Beachbody LIIFT 4 Challenge Review

In 2018, I had a goal to lose 18 pounds. It matched the year well, but also with the amount of weight I gained during pregnancy.  While I was nearly back to pre-pregnancy weight almost immediately after delivering my 9.5 lb daughter, I gained it all back with breastfeeding.  I’d always heard from people that you should lose weight while breastfeeding from all the extra calories you burn- it’s not true for everyone!  This article does a great job explaining why if you fall into that group.

I was ravenous while breastfeeding, so it was hard to keep from eating. Even when I did practice self control with portion size or trying to cut carbs, my milk supply would tank so I couldn’t continue. When I weaned, I started trying to eat healthier to lose some weight, but my sugar cravings were huge. I would snack with my toddler and I still felt so hungry that it was difficult to portion-control. I needed a big change and when a friend shared with me about her results from Beachbody, I was ready to try it.

I joined an 8-week challenge and absolutely loved it, so I thought I would share with those of you who need something to get you motivated. Here’s what I loved:

liift4Exercise

Going to a gym or group workouts are not my thing. It doesn’t fit well within my schedule and I don’t feel comfortable. I loved the access to Beachbody on Demand- doing the workouts any time I want from home. For this 8-week challenge, I did the LIIFT 4 program. It is 30-40 minutes 4 times per week, which felt so do-able. The routines were HARD, but every exercise had a modification option too.

I discovered that I really like the mix of weight lifting and cardio and that it works really well for my body. I improved significantly in strength- starting out with 5lbs as my heavy weights and ending up with 15lbs. There is a weight tracker so you can track the weight you use on each move and see how you improve.  I feel so much stronger and have more stamina and better balance. I could barely do a couple of modified push ups at the beginning, and now I can do 30+.

The other thing I liked about this program is that every day is different. Weeks do not repeat, so it keeps things interesting.  Typically, one day would focus on chest/triceps, one on legs, one on shoulders and one on back/biceps, always ending with a couple core exercises. I saw inches lost in each area and toning all over, but especially in my waist (6 inches lost).

Since doing this LIIFT 4 Challenge, I did the 21 Day Fix work outs during December. They were okay but I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much. I love that I have the flexibility to try out different styles and trainers, but I’ll be going back to LIIFT 4 soon.

Nutrition

Weight loss is mostly what you eat. I knew this would be my greatest challenge, but I was motivated to do it right. The program I did was part of the 21 Day Fix meal plan. You get containers mailed to you and based on your weight, you know how many containers of each food group you can eat that day: veggies, protein, fruit, carbs, nuts/seeds, oil.  Essentially, the focus is on veggies and protein.

I liked this model because it gave me some reasonable guidelines to follow. I never actually measured using the containers, but generally eye-balled the amounts and tracked how much I ate each day.  I was extremely strict about following the plan, BUT I did not follow it exactly when it came to healthy fats and fruit. I felt the program allowed more fruit than I really needed (3 servings), so I never ate that much. I also feel that it doesn’t allow for enough healthy fat. I didn’t hesitate to cook with coconut or avocado oil or to eat avocado or drink butter coffee or use as much Primal Kitchen dressing on my salads as I wanted (I didn’t go crazy like eating a stick of butter). Those healthy fats help us feel fuller longer and help us lose fat.

The other thing I like about the meal plan is that it allows for a couple of cheats. 1- three days a week, you can trade a carb container for a glass of red wine. I didn’t do it often, but it was nice to have the option. 2- you get one cheat meal each week, which I usually reserved for football-watching parties on Saturdays or date night. I would drink and eat what I wanted without worrying about it and always make sure I exercised the next day. Having this cheat meal to look forward to was helpful for me to stay motivated.

Ultimately, following the meal plan was most important to getting results- many people in the challenge group admitted to cheating multiple times per week and their lack of results definitely showed it.

The other part of this program is Shakeology. I was most hesitant about this because I am not a shake person. I am a big fan of “real food” and not using meal replacements. However, I looked into the ingredients in Shakeology and was impressed. It includes protein and dense nutrients, with only 7 grams of sugar, and is whole-foods based.  The nutrients include super-fruit antioxidants (to combat free radicals), adaptogens (to combat stress), a blend of super-greens, and pre- and pro-biotics and enzymes to aid digestion.

Beachbody makes the following benefit claims about Shakeology, and from personal experience, I would agree these are definitely true:

  • Lose weight
  • Reduce junk food cravings – to me, this was the most important one and it is what kept me drinking it daily. I simply don’t crave dessert or sugar after drinking it.
  • Provide healthy energy
  • Support your digestion and regularity.

I personally use the Vegan Vanilla Shakeology (I avoid dairy as I’m not very tolerant to it) and like that it is flexible to drink simply with unsweetened coconut milk and ice, but also to mix with berries and/or a half banana for a smoothie.  I add collagen peptides and spirulina powder as well for an extra nutrient punch. I use it as a snack replacement mid afternoon when hunger or cravings kick in.

Motivation

I think we all know- it helps to have a friend hold you accountable. I had my friend as my “coach” personally encouraging me, but also was part of a Facebook group with everyone participating. There was a prize at the end for earning points throughout- points for posting pictures of the shakes, sweaty selfies after exercising and for checking in each Monday with measurements and other results.  It was encouraging to see others posting and know I wasn’t alone.

Results

At the end of the 8 weeks, I had lost 12 pounds and 20.5 inches. The challenge ended just after Thanksgiving.  Through December, I continued to focus on protein and veggies, resisting sugar but indulging when I really wanted to, and kept up a 4-day per week exercise routine. I lost an additional 5 pounds after the challenge, narrowly missing my goal.  While I gained back a few lbs from Christmas and New Year’s champagne + dessert, I quickly lost those and more during a 10-Day Sugar Detox I did starting Jan 2nd. Since October 1 when I started with the Beachbody programs, I’ve lost 20 pounds!!

I’m motivated to continue towards more weight loss and toning this year, so I’ll be starting another challenge later this month. If you are interested in joining me to start off reaching your goals this new year, let me know!

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Baby Led Weaning

Now that my baby is almost a year old, we’ve got nearly 6 months of solids food eating underway.  It has been such a fun experience watching her explore food.  She is an incredible eater compared to most kids her age and I am thankful she is always willing to try new foods.

When I was pregnant, I read the book Bringing Up Bébé (highly recommend!) that shares bits of wisdom from French parenting. One of the main topics in the book was about kids’ eating and it really struck a cord with me. The idea is this: Kids Eat What Parents Eat.  It involves eating mostly real food, eating a variety of food – including lots of colorful vegetables, tasting new items, having a healthy relationship with eating habits, and eating together as a family.  When we were getting close to starting solids with my daughter, I started to research more about how to implement this practically and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

(FYI: Weaning in this case simply means the introduction of solids, and not weaning from breastmilk.) BLW takes into practice the whole idea above in a safe way for little babies as they are learning how to eat.  Babies have been eating what their parents ate for thousands of years- far before we had blenders to make purees or little baby spoons. Many nations around the world follow the BLW way naturally.

We have loved the BLW process and I’m now a huge advocate of how it works to create a healthy little eater.  My mom and husband were very skeptical at first, but now they are believers in the process too! Here are the benefits I have seen so far:

  • Family Meals: Sharing food together as a family and in community are important to me.  Developing this habit early was a big goal for me.  The biggest benefit practically is that baby sees you eating and mimics you- both being willing to eat what you eat and copying the way you eat (chewing, bite sizes, using utensils).  This also begins to teach a baby how to behave at a dinner table -I think has already had a positive effect on our ability to eat in public without causing a scene and actually getting to eat our own meals.
  • Confidence & Independence: Giving my daughter the ability to learn how to eat has given her confidence in trying new foods and starting to be self-sufficient.  It also gives me a much-needed break as I don’t always have to sit there spoon feeding her.
  • Safety- Chewing Before Swallowing: When babies start with purees, they are used to getting a large amount of food in their mouth and swallowing.  When they start solids from there, food often must be cut very tiny so they do not choke.  BLW teaches babies how to chew before swallowing. It also teaches how much is appropriate to bite off of an item and how much will fit in their mouth. Since babies have a stronger gag reflex when they are younger, it is the perfect time to teach this skill- I have seen my daughter fill her mouth and start to gag, learning to spit it out and try again rather than forcing it down and choking.
  • Developing Tastes: Have you tasted baby food? It’s bland and disgusting. It doesn’t taste good to us, so why would a baby want to eat it? Babies are born with a full set of 10,000+ taste buds and are just as eager to enjoy their meals as we are.  There is no reason to stay away from various flavors or spices.  My daughter can eat food just as spicy as I like it and she prefers her food to be well-seasoned.  She loves chili, Tex-Mex and BBQ!
  • Learning by Touch/Senses: We all know that babies learn by putting things in their mouth.  They explore the whole world this way.  As I put various items from our meals on her tray, she gets the chance to touch everything- the different textures and sizes- and develop her grasp. She also gets to experience the smells and colors of her food much better than she would through a puree.  Babies are drawn to color (as we see in their toys) and this translates to the food they eat as well- often, my daughter will choose the orange sweet potato or green bean or red beet over white bread.
  • Convenience: I don’t have time to make homemade purees.  When we go out, she just eats whatever I order. And at home, she eats whatever I cook.  I’m not making special meals for her or accommodations. It’s simply easier on me.

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying with your baby?  I know that getting started with something so different to the norm can be overwhelming, but here’s a little intro on what helped me the most:

Resources: I recommend reading either of the following BLW books:

I also joined the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners Facebook group to see helpful pictures and videos, answers to questions and tons of tips.  I started following it about 2 months before we started and it was more helpful than anything!

When to Start: No sooner than when baby is 6 months of age, can sit unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and has an interest in food.

Safety: Choking risk is the number one reason I hear that people are afraid to try BLW.  As I mentioned above, BLW does not increase choking risk. The key thing is to learn the difference between gagging and choking.  Gagging is a reaction that helps prevent choking and teaching them how not to choke- letting them work it out and learn.  Watching videos on the Facebook group and knowing the signs for gagging vs. choking are important.  As always, it is important to know child CPR as a parent, and that knowledge should help you be more confident when your baby eats.  An easy way to distinguish: If they are loud & red, let them go ahead. If they are silent & blue, they need help from you.

In general, baby should be eating what you are eating, with a few health/safety exceptions…

  • Don’t offer whole nuts or popcorn or peanut butter on a spoon- items that can easily stick to/in their throat.
  • Quarter (lengthwise) round foods to avoid lodging in the windpipe: blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sausage, string cheese, carrots.
  • Season generously but limit the salt/sodium. Since your babies kidneys aren’t fully developed, too much sodium can cause them harm.  This is another good reason to avoid processed food.

No teeth? No problem.  My daughter did not have teeth when we started.  She still would mimic my chewing and those jaws + saliva are powerful at breaking down foods to swallow. You would be amazed at how she learned to pull at a strip of meat with her gums and chomp on it a few minutes before swallowing. This girl loved steak even before she had teeth.

Food Before One Is Just For Fun: For the first couple of months, my daughter really did not eat a lot.  She would taste and chew and explore, but would swallow very little. And that is perfectly normal and okay.  Breast milk or formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition before the age of one.

BLW How to CutCutting to Size: There is no need to cut foods into tiny pieces.  In fact, you want foods to be more finger-sized so they are easier for young babies to pick up and hold.  Having large pieces also helps them learn to bite off an appropriate amount. Cutting little grooves in slippery items like banana and avocado is also helpful to keep their grip. Here is a great picture to use as an example when you are preparing food for your little:

What do you think? Is this something you would try with your baby?  Have you tried it and loved it (or hated it)?  I would love to hear from you!

A Recap of 2016

Wow… is it really almost 2017!?!  As I look forward to the huge life change that 2017 will bring, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on 2016.  If you’ve missed any of my blogs this year, this will be the perfect opportunity to catch up!

2016 was certainly a roller-coaster for my health.  The year started off with me still trying to figure out what was causing my random high cortisol responses and unexplained weight gain.  Then, in May, we found out we were expecting, even though doctors had told me I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant. Pregnancy brought on constant nausea and exhaustion that kept me down and out for a few months, and then a gestational diabetes diagnosis rocked my world.

Here’s a recap of the blogs I wrote in 2016:

Travel

VeniceI’m a huge believer that vacations are super important for your overall health and well-being.  We all need to take a break and relax, and traveling to experience different foods and cultures is great way to relieve stress. The past couple of years, we have taken two trips to Europe that were incredible.  I got so many requests for advice, I just decided to write all about our itineraries and recommendations right here:

My Favorite Natural Products & Organic Grocery Deals

BruschettaHealthy Recipes

Pregnancy:

Essential Oils

Thieves Essential OilHighlighting the benefits of some of my favorite essential oils to both your overall wellness and to creating and keeping a natural home.

Happy New Year!!

2016-recap

Thrive Market: My Favorite Deals

If you haven’t yet joined Thrive Market, you are missing out! Think of it as Whole Foods + Costco + Amazon. It’s a membership-based online store full of healthy non-perishable food and household products at fantastic discounts. Plus, they have a great mission to provide healthy groceries to families in need. In my recent post about buying all-organic groceries on a budget, I recommended this as one of my favorite ways to save money (and time)!

Here are a few of my favorite items to purchase and how they compare to the prices I was paying at Whole Foods and elsewhere.

Tomato SauceOrganic Tomato Sauce

  • Thrive Market price: $2.95 for 2 cans
  • Whole Foods price: $4.38 for 2 cans
  • Savings = $1.43 (33%)

Einkorn SpaghettiEinkorn Spaghetti – made from einkorn flour, an ancient wheat that is not toxic like today’s wheat and even safe for many who are gluten-free.

  • Thrive Market price: $2.55
  • Whole Foods price: $3.49
  • Savings = $0.94 (27%)

Honey MustardHoney Mustard Vinaigrette with Avocado Oil – this is the healthiest, yummiest salad dressing you can get… very rare to find one made without toxic vegetable oil!

  • Thrive Market price: $5.65
  • Primal Kitchen Online price: $7.95
  • Savings = $2.30 (29%)

Olive OilOrganic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Thrive Market price: $10.45
  • Whole Foods price: $13.99
  • Savings = $3.54 (25%)

CollagenCollagen Hydrolysate Powder – tasteless and water soluble, I add this to smoothies, soup or juice for collagen support for healthy joints, hair, skin and nails and extra protein

  • Thrive Market price: $16.45
  • Amazon price: $21.49
  • Savings = $5.04 (23%)

Raw Dog FoodRaw Turkey Dehydrated Dog Food – I recently made the switch to this raw dog food and my pup loves it! Learn more about why I switched here.

  • Thrive Market price: $49.95
  • Amazon price: $64.79
  • Savings = $14.84 (23%)

Earl GreyOrganic Earl Grey Tea

  • Thrive Market price: $4.95
  • Whole Foods price: $6.49
  • Savings = $1.54 (24%)

Beef Bone BrothGrass-Fed Beef Bone Broth – I make lots of my own chicken bone broth, but never my own beef bone broth.

  • Thrive Market price: $8.95
  • Amazon price: $15.95
  • Savings = $7.00 (44%)

Graze SticksNitrate-Free Grass-Fed Beef Sticks – these are my favorite easy protein snacks!

  • Thrive Market price: $17.95 for a pack of 12
  • Amazon price: $19.95 for a pack of 12
  • Savings = $2.00 (10%)

Sign up now and save 15% off your first order by using this link! Plus, they will donate a Thrive Membership to a family in need when you purchase yours. P.S. you always get free shipping on orders over $49!

 

Buying Organic on a Budget

Where IAfter writing about how I’ve made the change to buying all organic foods, I’ve received lots of questions about how I’ve been able to make that happen within budget.  Purchasing all-organic groceries is only slightly more expensive than buying conventional and has also provided an extra cost-saving bonus: improving my nutrition with an organic diet has saved me money on healthcare costs too. Today, I’m sharing how I save money on organic groceries.

My 4 Grocery Shopping Rules:

  1. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. I’m a sucker for a good deal, so I have to resist temptation and be intentional about buying only what I need.  If I don’t follow this rule, I usually end up spending more than I planned.
  2. Check for coupons before you check-out. While I’m not much of a coupon-er, I do check for coupons at the store before I purchase. At Whole Foods, they have a wall of coupons to look through when you walk in the store. And many stores, like Sprouts and Natural Grocers, put their coupon ads on their website; I’ll look on my phone while in line or before I walk in the store. You can save even more by looking for coupons in the weekly mailed ads, especially if you create your grocery list around those deals. Most coupons are for processed foods, but I often find some for fresh items too at the stores I list below.
  3. Make a list and stick to it. Plan out your meals for the week and make a shopping list. Knowing what you need to buy keeps you from wandering throughout the store and buying things you don’t need. I also have a running list of always-needed items, like toiletries, coconut oil and dog food, that I look for regularly and buy when they’re on sale.
  4. Buy fresh. Processed and pre-prepared foods are always more expensive than the actual ingredients.  Stick to the edge of the store as you shop and load up with fresh items to cook at home.  The bulk of your cart should be filled with organic produce & meat, not cardboard or plastic packages.

Where I Shop for the Best Deals:

  • Whole Foods – This might come as a surprise with the common nickname “whole paycheck,” but Whole Foods has actually had to reduce its prices lately to compete.  I regularly shop at Whole Foods and find some great deals. The hardest part is staying away from all the yummy pre-prepared food they have available… just don’t go shopping hungry!
  • Natural Grocers – This store always has incredible sales throughout the store.  They get much of their produce directly from local farmers and since it doesn’t have to travel miles on a truck to get there, it’s usually cheaper. Plus, if you use your debit card, you can save 5% on your total purchase.
  • Sprouts – Sprouts coupons run Wednesday-Wednesday, which means that on Wednesdays, they have double the amount of deals available than any other day of the week.  If you happen to be shopping on a Wednesday, this is the place to save money.
  • Farmers Market – Buying direct from the source saves on overhead costs, which ultimately saves you money. The best bonus here is that you’re supporting local farmers and ranchers who are passionate about providing healthy food options to their community.
  • Thrive Market – Think Whole Foods meets Costco meets Amazon. It’s an online shop that offers wholesale pricing on non-perishable organic foods, toiletries, vitamins and more. And, you get free shipping on orders over $49. Thrive Market is also socially conscious: they use recyclable packaging and when you sign up as a member, Thrive will donate a membership to a low-income family so they too can have access to lower cost organic foods. Get a 30-day free trial membership and 15% off your first order by signing up here!
  • Instacart – If you have a hard time buying more than what’s on your list when you grocery shop (or just don’t have time/hate going to the store), you should check this site out.  Here’s the deal: You pick what you want online, an Instacart shopper does all the shopping for you and then delivers your groceries to your front door at the time slot you choose. Whole Foods is a store option and the prices are usually the same as in-store; the only extra cost is a delivery fee. Since this process let’s you see exactly how items are adding up as you shop, I feel like it keeps me to my exact shopping list and budget. PLUS, Instacart will shop at Cost-Co without you having a membership to shop there, so that gets you even more savings. Get $5 off your first order here!
  • Where do I not shop for organic foods? My regular local grocery store, HEB.  The organic items are always more expensive, sometimes even double the cost of a natural foods store. So, if you’ve been comparing prices and seeing how expensive that organic apple is compared to its conventional counterpart, consider that it may be the store you’re at.

Think you can make the switch to buying all organic groceries? Or have any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Shopping!

What’s Your Dog Eating?

Raw Dog FoodWe all love our pups… they’re not only our best friends, they’re part of our families. We want them to live long, healthy lives as our companions; but, are we giving them the best chance at doing so?

Our family dog, a Wheaton terrier, had several health problems throughout her life.  It was heartbreaking and frustrating that we followed all the vet’s advice for raising a healthy dog and still watched her suffer. Ultimately, her life was cut short because of it all. When I got my schnoodle, Belle, I did a lot of research on everything I could do to raise her in better health.  The information I found lead me to make some dramatic changes, including what I feed her.  I focus so much on putting nutritious foods into my own body, why wouldn’t I do the same for her?

It’s a well-known fact that dogs share a very similar DNA with their canine relatives (like wolves), so, of course, we should feed them similar diets, right?  We see the pictures of meats and vegetables on the bags of dog food, but have you ever actually taken a look at the ingredient list?  You might be surprised by it.  Commercial dog foods today contain:

  • Questionable Meat – The type of meat that goes into dog food is typically the cheapest, poorest quality. And there’s usually not much of it to meet the high-protein needs of our canine friends. Many brands use “meal,” which is a highly processed form of meat.
  • Grains & Carbs – Many kibbles use corn or wheat as cheap fillers. Dogs cannot digest those foods well, leading to the big smelly poops you get in your yard, but also to a host of other problems… allergies (this is a BIG one!), yeast infections, poor dental health, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
  • Preservatives – Filled with salt and other chemical preservatives to improve shelf-life, it leaves your dog thirsty and laden with behavioral and health problems caused by these toxins. Many of these additives aren’t deemed safe for humans.
  • Processed Ingredients – It’s funny how we are told to avoid processed foods for optimal health, yet we feed our dogs heavily processed food every single day, for their entire lives. No wonder they are begging for our kitchen table leftovers.

This all comes as probably a shock to you, as it was to me. Don’t these companies spend time and money on research to find what the best nutrition is for our pets? Their commercials certainly advertise that they do.  But check out the ingredients for yourself and you’ll find that even the “best” dry dog food raises some questions.

Kibble is nothing like the diets of dogs’ relatives and goes against everything considered “healthy” by humans.  So what’s the alternative? A raw food diet… exactly what a canine needs for proper nutrition.  What does that consist of?  Raw meaty bones, muscle meat and fish, organs, vegetables, eggs, and vitamins. Still not so sure? Here are a few of the questions and fears I had originally and the answers I’ve discovered:

  • How do I make sure my dog is getting the right amount of food and balanced nutrition?  The book Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog explains everything in detail and very simply. It explains proportions for each type of ingredient, gives sample “meal plans” with different meats and has a formula to determine the amount to feed based on your dog’s size and stage of life.
  • What will this do to my dog’s teeth?  Actually, it will help a lot!  Kibble is terrible for keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy… it creates lots of plaque leading to decay and bad breath. One of the most noticeable things about switching food for my dog Belle is that her teeth are getting whiter and her breath is much better.
  • Aren’t bones bad for dogs? Cooked bones are bad because they can splinter and be very harmful when swallowed.  Raw bones don’t splinter like this and dogs really enjoy chewing on them (which helps clean teeth even more!). If you are still really worried about it, the book above has some suggestions for softer bones to use or how to grind them up smaller.  Even small dogs like bones – my 10lb dog loves gnawing on chicken wings!
  • This sounds messy… is it?  Yes, unfortunately, it is messier than kibble. I now have to clean Belle’s face after meals, but she enjoys it SO much, it’s totally worth it!
  • How much time does all this take?  It depends. I’ve talked to people who say they prep their dog food when they do their own meal prep on Sundays, and it’s only an additional half hour a week or so.  But, I currently don’t do the food preparation myself right now. I’ve found an option that’s dehydrated raw food where I can just add hot water to rehydrate. It’s super quick and easy to make a bowl for her. Then I throw in a couple bones each week for her to chew on and an organ every once in awhile when I’m cooking a whole chicken.
  • Is it more expensive?  It depends on what you’re buying now, but it wasn’t for me.  A quick Amazon search shows that a 35lb bag of Purina Pro dog food cost $40.  When I was buying dry dog food, I purchased a GMO & preservative-free, high protein brand called Nulo for $55 for a 24lb bag. I now purchase I and Love and You Raw Dehydrated Dog Food; a 5.5lb bag makes 36 lbs of prepared food – on Amazon it’s $67, at Whole Foods it’s $60 and on Thrive Market it’s only $50. I’ve also purchased a similar option that uses free-range meat – The Honest Kitchen Free-Range Chicken Raw Dog Food – it’s a little pricier, but I buy if it’s on sale. If you go with preparing your own food, there’s many ways to save by buying meat & bones in bulk or getting unique cuts of meat no one else wants (dogs don’t care!) for a discount. I’ve asked the butcher for the bones they remove for their boneless chicken breasts & thighs and got them super cheap.
  • My dog is picky; will she like it? ABSOLUTELY!  Honestly, I was convinced by my research that this was certainly the healthier choice, but what sold me was how much she LOVES it. With her old dry dog food, I would put a bowl out in the morning and she would only pick at it a little throughout the day. And she’s always been picky with treats and sometimes even table scraps. Now, when I make her food, she scarfs it down. If we take too long to get out of bed in the morning, she will whimper and jump to remind us because she’s so excited to eat. Obviously, this food is the best for her. I’ll never make her go back to crumbly kibble.

When we started feeding Belle raw dog food and bones, I immediately noticed several improvements to her health.  To sum all this up, here are a few of the health benefits you can expect by switching your dog to a raw food diet:

  • Cleaner Teeth, Better Breath – gnawing on bones and meat helps remove plaque
  • Shinier, Smoother Hair – all the collagen in the bones and extra vitamins help
  • Less Allergies – I barely notice Belle chewing her feet anymore. Grains and toxic preservatives in dry dog food are the main cause for allergic reactions and inflammation.
  • Healthy Joints – I’m hopeful that Belle won’t have to struggle with painful arthritis in her old age like our Wheaton did. The bones & marrow contain glucosamine which is necessary for creating collagen and helps build and repair bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
  • Easier Digestion – This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. Real talk… Belle’s poop is not nearly as hard as it used to be, which makes it come out much easier for her. I don’t have to express her anal glands anymore or risk them getting infected from becoming impacted. Her poo essentially dissolves in the yard in just a couple of days, which I think says a lot about what kind of ingredients she was eating before. It’s also less smelly.
  • Hydration – Raw dog food naturally contains lots of water unlike dry kibble.  I’ve noticed that Belle rarely goes for her water bowl anymore (only after a long walk or after barking at the neighbor dog on a hot day).
  • More Energy – you’ve removed ingredients that cause lethargy and replaced by those that give proper protein and nutrition for energy
  • Lean Muscle –  Belle didn’t struggle with being overweight like many dogs, but she’s definitely more muscular now.  If you’re dog does need to lose some pounds, this raw diet would be great to try.

Sorry for the super long post, but I hope this information helps you make a more informed decision about your dog’s nutrition. I’m so glad we’ve made this change for our sweet pup… the transition has been so easy and was definitely worth it!

What do you think? Is this something you’d be willing to try for your dog?

8 Foods You Think Are Healthy…

Health Foods to AvoidSifting through all the competing information out there is tough. Every day I read the news, it seems there is a new article out there telling us to eat this food and avoid another. Diet books and TV doctor celebrities convince us all by sharing incredible health stories and before & after pictures.  What’s true and what’s not?

In college, I followed the mainstream nutritional guidelines recommended by my [nutritionally untrained] doctors. I typically ate protein bars and smoothies as meal-replacements and salads doused with fat-free vegetable oil dressings. Sometimes, I’d throw in a frozen Lean Cuisine. For dessert, I would eat fat-free marshmallows or fat-free cool whip on fat-free pudding.  Then, I’d run a few miles on the treadmill.  Compared to my friends eating ramen and fast food, I considered myself healthy. Coincidentally, that was also the sickest I’ve ever been. After a trip to the hospital and visits to multiple doctors, I finally started seeing a naturopath who completely changed my diet and gave me the supplements I was lacking to nourish my body.  And, wow, did that make a world of difference.

Since then, I became a skeptic of what we are told is “healthy” and doing the research for myself. I look at food labels. I understand the ingredients in what I’m eating. I look for foods that will nourish my body.  If you want to learn from my mistakes and my research, today I’m sharing a list of 8 foods deemed “healthy” by the mainstream that you should consider avoiding & why:

1. Fat-Free & Low-Fat Foods – If you love bacon, you know how good fat tastes. When fat is taken out of food, it tastes plain awful. To improve the taste, manufacturers add sugar, salt and other chemicals, making for a highly-processed item with ingredients you can’t pronounce. The mainstream nutritional circuit discourages us from eating food with fat because it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which both apparently put us at risk for cardiovascular disease.  Except the research shows otherwise – there is no link to saturated fat harming our hearts. And, while fat can raise cholesterol, it actually raises the good kind – HDL – which reduces heart disease risk.  On the contrary, low-fat foods add so much sugar/carbs that they elevate our triglyceride levels, which are a proven cardiovascular risk. Plus, it’s not like fat-free isn’t making us fatter – Americans eat the most low-fat diet in the world and have the highest rate of obesity.

Fat is a much needed nutrient – “a gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of protein or carbohydrates.” In fact, we need fat to lose fat because your body requires that energy to keep its metabolism functioning and to burn calories.  Fat also helps keep us full – when you eat fat-free foods, you will find yourself feeling unsatisfied and eating more to satiate your hunger. Plus, many of the essential vitamins we need are fat-soluble, meaning we can’t absorb them without fat in our diet.  Keep in mind, not all fats sources are equal; when it comes to fat, natural sources are best.  Limit the carbs and enjoy some organic butter, avocados, nuts, and grass-fed steak to keep your heart healthy and body trim. (Source: Livestrong)

2. Vegetable Oil – This is another product promoted as healthy because of the “saturated fat causes heart disease” mantra. Even the name is deceiving – this isn’t kale oil, people. Research has repeatedly proven this is not true, so why is everyone still touting this message?  The US is the top producer of both soy and canola, and such a money-making industry has to be protected.  When the production of these crops boomed, so did the marketing that “vegetable oils are the healthiest choice.”  Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are two reasons vegetable oils (includes canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, cottonseed oils) are terrible for you:

  • Vegetable oils contain long-chain fatty acids which cause us to store fat.  On the other hand, the better alternative coconut oil is compromised of medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids, which our body breaks down for energy.
  • These oils are chemically unstable and oxidize quickly & easily, causing them to contain high amounts of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage as they seek to steal electrons from other molecules, causing a chain reaction creating more free radicals stealing electrons.  They attack our cells, causing damage and mutations.  Ultimately, they cause degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, failing memory, reproductive problems, aging… the list goes on.   The alternative coconut oil contains none of these free-radicals, plus it’s safe & still beneficial when heated – a rarity among oils

I always use coconut oil for cooking & baking and olive oil for salad dressings or low-heat cooking.  Coconut oil is my top choice because it has so many other benefits to it as well – to learn more, read my blog on the Coconut Oil Miracle.

3. Margarine – Made from vegetable oil, this spread is touted as healthy for all the same reasons, but, as I wrote above, simply is not. Plus, margarine contains a ton of trans fat, known to clog arteries.  It also increases the risk of developing type II diabetes. While it tries to imitate butter in taste, it simply can’t provide the load of vitamins that butter delivers, especially that from organic, grass-fed dairy! Conclusion: Butter is better.

4. Soy – Thanks to the marketing efforts of the US soy industry in the U.S., we’ve been deceived into thinking that soy is a phenomenal health food. It’s supposed to be heart-healthy and keep you young. Vegetarians rely on it as a protein source. It’s a widely available alternative for those with lactose intolerance. And the Japanese, whose diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, have eaten it for years. But the truth is that it’s actually toxic to our bodies when not prepared or grown appropriately, and of course that’s how it’s produced today.

Soybeans contain two chemicals, goitrogens and phytoestrogens, that affect your thyroid and sex hormones. Traditionally, the Japanese would soak and ferment the soybeans before using them, which neutralizes these harmful chemicals and creates tasty and healthful miso, tofu, etc. But now, in commercially made soy products (even in many of those organically grown), the fermentation process is skipped because it’s cheaper & quicker to do so; instead it is hydrolyzed, a process that does not remove the toxins. So the soy sauce, soy milk, infant formulas, soy protein bars, tofu and most processed products you buy in stores and eat at restaurants are passing those chemicals straight to your body. These chemicals cause thyroid (regulates growth, metabolism and energy levels) issues, like hyper/hypothyroidism and thyroid & pancreatic cancer, as well as reproductive organ problems for both men and women. Even worse, 90% of soybeans are genetically modified, a serious health issue I discussed at length here. The GMO quality of these beans only adds to the health effects, now being linked to sterility and infant mortality.

When I removed soy from my diet, I saw a significant impact on my hormones within a couple weeks. Soy is in almost every processed food item (even organic!), so it can be hard to avoid; but, it is possible.

5. Conventional Dairy – Milk mustaches are stylish and the USDA recommends 3 servings of dairy per day in order to give us the calcium we need to build strong bones. While a good source of calcium, milk & its products can actually be quite toxic when we consume the conventional type.  Cows are fed genetically modified feed and given antibiotics, all of which are passed onto us.  Plus, when milk is pasteurized and homogenized, it destroys the probiotics and fat molecules that help us maintain strong digestive tracks, immune systems, brain function and bones. It also loses its nutritional content, making it really useless to us (which is why you see so many vitamins added back in – “fortified with…”). Lastly, the heating process destroys the enzyme lactase which allows us to properly digest the milk sugar, lactose; this is why many of us don’t handle it well.

The best option is raw milk from a local farm.  If you can’t get that, the next best option is organic whole milk cream or a complete dairy alternative – coconut milk. You should be able to find high-quality cheeses and yogurts made from raw milk in a natural foods store – they are so worth the price!

6. Farmed Fish – We are told to eat fish for its healthy omega-3 fats, a nutrient proven to help with heart disease, joint pain, depression and dementia. Unfortunately, farmed fish contains far less omega-3’s and protein than that of its wild-caught counterparts. Fish farming was created in order to protect from overfishing and to increase yield; while a good idea in theory, aquaculture shares many of the same problems as conventional ranching & farming: GMOs, pesticides & antibiotics.  (Source: Mercola) There have been many reports that the feed contains dog food and chicken feces.  They aren’t eating a natural ocean diet and thus end up having far less nutrients for us.  Recent research has also found that farm-raised tilapia causes significant inflammation and that dioxin (a toxic cancer-causing chemical) levels in farmed salmon are 11 times higher than in wild-caught. (Source: Dr. Axe)

To ensure you are getting your crucial omega-3s, go for wild-caught salmon or take a high-quality fish oil. Also, just avoid tilapia altogether.

7. Table Salt – Most people know that table salt causes hypertension and that they should avoid it, yet its on every table and always in the sodium-filled processed foods.  I agree that table salt should be avoided, but real sea salt is actually extremely beneficial.  Table salt isn’t real at all – it is a highly processed shaker of chemicals.  Real sea salt should be part of our daily diet – it provides trace minerals that help our body stay hydrated, contains powerful electrolytes, helps the body absorb nutrients from food, and is crucial for proper adrenal & thyroid function. (Source: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty)

I purchase Himalayan Pink Salt and love the mild, natural taste.

8. Artificial Sweetener – Since the huge rise in diabetes and obesity, doctors have been recommending low-glycemic sugar substitutes. But the research is out and those fake sweeteners have a not so fake effect on our bodies…

A few years ago, Splenda was introduced into the market as a calorie-free alternative to sugar and as doctors started endorsing it, it’s popularity increased.  However, the product was deemed “safe” before extensive testing had been done on the sucralose product.  In fact, studies now show that Splenda causes digestive system imbalance by altering the flora in your gut.  Your digestive system is a crucial part of your immune system and greatly affects your general health.  On top of that, this product is chemically made and contains chlorine – a toxic chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and creates issues with the work your liver does to detoxify the body.  It was actually downgraded in 2013 from “safe” to “caution” following a study that seems to indicate it causes leukemia.  (Source: Natural Society)

Lastly, although many use fake sweeteners to lose weight, it causes us to overeat.  You wind up fighting a losing battle and continuing to crave sugar & carbs because your body wants the real stuff. Sorry to break it to you, but those sugar-free cookies and diet sodas aren’t doing your love handles any good.

In my home, I use either raw honey or coconut sugar for any sweetening.  Both of these products are not only low-glycemic, meaning they don’t raise blood-sugar as much, but also contain other beneficial nutrients for your body.

Did any of the items on this list surprise you?