Biohacking

 

What exactly is Biohacking? You may have read about Silicon Valley exec’s biohacking themselves by excessive fasting and compulsively measuring their body states to have a competitive edge. The definition of the word, however, is to make changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology and feel your best. Everything we put into our bodies – food, thoughts, exercise ­– all affect how we feel and behave. By biohacking yourself, you can transform your body to become more energized, productive and healthy, and you can do this in a very gentle way.

Five Ways to Biohack Yourself

  1. Go Sugar Free

Giving up refined sugar is one of the best things you can do for your body. Overconsuming sugar leads you down an unhealthy path lined with the following:

  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • mood swings
  • increased inflammation in your body (which lead to an array of diseases)
  • lowered energy

Also you don’t have to give up natural sugar in fruit and dairy. Added sugars are the ones to say goodbye to.  Soft drinks, processed foods, desserts, flavored yogurt, condiments (barbecue sauce and ketchup are the worst) and energy drinks will all be off of the menu. Also look for hidden sugar in processed food (ie: anything ending in “ose”). It’s shocking just how many places it turns up.

Giving up sugar can be a pretty tough biohack, but is also the one with the most rewards.

  1. Sleep More

If you’re not sleeping between 7–9 hours a night, you can have a touch of sleep deprivation and be putting yourself at risk for health issues. These issues include a weakened immune system, depression, trouble concentrating, irritability, an increased appetite and out-of-whack hormones.

So, what can you do to sleep more soundly? Keeping electronics out of the bedroom is key. The glowing lights from your smartphone/computer/TV tell your brain it’s time to wake up, not drift off into a deep sleep. Also turning off the TV and computer at least an hour before bed is also important as a way to wind down for a good night’s sleep. Last but not least, try turning your bedroom into a relaxing sanctuary. A pitch black bedroom (blackout blinds) with comfortable bedding and a diffuser filled with lavender essential oils is the ultimate setting for a good night’s sleep.

  1. Meditate

A meditation practice can reduce pain, increase sleep quality, lower inflammation and boost productivity. If you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, meditation can also be a really effective way of naturally dealing with symptoms. Establishing a daily meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health – and it’s a great way to get ready for a good night’s sleep.

There are dozens of smartphone apps you can use to learn how to meditate. Some even have specific meditations for different purposes, like starting the day with a clear head or helping you unwind. Headspace is a great app to check out.

  1. Eat Probiotics

Ever wonder if those expensive probiotics at the health food store actually do any good? They might not. Probiotics are only regulated at time of manufacture and may not have any living cultures at the time of purchase.

Since a healthy gut is so important for, well, everything, adding probiotic rich food (sauerkraut, miso, kefir, plain yogurt) can have huge health benefits, especially when cutting down or giving up sugar at the same time, as sugar is an enemy of gut health.

Adding a couple of servings of probiotic rich food every day can help reduce belly fat, keep your skin healthy, improve depression and anxiety and boost your immune system. And it’s as easy as having a cup of yogurt for breakfast, miso soup at lunch and a serving of sauerkraut at dinner.

  1. Move your Body

For some people, an average day looks like this:

  • Sit in a car to drive to work
  • Sit at a desk all day
  • Take the elevator to sit in a restaurant at lunch
  • Sit in the car on the way home
  • Sit in front of a television set all evening

Studies are now showing how all of this sitting is really bad for our bodies.

The fix? Stand more and walk more. Biohack your way to better health by getting up and talking to co-workers instead of sending an email. At lunch or before and after work, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand up and walk around during long phone calls and set a reminder on your phone for every 60–90 minutes to take a quick lap around the office.

These six changes aren’t huge but they all work together to create a healthier, happier life.

Happy Hacking!

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An Enchanted Forest

I love walking through a fall forest, even when our west coast November rain is pouring down and the trees are shrouded in mist. Actually I sometimes love it even more because the forest leaves are glistening with dewy rain drops and transformed into a mysterious, enchanted forest.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon a persons heart, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

5 Amazing Reasons to Cut Down on Sugar

Sugar, in its many forms, is everywhere and letting it creep back into your diet can be an easy thing for even the staunchest anti-sugar peeps.

Also winter is around the corner and the change of season often means that we spend more time indoors and, as a result, are less active. And being less active can lead to, well, putting on our “winter coat”.

A great way to reduce the chance of this happening is by drastically reducing your sugar intake. Reducing refined sugar intake isn’t necessarily easy as it’s found in virtually all packaged foods, drinks and food at fast food restaurants are laden with it (a large Big Mac meal deal has 85 grams of sugar–236% of your daily allowance). Although it takes a little effort and planning to avoid sugar, it is very worth it in health and wellness rewards.

Here are 5 pretty amazing benefits of eating less sugar:

1. Improved sleep

Insulin levels are regulated when our blood sugar is balanced and one of the benefits of this is deep, restful sleep. Regulated insulin also has a balancing effect on the rest of our hormones as they all work together. This balance helps to improve our energy levels, brain function and, again, the quality of our sleep. A restful sleep gives us consistent and lasting energy throughout the day, increases our ability to focus and makes us less susceptible to sugary afternoon treats to get through the day, helping us to naturally cut down our sugar consumption.

2. Weight Loss 

Did you know that you can lose weight by cutting down on sugar without even reducing calories? This often happens because sugar spikes our blood sugar levels and insulin levels, as well as disrupting neurotransmitters in our brain. All of this increases fat storage. Eating more protein, fiber, fruit, and vegetables increases our metabolism, which then helps our bodies burn calories more efficiently. Losing or maintaining weight isn’t just about the daily calories consumed, but about the quality of foods we eat and the way our bodies process them.

3. Mental Clarity

Expect to feel more focused and clear-headed when giving up or cutting down on sugar. When our blood-sugar levels are consistent and healthy, our brain is more alert and we don’t feel as sleepy throughout the day. Also, too much fructose from foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (many processed, packaged foods) taxes our liver and pancreas. When this happens, these two organs have to work harder to manage all of the low quality sugar in our systems and remove it from our blood stream. While doing this, they exhaust energy reserves which otherwise should have been used for breaking down fat and converting it to usable energy. This can result in an unpleasant cocktail of moodiness, anxiety and even exhaustion.

4. Anti- Aging

Sugar is a primary contributor to the aging process, says Dr. Robert Lustig, a physician who has extensively researched sugar’s effect on the human body. He says fructose, the sweet molecule in sugar, is seven times more potent than the glucose portion of sugar. Fructose (ie. high fructose corn syrup) forms free radicals in our bodies, leading to higher rates of cell damage and death.

In a way, we “rust” as we age, he says. Oxidative stress turns our tissues brown. Overindulging in excess added sugar will speed up this browning process and speeds along the aging process in general.

5. Heart Health

It’s easy to imagine how having excess fat in our blood stream and arteries can lead to heart problems, but less people know about the role sugar plays in cardiac issues. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars (6 teaspoons) for women, and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men for optimal heart health. Unfortunately people now consume 22 teaspoons per day, on average.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association has also shown that people who ate between 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with people who consumed 8 percent or less of their calories from added sugar. So less sugar, along with moderate exercise equals a healthy, happy heart.

So, there you have it, some excellent reasons to think about dialing back your sugar habit.

Next post will have a delicious, sugar free dessert to help make living without refined sugar easy and delicious.

Chocolate Hemp Energy Bites

I like to hike.

And on a long hiking trail, keeping my energy at an optimum level is important. I bring lots of water, in the summer I pack a hydrating watermelon smoothie and snacks. Lots of yummy snacks.

Here’s one packed full of carbohydrates for quick and easy energy. It also has hemp hearts for a clean protein, good-for-you omega 3 fats and a bit of dark chocolate for anti-oxidants and the yumminess factor.

Chocolate Hemp Energy Bites

2 cups of rolled oats – organic
1 cup organic peanut butter
1/2 cup 80% dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup raw organic honey or maple syrup
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup ground flax
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic pumpkin seeds

Combine ingredients in bowl. Let sit in fridge for 25 minutes. Roll into balls. Coat in hemp hearts.

Enjoy.

Cypress Mountain & Nice Cream 

A few photos and quotes from last week’s hike on Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver:

Birds are not meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. – Stephen King

In quietness are all things answered. – A Course in Miracles

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive. – Gilda Radner

Spending time in the forest has always been my yin to the yang of the corporate world. Nothing for me is more soothing and rejuvenating than spending an afternoon surrounded by sweet scented, mossy green trees.

And after working up an appetite on a hike I like to head home to whip up a tasty, sugar-free treat. This recipe is a post hike favourite. It’s vegan, naturally sweetened and uber-healthy with nut butter, dairy free milk and lots of anti-oxidant fruit.

Peanut Butter Banana Nice Cream

  • 5 bananas
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • 3 T. peanut butter (or almond butter if you prefer)

Blend together and store in freezer until frozen. Top with your favourite fruit. This one has banana, mango, strawberries and unsweetened coconut. The recipe tastes a lot like ice cream but is so very good for you.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sugar and your brain

I’ve been sugar-free for a few days and already I’m starting to feel, well, sharper. My memory seems better and my afternoon brain fog is gone. Is this because of my no-sugar eating plan I wondered? So, I googled sugar and brain health and this is what I found.

Not only is sugar bad for your weight, skin and heart, but also your brain.

And here’s what will happen to your brain when you give up sugar:

You may experience cravings – Possibly intense cravings.

I’m writing this blog post on day 3 of my no-sugar lifestyle and, although I slept like a little log last night (a sugar-free bonus) my head is pounding today. And I never, ever get headaches..well, unless I’m hungover and I’m certainly not hungover today. Nope, I suspect this is good old sugar withdrawal. Since sugar helps release the feel-good chemical serotonin in your brain, giving sugar up temporarily depletes your levels of the happy chemical until your body adjusts and manufactures more on its own.

I know this headache and slightly off feeling will only last a few days so I’m staying strong, but on my way home tonight I had a fantasy about opening a bottle of maple syrup and drinking it straight from the bottle (I’ve actually done this before. More than once). So, yes, you may experience intense sugar cravings for a few days.

Your memory and learning skills will improve.

A 2012 UCLA study on rats found that a diet high in sugar impairs learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain by stopping communication between brain cells. I personally don’t feel extraordinarily smarter these past three days but I totally believe that sugar does negatively affect the brain, especially in people who are sensitive to it, so I’ll keep you posted!

 

Your depression and anxiety will lessen.

If you’ve ever had a sugar binge, followed by a sugar crash, you know up close and personal the feelings of crankiness, mood swings, tiredness and brain fog. This has happened to me on more afternoons than I care to count. And it all happens because eating a piece of chocolate cake or drinking a soda causes blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. This is exactly how sugary food messes with the neurotransmitters that keep our moods calm and stable. I’m definitely looking forward to less afternoons of feeling like I’ve hit a wall, very hard.

 

You can worry less about age-related cognitive decline and/or dementia.

There is a body of research showing that a sugar-filled diet increases the risk of cognitive decline as we age as well as developing Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know about you but Alzheimer’s is one disease that I have watched older relatives suffer from and that I will do anything to avoid getting. If giving up sugar is insurance against future dementia, I’ll buy that insurance, thank you very much. Find out more about the research here.

So, to summarize, these are a few of the sneaky ways that sugar can affect your health, happiness and your entire life. It is now thought to affect our brains in a similar way as cocaine and other opiates.

And even though I’m typing away through an annoying headache and occasionally day dreaming about chugging maple syrup straight out of the bottle, I’m also so excited to see how I’ll be feeling in a few weeks.

Until next time.