Hormones: How to Restore Balance in your Life

Hormones have profound effects on the body. They help regulate metabolism and appetite, steer our energy levels, make fertility possible, manage body temperature and control the body’s ability to lose weight or even gain muscle.

Effects of hormone imbalance on the body

When someone is experiencing hormonal imbalances, it can feel as if the world is crashing down on you. Many people go through unintentional weight gain despite following a healthy diet. Others feel sluggish all day and still have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. These symptoms, among many others, can wreak havoc on emotions and temperament. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices but can also occur naturally with age, including when women reach menopause.

As women age, production of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, declines. It may seem like you have absolutely no control over this, but there are ways to continue to keep these levels balanced, even though overall hormone production is lower.

Bring balance back to hormones through healthy eating 

Eating healthfully is important throughout a person’s life, and it’s no different for women going through menopause. Many women experience weight gain—especially around the belly—mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. They are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

You don’t have to be a slave to your changing hormones. Try to bring them back into balance with these dietary tweaks.

What to eat more of: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage (Try to have at least one serving of these hormone-balancing veggies every day.)
  • Dietary fiber: oats, berries, avocados, beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, pears, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, squash (Dietary fiber helps with liver clearance of estrogen.)
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs, all nuts and seeds including chia seeds and flaxseed, grass-fed beef, salmon, quinoa

Also increase sleep and exercise. Both help reduce stress. Weight training can also have further benefits on improving metabolism.

What to eat less of:

  • Processed foods: boxed meals, pre-packaged shelf-stable or frozen entrees, frozen pizza, premade breads and bread products, pre-packaged meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs, artificial sweeteners, fake cheese, excessive condiment use, Pop-Tarts®, snack mixes such as pretzels, crackers, chips
  • Added sugars: cereals, packaged sweets like Twinkies and Cinna-Buns, regular and some Greek yogurt varieties, sweetened milks, soda, juice, sweetened tea, granola bars
  • Drive-thru meals: Processed meats, refined grains and fried menu items can cause inflammation in the gut. They also are poor nutrient sources of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Alcohol: One alcoholic beverage is processed as 29 grams of sugar or one serving of M&Ms.
  • Caffeine: For some, caffeine can be a source of inflammation.
  • Foods associated with inflammation such as gluten and lactose. Foods made from or using ingredients with wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. Milk and ice cream are two high-lactose containing dairy products.

Remember, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet all at once. But by increasing the good and decreasing the bad, even slowly, you can bring balance to your hormones and improve your quality of life.

 

Making Healthy Quick and Easy: Sheet Pan Suppers

I’ve been making a lot more “sheet pan suppers” lately, as these are quick and easy and involve the three necessary nutrients to fill out the plate: carbohydrate, protein and non-starchy vegetable. These are easy to prep the day before on the sheet. Then when you get home, take the sheet out of the fridge while the oven is preheating and have a meal worthy for all taste buds in about 30 minutes.

Here are some of my best sheet pan supper tips:

  • Use the largest cookie sheet/pan you have, preferably from heavy-gauge aluminum or steel. I find these help foods to brown better.
  • I’m all about easy and quick cleanup, so make sure to line the pan you choose with foil and spray with a nonstick cooking spray.
  • Pick your protein. If you are going to use a protein that is larger than the rest of your food, I like to cook it for about 5-10 minutes before putting the rest of the ingredients on the pan.
  • Place the rest of the ingredients in a single layer, cut about the same size so they will roast properly.
  • Season the ingredients according to the recipe or your discretion.
  • Make sure protein is cooked to the proper temperature.
  • For leftovers, use the foil from the pan to wrap the food up in, and then reheat in oven later.

This pan roasted chicken and vegetable meal is one of my favorites. Like I said, I usually put everything on the pan the night before and leave it in the fridge until the oven is preheated the next day. Try it for yourself!

If you are interested in starting with just roasted vegetables, print off our handy Roasting Vegetables 101 sheet  a guide.

Pan Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Meal
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Ingredients
  1. 6 medium red potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  2. 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  5. 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  6. 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, divided
  7. 3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
  8. 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  9. 6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
  10. 6 cups fresh baby spinach
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425o F.
  2. Combine potatoes, onion, oil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Toss the mixture to coat evenly.
  3. Line a baking pan or cookie sheet with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Pour the potato and onion mixture onto the coated baking pan and arrange the chicken on top.
  5. Mix the paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sprinkle it over the chicken.
  6. Bake about 35-40 minutes, or until the inside of the chicken is 170-175oF and the vegetables are just tender.
  7. Remove chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.
  8. Top the vegetables with the spinach and put back into the oven to roast until the vegetables are tender and the spinach is wilted, about 8-10 minutes longer.
  9. Stir the vegetables to combine and serve them with the chicken.
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Breakfast: It Really IS the Most Important Meal of the Day

Mornings are busy. Whether you’re headed off to work, trying to get the kids to school or both at the same time—trying to start your day can be hectic and stressful. Something that often suffers when mornings get too busy is breakfast. But there are some very good reasons why you shouldn’t skip the most important meal of the day.

The key to starting the morning off right—and giving you enough energy and focus to get you to lunch—is eating within one to two hours of waking up. Eat your breakfast!

What’s the Deal with Breakfast?

Eating breakfast is important because your body has gone the longest it does in a 24-hour period without eating. The key to starting the morning off right—and giving you enough energy and focus to get you to lunch—is eating within one to two hours of waking up.

Eating breakfast helps stave off illness (including serious ones like heart disease or diabetes), improves brain function and is an important step in healthy weight loss. And, it’s easier to pull off than you may think. Try this breakfast burrito recipe below: It’s good for eating right away or making on a Sunday and freezing for the whole week!

Breakfast Burrito
Yields 1
The egg and sausage in this burrito are good sources of protein. A high-protein breakfast will fill you up and give you plenty of energy to start your day!
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 chicken sausage link
  2. 1 whole wheat flour tortilla
  3. 1 egg
  4. a dash of milk
  5. cheddar cheese
  6. 1 tablespoon of salsa
  7. a drizzle of salsa picante or hot sauce (if desired)
Instructions
  1. Shred a tablespoon-size amount of cheese. Set aside.
  2. Crack the egg into a bowl, and then add the dash of milk. Whisk until mixed thoroughly.
  3. In a small skillet, pour the egg mixture and cook until fluffy.
  4. Add sausage and salsa to the eggs. Stir until all the ingredients are warm.
  5. Lay a tortilla out on a plate, fill with the egg mixture, sprinkle cheese, drizzle hot sauce and roll up burrito.
  6. Serve immediately or freeze for later.
Notes
  1. If freezing, place in a plastic freezer bag, and then stick in the freezer. Store for up to one month.
  2. To thaw: Remove from plastic bag, wrap burrito in a paper towel, and then microwave for 1.5–2 minutes or until warm.
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This New Year, Try a “Non-resolution”

It’s January, so that means maybe you are thinking about a new year with a clean slate. And to help make this clean slate, a New Year’s resolution. Just like I love to celebrate “Christmas in July” (all baking included!), I love to make New Year’s “non-resolutions.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best? Plus, most resolutions don’t have anything to do with you, your willpower (I don’t believe in willpower) or capabilities. Instead, resolutions seem to focus on an unrealistic action, such as “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year.”

This New Year, make a “non-resolution.” Think about it: How many times have you set a resolution, only for it to last a week or two—a month at best?

Step 1: Come up with the defining word or phrase for your year.

I encourage you to come up with a 2018 goal for yourself—in a word or phrase—and break it into a 12-month SMART goal(s). This word or phrase should be geared to some form of your health and well-being. I find when you focus on one area, other areas seem to fall into line.

What does SMART stand for?

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable 
R = Realistic
T = Time specific

Why break your word or saying into 12 months? Well, it customarily takes 21 days to make a behavior change, so you start small and build on these month-long habit formations. Then your 2018 goal should be much more realistic and achievable.

Step 2: Translate your word or phrase into action.

Based upon your word or phrase, write down as many healthy actions you can think of to help reach this goal. Keep in mind things you can actually DO and not the end results. The SMART acronym can then help you to break these DOs down to make more realistic and achievable outcomes. Don’t be afraid to break your monthly DO into weekly DOs. For example, a goal for the month could be to eat more vegetables. The monthly SMART goal would be to eat a minimum of 30 servings of vegetables. And broken down even more, a week goal could be: “I will eat a non-starchy vegetable every day at dinner.”

Step 3: Evaluate your goal each month.

Once the week or month is over, look back at your goal and see how well it did or did not work. Did you achieve this goal? And since you set a weekly or monthly SMART goal then you can see how well or well not the specific goal worked for you. Here’s the key, if you struggled at achieving or didn’t achieve your first month’s goal, that’s ok. Troubleshoot with it and either work on it again the next month or put off for another month later in the year.

Step 4: Start at a time that’s right for you.

So when should you start? You want to make sure you have a fresh mind and are more rejuvenated than you may be on January 1st. So if you don’t sit down to work on these until the middle of January, so be it. But make sure you have plenty of tools in your toolbox to help you complete this new thought process.

What does a “non-resolution” really look like?

Here’s my personal goal for 2018, along with a few of my monthly SMART goals with the tools I have in my toolbox to accomplish it.

My word for 2018 is PEACE.

It feels like I have had disorder and mayhem in my life for about the last 6 months. I have found this is starting to affect aspects of my health, so I want to focus on trying to be more peaceful this year. This may not be what you expected, but I’m trying to show you how this can be outside-of-the box thinking on becoming healthier.

Some of the areas I am focusing on to have more PEACE are:

  • Meal planning
  • Reducing stress
  • Rest
  • Exercise

I’m kicking the New Year off with my first SMART goal to be about MEAL PLANNING. The first week of January, I will plan three dinners for the days of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the days I work). These, of course, will be planned around the plate method (one starch, one protein, unlimited non-starchy vegetables). The second week goal is to plan four dinners, Monday through Thursday. The third week goal is to plan five dinners, Monday through Friday. Finally, the last week goal is to plan again for 5 weeks. There’s flexibility in this: If I find moving from three to four meals a week is too much, then I’ll go back to the three meals a week and establish this goal. There is flexibility with the goals, but the ultimate achievement is to set specific and realistic parts of your goal.

For February, my SMART goal will be about REST. Believe it or not, I’m setting a bedtime goal. There have been too many nights where I’ve stayed up until midnight or later because I’m doing dishes, doing laundry or cleaning after the kids are bed. So for the month of February, my goal is to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. four nights out of each week. This would allow for a minimum of seven-ish hours of sleep for myself, as my alarm goes off at 6 a.m.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to help you get more focused on the simplicity of achieving a healthier you in 2018. What about you? Share your non-resolutions below—I’d love to hear what your personal word or saying is for 2018!

Something to Chew Recap: Best of 2017

We had a great year discussing healthy habits, trying new recipes and making commitments to live well. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment and recap the “greatest hits” of Something to Chew in 2017.

#5 M&M’s are Football Fields

We took our readers on a journey from one end of the football field to the other, demonstrating just how far you’d have to walk to burn off a single M&M. Making a conscious connection between calories in versus calories out can help you make decisions when eating or drinking certain foods.

#4 Your Diet and Your Job: A Perfect Marriage or Recipe for Disaster?

Problem: Sometimes the influence of those around you affects your ability to stick to your diet. We offered three solutions to common work situations where you may be tempted to break your healthy eating commitment.

#3 6 Steps to Bathing Suit Confidence

The bottom line is to not let your worries of living up to magazine-cover standards overpower the fun you could be having with your friends and family. If you’re eating right and treating your body well, you’re already in great shape!

#2 5 Hidden Sources of Sugar

You already know that cutting back on sugar is a big part of starting to eat healthier. We pointed out five hidden sources of sugar you may not realize you are keeping in your diet. Examining food labels is important for making sure you are not eating too much sugar.

#1 Don’t Stress about PCOS: 5 Habits for Better Weight Management

Our readers have spoken: This was the top post for 2017! We agree; these tips are applicable to those with polycystic ovary syndrome and those just trying to manage their weight in general. Wedding good eating habits with exercise is the recipe for success when it comes to weight loss and management.

Thank you for “chewing” on these tips and tricks in 2017! Look for more health and wellness advice in 2018 as we bring on the new year!

Stay Healthy Inside and Out this Winter with these Tips

During these winter months, we often want to sit down in our stretchy clothes by the fire with something warm and comforting. And in small chunks, this is perfectly acceptable. However, vegging out too much can increase our chances of gaining weight, catching “something” that’s out there, or just feeling plain ol’ miserable.

So, to help keep up your health and sanity during the winter season, here are some of my go-to tips.

  1. Eat within one to one and a half hours after waking.

I hear a lot, “I’m not hungry in the morning” or “Breakfast food is so carb-y.”  But who says you have to eat breakfast food for breakfast?

Eating something is always better than nothing when it comes to breakfast. Try something from this list for a high-protein, low-carb breakfast:

  • an egg (hardboiled, scrambled, over easy, even in the microwave!)
  • plain Greek yogurt with honey or frozen fruit stirred in
  • cottage cheese
  • almond/peanut/cashew butter (NO Nutella®!)

I’m not against using protein supplements either, but be cautious when choosing. In addition to protein for breakfast, balance your breakfast by adding a nutrient-dense carbohydrate, such as sweet potatoes or steel-cut oats. I’ve been known to eat a sweet potato and walnuts for breakfast; it’s a sweet and protein-full breakfast. The biggest takeaway here is: It doesn’t have to be a “typical” breakfast, as long as you’re eating something nutrient rich and within an hour and a half of waking up.

  1. Fuel your body as often as every two to five hours.

Fueling your body throughout the day will keep your metabolism going and help with portion control. My problematic time is often in the afternoon. If I don’t have something to eat then, I either get “hangry” or I overeat at dinner. A couple of quick and easy snacks include: 

  • 2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup sugar snap peas
  • 5 reduced-fat Triscuits® + 1 ounce low-fat cheese
  1. Don’t skip meals.

Even on a day when you have a larger eating episode planned, don’t skip a meal. If you go longer than three to four hours without eating—believe it or not—your metabolism starts to slow down. Your body starts working against you instead of for you. The key to remember is that “something” is better than nothing. It doesn’t have to be a full traditional meal to count as a meal. Something as simple as cottage cheese, canned peaches (canned in light syrup) and cucumber slices with ranch dressing can actually be a meal.

  1. Plan ahead.

This is the biggest challenge to most of us. I hear often, “if I just planned, it would all be better.” I like to say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” but you can have the best laid plans and have it all fall through.

But some plan is better than no plan. Start small and work up. Try laying out or prepping for breakfast, lunch or dinner for the next day. Then plan for three days a week, then a week and then work up from there. For this time of year, start with just planning for a challenging day and that will get you going in the right direction.

  1. Eat as a family

Did you know the average family meals lasts about 18 minutes? I’ve heard from many of parents that they spend over an hour in the kitchen—and for what? But, believe it or not, these 18 minutes together carry a long list of benefits.

When I say eat as a family, I’m don’t mean plopping down on the couch in front of the TV. Sitting around the table is the most beneficial. In my house, we even sit around our island some nights when I haven’t had time to clear all the paperwork off the kitchen table. But, keep the TV, phones, gaming systems, etc. off during this time.

  1. Leave food in sight.

This doesn’t mean to not put your cold food in the refrigerator, but keep it where you can see it. Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

I also like to create a healthy snack bag with nonperishable items and leave it in my car. You may think this is crazy, but you never know what could happen on the road, especially this time of year. It never fails—my shopping takes too long or the roads are not good, and my drive home takes twice as long. Luckily, in my snack bag I have a 100 calorie pack of almonds and walnuts, protein bar, apple, cuties, and a bottle of water. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it saves calories and money from stopping somewhere and getting something to eat/drink or gorging when you get home.

  1. Ask yourself 3 questions

I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions when are you are going to the refrigerator, cabinet or food table.

  1. Am I hungry or am I actually thirsty?
  2. Am I hungry or bored?
  3. Am I hungry or just tired of dark days and winter?

If you answered “hungry” to any or all of these questions, then get something to eat. But this system will get you thinking before you start mindlessly eating.

I know this time of year can be difficult, on all accounts, in terms of eating. But maybe one or more of these tips will help you to maintain your weight, health and sanity. Happy Holidays!