Eating Strategically (aka Strategic Consumption)

If you ever feel overwhelmed by all the different diets, protocols, potential food triggers, or just whether or not you should be eliminating “such and such” item from your diet all together – this post is for you!

When it comes to food sensitivities (or triggers) it’s rarely ever so black and white. Which is actually a really good thing! (Please note that true food allergies are a different story).

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about how you can consume these “potential culprits” in a less problematic way – what I’m referring to as “strategic consumption”.

Here’s the thing…

I’m not a fan of blacklisting foods, or putting them into categories of “good” or “bad”.

Even if you rarely eat certain foods anyways, for some reason as soon as you know you’re not “allowed” to consume it, suddenly it becomes the forbidden fruit that you can’t stop thinking about.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I’m not at all discouraging you from going ALL IN and doing a proper elimination diet (although I get for many people it’s not always desirable or even necessary to go that route).

Nor am I discouraging you from giving up certain foods (or substances) if they make you feel crappy, or you know you have a tumultuous relationship with them.

Sometimes taking the choice right off the table, so to speak, is actually the easier solution because you don’t have to hem and haw over monitoring your intake, or have some internal struggle over whether or not you should consume it or not.

When it comes to potential food triggers, here are some other considerations to take into account:

  1. Quantity
  2. Quality
  3. Preparation Method
  4. Timing
  5. Current State (i.e. physical, mental, emotional)

Let me break each one down for you with some real-life scenarios…

1. Quantity

This one is pretty straightforward I think, but it comes back to the cumulative effect of food triggers – meaning a little might be okay, particularly if everything else in on point, but your body has a certain threshold of how much it can handle.

Consider the difference between having 1 (maybe 2) glasses of wine with the accompaniment of a nice meal versus having multiple drinks on an empty stomach or otherwise.

Or dipping your corn tortilla chips into 1-2 tablespoons of salsa (containing garlic and onion) versus polishing off half the jar (p.s. garlic and onion are both high in FODMAPS and can be particularly troublesome for some people). Or having 1 piece of fruit for a snack as opposed to snacking on a fruit tray and having multiple servings in one sitting.

2. Quality

In addition to quantity, food quality is also important. Consider the difference between enjoying 1-2 homemade cookies sweetened with a little coconut or even cane sugar versus the store-bought baked goods containing questionable sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

Or enjoying a special treat on the weekend (i.e. an almond croissant at your favorite bakery) versus the run-of-the mill pastries or donuts at your morning work meeting (that really don’t taste that good).

Or having a sandwich on regular wheat flour bread versus sourdough bread.

3. Timing

Consider the placement of your daily coffee as an example. If you find that it’s too stimulating on your gut first thing in the morning, you might wait and have it later in the morning after you’ve already eaten breakfast. Similarly there’s a difference between enjoying a cup on the weekend when you’re relaxed and lounging verses drinking a cup before work when you’re rushing around trying to get out the door (this actually ties into #5 as well).

Or consider an apple eaten in the morning or late in the afternoon when your stomach is relatively empty verses eating it for a snack right after lunch or dinner. Side note: Fruit tends to cause gas and bloating when it goes into a stomach full of food, as opposed to eating it on an empty stomach, or when there’s relatively less food there already. If you’re familiar with proper food combining, this is actually principle number one.

4. Preparation Method

How we choose to prepare our food greatly impacts how well we digest it. For example, if you’re cooking beans and legumes ideally you want to rinse them well, and in most cases soak them prior to cooking to make them more digestible. Note that if you’re buying canned you don’t need to soak them but definitely rinse them until the water runs clear.

Recall that raw veggies can sometimes be problematic for people too (particularly during a flare-up of digestive symptoms). Consider lightly cooking them as opposed to eating them raw. Or chopping them into tiny pieces, slicing them finely, or grating them over your salad to remove some of the digestive burden.

Also, blending veggies (and fruits) such as in a smoothie or a soup helps to breakdown and “pre-digest” some of the fibre. Juicing removes the fibre all together but try sticking with predominately veggie based juices as opposed to fruit juices, which can spike blood sugar levels and also trigger diarrhea in some people. Fruit juice should be diluted with water.

5. Current State (i.e. physical, mental, emotional)

Consider the foundation you’re building upon. Are you feeling pretty good or are your symptoms flaring? Constipated or eliminating well? Feeling rested or running on fumes? Anxious and worried or relatively relaxed?

Imagine the contrast between enjoying a leisurely meal in good company versus hurriedly eating huddled over your desk so you can make it in time for a meeting; or the difference between feeling (and believing) that your body will digest your food just fine versus feeling fearful and anxious that your body is going to react unfavorably, and as a result not digesting your food well.

See what I mean?

I hope that each of these scenarios demonstrate that it really isn’t always so black and white when it comes to potential food culprits, and if we’re strategic (and even a little creative) in our consumption, we can greatly influence the effect they have on us.

 

What to Eat During an IBS Flare-Up?

Have you ever felt held captive in your own home due to fear of stepping too far away from the washroom?

Not fun.

I think most of us have been there at some point or another, whether it be from eating some food that didn’t agree with us, having a bout of food poisoning, or some sort of stomach bug.

The ensuing result is often a raw, agitated, and unhappy gut, perhaps coupled with abdominal pain due to one too many trips to the loo.

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with a tendency towards IBS-D, or any another other type of intestinal disorder of a similar nature, you’re likely a little more familiar with these types of episodes.

Even if your symptoms are pretty well-managed most days, if you have a sensitive gut to begin with, you may still find yourself with a flare-up every now and then, whether it be every few months, or even just a few times per year.

For some people, unfortunately, this is a much more frequent occurrence.

(By the way, if this sounds like you and you want help getting these symptoms under control so you can return to some form of normalcy in your life, I invite you to book a complimentary, no-obligation clarity phone session with me and I will help you. You can access my calendar on this page).

Everyone has their own triggers, but often times these flare-ups are provoked by certain foods or eating habits, and a lot of the time stress is a HUGE contributing factor. It can be a bit of a vicious cycle too because the symptoms themselves are enough to bring on more stress and anxiety, causing even further digestive distress.

Sooo…

What to eat when you’re experiencing a flare-up in symptoms?

This can sometimes be tricky because although you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re not necessarily sick, so you may still in fact have quite an appetite.

Here’s what I suggest

The goal should be to soothe your system without causing any further irritation, while providing easy-to-digest nourishment and fuel.

Keep in mind we all have our own individual triggers – so if you know that something is disagreeable with you, obviously you should avoid it.

I know it sounds a bit like a cliché, but honestly, the best advice is to listen to your gut. Intuitively you know if something feels off-putting to you or if it may upset things further.

It will depend on the severity of your symptoms, but you can eat these foods for a period of time. For some people it may be up to a week or longer. For others it may be 3 or 4 days.

Don’t worry about getting in any particular ratio of macronutrients.

*Also, please keep in mind that it’s still important to get to the bottom of your own triggers (if you’re unaware of them) to help reduce the frequency and severity of future flare-ups.

 

What to Eat During an IBS Flare-Up?

But first…

If you don’t have much of an appetite, there’s no need to force feed yourself. Often just sipping on nourishing liquids like warm broths, soups, and purées is a nice way to give your digestive system a little rest.

Also, it’s the dead of winter right now where I’m located, so most of these foods are warming and take into account the cooler climate.

Lastly, I’ve made mention of FODMAPs since they can be a trigger for IBS-sufferers, however, if they’re not an issue for you, or you’re not keen on making an effort to eliminate/reduce them at the moment, feel free to eat them as you please. You can read more about the Low FODMAP diet here.

1) Bone broth, Veggie broth, Clear soups, Purées. Omit most high FODMAP veggies like garlic and onion if possible, although it might not be if it’s a ready-made soup. Also avoid soups made with cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower which can contribute to more gas production.

I shared a recipe for my nourishing homemade veggie broth over on my Instagram (omit the onion if you know it to be an issue), but if you don’t have the patience or time for homemade then picking up ready-made broths is an easy option. There are some nice ones found in tetra-paks or glass jars.

2) Cooked and Easy-to-Digest Veggies. Green beans, zucchini, okra, carrots, etc. Avoid raw veggies or anything with tough skins or stems.

3) Bananas. Not overly ripe, but not green either (the image above is a good reference, actually).

4) White Rice (or Brown Jasmine Rice). White rice is less fibrous so easier on digestion – especially best if you’re experiencing loose stools. If that’s not an issue you might be okay with Brown Jasmine Rice – which is a shorter grain rice that tends to be more digestible than longer grain brown rice. Eat it bland – don’t add any spices or sauces. You might cook it in veggie or bone broth for some added flavour. Rice is starchy and absorbs water, and can help make your stools firmer. It also provides some substance if you’re unable to eat much.

5) Easy-to-Digest Proteins. Salmon, Poached or Soft-Boiled Eggs, Sprouted Tofu, Shredded Chicken, protein powder. I’m partial to grass-fed whey for easy digestion and suggest sticking with the whey isolate form if lactose is an issue for you. If you prefer a plant-based protein powder look for sprouted varieties for easier digestion, but be aware that some of them have a higher fibre content which may not be suitable for you at this time. In which case, you might want to avoid protein powder all together. I mention it only because it’s an easy source of protein that you can mix with a bit of water – good if you don’t feel like eating anything.

6) Kefir (plain, unsweetened). A fermented dairy (cow, goat, or sheep’s milk) drink rich in beneficial bacteria – aka – probiotics. You can also find coconut kefir if dairy is an issue for you, however, if it’s the lactose that’s the problem know that much of it is broken down via the fermentation process. It’s NOT the same as drinking a glass of milk. I suggest drinking it on an empty stomach or at the beginning of a meal. (I also suggest taking probiotics in supplement form for a more therapeutic dose of beneficial bacteria).

7) Black, Ginger, or Peppermint Tea. Okay, technically not a food but can be soothing nonetheless. Black tea is nice because it’s quite rich in tannins making it particularly astringent, which is helpful for diarrhea or loose stools. Be careful with extremely hot liquids though as they can be irritating to an upset stomach/intestinal tract. Sometimes a splash of milk can make it a bit more soothing and comforting. If you’re doing the herbal teas just let them cool a bit so the temperature isn’t so extreme, drinking them warm rather than piping hot.

8) Be Careful with Fruit. It depends how sensitive your gut is feeling but you might add in some more fruit as things calm down a bit. Besides bananas, any other low FODMAP fruit such as oranges or kiwi (peeled) could be a safe option. Limit consumption to one serving at a time. If you really want your morning orange juice, stick with ¼ to ½ a cup per serving and dilute it with water. Cooked, peeled, and stewed fruit is also an option (even if not low FODMAP, such as apples and pears, as long as you can tolerate it).

9) Sprouted and Ground Chia/Flax seeds. I suggest adding this in only after things have calmed down a bit. Start with 1 tsp and work your way up to 1 tbsp per serving in water or perhaps over some well-cooked oats. Both ground flax and chia seeds provide a good source of soluble fibre which creates a gel in your intestinal tract when mixed with water and can provide bulk which is helpful in slowing things down. You can also use ground psyllium powder but be sure to couple it with a lot of water (I don’t suggest putting it on oats) to move it through your digestive tract as it’s very absorbable and can really bung things up if you’re not attentive to getting enough hydration. I suggest avoiding most other fibre powders and only introducing them very slowly as they can make symptoms worse (bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping) in some people.

10) Water. Okay, I added this one just to make it an even ten. But I can’t underestimate the importance of getting in plenty of liquids – particularly relevant if you’re losing them! Adding in a pinch of sea salt (perhaps with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime) is a nice way to replace lost electrolytes.

Keep in mind that the severity of your discomfort will determine which foods you can handle. Again, it bears repeating. Listen to your gut. Your body knows best. If something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t eat it!

Any soothing, gut-friendly foods you would add to this list?

Share your suggestions in the comments below!

xo Elaine

The Pre-Dinner Apéritif (aka, “Digestive Primer”)

I’ve always enjoyed the concept of the pre-dinner apéritif.

Perhaps not quite to the same degree as what’s traditionally meant by the word, but more so as a primer for setting the stage for optimal digestion.

By definition, (and there are a few) an apéritif is typically a small alcoholic drink taken before a meal as a means to stimulate digestion and prepare the body for the meal to follow. Often the drink has bitter qualities that helps to awaken the digestive process and perk up the appetite.

Apéritif is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open”.

And as one French woman puts it, “The Apéritif is to a French meal, what foreplay is to sex. A taste, a tease, to awaken you to know the people you are sharing it with and make you want to engage in the main course.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? ;)

And while there’s a whole culture devoted to this almost ceremonial ritual, what I’m personally extrapolating from it is this…

I consider the apéritif to be a reprieve of sorts between your busy day and your evening meal. The line that separates the two. A “pause”, if you will.

And it doesn’t have to involve alcohol at all.

In fact, I’ll explain some of my favorite non-alcoholic apéritifs that you can make at home in just a moment.

But before I get to the drinks…

You may be familiar with the saying, “Hunger is the Best Sauce”.

Well another way to put this would be to say, “Hunger is the Best Apéritif“. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once read that somewhere as well (likely in a French cookbook, no doubt).

Hunger is the Best Apéritif Click To Tweet

In both cases, I’d have to agree.

Hunger signals our body to begin the process of digestion. Just the sight, smell, and anticipation of eating is enough to trigger the flow of digestive juices, hormones, and saliva that prime our body to digest the food we’re about to enjoy.

Ideally we want to experience the sensation of light hunger before eating, and not just eat at a specific time out of habit.

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a beautiful plate of food with no appetite because you’ve been snacking on a bunch of almonds (or what have you) an hour before.

And we also know that our emotions heavily influence the digestive process, so it’s important to get into a calm and receptive mode before sitting down at the table.

I personally love doing something active to separate my work day from dinnertime, and for me, this is often the time I get a workout in, or go to a class at the gym. This awakens my appetite even more – plus I prefer to work out on an empty stomach. (In case you haven’t concluded, I take the pleasure of eating pretty seriously, particularly dinner time when it’s a little more relaxed and marks the time to unwind after the day).

Going for a nice long walk is also another great way to stimulate digestion, although at the moment where I live, it’s the dead of winter and negative 15 degrees Celsius, so not as appealing.

Other ways to take a pause before dinner could be taking a bath, doing some reading, or just chilling out with a loved one and conversing about your day.

Now this is where the apéritif, in the traditional sense of the word, comes into play.

Here are a few of my favorite sips before dinner:

 

Apéritifs (sans alcohol)

Mix any of the following with sparkling water. If the carbonation is an issue for you (i.e. causes gas and bloating) you can forgo it for flat water, or do a combo of flat and a little bit of sparkling just for the bubbles and refreshing factor.

1) Herbal Bitters

The bitters that I use typically come from the health food store and contain a variation of bitter herbs and botanicals such as dandelion, artichoke leaf, burdock, gentian, and ginger. A few of my favorite brands are St. Francis Herb Farm: Canadian Bitters, Botanica: Digestive Bitters Compound, and Harmonic Arts: Herbal Bitters – there are many others but it will depend what’s available near you. I also like Dillions Small Batch Distiller’s Bitters found at the LCBO. Here’s a snap I took earlier this year over on Instagram for reference.

2) Lemon/Lime Juice

Mix the juice of half the fruit into your water. Basic and simple!

3) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Mix 1-2 tbsp. into your water. Be sure to buy an ACV that’s raw and contains the “mother”. A few common brands that I often buy are Filsingers and Bragg’s.

Of course you can also do any of these straight up as a way to stimulate digestion, but that kind of takes away the enjoyment of sipping on something.

 

Apéritifs (with alcohol)

While this definitely isn’t the case every night, this is more likely to happen at the end of the week or perhaps on the weekend.

It goes without saying, if alcohol is an issue for you in any way (or you don’t enjoy it), then clearly avoid it. I find that most people though can have at least 1 serving without any issues (ideally around food) unless your gut is ultra-sensitive or you’re prone to reflux. Also, if you’re in the midst of unpleasant digestive symptoms or a flare-up, it’s best to avoid.

When it comes to alcohol, you can mix any of your favorite spirits with the herbal bitters I mentioned above. If I were to personally mix anything with the first option, it would likely be Gin.

Typically though my (alcoholic) apéritifs of choice would be:

1) A glass of white wine (something on the drier side)

2) A coupe of champagne (or let’s be honest, sparkling wine such as prosecco or cava – I’m definitely not cracking open the Veuve every night ;))

3) Lillet Blanc with a splash of sparkling water (a more recent discovery)

Keep in mind these are just small servings –  enough to stimulate the digestive process and NOT blunt the appetite. Also, don’t confuse the apéritif with “Happy Hour” or getting sloshed before dinner.

There you have it!

Do you have a favorite apéritif or digestive concoction that you enjoy pre-dinner? Or perhaps just a favorite way to separate your work day from your evening meal?

Let me know in the comments below. I always love hearing from you!

xo Elaine

 

How to Experience More Food Freedom During the Holidays (and anytime of the year!)

This time of year can bring up a lot of different emotions for people, particularly as it relates to food and all of the holiday gatherings centered on it.

So in the spirit of keeping things a bit lighter today, I’m going to leave you with a few sentiments that I would share with you should we be sitting across the table from each other having a cup of tea (or perhaps, a holiday glass of bubbly;)).

The kind of thing I would share with a girlfriend, or client, alike. In fact if you have worked with me, or have read earlier blog posts, I’m sure most of these will sound somewhat familiar.

Truthfully, these things can be applied any day of the year, and not just over the holidays…but given the season is upon us, I thought it would only be fitting.

If you’d like to experience more Food Freedom over the holidays, keep these 5 sentiments in mind!

1. Your Body, Your Business

Eat, drink, and be merry to the extent that it feels good to you. That might sound grossly oversimplified, but I believe it should be quite simple. Can’t eat something? Don’t. Don’t want to eat something? Don’t be pressured into doing so. There’s no need to defend your food choices to anyone. Some situations may warrant an explanation of course (i.e. explaining a food restriction ahead of time to somebody who is hosting you as a guest in their home for dinner), but oftentimes a simple “no, thank you” will suffice.

2. Raise Your Standards

This tidbit is especially relevant during the holiday season when there are treats galore at every turn. Eat those things you really desire or look forward to at this time of year, but don’t fall into the trap of lazily eating it just because it’s there. This is a great time to exercise the notion “quality over quantity”.

Cheap drugstore milk chocolate? No, thank you. Store-bought cookies with green and red sprinkles? Pass. Mom’s homemade whipped shortbread? Bring it on! You get the point. Save your indulgences for those things that you really look forward to once a year. (Side note: unless of course the cheap drugstore chocolate involves a box of Holiday Turtles then I may have to sample one;))

3. The Dose Makes the Poison

If you’re following any type of specialized diet or have food sensitivities, holiday gatherings can be a tad bit stressful for some people. Not to minimize the situation, but oftentimes it really is a question of quantity. It’s rarely ever so black and white, unless you have a true food allergy or a severe intolerance, and even in the case of just wanting to eat healthy and stick to your diet plan, the same still applies – in other words a little bit of indulgence shouldn’t derail you for weeks to come (unless of course you throw in the towel until the New Year).

Believe me, I understand not wanting symptoms to spring forth at inconvenient times, but being fearful of food doesn’t help the situation either. The stress of having to police ever single bite is enough to exacerbate digestive symptoms all on its own. By all means, avoid or limit potential food triggers if possible, but keep in mind that food sensitivities/triggers often have a cumulative effect.

4. Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

When you feel good, you make better choices. It’s simple as that. Don’t waste time entertaining feelings of guilt or remorse if you happen to get a little “off plan”. If you’re going to eat something, just eat it, enjoy it, and move on.

Thoughts are energy, just like the food we eat, and our thoughts ultimately affect the way we feel, which then influence the actions that we take (or perhaps lack of action, whichever the case may be).

Furthermore, if you go into a situation feeling fearful of food, or obsessing over the “damage” you’re going to do to your waistline, how does that affect how you digest and assimilate your food? A little food for thought…

At any rate, try to shift the focus away from food and towards the people whom with you are celebrating or sharing the moment.

5. Healthily Compensate

No, I’m not referring to starving yourself all day so you can enjoy yourself at the holiday party (that’s likely to backfire with one of those “eyes bigger than stomach” scenarios when you spot the buffet). I’m talking about compensating in a perfectly healthy way – no rigid food rules.

For example, if you know you have multiple holiday events to attend in the evenings, try to keep the rest of the day “business as usual”. In other words, be sure to get the good stuff in earlier (i.e. veggies, greens, lean proteins, plenty of water, your workout) knowing fully well that perhaps you’ll be indulging in richer fare, a few sugary treats, or imbibing a few holiday spirits later on.

Of course it’s not about perfection, but balancing things out (i.e. doing what you can given the situation even if it’s a 10 minute circuit of push ups, squats, and sit-ups rather than your usual hour-long routine at the gym, or even just getting outside for a walk with your family) – rather than just taking the whole month off in the name of the holiday season and then having to get “started again” when January rolls around. Snooze.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

xo Elaine