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      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Author: Carrie Myers

      November is Gratitude Month, which is an amazing reminder that there is always something to be thankful for. But what about the rest of the year? We tend to treat gratitude like it’s something we can use as a holiday decoration and then pack it away until the next year. But, gratitude is important to practice throughout the year. What do I mean by practicing gratitude?

      And why does practicing gratitude matter? Keep reading…

      Your Brain on Gratitude

      Your brain is made up of billions of cells. These cells have “arms” that reach out and attach to each other. This is how nerve pathways are formed. But these pathways don’t just happen by coincidence or chance. They’re formed when thoughts and actions are repeated.

      Can you say habits?

      So, if your habit is one of complaining, procrastinating, or having a generally negative attitude, you’ve created pathways in your brain. These then become your automatic go-to reactions to life circumstances.

      But the opposite works, too.

      If you start practicing gratitude and being thankful for what you have, what opportunities are coming your way (even if you don’t know what those are yet!), and who is in your life, you begin to change your brain. You begin to create new nerve pathways. This happens thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and form new pathways.

      As the saying goes, neurons that wire together, fire together (remember from biology class…your nervous system is like a little electrical system within your body). And it’s this wiring and firing that is the basis of neuroplasticity.

      Turns out, you can, indeed, teach your brain new tricks.

      This doesn’t happen overnight, though. It takes consistent practice—and practicing gratitude is one way to do this. And by practicing I mean being intentional and purposely taking the time each day to find what you’re thankful for, even when you’re having “one of those days.”

      Little Johnny wrote all over the wall—again? Be thankful you have walls for him to write on.

      Little Janie pulled the potted plant over on top of herself, got a bump on her forehead, spilled potting soil, broke the pot, and is now crying hysterically? Be thankful you have a child to comfort and snuggle with.

      As you practice this mindset of gratitude, over time, you will use the negative-centric pathways less, and they won’t be so loud and automatic. With that said, they won’t completely disappear either. I mean, if we only wore the proverbial rose-colored glasses, we wouldn’t be alerted to danger—like when your kid is reaching for that hot pan. Or a car pulls out in front of you.

      Some “negative” pathways are necessary to keep you safe. It’s when they rule your world that they become a problem.

      Here’s another amazing thing about gratitude. You can immediately feel its effects on your brain and body. This is not from the act of neuroplasticity, though, since that takes time. This is due to your brain’s neurotransmitters—those chemicals that make you feel one way or the other. In this case, we can thank dopamine and serotonin for that immediate feel-good, warm-fuzzy feeling when we practice gratitude.

      Making Gratitude a Habit

      Ready to give a gratitude practice a try? First a few reminders…

      There’s a reason this is called a gratitude practice. It takes practice to focus on gratitude. And if you’ve been drenched in negativity lately—or for most of your life—it’s going to take more practice and it will be more difficult—but still very doable (and worth it!).

      Remember, those negative pathways in your brain are well-worn. They’ve been your go-to. And forming new pathways takes time.

      My fellow VitaMom, Ashley, explains that the well-worn pathways are like highways. They’re fast and get you to your destination more quickly.

      Now think about bushwhacking a new path. You’ll need the right tools, it’s going to take time, and you won’t use that new path right away. But the more work you put into that new path, the more familiar it becomes to you and the more likely you are to use it.

      Speaking of which…

      If you’ve made Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer part of your identity, being negative feels safe, familiar, and comfortable—even if you’re miserable and know it. Being positive and expressing gratitude will most likely not feel good at first, despite the dopamine and serotonin boost. This is because those feelings are not familiar to you. They’re not “safe.”

      Now, we could go down a rabbit hole at this point, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, here are a few ideas based on Positive Psychology that you can start using today.

      Three Good Things

      There was a study published in 2005 that used healthcare practitioners as study participants. It was called the Three Good Things Intervention. Since then, its results have been replicated, which means their validity is strengthened (in other words, they’re more likely to be true).

      The reason this group was used was due to the high burnout rate among medical professionals. The gist of the study was to have them write down three good things that happened that day and what their role was in it.

      What they found was that when Three Good Things was practiced, participants were happier, more resilient, and experienced less burnout.

      Some interpretations of the study also say participants slept better. I’ve been using this tool myself at bedtime to help me fall asleep faster. I’ve been practicing it long enough now that I often don’t make it to good thing #2 or #3.

      You can use the same intervention on yourself. Writing it down helps to solidify it more in your brain, but if you don’t have the energy for that at bedtime, focus your thoughts on 1. What went well today? And 2. What role did I play in it?

      This is especially great if your mind tends to start “Rolodexing” on that hamster wheel as soon as your head hits the pillow. If your thoughts start drifting away from gratitude, just bring them back to the center of your brain and heart.

      While I often don’t get to what my role was (again…zzz), if you can do it, give it a try. It might help increase your confidence when you realize that you have more control over many situations than you might think. And, you might start looking for ways to improve situations that you previously thought were out of your control.

      Hence, why Three Good Things helps with resilience. When you realize you have some level of control over something you didn’t think you had any control over—even if that “thing” is your attitude—you become more resilient in those situations.

      Letter of Gratitude

      Who would you like to thank today?

      We often get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget that we didn’t get here alone.

      Writing a letter of gratitude telling someone how much you appreciate them and what they do not only gives them warm fuzzies but also brings you a shot of happiness, as well.

      The Gratitude Letter is another evidence-based Positive Psychology tool that has been shown to increase positive emotions—for both the giver and receiver.

      According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the Gratitude Letter tool, “affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you—life seems less bleak and lonely if someone has taken such a supportive interest in us. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with them and remember how others value you as an individual.”

      Think of someone you haven’t thanked—maybe have even taken for granted—and write them a letter expressing your gratitude for them. The letter does not have to be long. Take about 10 minutes to write it.

      Here’s the part that is tough for some—deliver it in person.

      If that’s not possible, give them a call or have a video chat.

      The first time is always the most difficult, especially if all this gratitude stuff is new to you. After you’ve done this once and see how it positively affects the other person, you’ll start thinking of others and over time, thanking people and telling them how much you appreciate them will become second nature.

      Keep a Gratitude Journal

      Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. Get a notebook and make it a habit each day to write down at least one thing you’re thankful for and why.

      The “why” and the “writing it down” are what will help you make this a habit more quickly.

      The more senses you get involved, the more cemented into your brain this will become.

      When you write something down, you’re using touch and sight. Now speak it out loud. You’ve added speech and hearing. Lean into how it feels to express gratitude. You’re going to want more of that feeling (unless, of course, it feels uncomfortable because you’re so comfortable with feeling negative about everything).

      Why include why you’re thankful for your gratitude?

      It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m thankful for the roof over my head,” but when you get to the deeper reasons why you’re thankful for that roof, it means more and it helps bushwhack that new pathway more quickly.

      Start a Gratitude Jar

      Gratitude isn’t just for adults. The earlier you teach your children to practice gratitude, you’re helping to form those pathways in their brains—which means you’re giving them a solid foundation for adulting.

      Make gratitude a family affair.

      A fun way to integrate gratitude into your family is to start a gratitude jar. Keep paper near it and encourage your kids to write at least one thing they’re thankful for each day, including other people and why. The jar can be opened at the end of the week and read as a family. Or save it for “those days” when everyone needs a reminder to be thankful.

      The Bottom Line

      People who practice gratitude tend to be happier, healthier, and more resilient than people who don’t. Practicing gratitude does not mean being oblivious to potential danger, sadness, or grief—nor does it mean having to deny when your kids or spouse are driving you crazy.

      It simply helps pivot your mindset from one of lack and always focusing on what you don’t have to one of abundance and being grateful for what you do have.

      For those situations where you can’t find anything to be thankful for, consider the lesson you can take from it and apply it to your life.

      Practicing gratitude takes consistency and time. Before you know it, noticing the good will come more naturally. And who knows? You might even find yourself being thankful for those hard times because that is where your growth happens.

      Halloween Candy Is Near - Do Not Fear!

      Halloween Candy Is Near - Do Not Fear!

      Author: Ashley Wentworth, M.S., RD

      It’s that time of year again—when parents are getting nervous about having all of the Halloween treats and candy around. Let’s explore what makes this scary for us.

      Isn’t Sugar Bad for Our Kids?

      Yes, there are studies that link excessive sugar intake to chronic health conditions and nutrient deficiencies in children. But the link isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be. For example, in a 2017 study in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, researchers state, Nutrition studies are inherently challenging because humans have complex activities, diets, and metabolism. In attempts to study a single nutrient such as sugar, it is impossible to isolate its effects completely, especially with the known limitations in self-reported diet data from children/parents and the short duration feasible with feeding studies.”

      In other words, it’s hard to tell what exact side-effects are from just the sugar and what is due to other compounds in food or from one’s biology or activity. It’s also difficult to say how much sugar is too much sugar for every person and make a recommendation for that across the board. 

      This is because sugar is part of the carbohydrate food group. Carbohydrates—or “carbs”—are often villainized in the media. But carbs aren’t bad—and in fact, are necessary for good health. 

      When we eat carbohydrates they are broken down into a form of sugar called glucose—and glucose is the body's preferred source of energy or fuel. This means our bodies primarily run on carbohydrates—and use carbs most efficiently as fuel compared to other forms of fuel.

      Eating high sugar foods can affect blood sugar levels and create a cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes in children and adults. This can look like irritability, moodiness, and extra energy or hyperactivity. Eating an excess of sugar can also lead to eating less nutrient dense foods. 

      It is important for growing bodies to have adequate nutrition from all nutrients: vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It is also important for children and adults to be able to enjoy their food and eat foods that are fun, too. 

      Risks of Restriction

      While our first instinct as parents is to take the Halloween candy and hide it (after we’ve taken our own bounty of favorites from the bag), the results of restriction on our food choices and behaviors can be scarier than the perceived risks of eating too much sugar. 

      When we typically restrict something—whether we’re restricting from ourselves or the restriction is from an outside source—it makes that thing much more fun, appealing, and powerful to us. The rebellious child comes out. We all want to have what we’ve been told we can’t have. And it’s that pull to do something we have been told not to do. 

      This type of behavior is likely based in the reactance theory in psychology. According to a 2015 study in Frontiers in Psychology, psychological reactance is the reaction that occurs when we feel our freedom of choice is threatened. 

      Food restriction in our minds has the same effect and triggers reactance behavior. When you perceive that candy is “bad” and actively try to restrict it, your motivation increases to eat it. For example, we tend to crave the things that are “off limits” when we’re dieting. 

      Our biology also works very hard to keep us from starving from food restriction. When your body senses food restriction of any kind, it tends to ignite a domino effect of reactions inside your brain and body, including  increasing thoughts of food and hunger signals. This is your body’s way of protecting you from starvation. It’s trying to drive you to go find food.  

      Actively restricting foods or food groups, as well as mental restriction, can lead to overeating, binge eating, disordered eating behaviors, and eating disorders. 

      Why Halloween Candy Is Not the Devil

      Sweet treats, including Halloween candy, can fit into nutritious eating. Sweets do not cancel-out fruits and vegetables. Nutrition is about your patterns of eating over time - the big picture. It’s also about eating a variety of foods and paying attention to  your body signals around hunger, fullness, and preferences. 

      Allow children to trust their hunger signals. Remind them of previous experiences with candy - like if they ate too much and had a bellyache. Ultimately, it should be their decision on how much to have. Your job as their parent is to offer a variety of food options that includes nutritious choices from all the foods groups, as well as what I like to call fun or play food. Teach them how food works in their bodies—like when we eat just sugar and simple carbohydrates, we’re going to be moodier and have less energy in the long run. And teach them what hunger and fullness might feel like in their bodies. It might be hard at first but they will be able to learn when they’ve had enough food and will figure out what foods work best for their bodies.. 

      We do not restrict sweet treats at our house. We have something sweet most days. Because we are not restricting these foods, my daughter is able to enjoy them and learn how much is satisfying to her. She is able to stop eating when she has had enough and does not feel like she needs to eat more—because it’s readily available.

      Ideas to Handle Halloween Candy

      • Include meals with a variety of food groups in addition to candy.
      • Include fun foods as part of meals—this makes all of the foods feel the same, not that some are more exciting or valued as others. 
      • Include fun foods regularly—this will make them normal and not as exciting.
      • Keep it hidden or in sight, that part is up to you. We typically leave ours out for a few days and then put it in a cupboard. If my daughter thinks to ask for it she can have some. Leaving it out also signifies that they can have some whenever which can help make it less appealing over time. 
      • The more anxious you are about the candy, the more kids will pick up on that and think you’re going to take it away. This may lead to them eating more.

      Keep the big picture in mind. Enjoying sweet treats and fun foods is not going to make or break their health or nutrition!

      Road Trip Snack Secrets, According to a Dietitian (and VitaMom)

      Road Trip Snack Secrets, According to a Dietitian (and VitaMom)

      Author: Ashley Wentworth

      So in all honesty, that title basically reads “my favorite road trip snacks.” If you’re headed out on the road with the family or friends, car snacks are a must! Read on to find out my secrets to staying satisfied and avoiding hangry meltdowns when you’re away from home.

      Whenever I leave the house, I bring snacks! If I’m only going to be gone a short time I’ll just take a granola bar. But if I’m going to be gone for a few hours, or going on a day trip or a long vacation, you best believe we’re loaded to the hilt with snacks—or even small meals. 

      Funny story: I once got my carry-on bag searched at security at an airport because of all of my snacks—a lot of them had twist ties that must have looked suspicious in the x-ray machine. My bag was literally filled with food and a few books. 

      You can still have balanced meals and snacks but, in my opinion, road trips and vacations are not the time to obsess over healthy food choices—it’s a time to enjoy with your friends or family, be in the moment, and make memories. Choose foods that help give you energy for your trip and let you have fun, too.

      Bringing foods from home can also save you time and money (um, yes, please!). Planning ahead will help you avoid stopping sixteen thousand times at convenience stores or fast food restaurants because you’re all hungry at different times or can’t find what you want. 

      Logistical snack secrets 

      Here are my logistical snack secrets for your family’s next road trip.


      We always go to the grocery store a day or two before we’re heading out with a list of snack items we want to bring. Having a plan helps us avoid forgetting someone’s favorite snack—and the impending meltdown.  

      Bring things you know most everyone in the car will like. It’s great to bring healthy foods like fruits and vegetables—as long as they won’t go to waste. Packing foods you hope your family will eat—but know they probably won’t—just presents you with wasted space, food, and irritable people on your hands (no thanks!). So, if your family doesn’t usually enjoy grapes (or whatever) then, don’t bring grapes on your road trip.

      Stick with What You Know

      Road trips are not usually the best time to try new, healthy recipes or foods (hello, upset tummies—and frequent, inconvenient bathroom breaks). Bring your tried and true snacks and foods. You can always try new things on the road if you feel like it, just go easy to avoid “vacation belly.” 

      Think Variety

      Bring a variety of items. Include things from all food groups to keep people satisfied, including sweet treats. I never go on a road trip without chocolate of some type (Mom Tip: Keep the chocolate in a container that will catch any melted chocolate if it gets left in a hot car!).

      By bringing a variety of foods, it also allows you to make small meals out of snack foods so you don’t have to stop as often to find somewhere to eat.

      Stay Cool

      Bring a cooler for things that need to stay chilled and bring a separate bag of shelf-stable items. We always take both! Letting things that need to be refrigerated stay at car temperature usually makes things not as tasty and can be dangerous—and another cause for upset tummies. Putting shelf-stable things in the cooler can cause them to be damp or get stale. I know it seems like a lot of space for food, but trust me on this one. 

      I like to use freezer packs instead of ice in our coolers when possible. They are so much easier to deal with than having to worry about stopping for ice all the time and it keeps things clean and dry. If you don’t have a way to re-freeze the packs though, by all means stay safe and use ice.

      Bottoms Up

      Don’t forget your fluids! Pack plenty of water to avoid paying for overpriced bottled water at convenience stores. If you’ll be away overnight or longer, a 5 gallon water jug with a pump is a total life-saver. Plus, you’ll avoid all the space and waste of plastic water bottles. If it will be hot, consider using sports or electrolyte drinks to help with electrolyte replacement. Using electrolyte powders can help save on cargo room. 

      Think Outside the Box

      Just because foods you like aren’t considered “snack” food or road-worthy, doesn’t mean you can’t bring them! You could easily figure out a way to make oatmeal (thermoses are great!) or bring a bowl for cereal if those are things you enjoy. 

      Also, don’t forget a trash bag of some sort for all the inevitable wrappers—they hopefully won’t get stuffed between the seats this way! 

      Another tip—bring baby wipes, wet wipes, or something to clean off sticky fingers!

      Bring On the Snack Ideas

      Here are a few of my family’s favorite road-trip snacks to give you some ideas of what can be packed.

      • Cheese: string, sliced, cubed, etc. 
      • Pretzels, chips, tortilla chips, crackers, etc.
      • Dry cereal
      • Peanut butter crackers
      • Pre-popped popcorn
      • Granola bars, protein bars, etc.
      • Nuts
      • Trail or snack mixes
      • Nut butters
      • Hummus or other dips
      • Yogurt
      • Salsa
      • Fruit: fresh, canned, freeze-dried, and/or dried
      • Sliced veggies
      • Hard boiled eggs
      • Cottage cheese
      • Bread and things to make sandwiches like deli meats or nut butter and jelly
      • Meat jerky 
      • Chocolate and other treats you and your family enjoy. Choose packages that are individually wrapped or small portions to make them last longer. 
        • Chocolate covered nuts and pretzels are some of my favorites

      Bottom Line

      There are no rules! Bring whatever you like. Make sandwiches ahead, make pasta salads, etc. Choose what fits your likes, wants, and needs. Snacks are one of the best parts of a road trip—have fun with them!

      Squelch the Flames of Inflammation

      Squelch the Flames of Inflammation

      Author: Ashley Wentworth

      You've probably seen the headlines or heard the news stories about inflammation inside our bodies. This can be a tough concept to grasp, because you can't necessarily see the inflammation. It's not like a cut that becomes inflamed with infection or a sprained ankle that's swollen and inflamed. But there are signs of chronic, internal inflammation if you know what to look for. 

      Chronic Inflammation

      Acute inflammation is a very normal reaction that takes place in your body when there's been an injury or illness (like that sprained ankle or when you have a virus). It's simply your immune system's way of removing something in your body that is harmful or just shouldn't be there. 

      Chronic inflammation, however, is another story. 

      Sometimes, the body is unable to overcome or repair the damage. This can lead to the body slowly building up an internal inflammatory response that can last months or years. Scientists now believe that inflammation is behind many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, allergies, COPD, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer's, irritable bowl disease, and arthritis.

      So while you might not be able to see signs on the outside of the body, there can be signs and symptoms that you experience as a result of chronic inflammation, including:

      • Body pain
      • Chronic fatigue and insomnia
      • Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
      • Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
      • Weight gain or weight loss
      • Frequent infections (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/) 

      Stop Fanning the Flames of Inflammation

      The good news is that you can calm the inflammation inside your body. 

      • Reduce your processed sugar intake. This doesn't mean avoid sugar at all costs, and it definitely doesn't mean avoid natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables! But if your normal go-to's tend to be highly processed foods with added sugar, maybe consider swapping them for something more sustaining and less inflammatory, like whole grains, fruits, and veggies with a protein or healthier fats (like avocados and tuna). Side note: Beware assuming that "healthy" food is healthy for you. Even healthy foods can react in unhealthy ways inside your body. Get into the habit of paying attention to how you're feeling after you eat and as the day wears on. Do you feel bloated and "puffy"? Inflammation could be a culprit. 
      • Move Your Body. Studies show that consistently moving your body can help decrease inflammation. The type of exercise matters, though. When you engage in high intensity exercise without giving your body ample time to recover, it can increase inflammation and deal your immune system an unhealthy blow (we do have a solution for those of you who like your high intensity exercise, so keep reading...).
      • Get your ZZZZs. You may be laughing right now, especially if you have little ones, but sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. Getting the sleep you need (ideally 7-9 hours/night for adults), will help in the long run. It's during sleep that human growth hormone is produced (hence, why it's also important for your little ones to be getting the shut eye they need, too), and your body heals and regenerates new cells (among a host of other things!). Create a bedtime routine for both you and your kiddos. You'll all be happier...and less inflamed. 
      • Master your stress. Have you read the VitaMom Club blog post on stress? If not, go read it now. Chronic stress is one of the leading contributors of chronic inflammation and can lead to depression, heart disease, and decreased immunity. 

      Lastly, chew on this. Turmeric (curcumin) has been shown to have major anti-inflammatory properties. But here's the thing. It's difficult to get enough of the curcumin that's found in turmeric to really make a difference in inflammation. That's why we've packaged it in a yummy gummy (sorry, couldn't resist that rhyme haha). We include black pepper in our formulation, because our bodies absorb curcumin better when it's combined with black pepper. 

      While it's impossible to fully avoid inflammation, it's important to start taking control of it where you can. Include daily self-care--no matter how small--as practicing consistently is what produces progress. Here's to you mom! xo

      I'm Stressing and I Show It (Part 2)

      I'm Stressing and I Show It (Part 2)

      Author: Carrie Myers

      In the last post, we discussed what stress is (like you needed that lesson haha) and what it does to your health. We also talked about some simple ways to manage your stress. In this post, we look at the root causes of your stress and how to dig them out. 

      Getting to the Root of It

      Stress-relieving techniques are necessary and absolute lifesavers sometimes (lifesaving for you…and your kids!). But for chronic stress that just isn’t going away, it’s important to figure out the real root of it so it can be dealt with.

      Start by asking yourself what your major sources of stress are. Go ahead—list them out.

      Next, choose one of these sources. Ask yourself what exactly about this stressor is stressing you out? 

      For example, if your work is stressing you out, what exactly about your job is the problem? The actual type of work? A co-worker? Your boss? The pay? The hours? The commute? What?

      Once you’ve narrowed down this root, let’s uproot it! 

      Can you…

      Change your perception of the stress? This is like the “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” phenomenon. What stresses one person out, another let's roll off her back. Sometimes when we get rolling in that stress mode, we allow everything to stress us out.

      Is this thing really worth you stressing out over…including the effect it’s        having on your health and your family? How can you change your perception of it? One way is to look at the lessons you’re learning from it. What pearls of wisdom can you take from this situation? Offer up some gratitude for these lessons!

      Change your reaction to this stressor? There’s a difference between reacting and responding. When we react to a stressor, it’s that knee-jerk, emotional reaction. There is no thought to the reaction. It’s automatic and usually emotionally-fueled.

      A response, however, is more thoughtful. You take a little time to take that deep breath (hello, parachute…). This gets some of that lifesaving oxygen to your brain so you can make a more rational response.

      When you’re faced, for example, with a continuously irritating, cranky co-worker (or family member...) (your saber-toothed tiger), 1. Take a step back (physically and/or figuratively), 2. Take a deep breath, 3. Respond.

      If this person is used to your knee-jerk reaction, by responding instead of reacting, you might be surprised at the response you get back from them! Hey, a little shock value never hurts (the shock coming from them expecting you to freak out on them...but then you don't)!

      Take action. Let’s say you’ve tried letting things roll off your back (changed your perception) and you’ve changed your reaction (way to be responsive!), but the stressor persists and you can’t take it any longer. What action might you need to take? 

      In the case of your job, do you need to look for a new one? Is there a conversation that needs to happen with your supervisor? Do you need to ask for more money? Do you need to transfer to a different department or shift?

      Here’s the thing to remember: there are ALWAYS options, even when it feels like there are none! They might not be ideal for the long-term, but they can act as stepping-stones to get you out of a current situation and headed to where you want to be. You just have to be willing to get creative, brainstorm possible solutions (stepping-stones), and take action.

      Here’s to less stress! xo