Changing for the better, one bite and (deep) breath at a time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Healthy Solutions for Pregnancy

Staying healthy during pregnancy - or any time in life - can be challenging when you're juggling work, family, social obligations, housework, and (gasp) down time.  Pregnancy is an especially important time during which health and self care are imperative, but it also tends to be one of the most difficult times to stay well.  Pregnant women are usually tired, sore, and may suffer from swelling, varicose veins, digestive issues, and allergies, all of which make them feel less than top notch.

Now that I'm 36 weeks pregnant and counting down the days until we meet our little girl, I wanted to share some tips and techniques that have helped me stay healthy during the last 9 months.  I tried to avoid medications (a wicked sinus infection in October resulted in antibiotics, however), and we're hoping for as few interventions as possible in labor and delivery.   However, it would have been impossible to feel as good as I have without these lifesavers!  (Of course, for anything listed below, make sure to talk to your practitioner first.  Every woman - and every pregnancy - is different.)

Check out these older posts to find out more about pregnancy, including making healthy choices and choosing supplements:

Prepping for Pregnancy
Nutrition in the First Trimester
Food Diary of a Pregnant Dietitian

Here I was a few days ago at 36 weeks along:

1. Neti Pot.

Sinusitis and rhinitis of pregnancy are no joke, especially in Arizona.  I have always had allergies that I could manage using a fantastic natural antihistamine called Antronex, but I really struggled with allergy issues during pregnancy.  One thing that really helped was regular use of a neti pot, which allows you to irrigate your nasal passages using a special solution of water.  Take 1 cup of lukewarm filtered water (either distilled or reverse osmosis - I heat mine up in a glass measuring cup in the microwave) and add 1/4 teaspoon of Celtic sea salt and 1-2 drops of tea tree oil, a natural antimicrobial.  Don't mess around with regular tap water; you don't want to introduce any bacteria or other teeny critters to your sinus cavities.

Tilt your head to the side and touch the spout to one nostril to allow the solution to pour through.  The water will pour out the other nostril (yes, gross but effective).  Lean forward far enough over a sink for the solution to go through your sinus passages, not down your throat, and if it burns, stop - either the temperature or the solution is not correct.  It should feel soothing, not torturous.  After the entire cup of solution has passed through, I recommend staying tilted to the side for about 30 seconds to make sure that all the fluid comes out of your sinus cavity.

If you have allergies or finding yourself coming down with a cold, give the neti pot a try.  You might feel like a complete weirdo, but it can be very effective.

2. Exercise, especially Karve.

Pre-pregnancy I was training to be  a Karve instructor and thus took 5-6 classes on top of 4 hours of training per week.  I also walked 50-60 minutes per day with my dogs.  Pregnancy has certainly slowed me down.  My daily walks are between 30 and 40 minutes with no jogging intervals, and I take Karve about twice a week and teach twice a week.  At this point, I can only stay for about half of class, but I feel that it's important to keep my upper body and legs as strong as possible.  (For  more information about Karve during pregnancy, check out this page.)

It's amazing how much exercise in general has helped me maintain flexibility, strength, and general mobility.  Karve has been especially beneficial.  It's safe for all levels of fitness and is low impact while being challenging enough for even the most experienced exerciser.  Even better, my doc has given the green light for beginning just weeks after birth (barring any complications) because it is so safe.  If you don't have Karve in your area (mainly, Arizona and Utah), check out other barre classes such as Bar Method, Pure Barre, and Dailey Method.  Prenatal yoga, swimming, and cardio machines and classes are also great options.

Many women are fearful of exercise during pregnancy or see these critical nine months as a time to just relax and stop moving their body.  Unless you have particular restrictions, however, exercise is even more important during pregnancy than ever before.  If you're thinking about kids in the next few years, try to solidify a workout routine now so you have healthy habits in place by the time you want to be a mom.  It will make exercise during pregnancy much easier and safer.  Plus, it will help you gain weight healthfully and regain your physique after baby.

3. Prenatal (or regular) massage.

Massage Envy and other chains make regular massage an affordable reality, but massage is much different during pregnancy.  After the first trimester, laying on your stomach during a massage is not recommended, and a lot of therapists are extremely cautious about using any pressure.  Before I found my favorite prenatal therapist at Massage Envy in North Scottsdale, Ashley, I felt as if I was being pet like a puppy dog.  Now that I have found my go-to girl, massage is just as enjoyable, if not more, than it was pre-baby.  I lay on my side with supportive pillows and drift into a relaxed, blissful state.  It's glorious.  Plus, it helps with sore muscles, bachaches, and general stress.

If you are wary of massage chains or prenatal massage, I would recommend asking other clients or talking to management at your facility.  I had to experience a few less than wonderful therapists before finding my wonderful Ashley, and now I will never look back!  Plus, at $39 for an hour, a price I locked in four years ago, it's insanely affordable. 

4. Healthy solutions for cravings.

Pregnancy cravings can be pretty strong, especially if you're not able to fulfill the cravings.  I still really, REALLY want a dirty martini and a plate of sashimi.  However, it's imperative to try to find healthy (and less dangerous) options to satisfy what you want.   I'll select cooked fish rolls like shrimp and unagi if we go out for sushi, and I'll ask for a small plate of olives or pickles if I can't squash my hankering for that dirty martini.

While healthy eating is important, listening to your body and honoring what you're really craving is critical.  If you really, really want a cookie but choose an apple or a few pretzels, you may feel so deprived that you eventually eat 3 or 4 cookies after all.  I have been known to bake an entire batch of gluten free peanut butter cookies just so I can have one or two - that's how serious a craving can be.  (My coworkers have really enjoyed my pregnancy cravings as well).  When you eat anything, especially something as delicious and rich as a really good dessert, make sure to slow down and savor each bite.  It will taste even better, and you fill find that satisfaction factor more quickly.

Sometimes cravings aren't as specific to a particular food as they are to a general flavor.  I have been a big fan of anything chocolate during this pregnancy.  That's why I make sure to have 70% + dark chocolate bars at home and at work in case I need a square (or more).  Every week or two I make a healthier chocolate dessert like my healthy fudge, cashew butter cups, or no bake bars

5. Coconut oil and Thorne Manuka Therapy Hand Cream.

My skin is usually dry during the winter months, and it has been especially dry (and itchy!) this last trimester.  I lathered up with plain ol' coconut oil (the dogs were thrilled) for a few days and the itching has disappeared.  This may not work for everyone, but it was a simple and inexpensive solution for me.

Since the beginning of my pregnancy I have used Thorne Manuka Therapy Hand Cream on my stomach and other stretch mark-prone areas.  It's organic and doesn't contain parabens, endocrine disruptors, or allergens, and it's much cheaper than tummy butters on the market.  So far, so good - not a stretch mark in sight!
6. Back roller.

I have had upper back tightness and pain for years.  When it was really bad, I would also have heart burn.  My chiropractor recommended this wooden back roller that hits pressure points along the spine.  I started using it daily about 4 months ago, and my upper back pain has vanished.  When I first started using it, I could feel it work out some tightness in the muscles along my spine, and it was slightly uncomfortable.  Now I can feel that my spine is relaxed and the muscles are loose, and I use the roller a few times a week for maintenance. 

To use it most effectively, place the roller on carpet and lay down so that your spine is in the center groove.  Prop yourself up on your elbows and roll up and down over the roller.  You can use it from your neck to your low back, but I mainly focus on my mid- to upper-back.

7. Boppy Prenatal Total Body Pillow.

My wonderful mama friend Mary told me about her Boppy brand Prenatal Total Body Pillow before I got pregnant.  She promised it would be one of the best purchases I could make; she was right.  I bought one at around 8 weeks and use it every night.  It helps me stay sleeping on my side comfortably.  Put the lower half between your legs, and the upper half can be used to support your tummy and head.  My dogs even like it, and I'll find Greg sleeping on it "inadvertently" as well.

This is me with my Boppy pillow in the first trimester.  I was so nauesous that I took it out of the bag and laid down on the floor.  I may be smiling, but I wasn't feeling too happy at this point...

8. Early bedtime. 

I am and have always been a morning person.  I teach Karve at 6 am, so it was not unusual for me to wake up at 4:15 to squeeze in a walk before my class.  As pregnancy progressed, I pushed back my wake-up time to 5 am on days I taught and 6 am when I didn't.  However, the most important change has been going to bed early.  I aim for 8 to 8 1/2 hours per night, meaning that sometimes I'm in bed around 8:30 or 9 pm.  I fall asleep instantly, so I know that my body needs the rest.  It's another way in which your body tells you what it needs as you're making another human.

Ample sleep has helped me fight off colds and have energy to stay active and maintain my normal routine.  I figure I won't be getting much sleep for many years to come, so I might as well enjoy it while I can.  Fortunately it still is easy for me to sleep soundly with my growing belly - I'm wondering when or if that will change. 

9. Soap Creek Company Lip Mend.

Sometimes I receive free products from health and nutrition companies.  A few weeks ago I found Soap Creek Company's Lip Mend in Moist Mint in my mailbox.  It's made of only moisturizing oils like coconut and jojoba, along with beeswax and vitamin E, and it works wonders on chapped winter lips. I think I'm addicted to it already.



Sunday, December 2, 2012

The "World's Best Chicken"

I love Pinterest recipe inspirations, especially those that are relatively healthy and easy to make.  This chicken dish, named the "World's Best Chicken" and highly rated by those who have pinned and repinned it, was a hit at our house.  In fact, I have already made it a few times.  Since the ingredients are minimal, it's a great go-to dish to have on standby.

Maple syrup is one of my preferred sweeteners, since it is high in manganese and zinc, two crucial minerals that are important cofactors in a variety of physiologic reactions.  It may also be helpful for your immune system and good for male reproductive health.  When choosing sweeteners, I try to stick to those that are minimally processed and exist in nature, preferably honey, maple syrup, stevia, sugar in the raw, and small amounts of agave nectar.

World's Best Chicken


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs (use organic)
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together mustard, syrup, and vinegar.  Note: I doubled the recipe.

Place chicken breasts into 9×13 greased baking dish. Season with salt & pepper.  

Pour mustard mixture over chicken. Make sure each breast is coated.  No need to marinate.

Bake for about 35-50 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 165 degrees.  Err on the longer side if you want it a little more baked in. There will be extra sauce in the pan, which you can elect to toss out or use for extra flavoring.  Season with rosemary.

Serve with some roasted veggies and in our case, some sweet potato soup, for a well-rounded and warming meal.