Category Archives for "Blog"

March 13, 2018

How to switch to a natural personal care routine

eco skin care, natural skin care

natural skin care

In the early 2000s, natural products were just beginning to become readily available, and I was keen to adopt this lifestyle for the planet and my own health. In the process of experimenting with the early products, I had more than my share of rashes, breakouts and at the worst point my armpits managed to become red and scaly and yet still somehow sweaty. It was not an easy road! Luckily these days the products available are prolific in number and many of them work well. To make things even easier, I want to tell you everything I've learnt about making the switch.

To begin with, there's no need to throw out all your products and buy new ones. That can be overwhelming and expensive. Instead, it's much more manageable to experiment with one product at a time. This way there is no more financial outlay than you normally would spend on products, less wastage; and if it takes a while to find the right replacement product, you won't be battling with a bathroom cabinet full of items that don't work for you.

toxic personal care ingredients

Here are some of the key ingredients to avoid in your personal care:


Found in..

Reason to avoid

triclosan/ triclocarban

soaps (liquid/ bar)

disrupts thyroid and reproductive hormones

Vitamin A/ retinyl palmitate/ retinyl acetate/ retinoic acid/ retinol

skin care

increases sun sensitivity and when exposed to UV damages DNA of skin

SPF above 50


Only slightly improves sun protection but increases chemical load and leads to false sense of safety in sun

aerosol spray and powder sunscreens with nanoparticles, baby powder

spray and powder sunscreens

penetrate the lungs and enter bloodstream, inhaled baby powder hazardous to the lungs of babies



potential hormone disruptor

coal tar derivatives and lead

dark hair dyes

carcinogenic, neurotoxin

formaldehyde/ formalin and chemicals that convert to formaldehyde in the body such as bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidzaolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, methylene glycol

chemical hair straightener

carcinogen, respiratory irritant

toluene, benzene

nail polish remover, nail polish

potent neurotoxic, can impair fetal development, toxic to immune system

phthalates, plasticiser

nail polish, hair spray

may damage male reproductive system and should be avoided by pregnant women

fragrance - non-specific ingredient which could be anything

perfume, and perfumed creams or skin care products, makeup, hair products - almost anything

can disrupt hormones, allergenic



potential carcinogen, causes depigmentation, in animal studies produced liver damage, interferes with thyroid and reproductive system functions

boric acid & sodium borate

liquid cosmetics and as a preservative, thickener or emulsifier in many cosmetic products

hormone disruptors, may harm male reproductive system, long term use may affect kidneys

parabens , propyl-, isopropyl-butyl-isobutyl

preservative in cosmetics

may disrupt hormones

PEG/ cetearet/ polyethylene

base for creams, toothpaste

probable carcinogen, hormone disruption

alpha & beta hydroxy acids/ lactic acid/ glycolic acid

anti-ageing products and facial peels

increases UV skin damage

hydroquinone, mercury derivatives (calomel, mercurio, mercurio chloride)

skin lighteners

can cause permanent skin disease; mercury in overseas lighteners is a poison

petroleum extracts/ mineral oil

moisturisers, hair conditioners, lip balm

often contaminated with carcinogens, organ toxicity

How to make the switch in 6 steps

  • 1
    Place all your personal care items in front of you.
  • 2
    Throw out any that are over a year old or that you don't like
  • 3
    Look at any items that you need to replace or will need to replace soon
  • 4
    Select items that you don't currently have a favourite brand that you can't bear to part from
  • 5
    When choosing a natural option either ask your friends for recommendations, try the ones I use and love listed below  or check out the reviews at (affiliate) Nourished Life for the product you need.
  • 6
    Check the ingredients of new products and look up any ingredients you don't know at and stick to the lowest risk you can find (I aim for a rating of 1-3)

My go-to products (affiliated)

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    Liquid Soap: Dr Bronner's pure castile liquid soap in various natural scents. I usually cleanse my face with this or just water, but I'm experimenting with making my own cleanser from oats. Watch this space! EWG rating 1 (lowest risk)
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    Deodorant: Black Chicken Remedies deodorant paste or No Pong deodorant paste - I seriously can't pick a favourite, Black Chicken has a neutral scent whereas No Pong smells of lemon. If your skin is irritated by either it is most likely the bi-carb, so choose a bi-carb free option by No Pong.
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    Toothpaste: I used to use Jason Powersmile which is fresh and minty and great for a clean feeling and whitening, I most ecently bought Lavera but I have some concern that it contains Limonene which has some evidence of being hazardous so I will be switching to Grants mint and aloe vera toothpaste
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    Teeth whitener: Get ready to make a mess (comes naturally to me!) with the Warpaint Natural Teeth Whitener, which basically involves rubbing charcoal powder into your teeth. The shower is a good place for this activity! 
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    Mouthwash: I occasionally remember to oil pull (gargle with oil such as coconut oil) which is super cleansing to the mouth and provides nutrients for the teeth and gums and keeps breath sweet. I swear by it, but you don't need a fancy expensive product, just any good quality ​coconut oil
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    Sunscreen: I love when the product I like is a cheapie, as is the case with this Life Basics SPF 30 Sunscreen
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    Mascara: I love the gentle Ere Perez Almond Oil Mascara, it smudges easily when just applied but works beautifully.
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     Mineral foundation: I was using an Ere Perez one which lasted years but it's no longer available at my online shop so I'll be shopping around for this one
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    Facial moisturiser: When I'm not too lazy my favourite moisturiser by far is the one I make myself. You can find the recipe here.  If I can't be bothered then I look for facial oils that include jojoba and rosehip but not coconut oil, which tends to clog pores and cause breakouts.
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     Lipstick: I'm choosing a colour from the Luk Lip Nourish Tasting Plate. I wear so little lipstick this sample collection is probably all I need!
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    Hair dye: I use a hair dye based on henna. It's a bit of a hassle because it needs to be mixed a few hours before use and I'm kind of a spontaneous person, and it needs to be on my hair smelling like a cow pat for at least 3 hours. That being said it's natural and works pretty well, with good but not perfect grey coverage. The brand is Desert Shadow and there is a good selection of colours.
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    Shampoo and conditioner: My hair is like noone else's so we al have different needs, and I tend to vary my choices. I currently use 100% Pure shampoo and Acure conditioner.
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    Hair gel: I buy this locally, Miessence Hair Styling Gel which uses aloe vera gel as a base and doesn't dry out my hair
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     Menstrual products: I bought a social enterprise cup called Ruby Cup, but there are plenty pf good choices these days; I find these great as they last all day but sometimes aren't 100% so I combine with Modibodi underwear, also great for light days or overnight. For purer versions of the traditionals I use TOMs tampons and pads

Now I'd love to hear from you! I'm still learning all the products out there and as you can tell, while I have some products that are very effective and very pure, I'm a bit less committed to others. Please share any pure products you love in the comments below, so we can all benefit from each other.

November 14, 2017

The letter you were meant to receive

I have a beautiful journal, in which I write letters to my daughter Ava Grace. I've been doing this since I was pregnant with her. I tell her the story of her birth, my hopes for her, how we chose her name and of course how dear she is to us.

Recently I knew I must write her all the things I want to make sure she will always know, her whole life. As I wrote I realised they were things we all need to remember, so this specific letter is for you, too. In case someone forgot to tell you. Or if you stopped believing it. These words are written through me but not by me - they are words from your loved ones, from your truest self, from Life, to You. Please keep this letter where you can refer to it whenever you need to.


There are certain things in life it is so important that you know, and always remember. These things are few and simple, but essential. Here they are:

You are SO loved

You are deeply protected

You are divinely guided

You matter

You are seen

You are heard

You have unique gifts

The world needs you

You are here for a specific purpose

Your life matters

I love you.

Let me know below - -what will you be adding to your letter? 

And if you would like more heart healing, then sign up below for my free gift to you, 7 steps to self love. xo

October 3, 2017

11 Things I Learnt About Stress and Burnout

  1. It's possible to hide stress and burnout from yourself for a really long time. Be self aware and be honest with yourself. The price of suppressing how you truly are is way too high.
  2. Thriving on stress can flip to burnout in the blink of an eye. Even if you're thriving, implement massive self compassion and care to keep on the healthy side of the line.
  3. Stress is involved as a contributing or exacerbating factor in almost every health problem. It stands to reason that stress management needs to be part of every health solution.
  4. Stress and burnout are holistic conditions that impact on our mind, emotions and physiology. Learn to support all of these aspects of yourself when going through a stressful period in order to avoid burnout.
  5.  Sleep deprivation makes it that much harder to deal with stress or recover from burnout. Get some strategies for better sleep here.
  6. Self care becomes even more important, but can feel impossible to find time for in amongst the chaos. Start small and find a way here.
  7. Burnout occurs when stress continues for too long. We may not be able to control all the events in our life but we can manage our interpretation of them.
  8. Sometimes our early warning signs are indirect. We may not notice we are stressed but may note we are getting headaches, snapping at loved ones, using distractions (food, shopping, candy crush, Facebook....) or avoiding certain situations.
  9. Three foundational keys will always help with the stress in life - simplifying your life, being self-compassionate, and using nature to heal yourself through nutrition, natural health care and being in the presence of natural beauty.
  10. Burnout helps us see the essence of things, the parts of our lives that truly matter. We can then strip away the rest and learn to lead more fulfilling lives.
  11. Often, burnout can teach us about our choices that we don't even know we're making. Ask yourself: "Am I taking on other people's problems as my own?" and "Am I in this situation because of people-pleasing?" and "How are my habits serving or hindering me in this?" . The answers to these questions may give you some good hints as to how to recover. 

Now I'd like to hear from you. What strategies will you be implementing to avoid or recover from stress and burnout? Let me know in the comments! And if this post could help someone you know, share the love.

​For more on managing stress by dealing with dysfunctional thoughts, sign up below.

September 24, 2017

Surfing the Overwhelm

My childhood summers were carefree ones. I stayed with my best friend at her beach house, and we spent our days running barefoot to the beach, taping (yep, it was that long ago!) songs from the radio and learning to bodyboard.

It took some practice. The waves were big enough to dump us, leaving us disorientated and not knowing which way was up. We had to learn to anticipate the wave as it came, to know when to jump on, and to paddle hard enough to stay afloat.

Overwhelm can feel like this. It's certainly a powerful enough experience to completely disorientate us, to leave us gasping and not sure how we might get through to the other side. But like a wave, we can learn to ride it. I've been dumped by the waves of overwhelm before, and know that enough waves one after the other can lead to longer term stress, anxiety and burnout. Learning to ride overwhelm is pivotal to staying afloat in our lives.

First, we need to become better at seeing it coming. For me, it creeps in by stealth through coping strategies like escapist TV/ social media, craving junk foods or feeling tired at the thought of what I feel I need to do. I now know these are my warning signs, and use them as a cue to cut back on projects and expectations, prioritise sleep and keep life simple.

Next, we learn our limits. I used to say that I had only 2 states at work - boredom or overwhelm. I always wanted more projects, more working parties and more clients to stay engaged and excited. But it was the finest line between engagement and becoming stressed and counter-productive. Too many projects and this adrenaline-junkie approach to life is intertwined with stress. The answer is not boredom! It lies in engaging more deeply rather than more broadly. Instead of flitting over 100 projects, deeply connect to a handful. Be present and practice mindfulness to draw fulfilment from life, rather than the pursuit of shiny objects.

We practice ​managing the expectations of others. I used to assume that those in both my personal and professional life expected me to bend over backwards for them, the way I expected this from myself. So imagine my surprise after a period of grief and burnout, when I set new limits in all my key relationships and no one battered an eyelid. Try it for yourself, you'll be amazed how the world keeps turning as before.

And finally, I surgically removed the word "should" from my vernacular. True, it tends to grow back from time to time, but I just cut it out more vigorously than before. If you take nothing else, try at least this. A large part of overwhelm lies within our own thoughts. When we remove the "shoulds" from our thinking, we allow ourselves room to fall short, to breathe, to be gentle to ourselves.​

When we do these things, we see the wave becomes smaller and more manageable as it rolls towards us. We find strength to paddle, and may even enjoy the ride.​

If you'd like to reclaim your time and ​learn to surf the overwhelm, I have a great 3 day video program, completely free for you below. And I'd love to hear from you - which of these strategies will you be using to surf the overwhelm? Let me know below! xo

August 26, 2017

Why I loved my fat pregnancy feet

I've always been a girls' girl, more at home in the company of women. But over the years, as one by one my female friends became mothers while I battled with fertility demons, I felt like I stopped fitting in. I sat on the sidelines of more conversations than I can say; one particular recurring theme being "How having children has messed up my body".

​The conversation goes something like this, "my stomach has never been the same since pregnancy - I used to have abs!" followed by comments on boobs, stretch marks and scars. I find myself sitting in silence. It's not that I can't relate to bodily changes - but mine have been caused by miscarriages, surgeries, injecting increasingly heavy doses of hormones, and comfort eating when all of it failed. I too have forgotten what my stomach muscles looked like in my kickboxing days, but no one wants to hear the story of losing one's abs to lost pregnancies and IVF. It makes people uncomfortable and kills the camaraderie, so I kept quiet.

​In my outsider state, I envied the women whose bodily changes were rewarded so richly with children. At times I felt resentful... I paid the price but didn't get the reward, and yet I lost the right to voice my complaints also. I felt bitterly that my physical changes were markers of trauma and loss, and that I would gladly take the changes that resulted in a live baby.

And then... I got pregnant. Years later. Out of the blue. After working out the chances of me giving birth to a living child was less than 1/2 per cent. And I swore that every physical change of pregnancy would be valued as part of this gift. I even prayed for nausea and mood swings so I could feel confidence that I was actually pregnant.

I felt both terrified and grateful (and so tired!) for the duration of the pregnancy - never taking any particular outcome for granted. ​I noted my physical changes with a detached fascination, but the last thing I wanted to do was begrudge any of it. I was happy to sacrifice the body I knew on the altar of the fertility gods. It seemed like the smallest thing in the world.

Somehow though, in the last weeks of my pregnancy when pre-eclampsia and the accompanying football-shaped feet set in, I found myself ​forgetting my pact and wondering if my feet would fit into my shoes again, or if I'd have to start shopping at those special comfort shoe stores. I forgot that physical changes are calls for self compassion, not vanity or self judgment. I forgot that my pillowy feet were markers of my great fortune. I forgot that only months before I'd resented this very trait of oblivion to all those women who fight battles with their bodies without this precious reward.

​And this forgetfulness may have continued if it werent for a photo on social media. A friend had posted a collage of memories of an old classmate I'd lost touch with since school, and it hit me that the classmate had died. Flipping over to her social media page where she chronicled her illness, I saw one of her last photos - swollen feet with defiantly and courageously painted toenails. 

It was a punch to the heart. My memory lapse was gone. I remembered the old me who sat in self imposed exile as the mothers talked of the bodies they once had. I looked at this photo of swollen feet, the last photo before death. And I looked at mine, the small price paid for new life. My tears were of remorse and gratitude for the swollen feet I was dealt, and so much compassion​ for those so bravely born by my classmate. 

We all carry our bodies with the tattoos and memories and histories of our lives worn on them. Sometimes secretly and with shame; sometimes​ bared to the world; sometimes even held with pride and courage. And if I can only do one thing to honour my old classmate and her pedicured, swollen feet it will be this - wear the history of my body with courage and compassion, and encourage other women to do the same.

I'd love to hear from you - how have you learned to hold your body with more compassion? And if this is something you struggle with, ​you are warmly invited to the free Body Love Challenge. Every body deserves to be loved.

February 24, 2017

6 ways to think like a naturopath for increased vitality

It's so natural when we're sick to reach for the most convenient fix and get on with our lives as soon as possible. Who has time for sickness, right? It's not in our plans. It messes life up. But the quick fix is not always the long game fix. And sometimes there is no quick fix at all.

I wasn't brought up with naturopathy. There's nothing 'hippy' about my parents, except that they had me. In fact, I only discovered naturopathy as an adult, when a friend​ suggested I might find a new approach to my long term niggles. I'd like to say I immediately transformed my life. More truthfully, I gradually learnt from naturopaths over time to improve my lifestyle, and many of my health issues faded away. This is no miracle cure, and you will never hear me suggest avoiding medical intervention, but naturopathy helped me to build a foundation for health that meant my body was well able to deal with any minor issues that came along. 

The naturopathic approach helped me completely resolve what had been debilitating premenstrual pain and nausea, food intolerances that completely ruled my ability to digest​ - including a few weeks of vomiting on a daily basis, recover from grief and restore my resilience when stress and burnout took over. I experience less allergies and colds, no longer get tonsillitis (doctors were starting to talk about removing my tonsils) and look healthier.

So what is different about the naturopathic approach? While you of course must ​have an assessment by a naturopath for specific strategies for you, there is a way of thinking that can benefit you regardless of your health concerns. The first step is to view your health issue through the 6 layers of the therapeutic order.

1. ​Establish the conditions for health by identifying and removing factors that disturb your health, and creating a healthy lifestyle for yourself.

Truth time. What in your lifestyle continues to disturb your health? Is your job ridiculously stressful? Do you propel through your day on caffeine power? Consider not only what you eat and drink but also smoking, alcohol or drugs, exercise levels, stress, lack of sleep and anything that intuitively pops into your mind when you reflect on what could be disturbing your health. More generally, where could your lifestyle be healthier? Focus on crowding out unhelpful habits with amazing nutrition, gentle exercise, mindfulness or meditation and deep sleep.

2. Stimulate your body's ability to heal itself

​In naturopathy we call this "the healing power of nature". But it's less about the nature out there, and more about the very nature of our body. Our bodies are all designed to restore us to balance as best they can. Support your general self healing abilities by grounded coping strategies, spending time in nature, practicing yoga or swimming or other gentle exercise and pursue the joys of life to give you natural energy. And laugh!

3. Address weakened systems or organs

​We must never ignore what our body tells us, but we can support its ability to heal itself. For example, if you're prone to colds and respiratory infections - don't just medicate the symptoms, work to build up your immune system over time. If you have severe PMS, consider how to gently balance your hormones and stress levels. If being locked in cubicle nation keeps you stiff and sore, implement a stretching practice to keep your muscles comfortable rather than relying on pain killers. Whatever organ or system has been affected in your health history, learn ways to actively support that system through your nutrition and lifestyle.

4. Correct structural integrity​

​Some of our health issues may be contributed to or exacerbated by holding tension, spinal issues or old injuries. Pilates, yoga, physiotherapy, therapeutic massage, osteopathy or chiropractics may support your overall health. Surely you don't need convincing to have a massage!

5. Address pathologies using natural and/or pharmacologic substances

There's no doubt that the above remedies ​offer benefits to all of us, but there are times when illnesses need medicine. This is where this layer of the approach comes in. Engage with health professionals you trust. If you do choose to see a naturopath, be aware that in Australia and many other countries, there is no regulation of who can call themselves by this title, so don't be afraid to ask for qualifications and association memberships. And while each of us must make their own health choices, I encourage you to always have a great doctor in your corner, even if you use natural approaches as well. 

6. Suppress or surgically remove pathology

Where emergencies exist or no other approach will do the job, we may need to suppress or surgically remove an illness. Dangerous fevers, quickly multiplying pathogens, anything of a severe nature and​ growths and tumours may well need surgery or active suppression by your medical professionals. Be open to this where needed, and support your body by using the other layers of support as well.

So there you have it, the 6 steps of approaching your health from a naturopathic perspective. Surprised to see doctors and surgeons included? Don't be. Gone are the times when we had to choose one side of the fence or the other. Naturopathy is no longer viewed as an alternative to allopathic medicine, but rather its complement. ​I may be studying naturopathy but there are also times when surgery or allopathic medicine was the immediate answer for me (afterwards followed up by natural restorative practices). So regardless of your health, consider all the layers where you could heal. If one approach hasn't worked for you, try the others. And be kind to yourself.

I'd love to hear from you - which of these approaches have you not yet tried in your health? And what will you implement now? Let me know in the comments below.​

​For further reading about the therapeutic order, look here.

February 21, 2017

When fatigue feels like failure

I write a blog about resilience. But a few weeks ago, I could barely get through a day without naps. I would wake up in the morning, and within a couple of hours lie down for a 3 hour sleep. And another in the afternoon. And 10 more hours overnight.

True, it was for good reason, as it was the first trimester of my pregnancy. But I felt like all the work I'd put into recovering from burnout had somehow failed. And worse - I wasn't pursuing any of my goals. My writing ground to a halt. And a previous all-honours student in my naturopathy degree, I found myself avoiding any attempts at my pharmacology subject until days before the exam. Sidebar - pharmacology is not a subject where one can phone it in!

​It brought me back to a time where I went from an enthusiastic employee working 12 hour days even in the days before my own wedding, to someone who crashed and burned under what felt like the crushing weight of grief and overwhelm.

The truth is, fatigue and its causes are never part of our ambitions or dreams. Ask every kid you know what they want to be when they grow up. There may be a variety of answers - teachers, astronauts and (at my niece's recent 6th grade graduation) YouTube stars. But I'll guarantee not a single one will reply "I just want to be in a place where I have to drag myself up each morning and put every ounce of energy I have into surviving the daily grind".

And most of us who have experienced burnout, chronic fatigue or anything similar, do not start out that way. More often, we look back and think "I gave too much, more than I was able to replenish". So for us, the ones who want to give our all, we can feel like failures when it seems there's nothing we have left to offer. We watch our colleagues shining bright like perhaps we used to, or admire a super-mum friend​ who somehow manages to do it all, or think of the big night out we're missing because we can't scrape ourselves off the couch. And it's hard not to feel kicked by failure.

​But here's the thing - fatigue is our teacher. If we stop to listen, it can show us where our lives have been out of balance. It invites us to practice gentleness within, as no amount of self judgement will help. And it creates space to reflect on the meaning we attribute to our lives, and a chance to realign our deepest values.

If you find yourself in a place of excessive or prolonged fatigue, here are some places to start:​

  1. How much nutrition are you taking in each day in the food and fluids you consume? Rather than trying to give up junk food or nutritionally empty foods, crowd them out by eating as much colourful vegetables as you can, with some fruit, healthy proteins and fats, and loads of water
  2. Are you sleeping well and in a helpful sleep routine? If this is something you struggle with, read more here
  3. What's going on for you emotionally? Fatigue is not always tied up with depression, grief or other emotional distress, but it's linked often enough to take a good look at this area of your life. Openly and honestly explore within yourself if there are unresolved stressors, hurts or anger that you suppress rather than process. It's exhausting keeping that stuff in, and poisonous. Reach out for the support you need, talk to a friend or journal or dance it out - whatever you need to allow stuck emotions to flow through you again
  4. Where is your life out of balance? Create a list of your commitments and routine tasks. What can you start delegating, omitting, saying no to? A wise Balinese healer told me recently, "build your own house before you help someone else build theirs". When you're fatigued, it's totally acceptable to put your own needs first - you have to, to recover. And going forward, ensure your needs remain a priority even amongst caring for loved ones and fulfilling work commitments
  5. Where does your health need review or extra care? Ensure you have the best care and advice you have access to for any health conditions. Discuss any medications you take with your health professional to see if they can be affecting your energy levels and how this can be better managed
  6. Take a few minutes of silence to look within. What is the deep cause of your fatigue? What is your body trying to tell you? How aligned with your values, your truth and your priorities is your day to day life? Allow yourself to be guided from within.

Now I'd love to hear from you - what was the greatest lesson from your fatigue? And which tools either helped you or will you try?

December 24, 2016

Christmas shadows, Christmas lights. How to survive the festive season if you’re just not feeling it.

At no other time of year do we fall so deeply for the image of how life is "supposed' to look. We are bombarded with images of amazing feasts, expensive gifts, happy families and buzzing social lives. The Christmas lights are dazzling.

But the brighter the lights, the longer the shadows. Some of us have different Christmas stories. The ​lights show in stark relief our Christmas ghosts, and the cracks in our Christmas picture.

It might be that you have a loss, or many losses, in your life which sting most at this time of year. Someone whose place at the table is empty this year. The child you thought you'd be hanging a stocking for, who Santa does not visit. The parent who in their absence is felt even more than they were in their presence. The partner you were going to spend a life with.

Or it may be that you feel your story doesn't measure up. Family fights. Money too tight for the gifts you wanted to give. Stress and overwhelm.

​Here's how I roll with Christmas, perhaps one of these ideas will help:

  1. Go with the flow. Christmas often brings together so many people that it is impossible for it to live up to everyone involved's ideals. If there's too many cooks in the kitchen, observe this and take a step back. Allow yourself to just go with what is if that's easier.
  2. Manage your expectations. ​If Uncle Fred is an alcoholic and second cousin Betty finds something negative to say about everything... then it's likely that's exactly how they will be on Christmas too. We tend to want the best from people and put particular pressure on our expectations at this time of year. Take a few minutes to reflect on who you will be spending Christmas with this year. Put aside how you believe everyone "should" behave, and instead take stock of how they actually do behave. Prepare how you would like to respond. Imagine yourself shielded and protected. Walk into Christmas knowing who they are and responding accordingly, to look after your own peace of mind.
  3. Take a moment of alone time. Allow yourself a few minutes before bed or between busy-ness to reflect on YOUR spirit and the meaning this time of year has for you. You may wish to say a prayer or blessing to the loved ones you miss. You may consider the values of Christmas and how you will embody them. Meditate on some pretty lights and acknowledge that the real light of Christmas is found within. This is where peace is.
  4. Reach out to someone less fortunate. It's a wonderful time of year to take on the spirit of Santa and do a random act of kindness for a stranger or a friend. Bonus feel-good factor that will keep you glowing long after.
  5. Have gratitude. Gratitude is always possible. And it always helps. If you're stuck, check out this free gratitude gift for you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you my friend! And no matter the size or form of your Christmas shadows, may you always find the Christmas lights within.

December 9, 2016

I’m taking iron, so why am I still exhausted? How to make your supplements work.

I bet you've been there before - you feel exhausted, find the supplement that promises to give your energy back... and, nothing. "Maybe it's true that supplements are just formulas for expensive urine" you tell yourself in frustration, and give up. But don't listen to the naysayers. I've seen the transformation the right natural prescription can have on my own energy levels, and many others. It's not subtle, it's radical. It just takes some detective work. Here's what could be going wrong:

  1. You've got the right supplement in the wrong form. AKA you get what you pay for! Most nutrients that our bodies require are formulated in various ways when in the supplement form. However, these formulated are not created equal. Some are difficult to absorb. Some can be absorbed, but not used effectively by the body. Any time you purchase a supplement make sure you ask a qualified nutritionist or naturopath the best form for absorption.
  2. You're taking the right formulation but it's interacting with something else. Did you know that almost all the nutrients we need pass through little channels from our small intestine into our blood? So cool. The thing is, the channels aren't there all the time. The channel is specific to certain nutrients, like a lock and key. Sometimes when our blood is full of a nutrient, our body doesn't keep the channels for that nutrient open. And sometimes we need co-nutrients to unlock the channel for the nutrients we need. For example, vitamin C helps iron through these channels into our blood. Calcium and magnesium fight to use the same channels, and so decrease our iron absorption. When you take supplements, ask a practitioner what they interact with, beneficially or detrimentally.
  3. You're taking the wrong supplement, or you're taking a right one but missing others that you need. One of the troubles of using guesswork with choosing supplements is that we may not actually address the underlying root cause of our symptoms. Often we jump to a conclusion that exhaustion is due to iron-deficiency anemia. It can be one cause, but there are many more that need ruling out too. 

A better way to take supplements is to start by considering all the possible contributing factors to your exhaustion or other symptoms. This is best done through blood tests where available, and the guidance of a nutritionist or naturopath to guide supplement choices to address deficits.

Where energy comes from.

In order to establish why you feel exhausted, it’s helpful to know some of the major bodily processes that keep our energy levels healthy, and the nutrients that support these processes.

  • All of the blood in our body passes through our liver for cleansing - the liver has to remove bacteria and chemicals such as medications and environmental toxins and pesticides and break them down into harmless substances that can then be excreted. The catch is that many substances are broken down into more harmful ones before being broken down further into safe molecules, which means the liver must be able to keep up with the load we give it or we get reactive substances in our blood until it catches up. This can make us feel sluggish and tired. Substances which helps the liver process the secondary substances into harmless excretions include vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, iron, amino acids, copper, magnesium, zinc, molybdenum, selenium, and lipoic acid
  • Our bodies are a complex balance of chemicals called hormones that send messages to key organs to control our internal environment for functioning. Our insulin controls our blood sugar to keep stable amounts of muscle energy and mental alertness. Eating simple carbohydrates causes spikes and troughs in insulin levels as a response, whereas regular protein intake keeps sugar and insulin levels - and therefore our energy - stable. Oddly, cinnamon has been shown to help stabilise sugar also. Constant stress keeps our adrenaline (“epinephrine” for us nerds) pumping which gives us an energy burst to get through an immediate situation but is ultimately exhausting. Most of the vitamin C we store in our bodies is stored in the adrenal gland, which could be why long periods of stress often end in a bout of colds or cold sores. Our thyroid hormones manage much of the metabolism of the body - our thermal regulation, moods and energy levels. We need iodine to support the hormones our thyroid produces. And of course our sex hormones - which can be responsible for a monthly wave of fatigue and emotions when not well balanced. The best thing we can do for just about all of our hormones is to get enough sleep. If you struggle with this you can read more here.
  • Our cells contain tiny energy-making factories called mitochondria, which are the places where the carbohydrates, fats and protein that we eat are turned via a complex multi-step process into the chemical - ATP - our body uses as energy for all its functions. Each step requires specific nutrients, and if any are missing the process halts and that step and energy isn’t made, potentially causing lactic acid to build up in our muscles. The nutrients we need are vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folate, iron, lipoic acid, magnesium, manganese, CoQ10, copper and specific amino acids
  • We depend on having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around our body to our muscles, organs and brain. Any challenge to our red blood cells leaves us feeling weak and lethargic. Red blood cells require iron, vitamins B12 and B6 and folic acid to function well.
  • Did you know that we have more bacterial cells than human cells? So cool, am I right?! It used to be believed that gut microbiota (bacteria) was a minor contributor to our health and energy, but imbalance in the bacteria can lead to fatigue, poor absorption of all those nutrients we've just been talking about (leading to the above causes of fatigue), brain fog and weakened immune function. A healthy microbiota relies on plenty of prebiotics in the form of fibre to feed the bacteria, plus probiotics which are live bacteria found in supplements or specific cultivated fermented foods.

So with all of the above contributors to our sensation of energy or exhaustion, where should we start? I suggest, start here:

  • Get enough sleep. This improves most hormone balances, particularly those related to stress. If you struggle with this, there’s more info here.

  • See your GP and discuss your symptoms to rule out any more serious issues. Ask for a blood test of iron levels, iron stores, vitamin B12, vitamin D, thyroid function, liver function, white blood cell counts (this will show if your body is fighting off an underlying infection)

  • If your iron stores are less than ideal (even if they’re still within range), or if your B12 is low, an iron, folate and B complex can make a huge difference. My friend put me onto this iron and B vitamin herbal drink and it’s made a huge difference to me. Bonus points for being easily digested and yum!

  • Most of us don’t have enough magnesium. It’s a mineral our body uses in over 300 processes, including recover from stress, muscle recovery after exertion, prevention of migraines, heart protection and manufacturing energy. The awesome thing is, we can take magnesium as a powder as magnesium glycinate or citrate and these can be in mixed formulations with other nutrients we need - it’s worth taking to a nutritionist or naturopath in a health food store to find the formulation most effective for you. Can you tell I’m a nutrition nerd and magnesium is one of my favourite nutrients? Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin via bath flakes or oil. Magnesium is very safe and harmless to use when following instructions. About as therapeutic as a bath can get!

  • My other favourite is CoQ10. As well as being indicated for many burnout symptoms such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraines and depression, it is also protective of our heart and brain. It can be taken on its own or in formulations with other nutrients for our energy factories such as lipoic acid, magnesium and B vitamins. Make sure you talk to a professional to get a good quality product.

  • Drink plenty of water. Our bodies are roughly 70% water, and we need it to maintain health, for example in keeping our blood circulating well, supporting our kidneys to flush out waste and generally maintaining our energy levels. If you struggle to drink 2 litres per day, some of this can have herbal tea or slices of lemon, cucumber and mint to add interest. Coffee doesn’t count! Eat loads of fibrous vegetables and fermented foods such as saurkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. Make sure they have live bacteria mentioned on the label, or make your own.

I hope that this crash course in energy systems gives you some ideas of where to start looking in both determining some contributors to your energy, and places to start to feel better. Let me know below which tips you will be taking on and any questions you have in the comments  below. Remember, while I have a degree in Applied Science (OT), I am mid-way through my naturopathy degree so this information is for stimulating your conversations with trained health professionals and your own research, not to be considered individual prescriptions. Links are affiliated, I only ever link to products I love and use myself. If you'd like to get in on the resilience conversation, join my cosy and kind Facebook group, Sisters With Heart.

December 8, 2016

If you’re exhausted… get better sleep. Here’s how.

Sometimes the simplest and most obvious solution is the one to go for. We don't always need to make life more complicated - it takes care of that for us! When we're burnt out and depleted, sleep is not the only tool we need. There are likely to be nutrient deficiencies, lifestyle changes and mind shifts required to get our sparks back. But sleep is foundational - nothing in our bodies works without it. Not too surprisingly, some studies show that people experiencing occupational burnout are more likely to have disturbed sleep. Even worse, loss of sleep results in increased cortisol levels... which continue to burn us out further.

When you're tired and wired at the same time, it's not that easy. These 9 strategies for better sleep will help:

  1. Herbal remedies: look for something with valerian and a selection of other herbs such as passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile or hops. Herbs are not recommended during pregnancy; and if you take other medications or have significant health conditions, check with your health practitioner about interactions before starting on herbs. For most people they are gentle and beneficial and well worth considering.
  2. Hot malted milk: I'm not a milk drinker myself, but if you do drink milk, a warm cup in the evening will supply you with tryptophan (the heat is important to activate the tryptophan), adding malt will provide hops. A lovely combination to induce sleepfulness. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes calmness and sleep and modifies the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone, and melatonin, the body clock hormone. Tryptophan is a precursor to niacin or vitamin B3, so increasing your intake of B vitamins will prevent you from depleting your tryptophan levels. Hops is a natural food based medicine that helps with restlessness and anxiety, insomnia and supports the liver in metabolism. Hops should be avoided in pregnancy and for anyone with tumours in breast or reproductive tissue.
  3. Magnesium baths, oils and powders: most people in modern times consume under the recommended intake for magnesium; and lifestyles of stress, alcohol intake, sleep deprivation, medications and health issues increase our requirements. Magnesium supplements are best absorbed in the form magnesium citrate or magnesium (di)glycinate, and topical applications are best as magnesium chloride (this form is not for internal use). As a bonus, magnesium is known to reduce blood pressure, PMS, cholesterol, fibromyalgia symptoms,  and migraines and is protective of heart and brain events. Not bad for a bath! Our body uses magnesium to recover from stress and to turn our food into energy (amongst other nutrients), so magnesium is a must for sleep and energy levels.
  4. Melatonin: this is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and helps us adjust our body clocks to a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Takes melatonin supplements can be helpful in the short term, but it is not suitable for pregnancy or trying to conceive, diabetes, depression, bleeding disorders, high blood pressure and certain other conditions. It also interacts with several medications, so be sure to check with your health professional before taking it. Because of this, it is preferable to encourage the body to create its own melatonin by keeping the bedroom very dark at night or taking a supplement that helps the body produce its own melatonin, such as S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe).
  5. Bedroom setup: ideally, arrange your bedroom to be very dark while you are sleeping or trying to sleep - this increases your body's melatonin and regulation of your sleep-wake cycle. Ensure your mattress and pillow are supportive and you are not waking up with muscle or joint pain from poor bedding. Avoid technology in the bedroom - yes I'm addicted too, but it doesn't help our brains wind down! 
  6. Evening routine: We know how important a wind down routine is with children. You know - bedtime story, glass of milk, 10 minutes of mind games and reminding them that it's too late to be hungry, followed by sleeping like a log. But somehow we magically believe that at a certain age, it's better to watch stressful stories on the TV, then get wired on our screens, stay up too late then flop into bed with our minds whirring. Amazingly unsuccessful strategy! Instead develop a routine that includes relaxing media (not news or adrenalin-inducing), a warm drink and if there's time a bath or applying magnesium oil, relaxing creativity rather than social media. And if you're in bed and finding it hard to sleep, instead of becoming agitated, choose to see this as a good thing and remain in bed and meditate instead. Meditation is the closest activity to sleep, so you will still chemically and physically rest your body by meditating if you are unable to sleep. And, you know, you could become more enlightened.
  7. Stress management: for many of us, insomnia is a symptom of an underlying stress, depression or anxiety. Developing useful strategies for these issues will help to improve our sleep as a result. Depending on what is on your mind, implement a tool box that includes expressing yourself through talking it out, journalling and creativity, professional support as needed, meditation, practicing mindfulness, and learning great self care. If you don't know where to start, grab the free guide 7 Steps to Self Love.
  8. Exercise: OK, I am not one to talk on the benefits of exercise. Hey, we're all works in progress, right? But exercising in the earlier 2/3 of your day helps reduce stress, balance hormones, create healthy tiredness that prevents insomnia and improves emotional well being. Right now my sleep routine needs review, and exercise is a strategy I'll be sure to implement too.
  9. Pharmaceutical review: if you are on prescribed or over the counter medications or natural remedies, take them all down to your pharmacy in a bag and discuss how each one or the interaction between them could be affecting you. Many medications - natural or otherwise - have effects other than those they are taken for, and it's important for you to understand what you're putting into your body. If you do find that some are affecting your sleep, discuss with the prescribing health practitioner whether the medication can be adjusted or taken at a different time of day.

One word of caution when it comes to sleep - too often I see someone implement just one or two strategies and then say "it didn't work". You don't know which of these - or more likely which combination - is right for you. So implement as many as you can, remembering to discuss any supplements with your health practitioner for the appropriateness in your situation first, and consider their use for short term adjustment rather than long term. Once you find yourself sleeping soundly, you can then determine which strategies are key for you. So I'd like to hear from you - which of these are you going to implement? Let me know in the comments below! And, sleep tight.

​Most of the research above is provided in this book (affiliate link):

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