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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Self expression as therapy

Saturday, July 16, 2016
Journalling as self therapyWrestling with a dilemma can often take up lots of time and brain energy. If you’ve ever tossed and turned relentlessly instead of sleeping you know just how powerfully unresolved issues can push for your attention. Whether it’s about major life decisions (“should I leave this job?”) or minor dilemmas (“why did she say that?”) your brain can determinedly ruminate over the issue.

As Barbara Streisand put it in her song ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’, grappling with a dilemma can seem like watching a merry-go-round. Thoughts go around and around and yet never actually go anywhere productive. And yet when you get a chance to express your thoughts perspective can shift and the next step becomes more evident. Getting stuff out of your head can relieve the pressure.

It would be great to have a listening person like a therapist on hand whenever you need them. Most of us don’t have that luxury, alas. But you can help enable a fresh perspective using some time-honoured tools of self-expression as therapy. Some of the most popular are journaling, art, or even expressive dance.

What these processes achieve is enabling you to express what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling in a way that gets it out of your head. If you’re journaling then you shape your thoughts into sentences and put pen to paper. When art is used as a form of expression, you use the medium (like canvas or blank paper) plus tools like pencils and paintbrushes to explain your feelings. Dance is another, very physical form of expression. 

It’s like having a listener on hand all the time that presents the question: “So, how are you feeling”? Your mind responds: “let me write it down for you”. Or “I’ll draw it for you to explain”. In dance, you use your physical movement to express. Through that reflective process insight can emerge.

Like most health boosting processes, self-expression as therapy works best when you practice regularly. Actually, some people use it as a way to grow in their own knowledge of self. For some people the daily practice means at a certain time of the day they pick up their journal and pen. Or retreat to their art or dance space to creatively express what’s on their mind.  The more you practice, the more adept you will become at allowing those thoughts out of your head. You’ll find that not only will you be able to sort out day-to-day dilemmas, but your self-knowledge is likely to expand too. That’s pretty inexpensive therapy, don’t you think?

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How To Cope Better With the Lead-up to Christmas'

Image credit: jdurham via MorgueFile

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Warning signs of hormonal trouble

Thursday, July 07, 2016
Hormones adolescent teenager PCOSAdolescence can be a tricky time for female hormones. It’s when the reproductive cycle cranks into action and hopefully settles into a regular easy rhythm. But like any complex system things can go wrong. Hormone disorders are rampant now; polycystic ovarian syndrome now affects about half of young women – and research indicates there are many other women suffering yet undiagnosed and untreated.

My heart goes out to the young women I speak with who have been struggling for years but didn’t know where to turn for help, nor are they aware of all the treatment options available to them. The symptoms they struggle with cause self-esteem as well as body image problems, and adversely affect their relationships. But when you know what to look out for and how to get help your life can be better. So here’s a laundry list of what to be alert for that could signal something hormonal is amiss.

  • ‘Menarche’ is the technical term for the commencement of periods, which should settle into an easy regular cyclic rhythm within 12 months. If they don’t, that’s warning sign number one.
  • Heavy, flooding or endless periods and excruciating pain are also signals that hormones are out of balance. Painful periods can be a sign of endometriosis developing, and flooding endless periods can create anaemia.
  • Other, more evident signs can indicate that your metabolism has become unbalanced and subsequently upended your hormones. Acne, facial hair, and weight gain along with erratic or missing periods can flag the onset of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an insidious metabolic and hormonal disorder that doesn’t just cause some unpleasant physical changes, it can block fertility.
  • Insulin resistance can easily develop in the teenage years, particularly if school no longer forces you to exercise regularly. Mid-afternoon energy slumps as well as a ravenous appetite for carbohydrates and weight gain can indicate insulin resistance is developing. That insulin resistance is believed to be one of the main causes of PCOS and other inflammatory hormonal disorders.

If you eavesdrop on social media conversations about hormones, you’ll hear complaint after complaint about the difficulty of accessing diagnosis and treatment for endocrine disorders. Alas, there is still a cultural bias that women’s menstrual cycles are supposed to be difficult. They’re not. So be persistent in investigating and remember you have choices. Your naturopath can explain the natural treatment options available and help you assess what’s happening as well as. But I don’t recommend you simply ignore the problem, because it usually doesn’t just go away and you’re not likely to ‘just grow out of it’.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Empowering your PCOS Diagnosis - An Overview'

Image credit FidlerJan via MorgueFile

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Come along to a free talk on thyroid health in Elanora

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Want to know more about your thyroid, especially if you think it might be unwell? Come along to a free talk I'm giving at the Elanora Public Library on the Gold Coast. Tuesday 26 July . Here's the link to book your place .

The title of the talk: "Is this why you feel so tired?"

What I'll cover:

- Signs that your thyroid gland isn't well

- The different types of thyroid ill-health

- How your thyroid is supposed to function and how other organs help.

- How to get your thyroid assessed and treated, and why obtaining a diagnosis can be so difficult.

- Natural treatments available.

I'd love to see you there!

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Natural remedies for dandruff

Saturday, July 02, 2016
dandruffI can remember, as a child, perusing a tiny bottle of green olive oil on the pharmacy shelf and wondering what on earth this stuff could be used for. Back then olive oil in Australian cooking was unheard of. Lard (known as ‘dripping’) and butter were the cooking fats of choice; later, vegetable oils. Recipes from the Mediterranean involving olive oil were regarded as awfully exotic. Thankfully, these days we can select from a wide range of olive oil varietals and blends; but with its move from the pharmacy to the supermarket shelf we might have lost sight of this oil’s usefulness as a home remedy.

Those tiny bottles of olive oil in the chemist store were intended to address infant’s cradle cap; technically seborrheic dermatitis; but if you develop it after you’ve outgrown nappies it’s known as dandruff. This is an itchy scalp condition you can develop all too easily; at worst you can feel like you’ve become your own mobile snow globe; scattering little white flakes everywhere you go.

Many of the proprietary dandruff remedies available contain some less-than-natural ingredients. So if you’d like to try out a natural home remedy for your problem scalp, here’s a suggestion. Get hold of some ultra-high-quality dark green olive oil (the darker colour means it still contains lots of the active ingredients). Add a couple of drops of ti-tree essential oil and gently massage it into your scalp then wrap an old towel around your head for half an hour before washing out with your usual shampoo and conditioner. 

Remember that this will make the shower floor a little slippery, so be careful, and use some detergent after your tub to ensure no perilous residue remains for the next unsuspecting bathroom visitor. 

You might have to repeat this process every week for a few weeks, but you may notice a reduction in the flakiness and itchiness as the weeks pass.

But don’t stop your treatment at the surface: nutritional factors are part of dandruff development too: A diet rich in fast food, pastries and dairy that’s also low in raw salads, fresh fruit and greens can predispose your system to acidity; enough to allow dandruff to take hold. (Our systems are healthiest when alkaline). So by all means treat the symptoms but remember to look for the underlying causes too.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'The Power of Raw Foods' 


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Remembering your strengths in tough times

Saturday, June 25, 2016
Life can throw you some curve balls: like losing a job you thought was secure. Your car is stolen. Or a flood takes out your home. Maybe someone you love dies, unexpectedly or your relationship ends. Suddenly there’s a gaping hole in your life where once there seemed certainty. 

It would be easy to get down in the mouth, moody, and completely resentful about what life’s done to you. But what can tend to follow this is a sense that the situation is hopeless and you are helpless. You inner child rants “This isn’t fair!” It’s OK to feel down in the dumps initially but eventually you’ll be ready to move ahead again, and your unique strengths are waiting for you to harness them up and help pull you out of the problem back towards happiness.

We’ve all got our own unique blend of positive attributes that can be called on to help out when times get tough. If you’re in the midst of one of these crises right now you might not feel that you have any strengths; but in a moment I’m going to show you a way to uncover them.

You can apply your particular strengths to any troublesome situation (providing you remember to access them!) For some people their strength is the ability to reach out for support from the right people in a way that helps regain a sense of stability. Others can step back from the high emotion of a situation and critically analyse it from a neutral, uninvolved angle. Yet others possess an inherent sense of positivity; that all will eventually work out for the best. These attributes can help carry you through your troubles. They don’t take away the problem, but they sure can make it easier to manage.

There’s a nifty (free) web-based tool you can use to help identify your unique strengths. The Via Institute on Character, a non-profit organisation, ( has collated a database of psychological research and developed two strength-finder questionnaires; for adults and for youth. After completing the survey online it will automatically email you a list of your particular strengths that your answers have uncovered. The report could remind you of the unique personality assets you already have that can help you through.

Whether you see this exercise as a bit of fun, or it helps you find a way forward in difficult times, the strengths finder questionnaire could be worth visiting.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How to avoid developing PTSD' here
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Where did that thought disappear to

Saturday, June 18, 2016
hippocampus stressYou’ve probably been there too. Holding the pantry door open, staring at the contents and desperately trying to recall what it was you went there for. Heck, you were thinking of what you wanted to retrieve just a few seconds ago. How did that thought evaporate? Conceding defeat, you close the pantry door and return to what you were doing. Hopefully the thought will return, and this time you’ll retain the memory for the 10 seconds it will take to get that ingredient out of the cupboard.

This transient memory loss can get worse when you’ve been under sustained stress. When you’re on holidays it’s easier to stay on task; but during a big work project, or with relationship stress simmering in the background, your short term memory can seem to evaporate. 

Irrational memory loss like “what did I come to this cupboard for” occurs thanks to a tiny yet powerful part of your brain, the hippocampus. This powerful collection of neurons is like a gatekeeper librarian for your brain. It reviews thoughts as they pass through and decides whether to retain that information just for the short term or whether to lay it down in long term memory. 

Neurons (nerve cells) in your hippocampus are actually quite sensitive to glucocorticoids (stress hormones). In mild, short term stress the ability to manage short term memories is enhanced. But when you’re under sustained heavy duty stress the opposite happens; the relentless over-supply of glucocorticoids causes the connections established by the hippocampus to atrophy. Its librarian-like actions start to fail.

Fortunately, it seems that when the flood of glucocorticoids abates, the memory network begins to re-establish itself, and hippocampal function improves, as does your ability to remember why you went to the pantry. In the short term the strength of your short term memory could be a useful stress monitor; but in the long term it could be helpful to manage your stress a little better.

Max Richter, a composer of calming music like the epic composition ‘Sleep’, uses the term “information blizzard” to describe the major source of modern stress; a lot of which can be managed through judicious use of the ‘off’ button on electronic devices. Other well-regarded ways to manage stress and help your hippocampus include meditation, exercise, singing and other artistic outputs, getting into nature, whatever acts for you as a calming antidote to modern life. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy '18 ways to reduce your stress right now' 

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How to keep eating salad in winter

Saturday, June 11, 2016

If there was a time of year when enjoying a salad every day gets challenging, we’re in it. Not just because of the icy cold weather inducing us all to relentlessly seek out warmth; but also because your senses are frequently enticed to indulge by the enticing aromas of everyone else’s hot pies.

Our cravings for high-calorie food are normal in winter. The cold weather encourages you to seek out more carbohydrate-rich foods because keeping your body warm takes energy that your metabolism needs to generate. But you know you also need the vitamins in raw foods like salads to help your immune system stave off cold and flu viruses. 
Your overall health will also benefit from persistence with your salad-a-day habit, helping avert the dry pasty-looking skin and tubby tummy that a pie-rich diet can impart. 

So I’d like to offer you a couple of tips to help you continue enjoying salad right through winter; without feeling deprived of comfort food altogether.

Firstly, when you’re putting together your salad avoid the cold wet vegetables like tomato, cucumber and the like. They’re quite ‘cooling’, so these are the salad ingredients we reach for in high summer. Instead, reach for the denser, crisp vegetables like cabbage, celery, radish and the like. The root vegetables carrot and beetroot are delicious raw and add healthy carbohydrate to your salad as well.

Also, add warm elements, either through spices or temperature. You could enliven your salad with some freshly char-grilled chicken or grilled fish. There’s no reason why you can’t warm up your salad dressing of olive oil and vinegar, and creamy dressings like spicy satay sauce will heat up your salad too in more ways than one. If you created a fresh basil pesto for last night’s dinner, why not save some to use as a dressing on tomorrow’s salad?

Other options to warm up your salad include using darker crisper greens like dandelion leaves, rocket and fresh herbs. Also, add some carbohydrate-rich touches like rice, beans, even leftover roast pumpkin. Salads are flexible like that; you can include whatever’s on hand.

One last tip: take your salad veg out of the fridge 15 minutes before you eat it, so it’s not icy cold on the plate.
There are some ideas; now all you have to do is discipline yourself to keep walking right past the pie shop; and appreciate your improved health and immunity as well as your glowing skin. 

By the way - I'm on Instagram - and regularly post pics of my lunchtime salad. They're messy sometimes (I think I need a food stylist) but they might give you some ideas of how to incorporate salads into your winter days too. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy this idea for an autumn salad

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Why install a water filter

Saturday, June 04, 2016
shower filterEver taken a shower in rainwater? Feels different, doesn’t it. Somehow, the brief journey from the sky to your bathroom imparts an indescribable ‘something’ that just enhances the experience of getting clean.  If only we could all do our daily ablutions under a waterfall in a natural setting (heated, of course). It would certainly start the day off right. 

If you’re in town though, connected to the town water supply, taking a shower just isn’t the same experience. Sure, you get some negative ions from the water droplets crashing together, but you can sometimes sense fumes from the chemicals that filter and disinfect the water. And yet having the town water supply treated is important too. 
Our local water comes from the river and from the dam, often rich in bacteria and parasites that wouldn’t do us any good if we ingested them. Supplying the town with untreated, unfiltered water would likely result in a multitude of ongoing gastrointestinal problems. So our council filters the water for us and also adds chemicals to ensure it remains safe.

That safety comes at a cost. What comes out of the tap is still laced with those chemicals, including chlorine, which can emerge in heated shower water as a gas. When this happens, walking into your steamy bathroom can seem like walking into an indoor heated pool complex. 

If you’re sensitive to man-made chemicals you don’t want to breathe in more of these fumes than you have to. Your nasal passages and lungs are actually a vast area of delicate mucous membrane primed to assess and clear pathogens, irritants and any potential threat to the integrity of your system, including chemicals. If they get through the barriers your liver or kidneys have to somehow remove them from circulation to prevent damage. That increases your toxic load in the modern world; something many of us are trying to reduce.

A shower filter is the obvious solution to relieve the toxicity of the modern world. Skin contact with chemicals can exacerbate rashes and scalp problems.

Like tap water filters, shower filters come in a variety of forms, from simple to complex. There are simple models that contain chlorine-and-smell removal media through to sophisticated multi-stage models that are almost their own treatment plant. Which one you choose will likely depend on your budget.

The filtered-water showering experience doesn’t quite match the under-the-nature-waterfall phenomenon, but it’s a little closer!

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'What Kind Of Water Filter Do You Need'

Image credit: Shower2 by Audrey360 via MorgueFile

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Why I dont filter my almond milk any more

Friday, June 03, 2016

You may have seen my earlier blog post about making almond milk at home. How easy it is. But there's a fiddly, messy part too - straining the nut milk through cloth to remove the solids. It's messy, and the extra contact with the nut milk bag and human hands, however clean, seems to make the milk go off faster.

I don't like wasting food (who does?) although the leftover pulp could be transformed into cakes, contribute towards biscuit creations or even find purpose as a facial and body scrub, I worried that losing the pulp meant losing some nutrition too. So I tried a less-conscientious filtering method, and then no filtering at all to see how it came out. Here's what happened:

1. When I filtered the milk through a fine sieve some of the solids went through and some stayed behind. There was less pulp to find an alternative use for, I got more nut milk volume, and it stayed fresher longer, for up to a week instead of just a couple of days. And since I mostly use the almond milk to garnish steel cut oat porridge, I really didn't notice the different texture. That works for me.

2. When I didn't filter the milk at all it was thicker - much thicker. In fact, I had to add some extra water otherwise it wouldn't pour! The texture was OK, albeit even rougher than a moderately filtered variety. The volume of nut milk was even higher, and the taste was fine.  The photo here is completely unfiltered almond milk.

Although I don't think I'll return to using a cloth filter, I'm not sure whether completely unfiltered almond milk is right for me either. Frankly, I feel rather like Goldilocks confronted with three choices. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Nut Nutrition Without The Dental Dramas'

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How much carbohydrate in a low carb diet

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
low carb diet meal planSaying that the carbohydrate debate is “a controversy” doesn’t adequately describe the raging argument going on within scientific and clinical nutrition circles about the ‘right’ amount of carbohydrate for nutritious and yet safe diet, especially for weight loss. There are proponents at each end of the carbohydrate spectrum, from those eschewing almost any form of carbohydrate, to those who believe carbohydrates should be the most prevalent energy source.

The ultra-low-carb camp rejects grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. The high carbohydrate proponents believe that fuel from carbohydrates should make up at least half of your calories. Both groups approach their work with almost religious fervour, requiring your allegiance to one extreme or the other. Is there a middle road?  

What does science say?

Just breathe…..if you want to try out low carb eating you can probably eat more carbohydrate than you thought. Let’s look at what ‘low carb’ actually means as far as nutrition science is concerned.

Many low carb meal plans contain less than 50g of carbohydrates a day. That’s actually classified by nutritional science as a ‘very low carbohydrate’ diet. ‘Low carb’ means between 50g and 130g of carbohydrate each day, rather more. (I’ve listed a couple of the peer-reviewed papers at the end of this article if you want to review the data.)

In 2011 researchers at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition crunched the numbers: They found that ‘low carb’ means 30-130g carbohydrates per day. In 2014 Michael Liebman from the University of Wyoming found that “there is much experimental support for the consumption of a moderately restricted carbohydrate diet (i.e one providing approximately 26-44% of calories from carbohydrate.)”

Do you have to leave out fruit and grains completely?

On an ultra-low carbohydrate plan of less than 50g per day there’s no room for fruit, nor for grains; great for fast weight loss, but isn’t so easy to maintain in the long term. But both these food groups (fruit and grains) provide valuable nutrients, including fibre. In moderation, their inclusion in a healthy balanced diet adds variety, interest and flavour too. 

Michael Liebman, the author of the 2014 paper concluded about ultra-low-carb diets: “…many individuals would likely find these types of diets very difficult to adhere to over long periods of time” If you’ve tried to rigorously adhere to an ultra-low-carb diet and eat out socially you’ve experienced the angst. (But if ultra-low-carb works for you, that’s great, I’m happy for you.)

A moderate low-carb diet, in comparison, will enable you to eat fresh fruit every day and at least one, often two serves of grains. To make sure this was possible I created a low-carbohydrate meal plan that included fruit and grains, and as much variety as possible. And I was easily able to stay within the 130g carbohydrate limit. Suddenly, trialling a low-carbohydrate diet doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

What about insulin resistance?

Folk who don’t respond well to ultra-low-carbohydrate diets are those with hyperinsulinemia, where their blood glucose response to carbohydrates can be extreme; and yet their blood glucose levels can remain perilously low without adequate carbohydrate input. No-one wants to live with the blood sugar drop ‘sweats and shakes’ nor the brain fog from inadequate blood glucose.  

Your do-able plan in approaching low-carb eating

Armed with this information (and feeling more an a little relieved, I can tell you) I created a week-long meal plan to prove to myself it was liveable and yet healthy: low carbohydrate, low sugar, high fibre, with plenty of fresh unprocessed food, vegetables, fresh fruit, and yes, some grain-based foods too. I was even able to include a café-cappuccino one day without busting the carbohydrate budget.

Then I typed up a meal plan for the week, to stick on the fridge door. Wrote out the recipes, and created a shopping list to make the weekly foraging expedition easier. Then I figured perhaps I should make this meal plan available for you as well. So here it is. If you’d like to try out a healthy, moderate, low carbohydrate meal plan you can purchase it for immediate download here. 

Here’s the papers I reviewed

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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