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Olwen Anderson's Blog

What offal can offer

Saturday, July 23, 2016
offal for nutritionMany of us living in this beautiful valley have a solid focus on nutrition for health: So we’ll seek out fresher locally grown and organic produce. Drive the extra mile to access grass-fed meats and wild caught seafood. We’ll even take the time to create stock from scratch. But one super-nutritious food with a repellent reputation is easily overlooked in our wealthy modern culture.

When it comes to meat, our ancestors ate more of the animal than we do, including the organs. Nose-to-tail eating was the norm, unlike today, when it’s sometimes regarded as a quirkier way to eat. But like many old nutrition practices, the inclusion of offal in the weekly meal plan offers a lot. 

Offal may be healthy, but it’s certainly earned the ‘ew yuk’ reputation. The texture is certainly different, even when you’ve been able to get past mental pictures of the role those organs had. As an antidote, our ancestors developed fancy terms like ‘lambs fry’ or ‘tripe’ to conceal the reality of what was on the plate. The only offal with a glamorous reputation these days is chicken liver pate.

You can see how you could easily skim past the organ meats for sale in favour of the muscle meats we’re more familiar with. But offal actually has a lot to offer you when it comes to nutrition, and certainly for the budget-savvy. It has the same protein content as muscle meat, and also the fat-soluble vitamins A D and E as well as B group vitamins, iron, plus zinc. And it usually costs less. Bonus.

The range of nutrients in offal is impressive: Vitamin A to boost skin and eye health. Vitamin D, with an important role in bone health. And E, too, the skin vitamin. Abundant quantities of B group vitamins, essential for the health of your nervous system. B12 is especially rich in liver, a nutrient needed more as you age as the ability of your stomach to extract it from food declines. The iron content is needed for energy, and zinc for immunity as well as skin health. Clearly, offal is good for you. 

What most of us are missing, though, is knowledge: how to prepare offal to make it more appetising. You can locate that through old-time recipes like steak-and-kidney pie or liverwurst. Perhaps lambs fry & bacon.  Your grandmother’s recipe collection or directions from the new wave of nose-to-tail chef bloggers could be a good resource.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this recipe for lambs liver with a sharp sauce.

Image credit: Holstein Face by LadyHeart via MorgueFile



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6 mistakes that block PCOS recovery

Monday, July 18, 2016

Serious about your PCOS treatment? Check that you aren't making any of these fundamental errors that can hinder your recovery:

Wishing your PCOS would just go away1. Wishing it would just go away

It’s a natural human tendency to do nothing, and sometimes this approach is actually exactly what you need to do. When a health problem emerges our first impulse is to wait and see if it goes away - and sometimes it does. That’s why when you visit your doctor with a health problem, he or she might prescribe nothing and ask you to come back in two weeks. They know that in some cases your symptoms may have emerged from sudden stress, a passing bug, or be something that will resolve itself in time. 

Bodies naturally and automatically work constantly to remain at certain set-points, called allostasis. For instance, if your temperature rises your body will start sweating to cause evaporation that cools you down again. Once your temperature has returned to normal, the sweating process is switched off. 

When you have a complex disorder like PCOS it’s tempting at first to wait to see if things get better. Your next period might be easier.  Maybe you’ll lose weight if you work out harder at the gym. Maybe making the final split from a dysfunctional relationship will change your mood for the better. Your head can start to recite a long list of justifications like this for doing nothing; even more so when life is busy. But when it comes to PCOS, the problem won’t go away on its own.

Hormones tend to fall out of balance in slow motion
, so it’s unlikely you’ll wake up one morning to find you’ve suddenly developed PCOS. One week passes, then another. Some good weeks, some awful weeks. You wish these problems would just go away, but they’re simply reflecting the growing imbalance in your hormones. The longer you put off taking action, the more dysfunctional your hormones are likely to become. The more amplified your symptoms become, the more treatment it will take to restore your hormonal health.


In the meantime, significant relationships can be permanently damaged by your sudden mood shifts, or you might lose your job because your boss is fed up with your mood swings impacting on your work. Your skin may become increasingly scarred from acne and now you have to shop for ‘plus size’ clothes. Your periods, if they happen at all, are more eventful each time with flooding, clots and pain. 


It's natural to feel overwhelmed at this point.


There’s no getting around it. You have a big job ahead of you to treat your PCOS and this is why having the right team around you can make a difference. PCOS is a ‘heterogeneous’ disorder, which means there are many possible contributors and many ways the symptoms can present. Like the causes, there are many changes needed to overcome the problems. At first this can seem overwhelming. You’ve visited several practitioners, both medical and alternative, and been given different explanations for the cause of your PCOS. You’ve been prodded, stuck with needles, had blood drawn, maybe had a glucose tolerance test done, or even been put under anaesthetic for exploratory surgery. By the time you get to the official diagnosis you’re probably emotionally exhausted. But after all that you then have to choose the best treatment for you from the smorgasbord available and make what seems like a multitude of changes to your diet and lifestyle. At this point you may feel like a rabbit in headlights, unsure which way to jump. It’s tempting to do nothing and wish it would all go away, but that won’t make you better. 


The way out of this sense of overwhelm
is to sit down with the practitioner you feel most comfortable with and, together, lay all the information on the table. Your practitioner is accustomed to sorting out what seems like a mountain of information and identifying patterns, then discerning the treatment needed to get results. A good practitioner will be happy to spend as much time as you need explaining what all your information means, and summarising it for you.


Take a deep breath and resolve to do whatever it takes to get your PCOS under control. Life will be more fun when you do!

Don't buy supplements without professional guidance2. Buying supplements without professional guidance

The internet is a wonderful, wonderful invention. We have all the world’s information at our fingertips. Unfortunately, we have the world’s dis-information at our fingertips too, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. A multitude of diagnostic health sites are out there waiting for you to type in your symptoms and produce the instant answer. However, a common pattern emerges when you rely completely on the internet for your health care: Firstly, you could plug your symptom details into a medical diagnosis and ten minutes later you’re convinced what you have is fatal. Or, you get sucked into buying an expensive range of supplements from overseas, or you succumb to the emotive language of a web site promoting an extreme diet as the answer to all health problems. Despite these traps the internet also contains much reliable and credible information you can digest before you visit a practitioner for assistance. 

The reaction you can get from your health professional to your investigative work will vary. Some practitioners may be threatened by your initiative and dismiss your research efforts. If this happens, perhaps you should re-assess your relationship with your practitioner. A practitioner who is comfortable with your research, and the questions that come from it, will be interested to hear what you found. He or she will discuss with you how your research could fit into your treatment. This way your treatment becomes a collaboration, which is even more powerful than traditional practitioner-patient relationships and your results will be even better.

It’s important to become adept at critical analysis when you’re searching the internet for health information. Let’s say you type ‘PCOS treatment’ into the search engine. You’ll be offered several million options. How do you choose what site is worth visiting, what’s worth reading and what’s invalid? First, check the credentials of the web site. Is it a government agency? A PCOS support association? A health writer? An online store? The more reliable the source, the more reliable the information may be - but not always. If what you’re reading doesn’t make sense, just move on. There will be plenty of other sites providing more reliable information. 

Next, form an opinion on why the web site was created. Was it to genuinely provide information and guidance? (Government and association web sites often fall into this category). If there are products for sale, you can reliably conclude that the web site was created to sell you products, so move on. Be very wary if the language of the web site is emotional. Scientific facts and valid information can be presented in an interesting way without having to resort to emotive language that may  distort the facts. As you visit more sites you’ll develop a keen sense of what sounds right and which sites make you feel the web site isn’t for you.

Get a support team behind you for PCOS treatment3. Trying to fix this all by yourself

Solving a problem feels great. You can feel yourself glow with a sense of achievement. Like when something you’re cooking turns out perfectly, or you have a ‘good hair’ day or you make your budget stretch successfully. But when it comes to a complex problem like treating PCOS, you will get better results when you enlist the right help. If you work on this problem alone you have to learn all about PCOS, devise an effective treatment plan and monitor your progress. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort and possibly quite a few failed treatment experiments. Besides, if you go it alone you miss out on the emotional support of having a practitioner behind you. Becoming well informed about PCOS can give you a real sense of empowerment and knowing about PCOS and the treatments available may enable you to select the treatment approach that’s right for you. But while you’re doing that you need to engage the help of a practitioner who is experienced in treating PCOS who understands the human body and your symptoms.

Choice in PCOS treatment4. Not considering other treatments

There are many different treatments available for PCOS, all with the same aim - to get you back to your real self, and reduce the likelihood of developing long term chronic disorders from uncontrolled PCOS. Generally, there are two approaches to PCOS treatment: orthodox and alternative, and sometimes they can work together. When you talk to your doctor about your PCOS, they will think about what they know to help treat you effectively. This can include medication or surgery, but also diet and lifestyle considerations. 

When you talk to your naturopath they work from what they know as well.
It will be a different treatment from the doctor’s because naturopaths use some different tools. Instead of medications or surgery they will consider herbal remedies, homoeopathy and nutrients. Just like the doctor, they consider diet and lifestyle changes as an important part of your treatment.  Sometimes though, when you’ve chosen one style of treatment you can’t apply the other as well. For example, if you choose to utilise the oral contraceptive pill to manage your hormones, your naturopath will not be able to use some of their herbal remedies. If they did the two treatments could clash, bringing on unpleasant and possibly dangerous side effects.

What’s important to realise is that you have a choice about which treatment best suits you. When you’re sitting in a practitioner’s office it’s easy to feel intimidated, or that you have to go along with what they suggest. You don’t. There’s no need to make a decision about the type of PCOS treatment you want until you have the different treatment plans to consider. If you feel intimidated or pressured by your practitioner (whether orthodox or alternative) or feel they disapprove of the choice you make, it’s time to seek out a new practitioner. After all, your treatment is going to be a long term project. You want to feel comfortable and supported with every member of your health care team.

When you have chosen your preferred treatment (orthodox, alternative, or a combination), you can expect plenty of unsolicited advice from other people. Comments like “my sister’s friend’s cousin tried that and it didn’t work” or “that therapy doesn’t work” or “you’re being sucked into their system”. “My friend read on the internet about this great product that cured her”. Really unhelpful stuff and especially discouraging if you are feeling nervous about your choice of treatment anyway. The people who make these comments mean well but keep in mind that it’s your body and your decision about how you get better.

PCOS and sugar dont mix5. Refusing to change what you eat

Here’s one of the trade secrets: what naturopaths do to assess the motivation level of a client. When considering diet changes your practitioner may suggest you drop a particular food from your diet to see what effect this has on your health. If the response is “but I love my [insert name of food]” then your practitioner knows you have very little motivation to make real change in your diet and that your treatment progress will be hindered by your reluctance to change. It’s going to be tough, sure, but you’ll have good support backing you up.


Human bodies are incredibly resilient and adaptive. Consider that throughout the world there are many different countries with different diets that reflect their culture and geographic location. A Mediterranean meal looks different to a Japanese meal, or a central African meal, and western meals are different again. And yet our bodies manage to grow and thrive despite different food inputs.


Women with PCOS are more susceptible to the influence of certain nutritional components than the rest of the population. They generally don’t handle sugar well, or fast-release (high GI) carbohydrate foods like white bread. They need to check dietary fibre intake regularly. In practical terms, that means if you have PCOS and you’re eating mostly take-away, soft drinks and sweets, you can expect your body to develop unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms in return. But if you nourish your body with high quality protein, vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts, you can expect your PCOS symptoms will recede. What you choose to put in your mouth makes a difference, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat fun foods ever again.


Making changes to what you eat can be easier than you think and you don’t have to spend the rest of your life deprived of treats. After assessing how motivated you are for change and your food preferences your practitioner will design meal plans that move you closer to your goal of eradicating PCOS and its symptoms. If despite talking with your practitioner you’re still feeling resistant to changing what you eat, take time to ponder what you would gain from changing your diet and what you would lose. Then ask yourself if it’s worth the change.

PCOS fitness exercise6. Believing you don’t have to exercise

From time to time you’ll come across diets or supplements that promise amazing weight loss results without exercise. Indeed, they pledge to make you lose numbers on the scale without exercising but what will happen is exactly what you don’t want to happen. 

There are two types of weight loss: losing muscle and losing fat. Losing muscle is what sets you up to regain the weight, plus a little more, when you stop dieting. You want to lose fat instead, because muscle cells and fat cells behave differently and have different appetites. Muscle cells are active cells. They use energy 24/7, even when you’re not moving, and use even more energy when you are moving. The right amount of muscle cells gives you a toned, healthy look and keeps your metabolism ticking over nicely. Fat cells, however, behave differently. They’re lazy and don’t do much except store fat – rather like that cupboard under the stairs filled with stuff you haven’t looked at for years. Fat cells don’t use any energy, they just sit around. In excess, too many fat cells give you a blobby look. Worse, fat cells emit chemical messengers and hormones that perpetuate the fat accumulation cycle.

When you embark on one of these magic ‘no-exercise-needed’ diets, what you want to happen doesn’t always happen. Instead of reaching for the excess fat cells to make up the calorie deficit, your body will burn up muscle cells instead. The numbers on the scale will go down, certainly, but when you return to a normal diet, or go on a food splurge, the weight can bounce back on plus more. Your metabolism is now running slower because you have fewer muscle cells, so you don’t need as many calories to maintain your body. The extra fuel just gets shoved into fat cells, making you look flabby as well as fat.

This is why exercise is an important aspect of your treatment. It builds muscle cells and these speed up your metabolism, improve your sensitivity to insulin, and burn off stress hormones.

So - what has been holding YOU back in your PCOS treatment?



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PCOS Treatment When Results Don't Happen

Saturday, July 16, 2016
The journey to an official PCOS diagnosis is a long and arduous one, as you’ve probably noticed. On social media like Facebook and Twitter you’ve probably come across many frustrated, even angry women who are valiantly trying to access the appropriate help for their hormonal woes. The journey to diagnosis often goes like this:

At first there’s the suspicion that all might not be right with your hormones: Conception isn’t happening, or you have to constantly reach for the larger clothes sizes on the racks. Perhaps your skin isn’t responding to your rigorous care regime and facials; or hair is growing in the wrong places. Your energy levels soar and crash, and your mood is just as changeable. Clearly, something isn’t right and yet your practitioner doesn’t seem to share your drive to get some answers.

You see your doctor, then one or more specialists. You’re pricked with what seems like a thousand needles drawing blood for endless testing that doesn’t seem to provide a solid answer. You’ve sat in so many waiting rooms you’ve read every National Geographic published. Weeks pass, then months, and still no definitive answer to the question: “Do I have PCOS?” If fertility concerns are what led you to treatment, you can hear your biological clock ticking in the background.

So it’s not surprising that by the time the official diagnosis “PCOS” is stamped on your file, and your doctor has handed over the script for medication, it can seem like you’ve crossed the finish line of this arduous race. At last – you have treatment and now you’ll see results.

But for some women, frustratingly, results don’t happen. You’re still not conceiving, your skin problems and wayward hair growth remain stubbornly in place, as does your weight.  What’s going wrong?

If you find you’re in this situation I’d like to offer some points to consider that could uncover what’s holding back your progress:

1. You’re not exercising (enough). Movement is a key strategy to overcoming the insulin resistance that’s often underlying PCOS symptoms. You don’t have to train like you’re an Olympic athlete, but you’ll have to do more than a sedate walk around the block to get results.  This is the sticking point I see so many women make excuses about – so if you suspect that you’re not doing enough to get results you’re probably right. It might be time to schedule some regular training sessions with an accredited fitness trainer to assess whether your current training regime really is sufficient. 

2. You’re eating the kinds of food that promote fat accumulation. Like fitness, this is a tough one. PCOS produces moods that can drive you to seek out sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods to relieve your feelings. The emerging research promotes a moderately low (130g or less) daily intake of carbohydrates as the way to overcome insulin resistance and reduce weight – and yet some practitioners and their patients remain stuck on the high carbohydrate (130g +) approach which actually promotes insulin secretion.  If your blood glucose regulation isn’t improving on the diet your practitioner has suggested, it’s time to have a frank discussion with them or find a new practitioner who has embraced the new paradigms of nutrition.

3. You’re relying on medications and/or supplements to do the job for you. Medications and supplements are there to provide support while you address the underlying cause of your PCOS. We’re all attracted to the quick, easy fix. But if you really want results, you need to address the dysfunctional eating patterns, the sedentary lifestyle and the way you manage stress that’s led you into this problem. This is why attending to what you eat, how you move and stress management are regarded as front line therapies for PCOS by both naturopathic and medical practitioners.


Only you can decide whether you’re really doing enough work to make a difference; but it’s also possible that there’s another aspect to your PCOS management that’s actively pushing against your improvement: trying to do it all alone. You need a team behind you: Your medical practitioner and specialist, as well as your naturopathic practitioner, perhaps a fitness trainer too. Each member will contribute their expertise, cheer you on, and even call you out on your excuses that hold you back.

Tough love? Perhaps. But if you’re not getting the results you want, something has to change if you want change.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Empowering Your PCOS Diagnosis' here


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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, (www.viacharacter.org) 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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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson

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