Biting off more than you can chew?

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I have a confession to make. When I sat down to write the healthy habits I presented in my recent Optimize Your Digestion workshop I realized that I too had been slacking on a few of them – particularly the habit that topped the list: CHEWING!

While it seems obvious that we need to chew our food, the fact of the matter is many of us aren’t doing as much chewing as we should be. When life gets busy finding even just a few minutes to eat can feel like a triumph and the thought of taking a full hour break to relax, enjoy and savour our food seems like a luxury. But how you eat is just as important as what you are eating, especially when it comes to chewing.

Digestion begins in our mouths. When we take a bite of food we use our teeth to mechanically break it down into smaller parts. The saliva produced by our salivary glands acts as a solvent and enzymes are released to start breaking down carbohydrates. Swallowing large chunks of food means more work for our stomach, which will need to do more churning, and use more stomach acid and enzymes to digest before moving the food along to our small intestines. Not chewing our food completely could mean low stomach acid, depleted enzymes, developing allergies and nutrient malabsorption… just to name a few side effects.

The good news is we all learned how to chew when we were little, so it’s an easy habit to improve upon! The trick is bringing a little mindfulness to how much we are chewing each bite. Here are a few tips that you can employ the next time you eat that will help you chew and instantly improve your digestion!

Sit down to eat: Even if it’s just 10 minutes, taking dedicated time to eat meals and snacks free of distractions will allow you to pay attention to how you are eating. And no, sitting in the car doesn’t count!

Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Avoid shovelling food into your mouth; you don’t want to bite off so much your cheeks are puffed up like a chipmunk. If you feel like you have to push your food down with liquids, it’s a sure sign you’re taking in too much at one time and you need to chew that food more!

Put your fork down: Once the food is in your mouth, put that fork or spoon down!

Chew 40-50 times. That’s per bite, not meal! By the time you’re ready to swallow your food should be almost liquid.

If you didn’t get a chance to join me and Debra Black at our workshop, we’ll be running it again in Toronto this June! Sign up for my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss out on early bird registration.

WORKSHOP: Optimize Your Digestion

blog_no-diet-dayI love comedian Louis C.K. and one of my favourite bits that he does is about the 48 hour diarrhea window. At any given moment Louis says he is 48 hours away from diarrhea, having had it or will be having it soon. It always makes me laugh, but it also got me thinking about what we consider “normal” when it comes to digestion.

Register now for Optimize Your Digestion – Nutrition & Yoga Workshop

For as long as I can remember digestion has been one of my greatest health challenges. I have been intimately acquainted with that 48-hour window Louis jokes about, along with its close cousin constipated for days – which my doctor assured me was nothing to worry about! Making changes to my diet and lifestyle helped with those symptoms, but you can imagine my shock when I learned that digestion was also the culprit for the painful and itchy — not to mention unsightly — rashes covering my body.

Think about it — we literally are what we eat. Every cell in our body relies on nutrients from our food to function and if we’re not breaking down the vitamins, minerals and other good things in our food how are we fuelling our bodies? And if we’re not eliminating the waste  efficiently… Well, you know what happens when you forget to empty your green bin before you go on vacation!

After a lot of changes and a lot of hard work, my digestion is on track today and it’s now the greatest barometer of my health. While I eat well and exercise, I am certainly not without my indulgences. When I’ve been indulging a little too often my digestion will soon let me know it’s time to get back on track.

If you struggle with the 48 hour diarrhea window, gas, bloating, constipation, skin troubles, inflammatory conditions or just not seeing results even though you’re eating healthy, it’s time to think about optimizing your digestion. When it comes to digestion there’s always room for improvement.

Join me on March 28 in Toronto to learn how improving your digestion can help you look and feel your best. I’ll be talking about the role nutrition plays in healthy digestion and registered yoga teacher Debra Black will teach a gentle, one-hour yin yoga class designed to get those pipes moving.

REGISTER NOW, space is limited and you’ll enjoy my favourite healthy treats and snacks from Earth + City and Kewaza Energy!

Thank you to our workshop sponsors:

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raspberry coconut cheesecake (raw + vegan!)

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On October 19 I celebrated my birthday. This year it passed by quietly but had all of my favourite things – a grilled and buttered scone from Wychwood Barns, dinner out with my man, a low-key family lunch and of course a cupcake. It was a perfect birthday, really. Particularly so as I was feeling quite introspective this year.

raspberry coconut cheesecake (raw + vegan)
I couldn’t help but think back to my birthday last year. It was my 30th and Jeff took me to New York to celebrate. That weekend had all of my favourite New York things – a Russ and Daughter’s bagel, a bike ride, dinner out with my man and of course a cupcake. But despite an amazing weekend I couldn’t help but feel like I was coming apart at the seams.

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This time last year my life looked very similar, but everything was different. I had too much on my plate, I was running myself ragged, I was focused on all of the wrong things. I exercised twice a week but that hour out of the week was the only time I spent on “me,” and even then I was obsessively checking my email between reps. I ate too much of all the wrong things. I was hardly sleeping. I was a lousy wife and an even worse friend. In short, I had pressed the ignore button on myself.

Shortly after we got back from New York I realized I was running on fumes and I knew that if I didn’t make some changes — and fast — my physical, emotional and mental health were all in danger. Over the next couple of months I worked hard to make changes and now, a year later, I feel like a completely different person. A better one.

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More on those changes another time, let’s get back to that celebration? And this cake! Here’s a picture my mum took at my family birthday party. Two very excited girls, but one was not so excited once she realized it was a raw, vegan cashew cheesecake.

Raspberry Coconut Cheesecake
Adapted from Health Yeah!
Serves 8-10

As soon as I saw the Blackberry Coconut Zebra Cheesecake posted on Health Yeah! I knew it was going to be my birthday cake. Now, if you look at Hannah’s cake and then mine you will note that mine does not resemble a zebra in any way shape or form. Total Pinterest Fail. I was not paying attention when I set aside the coconut filling before happily whizzing my raspberries into what remained… Only to find out that instead of saving half of the coconut mixture I had poured out, oh, maybe a quarter. In the beginning I tried hard to layer the coconut and raspberry mixtures as instructed but gave up half way through and just mixed everything together. The result was still delicious, but certainly not zebra!

Equipment
Spring-form pan

Ingredients

Base
1 1/2 cups almonds (preferably raw)
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted and soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
3 tbsp cacao powder
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tbsp coconut oil

Raspberry Coconut Filling
3 cups cashews, soaked overnight
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup coconut coil, melted
1/2 cup coconut cream
1 tbsp cacao butter
1/2 raw honey
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extra
2 cups raspberries

For serving
A couple extra raspberries
Some coconut
Handful of chocolate chips
Whatever you want to make your cake pretty

Method:

1. Prepare the base: place almonds and sea salt in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add in remaining ingredients and pulse until well mixed (it should stick together when you squeeze it between your fingers). Press mixture into the base of your spring form pan – use a pastry roller or the bottom of a glass to get it even. Place in the refrigerator.

2. Using a powerful blender (I used my Vitamix, of course), blend all filling ingredients except for raspberries until smooth. Scrape down the sides as needed to make sure everything is blended up. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Add raspberries to blender and whiz until smooth. Fold raspberries into coconut filing.

4. Remove base from fridge and pour in filling. Return to fridge or freezer and let set overnight. Just before you’re ready to serve, decorate with a few raspberries, some coconut and chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

chocolate chip power cookies

Almond Power Cookies and Goji Chia Chocolate Crunch Bats
Thanksgiving is my favourite of all the holidays that involve family and large meals. Everything about it is just so perfect – the timing, the weather (warm enough to take a walk through the gorgeous fall leaves but cool enough that you can wear your best jean jacket), and of course, the food. We do it potluck style, and when your family is filled with as many passionate and talented cooks as mine, you know you’re in for a real treat.

This year I made another pot of braised white beans and leeks. My brother made a fine turkey that spent 48 hours in a beautiful bath of wine, salt and garlic, while my mum brought a restaurant quality salad that had orange slices and pecans in it. As always, my sister in law who has been blessed with the gift of baking made two types of cake and there was enough vegan mac and cheese to feed a small (vegan?) army. And of course, we can’t forget the roasted potatoes, which have been known to reduce Lairds to petty theft and physical violence for just one more. Okay, maybe not physical violence, but definitely petty theft.

I’ve been working with a holistic nutritionist to sort out some crummy allergy symptoms I’ve been having over the past few months and Thanksgiving fell smack dab into the middle of my elimination diet. While the buffet table boasted plenty of dishes that were free of gluten, wheat, dairy, corn and soy (the most common allergens in our diets), I knew that a sugar-free dessert was going to be harder to come by.

Not exactly one to pass up a sweet after a meal (and after Thanksgiving meal at that!) I knew I had to plan ahead. I debated a stop at a Tori’s, one of my favourite bakeries here in Toronto, but on Saturday morning I opened up my pantry and realized I had all of the ingredients to make these chocolate chip cookies. With a base of almond meal, sweetened with maple syrup and studded with soy-free, dairy-free unsweetened dark chocolate chips they hit all the check marks on my elimination diet.

Despite desserts for days on the table, these cookies were a hit! I was especially pleased that the two most important men in my life gave them the stamp of approval — my dad and my husband, who are equally discerning when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. These are definitely going to make a repeat occurrence at my table, for a celebration meal or otherwise!

Check out the recipe for Goji Chia Chocolate Crunch bars over at YumUniverse, my latest recipe obsession. And full disclosure, I did cheat on my diet with one roasted potato and the tiniest sliver of pink doughnut cake. But hello, it was a pink doughnut cake!

Chocolate Chip Power Cookies
Adapted from UnDiet
Makes 12 cookies

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups almond meal (raw, from 2 cups of almonds if making at home)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup chocolate chips (dairy free if you’re going for vegan)

Method

1. Place rack in centre of the oven and preheat to 350F.

2. If making almond meal at home, whiz 2 cups of raw almonds in a high powered blender.

3. Mix all ingredients together and let rest for 10 minutes to let the dough come together. This will make it easier to shape.

4. Scoop out two tablespoons of dough, roll in to balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Flatten them down a little.

5. Pop in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to a cooling rack (they’re delicate!). As the cookies cook they will crisp up.

Enjoy!