What’s the Big Deal With Food Dyes?

There have been a handful of food industry transitions over the last few years, leading to all-but-boycotts on ingredients that we once accepted without question. Among these are gluten, high fructose corn syrup, and, of course, food dyes.

But what’s so wrong with these pretty, colorful additives? Can they really have an impact on your health, and should you actively try to avoid them?

Let’s take a look at what food dyes are, the impacts they can have on your health, and what you can do to mitigate your exposure.

What Dyes Are

Thanks to good, old-fashioned evolution, humans have come to expect certain qualities from their food. One of these, which plays a surprisingly strong role in our enjoyment of such foods, is its color.

We know that blueberries are blue; therefore, when we eat something blueberry flavored, we expect it to be blue. The same goes for orange, strawberry, and the list goes on. While there are foods and drinks without color (natural or added), we seem to not get the same pleasure — or at least, flavor recognition — as if it had the color we’ve come to expect.

Enter food dyes.

Food dyes are chemical compounds that are produced in a factory from petroleum/crude oil. (Yes, the same stuff put in our car engines, refined into gasoline, and even used to make asphalt.) They come in every color of the rainbow, and can be formulated as liquids, gels, or even powders. Their sole purpose is to make your food look “pretty,” and they have neither a nutritional value nor any flavor.

Food dyes are seemingly everywhere, in almost every product that we consume. In fact, Americans consume more than 15 million pounds of food dyes each year!

They are named telling things like FD&C Red No. 40 or FD&C Blue No. 1. They might also be listed under innocuous-sounding names like Tartrazine, which is really just FD&C Yellow No. 5 in disguise, or even simply “artificial color.”

You can find food dyes in the expected places, like frosting on a birthday cake or in your childhood packet of Kool-Aid. But you might be surprised to learn all of the seemingly-unnecessary places that these petroleum-based chemicals turn up. Here are a few examples:

  • Balsamic vinegar: “caramel color” is often added to give lower-quality vinegar its deep brown appearance.
  • Pickles: that jar of crunchy dills might have more than cucumbers and spices — blue and yellow food dyes are often used to enhance the look.
  • Yogurt: think your creamy breakfast is only a certain color because of the fruit it contains? You might be wrong. Many brands throw in reds to enhance the fruit color, or blue dye to enhance the white.
  • Salad dressing: whether you buy ranch, italian, or french dressing, you are at risk of consuming food dyes. Red, yellow, and even blue dyes regularly make an appearance on the salad dressing shelves.
  • Protein snack bars: it may look like fruit and granola, but you’d be wrong. Some granola and protein bars on the shelves today uses reds, yellows, and blues to enhance their bars.
  • Marshmallows: they may look white to the naked eye, but it’s actually blue food dye that’s often added which gives these pillowy treats their snow-white appearance (the same trick is used for many “whitening” detergents and cleaners!).
  • Toothpaste: you may not be consuming large amounts of it, but there are plenty of red and blue food dyes that typically color toothpastes today.

I’ll be honest: it’s easy to see why food dyes are popular. A few years back, I tried a volcanic rock water, which was black in color. It tasted exactly like normal, filtered water, but I simply couldn’t get past the color. It wasn’t what my brain expected and therefore, I couldn’t find pleasure in drinking it. The same goes for the clear sodas that have been introduced to (and subsequently pulled from) the market here in the U.S.: humans have subconscious expectations of their food’s appearance, and that’s difficult to rewire.

Why Food Dyes Are Dangerous

I grew up as a child of the 80s, raised on lollipop rings and dip-n-lick powders of unknown composition. While I’ve (thus far) turned out alright, I am shocked to realize all of the things that we have consumed without question over the years. Things that are actually pretty harmful.

Like food dyes.

Food dyes are dangerous for a number of reasons. First and foremost, as we already talked about, they are a petroleum product, produced by crude oil. No matter how it’s processed, refined, or “cleaned up,” there is nothing redeeming about putting a petroleum product in your body.

It’s not just a matter of preference, either, like cutting out sugar or reducing your gluten intake: food dyes are dangerous. In fact, they can kill you.

A number of common food dyes today are actually listed as known carcinogens. Colors like Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been found to be contaminated by benzidine, likely due to the petroleum-refining process required to create them. Benzidine is a known carcinogen, which means that it has been found to cause cancer in lab animals and humans.

If you want to really worry, though, do some research on Red 3: this food dye isn’t just known to be contaminated by carcinogens. It IS a carcinogen, all on its own.

For some, the idea of food additives — which, remember, serve no purpose except to make your food pretty to the eye — causing cancer and quite literally killing you seems like too much to grasp. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other side effects from their consumption.

Many food dyes, especially of the red variety, have been shown to cause ADHD/ADD behavior in children. Scientists aren’t yet sure of the exact mechanism at work, but consumption of these additives has the ability to hinder children’s development, concentration, and behavior. And remember: they’re in almost everything processed! (No wonder we have an ADD/ADHD epidemic in this country.)

How to Avoid Food Dyes

If the idea of consuming cancer-causing food dyes worries you, you’re not alone. More people than ever are ditching artificial colors and opting instead for healthier, more natural alternatives. It just takes a concerted effort.

The idea of, say, never having pink cupcakes for your daughter’s birthday again can be disheartening. Luckily, there are so many ways to still get eye-pleasing colors in your food without the health impacts of crude oil-based colorants.

You can opt for fruit and vegetable additives, such as mixing strawberries into frosting or blueberries into a cake. The colors are a bit more muted than when they come from a concentrated bottle, but the health impacts are worth it. You can also buy powdered and liquid food dyes that are derived from things like carrots (orange), beets (red), spirulina (green), and turmeric (yellow), to name a few.

Your best bet for avoiding food dyes is to avoid processed foods as much as you can. Try to eat homemade as much as possible, avoid canned drinks (if you must have a bubbly “soda,” try something like Spindrift), or find safe alternatives from companies as committed to this change as you.

For instance: until this summer, my children had never tried a Bomb Pop. You know, the tangy red, white, and blue popsicle that was a summertime staple in our own childhoods? Yeah, my kids had no idea what that tasted like. It seemed like a veritable you-know-what storm of food dyes and processed sugar, and I avoided it at all costs.

Then I came across the brand GoodPop. I first tried their freezer pops (clear, plastic tubes reminiscent of the colorful popsicles in my youth), which were made from 100% fruit juice. My kids loved them, so when I saw their own version of a Bomb Pop, I had to give it a try. Not only do they taste amazing, but we avoid carcinogens, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives in the process.

When I need a “soda,” I grab one of those Spindrifts that I mentioned before. My kids get fresh juice from my Omega juicer, instead of bottled/packaged stuff. I only use Warrior Fuel supplements because they don’t put unnecessary dyes in their preworkouts or BCAAs. And I try to only shop around the perimeter of the store (fresh produce, etc.) instead of from the shelves.

You may not be able (or even want) to eliminate all sugars, preservatives, and additives from your and your kids’ food. Avoiding carcinogenic food dyes, though, is a no-brainer.

It doesn’t mean avoiding all of your loved foods, either! By simply making smart choices — and swapping your favorites out for healthier alternatives — you can keep your family safe without feeling like you’re missing out at all.

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Do You Really Need to Take BCAAs?

If you’ve spent any time inside a gym or stepped into your local nutrition shop, you have likely been bombarded with supplement suggestions. Many of them make claims to improve your performance and help you reach your goals faster. This can include muscle growth, increased focus and sleep, or even burning extra fat throughout the day.

But which of these supplements actually works, and what do you really need? Assuming that you aren’t working toward a very intense goal (such as a bodybuilding competition), your needs are fairly basic. If you have goals to lose fat, build lean muscle mass, or support your immune system, though, there are supplements that would be beneficial to have on your shelf.

So, where do you start? Well, let’s begin with the foundation.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of our bodies. They link together to form the proteins necessary to build cells, muscles, and other tissues. Amino acids also play a large role in biosynthesis and even neurotransmission. Your body would cease to function without the intake and creation of amino acids.

There are 20 naturally-occurring amino acids total, but nine of these are referred to as essential amino acids. These nine are a bit unique because your body cannot actually create them on its own within the body – they must be ingested through a varied diet. Of these nine, three are produced synthetically in a supplement called BCAAs.

BCAAs

One of the more popular supplements among athletes, BCAAs can be found on every nutrition shop shelf. The acronym stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids, and contains three of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own:  leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Why do you need to supplement these amino acids if we get them from food? Well, there’s a number of reasons.

  • If you are training regularly, you are utilizing your amino acids stores at a higher rate than the average person. In order to support cell production, muscle formation and repair, and even basic metabolic functions, your body will be using its amino acid supply more readily than if you were just sitting on the couch all day. Supplementing these amino acids will help your body maintain its cellular function and repair muscle tissues quickly and easily. And without running low on resources.
  • Many athletes, especially those in “cutting” (lean down) phases, have more limited diets than average. Sure, they are likely taking in high amounts of protein. But they may not be taking in the types of foods needed to meet demands for essential amino acids. The three amino acids that comprise BCAAs are most readily found in egg and dairy products – many athletes cut out dairy products due to fat content or because they can cause bloating in those who are even slightly lactose-sensitive. Therefore, you may not even be getting enough of these amino acids to begin with.
  • Training regularly, working out hard, and pushing your body to new limits can be exhausting. It takes serious effort for your body to run the metabolic processes required for proper recovery. These include repairing torn muscle fibers, building new muscle tissue, burning fat, allocating energy sources, and replenishing lost tissue hydration. Your body works hard, and all of these tasks involve, you guessed it, amino acids. Think of BCAAs as lending your body a helping hand, rather than forcing it to struggle to keep up.

So, How Do You Choose a BCAA Brand?

There are hundreds of brands of BCAAs out there, all promising to do the same thing. While the actual amino acids themselves are essentially the same from a chemical compound standpoint, that doesn’t mean that each bottle of BCAAs will do the same for your body.

How Much Amino Acid Is Inside?

Of the three amino acids contained, leucine is the most important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. As such, you should pick a BCAA that has a higher quantity of leucine than isoleucine or valine.

But be careful! Some companies will run with this and advertise unnecessarily high ratios of leucine compared to the other two, some as ridiculous as 10:1:1. This actually can have a negative effect, as the three work synergistically. Sure, adequate quantities of each need to be present in order for it to have the desired effect. But if one is present in too high of quantities, it can actually end up depleting the other two. Of course, this is the opposite of what you want.

The golden standard is thought to be a ratio of 2:1:1. This is actually the same ratio for these three components that is found in your muscle tissues naturally.

What Else Is In There?

Companies know that if it tastes and smells delicious, it will probably earn repeat customers. This is probably true from a marketing standpoint. But you shouldn’t always go with the one that is the yummiest or looks the coolest in your shaker bottle.

Many of the BCAA brands out there contain a number of unnecessary additives. These can include large (unnecessary) doses of dyes, toxic chemical sweeteners, preservatives, and other supplement “boosters” that are more for marketing purposes than true effect. Many of these additives can cause gastrointestinal issues (even if they’re as mild as bloating, it’s still unnecessary), skin issues, or can even affect blood sugar levels, leading to increased fatigue or hunger.

Plus, you’re paying for those additives! Pure amino acid compounds can be pricey, so these fillers save the company money. Meanwhile, you get less of what you actually need.

While it may be impossible to escape all additives, try to find a brand that is as clean as possible. I’ve used Warrior Fuel’s BCAAs for a long time now, as they don’t add any preservatives or artificial colors/dyes. They also add extra hydrating ingredients such as coconut water powder and recovery boosters such as taurine. (Which I’ve had to buy separately in the past.)

Plus the flavors are incredible — get the tiger’s blood. You’ll thank me later. *Use code Steph15 to save*

How Much Should I Be Taking?

The jury is still out on this one, but that’s also because it can vary greatly depending on your dietary intake, training intensity, and metabolic function. Standard advice though, is that you should take anywhere from 5-10 grams of BCAAs surrounding your workout.

Many athletes choose to mix up their supplements mid-workout, sipping them as they continue and finishing the dose as they end their training. This allows your body to begin utilizing the amino acids to repair muscle fiber micro-tears that occurred at the beginning of your workout, transport oxygen to your body while it’s still being trained, and support the metabolic functions that have begun as your workout continues. Finishing the dose near the end of the workout allows your body to begin the repair and recovery process.

Amino acids are a vital building block to every single one of your body’s processes. Some of them can be synthesized by your body, but others – the essential nine —  need to be introduced through diet and supplementation.

BCAAs aren’t a miracle supplement, and they won’t do the work for you. However, combined with adequate training, sufficient water ingestion, a varied diet, and rest, they will give you a boost toward meeting your goals. Whether you want to burn fat, build lean muscle, or even just support your immune system during intense training regimens, BCAAs are a great place to start.

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DC’s Most Epic Cheat Meals: Bar Deco

Everyone loves a good cheat meal. And I think those of us in the fitness world are even more interested in a good, gratifying treat. After all, we spend most of our time counting macros or meal prepping, ensuring that we get enough of this or not too much of that. It’s very rare that we get to just mindlessly eat a meal.

So, when the opportunity presents itself for a downright naughty culinary experience, we can certainly appreciate it.

As the competition season for 2019 ramps up, I thought it only fitting to explore some of Washington DC’s most memorable cheat meals… and the incredible restaurants that serve them. First up is Bar Deco, an artsy rooftop eatery, bar, and smokehouse that left me stuffed, happy, and eager to go back for more.

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I had heard that Bar Deco’s brunch was pretty phenomenal (epic, you might say), so we made reservations for a Sunday mid-morning.

Walking in, we were hit with the smell of in-house smoked meats – a scent that made us salivate.

Our hostess led us up a flight of stairs to the second level (out of four), which houses the main restaurant area. We were seated at a table in the open room, next to a large, beautiful window with plenty of morning light. Repurposed whiskey bottles of water were already waiting, and perfectly matched the décor.

Isn’t this place gorgeous? Even down to the mounted menus.

No brunch is worthwhile without a mimosa or bloody mary… so, why not get both? We tried the Good Morning Mary and the Decomosa, and each one was fantastic! The mary’s homemade mix had juuusssttt the right amount of kick, exactly how I like it. I also enjoyed the originality of the crisp peach-and-raspberry-muddled mimosa, which was a bit sweeter than a typical mimosa. If you’re into the original kind, they do offer those, as well as a bottomless option with brunch.

I’m not going to tell you what’s on the rim of the bloody mary, because I want you to taste it and try to guess. I couldn’t place the flavor, but was pleasantly surprised when they told me what it was!

Then, it was onto the food. I usually prefer to save the best for last, but y’all… you need to know about this meal. So, we had asked for recommendations and the resounding answer was: You MUST try the French Deluxe sandwich! Well, alrighty then, I’ll take one of those.

Oh. My. God. So, for the French Deluxe, they take two hot slices of thick, homemade brioche french toast. Then, they add some melt-y American cheese, crispy smoked bacon, and a fried egg.

Right before I took my first bite, our wonderful server came up with a bottle of thick, delicious syrup. She insisted,”No, you need to try it like this.” Alright, Che’Nay, we trust you with our brunching — drizzle away.

Best idea ever… each bite was an absolute flavor explosion. Take the fluffiest, sweetest, and warmest french toast you’ve ever had and combine it with the best bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich you’ve ever had. Then, drench it in maple syrup.

I mean, I don’t understand how it was even legal. A definite 10/10, without a doubt, and that doesn’t even include the bonus points for their neat spin on home fries.

Forget just being a cheat meal. This guy might be last meal-worthy. Cubed potatoes mixed with onions and colorful peppers. Not only did this make them a little crunchier than usual (which I really enjoyed), but it was a unique touch. I liked it.

On to the deceivingly-simple choice: the Breakfast Sandwich (because one sandwich just wasn’t enough at Bar Deco). This one caught our eye from the very top of the menu, and it was probably because of the very first ingredient listed: pork belly.

Now, I looovveee a good pork belly. The combination of crispy and tender, the explosion of flavors… it’s really a treat. And, when you’re having an epic cheat meal, who really cares about the extra fat grams, right?

So, you remember how I mentioned that we were welcomed at the door by the delightful smokehouse aroma? Well, this sandwich is partly to thank. Bar Deco smokes their own meats in-house; talk about getting the whole experience.

The Breakfast Sandwich was made of a thick piece of crispy pork belly, a perfectly cooked over-easy egg, fresh tomato, and avocado mayo atop a soft, homemade ciabatta bun. (Oh, and we got more of those delicious home fries.) You could absolutely tell that the pork belly was smoked, and it added a lot to the sandwich as a whole. I wish that they had rubbed a bit more flavor (in the form of spices) on the pork, but it was still lovely. The ciabatta was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and the avocado mayo brought a wonderful aftertaste.

The whole medley of flavors was quite nice, and I would order it again — if I had room after the French Deluxe, of course. I would probably leave off the tomato next time, though, or ask for a thinner slice.

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Now for Kyle’s meal. He ordered the chicken and waffles, but I would have probably asked him to order those anyway, if he hadn’t. I really wanted to try them but wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to the entire plate.

I’ll be honest: I’ve never actually had chicken and waffles before.  Perhaps it’s because I have very high standards for my waffles, as well as my chicken. Or maybe it’s because I’m hesitant to mix my dessert-style breakfast with my savory breakfast. Either way, this was the PERFECT choice for my very first chicken and waffles experience. Bar Deco, you have ruined it for anyone else by setting the bar so high.

The waffles were lightly browned and just the right combination of buttery, sweet, and fluffy. Really, the perfect waffle. Nestled on top was an enormous piece of crispy, boneless chicken breast. The golden breading wasn’t greasy at all, either. Oh, and they also included little bowls of sweet jalapeno jam and honey butter. Che’Nay christened those bad boys with more of her amber syrup, and we dug in.

Heaven. Absolute heaven. The savory-sweet combination was just perfect, and I say that as someone who rarely likes to mix the two. I was a little surprised that the jalapeno jam didn’t have any kick to it, as I was looking forward to that, but it was still a nice flavor. I mainly stuck to the syrup, though. (By now, we may as well have been hummingbirds, as that stuff was our sugary crack.) Honestly, I could have probably eaten it without the syrup or jam entirely — the flavor of the buttery waffles mixed with the sweet, crispy breading of the chicken was a truly delightful combination.

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Even though we went to Bar Deco for brunch, we took a peek at the dinner menu. You know, just to see what we were missing. And, we kinda had to order off of that, too. Just to give it a taste. Oops.

We tried the 901 burger and WOW. Talk about a unique burger experience. First off, there’s no bun. You heard me: no bun. Instead, Executive Chef Shane Henderson created a caramelized onion bread pudding for the base.

Then, he tops it with an 8 oz burger covered in melted swiss cheese. He adds pickled onion, a fried egg, and drizzles on a homemade pub mustard.

It’s probably one of the most fun meals I’ve ever had, and certainly the most unique burger. And, y’all, I cannot stop talking about it. It has caramelized onion bread pudding for a bun!!! I’m not kidding, I am actually salivating as I type this.

So, well done, Chef Henderson. You knocked it out of the park with this one. I will absolutely be back to try it again, perhaps for dinner and drinks on the rooftop next time.

Speaking of the rooftop, we checked out the two upper floors after brunch.

The one above us housed a gorgeous, room-length bar top and ample tv screens. The ambiance was great for catching a day game with a beer, but I could also see how it would transition well into a nighttime cocktail experience.

The rooftop was beautiful, and I would love to dine up there next time (weather permitting).

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Overall, our meal at Bar Deco was delightful. I’m pretty picky about my cheat meals — if I’m going to earn a naughty restaurant experience after some intense hours at the gym, I need it to be worthwhile. Bar Deco surpassed my expectations, and there’s not a single thing I tried that I would not order again. And that says a lot.

Next time, I will probably bring my kids and enjoy brunch with them. The menu had a number of gluten-free options (my oldest son is gluten-sensitive), so that was wonderful to see. Either way, we will certainly go back.

What sort of epic meals would you like to see featured next? Keep checking back, as we cheat our way through the DC area’s most delicious, drool-worthy entrées.

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Fun With Fitmark

Just a quick little note for those of you who haven’t seen on social media, because I’m still a little excited: last week, I was interviewed and featured on the Fitmark Bags blog.

Fun stuff, huh? We talked about sports, fitness, my kids, staying on track while balancing a crazy life (this seems to be the focus of both my social media and my blog). And, of course, we talked meal prep.

I’ve been a Fitmark athlete for a few months now, but carrying their bags since last year. I absolutely love their products, even when not using them for meal transport. They do make it easy to stick to my meal plan and goals, especially when I’m traveling. Aside from that, their duffels also make the best gym bags. The quality is incredible, and they’re just the perfect size.

If you ever want to order a Fitmark Bag, you can use code Friends15 for 15% off. Also, check my Instagram, as I’ll regularly repost specials or limited-time promo codes for 20%+ off. And feel free to ask if you have any questions about their line!

If you’d like to check out the blog post, you can read about it here. I’m also being included in a group athlete feature soon, so I’ll repost that link when it’s up on their blog.

As always, thanks for following along, guys!

XO, Steph

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The Best Homemade Seasoning Around

If you’re in the fitness world, you’ve likely had more than your fair share of chicken breast meals. After a while, it can get a little boring — particularly if you’re on prep with high protein goals.

How do I make sure that I can still get excited about my food, even if I’m eating the same thing every single day? The right seasonings can make all the difference.

Sure, there are a few good options on the market already. Flavor God and Dizzy Pig are two wonderful companies, both of which I have in my spice cabinet. Sometimes, though, I want something unique or on the spot, which is why I developed this all-purpose spice blend.

It’s wonderful on chicken, shrimp, pork tenderloin, skillet potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and I even used it to make an incredible garlic bread the other day for my kiddos.

The spice mix includes turmeric, which contains curcumin (also found in ginger). Combined with black pepper, this is absorbed in the body as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Today’s world is full of processed food, pollutants, and stress, so I want to keep the inflammation in my body down as much as possible. I try to sneak turmeric, along with black pepper, into my food often.

I also added a surprise ingredient: dried carrots. You may not have ever worked with them before, but I thought they added a nice, unique touch to the blend. You can buy them here on Amazon, like I did, or at your local specialty food shop. I pulsed mine in the food processor for a few seconds to chop them down a bit further.

Try out the mix and let me know what you think!

The Best All-Purpose Seasoning Mix

Yields 1

A garlic based season-all with hints of onion, cumin, and turmeric. Perfect for poultry, pork, vegetables, and even garlic bread!

 

Prep Time: 5 min

Total Time: 5 min

Ingredients

In a small bowl, mix

  • 3 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp onion granules
  • 1 Tbsp dried carrot
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried sage

Instructions

Simple! Just combine well and then sprinkle on your food of choice. Rub chicken or pork before cooking, sprinkle on veggies before roasting, or sprinkle over melted butter on a flaky French loaf. Store in an airtight container.

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Microblading: Would I Do It Again?

This is my very first Beauty post, and the beginning of my new Treat Yourself Tuesday series. Each week, I will be posting a “spoil yourself” type of article, aimed at encouraging all of you (men included!) to take care of yourself first.

These might be informative posts covering things like myofascial release massages and foam rolling. Maybe a recipe for a tightening face mask that you can make at home. It could even be a review of a big treat, like a weekend at my favorite resort. Who knows?

No matter what, it’ll be my (and your) reminder to take at least one day each week and, well… treat yourself.


I recently had the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do (and researching) for a while now: I got my eyebrows microbladed.

The name might sound a little intimidating, but it shouldn’t. By the end of this, I hope you’ll see why it’s the (second) best cosmetic procedure I’ve had done!

A few months ago, I contacted Angela of Ella Esthetics in Arlington, Virginia for some info. I had run across her work on her Instagram page and absolutely loved the brow transformations I had seen. While I have fairly dark brows, they’ve never been long or thick enough for my liking. Now that everyone’s big, bold, “on fleek” brows are trending, my face needed a little extra oomph (like these ladies below).

Angela responded my emails quickly and even took the time to answer more questions over the phone. She walked me through the entire process, from booking to touch-ups, and made me feel completely at ease.

By the end of our call, I was ready to hop on her website and book an appointment. I knew that I would need to limit my sweating for at least the first week after the procedure, so I planned it for the Monday following my August photo shoot.

Getting Ready

I walked down the steps and into the studio, and was taken aback by the gorgeous setup. Everything is clean and beautifully simple at Ella Aesthetics, and I instantly felt at home. After a few intake forms, we were ready to get the ball rolling.

First, we took some time to figure out what I wanted out of my microblading. Did I want a more dramatic arch, thicker brow, darker color?

I personally wanted a longer tail (the corner that trails off toward the side of your face), higher arch, and deeper color. No problem, she said!

Angela then got to work on drawing my brow layout.

For you ladies considering microblading: NEVER let someone touch your face with a needle who hasn’t first drawn out a guide that you absolutely love. I’ve heard stories of the process being done freehand – while you might luck out, you also have no say in it beforehand. Choose someone who spends a bulk of the appointment measuring out your perfect brows first.

After meticulously drawing on and measuring my face, Angela showed me my ideal brow shape… and it was precisely what I had envisioned. (Sexy look, huh?) Now, it was time to slather on the numbing cream and let it sit while she tested out and custom mixed my perfect brow shade. Then, about 30 minutes later, we were ready to begin.

The Process

Angela had me lie back on her comfortable table while she got prepared. She showed me the brand new, disposable “blade” that she would be using on my brows – contrary to the name, it’s not even a blade. It’s a line of very fine needles that combine to create the gorgeous, wispy strokes that would imitate my natural brows. It didn’t look very intimidating at all!

I have a very high pain tolerance (my kids were born at home, without drugs, if that tells you anything), but I’ll admit: I was a little concerned about the pain, seeing as I’ve never had any procedures done to my face.

It didn’t hurt A BIT. High pain tolerance or not, it just didn’t hurt. The noise was the most bothersome part, and sounded a little like baby velcro being pulled. There were a few spots where I felt the pigmenting more than others, but even then it hurt infinitely less than tweezing or threading my brows. Easily tolerable, and we held a conversation the entire time.

Before I knew it, she was done. She let me sit up and handed me a mirror so I could inspect her work. I asked to move the inner brow a bit, so she spent another few minutes perfecting that to my specifications. Then, after my approval, she set the color.

This was done by coating my brows with excess pigment, pushing it into the new lines that she had created. This is to improve the number of strokes retained – with microblading, there are always a few lines lost in the healing process and some color will lighten. By letting additional pigment sit, it would improve my end result.

I’ll be honest, though, this part wasn’t as comfortable. The pigment has alcohol in it and my brows were just irritated enough from her work – it stung a bit while I laid back and waited, but it was just a couple minutes of discomfort. No worse than some facial masks or lip plumpers that I’ve used, but definitely the least comfortable part of the entire procedure.

Letting It Heal

Now that I had some sexy new microbladed brows, I had to treat them delicately for a couple weeks. In order to better my chances of a successful end result, I needed to keep them dry and make sure I didn’t scratch or rub them. This meant using makeup remover wipes for the first 3 days and being careful not to saturate them with water or sweat until they were healed (no cardio for a few days or, if I did run, I needed to use one of these bad boys).

If they got wet, I was to lightly dab them dry… no rubbing! If they itched as they healed (which, they did), I was to tap on them lightly. This helped quite a bit at soothing the itch, and before I knew it, the two weeks was up.

Now, I just need to wait a couple more weeks to head back for my touch-up. At this appointment, Angela will fill in any spots that didn’t take, as well as change anything about the brows that I would like to improve. I may have her raise my arch even more – she gave me perfect brows, but I am obsessed now and think I want to go even more dramatic. Who would’ve thought?

Common Questions

Some of the things I’ve been asked the most since mentioning my brow procedure:

Did it hurt?  Well, as you read above, it really didn’t. Once the numbing cream had worn off and the pigment was spread on to sit, it burned a bit. But it wasn’t intolerable – if extractions during a facial were considered an 8 (more like the 8th circle of hell, in my opinion), this was maybe a 3. Easy peasy.

What if they mess it up? It’s permanent!  Well, first off, it’s semi-permanent. But yes, it’s going to stick around for a while. You want to make sure you find someone who has been properly trained and has logged enough hours performing the process. Ask when they started and how many procedures they’ve done. Check out their online gallery and make sure that they’re practiced in creating the look you’re going for. If you want a subtle brow, don’t go with someone who only creates dramatic, Hollywood arches. And you can also ask around – ask your friends, ask the ladies at your local Sephora. A personal referral is a great, honest resource.

It’s so expensive… is it really worth the money?  Oh my goodness, yes yes yes! It is wonderful to be able to hop out of bed in the morning and feel made up. I can swim, work out, hit the sauna, take a shower, and my brows don’t go anywhere. No more worrying about powders and creams, constantly screwing up one brow and making it look different than the other. This is one beauty regimen that will become a bi-annual staple in my life (you need touchups every 18-24 months).

As for the cost, I personally feel it’s well-worth it. The amount of time and meticulous effort that goes into microblading is incredible. This is something you will show to the world every single day, which has its own inherent value.

**Plus, Ella Esthetics has been wonderful enough to extend a discount to my readers and social media followers! Until October 15, if you book through their website and put Steph50 in the comments, you will save $50 on your service. Angela is one of the most affordable artists in the DMV area already, so this is an amazing deal. It also includes your touch-up service, as long as that’s booked within 9 weeks of the first appointment.

Would I Do It Again?

Absolutely, and I’ll probably drag my mom to get hers done, too. The difference that a perfect brow can make for your entire face is profound – people may not realize what is different, but I guarantee they will notice something.

You’ll look more awake, more put together, and more glamorous, without even trying. Plus, for someone who works out 6 days a week, this is one part of my face that I won’t sweat off. To me, microblading is worth every penny.

Have you looked into microblading or semi-permanent makeup, like eyeliner? What are your biggest concerns?

 

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Nothing Blooms All Year

As so many of my competitor friends enter their offseasons, and as the holiday season quickly approaches, I have seen a lot of talk on social media about body image struggles. How hard it is for so many people to accept their bodies at their current stages, even though they look phenomenal.

It’s very difficult to watch your body transform as you lean out for a show or shoot, just to loosen up the reins and quickly gain back fluff. The average person who doesn’t “lean out” for a specific cause probably doesn’t understand the effect this has on your mind. It’s very different from being on a gradual fitness journey, where your body changes slowly and healthily over time. Where you know what to expect each day. While you are constantly dropping weight and size (or whatever your goal may be), it’s a slow process.

When “in prep,” whether for a photo shoot or a competition, athletes will drop substantial amounts of fat over a very short period of time. For some, this involves substantial caloric deficits and a lot of cardio. Honestly? The way many, many athletes approach this is not very healthy. (Of course, you can make the process as healthy as possible. You can also reverse diet wisely and enter a healthy offseason, where you build up your food intake and grow muscle. You CAN make it easier on your body.)

But I digress. My point is, it’s very difficult to watch your body change so rapidly over such a short span. To wake up each morning and not know what to expect when you look in the mirror, because the changes are happening so fast. Maybe your face shape changes. The shorts that always fit you perfectly are now slack around your waist. Maybe you have visible abs for the first time in your life. It’s exciting, but it’s fast and aggressive.

And, seemingly in a flash, it’s gone. Our face fills out a bit more and our abs soften. The pants that were hanging off our hips 2 weeks ago are snug again. How did 10, 12, 16 (or more!) weeks of hard work disappear in such a short period of time? It doesn’t seem fair. Add to that the fact that our social media feeds are flooded with gym selfies at juuussstttt the right angle. Tanned babes showing off their ab flexes with the perfect amount of lighting. The sad, soft, makeup-less reflections staring back at us in the morning seem even more inadequate than ever, thanks to Instagram.

We all hear it and many say it, but I think some of us don’t want to believe it deep in our minds. So I’m going to say it again, both for you and for me: it’s not possible to be “stage lean” year-round. Sure, there are some outliers who seem to be pretty dang lean most of the time — but how healthy are they? How is their metabolism and are their adrenals fatigued? Also, are they that lean simply because of diet and exercise, or is there more at play (ie: performance enhancing drugs)? You don’t know what goes on behind the curtain, but you must know that being in competition-ready shape just isn’t sustainable every day.

This applies to women especially. Our bodies require an essential body fat of about 12%, the minimum just for hormone regulation and metabolic function. And honestly? Our bodies reaaallllyy want us to hold onto a lot more than that.

For the vast majority of women, trying to maintain a “below average leanness” is a constant uphill battle. Our body will fight us every step of the way. If you’re on hormonal birth control, you’ll have an even harder time, as you are introducing additional hormones into your body that actually affect fat utilization and storage.

I say all of this merely as a reminder. “Nothing in nature blooms all year.”

Tulips emerge from the cold earth in early spring, throwing their bright colors against the remnants of snow. Lilies fill the air with their fragrant scent only when the temperature is just right. Roses bloom from their tight buds when the sunshine-filled seasons hit. In autumn, apple trees release their ripe fruit, and earthen vegetables are finally ready for harvest.

Would we appreciate all of these things if they stuck around all year? Would DC’s beautiful cherry blossoms mean nearly as much if they were ever-present? Could you really appreciate the act of harvest if it weren’t seasonal? Hell, who would honestly flock to Starbucks in March for a PSL (complete with a selfie, #fortheinsta), if they were available year-round?

Things hold more value in our lives when they are limited. We appreciate what we have a little more if we don’t always have it. It doesn’t mean that what we do have isn’t as wonderful or as beautiful. It just means that we can’t be in a constant state of “bloom.”

Now, I know I’m focusing on this in a physical, fitness-related sense, but this thinking really applies to EVERY aspect of your life. We go through periods of kicking ass in our jobs, only to fall into slumps where we drop all the wrong balls or feel stuck. Our relationships feel like a honeymoon for a little while, only to be rocked by periods where you’re constantly on each other’s nerves. Or maybe you have life perfectly on track and feel like Parent of the Year — life will 100% knock you down a peg by tossing you a curveball, and you’ll feel like an utter failure for a little while. Sometimes, we flipflop between these highs and lows from day-to-day, even!

No matter where you are, it’s important to find some pride in what you are doing. Maybe you didn’t rock that meeting this morning as hoped, but your awesome efforts have increased sales this quarter. Maybe you have had a bad week and didn’t make it to the gym once, but you still packed your meals and stayed on track. Or maybe you’ve gotten your kids to school late every single day this week, but hey, at least their folders were signed and they had on clean clothes.

Find pride in your achievements, rather than focusing on the shortfalls.

So, love where you were when you competed or had your photo shoot or leaned out for your sister’s wedding. But also, love where you are right now. Love where you’ll be after eating pumpkin pie with your grandma this Thanksgiving. And love the fluff after sharing cocoa and cookies with your nephews this Christmas Eve. Celebrate birthdays and engagements and promotions, and eat that slice of cake.

Don’t abandon your goals, of course, but remember that life is all about balance. If you’re dedicated to a healthy lifestyle, you can maintain that while still enjoying life.

If your goal is a certain kind of training, of course you should stick with it. THAT is what should make you most proud right now. Your efforts toward your goals and the things that drive you — six pack or no six pack, that shouldn’t change. But we all need mental breaks and our bodies need breaks, too.

You can still be driving down the same highway, even if you’re just coasting for a few miles.

You won’t always be at your peak, but that’s what makes  your peak so special.

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Homemade Muscle Rub for Aches and Pains

We’ve all been there. A new workout routine, lengthy training session, or even just sleeping wrong has left us sore and achy. Whether your pain is caused by DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or you have sore shoulders from sitting at your desk, a nice muscle rub can be just what you need.

Of course, there are a number of popular rubs on the shelves already. Many of them smell awful, though, or contain ingredients like PEG-150 distearate and propylene glycol (used as a solvent in paints and plastics, as well as an antifreeze in various industries). I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t want to rub that onto the largest organ in my body.

Enter, my homemade muscle rub.

If you’re a mom, particularly a health-conscious one, you’ll probably have most of these ingredients lying around already. If not, you may need to pick up a couple things first. You can find almost all of these at your local grocery or, worst-case scenario, a Whole Foods. I’ve also included Amazon links to options for each ingredient, in case you’re like me and rely heavily on that blue Prime-taped box on your porch each day.

Once you gather your ingredients, the balm is very easy to make. Plus, it keeps for close to a year when stored properly.

What’s In It?

Coconut oilI prefer virgin, unrefined, and cold-pressed, which I buy at either Whole Foods or on Amazon. This provides a smooth base for the soothing oils, and helps maintain the balm’s texture at lower temperatures while allowing it to be easily rubbed in when warmed in the hands. (buy it here)

Shea Buttersoothes and softens skin (buy it here)

Beeswaxmainly for textural purposes, to keep the balm from getting too runny (buy it here)

Cayennethis will warm the skin and increase blood flow to the area, stimulating circulation and healing. The added topical heat will also soothe your muscle pain directly. (buy it here)

Gingeran anti-inflammatory that will reduce pain and inflammation when applied topically. It’s even been studied regarding its wonderful effects on osteoarthritis pain! (buy it here)

Camphorincreases metabolic activity at the site and improves circulation. Also, camphor has a slight anesthetic effect, so pain will immediately begin to subside upon application. (buy it here)

Peppermintthis menthol-based oil is a refrigerant, meaning that it will immediately cool the area once it’s applied. This provides a soothing effect and pain relief. It’s also believed that the presence of calcium antagonism in peppermint oil actually encourages the body to reduce its nerve response to an area, decreasing the pain signals your body is sending. (buy it here)

**If you were feeling particularly adventurous, you could add extra ingredients like arnica, which is great for bruising and swelling. I have used arnica after surgery and on my kids’ bruised knees. It’s even great for facial swelling and pain after removing your wisdom teeth!

Let’s get started…

Homemade Muscle Rub – A soothing balm to relieve pain, encourage healing, and promote circulation. Great for sore muscle, injuries, as well as general aches and pains.

Ingredients

  1. ¼ c coconut oil
  2. ¼ c shea butter
  3. 2 Tbsp grated beeswax
  4. 2 tsp ground cayenne
  5. 1 tsp ground ginger
  6. 10-15 drops Peppermint oil (you can add more if you’d like, once you test the balm)
  7. 10-15 drops Camphor (same as above)
  8. Small pot and heat-safe, glass bowl that can rest on top
  9. -or- small pot with a double broiler
  10. Coffee filter or fine cheesecloth
  11. Glass jar

Instructions

  1. Fill the pot with a small amount of water and bring to a simmer. Place the glass bowl or double broiler on top of the pot, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom.
  2. Place the coconut oil and shea butter to the glass bowl and stir until it’s all melted together. Add the cayenne and ginger, and allow the mixture to heat together for 15 minutes. Then, add the grated beeswax and stir in until it’s well-incorporated.
  3. Place a strainer and coffee filter over your glass jar, or secure fine cheesecloth over the top with a rubber band (leaving a bit of slack in the cloth so that the mixture doesn’t spill over the edge of the jar when you pour). Slowly pour the melted oil mixture, ensuring that you allow it enough time to filter. You don’t want it to all overflow.
  4. After all of the liquid is in the jar and the spices have bee strained out, add your camphor and peppermint oils. Stir well.
  5. Allow the mixture to set at room temperature for at least an hour, then cover with a lid. You can continue storing the jar at room temp or move the mixture to the refrigerator.
  6. To apply: allow the mixture to warm up to room temperature, then take a small amount in your hand. Rub into the sore area in a circular motion, being sure to really work the balm into your tissues.Reapply as needed.
  7. **Do not allow the rub to come in contact with your eyes, and keep out of reach of children for the same reason.*

Note: You can keep at room temperature for 2-4 months or in the fridge for up to 10 months.

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Addicted: How I’m Kicking My Sugar Habit

Can I confess something to you guys?

I have a problem with self control. A big problem. Well, actually, let’s narrow that down a bit: I am addicted to sugar.

Sure, there are bigger confessions out there. This is one that I have trouble admitting to myself, though, let alone to a bunch of folks on the internet. But as someone with a fitness-based social media presence, who writes a blog centered around “balance,” I feel it’s my obligation to be honest about this.

Sweets have always been my kryptonite. No matter how much I try, practice, learn, or preach about it, I haven’t been able to conquer this problem. Becoming natural-minded has helped (it’s hard to justify a king size Snickers — or three — to yourself when you vehemently detest high fructose corn syrup, and won’t let your kids even touch it). So has starting an IIFYM lifestyle, where I track my macros each day. But even after years of trying to kick the habit, I still fall off the wagon way too often.

For those of you unfamiliar with IIFYM, it stands for If It Fits Your Macros. This is a practice of tracking your food each day, and trying to stay within set goals for both macronutrients (fat, protein, carb) and micronutrients (such as fiber or sugar).

It’s An Addiction

They say that sugar affects the brain the same as cocaine. And you know what? I believe it. I wouldn’t know from experience, as I’ve never gotten into drugs (they always terrified me), but I can imagine that the cravings I have are similar to those induced by recreational drugs.

Here’s a PET scan of a brain on cocaine, compared with one on a high dose of glucose (sugar). Notice a big difference? Yeah, me neither.

Large amounts of sugar fire off the same dopamine receptors as cocaine, giving the snacker a similar high. Unfortunately, over time, these dopamine levels are reduced, so it requires more and more sugar to reach the same level of pleasure and even ward off periods of depression. Similar, of course, to drug addicts – you need more and more of your “drug” to get the same high that was so easy to get in the beginning.

In fact, there is an alarming amount of scientific research to back up this sugar/drug comparison. For example, a study conducted at Connecticut University exposed lab rats to cocaine and morphine, two highly addictive chemicals. When later given the option between Oreos and the drugs they were already familiar with (and drawn to), the furry creatures were split down the middle. Half of the drug-addicted rats were perfectly content making the switch to chocolatey, cream-filled cookies, no longer needing chemicals to get high.

Does it alarm you that these furry creatures were able to get their fix from Oreos just as readily they could from liquid cocaine? It should. It should actually terrify you.

Additionally, the rats were later given a test to measure the expression of the protein “c-Fos.” This protein is a known marker that is released when a particular area of the brain – the one that controls the feeling of pleasure — is stimulated. Wanna guess what they found? The Oreos beat out both drugs by a long shot. As far as your brain is concerned, America’s favorite cookie is more pleasurable than coke.

Add to this the fact that high sugar diets and sugar addictions lead, quite directly, to high cholesterol and diabetes. Yet another study from the CDC found that, by 2050, anywhere from 21-33% of Americans will have diabetes.

So, How Much is Too Much?

Unless you already track your macros, the idea of keeping a tally of how much sugar you eat in a day is probably a strange idea. Even if you just try to stay cognizant of your sweets intake, it’s highly unlikely that you even realize how much you’re eating.

Sugar is in everything. Absolutely everything. Do you buy pasta sauce? Sugar is often one of the top 5 ingredients. Eat your lunchtime tuna sandwich on seemingly-healthy bread? Even the most expensive, seeded, organic, whole wheat breads are often loaded with sugar. Applesauce – made from a naturally sweet fruit – is typically full of sugar, without need. It’s everywhere.

Some sugars are more detrimental that others. White, refined, process sugar is obviously worse for your body than the sugars found in blueberries. Why, though? Well, it has a lot to do with the fact that natural sugars are typically accompanied by phenols and fiber. When you eat an apple, you’re not just consuming a bunch of sugar; you’re also getting a dose of various phenols that have antioxidant properties within the body.

The fiber found in the fruit and skin also aid in digestion and blood sugar regulation. So, you’re actually combating your subsequent blood sugar spike by eating fibrous fruits versus added-sugar foods. And, by doing so, you’re actually offsetting your risk of developing diabetes, even though you’re consuming fructose (natural sugar).

In fact, yet another study, conducted by the University of London, found that high-fiber diets (30+ grams per 1,000 kcal consumed) can even help prevent Type 2 diabetes, oxidative stress, heart disease, and strokes, among others.

Of course, even fruit should be eaten in moderation, but it is infinitely better for curbing that sweet tooth than added sugars. I personally try to keep my total amount of tracked sugar below 35 grams a day (around 50g for men). This is very difficult, and I don’t often meet my goal… but shooting for that low number means I can significantly reduce my intake each day.

As long as I stay between 35-50 grams, I’m generally pretty happy (and avoid the negative side effects like fatigue, bloating, and irritability).

How to Kick the Habit

I’m probably not the best person to ask, as I haven’t yet conquered by sugar demon. I have, however, found a number of things that have helped me get better about it and will, eventually, allow me to beat my sugar addiction once and for all.

First and foremost, I would recommend that you educate yourself. As the saying goes, “Know thy enemy.” That’s the only way you will know what you’re fighting, why you’re fighting it, and what will work best in your battle for improved health and empowerment.

Find books that will educate you on the effects of sugar and its addictive effects. These three have been my favorites, one of which I read over 5 years ago when I first started this journey:

Figure out what your goal is. Do you want more energy and to decrease your risk of certain diseases? Do you want to move toward an entirely sugar-free life? Or do you just want to get to a point of balance, where you can eat sweets on special occasions but have the self control to stop at one slice, or avoid a week-long sugar binge? Knowing your goals is just as important with this journey as with any other.

Improve your gut health. Many sugar cravings are caused by candida (yeast) overgrowth in our guts. This can be improved by eating more alkaline foods, avoiding sugars and other carbs that feed this yeast, taking probiotics, and other gut healing approaches such as adding bone broth, organic gelatin, and biotin to your diet.

Get more sleep. Sleep deprivation — something I also struggle with — leads your body to seek “quick” sources of usable energy. The easiest? Sugars. When you haven’t slept enough and are running low on energy, you’ll often subconsciously run to junk foods and sugars that your body can convert to quick energy. Sleeping longer and on a regular schedule can ward off many sugar cravings.

Drink more water. Many hunger pangs are actually just dehydration signals. If you aren’t drinking enough water, you may feel the urge to snack when you’re not even actually hungry. This is a huge issue if you’re tracking food, sticking to a meal plan or diet, or want to stay away from “snack foods,” many of which contain high amounts of sugar, salt, or fat. Be sure you’re drinking a minimum of half your body weight in ounces each day, to stay adequately hydrated.

If you think you could use help, find a functional medicine doctor. They are well-versed in natural approaches and understand the underlying cause of things like sugar addiction. They are also very competent when it comes to improving gut health, and can help you improve your whole body health. The gut, as we are quickly learning, holds the key to many illnesses and diseases. Poor gut health is a sure ticket to cancers, heart disease, and a host of other problems. Keeping your gut happy and balanced will keep your entire body balanced.

What About Artificial Sugars and Sweeteners?

We’ve all seen “sugar free” foods that are still sweet. How can these exist? Well, they use a number of artificial or replacement sweeteners to please your palate, many of which may be even worse for you than refined sugar.

What NOT To Buy?

Of course, we’ve got a number of controversial artificial sweeteners that are now being studied to determine just how dangerous they are to our bodies. These include acesuflame potassium (marketed as Sweet One® and Sunett®), aspartame (Equal®, Nutrasweet®, Sugar Twin®), neotame (Newtame®), and saccharine (Sweet’N’Low®, Sweet Twin®, Necta Sweet®). Many of them have been found to cause headaches, visual and mental disturbances, and even kidney damage with prolonged use. I don’t know about you, but I would rather not even chance it.

There are even some “natural” sweeteners that I would avoid when you can. Some people use agave as a healthy alternative, but it actually has more fructose than processed table sugar. Sure, it might be healthier for you from a processing standpoint. As far as your blood sugar is concerned, though, you could be eating a spoonful of white sugar and it wouldn’t make a difference.

The same goes with honey, from a glycemic index standpoint (how quickly it raises your blood sugar). However, I am a strong supporter of raw, local honey for its myriad of health benefits, including enzymes, antioxidants, and local pollen (which can help substantially for those who get seasonal allergies!). I talk about honey’s benefits a bit in my recent face mask recipe post. As long as it’s used in moderation — and you only use unheated, unprocessed, completely raw, and LOCAL kinds — honey is worth keeping in the cabinet.

What SHOULD I Use?

Safer alternatives do exist. My favorite, and the seemingly-safest choice around, is Sweet Leaf®. This product is made from the stevia plant, which is naturally about 200 times sweeter than sugar. There are many stevia products out there. Some of them are so processed, though, that they actually contain very little stevia by the time they’re packaged/

A product called Truvia® is very popular, but it actually goes through a 42 step production process. This includes chemical extraction using solvents. By the time it makes it to your cabinet, it actually contains less than 1% of stevia. I would stay far, far away from these.

Sweet Leaf® is one of the most readily found versions out there, and not only has 0 calories and 0 carbs, and most importantly, no glycemic index. This means that it will not spike your blood sugar, as many sweeteners still can. It’s very sweet, remember, so a tiny sprinkle goes a looonnggg way. I buy the convenient little packets and put the tiniest amount in my coffee or on toast with cinnamon.

There are other brands of stevia that go through very little processing, but many of them are not FDA approved (don’t let that hold too much weight with you, however. The FDA approved quite a bit that can harm your body, while denying approval to many natural foods and supplements).

The best stevia, and the type that is closest to the actual plant, would be a green stevia powder. One good brand out there is Organic Traditions. Note, though, that some people find that natural stevia has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is still very sweet, though, and not everyone notices this. But, I wanted to mention it.

The Takeaway

Here’s my biggest advice to you, for your health and your waistline. Train yourself to enjoy foods that aren’t drippingly-sweet. Support your gut bacteria and control any gut yeast overgrowth with pre- and probiotics. Eat fermented foods (like kombucha, kefir, skyr, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.). And try to find out if, like me, there seems to be some sort of emotional or psychological trigger causing your sugar cravings.

This added component, combined with the physiological craving that a sugar addiction causes, can make kicking the habit nearly impossible.

Sound off below: do you have issues with sugar? What do you find to be your biggest triggers, and how have you worked to combat the problem?

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Pleased to Meet You

Hello, and welcome to my site! I am excited to start this blog and get to share things with you all.

In case you don’t know me — or ever wanted to know more — this first post is going to be a little bit of an introduction. While social media (my preferred medium) allows us to share everything from our lunch to our pedicure, it doesn’t let us really learn about the person behind the handle.

So, I want you to get to know me better, and hope you’ll comment, follow the blog, and even email me. I want to get to know all of you, too.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Me

  1. I’m a mom to two little boys, who are my absolute world. I’m a bit of a “crunchy” mom, which has been a purposeful process over the last few years. What does this mean? My kids have fought over kale chips before and I would raise hens in my backyard if I could (fresh, pastured eggs are the BEST!). I hate kombucha, drive a gas-guzzling SUV, and will still inhale a pint of Ben & Jerry’s without thinking twice, though, so I’m not completely converted just yet. I like to think that I’m a nice balance of crunchy and practical.
  2. Being a doctor was my childhood dream, right up to my first year of med school. My degree is in pre-med Biology, and I was an EMT in college, but I don’t actually do anything related to medicine or science now. I miss it, but I can’t imagine living that demanding life now – I enjoy raising my boys so much more.
  3. I have two jobs (well, three if you count “mom”). The first is my entrepreneurial baby: a letterpress print and design company that I founded in 2009. What’s letterpress? Think Gutenberg. I print very pretty artisan wedding invitations and stationery with a 1900lb cast iron press, which was built in 1894. Oh, and I spent a year completely rebuilding it on my own. #humblebrag
  4. My other job is my actual dream job, and something I never thought I could make money doing. Early last year, I became the lead editor for a pretty awesome company, a finance group which publishes about personal finance and investing (we manage a number of websites and also write for Forbes). It’s not my biggest strength (finance), admittedly, but having this job has forced me to learn a lot. I’ve been completely out of my comfort zone a few times; however, I have not only become quite savvy with personal finance, but I’m making money writing, editing, and doing what I love!
  5. Don’t ask me my favorite dessert. Because if you do, I’ll have to tell you that it was the tiramisu from this tiny little shack in Cinque Terre, Italy. Then, I’ll get sad because the little old lady who made it probably won’t be there by the time I go back (someone want to send me?).
  6. …but, like, I also love anything chocolate.
  7. I can start an IV, intubate you, change your oil, tile your shower, and then cook you a delicious dinner. I’m a jack of all trades and I love it. (Thanks, Dad, for making me a tomboy!)
  8. I’ve been writing a novel for a while now. It’s on my bucket list to finish and (maybe) even publish it. Of course, that may take me a few more years.
  9. I’ve been scuba diving since I was 3 (not exaggerating) and my claim to fame is that the very first children’s wetsuit ever was made for me back in the 80s. Also on the bucket list is a trip to Micronesia, to swim with manta rays in Palau. I’m hoping that my dad and I can make it out there in the next year or two!
  10. I’m a night owl, and have been since I was a child. My best creative work comes to me between 11pm-2am, so you’ll almost always find me up late. It doesn’t make the busy mornings any easier, but it’s a habit I can’t seem to break.

So, there you have it. Ten things that you may not have known about me, whether you wanted them or not. Now, tell me something about you!

[Outfit shown on top is by Affitnity]

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