What do you value most in life?

Girl and sunset - edited smaller

Have you ever heard the story about the teacher and his empty glass jar?

I heard it once before but was reminded of it again when I stumbled upon it in a book I was reading over the Christmas holidays, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

The lesson contained within is so beautifully simple, yet so powerful.

As January approached and I naturally started thinking about my intentions for the New Year ahead, I started thinking more about this story and how it would serve as the perfect template for prioritizing my 2015 goals and plans.

And so that’s what I did.

More on that in a minute but first – the story!

There are different versions floating around, but I like the way this one is told the best. Either way the moral remains the same, as the rest is really just details!

I took this (slightly revised) excerpt directly from The Authentic Life by Ezra Bayda.

A Zen teacher stood before his students with a very large and empty glass jar.

He wordlessly picked up some round stones around the size of small plums and proceeded to fill the jar with them. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The teacher then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the stones. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They said yes.

Next the teacher picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students unanimously agreed. The teacher then produced a glass of water and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now”, said the teacher, “I want you to recognize this jar represents your life. The stones are the important things – the aspiration to realize your true nature, the wish to live more authentically, the perseverance and commitment to cultivate presence, gratitude, and kindness – and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter, such as your health, your relationships, and perhaps your job. The sand is everything else – the small stuff, including your house, your car, and your possessions.

If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the stones or the pebbles. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are important for your genuine happiness. Take care of the things that really matter first. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the water represented. The teacher smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. The water just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a little more practice, to make your life even fuller.”

So…are you spending your time on the things that matter most to you, or are you focusing all of your energy on the small stuff?

Put this exercise to the test!

It takes as little as 5-10 minutes.

Grab a pencil and paper and start by creating 3 columns with the headings: Stones, Pebbles, and Sand.

Then go ahead and fill them in.

Remember that your “stones” are the areas that are most important to you, followed by “pebbles”, and lastly the “sand”.

There are no right answers. Your priorities are your own!

This is a great exercise to see if you are truly committed to what you say is most important to you.

Are your actions in alignment with what you say you value most in life?

For example, maybe you really want to launch that online business you’ve been dreaming up, yet you spend every night after work watching TV or surfing Facebook.

Or maybe you say your health is most important, yet every day you grab fast-food because you didn’t take the time to pack a healthy lunch the night before.

Or maybe you say you want to cultivate more meaningful relationships with your girlfriends yet you never pick up the phone to call them to see how they are really doing – instead relying on constant texting with no real connection.

Or maybe you really want to cultivate more presence in your life and commit to a daily meditation practice before your workday, yet each and every morning hitting snooze on your alarm clock is much more desirable to you.

When you’re completing this exercise you might first consider your big-picture life priorities, but you can also use this template to zoom in on any specific area of your life that matters to you, such as your health, relationships, spiritual practice or career goals, and fill out the 3 columns pertaining only to that one area.

For example, in addition to prioritizing my big-picture goals I also used it to prioritize my 2015 work and business goals so that I could get a clear idea of how I should be prioritizing my time and efforts if I want to accomplish certain larger projects this year that are important to me.

See I know it’s all too easy to get consumed by the smaller to-dos that if you’re not careful, you never get around to putting a dent in the big-picture goals you want to accomplish.  And even if the small things still need to get done at some point, I know it’s still important to prioritize my time accordingly to ensure that the most important stuff takes precedence.

This exercise is a great eye-opener, and even if you don’t complete it in writing you can still take the concept with you throughout the day to serve as a reminder to bring you back to what’s truly important when you find yourself losing focus.

As you lie in bed at night you might reflect back on how you spent your day, week or month.

Did you spend time cultivating the areas that are most important to you?

If not, what needs to shift?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

What areas do you want to spend more time focusing your energy on in 2015?

Lots of love,


Post Holiday Eating Guide

Post Holiday Eating Guide

Can you believe it’s the last day of the year!?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the holidays.

I spent the last full week visiting my family in Niagara. It was so nice to kick back, relax and reconnect with the faces I hadn’t seen in a while. Plus I got to meet my new adorable baby niece who was just born last month.

Then of course there was the food, and plenty of it. There was no shortage of holiday goodies, including my mom’s annual Christmas baking.

Yes, I indulged and enjoyed. And I didn’t waste one second feeling guilty about it.

I knew it would only be temporary, plus I always know exactly what I need to do to get myself back on track afterwards if I veer too far off course.

The truth is, after a week of indulging in richer and heavier foods, my body naturally gravitates back towards lightness, and for the past few days since I’ve been back home what I’ve mainly been craving are vegetables and lots of them! I’ve been appeasing these cravings with huge veggie salads, vegetable sautés, and wraps made with cabbage leaves. I love how my body knows best, and I’m listening to it!

So if you’re feeling overstuffed after a few too many holiday indulgences and looking for a little post-holiday eating guidance look no further!

I know the New Year can bring with it pressures to start fresh by eating perfectly on January 1st or by beginning a new diet. But overhauling your diet in one night isn’t always the best solution, which you may be well aware of if you’ve been down this road before. You know how it goes, stick to an overly strict diet for the first few weeks of January and then slip back into old habits by the end of January when either the New Year excitement has worn off, or the diet is no longer sustainable.

This is why what I’ve outlined below is pretty simple, straightforward, and doesn’t involve you having to completely overhaul everything in one night.

The beauty of these tips is that you can start from wherever you are right now, regardless of your current diet AND without necessarily giving up your favorite foods (if you don’t want to at least). Sometimes though just knowing you can have something if you really want it is enough for you to drop your desire for it all together. Sneaky!

So if you’re looking to lighten up in January or just want to integrate some healthier habits – read on!

Post Holiday Eating Guide

Get Vegetable-Centric

It doesn’t matter what type of diet you follow, you can be vegan or paleo and the sentiment is exactly the same. Heck, you can be on a twinkie diet (heaven forbid) and still implement this tip. All you have to do is aim to eat at least 50% vegetables at each meal. This could be a combination of both raw and cooked, however it’s always a good idea to at least eat some veggies in their raw, uncooked form.

This isn’t an exact science and doesn’t require you to make any calculations. At one meal you might eat less than half your plate in veggies and at the following you might eat more, such as in the case of centring your meal around a huge raw salad. The point is to eat more veggies than you are now. I didn’t make this the #1 tip in my Hip, Healthy & Holistic Makeover Guide for nothing! You can download it for free here.

Swap out the Grain

Another easy way to lighten up your meals (and eat more veggie-centric) is by swapping out the grain for – you guessed it – veggies! How about trying your favourite bolognese sauce over spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead of pasta? Or stir-fry over parsnip “rice” instead of regular rice? If you really want to step outside the box and get fancy you can try making pizza with cauliflower-crust rather than regular wheat. As they say, the real magic happens outside of our comfort zone. Get creative!

Try Something New

Speaking of stepping outside the box, commit to buying just one new veggie at the grocery store each week. Eating vegetable-centric will be difficult and downright boring if you’re accustomed to buying the same old tomatoes, carrots and iceberg lettuce each week. There’s a whole new world of veggies out there just waiting to be discovered.

For instance, black radish! This was my new veggie this week. I used to walk by them in the produce aisle and would almost always mistake them for beets since they look pretty much the same except a bit darker in colour. I finally decided to pick one up and bring it home, and I’m glad I did! I’ve been enjoying it grated it over my salads, as well as sliced thinly and eaten raw with a dash of sea salt. Yummy!

Create some space

I don’t mean clearing clutter from your office space, although that can do wonders for your mental outlook. I’m talking about creating some space in your GI tract to give your body a rest from digestion. If you’ve been grazing on goodies throughout the holidays or just eating heavier in general there are a few simple tools you can use to optimize digestion and get back in touch with your true hunger.

Each and every night our bodies naturally undergo a fast until we break it with “break-fast”. Even just extending that fast until lunch by swapping your morning meal for a nutrient dense vegetable juice, or at the very least just waiting a few hours after you wake up before eating your first meal can give your body a much needed rest. Another easy way to reap the benefits of a mini fast would be to stick to some combination of vegetable juice, broth, herbal teas, cooked vegetables and/or salads for one full day. If a mini-fast feels to extreme for you, even just limiting snacking between meals can do wonders for your digestion.

Try Food Combining

Speaking of digestion, if things are feeling a bit off in this department and you’re constipated, bloated or just feeling plain sluggish, another way to ease the digestive burden and free up energy is by following the principles of food combining.

To sum it up, our bodies need simple, digestible food that nourishes us then leaves us, efficiently and effortlessly. By eating foods in easy-to-digest combinations we can ensure that things are moving smoothly all the way through (if you know what I mean). Even just properly combining 1-2 meals per day (ideally breakfast and lunch) can do wonders for our digestion. Not familiar with food combining? I wrote a whole post about it here.

Prep (just a little)

I’ve never been one for dedicating an entire Sunday afternoon to food prep, and most of the clients I work with usually aren’t interested in doing so either. With that said though, a little bit of food prep can be essential for making healthy choices during the week, especially when you’re caught in a pinch and need to throw something together fast.

An easy way to integrate food prep into your routine is to do it when you’re doing other tasks or household chores that need to get done anyways. For example, how about baking some beets or sweet potato chunks while you’re waiting for your laundry to finish? Or boiling half a dozen eggs while you respond to your emails (or ahem, watch tv)? Get strategic and fit in food prep where you can so it doesn’t feel like one big daunting task.

Apply the 80/20 principle

If you’re wondering where ice cream and chocolate croissants fit into the mix then the 80/20 principle is a great rule of thumb to follow. Aiming to make healthy choices at least 80% of the time can alleviate some of the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect 100% or the time. Remember, progress not perfection. Overtime you might even find that a 90/10 ratio is more up your alley!

Now I want to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below which tips you’re going to put into practice this January.

Wishing you a healthy and happy 2015!

xo Elaine

Cut the Sugar, Keep the Sweetness!

jean harlow

If you found yourself dipping into the Halloween candy this past week or weekend, you may find yourself craving more of the sugary stuff this week.

It’s just the way your body is programmed.The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it – and as long as you continually give into your craving for it – the more the cycle is perpetuated.

So before you find yourself down at the drugstore purchasing discounted Halloween candy (oooh so tempting), or hitting up the pastry counter with your morning coffee, check out my suggestions below for satisfying your sweet tooth without the added sugar.

And let’s face it. There’ll be no shortage of sweet stuff coming your way in the coming weeks with all the holiday parties and events. Might as well give your body a break now;)

Cut the sugar but keep the sweetness with these ideas…

1) Baked apples (or pears). Slice them up and drizzle them with coconut oil and cinnamon (no need to add sugar), and bake them in the oven.  Feel free to top them with chopped walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds. This used to be one of my go-to treats when I was a kid. Actually I just made these a few weeks ago – here’s the picture!

2) Cocoa sweetened with Stevia.  This can take many different forms from a stove top homemade hot chocolate (raw cacao or cocoa powder, stevia, plus dairy or nut milk) to a chocolate flavoured protein powder or greens powder (Botanica makes a yummy one) mixed with almond milk. This can be the perfect little snack in the evening hours when you desire a little something chocolaty. The key is that the sweetness is coming from stevia (a zero-calorie natural sweetener) rather than added sugar.

3) Root vegetables. Choose one or a combination of any of the following: beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, and sweet potato. Chop them up and roast them with garlic and fresh herbs. As the veggies roast in the oven the starches naturally break down into sugar, making them not only easier to digest, but sweeter tasting too. They’re delicious eaten hot or after they’ve cooled in the fridge.

4) Winter squashes. I can’t get enough these days! Acorn, kabocha, hubbard, butternut, pumpkin, etc. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and roast them in the oven with some coconut oil, cinnamon, and sea salt. You can puree them into a soup or a side-dish if you desire, but my method of choice is to just eat them straight with a spoon. And yes, I eat the skin too!

5) Dark chocolate. Okay, technically there’s added sugar here BUT if you stick with a higher cocoa content (70-85%), and just a few squares, the added sugar is really quite low. The caveat of course though is if you can’t stop at just a few squares and find yourself regularly chowing down on half the bar (or the whole thing), you might want to reconsider this a viable option – especially if you’re determined to nix the sugar from your life. I posted a picture of my favorite 85% bar here. If you’re a dark chocolate fan you’ll love it!

Now I want to hear from you!

What do you reach for when you want something sweet but without the sugar? Share your favorite naturally sweet or low-sugar treats below!

xo Elaine

photo via pinterest

The Perfect Diet

The perfect diet

photo credit

When people I don’t know find out what I do for a living, they’re naturally curious about my thoughts on diet and nutrition.

Which diet do I follow? Am I vegan? Vegetarian? Paleo? Do I eat gluten? What about dairy?

And the most popular…

What diet do I recommend my clients follow?

When it comes to this last question, I rarely ever have a simple, concise or neatly wrapped up answer because the truth is, it really depends.

Personally my own diet has evolved over the years as I’ve learned and discovered what works best for my body, largely through experimentation. Even though the specifics of what I eat may change on any given day, there are certain underlying principles that guide my choices. These mainly revolve around optimizing digestion and supporting my body’s natural detoxification capabilities (because what comes out is just as important as what goes in!).

I’m not a fan of diet labels (more on that here) and prefer to stick to my guns rather than follow any hard or fast rules. I view most nutritional approaches and diets as templates that need to be tweaked, tailored and adjusted based on the individual. And I’m very conscious of the fact that how I eat is just as important as what I eat.

I think it’s great when people can collect the golden nuggets from various nutritional approaches without having to necessarily adopt the whole approach in its entirety – and by the same token, not feeling the need to discredit an entire nutritional approach because they disagree with one aspect of it.

So then…what’s the best diet?

In my opinion, the best diets share the following themes:

  • They focus on food quality
  • They account for individuality (no all or nothing!)
  • They eliminate nutritional deficiencies
  • They focus on optimizing digestion while supporting detoxification
  • They control appetite and leave you feeling satiated
  • They’re sustainable over the long-run
  • They’re enjoyable and (of course) support your overall health

As you likely gathered, there’s not just one diet or approach that could potentially fit this bill!

So what type of diet do I recommend that my clients follow?

Well before making any recommendations or putting together a plan, here are the factors I first take into account:

  • Current health status
  • Health/diet history
  • Goals
  • Age/lifestage
  • Food sensitivities/and tolerance
  • Digestive capability
  • Nutrition knowledge
  • Food preferences
  • Work/Social schedule
  • Activity level
  • Cultural/religious traditions and beliefs
  • Budget and food availability

As you can clearly see there are many factors that come into play before I make recommendations. This is why I spend at least 90 minutes in the first session with new clients asking questions and really getting to know them before I customize a plan of action.

Just as there’s no one perfect diet for everybody, I think it’s also important to keep in mind that there are different nutrition approaches that can work for any one person at various points in their life depending on the factors mentioned above.

So as you can clearly see, when it comes to the best diet, it really does depend!

Much love,