but eventually grew sick of it.

I gave up cola, then soda, entirely. I couldn’t drink coffee black or coffee without sweetener (sugar never quite made it there for me), so I switched to tea.

I educated myself on the benefits of organic produce and began to buy organic from a neighborhood delivery service in New York City.

When I moved to Brooklyn, I joined the local food coop and worked several different jobs as required by the coop. I spoke with the educated cashiers, read the coop newsletter and website and listened to others around me while I shopped. I learned an enormous amount in a very short period of time.

Then when my son got sick and we went to a developmental pediatrician who suggested we take dairy and gluten (and eventually soy) out of his diet, my learning curve went through the roof. The internet can be an amazing resource for learning about food and how you can make little steps toward a healthy lifestyle.

I eventually gave up dairy, started taking omega 3s and probiotics and began to heal myself.

I encouraged my mom to join my shift to a healthier, more-chemical-free, diet. My mother had watched me evolve over the past decade yet, when she saw my daily regimen, she was like a deer in headlights - unable to move and protect herself from a dangerous appetite for industrial food.

But like me, she too has evolved; she must, if she wants to prevent disease and live longer than her parents. For many years, my mother looked at me and thought that she could never do what it took to change her lifestyle - she thought she was too old to change. But she is getting there, at her own pace. She now drinks green tea, no longer has diet soda, buys organic food and takes probiotics.

I imagine that for my mom, it was inspiring to see her daughter cure herself of ulcerative colitis. There it was, proof that changing diet and lifestyle could have a profound impact.

Will she take up yoga anytime soon? I don’t think so. But I guess one never knows how people evolve. I never would have thought I’d adopt my current diet - I had no idea how much I didn’t know when I gave up artificial sweeteners so many years ago.

So if the idea of change and learning all that there is about diet and supplements seems overwhelming, the best advice I can give is to focus on one goal. For me it was taking one ingredient at a time out of my diet – and it had a domino effect. Once you start to feel good (and successful!) with one change, you’re more likely to get excited and energized to do more - if more is something you need.

Pick one thing for yourself and take small steps - the first step is always the most difficult. With a little help from yoga, meditation or some other tool you might use to remain mindful of your body and your goals for good health, the rest will probably flow naturally. It did for me and for my mother - two very different women, on two different paths who each found what they needed, in due time.

How to boost your smoothie to get the most bang per sip

One of the easiest and most delicious ways to use spices and supplements is to add them to a morning smoothie. I often add some or all of these to my kids’ drinks and they don’t even realize this is their most nutritional meal of the day! Here are some basic ingredients that you can find in the bulk or supplement section of your local health food store or Whole Foods that will give you real health benefits with very little effort: 1) Cinnamon – just adding ½ - 1 tsp of this ancient spice can reduce inflammation stopping arthritic aches, headaches and migraines, keep candida at bay, have antioxidant effects, fight bacteria, boost cognitive function and memory and help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. WOW, who knew, cinnamon!

2) Cardamom – even as little as ¼ tsp will be enough to get the benefits of this aromatic spice. Cardamom helps with inflammation and digestion, it helps with congestion, serves as a detoxifier of your kidneys and liver and even helps with asthma, allergies, PMS and halitosis! The flavor can be quite strong for some people, but it blends nicely with berries and cinnamon.

3) Coconut- adding a little shredded coconut (or chunks of fresh coconut) can help with so many things! Coconut has been a wonder food for many cultures and has been used for millennium in traditional and now in modern medicine. Among the many benefits of coconut are improved digestion and absorption of other vitamins, nutrients, minerals and amino acids while preventing candida, viruses and bacteria that cause infection.

4) Cacao – either as a raw powder or in nib form (great for added texture), cocao acts as an antioxidant that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, all while elevating our mood (as chocolate usually does!)

5) Probiotics – just adding ½ tsp (or one capsule) of a multi-flora probiotic can help the gut flora by restoring good bacteria that we often wipe out over years of antibiotic use. This good flora is vital in proper digestion and in reducing and preventing inflammation.

6) Micro greens or spirulina – We’ve all been told to eat our green vegetables as it is the best source of vitamins and nutrients as any food on earth. By tossing anywhere from 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp of microgreens or spirulina (plant based protein) into a smoothie, we can get the benefits of leafy greens as we start our day!

Identifying Stress

STRESS! That ubiquitous word. The root of all disease. “Are you stressed?” The word takes your shoulders up to your ears as soon as you hear it. Even the sound of the word is harsh. When I hear that word I think, I’ve got to DO something about this stress, I must get rid of it. Putting that kind of stress on yourself to get rid of stress can be, well, stressful. Want to lower the risk of cancer? Don’t stress. Want to get rid of your headaches? Reduce stress. Want to stop having gastrointestinal woes? Manage your stress. Want to fall asleep, insomniac? I would, if I could stop stressing long enough about how I’m stressing which is causing my insomnia.

When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 14 I was told that I had to reduce stress. So, what did that mean to me back then- um, don’t bother going through adolescence? Don’t bother going to high school or trying to get into college? Clearly, I was not able to slow down life at that point, did not completely understand that the doctors were actually telling me to manage my stress and even if I had understood the advice, I was not self aware enough to change my stressful circumstances.

So many diseases supposedly are caused by this fiend, this stress, that causes problems in the gut, inflammation, headaches, backaches, muscle aches and insomnia. But what is it really? In the case of insomnia, thinking about not being able to fall asleep most definitely makes it harder to do so. But in the cases of other disease, is it really all in our head?

Much of this blog will look at the role that mindfulness plays in our physical state. Indeed, themindfulgut was born out of the idea that our mind and our gut are deeply connected and interdependent, so much so that we can often heal our bodies just by calming our minds. Even the most conventional gastroenterologist will tell you that the stress you have in your mind will most certainly contribute to your GI troubles.

Yet there is another kind of stress that is more tangible- it is the physical stress that we put on our body, that may or may not have born out of stress but has transformed into an actual physical problem. This often happens without our knowledge. This is not to say that our mind cannot help our bodies change, simply that there might be physical obstacles that might be hindering our mind’s ability to change our body. Indeed, all the yoga in the world might not be able to cure all of one’s physical ailments.

What I found was that the times in my life where my colitis flared, it wasn’t in my worst emotional states- it was when I put stress on my body physically. In college, I flared after I abused my body by binge drinking. In law school, I got sick from eating greasy and fatty food late at night while studying. Then the worst of it came during both of my pregnancies and the subsequent years spent nursing when my colitis and psoriasis flared out of control. The great physical stress of pregnancy and the depletion of nutrients from nursing are a huge stressor on the body- and one not mentioned in the What to Expect books.

Physical stress can stem from, among other things, an excess of stored toxins in the body, muscle tightness or tissue blockages left unattended over the course of many years. Often times, detoxing our bodies by eliminating known stressors such as gluten, dairy and animal fats helps to rid the body of accumulated toxins. Other ways to remove physical stress and obstacles are Massage, Myofascial Release and craniosacral therapy. By being mindful and paying attention to what physical obstacles we might have, and what irritants are harmful, we can start to understand what is aggravating our system. Once we address our physical obstacles and work out whatever these blockages are, we will see the deep benefits of relaxing and calming the mind. We can then go deeper, enabling us to function and heal more efficiently.