Just Say “No” and Other Ways to Turn Down Amazing Holiday Foods Because it Just Wouldn’t End Well

NIa Integrative Healing

IMG_1731 - Version 2Oh, the sparkly decorations, holiday parties and all that alluring food that gives you the come hither look that no one else can see. During the holidays, it is sometimes difficult to say no to all of the variety available at the table. You’re laughing and talking and maybe drinking a few sips of alcohol throughout the evening. You’re having a great time, the conversations are intriguing, your inhibitions are slowly slipping away.

Even though some of us may know exactly what foods trigger our allergic and inflammatory responses, it’s tempting to overlook the repercussions in the moment, particularly when dining with others. As though it’s not hard enough to fight off the urge to try every little delightful dish on the table, there’s also Good Food That’s Oh, So Bad for Me peer pressure. The act of sharing a meal is a significant custom in many parts of the world. It is…

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Where You Hiding, Sunshine?

What is going on? This isn’t right. Why’s it dark at 4pm? Why am I sleepy by 8? And also, why is it so cold that the city’s a big ole’ ice rink? I had to check in with someone else to see if I was the only one who was this disgruntled. “Ladybug, what do you feel like doing when it’s cold outside?”


“What a coincidence! Me too.”

And on top of all that, many people’s vitamin D levels drop fast with sunlight deprivation, especially people with darker pigmentation. Although, don’t think this doesn’t affect you, my pigment-less friends. Anyone can be vitamin D deficient.

I have to say though, of all the annoying winter-related inconveniences, the vitamin D thing is what I cared about the least, because I didn’t think it was really causing any problems. But I was wrong. In fact, the more I read about it, the more I think a lot of us are affected. Apparently, vitamin D deficiency can be the explanation for several concerns, like fatigue, poor immune functioning, insulin resistance, multiple sclerosis and depression. So it’s time to pay more attention.

According to researchers, vitamin D deficiency is very treatable. Foods like the ones listed below, supplements and the sun (the optimal and most natural choice) can help increase vitamin D levels:

  • fatty fish
  • beef
  • cheese
  • egg yolks

Many foods are also vitamin D fortified, for example:

  • milk
  • some cereals
  • yogurt
  • orange juice

By the way, the sun is so vital to our health that there’s a whole website dedicated to it: http://www.sunshinevitamin.org.

I realize it sounds like a terrible contradiction to have to go outside and freeze your tail off in order to feel good, but apparently, it’s completely worth it.

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Real?


The weather outside is frightful. Sidewalks are littered with gray, slushy snow. The cold is bitter and comparable to needles slapping you in the face. The sun refuses to come out and when it does, it makes a very brief guest appearance, shattering any delusions of warmth.

Winter is hard. There’s no other way to put it. I told myself the change in weather brings in new fashion, but reality is, I don’t care. I’m a tomboy. I do however love boots, so I tried to deal by justifying that winter’s the perfect reason to buy a new pair, or mayber 3 or 4. But that only helps so much. Sometimes, when I think of how dreadfully long I’ll have to endure the cold, I count and recount November, December and January, like the total will change or as if winter is exclusive to only these 3 months. As if.

The holidays are a nice distraction, but as soon as January hits, time seems to freeze and spring begins to sound like a childhood fairytale. To add to the gloominess, some people might suffer from vitamin D deficiency around this time, something that can add to feelings of low energy and motivation.

Many people I’ve spoken to agree that winter is yucky and annoying. And they all enthusiastically second my proclamation that all people affected by anything lower than 40 degree weather should be awarded beach houses, just for the winter of course.

For some, however, deprivation of sunlight and warmth is far more impactful than transforming into a whiner or conjuring up dreams of beach houses. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is not a fleeting feeling, and it’s not just the tendency to want to eat a little more or stay under the covers a little longer. People who suffer from SAD have a change in overall mood, lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have trouble concentrating.

Loss of sunlight resulting in disruption of the body’s biological rhythm might be to blame. Sometimes, people I’ve met who suffer from SAD minimize their symptoms. They think it’s silly that they’re having a hard time adapting to the change in seasons. But it’s not their fault. It’s depression, something that should never be ignored or minimized. Good news is there are treatments, including natural ones like light therapy, exercise programs and nutrition options. Even though there are some winter enthusiasts out there, I believe many of us are on some spectrum of being annoyed with cold weather to becoming depressed by it. If you’re seeing a pattern of mood symptoms returning every year, it may be time to speak to a therapist. Winter is hard and we don’t have to pretend it’s not. Believe me, I’ve tried.

How Gratefulness Wards off Depression


pics 569Thanksgiving, in all its irony, is the one day of the year we dedicate to being thankful. Imagine how profoundly the world might change if we lived out every day as though it were Thanksgiving. It would counter our insecurities, our focus on what we don’t have or who we want to be. Imagine that.

One of the fundamental problems with depression is that it causes a person to see the negative aspect of a situation rather than recognizing the positive, which is why gratefulness is a powerful weapon. The key however, requires being very intentional in finding the goodness of life because, as most of us can agree, things can get really rough sometimes.

There are multiple benefits to having a perspective of gratitude, both emotional and physical. According to Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, gratitude blocks us from experiencing toxic emotions because it is very difficult to feel gratefulness and let’s say, anger or envy, at the same time. Gratitude also decreases cortisol in the body, which is a hormone produced during times of stress.

We can all use help in feeling more grateful at times, and one method is writing down one thing you’re grateful for each day. And of course you can list more than one thing, because after all, there is a lot to be grateful for. Depression isn’t always straightforward and it may take more than a thankful outlook to alleviate symptoms. Seek counseling and psychiatry services if you think your depressive symptoms are getting worse. Ultimately though, gratefulness surely doesn’t hurt.

Go to UC Davis for more information on the benefits of gratefulness and tips on maintaining a grateful perspective.

How Nutrition is Linked to Depression

img_0354What does it look like? Depression can mean having a hard time getting out of bed, not wanting to talk, even to the people you love the most, feeling like it’s a chore to do things that used to be fun, having trouble concentrating or even remembering. It might sometimes mean having to pretend everything’s just fine.

The musician, Kid Cudi, recently shared that he has suffered from long-standing depression. Although we know success does not equate to feeling joy, some may wonder why someone like him would feel depressed. Unfortunately, depression can have many causes, including difficult life circumstances, medical changes or genetic predisposition. It can be a complicated process to understand, even for the person who is suffering.

I appreciate that Kid Cudi shared about his mental health, because at least for a little while, the media is accurately describing depression for what it is, not a shameful secret, not something that happens to someone else, and especially not a weakness of character, but an illness that may be affecting our colleagues, loved ones and even us. And we don’t have to pretend it isn’t.

There are ways sufferers may naturally manage symptoms or in some cases, even resolve them (under professional medical and psychological care), depending on the source, especially if they may be partly or fully due to nutritional imbalance.

  • One of the most common biological factors involved in depression is unbalanced blood sugar. Even if a person doesn’t have diabetes, fluctuation in blood sugar can affect mood negatively.
  • Chromium deficiency is another nutritional issue that can cause mood issues. It reduces insulin resistance so again, there’s the relationship between blood sugar and mood.
  • Food allergies are found to be related to depression. A food and mood log might help determine which foods are causing problems. To determine a pattern, it might be helpful to continue logging for a couple of months.
  • Omega-3 fats help build connections in the brain, so a deficiency can contribute to  negative mood.

Check out Food for the Brain to read more about natural options for depression. Speak with your primary care physician or psychiatrist, as well as a clinical therapist for appropriate care. An article in The Atlantic  gives some insight into Kid Cudi’s challenges with depression and his decision to receive treatment.

The Uncomfortable Comfort Food


Comfort foods. The best and worst of things. Who doesn’t have one, or two, or five soothing foods that they run to during desperate times?  In fact, they’re almost a requirement in maintaining sanity. And they make us feel so much better, at least for a few glorious moments.

Unfortunately, that tummy ache can have us feeling absolutely terrible for much longer than that heart ache. Many of our comfort foods – ice cream, cookies, chocolate, chips, doughnuts – are riddled with preservatives. We might also have our default high fat, greasy foods that our parents made when we were kids, you know, the ones we might associate with happiness and love. Problem is that as adults, eating our standard comfort foods can potentially cause us to now feel quite, well, uncomfortable, both physically and sometimes emotionally. So what to do? We can’t banish comfort foods altogether. That would be illegal.

So instead, one thing I’ve tried is to identify alternatives without preservatives or less harmful fats ahead of time so when I need to run to my go-to food like Usain Bolt dashing toward the finish line, I’m already prepared with a better option. Of course there are times when things are just so bad that I want my original fix, so I’ll go ahead and indulge, but that’s now reserved for emergencies only.  I can justify a whole lot of things to be considered emergencies, but that’s another story.

Here’s an example of a modified healthy comfort food option by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the author of Arranged Marriage and other beautiful fiction works:


If you have a healthier version of your go-to comfort food, I’d love to hear about it.



Ahhh, Liquid Toxins

IMG_5775I was driving home from work. The digital car thermometer seemed to be laughing at me as it read 101 degrees. My mouth was dry and I really needed some water. I was stuck in Chicago traffic so I knew it would be at least 45 minutes before I got home. I rolled up the windows. Maybe AC would help. At this point, I was willing to try the weirdest of ideas. AC didn’t do a thing, of course. I was now thirsty to the point of nausea. Not good.

I thought it might help to distract myself by putting the music up louder. I know. None of my techniques were making any sense. I wondered if I was at the point of delirium. But after rethinking it, I realized that I was just being a drama queen, a very desperate, thirsty drama queen.

As I glanced to the right to reach for the radio station knob, I saw a water bottle snugly sitting in the passenger door compartment. Is it a mirage? I thought. I blinked hard, well, not too hard because I still had to drive. No, this is for real.

Traffic’s slow. I can snap off my seat belt and reach over. Except, for one thing. This very yummy looking water had been sitting in the car for at least a week. And that meant it was now well-saturated with all of the chemicals from its bottle. I contemplated between the two evils – dehydration or drinking liquid toxins. Grumpy,  frustrated, and more dramatic than ever, I finally made it home, ran to the kitchen while yelling for my girls to call 911 if I passed out as they rolled their eyes, and poured a nice, tall glass of filtered tap water.

Bottled water not only absorbs chemicals from its container under both hot and cold temperatures, such as sitting in your car or chilling in the freezer, there is also research that shows that 40% of the time, bottled water has the same composition as tap water. So why are we paying companies to bottle our tap water?

Read more about the negative consequences of drinking bottled water, including infertility, attention problems and cancer: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/01/15/dangers-of-drinking-water-from-a-plastic-bottle.aspx

Stay hydrated, my friends. The most interesting man in the world may be super duper interesting, and a very smooth looking older gentleman (oh right, besides the point), but he’s probably also extremely dehydrated.

Really Mom, Coconut Oil? Moms and Their Myths.

imageI sat reluctantly on our living room floor as my mother roughly applied coconut oil to my hair. She ignored my bratty, ten-year-old complaints as streams of oil made their way down my face. I protested, fidgeted, and tried to escape her grip, only to be drawn back to my seat and jostled around into a near concussion as she continued the greasy ritual.

“You have to use coconut oil every night so you have nice, healthy hair,” she’d remind me. Yet, along with all the other pieces of random tales she’d offer, I placed her nuggets of advice into the section of my mind labeled, “Myths That Mom Makes Up.”

Coconut oil for hair and skin, turmeric for colds, hot tea for itchy throats, ginger for indigestion, they were all such weird remedies. Mom is a large advocate of I told you so’s, but I’m going to say it anyway. After many, many years of ridiculing her suggestions, I have found that she’s right. Ugh.

Although used for hundreds of years to improve health and nutrition, coconut oil is only now receiving popular attention. It is used in cooking, hormone imbalance, and even deodorant. Think of all of the preservatives that can be avoided by substituting coconut oil for everyday products that are often loaded with toxins, such as coffee creamer, soap and toothpaste. Check out this article http://draxe.com/coconut-oil-uses/ to learn about its many benefits.

There are various methods of extracting oil from coconut. This article provides information on the types: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/what-type-of-coconut-oil-is-best-how-to-choose-a-coconut-oil/. It’s a bit lengthy but informative. If you’d like to skip to which extraction types are best, there’s a chart toward the bottom of the article. I’d love to hear how you’ve used coconut oil.

By the way, thanks Mom.

Hey Baby, Can I Get Some Sugar?

I was ballooning into the marshmallow man. I thought I might just up and fly away at any moment. The doctor completed several tests as part of the joy of pregnancy. “Spit into that, drink this, let’s draw your blood twelve more times.” I was an ever-growing guinea pig.

Ultimately, the doctor came back with the dreadful diagnosis of gestational diabetes. I wasn’t expecting any diagnoses, especially not that, despite a strong family history of diabetes. I guess I figured I was young, a ripe 21-years-old and generally healthy, so there couldn’t be any concern. Yet, I was predisposed. I was told that it would likely go away after pregnancy with the warning that if I didn’t take care of myself, I could develop diabetes. “And that can cause many problems,” he added. For a fun read on complications of diabetes, check out the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/diabetes/basics/complications/con-20033091

I was crushed by the news that someone, a very tiny someone, was currently getting in the way of me and my sugar fix. And that it also meant there would be an ongoing obstacle between me and my sugar. No one had ever stopped me from my destiny before – candy bars, lollipops, ring pops, brownie a la mode, rock candy. It was a free-for-all. In fact, everyone encouraged my love for it. If they loved me, they knew that I loved sweet things. When I was younger, my grandma would sometimes wake me up to deliver a variety of candy in the middle of the night, which she obtained from my aunt who returned home with goodies after working the second shift. With a big smile, I would sleepily gobble it all up and go right back to sleep, as though it was a normal nighttime ritual. When I visited my other aunt’s house, she would have cupboard after glorious cupboard fully stocked with cookies, ice cream and chocolate. When speaking with her before my visits, she’d give me a run down of the expansive sweet inventory that she obtained.

Sugar and I, we were always great childhood friends. If I couldn’t get a hold of some form of candy, well, I’d just rip open a packet of sugar, pour it into the palm of my hand, and throw it back. Of course, because it’s one of my few vices anymore, my body recently said I couldn’t have it. When I eat sugar, sometimes even if just a couple of bites, my head starts hurting and my ever finicky digestive system screams out in frustration, letting me know that I’m heading toward fast, furious sugar overload.

Surprisingly, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be once I came to find out that sugar has turned its back on me. For a delusionally long time, I’ve known that sugar is terrible, and that I should cut down. But now, my body is quite adamant that things have changed. It rejects even my small indulgences rather quickly. And I’m trying to accept this by rejecting it back. And that’s okay. Because who needs sugar? Nobody (Wait, wait, I do. No I don’t. Yes I do. Ugh. It’s a hard fight).