Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tip #53: Write a blog!

Well, here we are. I did get to a year of tips! I know it's such a cliche, time flies, but it's true. I'm amazed a whole year has gone by so extremely fast, but I'm even more surprised by the fact that I have been able to keep up with my weekly tips. It's been an incredible experience in many ways, much more fulfilling than I expected, and thus, for my final blog post of the year, I'm encouraging you to also write your own blogs as a mean to achieve happiness. From this experience, and the things I have read, I do think this makes a lot of sense. 
As I have already said in previous tips, a blog is a way to leave something behind. You can make a private blog at first, which can be like a journal, but later, with time, you may see that other people can benefit from it and it's all ready to go. 

It can also be a part of a healthy challenge, which is what it was for me with the weekly deadline that I imposed on myself. I have to say, sometimes this deadline was hard. I remember one week when I just felt a bit stressed with everything and decided to not post something. As I was talking about it, my 15 year old son said in a shocked tone: "What? You HAVE to write the tip!" That really was enough motivation for me! And the thing is, you don't know how absolutely excited I am today for so many reasons (of course, number one being that I have been able to stay healthy the whole year), but having being able to meet my own imposed challenge is amazingly rewarding.

It is definitely a way to connect and learn from others. I have heard from friends far away (as far a Indonesia!) and friends very close by, who I feel are much more connected to me now because of the blog. I have enjoyed their comments, their suggestions and I have also learned immensely from them. And, mostly, I have felt their love. This is kind of strange, but some Mondays I would feel a curious wave of love inside me and I always thought that it just meant that someone was reading my blog. It doesn't even matter if it's true, as I derived a great benefit from it. But, what it is definitely a fact is that social connections are the number one mark for longevity (people without them live much less), and I have discovered that a blog is another great way to increase them.

But, I think the number one reason why I feel that everyone should write a blog is because you matter. Your story can help me, just like my story has helped you. We ALL have something valuable to give. I know many of you, so I know this is an indisputable fact. If you are creating your business, don't you think that there are many people who can learn from your struggle? If you are a teacher, don't you learn from a other teachers? Then, what you do in your class can definitely help me as well. You know, I never thought people would be interested in reading about  mushrooms, for example, but I got many great comments to that post and I realized maybe it was just a good reminder for my friends to add something healthy easily to their menus.

I also think it has been therapeutic for me, and although I really cannot explain why, I think it can help anyone else as well. Some of the people who sometimes read this blog have great blogs already (Forthcoming and La Mia Famiglia are just two examples), but I know many of you still feel a bit scared of technology. I have to say that Blogger is a rather easy platform to use (although the comment section is a bit unstable). Here's a tutorial. I know it can be daunting, but it's just a matter of doing it (like most things in life). It really can be a fun project and it is a way to be creative, which is also so important for health and happiness.

Well, I hope you consider the idea. There are other ways to share, like social media platforms, or even journals that you can pass on. Let me know if you have more ideas.

And I also wanted to finish this year with a shout out to my husband, Shawn, as tomorrow is our 20th wedding anniversary. I feel extremely thankful that I have such a great partner in crime and that I am here to celebrate it!

I don't think I'm going to write any more tips for now, but I definitely have something planned for this blog for 2013. I'll explain next Sunday!

Please, let me know if you already have blogs of your own. I want to read them!

As always, thank you for having made this an incredible year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tip #52: Start with happiness

I recently recorded a PBS special called The Happiness Advantage with Shawn Achor. I had already seen a TED Talk of him (see Tip #19: Nourish your Friendships), so I decided to watch the episode and see what else I could learn. Well, although some of the things mentioned I (we) already knew, I still enjoyed hearing about many fascinating experiments that prove his theory, which is this: We don't have to seek happiness (in things, events, like "I"ll be happy when I retire") but we have to START with happiness. Or:

Be successful --> Be happy (WRONG)
Be happy --> Be successful (RIGHT)

But I want to write here about the exercises he recommends to be able to achieve that goal, so that we can rewire the brain in such a way that we start from a place of happiness when dealing with life. Because, according to him, this is possible even if you consider yourself an incorrigible pessimist. So, here we go. There are five exercises we can do. We have to choose only one of these, but do it for 21 days in a row.
  1. Three Gratitudes: Say or write three things that you are grateful for in the last 24 hour period. Try to be specific and say different things each day if possible.
  2. The doubler: Write for two minutes about a meaningful experience that you have had in your life. According to him, when we have this kind of experience, our brain gets already rewired but when we think about it, the same areas of the brain also get engaged, so we get double the effect.
  3. Fun Fifteen: Do a fun activity which involves movement for 15 minutes. He mentioned that this type of activity makes you feel so good about yourself that it leads you to do improvements in other areas as well (something he calls a cascade of success).
  4. Ripple effect: Add 3 smiles to your day, but to moments where you normally would not smile. The name of the activity comes from the fact that when you smile, people around you tend to smile too, and thus, everyone is happier. And if you cannot smile, put a pencil in your mouth as the men in my life demonstrate in the picture. You may not look happier, but you are actually releasing dopamine by doing it (and getting happier, whether you want it or not). He wisely suggests throwing a pencil at your spouse when you are having an argument. I'm keeping a pencil near by. :)
  5. Charge your battery: For this one, you have to spend two minutes writing a meaningful e-mail to someone in your life, a different person every day, telling them why they mattered to you. And the theory behind this one is that having many meaningful social connections is a more important factor to your longevity than, for example, smoking.So, you strengthen those connections with your e-mails but also feel really good when you do something like that.
What I liked about the talk is that many of these I have more or less adopted already, although I definitely do not do them often enough, so he did inspire me to try to do a specific one for three weeks, treat it like an experiment and see what happens.

So, what do you all think? Do you want to join me in this? Should we do another Google Doc? Let me know!

Happy Holidays!!
Thank you for always being there for me.
Without a doubt, I have the best audience in the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tip #51: Be there

We've had a hard week here in Connecticut. We live very close to Newtown. I'm sure for parent's of little children it must be even more emotional and difficult to make sense of such horrific events.

While looking for consolation, I found some quotes which I would like to share with you as this week's tip, as they all point to the same thing: We can only heal as a community, and it is the compassion within the community which will sustain us.

In BreneƩ Brown's blog Ordinary Courage, I found this wonderful quote from Mr. Rogers:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
And then, by chance, as it tends to happen, I heard a wonderful radio program called  "On Being." The episode was titled "Presence in the Wild" with Kate Braestrup, a pastor who wrote Here If You Need Me.She works as a chaplain in Maine helping victims of search and rescue missions. And she was just saying the same thing as Mr. Rogers. It is the people that surround us in tragedy, the community, who will heal us. And often, we don't even know we have that support until tragedy strikes. I know so well from my own experience, how when I have needed support I have had so many people helping me, friends and colleagues, family members and neighbors, to whom I will be forever grateful. Exactly a year ago I had a big surgery and we had amazing people cooking for us, making sure our kids were OK, sustaining my spirit with their visits and love. And healing me in the process.

I think most of us have this net (although we may not know it) but we also have to remember to be the net to others. To keep reaching out, to be there to embrace the people who need to be embraced. Because this blog is geared towards health and happiness, we can remember that this compassion to others is indeed healthy to us too.

And let me finish with some words from Pope Benedict, who prayed that God "sustain the entire community with spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love."  Let's all be together.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tip #50: Be in the moment

I have already written about the power of now (and the book of the same title by Eckart Tolle), and how I have found that, although extremely difficult, it is a simple solution to make us feel more centered and satisfied with our lives, regardless of our circumstances.

There is also another lesson from Tolle (this time from his book A New Earth) which I feel I need to work on and thus, I write about it here as a friendly reminder to myself (like all tips really are), which is also connected to being in the moment.

According to him, we need to add a consciousness flow into our everyday activities and there are three ways in which we accomplish this. He calls these the "three modalities of awakened doing" and they are acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm. He believes that if we are not in any of these three states, we are instead creating suffering for ourselves and others. The way I understand it, we do suffer when we worry about things to come or past events, and we also make others suffer when we are not happy with ourselves, because, likely, we have not accepted our situation.

But these three modalities deserve a bit more explanation. In a way I see them as levels, from more neutral to ideal. So in my view, these would be the modalities in our everyday life:
  • Not accepting (I have made up this one): This is when we create suffering for ourselves or others. I do know I have to watch out for this, particularly when dealing with my children who may end up paying for my busy life. He suggests that when we cannot accept something, we should either stop it or change it. I'll try to remember that.
  • Acceptance: Tolle reserves this modality for those tasks that we do not want to do but still have to be done, like, for example, changing a flat tire.  He says that accepting it means that we are at peace with it.
  • Enjoyment: For most other things, we can try to bring joy to our actions. According to him, enjoyment should replace want as a motivator for our actions. And this joy should not come from the actions themselves, but from ourselves, so we will stop needing things or people to make us happy. We bring the joy to them. He believes we can bring joy to most of out everyday actions if we are really present when we perform them and I have to agree that I have definitely noticed that certain tasks, like walking to school, are much more enjoyable when I don't let my mind wonder.
  • Enthusiasm: It is this modality that it is preferred. According to him "enthusiasm means there is deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or a vision that you work toward." He compares this enthusiasm with stress, but this is the other side of the coin, negative energy. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, can be the positive fuel for our projects.
Well, I'll let you all that to ponder. I definitely need to work on all this, but they make sense to me. What do you think?

Lots of love to everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tip #49: Eat more mushrooms

Here's what Dr. Greger has to say about mushrooms, particularly significant for those of us with breast cancer:
Mushrooms are an underappreciated component of healthy diets. They can play a role in a dietary cognitive portfolio (one mushroom—the bay bolete—even contains theanine, the relaxant phytonutrient in green tea) and may slow breast cancer growth by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme. Surprisingly, plain white mushrooms—the cheapest and most widely available variety—may work best and are among the most anti-oxidant rich
They are also recommended by Dr.Weil, who suggests they can lower cholesterol and improve athletic performance, and by Dr. Fuhrman who makes them one of the components of his G-BOMBS that we should eat every day: greens, beans, mushrooms, onions, berries and seeds. Please note, that all these three doctors strongly suggest to always cook the mushrooms, particularly white button mushrooms, as they may contain a naturally-occurring toxin called agaritine that is deactivated by heat.

And for me, I found the most convincing evidence about the efficacy of mushrooms against breast cancer (not just for prevention) from Paul Slamets, a mycologists who is researching the impact of a type of mushrooms, Turkey Tail, on the strengthening of Natural Killer cells which help people undergoing chemo and radiation have a stronger immune system. In a a very emotional TED-MED talk, he tells us the story of his research and how it actually impacted his own mother, who had been given three months to live after her diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer. Here's the talk, but you can fast forward to minute 8 and be prepared to cry at his story:

According to Dr. Fuhrman, women who eat one mushroom a day have a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer. If you also add drinking green tea in addition to that mushroom, your odds go up to 89% decreased risk for pre-menopausal women and 82% for post-menopausal women. This alone should make you all start having mushrooms right now!

Enjoy your week! I always love your comments. How do you eat your mushrooms? Any tips?

photo credit: selva via photopin cc

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tip #48: Practice visualizations (or not)

This is something I don't do often, but when I do I always feel better, happier and filled with optimism. It's a technique called the "10 10 Visualization." I read about it in Mathew Ferris' blog. I do it this way: I sit in front of my window (in the photo) and I first think of ten things I'm grateful for at that moment. Then, I move on to think about ten goals or desires I also have at that moment. The first part is always easy, there are so many things and people I am thankful for! But the second does take some work, as I often think my life is quite blessed as it is. I'm getting better at it, and I now tend to think of some long term goals, but mostly short terms ones, like maybe a project at work or the next doctor's visit. Like I said, when I remember to do it, I always feel happy afterwards, so it can be something to do just for that reason.

But, as I like to research anything I write here, after a bit digging on visualization, I found an article which mentions that many athletes, including Tiger Woods (I don't know if any of this is true) use something called "creative visualization," which consists of imagining themselves playing the game and doing really well. And, maybe it could also help you in your everyday life in the same way. The Wikipedia entry for "creative visualization" is also quite interesting.

On the other hand, I also found some research that actually says the opposite, that when we visualize something as if it had already happened, we tend to believe it and then we actually do LESS to attain it, as our mind thinks we have already done so. I saw somewhere else (I cannot find it now, of course) that when you actually tell your goals to other people, you are more likely to fail, for the same reasons as above. But maybe the visualizations are different in these cases. In "The right kind of visualization," we learn that we need to visualize the process, instead of the outcome. 

In my case, I don't know if what I do could be called "creative visualizations" or not, but they do help me be calmer. It's like a voice telling me, "everything is possible" and "everything will be all right," both at the same time. Plus, the ten items to be grateful for puts your mind in the right place for the next step of visualization. Always be thankful first for what you have. We do have so much!

What do you think? Have you tried this?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tip #47: Cultivate compassion (even to yourself)

As I have mentioned before, I have been watching, whenever possible, Rick Hanson's Compassionate Brain series. It is subtitled "Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and Love. Practical Neuroscience for Transformation." In the series, Dr. Hanson interviews leading scientists and teachers from different fields on the topic of compassion, its origins, its characteristics and the transformative effects of its practice.

I'm a bit behind with the talks, but, thankfully,  they can be also watched on demand as well (the series is free, but you do have to sign up for it). So far, I have enjoyed everything I have watched, and today I will tell you about two of the talks which I thought were particularly fascinating.

The first one is by Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. He is also the creator of another wonderful website, Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life, which has many resources (articles, videos etc.) about the topic. From his talk, I learned the following:
  • Compassion is something innate to humans. Why? Wouldn't it be better if we were all nasty to each other, winner takes all, mentality? Well, no, because we start as extremely vulnerable babies, who could not survive if the adults around them didn't feel compassion for them. He pointed out that, as species, we are the only ones who take such a long time to be able to defend ourselves on our own. 
  • Kindness turned out to be the number one characteristics that people all over the world, in many different cultures, chose as their number one characteristic they look for in a mate. Not beauty or money or strength.
The second one is Dr. Kristin Neff's talk, called "The power of self-compassion." She wrote Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave your Insecurities behind.(I wish I had time to read all these books!). She talked about how, in our society, we have elevated the concept of self-esteem, but that this always involves being better than somebody else, and thus, it becomes a source of anguish and frustration, because this is just not possible. By comparison, cultivating self-compassion will allow you to move on with life in a more gentle, caring, and better way. She did emphasize that self-compassion is not to be confused with indulgence, but that we should talk to ourselves as a loving parent would talk to a child who has failed an exam, for example. You wouldn't tell your child, "you are such a loser!"(hopefully), but would try to encourage him to not let this defeat bring him down. Her talk did remind me about the ideas I had outlined in the post about perfection not being the goal, but it may also be another way to look at the same problem. We all have failings, or setbacks. It is part of a normal life. How we respond to them is what can really make the situation different. It is, in a way, my goal with my tips, my mental exercises as I call them. I do believe my life (and with it, my health and all my surroundings), will be better, it is already better, from these type of lessons which reaffirm and enlarge my own understanding of it.

Dr. Neff's website, Self Compassion, is also full of practical resources, including exercises, even physical ones (how to move your body in certain ways) to help you develop your own self-compassion. And she was also fascinating for another reason. She is the mother of an autistic child, and they are the protagonist in a documentary about how her son discovered by accident that he had a connection to horses, and how the whole family traveled to Mongolia to experience life with horses in nature ( In the talk, she mentioned how she had used her own techniques of self-compassion in the (many) cases when his son would have public fits (like in long plane rides). It was, all in all, very moving.

Well, I manged to write much more than I thought.  But, I do believe that by being aware of these things we can really start to understand that we, as humans, do have to strive to be good, to each other and to ourselves, regardless what society or other forces may be telling us.

What do you think? As always, I'm amazed and thankful that anyone reads these tips and I hope you may want to share your thoughts. I actually discovered Dr. Hanson thanks to a comment by my friend Jennifer to my Tip #5. So wonderful!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tip #46: Try fasting

So, what do you think? Let's NOT eat together? Well, why not? I have been interested in the idea of fasting as I would encounter many mentions of it when dealing with alternative methods to treat cancer. But lately, it is not just for alternative methods or only cancer. Here you can see how doctors in Utah found that regular fasting can boost heart health. Those who fasted for about a day a month had a 58% lower risk of coronary disease as those who didn't. And Dr. Weil, tells us in this article that intermittent fasting can indeed improve not only caridiovascular health, but also diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer, and improve cognition in general. Even my nutritionist recommends caloric restriction for certain patients, as there are many studies already associating this with better outcomes in cancer patients. And, there's a new book just published, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease, by Seyfried, PhD, a cancer researcher who worked at Yale University and is now Professor of Biology at Boston College, which reviews the literature on caloric restriction and its beneficial impacts on tumor growth. Here's an older article which summarizes the main points of the book.

I became a bit more interested in the topic after seeing this BBC documentary this summer, Eat, Fast & Live Longer. It is an hour long, but well worth it. Here's a summary, with commentary, if you don't have time to watch it all.

By the end of the show, Dr. Mosley, the guy that goes around looking for ways to implement fasting, decides to try the 5/2 diet plan: five days your normal consumption of food, and two days of only 500 calories for women, 600 for men. After trying for five or six weeks, many of his "aging" markers, like IGF-1, CRP, or blood sugar level, came down considerably, plus he lost some weight and felt better.

In the show, they also talk about a group of people in Ecuador, who are very small because they suffer from something called the Laron syndrome, but that, surprisingly, never develop cancer or diabetes. I had read about them in the New York Times last year, and I think they may hold the key to something very important.

In any case, this year I did something that I don't recommend anyone to do (please, please, please), but, after researching a bit more the 5/2 diet, I found that there is a doctor in Great Britain testing it to actually cut breast cancer occurrence in patients at higher risk. According to her, it could reduce the risk by 40%. So, at the beginning of October, because I knew that I had blood work coming four weeks later, I decided to try it without telling neither my doctors or nutritionist (or even my family, I guess I just came out). Well, my blood work was fantastic, particularly my HbA1c, which measures blood sugar control. It is the lowest I've had it, finally at the level my nutritionist recommends. My CRP, which measures inflammation, did not go down, but it also did not go up (it was quite low to start with), and I think it's also remarkable, as it tends to go up with medication and I've now been on treatment for close to two years. Of course, I don't know if the diet was the cause. I did stop it after the results came in. i\It was just an experiment that I may take again in the future, hopefully next time with some type of medical supervision. I lost a little bit of weight while on it, but not much, maybe two or three pounds, and it was not too hard to do.

But, I also wanted to share something else in this blog post. My husband mentioned that somebody in his work were doing a 48 hour weekend cleanse, recommended by Dr. Oz. I went to check it out, and I really like it, and I think that may be also something I try to do, maybe once every two months or so. Here's the link. Maybe after Thanksgiving could be the ideal time. :)

Do you fast regularly? Any recommendations?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tip #45: Give dry brushing a try


Let me start by saying that I hope everyone is safe and sound after Hurricane Sandy. I feel extremely grateful, as not only we were fine, but I got many e-mails and calls from friends all over the world who  made me realize once more how loved we are. Thanks, everyone. You are truly amazing.

And now, to this week's tip. Through the book Crazy. Sexy, Diet, I learned about dry brushing and although it is not something that I do often (maybe twice or three times a week), I do notice some differences in my skin (it is softer and less dry), so that's why I thought I would pass along the tip. In addition, it is supposed to help with your lymph system (there's more information about that in the video below), something I definitely cannot prove, but I feel that it's important enough. Some people say it also helps with cellulite or weight loss. That, I just don't think it is true, but let me know if it happens to you!  

The way I do it, is this. Right before my shower, I put on the gloves (in the picture. I bought them at WholeFoods) and I start massaging my feet, all the way up to my neck, dividing my body in chunks, as explained in the video. It does feel great, particularly when I get to the neck area (remember not to dry brush your face!) and I think this is mainly because it is a massage, even if it is yourself doing it and not a professional masseuse. It only takes me about five minutes, so this is not a time consuming activity. I honestly forget to do it more often, but I always remember how wonderful it feels when I do it, and even after one time doing it, I can notice a difference in my skin. 

Here's the video, from my beloved Greensmoothie Girl herself. I hope you enjoy it and find it beneficial as well.


And I also have two unrelated notes that I thought may interest you:
  • Deepak Chopra is offering a free 21 day meditation challenge which starts tomorrow. You can sign up for it here. I actually have tried his meditation challenges before, and although I didn't finish them, I found them soothing the days I got to them.
  • Gym-Pact, the tool I have been using with great success to help me go to the gym, is offering a $5 bonus for you and $5 for me if you sign up. I honestly can say I love this app, especially since they added integration with RunKeeper, another app that tracks your outdoor activities as well. So far with them, I have made $70 and lost only $10.(And if you see me walking around my block on a Sunday night, you now know why). If you have a smartphone, I highly recommend this app. It definitely helps me with my fitness goals (if only there were a Gym-Pact for medtitation!). If you do sign up, my referral code is SkippPilar, so we both get the $5. Hey, and I'm going to throw a party if I do get lots of money. What do you think? Want to come over? 
Well, let me know what you think about all this. I always like to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tip #44: Perfection is not the goal

So, the meditation challenge came and went and I did some but definitely not much. And I'm a bit upset about it, because I have done well in other personal challenges. I do have multiple excuses: much more homework to correct than last year, I'm doing yoga more often now, I do keep up with my walking and gym (that's definitely thanks to Gym-Pact), "leaf-catching"anyone? but still. I also did notice that, the days I meditated something else gave in, maybe the yoga, maybe the walking, maybe the green-smoothie. I have definitely not done any arm exercises in a long, long time. Those were the first to go (can you tell I kind of didn't really like those?).

But, although I'm upset as I said, I'm going to try to not beat myself about it. Today I was listening to Dr. Dan Siegel, in a talk part of a series called The Compassionate Brain: Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and Love. Practical Neuroscience for Transformation, and he mentioned as an example someone who hurts himself in the foot and reacts by cursing himself for being so clumsy and stupid. He said that instead, that person would have to look at the situation from outside and tell himself, "It hurts, I feel the physical pain, I have been clumsy but maybe I can learn not to do this again. But I'm human, it is not that important. I can go on." Easier said than done, but he also mentioned several other mental exercises one can do to train your brain to think this way. Considering I don't feel right now like I have so much time for meditation, I guess, I'm not going to do his exercises either, but I did learn something already: it's definitely OK to do as little or as much as I can. I will continue trying to mediate, this time without a challenge. Maybe I can do it three times a week. That will be fine. Those of you who know me (probably all, thank you so much for reading!) I'm sure are thinking, "But, of course, you do so much already!!," but we just cannot see what we do, we keep beating ourselves up because we feel we are inadequate in so many ways. Dr. Siegel also talked about how society makes us geared for competition, rather than collaboration, and I feel maybe sometimes it is a competition within yourself. We want to be perfect. We need to be cured. But perfection is overvalued and a cure means really little. Are you fine now? Right this moment? Yes, you are. That's all that really matters.

So, I found that lovely quote from Leonard Cohen's song Anthem, and I'm going to try to remember it the days I don't get to do everything I had on my long list for the day. Another crack. But how beautiful is the light that goes through it.

Any other tips for me? I love your comments.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tip #43: Go "leaf-catching"

This tip goes into the category of super silly tips, but I definitely need those as well.

Last year I learned about this British custom: if you are walking outside and see a leaf falling, try to catch it. If you do, you can make a wish. Well, as soon as I found out about this, I've been trying to do just that. And I have to say this is what I have observed: 1) It's quite difficult. 2) You have to move quite a lot. 3) You end up laughing really hard at the whole silliness of it.

And if you don't live in an area with  falling leaves, you can still make other fun wish-asking activities, like when you see the first star at night, or you find a penny on the floor, even when an eyelash falls out (which needs to be blown away as you make your wish). Do you know any others? The truth is, it doesn't even matter so much what we wish for, but we do get a moment of suspended disbelief, of magical thinking (and acting), of laughter and lightness, and all that has to be good for your happiness and therefore for good health, right?

This post is dedicated to Kate and Elaine who already heard this tip before this blog was even created and they actually liked it. It is really wonderful to have good friends. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tip #42: Avoid plastics

From this summer vacation: my sister and my son and the glass water bottle I refilled everyday.
Another super busy week, so I'm just going to write very little, give some information to read, and then you can decide for yourself.

I'm sure you all have been hearing about the dangers of BPA, an organic compound found in some hard plastics. Although it's been used for more than 40 years, it is only recently that people are starting to be aware of its dangers (A hard plastic is raising hard questions - New York Times, 2008).

But it is not only BPA. There are other compounds in plastic, like phthalates that have similar effects on our bodies. They mimic certain hormones and disrupt our natural ones. Many cancers are associated with disruption in hormones, such as breast and prostate cancers, so this is quite worrisome.

So, although it is very difficult to avoid all plastics, there are still ways to minimize their use. I now try to not drink out of plastic bottles, and instead I got a glass refillable bottle, where I put my daily tea when I go out. We also have phased out any plastic containers in the kitchen and replaced them with glass.

Here are some articles that talk precisely about using plastic water bottles, sometimes more than once:
I don't want to spread fear mongering here. But we do need to understand that, unfortunately, we all have to do our own research and decide for ourselves, because just trusting companies or the government will not really protect us. (If you do read one of the links in this post, please make it this one: The Cancer Lobby, by N. Kistof, New York Times. It is not exactly about the compounds I'm mentioning here, but the story is the same).

And here's a short video with Dr. Frank Lipman and Kyra Sedgwick talking more about the dangers of plastics.

Do you have any more recommendations as to how we can replace plastic in our lives? As always, looking forward to your comments and thanks so much for reading!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tip #41: Connect and learn from others

I learned recently that humans have been able to progress much more than other species because of something termed "cumulative culture" which enables us to build better and bigger things. This accumulation is generated because we are capable to share and learn from each other, and create an end product that no one alone could have devised. In a curious experiment, a group of children (three and four year old) were compared to chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys. They all had to find the solution to a puzzle box. The children were the only ones who were able to solve the puzzle, and the scientists observed that this was because they cooperated, they learned from each other and even shared their rewards. The animals never shared or cooperated and, thus, could not find the solution.

I also read that in our brains we have "mirror neurons," which help us read other peoples feelings and actions. Some scientists also think these neurons are responsible not only for empathy, but maybe also for language. In any case, it seems clear that being connected to others is an essential part of being human.

And I'm telling you all this because of my own experience with groups. If any one reading this is diagnosed with any type of disease, I really encourage you to look both online and offline for groups of people with similar circumstances. I have already mentioned my group "Metastatic Breast Cancer Babes," but I just need to keep saying how much I have learned and still learn from them. It is not just "support," which they also have provided. Through them I have learned about many of the tips I talk about in here. It would have been impossible for me to research everything I have learned with them. Not only that. It is like the children in the experiment. In the group you even learn things you didn't know you had to learn, but this is because the ladies are always sharing and willing to help. It is the same with my yoga for cancer patients group (my offline group).

These people have become my friends now, of course, but I think your regular friends also have an incredible important role in your life, but in a different way. We do need both. We are hard-wired for connection. We cannot do it alone. The more the merrier. And that's why I love you all and thank you all, because I truly need you all.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tip #40: Don't anticipate events

The quote in the picture is by  Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Almost by accident, this summer I saw the movie "The Hunger Games." I knew what the books were about, as my kids had read and talked about them, and felt that they were not for me (kids killing each other, no thank you). Still, when I saw the movie I really liked it and decided to read the first book in the series. As I was reading, I felt that I could do it because I had seen the movie and knew that the characters I liked would survive. I told my kids that I would not be able to read books 2 and 3 as, not knowing their endings, my own anguish over the probable fate of the characters would not allow me to enjoy them. My curiosity got the best of me, though, and I ended up actually devouring books 2 and 3. But this experience made me aware of something about myself. I think that as a mother (or maybe it is not related to motherhood), I always try to anticipate what will happen around me, as to prepare me or my loved ones better for possible outcomes or to avoid things altogether. Often, this is just trivial. I will start thinking about lunch and I often imagine myself already eating, particularly if it's something I like. But, also as often, it is something not so trivial. Both times I was diagnosed with cancer, my mind jumped into absolutely horrible scenarios before I had any evidence to show that that was going to happen. In the first case, I remember clearly thinking (and you can see how nutty I can be), "I'm going to die in six months. My children are so little. God is giving me six months to find another Spanish wife for my husband, as I don't want my boys to have an American step mother." OK, there are so many atrocious things about that thought, so please, everyone forgive me if you were offended by it (I am). I then went to see the oncologist who told me I actually had a great prognosis. And I did. I lived nine years after that during which time I could really wonder what the heck was I thinking. Then, for the second diagnosis, I was irrational again. As it was Christmas, I remember buying ornaments for the tree and thinking, "I will not be here next Christmas, this is just so sad," while picturing my family without me. My prognosis this time was not as rosy as the first time but, still, by visualizing that horrible Christmas scene I gained nothing, but stress and added sadness. By the way, I did go on to have a great Christmas the following year, in which I happily bought some more ornaments with my kids.

I'm also reading a book now that mentions something similar. It is Daring Greatly, by BreneƩ Brown, who has researched vulnerability extensively (if you haven't seen them, she has a couple of amazing TED talks). She mentions something that she calls "foreboding joy," and she describes it as that moment in which you feel that your life is wonderful, which means something bad is going to happen next ("the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joy"). She says that we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, that, in a way we cannot tolerate the vulnerabity that may come from feeling joy. She suggests the following in ordar to combat this:
  1. Don't chase down the extraordinary, but enjoy the moments of joy (I think I will actually talk about this in a future tip, which I will call "Don't underestimate normal.")
  2. Be grateful for what you have.
  3. Don't squander joy. Although it may be uncomfortable, she says that "every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give into those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen - and they do happen - we are stronger."
I know that what I described earlier in my own life were not moments of joy, quite the opposite, but still, I did add to my anguish by having those awful thoughts. With my current diagnosis I actually have to deploy a sort of mental gymnastics in which I have to apply those three points, plus the idea of not anticipating (which goes back to living in the moment). Every time something physically hurts me in a strange way, my mind goes to the worst place immediately. I then have to say to myself, "OK, don't anticipate events. You don't know what's causing that pain. If it continues, call the doctor, but now, just enjoy watching the Simpsons with the kids." I know that my mets friends understand this and know how extremely hard it is, but my story with The Hunger Games also taught me that, if I wanted to keep enjoying the books, I had to read them, even though that would likely mean that some characters whom I loved could die. And that's life. We have to live it to experience it. Some moments will be harder than others, but, for now, let me enjoy the Simpsons and be happy.

Do you anticipate events as well? And have you read Daring Greatly or The Hunger Games? I'd love to know.

PS: Don't forget about the Meditation Challenge which starts tomorrow! I need it bad.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tip #39: Do weight-bearing exercises

Backpacks are actually great!
First of all, thank you for still reading my blog. By now, you have seen my underwear and my toilet, so I think it's time to move on to less "personal" tips. (Just joking. I'm sure I'll think of something gross soon enough). Today, you get to see my wonderful 15 year old son, Johnny. What a cutie.

In any case, let's talk about the tip. Weight-bearing exercises are essential for good bone health and, when done regularly, can even prevent osteopenia or osteoporosis later in life. Even if you already have one of them (as I do), you can still improve the health of your bones by doing them, or so I'm hoping.

What are weight-bearing exercises? It's any exercise that requires your muscles to work against gravity. When muscles are pulled, bones get rebuilt as well. Almost any exercise is weight-bearing. Two exceptions are swimming and biking. And even activities such as dancing, hiking or doing golf count. In this WebMD article, The Latest Workout Trends, you can find several more, like Tai-Chi and Yoga, and the research that's been already conducted which demonstrates the power of these activities on bone health. Here's also a nice chart from the University of Arizona's "Bone Builders" website, which divides the activities into Beginners (like walking, square dancing, yoga, gardening), Moderate (walking uphill, jogging, weight lifting, tennis), and Advanced (walking with backpack, running, soccer, or any of the other activities mentioned, but done with more intensity). I was glad to find out that I'm already doing some of them, like the walking with a backup and yoga. In fact, while researching for this post I have found a wonderful yoga program created specifically to prevent and treat osteoporosis and osteopenia. It is rather simple, just 12 poses, and I was happy to see that I already do many of them through my Yoga for cancer patients class and Priscilla Yoga Stretches (which by the way, just started running again in channel 21, PBS station in Long Island, for those of you who live around here). But the program run by Dr. Loren Fishman is actually very comprehensive and I may do it myself. I like that this is part of his research and there are already some very impressive preliminary results. This chart shows the numbers after two years of doing the exercises (yes, unfortunately I have found that all this takes a long, long time for it to work, but I'm happy that at least it seems to work). And, if you want to, you can also participate in the study. You can find the forms in his website as well.

I know that we have been told that by taking calcium and calcium supplements our bones will be fine, but unfortunately I just don't think this is the case. I believe we do need to work a bit hard at this (at least 30 minutes a day, which may really not be that hard to do if you include house cleaning and similar activities). Or, maybe you can do what this lady says, that by doing a 60 second plank a day, you may be able to reverse your bone health. I'm actually going to try this too, but I'm adding it to the rest (I do think we do need to do a bit more).

I have to say that I love the fact that I discover so many things by researching for this blog. That was one of the motivators, definitely, when I started it. But another one is to know that I have people who read it. It does amaze me every time I see the page views counter, getting larger and larger. I can never say thank you enough.

Are you already actively doing these types of exercises? Have any more suggestions? I always learn from you!

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tip #38: Bulk up on fiber (and get it ALL out)

The semester has started, I'm swamped with work, I need to organize myself better (maybe a future tip to myself?) and I have to write my weekly tip! What to do? I'll be very brief and to the point: Eat lots of fiber, do lots of caca. Everyday.

We all have heard of the importance of fiber.  But I have learned that it is truly essential. It not only helps you feel full so you eat less, but it also lowers cholesterol, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and very important in my case, it helps against constipation, which in turns aids the body eliminate excessive estrogen (the hormone that fuels most types of breast cancers, including mine). Here's a summary of all the benefits that eating lots of fiber (found in all plant foods) and going to the bathroom often have on your health, according to Dr. Greger (some of the videos, like the one about international stool size, are also pretty interesting on their own). It's not difficult to add more fiber to our diets. Just add more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Eliminate the white, unrefined stuff. It may be tasty, but it's not doing anything for you.

I do admit that, after learning about the relationship between stool size and many illnesses, I do look at my caquitas with lots of love, particularly if they are big, which is often, sorry to be so gross. And I always say, "good bye, unwanted estrogen!" - As you can see, anything makes me happy these days. :)

I did have lots of fun working on today's picture as well.  Hope you all like it.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tip #37: Meditate

This is another case of "take my advice because I'm not using it." And, thus, another chance for a challenge. I'll talk about that one a bit later.

But, first, let's see why I think we should all mediate, when, for me at least, this used to be a synonym with wasting time. Of course, I had heard that Buddhists monks have their brains changed because of it. But, who has the time of a Buddhist monk? I started to see that maybe I should try to make the time for it after reading Anticancer, where Servan Schreiber clearly says that lifestyle changes can affect the course of our cancers. Those lifestyles changes are not just diet and exercise but he mentions a third component, spirituality, support, anything to help you reduce stress. In his last book, written right before he died, he also stresses that this third element is maybe the most important and that he himself neglected it, as he was very busy promoting his anticancer message. He urged everyone, even his (psychiatric) patients, to meditate at least twice a day, for ten minutes each time. Interestingly, Dr Block in Life Over Cancer, also recommends exactly the same to his cancer patients. A similar message is part of Dr. Ornish Spectrum program, which is for everyone, although it is particularly recommended to people who need to reverse heart disease.

When I got my second cancer diagnosis, I did feel my brain needed help to cope with the fear and sadness (and stress) I was feeling. I got an app, Mindfulness Meditation, which helped a little. I also found a guided imagery podcast from Dr. Miller (free in iTunes) which was extremely beneficial, because it really calmed me and gave me a sense of strength. In this podcast, Dr. Miller describes how your own body will destroy the cancer cells in a simulated battle that somehow I would picture almost like a Star Wars adventure (nothing like Luke Skywalker to the rescue!). Although I love his voice and that podcast in particular, and I recommend it for anyone with cancer, I am now seeking something different. This year, as one of my resolutions, I wanted to start mediating on a regular basis, make it more like an everyday activity. I bought the book 8 Minute Mediation, an 8 week meditation program, and I actually completed it for those 8 weeks. But after that, I just stopped. I liked the program, but meditation is just very hard.

So, here we are with another challenge to myself and anyone who would like to join me. Here's the document with instructions. I decided to start it in October, so I have some time to see what kind of meditation I may want to do, whether just to sit down for 10 minutes and try to clear my mind, or if maybe some guided meditation would be more helpful. I have been looking at this site, thanks to a recommendation from one of my aunts, and I think I may do the meditations they have there (which are a bit longer, at15 minutes).

I have to say that, although I have not been successful at it so far in the sense that I clearly do not set a time to do it, I still feel all the "practice" I have done has helped me be more conscious of the importance of the present moment and not to let my thoughts run too wild. When I walk to school in the mornings, I do a type of walking meditation, trying to coach my "monkey mind" to come back to the air I'm breathing, the beauty in nature, the lights, the colors that surround me. Maybe, after the October challenge, my spirit will finally resemble the child in the picture. Or I may have to call Luke Skywalker to the rescue, again.

Do you have any recommendations for me? I do hope some of you will join me for the challenge! Thanks, as always, for reading my blog.

photo credit: Beni Ishaque Luthor via photo pin cc

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tip #36: Practice Yoga

Lately, yoga is on fire. There are plenty of references on the web about the health benefits of practicing yoga (for flexibility, strength, better posture, better breathing, heart disease, concentration, mood, etc.). It is even recommended by the American Cancer Society, because it can "lower stress, increase strength, and provide a good form of exercise." You can also see an increased interest in the medial profession about it. According to, in 2001 there were 38 published studies about yoga. By 2011 that number had grown to 227.

I had tried yoga several times over the years. Sometimes, the location was not convenient, others it would be at the wrong times. The last time I tried, about three years ago, I was doing great and really loving it, when my back and right arm started giving me lots of problems (which I learned six months later had been caused by the metastases in the bones in those areas) which made me stop. All in all, I kept being intrigued by it, and I knew there had to be something there for me. Thus, after my second diagnosis I actually looked for programs that would offer yoga and/or mediation because I needed something urgently to calm my mind. I'm extremely thankful that my own hospital has a great program, the Swim Across the Sound, which provides cancer patients with many needed things including amazing yoga classes. I remember when I went to my first class, I actually could not stop crying, because everything was overwhelming and here was a group of very nice ladies that were being so extremely kind to me, even though they didn't know who I was (and vice-versa). This was called chair-yoga, extra gentle, and it really helped me mentally more than physically, at the beginning, which is what I needed. I was also lucky in that a local yoga studio, Yoga for Everybody, donated a room for the yoga for our  cancer program, so now I actually I'm able to do yoga in a regular yoga studio (instead of the hospital), with my cancer/survivors/super heroes buddies, led by our beloved Susan Kiley. This yoga is a step up from the chair-yoga, but it's still gentle. Because I had been feeling really well (no more pain in my arm or back), I decided to push myself a bit this summer and I signed up for the studio 30 day unlimited yoga for $30, a really great deal for anyone who wants to try yoga. I really used it too, going to about four classes a week. I have to say, I loved them all and I really liked how I felt. Now, I keep doing my weekly yoga for cancer patients, plus I have added about 12 minutes a day, five days a week, of a TV program I record from my PBS station, Priscilla Yoga Stretches. It is therapeutic yoga (hatha yoga) and, although I cannot do all the poses, I think they still help me with posture and flexibility. I hope I can keep up with it now that the semester has started.

And, as I would like to nudge you to do some yoga, let me show these two videos that show the remarkable effects yoga can have. The first one is from the creator of the website MindBodyGreen:

And, you probably have already seen the second one, as it was very popular a couple of months ago (and just saw that it has almost 6,000,000 views! Wow!). I love it so much, I think it is fine to see it many times. The power of the human spirit, with the help this time of yoga, it's incredible.

I do believe yoga has made my life, my body, my mind and my spirit, better. How has it helped you?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tip #35: Remember that YOU MATTER

Angela Maiers, an educator, consultant and author of the book The Passion Driven Classroom, has written what she calls "The YOU MATTER Manifesto." Please, read it because it's excellent. In it, she lists eight things we should all remember about ourselves, to convince us that we are more important than we think, that we all matter. And she also mentions that because we all need to hear these two words often, we should be telling people who matter in our lives why is that so. So here is my attempt at telling all of you, my dear readers, that I truly know that you are all essential in my life. Here are her points and my comments in parenthesis. Please, believe every word, because it is true:
  1. You are enough (to make this world better, to make my life better. I do love you the way you are.)
  2. You have influence (Much more than you think. You influence me to be a better person every day.)
  3. You are a genius (You, somehow, always manage to contribute to my well being.)
  4. You have a contribution to make (in the lives of your kids, your friends, your co-workers, me.)
  5. You have a gift that others need (In you, I have found comfort, love, knowledge.)
  6. You are the change (It is really up to us. Nobody else will do it for us. But, like she says, a simple smile can already start something.)
  7. Your actions define your impact (You have helped me with your companionship, your lessons, your food, your kindness, your gifts, all of which you have given me in great amounts and always with open arms.)
  8. You matter
She also has a TED Talk which I recommend, particularly if you're an educator, and in her introduction she mentions this: 
This is not an ego thing. This is a DNA thing. We were created for significance and one of the most dangerous things that can happen to us as individuals, as organizations, as a community is the feeling that we don't matter.
That's why I wanted to write this post. To tell you very loud: YOU MATTER. You have made an enourmous difference in my life (and in the lives of many others). I'm lucky to have each and everyone near my heart.

And I also say to myself, I MATTER, because I now know, more than ever, that all those points apply to me as well: I am enough. I have influence. I am a genius (not sure how yet, but I'm sure I'll find something), I have a contribution to make, I have a gift (which I think is my smile), I am the change (by smiling, I share happiness instantly), my actions define my impact. I try to walk the talk. I try to give away because I know it comes back multiplied.

And let me share here a shorter, but very uplifting, version of her talk. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tip #34: Get a little "nutty"

What is delicious, inexpensive, convenient, varied and, as it turns out, really good for you? Well, that would be nuts, any kind.If you like them, and eat them regularly, you are in luck, according to the latest research I have been able to find.

Nuts seem particularly helpful to prevent heart disease. As seen in this article, they can lower your LDL cholesterol, can also reduce the risk of developing blood clots, and also improve the health of the lining of the arteries

And here, we read that even "by themselves, nuts seem to produce modest declines in cholesterol, but when they are combined with other healthful foods, the results can be spectacular," including helping with irregular heart rhythms and improving blood vessel function. They have also been found helpful in relation to metabolic syndrome as we see in this article.

I found particularly interesting this article that talks about the risk factors for mortality in more than 50,000 participants from the famous Harvard Nurses Health Study. Among the few factors that helped lower the incidence of mortality was the consumption of at least two servings of nuts a week (a serving = one ounce). I found strange that eating fruits and vegetables actually did not even make it to the list, in this case. Dr. Greger has a great video about the article: "What women should eat to live longer." And here's one more article that touches on the same idea of nut consumption to increase longevity.

Although nuts are very high in fat content, they don't seem to make you gain weight, but actually can do the opposite (frequent nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain). I still think it is best to not eat them in excess, mostly because of their high content of Omega 6 fatty acids (with the exception of walnuts) which can cause inflammation. I do eat them quite frequently as a snack or, mostly, as part of my homemade salad dressings or desserts, but not in huge quantities (except when I make a nut based cake to celebrate something).

My beloved Dr. Greger has a great series about them here, if you are interested.

Do you eat nuts regularly? Let me know!

photo credit: s58y via photo pin cc

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tip #33: Create experiences

Walk in the wild
Sometimes we think that getting more and more things we'll make us happier. Well, as you already know, maybe that can work at times. But I'm sure most of you would agree that getting stuff tends to result not in happiness but in clutter, even burden. There may also be other reasons why just buying things does not satisfy us. It turns out that this has also been studied. In a paper called "The Relative Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases“ the researchers discovered that people enjoy buying experiences (like a vacation or a massage) much more than buying physical items because with the latter we tend to compare those items to other ones (I just bought a TV but the neighbor has a better one, or a new model came out, etc.) while it is more difficult to compare experiences (my massage was better than yours?). In addition, our memory tends to grow fonder with time in the case of experiences (we had such a great vacation in 1992), while with most purchased items, our expectations tend to diminish as time goes by.

But I also think that we can even bypass the idea of "buying" experiences and, instead, try to "create" experiences in any situation we may be. Of course, vacations are ideal for this. If you go to Hawaii for the first time, you will be creating an experience with everything you do. But you do not need to buy anything when you go for a hike, for example, and you have just "created" a wonderful experience (hopefully) that you can cherish forever, if you enjoy it in a special way, maybe because of nature itself, maybe because of the company, the weather, etc.

I'm still enjoying my time in Spain, away from my daily routine, so "creating" experiences seems very easy at the moment, but I'm hoping this is an idea that can be put into practice when I get back.

What do you think? Any suggestions? They are always welcomed!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tip #32: Appreciate your family

My parents
My parents circa 1958
I am spending two weeks in Spain, visiting my family, and I was able to sneak in this picture of my parents, Obdulio and Enriqueta. Just looking at it, makes me happy. And I should, because I owe them much more than bringing me to this world. According to a study from 1997 called the Harvard Mastery of Stress, a big percentage of my well being and health (yes, strangely enough I do consider myself very healthy) may be because of them. In that study, a group of Harvard students in 1950 (a little before that picture was taken) were asked about their feelings for their parents using some of these words: Just, Fair, Loving, Strong, Clever, and Hardworking (positive) and Severe, Stingy, Brutal, Mean, Punished, and Nervous (negative). They followed up with those students 35 years later. The results were very interesting: Only 25% of subjects with high positive perceptions of both mothers and fathers were sick in midlife, whereas 87% of subjects with low positive perceptions of both mothers and fathers were sick in midlife. The authors also tell us:

The approximately 60% difference in sickness rates observed between subjects who rated their mothers and fathers both high in caring vs. subjects who rated their mothers and fathers both low in caring was replicated when the data were analyzed separately in anger in/out subjects (13% vs. 75%) and severe anxiety subjects (40% vs. 100%).
And if you had lousy parents, don't fret. Blame them for your current ills, but also know that present ties are also crucial. I also read recently about another study which shows that family relationships bring greater happiness than income. Money is important, but after you have reached a certain income, it is the quality of family relationship that matter. And I think, from my experience living abroad, that "family" can also be a broad term. I have many friends in the US that, although not technically my family, I would consider them as such. They definitely have my back.

And, lastly, in the book The Blue Zones, Lessons From Living Longer From The People Who've Lived The Longest, one of the common traits in these groups of people is that family is put ahead of other concerns. The author, Dan Buettner, also has a ver informative TED talk, How to live to be 100+, about this and other factors that contribute to longevity and well being.

What do you think? Lots of love from sunny (and very hot) Spain.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tip #31: Get acquainted with the raw foodists

Puttanesca Ravioli from Catch a Healthy Habit, Fairfield, CT
I first learned about the raw food diet when I started researching green smoothies and I read about Victoria Boutenko and how her family reversed severe ailments like diabetes by switching their diet to a raw, plant-based diet. I honestly thought that they probably were really strange people, as the whole idea not only sounded insane but also clearly very difficult.

Over the years I kept hearing more about vegan raw foodists, and how they all sounded very happy and healthy (NPR "The raw food movement"). I still was quite skeptical until I heard about a BBC show called "The truth about food" which had a segment (called "The evolution diet) in which 9 people were put in a zoo and fed only fruits, vegetables, nuts and honey. The results of their 12 day experiment  were nothing short of astounding: a 23% average drop in cholesterol, their blood pressure went from 140/83 to 122/76 and they also lost almost 10 lbs per person (although that was not the intention of the experiment). I saw a summary of the show on our TV and what surprised me the most was not even those shocking numbers, but the fact that these people, who were regular, completely normal people, said that, after the second day, they experienced a sense of total happiness, resulting on complete cooperation among themselves, which was actually not what the producers had expected (they thought it could become another awful reality TV spectacle with people fighting because they missed their burgers and fries).

I'm still not sure that doing a 100% raw food diet is feasible or convenient for me. I did try it once for 3 days, and I did like how I felt. But the point of this tip is that, by looking at the way raw foodists prepare their food I have learned immensely and I think anyone can benefit from it. They believe that when we cook our food, we lose their enzymes, and that we really were meant, as animals, to not eat cooked food. From everything I've read, this makes sense. In general, I think we should eat things that are as close as possible to their original state. And, although you also get great benefits from soups and bean stews, it is true that some forms of cooking, such as grilling or charring can cause cancer. So, I think its is a good idea to add more raw foods into our daily routine, and this is quite easy if you start by just making sure you have a big salad every day.

But I've also learned from raw foodists that you can make absolutely delicious things without the need to cook. We are lucky were we live that we have a raw food restaurant, Catch a Healthy Habit, which is absolutely wonderful. Although I have yet to taste something I didn't like, my absolute favorite is their Puttanesca ravioli. The mixture of flavors, olives, capers, tomato, is just exquisite. And here are two websites that I use regularly, particularly when we are invited to our friends houses for dinner and I like to make some type of dessert for myself:
And one thing that has been very helpful in my case is that I have learned to substitute for things I cannot (or shouldn't) eat. For example, in order to control my blood sugar level, my nutritionists recommends that I only eat 3 servings of grains a day (about 1 1/2 cups, eg. 3 pieces of toast or just a cup and half of rice. A day. Yes, quite awful). This was really hard to do at the beginning, but now I, for example, eat a leaf of lettuce instead of corn tortilla or raw zucchini spaghetti, instead of pasta, etc. These are actually surprisingly delicious. I learned about these options through the raw food recipes.

What about you? Have you ever been to a raw food restaurant? Do you have a favorite recipe? Let me know!