by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 17, 2019 addiction recovery, counseling wexford, digital detox0 comments
‘5 Awesome and Up-worthy Benefits of A Digital Detox’
Mental clutter, anxiety, ‘fubbing’ and stress related disease are just a few of the human spoils which we can estimate are at least in some part perpetuated by our over-reliance on cell phones and digital solutions. The technology era is here and the evidence is within our aching and gnarled fingers, computer blurred-out hyper-focused eyes, our text neck, and cluttered minds. In fact, cell phones have become a newly added to the expanse of potential behavioral addictions. The more we tune into our personal devices the more we tune out all that is around us. Digital detox is the new mental colonic but with perhaps even greater results and significance. When was the last time that you unplugged? What do you imagine would happen if you tried. We have heard of some texters and cell phone obsessed say that they even get full blown anxiety attacks if they leave their phone at home accidentally. We encourage you to take the digital detox challenge and see for how long you can not use your phone. Even for a few hours a day can make a difference. Here are some of the benefits you will notice fairly quickly.
- Thoughts and feelings become much more calm. Much like a turbulent bay on a stormy afternoon, our thoughts get churned up when we are constantly bouncing from one email, to our search engine, and then to social media. When we step away for a few days, our consciousness and the direction of our thoughts have a chance to become still and reflective.
- Enjoy better concentration with internal stillness. Sometimes we multitask to our own detriment, in an attentionally scattered frenzy we try to do too many things at once and fall short everywhere. Yet, when we are unplugged, we can tune our attention in any direction we chose. There are limitations to our ability to think and pay attention and we deplete those resources shuffling between 10 screens. Yet when we focus on things more deeply we become more aware and productive.
- We see what is around us, for real!! Of course when we are scrolling and trolling we are not very good company and we are missing a lot of the scenery. The people we care about may even become hurt or feel rejected by our obsession with our phone. In fact, cell phone overuse wrecks relationships and even brings many couples into counseling. Sometimes we unconsciously use our devices to avoid who and what is happening around us. When we put down our phone and step away from the screen we become much more aware of the people around us, the raw beauty of the skyline, the gray tinged clouds that roll in before the storm, we are ‘in the now’ and living it all.
- Sleeping more deeply. There is much compelling research from the National Institute of Health that logs the correlation between screen time and disrupted sleep wake cycle. The statistics are so compelling that we can safely suggest that we leave behind our personal devices for at least one hour before hitting the sack. The benefits really peak after several days disconnected, this is when our internal clocks have a chance to reset, the benefits multiply as there are few things which are better for our wellness than a solid nights slumber .
- Higher energy and creativity. When we are sleeping well and tuning into the environment, the next natural result is greater energy and even creativity. Want to finish an important project or just feel more vital? Try a digital detox for a few days and see what happens.
How ready are you to try something new today? If you would like further reading on how to make emotional, or physical changes, read our article ‘How to Slay Anything in 2019.’
With energy and clarity,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Monroeville, and Wexford.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 28, 2018 how to reach your goal, new years resolution0 comments
Live Your Best Life, How to Slay anything in 2019.
New year, new you? Well, maybe, whether you will be a wistful dreamer or a winning achiever of your New Year’s resolution really dwindles down to this; ‘How do you mentally prepare yourself for the process of change?’ We all look forward to the prospect of a new year, we start off with a fantastically shiny hope, we can do anything with these next 365 days of our life. Yet, for all of this hope and enthusiasm, why do the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail in the first month? We can explain some of these failed resolutions by applying the theory of behavioral psychology. We wellness warriors, trudging onward to 2019, sails full with the winds of enthusiasm, need to be sure we are beginning our voyage with the right motivations, or we just might end up deflated and completely off course. If we have an internally damaging way of nurturing our New Year’s whispers of inspiration, we can rest assured our achievements will fall as flat as the last sip of kombucha that lines our almost empty cup. Our counselors have worked together to create a sequence of effective pieces of psychological advice which will kick-start any of your New Year’s wellness goals.
Get real with yourself, meaning where are you right now and where do you want to be?
This is about stepping away from the potential delusions of your thinking and recognizing where you are, honestly. If you are an echoing scream away from your goal, it is going to take some time to get there. Using weight as one example, if you are currently 300 lbs, and you aspire to weigh in at 150 lbs, it will take many years and much effort for you to arrive at that destination. Maybe you want to start with making an appointment with a personal trainer and a nutritionist or a dietitian. Another example might be that you want to have better boundaries with other people in your life. Be ‘real’ about while jotting down your list. It takes gusto and strength to record your truth about areas for growth such as your inability to say ‘no’ to others and the amount of inexplicable guilt that you feel when you attempt to draw boundaries. Yet it is by insight that we can make great progress toward our goals.
The second part of this sequence is that after you examine where you are and where you would like to be, your goals must be broken down into achievable units. We humans don’t do well with goals that are too large. If for instance you want to write a book this year, instead of focusing on the larger goal of completing the whole text you will do best by focusing on small goals daily. Writing 500 words a day is a well achievable micro goal that will inch you toward the end result. Why does this work? According to Psyche Study, ‘Behavioral psychology defines the mechanism of ‘shaping’ to describe the slow process of behavioral change where we are rewarded for each step toward reaching the final goal.’ We nudge ourselves toward the finish line. In the process of shaping these small changes, we feel empowered by the daily act of achieving our successes instead of potentially losing focus if our overarching goal is so big that the reward for making it there is too far off.
Give yourself rewards
There is a long standing debate and research query which examines whether punishment or reward is better to help us change our behavior. According to recent research from Harvard Business Review, if you are going to maintain the enthusiasm and hope that is driving your desired progress towards change, you must create rewards for yourself. In this particular study, it was noted that punishment, and the fear that it evokes, can cause people to ‘freeze’ instead of act. Think about the proverbial deer in the headlights. Again, with reference to behavioral psychology and the field of human learning and behavior, humans and animals are more inspired by positive reinforcement than punishment. We move toward what is pleasurable, especially if the reward is well timed to be given right after reaching each small segment of our goal. That means that when we have that internal voice which tells us we are slugs because we didn’t reach our goal, we are not helping our situation. It is the promise of something that is rewarding which really propels us to go harder and longer in the journey to ‘live our best life.’
What is it that you are planning to work on for your New Year goal? Always first ask yourself this, we all want to achieve things but are you ready to put in the work to achieve your goal? If the answer is yes, move onward and use this as a template to assess your goals and move yourself one step closer to where you want to be!
In relation to your goal, where are you now?
What do you hope to achieve, what is your long term goal?
Break the above mentioned goal into daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
How can you reward yourself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy year of wellness,
Harvard Business Review, What Motivates Employees More, Rewards or Punishments? https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments
Psychestudy, Online Journal on human behavior and psychology. What is shaping behavior? https://www.psychestudy.com/behavioral/learning-memory/operant-conditioning/what-is-shaping-behaviorLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 30, 2018 counseling for anxiety, counseling for PTSD, psychotherapist, touch, yoga for trauma0 comments
Hands off-Please Do Not Touch My Body.
Closeness is sacred and powerful, and we should share it however we would like with a partner or partners with whom we have provided consent. Personally, I am a ‘toucher’, meaning I am a person who enjoys touch with my partner, someone who hugs family and friends and genuinely savors safe closeness. As we all know, touch can feasibly happen in many contexts. A recent trip to a local yoga studio has spurned some inspiration for considering consent and what exactly that means within the context of yoga. Consent is one of the topics of the century, the importance of asking for it, and heeding to it are championed issues with personal, psychological, and legal context. When we are on our yoga mat, we are presumably in a safe zone, we practice yoga to be well, to relax, to be inside of our bodies, to give life and expression to what our physical selves need in the moment to create our highest expression of safety, openness, and comfort. We rely upon the professionalism, understanding, and care of our yoga instructors while we are on the mat. When others take liberties with our bodies, reactions can range from uncomfortable to traumatic, yet we shouldn’t need to rely upon trauma informed yoga instructors to be the only providers who can offer a style of instruction which provides opportunity to say “No thank you, please do not touch my body.’ From chaturanga to shavasana, we find our bodies configuration of the posture as the yoga instructor cues. Without making space for hands off adjustments, one well-intentioned yoga instructor can inadvertently have a negative impact upon his or her student’s practice, day, overall wellness by taking liberties with his or her student’s bodies.
Consent means that one has asked for permission to approach another person in any way, whether that be to touch, to enter an intimate encounter, or even to provide unsolicited verbal feedback, we should always ask before encroaching upon others. After asking for consent, we wait and pause for that person to respond with their response of approach or avoid. A key component of consent is that the other person is truly able to say ‘no,’ if we are in a position of power, or if we are asking a person who is intoxicated, a minor, or incapacitated in any way, then the other can not provide for their own consent. Under normal circumstances, then, if and after we have been given permission to ‘approach’ we take it a step further to check in to be completely sure that non-verbal permission has been granted to continue or deepen the exchange. Physical space, proximity, and closeness are very special, they are exchanges which can lead to bliss, warmth, bonding, relaxation and even orgasm in the right time. When touch is used subversively, to coerce, to control, to harm, physical connection can become shrouded in horror, it also has the potential to instill anxiety, fear, terror, panic, and pain.
Consensual sexual intimacy is the gold standard, we should always be sure that we are well within the green zone of any boundaries of any person who we are touching and to also always note that we are creating safety for others as we strive for mutual enjoyment and pleasure. There are many contexts or situations where touch happens from fitness instruction, personal training, yoga instruction, little league coaching, physical therapy, massage, and medical settings. While there are many of the medical and physical instructors listed above who do check in and ask, ‘is it ok for me to adjust you.’ The best ones who follow this question by ‘does this feel ok for you’ and to them I applaud their insight and wisdom to always, in all settings, to ask first and wait for an enthusiastic ‘yes’ or a clear non-verbal head nod which unambiguously encouraging procession. For other yoga and fitness instructors, it may be less obvious that they should ask for consent before breaking the touch barrier with students. Let us examine consent from a trauma informed perspective and look at some ways that we can be sure we are always providing supportive and caring touch.
Regardless of the setting or context, we do not have permission to touch another person until we have asked for it and they have given it. For a trauma survivor it can be very triggering and alarming to feel a person, even a coach or instructor grabbing at them, or tapping on their body, for another person to move ones legs or touch ones hands. Feeling safe and giving permission for these things to happen is vital and walking into a yoga studio to practice does not provide consent for one’s physical boundaries to be violated. Just as walking into a bar or nightclub in a low-cut blouse is not the same as providing consent for someone to touch our breasts. Being a woman out late having drinks is not an invitation to have sex, we need a society which is built upon making space for ‘Yes’, or ‘No’ by always ask first. Yoga and fitness instructors, we are here, we want to participate in a fun and fulfilling way but ask before touching please. Additionally, for some instructors who may have a style of delivering their teaching that is very directive and assertive, it may feel punitive to some students.
Recently, in an all levels class, the instructor was someone I had never practiced with before. The class was much less than an all level class, it was more of an intro in my experience, we were cued to move into postures without much attention to how we flow through the sequencing. In any event, after 15 minutes or so warming up, we were cued to do some Sun A’s. When forward folding the instructor told everyone to grab a two blocks in anticipation of their hands not hitting the ground. I have long arms, and have been doing forward folds for many, many, years, it does not tax my body to fold forward and I find it delicious and restorative. The teacher stomped back to me and said ‘No! get your blocks, do not go into your deepest fold!’ In knowing my body, and knowing that I did not need the blocks I started to reach for them to appease her as she began grabbing my leg and tapping rapidly and harshly onto the front of my quad with her pointed finger tips and squinted eyes, ‘Move! Move! Move!’ she commanded. What started as a day of wellness, mindfulness, and an attempt to let myself feel peace, quickly became a source of discomfort and anxiety.
Being a yoga instructor is a big responsibility, it is a pathway to open ones consciousness, those blissed out happy vibes and chakras can really open up and make others aware of themselves, their feelings as well as anything happening with the instructor. We should encourage yoga instructors to have a higher level of insight into their style of relating to others so that the instructor is not unconsciously projecting their own unmet needs or style onto all of those who they come into contact with. The yoga instructor should be very aware of how of tone and content of speech particularly as adjustments are being made. If an instructor is simultaneously speaking in a critical or cold tone ‘move!’ ‘faster!’ ‘in, in, in;’ in a style that feels like they are spitting commands to the students, if the instructors speak this way while grabbing at a students body, it may become even more likely that they are making others feel tense, uncomfortable for anyone, and furthermore this kind of tone and motion can even be panic inducing for some trauma survivors.
More than ever, we must seek to create safety, to speak with love, to be sure that we are providing physical touch which is tender, and warm, and supportive or not tender and warm, if that is the kind of touch which is consensual and agreed upon by those who can legally and actually provide consent. Speak and act with awareness and care for other people’s feelings, doing fitness, pilates, doing a forward fold or downward facing dog, or even having a suspicious mole removed from our bodies are things that must happen peacefully and respectfully, and always with particular attention to any person’s ability to state, ‘No thank you- please do not touch my body’.
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NBCC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa
4108 Monroeville Blvd Monroeville Pa 15146
For more reading on the ethics of touch in yoga;
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 16, 2018 benefits of high fat diet, blue cross blue shield, counseling wellness, dietician0 comments
What are the benefits of a high fat diet?
Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN continues to examine the big fat myth and share some more information and sample mean plan to incorporate the dietary changes of a high fat diet into your busy lifestyle. Our last blog post caused quite a stir and we want to be sure that our readers understand the differences between ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats.’ One big take home point is that not all dietary fats are created equally. So, what does the science tell us about a high fat diet? To recap our last blog article, research is showing that a high fat made up of healthy fats coupled with a low carbohydrate diet can be beneficial for:
- Heart health
- Boosting the immune system
- Brain function (and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, cognitive impairment and dementia)
- Blood sugar control
- Weight management
High fat diets, and even ketogenic diets are being studied for their efficacy in treating Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Epilepsy and even ADHD. More and more, we understand there is a significant effect on our physical and emotional health exerted by our food consumption, even anxiety and depression can be effected by our diet. In particular, of the vital and nourishing micro nutrients, cholesterol is especially protective of brain function. One famous study called the Framingham Heart Study found that those with low serum cholesterol performed less well on cognitive function tests than their counterparts with borderline or high cholesterol levels. We can infer from this correlation that cholesterol does seem to have a protective effect on the brain. Additionally, when we note that their are ramifications for those who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol. One known side effect of statin drugs are problems with memory and cognition.
What should I eat?
The good news is that it’s easy to start enjoying the benefits of a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. It’s important to limit grains and legumes to maintain the benefits. It is best to try to aim for only about 60 grams of carbohydrates a day. Along with unlimited non-starchy vegetables (think asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, swiss chard and spinach) and low sugar fruits (grapefruits, oranges, apples, berries, melon, pears, cherries, grapes, kiwis, plums, peaches and nectarines), enjoy ample amounts of these ‘good or healthy fats’ which are foods which will accelerate health and allow you to experience the benefits of a high fat diet:
- Grass fed beef and lamb
- Free range chicken
- Cage free eggs
- Cold pressed oils (walnut, olive, avocado, coconut, and palm)
- Grass fed butter
- Cold water fish (salmon, shrimp, sardines and tuna)
- Nuts (walnut, cashews, macadamia and almonds)
- Cheese (Gruyere, goat cheese, feta cheese, and mozzarella)
Sample One Day Meal Plan*
2 scrambled eggs with 1 oz. goat cheese cheese and stir fried veggies (onions, mushrooms, spinach and red bell pepper)
4 oz. baked chicken or canned tuna with a side of leafy greens dressed in balsamic and olive oil
3 oz. grass fed steak with a side of roasted broccoli and mashed cauliflower
3 squares of 70% dark chocolate
*Adapted from Dr. David Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain
So go ahead and give it a try, of course one should always consult either your PCP or a dietitian or nutritionist before making any changes to your diet, this is especially true if you have preexisting health conditions.
In good health and wellness,
Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN
Certified Nutritionist, Licensed Dietary Nutritionist for The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Providing good health and wellness to Western Pennsylvania.
Accepting Self paying clients, Out of Network, and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 6, 2018 blue cross blue shield, high fat diet, highmark nutrition counseling, insulin, integrative medicine, Nutrition Counseling, upmc, Wijkstrom0 comments
Open a women’s magazine or examine the back of a food label, you will find the ‘evidence’ there. It’s easy to find ready sources that say dietary fat is bad news for your waist line, cholesterol, skin, mood, you name it. Many clinicians still hold that saturated fats like coconut oil, butter and beef cause weight gain, clogged arteries, high cholesterol and heart disease. But, according to Certified Nutritionist Liz Mckinney, there is much to learn when it comes to the Big Fat Myth, read on to re-evaluate fat’s bad reputation. This blog will fill you in on the facts and research in order to assist your physical health, emotional health, and wellness goals by consuming fat and nourishing yourself with this well known macro-nutrient.
Myth: Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Increases Risk of Heart Disease
Today, a common scenario occurs when a patient walks in for a checkup or health screening and they learn that their cholesterol is high. The patient is then told to limit saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Cut down on foods such as red meats, butter, eggs, and oils like palm and coconut) and often a prescription for a statin drug follows when their cholesterol is over 200 mg/dL. This is probably due in part to misleading evidence that suggested that cholesterol levels are directly correlated to risk of heart disease. One such study was performed by a researcher by the name of Ancel Keys in the 1980’s that looked at 22 countries and found that dietary fat intake was related to increased risk of heart disease. However, data on only 7 of those 22 countries was published – those that fit his hypothesis. Since then, many researchers and physicians have refuted this study, and yet, the recommendations that come down the pipe from the American Heart Association and the USDA continue to perpetuate that dietary fat and cholesterol are bad for us.
Research continues to show that high quality animal fats and eggs aren’t the real culprit in heart disease. One of the most notable studies that shows this was called the Women’s Health Initiative, which studied over 48,000 postmenopausal women and the connection between a low fat diet and the risk of heart disease. Participants were followed for an average of 8 years and then assessed for heart disease. The group that reduced overall fat intake and increased intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables did not experience reduced risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CDC), stroke or CVD, over the control group. There are other studies that have found similar results, indicating that low fat diets don’t really have much impact on heart disease risk. A report published in 2010 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that there was no substantiated link between saturated fat intake and outcomes of obesity, CVD, cancer or osteoporosis. And, if you need even more proof, a meta-analysis of 21 medical reports and studies also published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that, “the intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or CVD.”
If not fat, then what?
So, if saturated fats aren’t the culprit in CVD and atherosclerosis, then what is? Enter carbohydrates. Most grains and sugars are highly inflammatory. As a society, our diets are high in processed and packaged foods like pastries, fast food, crackers, cookies and cakes. Eating these foods causes surges in blood sugar and taxes the pancreas, whose job it is to produce insulin to shuttle the sugar into our cells to be used for energy or stored for later. Over time, the cells become resistant to insulin and sugar remains in the bloodstream instead of being transported into the cells. Sugar in the blood stream sticks to protein molecules like LDL cholesterol (called “bad cholesterol”). This changes the structure of the LDL and causes an inflammatory cascade which leads to plaques in the arteries and the inability of LDL to carry cholesterol where it’s needed,especially to the brain. So, now we have a simple equation. Too many carbohydrates cause inflammation, which leads to oxidized or damaged LDL and atherosclerosis. This is what leads to heart disease, not eating too much dietary saturated fat and cholesterol.
Read on and look for next weeks post, Liz will share more details about how your health and wellness can be bolstered with fat as she shares all of the well researched benefits to Fat. She will also share a sample meal plan to help you take advantage of the most nourishing food options available.
Liz Mckinney, LDN, CNS
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15233
4108 Monroeville Blvd Monroeville PA 15146
Edited By, Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCCLearn More
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic or Keto diet for short is a buzzword now, but it’s not new! Decades ago, it was used primarily to treat epilepsy in children whose seizures were uncontrolled. Research found that those with epilepsy had fewer seizures when in a state of ketosis vs. being glucose dependent. Today, there are many more applications for this diet that show promise to continue researching for more potential benefits. But, let’s take a deeper dive into what being in ketosis really means!
Being in ketosis means that the primary fuel source in the diet is fat, instead of carbohydrates. When you become fat adapted and burn fat over glucose, the body makes byproducts called ketones which the brain used for fuel. This spares glucose, the primary fuel source for the red blood cells, endocrine system and muscles. Traditionally, carbs make up 45-65% of our daily intake, protein makes up 10-35% and fat makes up 20-35%. On the keto diet, one might be consuming as much as 70% fat, 20% protein with a mere 10% coming from carbohydrates. One a standard 2,000 calorie diet that is only 50 grams coming from carbohydrates. A very strict approach to this diet might allow only 20 grams of carbohydrates, while a more moderate approach may allow between 40-60 grams depending on goals and taking into account each individuals therapeutic need.
So, what are some reasons to pursue a very low carbohydrate diet like this? Evidence is suggesting that the ketogenic diet is a great way to spark weight loss. Since it’s very low carbohydrate, this keeps insulin (our fat storage hormone) low. This means that fat stores can be unlocked and used for fuel. Additionally, prevention and improvement of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease have been seen with high fat diets. The brain seems to do very well when using ketones for fuel instead of glucose. These applications are very relevant for Americans today, as neurodegenerative diseases and obesity are on the rise. Maybe even more important, are the applications for cancer. Cancer cells love sugar (glucose). Starving the cancer cells on a ketogenic diet shows promise in slowing cancer progression.
One drawback to the keto diet is that it is usually low in fiber since fiber is found in carbohydrate rich foods. GI issues like constipation, cramping or acid reflux may occur. One way around this is to count only net carbohydrates. That is, total carbohydrates minus the total fiber. This is usually a more moderate approach, but still confers the benefits of a traditional diet and keeps carbohydrate intake low.
The long term effects of the ketogenic diet are still being studied, but it shows much promise for short term use. Pregnant or nursing women, those with gallbladder disease or insulin dependent diabetics should use caution and discuss with their health care or dietary professional before implementing and keto changes into their diet.
If you want to learn more about this diet, book an appointment with Liz or check out “The Keto Diet”, a great comprehensive read on those curious about whether a high fat diet might be right for them. Remember that every body is different and diets should be tailored to what works best for your health and wellness goals.
Here is an example of the satiating kinds of meal plan a person can enjoy on the Keto Diet!
For breakfast you might have scrambled eggs and add in heavy cream, chives, and up to 4 slices of your favorite nitrate free bacon. With so much dense nourishment, you will hardly notice that you skipped the bread!
For lunch, put your favorite protein on a bed of baby salad greens, add a vinegar or cream based dressing.
For dinner: Go all out with a generously cut Ribeye that can be enjoyed with mushroom cream sauce and several ounces of broccoli.
Health and Wellness,
Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDNLearn More
Anti-Inflammatory Diet – Including Meal Plan by Licensed Nutrition Counselor, Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 7, 2018 anti-inflammatory diet, chronic inflammation, diabetes, medicine, nutrition, Uncategorized, Wijkstrom0 comments
Anti-Inflammatory Diet, What it is, What it Does and Including a Meal Plan by Licensed Nutrition Counselor, Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN.
Every standard anatomy course covers a section on inflammation, health circles and modern medicine studies how this physiological process effects our bodies. Modern science has uncovered much evidence related to how our dietary consumption fuels our internal inflammation. To understand inflammation, let’s talk what about what inflammation really is. Inflammation is a normal part of our body’s healing process. Think of the redness, pain and swelling that comes along with an acute injury. These are bio-markers that our white blood cells are migrating to the origin of a wound, when the white blood cells arrive they will unfold to facilitate the healing process. This mechanism is a normal and necessary indication that our immune response is hard at work. But what happens when our immune systems are working over time in a way we can’t see? This is a part of what is termed ‘chronic inflammation’, and our diet definitely plays a large role in both calming it down or conversely, throwing fuel on the flames.
Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to many common diseases in the U.S today. Obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 Diabetes are some common diseases to which inflammation contributes to the onset and progression (Lopez-Condelez 2017). Additionally, according to a 2018 study Dr. Billmore et, al, which was published in Nature, there is also evidence that inflammation may contribute to certain forms of depression as well as aiding in the development and progression of this mental health disease, inflammation is also being study as a contributing factor in the development of other mood disorders. Of course diet alone can not provide total therapy for depression or disease but it is an important pathway to providing our best course to become well.
The fact is when our immune system becomes chronically activated, low-grade, systemic inflammation occurs. Even if you aren’t suffering from an overt disease, things like stress, leaky gut, food sensitivities and even an imbalance in our gut micro-biome all are capable of pushing our bodies into an inflammatory state. The consequences of chronic inflammation are serious. Increased risk of neuro-degenerative and cardiovascular disease, trouble losing weight, digestive problems, hormonal imbalances, and cellular damage may all occur as a result.
Our food choices can either promote or calm inflammation. Many of the diseases and problems listed above may be prevented or mitigated with an anti-inflammatory diet. The top foods that commonly contribute to chronic inflammation in the standard American diet are:
- Refined grains (bread, crackers, cookies, cakes, snack foods)
- Dairy (all cow dairy products including milk, ice cream, and yogurt
- Sugar (table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners)
- Vegetable oils (Canola, Corn, Safflower, Sunflower and Rapeseed oils)
- Trans fat (Margarine, peanut butter, mayonnaise, packaged snacks)
- Conventional/commercially raised meat
- Alcohol (More than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men)
- Food additives (MSG, artificial flavors and food dyes)
On the flip side, nourishing foods can also accelerate healing in the body and prevent the inflammatory cascade from becoming chronic. For whole body health and wellness, add these anti-inflammatory foods into your daily diet:
- Fatty fish (Halibut, salmon, sardines, trout)
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Vegetables (Any and all kinds!)
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Grass-fed animal meats
We know that one of the barriers to incorporating dietary changes is that we simply don’t know where to begin. As an added bonus, we will share an example one-day meal plan, made by a certified and licensed Nutrition Counselor, Liz Mckinney, by using this plan, you can jump start your anti-inflammatory diet today!
- 2 scrambled eggs with sautéed spinach, mushrooms and garlic
- ½ avocado
- 2 cups mixed greens with 4 oz. salmon or chicken and walnuts with a turmeric ginger dressing (Juice from 2 large organic lemons, approximately 1/4 cup of fresh juice, 1″ fresh ginger, skin removed, 1 garlic clove, 2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, Salt to taste – Blend in food processor)
- Sautéed lemon pepper shrimp over zucchini “noodles” sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper
- 70% or greater dark chocolate, almonds/walnuts, rice cake with mashed avocado, hard boiled egg with spicy mustard, cut up veggies with hummus or another home made veggie dip
Additionally, by working with a licensed nutritionist or dietitian to identify food sensitivities, heal leaky gut, balance your gut micro-biome, eradicating bacterial overgrowth, and implementing a stress reduction plan into your daily life, your wellness, emotional, and physical health can be optimized. As always, wellness routines that include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, spending time in nature, or deep breathing are all proven techniques to increase resilience to stress.
Blog article is written by Liz Mckinney, CNS, Liz is the licensed and certified nutritionist for the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, Liz can provide nutrition counseling near you, now accepting new patients in Western Pennsylvania.
edited, by Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCCLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 31, 2018 food for anxiety, food for depression, food for mood0 comments
28 Foods to Decrease Anxiety and Depression and Enhance Positive Moods
Food & Mood Series by Liz Mckinney, CNS, Board Certified Nutritionist
“It is both compelling and daunting to consider that dietary intervention at an individual or population level could reduce rates of psychiatric disorders. There are exciting implications for clinical care, public health, and research” – editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881
Mood imbalances like depression and anxiety are on the rise in the U.S. In 2016, the National Institute for Mental Health estimated that 16.2 million Americans have experienced at least one major depressive episode and 42 million have an anxiety disorder of some kind. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml Additionally, depression is the leading cause of disability globally. Traditionally, depression and anxiety are viewed as being caused by chemical imbalances, due to under production of our feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. Lets explore how food is related to emotional health and how we can put ourselves at risk for developing anxiety or depression with our diet, as well as the good news of how diet can increase of mood, energy, and all around wellness.
So what factors contribute to a drop in the production of neurotransmitters? Biologically, this question has a multi-tiered answer. First, genetics and epigenetics (namely, how our environmental exposures affect which of our genes become activated) certainly play a role in a person’s proclivity towards depression and anxiety. For example, a common genetic mutation called MTHFR has a big impact in how we activate the B vitamin folate in our cells. Those with this genetic mutation are more prone to depression because of folate’s role in making serotonin. But, we know that our genetics don’t tell the whole story. The second factor influencing the expression of our genes, are our mental and emotional stressors or triggers, this is the part that can be effected by our social supports and reduced with therapy. Social factors and cognitive perceptions contribute significantly to the onset of these common mood disorders.
The Standard American Diet, which is low in fiber, healthy fats and protein and packed full of cheap, convenient sugar laden foods means we have less of the amino acid building blocks we need to make GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. A second issue to consider is that poor gut health is directly linked to worsened mood disorders thanks to the two-way gut-brain connection. Intake of processed snack foods packed with sugar, flour, and trans fat are like pouring gasoline on the fire and promote overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast in our gut where up to 80% of our body’s serotonin is produced. Eating poor quality proteins or simply not enough further compound the issue because proteins are the building blocks for these important compounds that keep our moods stable. Grain fed, factory farmed eggs and meats and genetically modified crops are not only loaded with toxins and pesticides that alter our microbiomes, they serve to ramp up that low grade chronic inflammation. Finally, fiber intake has never been lower thanks to the standard American diet. Fiber rich foods serve as probiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine. Without fuel, the good “bugs” are more likely to die off, leaving room for the pathogenic species to flourish. Our bacteria send signals to our brains, so we want our good bacteria to dominate and send signals that promote brain health, not cause further chemical imbalances and inflammation.
Now time for the empowering news! The food we eat can also improve mood, and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Food can be a kind of internal therapy, by nourishing organs, healing of stomach linings and then increasing energy and brain health, they have a huge impact on decreasing ones susceptibility to relapsing from mental health disorders.
- High quality proteins
- Cage-free Eggs
- Grass-fed Beef and
- Chicken raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.
Vegan or vegetarian
- Non-GMO soy
- Vegetable proteins like legumes, pea chia, or hemp.
- Fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut which contain live organisms that populate the microbiome with beneficial bacteria.
The above mentioned foods promote emotional and physical health by keeping the gut happy and healthy. As a word of caution, avoid processed, packaged snack foods at all costs and focus on whole, unprocessed foods like promote a good mood. Here are some more delicious options to add to your daily diet that calm inflammation and support mood:
- Dark Chocolate (70% or darker)
- Vitamin B rich foods – eggs, raw dairy, grass fed beef, and organic chicken and turkey, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard, and bananas
- Red, Purple, and Blue Berries – Contain Vitamin C and other antioxidants
- Omega 3s – wild caught fatty fish (2 servings weekly), walnuts and flax seed
- Coconut oil
As a final note, understanding mood disorders is complex and the underlying factors multi-tiered. Everyone is unique and requires and individualized approach that takes into account genetics and epigenetics, mental and emotional health and diet and lifestyle. When all three are addressed, we are better able to address mood disorders and provide the best outcomes. If you want to learn more about health enhancing diets and what foods can support emotional and physical health, meet with a board certified and licensed nutritionist, our nutritionist, Liz Mckinney, CNS accepts Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance as well as self paying clients.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 16, 2018 anxiety during pregnancy, depression in pregnancy, postpartum, stress pregnancy0 comments
Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy, ‘Wellness For People Like Me.’
Writer, blogger, and art therapy graduate Angela Grace Wilt shares some of her experiences in recovering positive coping and mental health including ways to manage anxiety and depression during pregnancy. This is a part of the ‘People Like Me’ Series of our wellness blog, real people, real stories, real ways to incorporate wellness into stages and experiences of everyday normal life.
Being a woman comes with a lot of ups and downs. Women are prone to anxiety and it can be very hard to to admit. For example, women are closely tied to the monthly cycles that their body experiences. Things such as menstruation cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, and intense bodily urges with cravings. Men never will get us or grasp what we go through. We are just that unique. For as long as I could remember, I have felt that as a woman I am special and cursed all at once.
Then of course recently, as I have taken this jump into parenthood with the amazing biological potential of my body, quickly I have learned that while things like premenstrual dysphoria, and the normal anxieties and depression of menstruation are challenging, pregnancy holds a whole long list of unique and larger fears and physical difficulties. In fact, this is true for all women, and according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy. The shift in mental health have multiple sources, think about it, there is insomnia because our body is changing so fast that some women can be prone to rapid heartbeat, which makes it harder to fall asleep. There is also the whole list of ‘what ifs.’ Will my baby and I make it to full term? Will my baby be healthy? I can no longer drink alcohol, ride adrenaline driven roller coasters, lift heavy weights, or really take any chances of too adventurous tasks. With each decision I make, I consider the question ‘what will makes my little bump, a healthy or not so healthy baby.’
Physical and emotional changes are also thread within social fears and adjustments, I sometimes wonder, have I planned enough for this pregnancy that has in many ways, just happened. The truth is, I am not some 30 something who has been charting my cycle for 6 months to achieve conception, I didn’t plan to get pregnant just yet. I thought about it sure, but just like most couples we wanted to walk down the aisle with a white dress of lace and flowers all the scenery of our closest friends and family shouting us on, it was always my dream of being that princess and marrying my soul mate! We still will have that for our future, but it will be after we get through the current stresses. In addition to the changes in my timeline, I also care about what our parents think about our having a baby right now. Having a baby out before marriage can be shocking for some religious and cultural values. We were lucky because my family is just fine with it, and with a little time to adjust, my better half’s is now happy about the news.
The list of anxieties and real practical matters which accelerate my concerns are aplenty, even small things have caused me stress, I have had to shop for insurance as a pregnant women, because I am twenty-six, pregnant, and didn’t have any. Finally, babies are expensive, health insurance is also expensive, we have stresses of finding better jobs, I have to go on insurance yet because I am twenty-six and don’t have any. We are cleaning house and making a baby room. When all of these real life stresses start to mount very high, I can feel my heart beating faster, I try to stop and think of the things that we do have, I try to re-frame my anxieties and depressed thoughts in a positive light, I pause and I say to myself, ‘I have my boyfriend, our love together, and I have a supportive family. I have myself and my strengths, and I am strong and able.’That always seems to calm me down and help me to remember that there is much to be excited about as we move forward together as a young family.
With all of these anxious and depressed thoughts swirling in my mind, I have taken the time to put together a small list of ways that I manage and support my emotional health during my pregnancy. Of course if you are struggling with mental health during or after your pregnancy, talk to you PCP or Mental Health provider, get a screening for Postpartum or Baby Blues, every year women die or don’t bond with their babies due to maternal mental health factors. If you are like me and relatively healthy but feeling a little anxious or blue, then read on because these tips may help you as much as they helped me.
Use positive self talk, be your own biggest fan and encourage yourself like you would a friend
I say nice things to myself, I write little notes and post them through out the house, simple thoughts like,’ Rome was built in a day’ ‘We will get everything done in time.’ We’re already almost half way there at twelve weeks. It’s just a wild ride. My body is going through so many beautiful changes. Tune in, all of my emotions are heightened. Hunger is giving me nourishment now. Sleep is always appreciated. Sex is fierce and always wanted. Sadness and anger are intense. I have energy that comes out of nowhere. Its ok if sometimes I can’t stop crying. I love my baby and baby’s daddy and not want anything more than to be with just them and them alone. I want the best by our new child. I want to give it proper nutrition and a good home life. I want to be a good parent and my baby to grow in a family where love is the answer and anger is dealt with in a healthy supportive manner. I will protect this baby with all that I have. This child’s needs and wants are now first. I am ready to teach this baby proper education, morals, respect, and spirituality.
Its normal to be overwhelmed, life is now changing!
Anxiety,stress, and fear are the norm when we are overcoming big changes. ways just important to remember that having a baby is a life changing experience. Normalizing the emotions that I am experiencing helps me by making me not feel the guilty, ashamed, or odd for having these dips and emotional shifts.
Reach for your Tribe!
Please remember, you are not alone. You are a powerhouse and you have many people who will listen and talk. Make a list of 5, if you can not list at least 5 people who will pick up the phone for you, see a therapist and talk about the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Mom, dad, best friends, siblings, make a list and think about who is the best person to talk with through the things that come up. It will likely be a different person for each of situations that one may encounter on the pregnancy journey.
Use your breath
The body and its breathing are powerful, breathing can be used to energize and manage our response to stress. Take some deeps breaths every day.
Make a Wellness Routine
Do calming relaxing type activities like yoga, walking in nature or just walking, stretch, journal, and keep time for yourself to collect your thought and consider the daily experiences that you are managing. Essential oils can help ease the mind and emotions and of course be sure to choose blends that are safe to use during pregnancy.
Bond with your baby
Talk to your baby while its in the womb, there will likely be a time after your baby is born that you are longing to be so closely connected to him or her again, try to cherish these moments and zoom out towards the big picture where you are nurturing a sacred bond right now in your womb. Being a woman is very special, and this connection, with baby snugly centered in my sacral area, right as my mother and my mothers mother have always done, this is something that men can not understand, but I am ok with that.
We are powerful, we are able to make changes that influence the outcomes of our life. Pregnancy like all things, is what you make of it. Do your best to stay positive by thinking of the new exciting things that can be done all in great fun with your new family together. Your love of baby and yourself will take you far. Be gentle with yourself when you notice the stress, anxiety, and fear of the 9 months ahead. This is a special time that can be used to get really healthy and in tune with your bodies needs. As always, seek medical help from a PCP, Gynecologist, or Licensed Professional Counselor if you have concerns about your mental health.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 5, 2018 anxiety, clinical herbalist, complementary medicine, depression, holistic health, integrative mental health, natural health, turmeric0 comments
The Amazing Natural Substance that treats Depression and Anxiety
Want to manage anxiety and depression as well as double down on a dose of wellness? We have one incredible natural health, food substance to report to you. Turmeric is a rhizome and a member of the ginger family. Turmeric a major ingredient of Indian curries and has also been used to dye clothing throughout history, due to its vivid yellow color. The scientific community continues to research its uses as a healing substance, specifically trying to gauge the mechanism of action and effectiveness of the active substance, curcumin.
Curcumin is known as the most active ingredient in turmeric and continues to intrigue the medical community with its ability to providing relief for symptoms like depression and anxiety. According to a recent metanalysis funded by The National Institute of Health, curcumin was shown to be safe and effective in reducing symptoms of depression (Hewlings, 2017). That study recommended that while there are some conclusive therapeutic effects in treating depression, more research should be done to determine it’s clinical role in the treatment of anxiety.
Turmeric entered the clinical limelight when researches wanted to investigate the differences in cancer rates between westerners and some eastern and Indian populations. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have used these plants for thousands of years. Natural and holistic health options find ways to use the medicinal properties of commonly used foods to enhance well-
being. Some common ways of administering them are by grinding them into a fine powder, then using it topically as a salve or ingesting them to treat multiple ailments ranging from skin lesions to memory enhancement.
While the mechanisms of Turmeric’s health and wellness benefits are not completely understood, it is believed that curcumins ability to reduce inflammation, is one of the major health enhancing properties which can affect the brain, cancer, lupus, and renal disease. Curcumins also have other functions in addition to reducing symptoms of depression, it benefits the entire body and can be used as protection from liver toxic substances, to manage Crohn’s disease, reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome to name a few (Gupta, 2013). In addition to reducing symptoms, this amazing root is reported to also enhance post work out recovery, (Hewlings, 2017. ) Turmeric is not a replacement for pharmaceuticals treating depression. Patients should still seek advice from medical professionals since other medical conditions need to be ruled out. Nor does it replace the benefits of managing the symptoms of depression or anxiety by getting counseling. Rather, it viewed as complementary to current therapeutic options.
The beneficial effects of turmeric on health is dose-dependent. It is not sufficient to heap an extra serving of curry at your favorite Indian restaurant in hopes of healing the brain and body. The clinically relevant dose of turmeric is upwards 600 mg several times per day. We recommend that the reader consult with a clinical Herbalist or Nutritionist to assess the appropriate regimen to manage the symptoms that you aim to address. Most sources recommend turmeric in capsule form to standardize the dosage. Some also enjoy turmeric in a latte or smoothie for added tasting pleasure. There is also some research being done about whether it may be further beneficial to use turmeric as an accompaniment to black pepper and some other fats like coconut milk, which are known to allow greater absorption of the active compounds. With no known side effects and so much to gain, curcumin seems like a great place to start if you want neuro-protective and physically benefits all in one delicious root!
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
4108 Monroeville Blvd, Monroeville Pa 15146
Be Well Pittsburgh!
- Gupta, S. C., Patchva, S., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2013). Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials. The AAPS Journal, 15(1), 195–218. http://doi.org/10.1208/s12248-012-9432-8
- Hewlings, S. J., & Kalman, D. S. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods, 6(10), 92. http://doi.org/10.3390/foods6100092
- Lopresti AL, Drummond PD (2017) Efficacy of curcumin, and a saffron/curcumin combination for the treatment of major depression: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord.