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Letting Go of Insecurities

This is going to be a little different from my “usual” posts. I feel obligated to speak about this topic because I see it far too often, in myself and in the other people around me. For my entire life, I’ve been caught up in what others think of me. I constantly subjected myself to self-scrutiny, and not in a good way. I wanted to be liked. I became a perfectionist because I was afraid of what people might think or say about me if I failed. And that fear of failure prevented me from taking risks, in all aspects of life.

The problem in today’s world is it’s way too easy to feel some sort of artificial validation by the amount of likes, friends and followers you have. And for someone who wants to be “liked”, it’s dangerously easy to get caught up in social media. We use social media as our “highlight reel”, plucking the best, most glamorous, share-worthy moments of our life and putting them on display. It’s easy to create a false perception of reality, and it becomes easier to feel insecure about your own life. I’m guilty of falling into this trap, as well. Before I’d post on Twitter or Instagram, I’d pause and ask myself: do you think this will get a lot of likes? Will people actually like this? And if the answer was no, I’d refrain from posting.

To be honest, I was having second thoughts about posting this, too. What if they judge me? What if they think this post is stupid? But no. I will no longer allow myself to be a prisoner of other people’s judgement. Let me say that again. I will no longer allow myself to be a prisoner of other people’s judgement. I made that decision after having a particularly tearful breakdown to my boyfriend, all because I was fed up with my acne scars. My freaking acne scars. I was sick and tired of having to cover them up with makeup every day. I wanted to stop wearing makeup, but I felt forced to cover them up so people wouldn’t judge my less than perfect complexion. You see, for years, I thought my scars made me ugly; that they were something to be ashamed of. I felt like a slave to makeup. I thought, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t even wear makeup. But the thing is, I do have a choice. I can choose to fall victim to my own insecurities, or I can stop worrying about what other people are going to think about me, and focus on the more important things in my life.

This decision to relinquish my fear of judgment hasn’t come easy. It’s difficult not to care about something that once made you so insecure. The key is to surround yourself with non-judgmental people who make you feel good about yourself. I’m lucky enough to have a strong web of friends who care about me and my wellbeing, and an extremely supportive boyfriend who reminds me I’m beautiful even on my worst days. They give me the support I need to feel confident, proud, and fearless. But that didn’t just happen overnight! I had to let go of my fair share of relationships with people who dragged me down instead of lifting me up. It may take you a while to find that right group of people, but I’m telling you, they’re out there. Also, you should never feel guilty for cutting somebody toxic out of your life. That is an extremely brave, responsible decision and it’s not easy to do, but your mental health will benefit tremendously from doing so.

You also must remind yourself that these insecurities are all in your head. Instead of caring about how others view us, we should care more about how our actions make others feel. Instead of focusing on making the world like us, we should focus more on making sure our loved ones respect us. We should be proud of our accomplishments, instead of fearing our failures. Everybody has insecurities – even the most beautiful, successful, “perfect” people have their flaws. What’s important is that we embrace our flaws instead of hiding from them. Remember that you are not alone. We can all work to relinquish our insecurities together.

5 Beauty Products I No Longer Buy

If you are an urban dwelling student or young professional like me, odds are we suffer from the same consequences: things are generally more expensive, and space for things is limited. Or maybe you don’t live in the city, but you’re finding that you spend way too much time (or money) on the process of getting ready in the morning. I’ve found that I could seriously limit the amount of beauty products in my home to make my mornings easier. The less I buy, the more money and free space I have. I found that beauty products was one of the easiest categories to minimize because I could easily pinpoint what I actually use and need each day. I’ve been able to save lots of money by replacing some of my products with multi-functional or reusable items.

As you read through this, start to consider the similar changes that you can make, too. Look at the products that you use on a daily basis (or more importantly, the products you don’t use). Look at their ingredients. Are these ingredients helpful or harmful for your body? Can you replace it with a more natural or sustainable product? Better yet, can you phase it out completely? What are the benefits or consequences of doing this? These questions will help you streamline your routine.

On that note, here are five items I no longer buy, and what I’ve done instead to replace them!

Nail Polish

To be honest, I just love the look of my natural nails. Though I do think a freshly done manicure looks nice, but it’s never been something that I’ve had to have. Also, I’m the type of person who gets super frustrated whenever a nail chips or smudges, so I found it easier to just give my polish away after I noticed that it hadn’t been touched in well over a year.

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I still stress nail care, because I care about having clean and healthy nails. I just have a small nail kit with all the proper tools to keep my nails trimmed and clean, and that’s all I need.

Body Wash

I’ve parted ways with the potent body gels that you’d find on a Bath and Body Works front shelf. Instead, I use my magical bar of African Black Soap. This is also what I use as a face wash. Originating in West Africa, African Black Soap has been a “holy grail” product in the black community for generations. It contains an abundance of natural, beneficial ingredients, including shea butter, plantain peel, and palm ash. Best of all, it’s super cheap. A $4.99 bar can last me about 3 months. Though there are many places to buy African Black Soap, the ingredients can vary from batch to batch. For that reason, I buy mine from Shea Moisture, since it’s specifically formulated for acne prone skin. Shea Moisture also sell two other variations – one for severely dry skin and one for eczema/psoriasis.

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If you are going to use bar soap to wash your face/body, I recommend keeping it in a wired soap dish or something that lets liquid drain from the bottom. If water pools in your soap dish from your shower, it becomes easier for bacteria to manifest there, which is a recipe for disaster if you are using that bar of soap to clean your face.

Shaving Cream

This was the easiest change to make for me. I just can’t justify buying a can of shaving cream when my African Black Soap works extremely well for me. It hydrates my skin, and lathers pretty well. I also enjoy how it contains no artificial fragrances or perfumes that might irritate the more sensitive areas.

Tampons

I stopped wearing tampons and switched to a menstrual cup for three main reasons. First, it means that I no longer need to use a single-use, disposable product when I’m on my period. Though that may not seem like much, it’s a small step for me to cut down on consumer waste. Second, it saves me some money. I’m not going to be rich by not buying tampons, but it’s one less trip to the drugstore each month. And third, I will never have to worry about running out of tampons again.

There is a slight learning curve to using a menstrual cup. It requires some trial and error the first couple times you use it for it to feel comfortable, though I’d argue that the same concept applies to the first time you use tampons, also. Plus, my DivaCup takes up much less space than a box of tampons does.

Shampoo

You don’t have to have incredibly thick, curly, difficult-to-manage hair like mine to know that sulfates can be incredibly harsh for our skin. If you’re a fan of Queer Eye, you’ve probably heard Jonathan Van Ness’s spiel about how Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is the same ingredient used to clean the car engine in a car. Yikes.

Long story short, sulfates can be quite drying, since they strip the natural oils from img-3506.jpgyour scalp that your hair needs to stay hydrated. There are also claims that SLS can have carcinogenic effects in high doses, but there is little current research to back those claims. But before you ditch the sudsy stuff forever, know that there’s a large variety of sulfate-free shampoos on the market that cleanse just as well. Even though I no longer purchase shampoo, I do own a bottle of OGX sulfate-free shampoo that I bought by accident (thinking it was conditioner). I use that to cleanse my hair no more than once per week, and I plan to only cowash (i.e. cleansing with conditioner) once the bottle runs out.

It’s also really easy to find sulfate-free shampoos! Since natural products are becoming “trendy”, most companies will heavily market that their products are sulfate-free. Just read the label quickly, or when in doubt, check the ingredient list.

Remember, these are all things I’ve chosen to eliminate due to personal preference. My hair type doesn’t need to be shampooed multiple times a week, but that doesn’t mean that yours is the same way. Don’t feel pressured to give up any of these products just because I have, or if your favorite celebrity/YouTuber/blogger has. Everybody is different. What you can do is personalize this approach to the products that you use. You might be able to make some cool hacks to simplify your day, just like me.

5 Key Steps to Form Healthy Habits

Why is it so difficult for us all to stick to a new habit? Every year, millions of Americans create a New Year’s Resolution, and these resolutions are discarded in a matter of weeks or months. It’s easy for many of us to start a diet or a fitness program, but what is keeping us from forming these healthy habits long-term? Is it a lack of motivation, forgetfulness, or that it’s “just too hard”?

The answer may lie within the Trans-Theoretical Model, a tool that can be used to assess one’s “readiness” to start a new healthy behavior. The Trans-Theoretical Model, or TTM for short, is a cyclic model with 5 stages. Here, I will outline each stage of the TTM, as well as some tips to continue moving forward in pursuit of your health goals.

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STEP 1 – Pre-Contemplation

Pre-Contemplation is the beginning stage of the Trans-Theoretical Model. If you are in the pre-contemplation stage, it means that you have no desire to change your behavior in the immediate future. A person in this stage will probably come off as resistant, due to the fact that they do not see a need to change. An individual at this stage is also not ready to change. The will to change must come from within in order for physical action to be taken. If you find yourself at this stage, it is helpful to think about some of the positive and negative impacts that your current behaviors have on your life. If you did decide to change your lifestyle and adopt new healthy habits, what are the short-term and long-term benefits? What, if any, are the consequences?

STEP 2 – Contemplation

Contemplation is the second step in the Trans-Theoretical Model. In the contemplation stage, you are aware of your actions and behaviors and you are thinking about making a change in the near future. At this point, no action has been taken to change habits, but you are aware that there is a behavior that you’d like to change. At this point, it’s so important to have relationships with people who will help move you forward on your journey. By having a friend or a community supporting you, not only will you have external motivation, but you will feel a stronger urge to hold yourself accountable.

STEP 3 – Preparation

Preparation is one step further from contemplation. The difference between Step 2 and Step 3 is that by Step 3, you are actively planning to make a change. If your goal is to be more physically active, the preparation phase might include buying a new workout outfit, or joining a gym. You have decided to make a change, and you believe that you can change your habits.

STEP 4 – Action

The action phase begins the minute you start actively making a change. This stage only lasts up to 6 months, where an individual will either move on to the next and final stage (maintenance) or move back to one of the previous phases mentioned. In this phase, it’s important to recognize what former stressors were affecting your previous behaviors. If, for example, you are trying to quit drinking, it may be helpful to avoid a certain bar that you used to frequent. It is important to develop coping strategies to manage those former stressors, so they do not influence you to fall back into bad habits.

STEP 5 – Maintenance

Maintenance is the final phase of the Trans-Theoretical Model. In this stage, an individual is still working to integrate these new changes until they become a regular part of life. An individual enters the maintenance stage after about 6 months of adapting a new habit. It is important, at this final stage, that you have identified your former stressors, whether they may be people, places, or objects. If you cycle back to an earlier stage, this is known as “Relapse”.

An important thing to note about the Trans-Theoretical Model is that it is a cyclic model, meaning that some people may fall into a cycle of starting new habits, ditching them, and trying again in a few months if they get discouraged or don’t see results soon enough. It takes time for a new habit to become regular, and most of the time these new habits mean adopting a lifestyle change to accommodate for these new behaviors. By being mindful of your own readiness, you will be much more likely to be successful in creating new healthy habits.

Maintaining Balance in Your Life

Welcome to the NEW AND IMPROVED web page for Everything Alexandra! It has been FOREVER since I’ve published a post on my blog, and I’ve been itching to create and share some new content. Since I’ve returned to Boston for school, I’ve been juggling my full-time education studying Chemical Engineering, work, and extracurriculars. Unfortunately, the Everything Alexandra blog has taken a backseat as I’ve focused most of my energy on my classes, and my priorities have felt soooo out of balance.

After I created the new Instagram page for Everything Alexandra, I noticed that the majority of my posts were about vegan food. Although I think that food and nutrition are a super important part of wellness, there is so much more that goes along with wellness, including mental health, that go unspoken about. Wellness is so much more than just nutrition and exercise (although I do believe that these are still super important), and it’s easy to get so caught up in the “physical” aspects of health that we forget to take care of ourselves on the inside.

I think one flawed perception of “wellness” is that people assume in order to be “healthy” you have to be happy all the time. But just like anything, life is a constant cycle of high and low moments. For every day that I drink a green smoothie for breakfast, do my cardio, get a full night’s sleep, etc., I’m bound to have a day (or night) where I don’t have energy because I’m lacking in sleep, or I decide not to go to the gym because I’m not feeling up for it. These highs and lows are bound to happen, because that’s life. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over one cheat meal or one missed workout or one bad day. But if you start to notice that the “good” days are few and far between, maybe it’s time to re-balance your priorities if you can, focusing your time and energy into things that are going to make you happier.

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Take some time out of your day to explore someplace new

That being said, you should never underestimate the power of a mental day. I repeat: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A MENTAL DAY. We all need a day, or two, or even just an hour, to relax and give our brains and bodies a break. Take some time to go for a walk, take a nap, or read that book you’ve been meaning to get around to but never had the time. We all deserve a break from the constant go-go-go of school or work. You’re listening to the master of spreading themselves too thin. Trust me, I know how it feels to be burnt out, and it’s unbelievably draining.

And I’m not alone. Many of my close friends and peers spread themselves unbelievably thin so they can “stand out” and have an impressive resume. I was one of them. I’m still trying to break that mindset, actually. But here’s the thing: by cutting back on all of the endless responsibilities, and choosing one or two really important things in your life to devote your time and energy to, not only will you feel less stressed, but your work will most likely improve and you will feel so much better. Remember, wellness starts from within, so we must take care of our mental selves just as much as we take care of our physical selves.

As we enter the Spring season, be mindful of maintaining balance in all aspects of your life. Maybe we can all try to leave the long, unnecessarily stressful days behind!

The Amazing Green Smoothie

A common misconception about green smoothies is that they have to taste awful in order to be healthy. Well that’s just flat out wrong! Though I do agree that some green juices and smoothies have a much more bitter taste (thank you kale and arugula), this smoothie is the perfect transition. I recommend using baby spinach as your choice of greens, especially if you aren’t used to the taste of kale. Plus, I personally think spinach blends better (AND looks prettier).

This Amazing Green Smoothie is pleasantly sweet, thanks to the natural sugars found in banana, pineapple, and mango. These fruits also give it a slightly tropical flavor (which makes it the perfect breakfast in the summertime).

For this smoothie, you will need:img_1010

  • 2 cups of baby spinach
  • 1 frozen banana, cut into slices
  • 1/2 cup pineapple (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/2 cup mango (fresh or frozen)
  • 1-2 cups almond milk (NOTE – more milk will be needed if using all frozen fruit, otherwise the smoothie will be too thick)

Now, it does matter what order you add your ingredients in. I like to blend up my greens first with the first cup of almond milk, blending on high power until it creates a smooth green juice. Then, I add the rest of my fruit and blend on high power until smooth. Sometimes a little extra milk is necessary to get the desired thickness.

I prefer to use frozen fruit because it’s cheaper, and it lasts longer in the freezer (so I don’t have to worry about it rotting). Because of that, I either move my pineapple and mango to the fridge to thaw overnight, or I just have to add a lot more milk. But the beauty of smoothies is that you can craft them however you like!

If you have any tips about green smoothies, or smoothie making in general, feel free to leave a comment!

Smoothie Bowls

One of my favorite go-to breakfast choices is a delicious fruit smoothie. I love how quick and easy they are to make, and how versatile they can be. It’s super easy to add a scoop of protein powder or nut butter to transform your smoothie into some excellent post-workout fuel.

But lately, people have been taking it a step further, and crafting their smoothies into beautiful food masterpieces, topping them with sliced fruit, nuts, seeds, you name it. They are called smoothie bowls, and they look downright delicious. If you enjoy the taste of a smoothie but it doesn’t feel quite like a meal, you should give smoothie bowls a shot.

This was my first attempt at crafting a smoothie bowl, and it turned out to be pretty tasty. I started with a simple strawberry banana smoothie and added some protein powder. I will definitely experiment with other flavor combinations and add those soon!

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Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothie Bowl

  • 1 banana, sliced (save a few slices for toppings)
  • 1 cup strawberries (about 5-6 medium sized berries)
  • 1 cup almond milk (I use almond milk, but feel free to use whatever type milk you prefer)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I use Swiig Mediterranean Vanilla Plant Protein)

Slice the bananas and strawberries, and freeze them overnight. Combine all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Next is the fun part: add your favorite toppings! This is where you can get creative. I topped my smoothie bowl with strawberry and banana slices, chia seeds, and granola.

How do you like your smoothie bowls? Leave a comment below!

Berry Banana Chia Seed Pudding

Okay, I tried this recipe last night and just HAD to share ASAP.  If you’ve never had Chia Seed Pudding before, this is definitely something new for you to try.  This particular flavor was made with vanilla almond milk and some maple syrup, and the sweetness was perfect paired with some tart blueberries and a few slices of banana. This tastes best when you let it sit overnight (or at least 12 hours), and it keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge.  This recipe only calls for 3 ingredients (which you may already have in your kitchen!), plus whatever ingredients you’d like to use for toppings.

With all that said, here’s the recipe!

Berry Banana Chia Seed Pudding

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  • 1 1/2 cups nondairy milk (I used sweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds (you can use black or white – I used black because that’s what I had on hand!)
  • 1-2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • fruit/seeds/granola for toppings!

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Combine the milk, chia seeds, and maple syrup into a bowl or a mason jar. I like to add the liquids first so the seeds don’t clump at the bottom. Then, stir that stuff like crazy! I would take my mason jar out of the fridge every half hour or so and give it a little stir to prevent the seeds from settling. Then, you’re all set to leave it overnight! The longer you let this pudding sit, the more milk will be absorbed by the chia seeds, and the thicker the consistency will be.

This can be enjoyed as a dessert, a breakfast food, or just a simple snack! Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, and this recipe contains over 50% of your daily recommended calcium intake.

How do you like your chia seed pudding? Leave a comment below!

3 Major Tips for Going Vegan

First off, I feel like I should say a quick disclaimer. I did NOT choose to start a vegan diet as a means to lose weight. I chose veganism for other reasons, including personal health reasons, environmental reasons, and animal welfare (but this isn’t an article about why I became vegan, which I will save for another time).

A common misconception about the vegan diet is that it’s extremely restrictive. The vegan diet is often compared to the likes of “rabbit food”. These claims are WILDLY false! Although I do eat lots of fruit and vegetables, my diet extends way beyond just that. This leads me to Tip #1:

Tip #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things

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If you want to switch to veganism successfully, you’ll need to make some additional changes to your diet. If you were to simply cut out meat, dairy and eggs from the Standard American Diet, you wouldn’t be left with much else. It’s important to fill your plate with a good mix of fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, and healthy fats like avocado. The easiest way to do this successfully is by trying new foods. In the past two weeks, I’ve tried black bean burgers, tofu, and kombucha, and I’ve loved all three of them! I was SO skeptical about trying tofu, but it’s delicious, and it just takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with (making it an excellent protein for stir fries). By having a diverse plate, you’ll get some excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and fiber.

Speaking of vitamins…

Tip #2: Take a B12 Supplement

A Vitamin B12 supplement is necessary for anybody who plans to cut out all animal products. Vitamin B12 is necessary for nerve and blood cell health, DNA production, and preventing against various types of anemia. Since our main source of B12 is through animal products, it’s important to take a supplement to guarantee a high enough daily value.

Tip #3: Find Yummy Alternatives

It was difficult to imagine a life without pizza, ice cream and cheese. Luckily, I can still enjoy all those treats, thanks to the endless variety of nondairy alternatives that are widely available. I’ve listed my top choices below:

Milk

Almond Milk (Blue Diamond and Silk are both excellent options. I typically use Unsweetened Original flavor if I’m using it in cooking, or Unsweetened Vanilla for sweeter things like oatmeal/chia pudding/smoothies).

Creamer

I’ve tried a few different nondairy creamers, and my favorite by far is the one by Silk. It tastes the most like regular creamer, and they offer different flavors (original, vanilla, hazelnut).

Cheese

Cheese was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I had to give up. Luckily, I’ve found some excellent dairy free replacements. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds are excellent for Vegan Mac and Cheese, and Trader Joe’s Vegan Style Mozzarella Shreds are BOMB if you want a melty, cheesy topping (like on a pizza).

Sour Cream

If you’re like me, it’s impossible to have chilis, tacos, or burrito bowls without sour cream. Tofutti’s Dairy Free Sour Cream is an excellent vegan alternative, and you can find it at Whole Foods.

Cream Cheese

Tofutti also makes a really good vegan cream cheese. This is the perfect spread to put on top of bagels (and I also use it to make my mac and cheese extra creamy).

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There are TONS of vegan ice cream options out there. Ben and Jerry’s started releasing nondairy ice cream a couple years back, and you can find it at any grocery store that also sells regular Ben and Jerry’s (though it’s usually in a different part of the aisle). My favorite flavor is PB & Cookies (FYI, Oreo’s are vegan too). So Delicious makes some yummy coconut milk ice cream- I like their cookie dough flavor.

Another tip is to look for sorbets – most sorbets are fruit based and contain NO dairy (though it never hurts to check labels). This goes for gelato, too. Fruit flavors like lemon, raspberry or mango are almost always dairy free.

Eggs

I haven’t tried any commercial egg replacements yet, but for baking, I like to use bananas as an emulsifier. When I make pancakes, I substitute 1/2 mashed banana in place of an egg, and it also adds some natural sweetness to whatever you’re baking.

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Banana Pancakes with Homemade Strawberry Sauce

It’s easier now than ever to convert to a plant-based lifestyle, because it is SO EASY to find alternatives to all your favorite foods. So far, my experience going vegan has been wildly successful, and I have so many new recipes that I cannot wait to post.

Who else eats a vegan diet? Any questions or suggestions? Comment below!

Surviving Holiday Stress

Oh, the holiday season. It’s a time that should be filled with love and laughter and delicious food, but it’s hard to enjoy the festivities when you’re stressed out about things like Black Friday shopping, overindulging on Thanksgiving dinner, or finals week. Well, you’re not alone. This time of year can be extremely overwhelming, which is why it’s so important to manage your stress during these times.

Stress is your body’s natural response to “dangerous” situations. While a little stress from time to time is completely natural, too much can be extremely taxing on your body. It affects your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to viral infections or disease. It affects your sleep, leaving you fatigued and unable to focus on school or work. And, it affects your digestion, making it more difficult for your body to absorb essential nutrients needed to keep you healthy. Basically, too much stress can have a significant impact on your mental and physical health. Plus, it’s the leading cause of acne, and there’s nothing worse than trying to battle a breakout when you’re already stressed out.

So you’re probably thinking, what can I do to prevent holiday stress? For starters, it helps to have some sort of outlet where you can release all of your negative energy. For me, that’s exercise. When I go to the gym, I’m able to just focus on my workout, and allow all of that negative energy and stress to leave my body. That being said, working out should be fun, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to go for a 5 mile jog to “relieve stress” if that’s not your type of workout. I am a HIIT/boot camp/circuit type person, so I need something high intensity to keep me focused. But if you prefer something more calming (like yoga, for example), that’s cool too.

I believe one source of stress that many people go through is worrying about food. This is so tricky because this stigma goes both ways. On one hand, you might feel forced to watch what you eat, or skip the dessert, or pile your plate with squash, peas, and carrots because that’s the “healthy” thing to do. I remember recently listening to a well trusted fitness professional exclaim that we should skip the pecan pie and stick to broccoli. Listen, guys. Thanksgiving is one of maybe a handful of days in the entire year where we have a free pass to eat whatever the hell we want! However, we also receive stigma that we aren’t eating enough. Has it ever happened to you, where you feel compelled to finish your entire plate even though you really aren’t that hungry? I’ve gone through this same problem year after year, where I eat way too much food in an attempt to be polite (or because I’m offered food), and then I end up feeling bloated, sluggish and gross. It doesn’t help that I battled gastrointestinal issues for years, either. This year, I’m going to make an effort to listen to my body and eat what I really want to eat, when my body is ready to eat. If that means that I only fill half my plate, that’s okay. If that means I go back for seconds, that’s okay too. If that means that I choose not to have squash to save room for more pie, that’s okay. You know your body more than anybody else does, and you know what/when you need to eat in order to stay comfortable.

Another major stress factor that I hear a lot from students and young adults is the pressure to buy extravagant Christmas gifts. Listen, I understand. You want to thank your family and friends for everything they do to love and support you throughout the year, but you feel like you don’t have adequate funding to do so. Thankfully, there are so many ways to show your love and appreciation without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas…

  • If you are a talented cook, consider making treats to give as gifts. Might I suggest this Pumpkin Whoopie Pie recipe as a good place to start…
  • Maybe baking isn’t really your strong suit. There are plenty of wonderful gift ideas that are also on the cheaper side (think fuzzy blankets, fuzzy socks, fuzzy anything…). These simple gifts mean so much, especially if you live in a colder area where you’ll get to use them often.
  • Most importantly, the holidays should be less about presents, and more about presence. What means the most at this time of year isn’t the gifts you receive, but the time you spend together. Gather your family together for a holiday flag football tournament, or an afternoon of playing cards. Even if you just spend a few hours together without phones or distractions, these small gestures will create more lasting memories than just opening presents will.

It is so easy to let stress get to you at this time of year. That’s why it’s so important to recognize what is causing your stress, and find the best way to alleviate it. That way, you can be more present for time well-spent with family and friends.

Why We Should Stop Worrying About Weight

“The only way to solve the weight problem is to stop making weight a problem—to stop judging ourselves and others by our size. Weight is not an effective measure of attractiveness, moral character, or health. The real enemy is weight stigma, for it is the stigmatization and fear of fat that causes the damage and deflects attention from true threats to our health and well-being.”
– Linda Bacon, Health at Every Size

I remember the first time I weighed myself on my Wii Fit balance board. I was 11 years old, and I weighed 92 pounds. That was a healthy weight, according to the video game, because I had a BMI (Body Mass Index) that fell within the “normal” range. I didn’t really care much about this new information, because, well, I was a kid. I wasn’t supposed to care about my weight.

It had been a few months since I had last played the game, so when I turned it on, I received a message telling me I was due to weigh myself again. So I, now at 12 years old, stepped onto the balance board to weigh in. I watched in horror as the scale read…102 pounds, tipping my BMI from “normal” into the “overweight” range. This video game had just told me, a healthy, growing girl, that I was fat. And I believed it.

This set me off on a weight loss obsession. Unbeknownst to my family and friends, I kept a “weight loss journal” where I’d track my calorie intakes, create weekly meal plans, and write down my body measurements. I kept a folder of workouts from magazine clippings in hopes that I could use them to slim down my “thunder thighs”. I searched for how to control ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and I also looked for obscure weight loss diets, like the Japanese Banana Diet (yes, this is a real thing), where you’re guaranteed to lose weight if you eat a banana for breakfast every single day. I was consumed by weight loss when I didn’t have any weight to lose in the first place.

These behaviors continued throughout high school, and into college. I was terrified of the dreaded “Freshman 15”, so I would track every last calorie on MyFitnessPal, down to the teaspoon of sugar I put in my coffee. I obsessed over my FitBit statistics, refusing to ever take the elevator if I could take the stairs instead. I would feel ashamed every time I had cookies or ice cream or fast food, because these weren’t “healthy” foods. This wasn’t just some childhood phase that I would eventually grow out of. This was my life, and I couldn’t eat or sleep or exercise without wondering how it would affect the number on a scale.

The worst thing is, these obsessive behaviors are so widely accepted, and most are even considered “healthy” things to do, because they are done in the pursuit of weight loss. If you constantly worry about the number on a scale, or the circumference of your waist, and these worries are inhibiting you from living a happy life, is that really beneficial for your health? If all of this dieting and calorie restriction is causing you to be stressed and fatigued and miserable…is that still healthy?

I don’t think so.

It’s okay to eat that piece of bread, or the cookie, or the slice of pizza, or whatever. Eat whatever food makes you happiest. It’s also okay to have a garden salad for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner (because I totally did that this week). Instead of focusing on the number of calories you’re consuming, focus on the nutrients your food provides and how it makes you feel, while still being mindful that you’re eating enough food to energize your body. And remember, it is never okay to judge somebody based on their body weight. Weight is not a direct indicator of health, and in order to achieve total physical, mental and emotional health, we must get over weight stigma and fatphobia. And no matter your shape or your size, you are beautiful.