Caloric Restriction vs. Fasting: Why One Can Result In Weight Gain While The Other Helps Burn Fat

Some would say that the best solution to weight gain is eating right and exercising. I couldn’t agree more. Obesity is one of the deadliest problems humanity faces today, and just as important as diet and exercise is for addressing this issue, even more important are the emotional and personal reasons as to why so many people damage themselves and make themselves more prone to serious disease.

Apart from diet and exercise, initiating a proper fasting regimen can have tremendous health outcomes, especially for overweight people. It wasn’t but a decade ago when fasting to lose weight was considered unhealthy and dangerous. Today, we have a tremendous amount of science that’s been published clearly showing that fasting can be an effective health intervention for people of all body types, especially for people who are overweight and suffer from certain diseases. It’s an excellent way to help your body burn fat. Fasting has been used and is currently being used as an intervention for type two diabetes, cancer and more. Fasting has been shown to trigger stem cell regeneration, autophagy, which in turn can help clear out toxins and damaged cells, repair DNA, improve metabolism, lower blood sugar, boost brain function, reduce the risk of age related disease, lessen inflammation which improves a wide range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma and more. It’s no wonder why so many ancient cultures from different parts of the world used fasting as medicine and as a health intervention.

As shown in the science, fasting is generally safe for everybody. This many not be true if you already have underlying health conditions or are taking certain medications. This is why it’s important to consult a health professional about it, but the issue is, the majority of health professionals are not well educated in fasting interventions. Those who have educated themselves have been treating their patients with fasting and are drawn to it due to its ability to provide so many benefits.

One of these doctors is Dr. Jason Fung, who on his blog and his YouTube channel, as well as the books he’s written provides a wealth of information and science regarding fasting. I often refer people to the work of Fung, or others like Dr. Valter Longo if they want to begin their own research about fasting. Again, there is a wealth of science and “scholarly” articles available on the subject for anybody who wants to search for it as well. It’s not heard to find.

In the video below, Fung explains why fasting is much different from caloric restriction or having your body go into “starvation mode.”  You can also check out his article, “The difference between calorie restriction and fasting” for some great information as well.

Neuroscience Reveals How You Can Help Make Your Brain Decades Younger

Science is revealing various mindfulness techniques that can literally change and restructure our brain. Neuroscientist Sara Lazar from Mass General and Harvard Medical School is one of the latest to illustrate this. After she sustained running injuries, she took up yoga. It had a tremendous effect on her, which inspired her to start researching the scientific literature that’s available on mindfulness meditation, which is one of the categories into which yoga falls into.

“The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart,” said Lazar. “And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’ But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view.”

In her research, she found a plethora of evidence showing that meditation can decrease stress,  depression, anxiety, and pain as well as increase one’s quality of life, among other things.

Obviously she was very curious at this point, and being a neuroscientist, she started doing her own research to find out what effect meditation could have on the brain.

In her first study, titled “Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness,” she found exactly that. Her research showed that meditation could spark structural changes “in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing. The data further suggest that meditation may impact age related declines in cortical structure.” (source)

That particular study used long-term meditators who had at least 7 years of experience with the practice compared to a control group with no experience. People with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex as well as insula and sensory regions. An increase in gray matter was also found in the brain region linked to decision making and working memory, which would be the frontal cortex.

What’s interesting here is that the frontal cortex shrinks as we age, but in this particular study, the 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age. How astonishing is that?

Lazar and her team of researchers went on to publish a second study titled “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” (source)

This study demonstrates longitudinal changes in brain gray matter concentration following an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course compared to a control group. Hypothesized increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus were confirmed. Exploratory whole brain analyses identified significant increases in gray matter concentration in the PCC, TPJ, and the cerebellum.

After just eight weeks of meditation, people’s brains changed in multiple ways. One was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).

What’s also interesting to note is that, in this study, new mediators experienced a shrinking of their amygdala,  a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in these particular participants.

This type of discovery is nothing new. Since Lazar’s study, and even before it, a lot of research has been published.

One of the most recent studies found that different types of meditation can actually effect different areas of the brain.

As Alice G. Walton, a writer for Forbes, points out,

“Meditation and mindfulness training have accumulated some impressive evidence, suggesting that the practices can change not only the structure and function of the brain, but also our behaviour and moment-to-moment experience.”

This recent study found the same thing, and the following describes what they discovered when they scanned the participants’ brains at the end of each module and then compared the groups against one another:

“Training in Presence was linked to enhanced thickness in the anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which are known to be strongly involved in attention. Affect training was linked to increased thickness in regions known to be involved in socially driven emotions like empathy: and Perspective training associated with changes in areas involved in understanding the mental states of others, and, interestingly, inhibiting the perspective of oneself.”

These results further elaborate on a wealth of previous studies showing what meditation can do to the brain.

Walton goes on to emphasize,

“Lots of research has found that experienced meditators have significantly altered brain structure and function, but a growing number of studies has also found that relatively brief meditation training in novices (for instance, the well-known eight-week MBSR program) can also shift brain function, improve well-being, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

The Takeaway

Mediation clearly has health benefits for the brain, among other parts of the body. Not only can it be used to improve your brain, decrease anxiety, depression, fear, etc., but it’s a great way to increase empathy and feel love and compassion as well. These are qualities the world needs more of, so perhaps the world needs more meditators?

Meditation could be used for interventions in schools and in other places where children and people feel stressed. Furthermore, meditation can be used to reach different states of consciousness, and perhaps even altered states of consciousness.

There is still a lot we are learning about meditation, but one thing is for certain, and that’s the fact that it can help change an individual for the better in several different ways.

4 Natural Solutions For People Who Have Trouble Sleeping

I am not a good sleeper. I will never be one of those people who can boast the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time. But unlike many other sufferers of occasional insomnia, I refuse to resort to over-the-counter sleep-aids and prescription meds.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried my fair share of both. However, not only did the over-the-counter stuff fail to put me to sleep, it left me feeling drugged, dehydrated, and foggy. The prescription stuff, on the other hand, worked too well. I tried to reserve them for absolute emergencies, but who has the willpower to say no to a guaranteed full night of sleep? My best intentions were not enough to contend with the promise of feeling rested, and that was definitely not the path I wanted to be heading down.

So what else can we do to improve our sleep? What steps can we take towards building better, healthful nighttime routines? For people with real difficulties falling asleep, a cup of chamomile tea, while indeed relaxing, simply doesn’t cut it. Over the years I have, however, accumulated a fairly thorough toolkit of natural sleep solutions that really do help and which I’d like to share with you. Because I know just how difficult it is to function after a sleepless night, and how it contributes to a whole host of health problems. But that is a topic for another article.

1. Turn Off Technology, Especially Social Media, At Least 1 Hour Before Bed

This one can be tricky for many people. It’s tempting to check your email one last time before going to bed, or scroll through your Facebook feed, but these activities are incredibly stimulating to our brains. I know for a fact that once I’ve reached out for my phone and peeked at my email in the morning, that’s it – I’m awake.

They can also be sources of stress. How on earth are you supposed to let your mind quiet down if you’ve just received an email about a big deadline at work, or if you’ve just gotten a bunch of “likes” on your Instagram account? Negative and positive stress will both prevent you from sleeping with equal efficacy.

Studies have also shown that the blue light emitted from computer, cell phone, and tablet screens trick the brain into thinking it’s morning, thereby effectively disrupting your internal clock and keeping you from falling asleep. You can read more about that here.

2. Schedule Worry Time

This has probably been the most helpful piece of sleep-related advice I ever received. Since my issues stem from an over-active mind, often related to stress, taking the time to allow my thoughts to run their course has proven incredibly effective. For many people, the moment your head hits the pillow is the moment your brain chooses to start processing the events of the day and planning those of tomorrow. Rather than lying awake in bed fighting this natural urge and agonizing over the fact of being awake, give your mind the time it needs by scheduling some time before you’re ready for sleep. I call this my quiet time or my worry time. I find a quiet, dark corner, cuddle up with a blanket and some herbal tea, and just let my brain do its thing. WHY did I say that stupid thing earlier today? What will I wear tomorrow? Have I forgotten to email or call anyone? Do I have any important meetings or discussions tomorrow, and do I feel prepared? The dialogue will be different for everyone, but these are the common things that run through my head before bed. By the time I have sat there quietly for 20 minutes, my tea is finished and my head is starting to droop.

3. Meditate

This is the natural progression from Step 2. Many people are uncomfortable with the notion of meditation, either because they think they “don’t know how” or think it simply doesn’t work. But the truth of the matter is, if you’re sitting quietly, regulating your breathing, and focusing on clearing your mind – you’re meditating. Allowing myself worry time eventually leads to meditation, because I no longer have various thoughts and worries fighting for my attention. If a new thought pops up, I simply acknowledge the fact that it’s there, without attaching an emotion to it, and move on.

Breathing deeply and slowly will work wonders for carrying you to a restful state. The physiological changes alone will bring about a state of calm – you literally can’t help but feel relaxed after some time of breathing in this way.

4. If You’re Not Sleeping, Get Out of Bed

This one is the hardest for me, but I hear it time and time again – bed is only for sleep (and for sex). If you start to associate it with other things – like lying awake and feeling stressed, or being on the computer, or watching TV – you are only making things exponentially harder on yourself. You need to associate your bed with sleeping, so if you find you’ve been lying there for more than 20-30 minutes and are still wide awake, get up and do something until you feel tired.

I know this seems counterintuitive. You want to sleep, not be awake doing things, but lying there will only make things worse. Get up and do something in another room – make some herbal tea, read a book, listen to some calming music, cuddle with your partner – until you start to feel sleepy. Only then should you return to bed. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you fall asleep! The amount of time you spend out of bed will be significantly less than the time you would have spent tossing and turning.

Just remember, don’t get up and flip on the TV or use the computer – the stimulating effects of these activities, combined with the blue light emitted from the screens, will only keep you up longer.

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What are some of your nighttime routines? Do you know of other techniques that work? Share in the comments below!

Make Your Own Vanilla Cashew-Almond Milk (Recipe)

 I know there are plenty of you out there who already make your own nut milk, but for those of you who have yet to make the transition – or for those looking to make their milk a little more exciting – then this post is for you.

Several months ago I started making my own nut milk at home, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a very long time! I had thought about doing it for ages, but it was always just one of those things that I avoided for no real reason; I assumed it would be too time consuming, too expensive, too… hard. How wrong I was.

If you have ten minutes, a handful of nuts, and some fabric – you can make nut milk.

Once I realized this was going to become a permanent part of my life (immediately after tasting my first batch), I invested the $10 in a nut milk bag, but for my first time around I simply cut the leg off a pair of (clean) pantyhose that would have ended up in the trash, thanks to a lovely run down the thigh. You don’t need to invest any money into this if you don’t want to. Old pantyhose are also great for mason jar sprouting, FYI.

You’ll be amazed at how something that once seemed so daunting so quickly becomes a normal part of your routine. It will literally take 5 minutes of your time once or twice a week – I’ve spent more time than that choosing which almond milk to buy at the store! And doing this yourself ensures that you know exactly what’s going inside your body: no unnecessary chemicals, preservatives, thickeners; no added sugar.

There is something so unbelievably empowering about making something from scratch. The less cans, boxes, and packages you bring into your home, the better you will feel both physically and emotionally – I promise! I can’t tell you how proud and excited I feel every time I pull a jar of milk out of the fridge that was made with my own two hands. And I want to share that feeling with everyone.

As if that feeling weren’t enough to motivate you… it tastes incredible! I really love this combination of nuts, the cashews lend this milk such a creamy, luxurious taste, and the vanilla just sends things right over the edge. No sugar needed, though a couple of dates thrown in there would be insane.

The other amazing thing about making your own almond milk is that you no longer need to buy almond meal. Many people throw away the leftover almond pulp, but that’s literally throwing your money into the garage. Get the most bang for your buck by drying the pulp and using it in baked goods exactly as you would almond meal from the store. I’ve had great luck with this cashew-almond mixture – it makes my raw cookie dough balls taste extra good, and I’m sure it would work well in a variety of recipes!

Show your body some love and start making your own milk today!

If you have a favourite recipe for nut milk that you’d like to share, post in the comments below!

Vanilla Cashew-Almond Milk (makes 4 cups)

~ gluten free, vegan, sugar free, soy free ~

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod, beans scraped
  • 1/4 tsp of Himalayan sea salt
  • 4 cups filtered water

Directions

  1. Place your raw nuts in a container (or right in the blender to save yourself from washing more dishes), cover with water, and soak overnight.
  2. When you’re ready to use them, drain the water and give the nuts a quick rinse.
  3. Add them back to your blender, along with the 4 cups of water, vanilla, and salt, and blend on high for about a minute. The water will go from clear, to grainy, to white in this time.
  4. Strain into a glass container or mason jar using your nut milk bag or other fabric – you may have to do some squeezing!
  5. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes

  1. Your milk will separate after sitting in the fridge for a while, so just remember to give it a good shake before serving. This does not mean it has gone bad – I made the mistake of throwing out some perfectly good milk before I learned this lesson!

A Simple Recipe For A Homemade Non-Toxic Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners are one of the most unnecessary dangerous chemicals that you may be using in your home, and it’s important that you stop right away. There are much better, safer, all natural alternatives that will keep you, your family, and the environment safe. The natural alternatives can also prolong the life of your clothes. Really, we have no reason to have ever invented such a toxic product in the first place.

Fabric softener is one thing, among many household items, that absolutely must go, and hopefully from the awareness that is raised from this article and many others that are exposing these harmful chemicals for what they are, we will continue to see the decline in their use as people continue to opt for safer, cleaner alternatives.

So, What Is So Bad About Conventional Fabric Softeners?

First of all, the majority of conventional cleaning and personal care products can essentially be thrown in the garbage as they are absolutely loaded with chemicals, many of which are completely banned in other countries. We have many safer, all-natural alternatives to these types of things and we simply do not need to be using these to clean ourselves, our home, or our clothes. People sometimes assume that our governments have our best interests in mind and wouldn’t allow ingredients that are toxic to our health into the products that we use on a regular basis, and while that’s a nice thought, it is a naive one.

Fabric Softeners are among the worst offenders in terms of toxicity and it really makes one wonder how these chemical pollutants were approved by the U.S. Environmental Agency in the first place. The purpose of Fabric Softeners is to free your clothes from wrinkles and static cling and of course leave them smelling mountain fresh or like a field of lavender, but at what cost is this “fresh” smell?

According to the Environmental Working Group, fabric softeners contain chemicals and fragrances that can cause skin irritation and respiratory irritation. The fragrance element alone can come from hundreds of different chemical compounds, and yes many of them are toxic.

Interestingly, according to what Anne Steinmann, Ph.D., professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and a world expert on environmental pollutants and their health effects, said in an interview with New Scientist, “Most exposure to hazardous pollutants occurs indoors, and a primary source for these pollutants is our everyday consumer products.”

New Scientist also has stated that there are no legal requirements that all the ingredients, including potential toxins be listed for most of the products we use every day. While the compounds they contain have been tested individually for toxicity, scientists admit it’s hard to say how dangerous they might become when some are mixed.

Conventional fabric softeners are either a liquid that you pour into the rinse cycle of your washing machine, or a sheet that is thrown into the dryer with your clothes. Both contain compounds that are especially harmful to children. Toxic chemicals can easily enter your body through the skin. One of the worst is phthalates, which are added to emit a fake fresh fragrance, the University of Illinois Cancer center had the following to say about phthalates,

“Phthalates [are a] synthetic preservative that’s carcinogenic and linked to adverse reproductive effects (decreased sperm counts, early breast development and birth defects) and live and kidney damage.”

Steinmann also noted,

“Using a liquid fabric softener? You are pouring these toxic chemicals into the ocean every time you use it. Even worse than liquid fabric softeners are dryer sheets, whose chemicals are heated and then shot into the air for you to breathe into your lungs.

That ‘fresh-from-the-dryer’ smell that fabric softeners impart to your clean load of laundry? Don’t breathe it in, if you like your lungs to function. That super floral smell is masking a seriously unhealthy chemical stench.

So, What Are The Alternatives?

Luckily, there are lots, which begs the question, why did we ever start using these horrible toxic products in the first place? Every chemical product that is in use today for personal care or home cleaning could essentially vanish from the Earth and you know what? We would make do.

A simple recipe for a homemade fabric softener is as follows:

Ingredients

2 Cups Epsom Salts or 2 Cups Coarse Sea Salt
20-30 Drops Essential Oil
1/2 Cup Baking Soda

Simply mix all ingredients together and store in a container with tight-fitting lid, add ½ cup directly to your load of laundry.

Some even more simple ideas are as follows,

One half cup pure baking soda added to your laundry.

One cup of distilled white vinegar and about 15 drops of your favorite essential oil shaken in a spray bottle, give your wet clothes a spritz after they are washed, before you put into the dryer.
Don’t worry the vinegar smell will go away.


A crumpled up ball of aluminum foil tossed in the dryer with your clothes can help to get rid of the static cling.

Another great alternative, that is simple, cost-effective, economical and environmentally friendly is the use of dryer balls. You can get the plastic kind that can cut your drying time in half and reduce the static cling in your clothes, but to be more environmentally conscious there are also wool dryer balls that you can purchase or easily make your own.

Final Thoughts

Here’s what it comes down to, as consumers we have been gravely misinformed and maybe we have believed that there are some kind of standards set in place by our governments, unfortunately, it seems that these protection agencies, for the most part, don’t have our best interest in mind. So, with that in mind, it is up to us to be aware of what we are purchasing, if we stop purchasing these conventional products which contain harmful ingredients such as phthalates and fragrances, then the big corporations will either change their recipes, stop using these chemicals or simply go out of business. As the consumer, we have a direct vote for the types of products that are being produced by how we are choosing to spend our money. If WE don’t want chemicals in our products, we must simply stop buying them and start making our own. We must take responsibility for our own lives and create the type of world we want to live in. It is up to each and every one if us.

5 Great Benefits Kids Can Get From Yoga

Kermit the Frog has a wonderful song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” And kids love this song because they can relate. After all, it’s not easy being a kid today either. More and more is asked of them in school; they are hurried from one activity to the next; homework begins at much earlier grade levels now, and then there are all of the digital distractions that top off fully exhausting days and evenings.

It’s Beginning to Show in the Classroom

Teachers are frustrated because attention spans seem to be so short and because they have to be entertainers if they want to engage learning in their classrooms. Parents worry that their kids won’t pass the standardized state tests that often decide promotion to the next grade. So, they cart their kids to tutoring sessions, among all of the sports practices. Kids just don’t have any non-stimulated time, and that is a huge concern. This is where yoga comes in.

Yoga – the Balance Every Kid Needs

Amidst the flurry of activity, there should be time for all kids to turn off their devices and tune out their activities and school work. There should be time for non-competitive physical activity, for some quiet reflection, and for the opportunity to enhance their ability to focus.

These are the big benefits of yoga and this is what kids can get when they learn and practice it.


  • Become aware of their breathing and the connections between deep breathing and the body’s feel.
    Techniques and games that foster this connection serve to improve focus, reduce stress, and actually cause the release of healthy hormones.


  • Balance: Techniques that focus on balance do far more than just develop control over the physical body. They assist increases in attention in natural ways, rather than through medication, which doctors are so quick to prescribe. As kids focus on a balance pose, they also clear their minds, thinking only of what their bodies are doing.

  • Kids have lots of natural flexibility – something that we adults lose as we grow older.  Doing stretching exercises increases flexibility, a flexibility that forms in muscles and joints and allows them to “yield.” Football players who practice yoga, for example, have far fewer serious injuries because they have developed flexibility. If flexibility exercises can become habitual with kids, they will perform better in any sport.

  • Focus and Awareness: A typical yoga exercise for young children is to have them close their eyes and focus on sitting just as a statue. They must become aware of all parts of their body in order to keep them still and stiff, and focus on keeping them that way. Then, when a short period of time is over, they are told to relax and just start laughing as hard as they can – a great release of energy and stress. They come to understand that they have control of their bodies and of their minds, and with this understanding comes confidence.

  • Relaxation and Meditation: This may be the most important benefit of yoga for young children. The early exercises of tightening and then relaxing muscles, of holding poses and moving from one pose into another, all take the mind away from the “harried” nature of their lives and have a strong calming effect. Meditation on their mats can occur as they sit in a pose or lie flat. In both instances, children can be guided to place their thought on a single thing – maybe a favorite pet or color.

Gradually, additional visualization can be added to meditation. One small private school has an assembly each morning. Children are on mats and perform yoga poses and exercises to music. Then, the “quiet” time begins. As they sit on their mats, softer music is played and they are asked to think of one thing they want to accomplish that day and to see themselves doing it – a small activity that inspires.

Yoga for kids is all about developing habits of body and mind working together to create a more balanced lifestyle and develop great study habits. When these habits are instilled early, they tend to “stick” better.