Don’t you love it when life hands you synchronicity? There is something magical when events converge to change your life…and this is exactly what has happened to me. Two months ago three things happened that, at the time, didn’t seem related: I started a new book on how to improve cognition and brain efficiency, I began my search for a seminar that met my CEU (Continuing Education Units) requirements for my board certification, and a past client came in to see me. As it turned out, these three events have changed my nutrition practice and my health forever.
Let me start with the book: Head Strong by Dave Asprey. Dave is the guy that created the “Bullet Proof Coffee” craze. (If you have been living under a rock and do not know what bullet proof coffee is, it is a lovely concoction of coffee, butter, and coconut oil that is blended to turn your morning cup of joe into rocket fuel that can keep your energy and your brain chugging away all morning long.) His book is a compilation of brain enhancing techniques that he has developed to produce clearer thinking, better memory, improved creativity, and accelerated learning. If you know me at all, then you know that this is right up my alley…I am always trying to find new ways to make my brain better. As soon as I cracked open the book, I realized he was speaking my language. His first and foremost “bio hack” was to eat real food! No GMOs, no packages, no refining…just as nature intended it. As I read on, he also spoke about the importance of sleep, exercise, stress resiliency, and community. He was preaching to the choir, but I loved every minute of it.
It was a Saturday and I could have happily spent the day being preached to, but I had other things that needed my attention. So I grudging sat down at my computer to begin the search for a conference that was interesting, not too far away, and that fit the requirements of my professional governing board, The National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP). As I checked out the usual suspects (and found them all wanting), I came across a two-day seminar in Dallas (but they also offered it live-stream…I could stay in my jammies!) on “Reversing Cognitive Decline” by one of my functional medicine mentors, Dr. Dale Bredesen. Wow, this was perfect and eerily connected to what I was learning from Dave Asprey. I signed up and paid (a rather large sum) right then and there.
Monday morning, I walked into my office to the phone ringing. It was one of my favorite clients (actually, they are all my favorite) who I had not seen in about four years. She was terribly distraught and was having a hard time explaining why she was calling me. This was not the woman who I had counseling four years ago. She was having problems organizing her thoughts and finding the right words to explain her situation. She had just turned 69 and had been having trouble maintaining her independent lifestyle. The doctor had told her that she had mild cognitive decline and was probably moving into full-blown dementia or Alzheimer’s and there was not much she could do about it. A medication might slow the progression a bit, but that was about it. This was not at all her style; she knew there had to be something else out there and so she called me to see if I could help.
Okay, now this was pretty crazy…the universe was definitely trying to tell me something…brain health should be my focus for a while.
Fast forward two months…I have long since finished the book, taken the course, and begun a plan to help my client get her life back. Personally, I have implemented many of the supplements and little life style changes that Dave suggested in his book and I have noticed increased performance in my own brain function. I have learned that cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration are not permanent and can be reversed (Dr Bredesen’s new book is called The End of Alzheimer’s and he has now reversed diagnosed-Alzheimer’s in over 100 people), and I have seen my client make improvements in her mental abilities in just two months. I will never look at the aging brain the same way again, in myself and in my clients. Here are the big takeaways and things you can do today to rejuvenate your mental prowess:
1. Eat real food. Sometimes I sound like a broken record, but if suddenly all processed food were to magically disappear from the world, it would solve the health crisis. Eat food as nature intended; without added sugar, chemicals, unnatural processing, and manipulation (i.e., GMO).
2. Don’t shortchange your sleep. Sleep is the time that we repair our bodies, consolidate new information, and restore our energy. It is also the time that we balance hormones that keep our mood stable, our weight healthy, and our bodies youthful. Make sleep a priority.
3. Move everyday…workout some of the days. We are not made to sit all day long. Plan movement into your day: go for a walk, bike to work, take a yoga/tai chi/pilates/whatever class, mow the lawn…it’s all good! Exercise is a main way to produce more BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which is a major chemical to produce new brain connections.
4. Find a community and be supported by them. Make sure that you get a hug, stroke a pet, chat with your BFF, or hang with friends every day. Research shows that isolation increases the risk of brain degeneration as well as other chronic diseases.
5. Create a stress-free oasis. When I tell my clients to “reduce stress” they look at me like I just asked them to fly to the moon, so now I say, “Find a place that you can take a vacation from your stressors”. I suggest taking a bath, reading a book, meditating, being in nature, or playing with your kids…just for a few minutes. These activities create a buffer from the stress of our world and will lower your inflammation, improve sleep, and reduce your risk of cognitive decline
6. Bonus idea: Choose some targeted supplements. There is a long list of supplements that improve brain function and many of them are familiar, such as probiotics, omega 3 fish oil, and turmeric. But here are three new ones that you may not know about. When added together in a “stack” (brain hacker’s term for putting multiple supplements together to get a big effect) produce more brain repair and less degeneration:
o Ashwagandha – improves mood and restores memory
o Citicholine – regeneration of neuronal connections and increases brain energy
o Lion’s Mane mushroom – neuro-protection and increased neuronal connections
When trying out supplements, quality matters more than quantity. It is more effective to spend more money on quality products without strange fillers, than to take a bunch of inexpensive, ineffective and possibly harmful products that you find online or in a discount store. Ask for some help in finding the best supplement for your dollar…and your brain.
I have implemented every suggestion here, plus a few more and I can tell you that my very good brain is even better than it was two months ago. Fix your broken brain and live longer, smarter, and happier. In the future weeks, I will be writing part two of this article, in which I will outline some of the advanced techniques I am using to fix my brain forever.
Kathy Westover October 14th, 2017
When I became a nutritionist ten years ago, I had a big goal: Improve the health of America one plate at a time! I work toward this goal everyday through the classes I teach, my corporate wellness program, and the many clients that I work with on a day-to-day basis. I love to explain how stress affects health, what happens when you don’t sleep well, and how vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals improve resilience to chronic disease.
The problem is, sometimes I get a little over zealous and my clients or students can get a little glassy-eyed. That is when I remember Barbara (name changed to protect the innocent).
Barbara is one of my typical clients; older than she wants to be, a little overweight, dragging around instead of conquering the world, and in general just feeling yucky. Toward the end of our first appointment (which is an hour and a half and can be a little like drinking from a fire hydrant) she looked at me and said, “I know you know your stuff…I wouldn’t have come to you if I didn’t think that. But I am tired and my brain is tired. Can you just tell me one simple thing that will change how I feel and give me back a little of my old self? Once I can get there, I will be able to listen better to your pearls of wisdom.”
Wow, that made me stop and think about the tidal wave of information that I give to people every day…all with the intent of convincing them to change their lifestyle, and now she wants me to boil it down to one thing! I looked at her and I said, “Yes, I can…Eat Real Food!” Once I said that, I realized that this idea is actually the most important component of diet and lifestyle improvement.
If nature made it, eat it…if she didn’t, don’t!
Real food; food which is unprocessed, unadulterated by chemicals and additives, and well grown, is the basis of health. Here are a few ways in which eating real food can change everything from the quality of your sleep to how well you fend off chronic disease:
The fiber in fresh vegetables keeps your digestive track running like clockwork. Having efficient elimination reduces toxicity in your bloodstream, lymph system, and liver. Modern life exposes us daily to a myriad of chemicals and toxins that need to be taken out with the trash on a daily basis.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a plethora of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that tune up the immune system, provide the “spark” that runs our biochemistry, and create the electrical signaling that allows our cells to carry out their important functions. These are the “additives” that we want in our food, not dyes, preservatives, and pesticides that come in processed/packaged foods.
Well-grown, pasture-raised, wild-caught animal products provide the body with all of the amino acids that are the main building blocks for all of the 100,000 biochemicals that we make in the body. Eating healthy animal-based proteins improve our mood and sleep as they contribute to the production of hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.
Healthy fats from unprocessed oils, well-grown animal products, and whole-food fats such as olives, coconut, avocados and nuts and seeds improve brain function, provide a clean long-lasting fuel, and create healthy cellular membranes. Human health has steadily gone down hill since we began the low-fat recommendations. The trend toward healthy fat can turn that around.
Real food, in all of its forms, is the main component of healthy weight maintenance. Our reliance on convenient, nutrient poor and energy dense foods is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country. Eating nutrient dense foods that come from nature will improve metabolic efficiency and decrease body fat storage signals such as high insulin and nutrient deficiencies.
Lately I have been starting off all of my presentations and client consultations with this statement:
“If I were to give you one fool-proof suggestion to improve all aspects of your health, energy and well-being it would be…Eat Real Food, just as nature intended”.
Kathy Westover September 24th, 2017
Orininally posted on July 22, 2013 by To Your Health! Nutrition
I confess…I am addicted to chocolate. Everyday, around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, I have a cup of tea (my favorite is white peach tea) and two squares of Endangered Species Extreme Dark Chocolate (88% cocoa). It takes me at least two hours to have a couple of cups of tea and the two squares of chocolate…I savor each sip and each tiny bite (which I never chew…I just let it melt slowly in my mouth). This is such a ritual that I am often tempted to not schedule clients in during that time so that I can quietly enjoy my chocolate, although I have never done that. Some of my long-time clients know of my chocolate passion and I can indulge in their presence without guilt. Now the rest of you know, too.
This may seem like a contradiction, since I am a nutrition therapist and so I should be eating a completely healthy and clean diet, but actually my chocolate passion is not so bad for me. Here are some reasons why:
Like everything, chocolate is good in moderation. Okay, maybe not all chocolate, but dark chocolate, when eaten responsibly, provides a number health benefits. The dark chocolate I choose to eat has only 4 grams of natural sugar per ounce. Compare that to the 24 grams of refined sugar in your average 1.5 ounce milk chocolate bar.
But sugar is sugar, right? Not at all.
There are similarities between natural sugar and refined sugar. Both come from the sugar cane plant. Both are initially made by drying the juices of this plant into sugar crystals. This, however, is where the similarities end. Once the crystals have dried, phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide, sulfur dioxide, and a host of other chemicals are added to refined sugar. Your body metabolizes chemicals much differently than natural foods. The end result is a shockingly higher caloric content, increasing your risk for diabetes and obesity.
While all sugar can cause health problems, limited amounts of natural sugar balanced with a healthy diet and exercise can provide the sweet flavor you desire without the dangers of its Frankenstein cousin.
There are numerous studies that have found two ounces of dark chocolate per day has several health benefits. Included in these are:
These benefits are particular to dark chocolate. In fact, a recent study by the National Institute for Food and Nutrition found that milk interferes with the absorption of antioxidants, therefor rendering milk chocolate incapable of providing these health benefits.
Buddhists and Hindus place offerings on alters. Catholics and Protestants recite liturgies. Me? I take two hours every day to practice my own ritual. This is my meditation, my space, my peace. This is where I cultivate both love and attention – beginning with careful preparation of my tea and ending as the last piece of dark chocolate melts completely away. Like a Japanese Tea Ceremony, I pay attention to every detail, savoring the entire experience, and centering myself for the rest of the day.
Being a nutrition therapist does not mean that I can’t enjoy foods. Quite to the contrary – being a nutrition therapist allows me to better enjoy foods; appreciating both their health benefits and their unique and expressive tastes. Eating should be a pleasure. It is my distinct honor to teach people how to enjoy it more.
Kathy Westover July 12th, 2013
Nutrition Counseling is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, mental or physical, and is not intended as a substitute for regular medical care.
Nutrition Counseling does provide nutritional evaluation, balanced diet planning, nutritional supplement suggestions, and lifestyle recommendations for the purpose of enhancing health.
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