Nerd Out: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

My latest assignment for my Master’s in Holistic Nutrition was to write a paper about a gastrointestinal disorder. I chose Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as it ranks up there as one of the most prevalent chronic disorders people experience. If you’d like to nerd out with me, continue reading:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is defined as chronic inflammation of the large intestine and presents itself through a cluster of symptoms, including abdominal pain, spasms, bloating, gas, and abnormal bowel movements (Lipski, 2012, p.286). Because there is a spectrum within the symptoms (mild to severe), and because the symptoms fluctuate over time, it is often challenging to differentiate between IBS and normal variations of the gastrointestinal tract (Rakel, 2018, p.423). Stress has proven to play an integral part in the flare-up of IBS, providing a psychosocial perspective to treatment (Rakel, 2018, p.423), although some experts prefer to categorize it as a disorder of the gut-brain axis rather than as a psychiatric disorder (Kohlstadt, 2012, 261). A diagnosis is made due to its chronic nature (at least 6 months’ duration) (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.261), by excluding pathology, and including some or all of the symptoms of abdominal pain/discomfort, bloating, and diarrhea/constipation (Rakel, 2018, p.423).

Specifically, the Rome III Criteria for Irritable Bowel Syndrome defines IBS as at symptoms lasting at least three months, with onset at least six months previously of recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort associated with two or more of the following: Improvement with defecation; Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool; And/or onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.262). This, with the absence of weight loss, anemia, and rectal bleeding, support the diagnosis of IBS (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.261).

Also prevalent amidst the cluster of symptoms may be nausea, anorexia, hypersecretion of colonic mucus, restless leg syndrome, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue, irritable bladder, and dyspareunia (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557). IBS is often seen in patients with a history of sexual abuse and/or sexual dysfunction, fibromyalgia, urinary frequency and urgency, poor sleep, menstrual difficulties, lower back pain, and insomnia (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557).

IBS is cited as the most common GI disorder seen in general practice, representing 30%-50% of all referrals to gastroenterologists (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557). Women are diagnosed twice as often as men, which might be due to men under-reporting symptoms (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557), and is more prevalent in Caucasian persons than others. Early studies demonstrate that IBS patients tend to have an enhanced stress responsiveness that presents higher morning cortisol levels and an inability to turn off the stress response, both which have been shown to increase intestinal permeability and inflammation (Rakel, 2018, p.429).  

There are three subgroups of IBS under which patients are categorized: constipation predominant (IBS-C), diarrhea predominant (IBS-D), or mixed (IBS-M) (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.261).  Risk factors may be environmental, genetic, or both (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.262). Several conditions, including food allergies, infections, poor diet, and metabolic disorders mimic the symptoms of IBS and must be ruled out in order to make the diagnosis.

The etiology of IBS is unclear, although it frequently occurs in concert with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Leaky Gut Syndrome (Lipski, 2012, p.287). IBS can also be caused by stressors to the gut as mentioned above, leading to an over-active inflammatory response in the mucosal tissue of the large intestine (Lipski, 2012, p.288). Parasites and candida overgrowth may also play a role in IBS, and women may experience increased symptoms around their menstrual periods (Lipski, 2012, p.288). Chronic stress, dysregulated immune response, dysbiosis, overconsumption of alcoholic beverages, certain medications such as NSAIDs and birth control pills, and even lectins have been implicated in the chronic inflammation characteristic of IBS (Lipski, 2012, p. 46-47) (Rakel, 2018, p.423).

Allopathic approaches to IBS focus on three main therapies: increasing fiber in diet, probiotics, and antibiotic therapy (Rifaxamin), especially if SIBO is indicated (Lipski, 2012, p.287) (Rakel, 2018, p.430). Another pharmaceutical, oral Cromolyn (brand name Gastrocrom), is used to control the release of GI-irritating substances from mast cells in the GI tract (  And with the mind-body connection to IBS, tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are an option for patients with IBS-D (Rakel, 2018, p.430).

For IBS-C, a diet high in fiber (25-30 grams per day, preferably insoluble fiber such as in oats and psyllium), and low in fat help with stool bulking and intestinal motility (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.272).  Pharmaceuticals such as 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), Lubiprostone, Tegaserod, and Renzapride may be indicated soften the stool and relax the gut. (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.265) (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1560).

Anticholinergic agents are used to reduce abdominal cramping and smooth muscle spasms (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.266). Peppermint oil is gaining traction in the allopathic medical community as another option for relaxation of the smooth muscle in the GI tract as well as for mediation of other symptoms (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.266) (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1560).

Broad-spectrum probiotics are recommended to repopulate the intestinal microbiome with optimal rather than pathogenic gut microflora, decrease fermentation, and stimulate proper immune function (Rakel, 2018, p.427) (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1559).

Antibiotic therapy, specifically Rifaxamin, has been found to significantly improve IBS symptoms, especially in IBS-D patients and those with comorbid SIBO (Rakel, 2018, p.430).

All types of IBS may benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and/or hypnotherapy to help with accompanying anxiety and depression (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.271).

The above-mentioned approaches are based on an extensive medical history, including frequency of abdominal pains, gas, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Lab tests may include a comprehensive stool analysis, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, free thyroid T3 hormone levels, and antiendomysial antibody testing for celiac disease (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557).  The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) allergen challenge test or the ELISA IgE/IgG4 test are sometimes used to detect food allergies (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1558).

IBS-D type symptoms may indicate a panendoscopy with duodena, colonic, and terminal ileal biopsies to rule out celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and colitis (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557). Additional stool testing for eosinophilic cationic proteins may be indicated if food allergy is suspected (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557). Finally, screening for occult fecal blood, flexible sigmoidoscopy/colonoscopy are also options to rule out other causes (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1557).

Integrative approaches take a broader approach to diagnosis and treatment. Assessments such as a health history questionnaire are combined with a comprehensive discussion and/or physical assessment, and include all of the inclusions and exclusions as a diagnostic tool as listed previously. Family medical history is noted, as there may be a genetic link (Rakel, 2018, p.423). A food journal and dietary history is collected to detect possible food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies (Lipski, 2012, p.288-289), as well as helps determine detrimental dietary choices and eating patterns.

Breath tests, including the SIBO breath test (or the Hydrogen-Methane test), the Lactose-Intolerance/Lactose Malabsorption test, the Fructose Intolerance/Fructose Malabsorption test, and/or the Sucrose Intolerance/Sucrose Malabsorption test are utilized to detect gut sensitivities to sugars, and are especially indicated if leaky gut or SIBO are suspected (What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome, 2019,  (Lipski, 2012, p.289) (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.272). Organic acid testing is also a possibility, providing an evaluation of intestinal yeast and bacteria (Lipski, 2012, p.289), and an HCl challenge test can detect decreased gastric acid production (Rakel, 2018, p.430).

Permeability, or leaky gut issues can also be assessed using a lactulose-mannitol urine test or with positive IgG food antibody testing (Rakel, 2018, p.423).

A comprehensive digestive stool analysis including parasitology is recommended, as candida overgrowth and parasites are often overlooked causes of IBS (Lipski, 2012, p.288).

An elimination diet and subsequent food challenge helps identify triggering foods (Rakel, 2018, p.426). Introducing therapeutic dietary systems (FODMaPs/fermentable carbohydrates avoidance, GAPS, Paleo, low-sugar, dairy-free, gluten-free, lectin-free, caffeine-free, alcohol-free, etc.), based on individual needs often provides symptomatic relief (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013, p.1558, 1559) (Lipski, 2012, p.289) (Rakel, 2018, p.426) (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.269). It is important to note that artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, maltitol, or xylitol may worsen bloating and diarrhea in IBS patients so should be avoided (Kohlstadt, 2012, p.270-271).

Increasing fiber with psyllium seeds, flaxseed, or hemp seed is recommended, as well as adding a broad-spectrum probiotic that includes lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (Lipski, 2012, p.290). Eliminating dairy foods, sugar, fruit, honey, and maple syrup may ease symptoms (Lipski, 2012, p.289, 290). Prebiotic-rich foods (bananas, artichokes, garlic, onions, etc.) as well as probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kimchee, and kvass, etc.) stimulate and feed healthy GI flora (Rakel, 2018, p.428) (Axe, 2018,

Other dietary supplements include pancreatic enzymes, ginger, aloe, Chinese herbs such as Padma Lax and STW-5, glutamine, EPA/DHA fish oil, peppermint oil, chamomile, rosemary, Melissa (balm), valerian, betaine hydrochloride, and calcium-magnesium citrate (Rakel, 2018, p.428- 430) (Lipski, 2012, p.290-291).

Bone broth soothes the gut and provides the nutrients collagen, glycine, proline, and glutamine, as well as easily absorbable minerals and natural anti-inflammatories like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine (Kresser, 2019,

Decreasing the chemical load by eating organic produce, and pastured eggs and meat, allows for optimal healing of the gut. Other nutrient-rich foods include healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and the omega-3 fats in fatty fish. Sprouted seeds, fermented vegetables, and adequate hydration round out the list (Axe, 2018,

Finally, lifestyle modifications that include more self-care to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression have been shown to decrease IBS symptoms. Mind-body therapies include stress management, relaxation therapy, meditation, hypnosis, journaling, biofeedback, art therapy, acupuncture, and gentle exercise such as yoga, and walking (Rakel, 2018, p.429). Often more effective than medical therapy (Rakel, 2018, p.429), stress reduction strategies tap into the mind-body and gut-brain connection that affects both sickness and wellness. An entire paper could be written on this topic as well, but suffice it to say, a holistic approach to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, including diet, supplementation, exercise, and stress reduction, offers promise to provide not just physical but emotional relief as well.   


Axe, J. (2018, July 30). Leaky Gut Diet and Treatment Plan, Including Top Gut Foods. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from

Cromolyn (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names. (2019, February 01). Retrieved May 30, 2019, from

Kohlstadt, I. (Ed.). (2012). Advancing medicine with food and nutrients. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Kresser, C. (2019, May 28). Bone Broth Benefits: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from

Lipski, E. (2012). Digestive wellness: Strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Pizzorno, J., & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of natural medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Rakel, D. (2018). Integrative medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? (2019). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from

My Optimal Health/Weight Loss Workshop Explained (Phase 2)

**This is an explanation to my professor of the second module (or phase 2) of my weight-loss, optimal health online program. I’m currently working on my Master’s of Holistic Nutrition from Hawthorn University.**

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Once a client is fully entrenched in Phase 1 of my Fittbodies Optimal Health Plan, I introduce the Phase 2: Boost Immunity formula. In this phase we build on the Phase 1: Alkalize steps with immune-supporting habits, paying closer attention to fasting, sleep, cravings for sweets, and holistic health.

I begin by encouraging clients to eat their meals within a small, condensed window of time, also known as Time Restricted Eating (TRE) (Longo & Panda, 2016). Scaling back the timing of their first and last meals gradually, by 30 minutes a week, allows the client to ease into a longer fasting window without feeling deprived. For example, if a client’s regular breakfast time is 7am and dinner time is 7pm, I would have them begin Phase 2 by taking 30 minutes off each side of their fasting window. They would therefore eat breakfast at 7:30am (at the earliest) and eat dinner at 6:30pm (most days). Of course there needs to be flexibility to accommodate work schedules and social engagements, but the aim is to achieve a longer fasting window 80% of the time. As the client builds confidence in fasting, we will lengthen the fasting window by another 30 minutes for a week. It may not be feasible to scale back dinner as much as it is to put off breakfast, so once a client finds an optimal dinner time for their schedule, preferably 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for complete digestion, we hold that dinner time and begin scaling back the first meal only. Not only does this way of eating better coincide with circadian rhythms (Longo & Panda, 2016), but it allows the cells to undergo positive metabolic changes (Longo & Mattson, 2014). Ideally, we work up to a 16 hour fast with an 8 hour eating window over the course of weeks to months.

Physical activity is maintained during Phase II, with the challenge of exercising while in a fasted state. Stressing the body occasionally this way encourages hormesis and builds the body’s ability to adapt to stress (Mercola, 2013,

Phase II also encourages clients to eliminate refined sugar and artificial sweeteners and instead use honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and stevia leaf for sweeteners. We continue to work on reading labels with emphasis on avoiding products with added sweeteners. If a client has a favorite treat that holds a lot of emotional value for them, we’ll work together to find a healthier version that they can eat without compromising their newfound health. An example of this is my healthy “raw cookie dough” recipe, which is comprised of almond butter, MCT oil, plant protein powder, and bittersweet chocolate chips. I personally eat this, mixed in a small cup, instead of eating the white flour, sugar-laden traditional version, without feeling deprived.

Alcohol is also limited in Phase II, as alcohol metabolizes in the body as sugar. We scale back to consuming only on the weekends, and one-to-two drinks only (Cloe,

Phase II begins the elimination of grains, including wheat, corn, oats, rye, buckwheat, etc. to see if it makes a difference in the client’s energy levels, mood, and sleep. Processed foods, such as crackers, pasta, breads, cereals, cakes, and cookies are avoided. Limited intake of home-prepared quinoa and black rice is acceptable as they provide fiber while creating less of an insulin response in the body (Goldman, 2018,, and (Price, 2019,

I teach about our toxic exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals in Phase II, and encourage the client to purge their make-up, body-care, and personal-care products and cleaners and to purchase cleaner alternatives. Obsesegens, hormone-disruptors, and chemicals hidden in our daily routines wreak havoc on our bodies, resulting in hormone imbalances, weight gain, and other disease states. A great resource for finding “clean” alternatives is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (

I encourage clients to begin the practice of daily oil pulling as a way to detox as well during Phase II. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice in which a person swishes coconut, olive, or sesame oil for up to 20 minutes a day. It is purported to whiten teeth, reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and kill bad breath, among other things (Axe, 2018, Clients start with 3 minutes a day of swishing, working up to 5, 7, then 10 minutes minimum, with coconut oil.

Finally, we work on both quality and quantity of sleep in Phase II. Rest is underrated, in my opinion, and so we work on emotional as well as physical aspects of sleep hygiene. This includes darkening the room for sleep by unplugging clock radios, night lights, or anything else that glows at night; plugging in cellular phones as far away from the bed as possible; using room-darkening window coverings; wearing blue light blocking eyewear at night; and avoiding digital devices for at least an hour before bedtime (Stevenson, 2013, Moving up bedtime 30 minutes earlier each week is a goal, until a minimum of 7 ½ hours of sleep a night, on average, is reached. Use of a Fitbit or other sleep-tracking device is a great motivator, as sometimes we over-estimate the sleep we get.

There is a lot to this Phase II, and clients are allowed to take it as slowly or as quickly as they need or want. At the fastest, the above steps are implemented over the course of a week and maintained over a month or two before moving on. Those who choose (or need to) take it slower can incorporate one new step every week or two, progressing over the course of 2-3 months.

Individuals may experience some setbacks during this phase, including symptoms of detoxification such as irritability, nausea, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, etc. Sugar cravings may ramp up before dissipating, and some may struggle with limited alcohol and grain intake. Longer sleep may take time, as will the transition to shorter eating windows, eating the garlic, and exercising in a fasted state. It’s very possible clients will get impatient if results don’t occur quickly enough, or if they regress at any point, so I’ll need to provide lots of support and reminders that this is a lifestyle change that will enable their weight to drop off and stay off over time.

Check-ins, weekly (or more often as needed), videos, and Facebook group support are key to success in Phase II. The initial “glow” of success with Phase I will diminish, and it is possible clients may feel more deprived of the foods and habits they love most during Phase II. Progress in this phase may slow down, or even seemingly stop, so I will need to provide reading materials, hand-holding, and testimonials from other clients to help them stay motivated through these changes.



Axe, J. (2018, June 02). Coconut Oil Pulling Is the New Flossing (It Stops Tooth Decay, Prevents Cavities, Kills Bad Breath & More!). Retrieved March 16, 2019, from

Cloe, A. (n.d.). The Effect of Alcohol on Insulin Resistance. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Goldman, R. (2018, July 23). Why Is Quinoa Good for Diabetes? - Healthline. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Longo, V. D., & Panda, S. (2016). Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan. Cell Metabolism,23(6), 1048-1059. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001

Longo, V., & Mattson, M. (2014). Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. Cell Metabolism,19(2), 181-192. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.12.008

Mercola, J. (2013, September 13). Why Exercising While Fasting Is Beneficial. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Price, A. (2019, January 30). Why You Should Eat This 'Forbidden' Food. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

Stevenson, S. (2017, November 08). Sleep Problems? Here's 21 Tips To Get The Best Sleep Ever. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

My Optimal Health/Weight Loss Workshop Explained (Phase 1)

**This is an explanation to my professor of the first module (or phase 1) of my weight-loss, optimal health online program. I’m currently working on my Master’s of Holistic Nutrition from Hawthorn University.**


The preparation phase of a weight-loss program is key to laying a strong foundation for lifetime habits. Establishing trust with the client allows transparency and vulnerability and provides a meaningful starting point for which to make a realistic plan and set realistic goals. Face-to-face communication is optimal, whether sitting across from each other in an office or meeting place, or communicating via video-conferencing. Telephone conversations are less optimal, although more convenient, with email and texting to support all methods. Patient intake forms are also important to flesh out the information gained face-to-face and help provide insight into the whole person. I also have recorded short videos in workshop format explaining each step in my program for clients to reference at any time, as well as handouts and worksheets. I can release the entire workshop at once or “drip” the contents to the client, depending on how much they want to spend and how much personal involvement they want from me.

I have expanded my initial “Fitt Kitchen” concept into a broader program, combining nutrition with a weight-loss, fitness, and health-optimization plan that is introduced in four stages: alkalize, immunity-boosting, stress management, and fitness. Clients progress through the four stages as quickly or slowly as they need to, with special attention given to areas of weakness or struggle (Bauer & Liou, 2016, p. 162). For example, a person might need to spend a month in the alkalize stage before they move on to the immunity-boosting portion while another might spend two months in the first stage. Each stage builds on the prior stage and adds more habits/steps to master as the client progresses. The final stage focuses on fitness, but I encourage participants to move their bodies from the very beginning.

I will start off potential clients with the Client Information & Consent form, the Client Welcome Letter, the Food Frequency Form, the Medical History Questionnaire, and the Health & Wellness Goals in the intake packet. (Please see attachments for forms). In our initial meeting, I will dig deeper into the psychological aspects of their behaviors related to food, fitness levels, stress levels, etc. (The examples of such questions are also included in attachments.) I pre-arrange check-in times so clients can expect accountability and establish boundaries, payment, and office hours at this point as well.

When it comes to specific weight loss, my philosophy is to get a client eating whole food, focusing on nourishing their bodies rather than losing weight. The weight loss happens more slowly this way sometimes, but clients establish lifelong habits that help keep the weight off in the long term. A 1-2 lb. average weight drop per week is optimal (Healthy Weight, 2018, This approach will require that I build trust and rapport with the client, as I’m asking them to seemingly put off a problem they sought me out to solve. Teaching them about “how” we are implementing each step will better support them initially, with more “why” introduced over time (Jordan, 2013, p. 90). Educating them about various bodily processes, including digestion, hormone balance, blood sugar regulation, etc. in simple and easy-to-understand language and concepts will further reinforce their efforts. I need to be careful not to overwhelm the client with too much, too fast, but I also don’t want to go so slowly that they lose interest altogether or lose momentum.

As a fitness professional I will encourage them to move their body throughout the program, but will introduce the majority of fitness instruction in the final phase.

Diet, lifestyle, and environmental exposures can affect the client’s success with weight, health, and fitness goals. Some examples of dietary barriers include limited budget, limited time to prepare whole foods, preference for certain tastes or textures, dislike of certain foods or textures, habits or rituals surrounding food, history of dieting, allergies, what’s worked in prior experiences, preconceived notions of dieting, etc. Examples of lifestyle factors which could be barriers include employment situation, existence or lack of a support system, sleep habits, habits or rituals surrounding food, exercise habits, mental health status, level of reliance on television and/or social media for entertainment/education/disconnection, amount of time spent on digital devices, education level, etc. Environmental exposures that could be barriers include living conditions, lack of access to quality food, possible addictions such as alcohol, tobacco, & illicit drugs, lack of access to healthcare, lack of support from family and friends, toxic exposure/exposure to obesegens, etc.(Schwartz, 2018,

My challenge as health coach is to problem solve with my client, as a team, each barrier, providing a work-around for potential challenges that may arise or that surface over time. Check-ins through texting and calls, even a voicemail, can help the client feel connected. The pre-recorded videos provide support around the clock. Finally the Facebook group provides support, friendship, and accountability with others participating in the program and takes the pressure off of me to be the constant cheerleader. (I will need to mediate the conversations, however, to make sure the information shared is positive, relevant, and productive.)

Clients begin Phase 1: Alkalize as soon as possible after our first meeting, depending on their goals, their personal timeline, and the amount of hand-holding they’ll need. I release the appropriate videos, add them to my private Facebook group, and check in on them based on our established agreement. Goals for phase 1 include the following: eat mostly plant-based, eat mostly organic, hydrate, drink out of glass or stainless steel containers, instructions to clean out their cupboards, how to read labels, ditch the soda (diet and sugar-full), stock up on healthy snacks, plan meals in advance (I encourage them to subscribe to a meal-planning service, at least at first), ditch the artificial sweeteners, eat whole-fat dairy, and I encourage them to follow some of my personal favorite Pinterest boards for inspiration.

I have an instructional video covering each topic in depth. After the client has watched the assigned video, we will chat, either online, by phone, or Skype, and dig deeper into the lessons according to the questions of the client. With so many topics covered, this could be a lot to expect for someone who is new to clean eating and active living, so I will pace the teaching according to each individual’s needs. We may spend days working on a specific item or breeze through a topic. Individualizing the content within the context of my program will help both with compliance and customer satisfaction.

I expect to spend at minimum of two weeks and maximum of two months on this first phase. It’s possible that a client may need to back-track and review as we move forward, or even skip steps if they’re already in place. My ultimate goal is to provide a streamlined, personalized service that caters to each client’s goals and price point.


Bauer, K. D., & Liou, D. (2016). Nutrition counseling and education skill development. Boston, MA, USA: Cengage Learning.

Healthy Weight. (2018, February 13). Retrieved March 6, 2019, from

Jordan, M. (2013). How to be a health coach: An integrative wellness approach. San Rafael, CA: Global Medicine Enterprises.

Schwartz, G. (2018, July 17). Intermittent Fasting: Current Research and Nutritional Protocols [webinar]. Retrieved from’s goals and price point.

Find a Journaling Method That Works For You

I've recently started keeping a journal (a bullet journal, to be exact), and I'm excited to share with you what I've learned.

The act of keeping a journal has stereotypically been practiced for ages by teenage girls and avid writers, but mental health experts agree that we all can benefit by writing down our thought. Some of you will feel a ton of pressure at the thought of keeping a journal, but the science is clear. 

Journaling can help you:
*reduce stress
*manage anxiety and depression
*provide a "mind dump" to clear your mind
*get organized
*in lots of physical ways, too, like decreasing blood pressure and boosting immunity

Perfectionists tend to get caught up in what the journal looks like and how neatly each page looks. We can also get caught up in how much we should write and that it should be every day. There are actually many right ways to journal, and allowing for things to be imperfect is key.

By writing down our thoughts, whether in an orderly or disorderly fashion, we free up our brain to think more clearly, be more present.

No matter what your handwriting ability or time allotment, there is a journaling method for you.

Among the types of journaling are the following:
*Gratitude Journal (ex. write 3 things you are grateful for each day)
Gratitude Journal
*Free Writing (ex., set a timer for 5 minutes and just write whatever comes to mind) The Magic of Free Writing
*Morning Pages (ex., write three pages of longhand thoughts to clear the mind for the day) Morning Pages
*Keep a specific focus (ex., a food journal, an exercise log, including thoughts and feelings) How to Keep a Food Journal Without Losing Your Mind
*Bullet Journaling (my personal favorite-- short and sweet, organized and concise) Bullet Journaling

It might take several tries at different methods before you find one that works for you. Keep at it, the benefits are worth it.

Here are some more articles on journaling for your reading pleasure:
The Benefits of Journaling for Stress Management
What's All This About Journaling?
How Journaling Can Help You Heal
28 Ways Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life

Get that pen and paper ready!!

Always yours in health,

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sElf on a Shelf-- A holiday fitness challenge

Happy December, friends!

It’s a busy time of year, and often self-care falls low on the list of priorities. With this in mind, I thought I’d introduce a fitness challenge that is both fun and challenging.

sElf on the Shelf -- a wall sitting challenge!

Start at 10 seconds on December 1st and work up to 3:40 by December 22. 

Grab your friends and family and let's work those legs for the holidays!

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I’d LOVE to hear how your challenge is going! Take a picture of yourself doing your wall sit and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #fittbodiesselfonashelf and I’ll personally cheer you on your way to victory!

You’ve got this!

Always yours in Health,

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Avoiding Distractions

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I let distractions dictate my life.

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Distraction is real. It is an energy-drainer, focus-stealer, relationship-tester, and overall problem with just about everyone these days (not just the teenagers), and not just me. 

"Just checking" our phones has turned into a major waste of time for many of us. A telling statistic is the average person checks their phone 150 times a day (The Model Health Show, Episode 307). That's time we could use to work out, meditate, shop for fresh produce, write a thank-you note, have coffee with a friend, read a book, take a walk, volunteer, play catch with your kids, or anything else that could boost our quality of life. 

Our phones aren't our only distractions. Sometimes we are our own biggest obstacle. In his article, "9 Ever-Present Distractions That Keep Us From Fully Living," blogger Joshua Becker outlines ways that we avoid being present with our thoughts, tasks, and the people around us. A quote under the first distraction, "the promise of tomorrow," goes like this: “We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.” -- Joshua Glenn Clark

Being present is tough when our minds are bombarded with more information than ever before. In fact, it is said we take in 5 times more data a day than adults did in 1986! (The Chalene Show, Episode 102). This overload affects our ability to focus and complete tasks, and our attention span can take a dive. Some experts believe, based on a recent study, that we have a shorter attention span than a goldfish! Check out the article HERE and a rebuttal HERE (which I personally want to believe).

Awareness of what environments, situations, activities, things, or people distract us the most is the first step towards being present. The next is to set boundaries or rules to live by that enable us to focus when we need to without sacrificing time on our wonderful digital devices.

For your learning pleasure, the podcasts below are great to listen to on your commute, errands, etc., and can help give you ideas on how to minimize distractions and improve focus.  

 Episode 307, "The Model Health Show," with Shawn Stevenson, talks about "12 Tips For Conquering Distraction and Getting More Done."

 Episode 102, "The Chalene Show," with Chalene Johnson, talks about "How to Organize Your Brain-- Creating Laser Focus." (She's got other podcasts about focus HERE.)

I wish I could say I didn’t allow any distractions while writing this post, but, hey, I’m only human.

Always yours in Health,

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Nerd-Out: Vitamin D Report

(For those of you who like to nerd-out on the science behind nutrition, I will be sharing portions of my writings for my Master's of Science in Holistic Nutrition.)

Here's the first one: Vitamin D

Photo by pepifoto/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by pepifoto/iStock / Getty Images

          Vitamin D is something I’d taken for granted until my breast cancer diagnosis four years ago. Growing up in San Diego, California, I mistakenly believed that my long days at the beach, poolside, and soccer fields would provide me enough of that essential vitamin. Moving to Colorado as an adult didn’t change my mindset about it. Living closer to the sun and hiking, camping, skiing, snowboarding, and simply sitting outside on my beautiful backyard deck supplied ample exposure to the sun’s vitamin D-rich rays, or so I thought. It wasn’t until my breast cancer diagnosis four years ago and the subsequent battery of labs, blood tests, and scans, that I discovered I was vitamin D deficient. Thus began this heightened interest in this “sunny” vitamin and a subsequent “dance” of treatments with my traditional oncologist and my naturopathic physician.  

            Known chemically as (cholecalciferol), vitamin D3 can be synthesized on human skin when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.83). It can also be ingested in food or supplement form in the diet (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.83). Although not prevalent in many foods, it can be found in liver, salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod-liver oil, and egg yolks, and vitamin D fortified cereals and milk (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p382).  Vitamin D acts like a hormone in that several organs are affected in its metabolism, including the skin, intestine, bone, and kidneys (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.382).

            Activated in the liver and then dumped into the blood stream, vitamin D circulates and travels to the intestines, bones, and kidneys where it helps increase calcium levels in the blood (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.383). The maintenance of normal blood calcium levels is crucial to maintain the growth, density, and strength of bones and prevent their breakdown (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.83). Vitamin D also helps regulate cell differentiation, immunity, insulin secretion, and blood pressure regulation (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.84).  Proposed but yet unproven actions of this vitamin include cancer prevention, protection from certain autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, and protection from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.384).

            Without proper levels of vitamin D consumption or absorption, only about 10-15% of calcium in the diet can be utilized, affecting bone mineralization, strength, and growth (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.384). And without access to dietary calcium, the body resorts to leaching existing calcium from the bones, leaving them at risk for bone pain, muscle aches, and fractures (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.385). In a child’s growing frame, this deficiency causes rickets, characterized by bowed legs, weak bones, and short stature (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.384). In adults, vitamin D deficiency results in osteomalacia, or soft bones (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.85).

            Too much vitamin D (toxicity) raises blood calcium levels too high, which can result in deposits of calcium in blood vessels, kidneys, and the heart, hardening them, resulting in damage (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.386). Most vitamin D toxicity results from over-supplementation or consuming too much of fortified foods. Sunlight and unfortified foods do not pose a risk for overconsumption (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.386).

            Lack of sun exposure is the primary way people become vitamin D deficient. Living in big cities with tall buildings blocking the sun, wearing sunscreen, spending all daylight hours indoors, and living at latitudes greater than 40 degrees north or south, increase decrease the skin’s exposure to the sun (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.384-385). Dark skin, which prevents much of vitamin D synthesis in the skin, and concealing clothing worn by certain cultural and religious groups, are also risk factors for deficiency, even in sunny climates (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2013, p.385). Elderly people, those with fat malabsorption syndromes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease are also at risk for deficiency, as these conditions prevent optimal absorption of vitamin D (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p.86). Finally, exclusively breastfed infants may be at risk, particularly if they have dark skin and/or receive little sun exposure (Higdon & Drake, 2012, p. 85).

            Foods rich in vitamin D, as mentioned above, are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Organ meats, particularly liver, are high in this vitamin. Egg yolks are dense sources of vitamin D as well. Sunlight, although not a food source, is by far the best provider of vitamin D.

            Using the iProfile Food, Liquid, and Activity Form, I tracked my food intake for a day to take a peek at my nutritional habits and get a feel for how much vitamin D I eat on an average day (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2010, iProfile). According to the dietary analysis, the eggs I consumed for dinner provided 82% of my Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), while the cheddar cheese provided 11%, the goat cheese 4%, and the Shiitake mushrooms 4%. I nearly reached 100% of my DRI with these food items. With 8ug the goal, I reached 7.8ug.

            The Suggested Optimal Nutritional Allowances (SONA) for vitamin D are slightly different. 24ug is the goal in this case, and here, with my 7.8ug, I fall desperately short. Since it is difficult to meet the requirements for vitamin D through diet alone without consuming fortified milk, which I don’t drink, I need to get mine from other sources. It’s winter in Colorado, and so the days when I can expose my arms, hands, and face to the sun are limited. Even with spending long hours in the sun all summer, my vitamin D levels have faltered, for whatever reason. However, I can supplement with vitamin D capsules to make up for the lack in my diet and sun exposure. I currently take 10,000iu of vitamin D3 daily, which translates to 250ug, which exceeds both the RDA (300iu/7.5ug) and the SONA (960iu/24ug). I do this under the care of a qualified naturopathic physician to avoid toxicity. Because I’m a breast cancer survivor, we’re taking special care of my vitamin D levels to prevent recurrence.

            If it weren’t for my breast cancer diagnosis, I may still be in the dark to the important role vitamin D plays in the prevention and treatment of disease. Though sun exposure is the optimal route to satisfy requirements, some foods, including fortified foods, and supplementation, provide necessary levels to keep the body systems operating optimally.

**UPDATE: I have since started taking fermented cod liver oil daily to provide more whole food supplementation of vitamin D. I plan on discontinuing my vitamin D capsules and consume only the fermented cod liver oil. Blood tests will determine if this is sufficient-- I'll keep you posted. xoxo, SF


Higdon, J., & Drake, V. J. (2012). An evidence-based approach to vitamins and minerals: health benefits and intake recommendations. Stuttgart: Thieme.

Smolin, L. A., & Grosvenor, M. B. (2013). Nutrition: science and applications(3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Smolin, L. A., & Grosvenor, M. B. (2010). IProfile: assessing your diet and energy balance. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Retrieved January 25, 2018.

The Suggested Optimal Daily Nutritional Allowances (SONA)[Online reading material for
MSHN 515, Hawthorn University]. (2017). 

Planksgiving Challenge

“Planksgiving” Fitness Challenge

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When: November 1st - 30th

Where: Anywhere

Who: Anyone

Cost: FREE

You choose your plank

*Straight arms, bent knees

*Straight arms, straight legs, on toes

*Straight arms, straight legs, one leg in the air (doing half the time, each leg)

*On elbows, bent knees

*On elbows, straight legs, on toes

*On elbows, straight legs, one let in the air (doing half the time, each leg)

Why Plank?

*Strengthen and tone your core

*Improve your mood

*Improve balance and posture


Date/Time to Hold Plank

November 1     10 sec


November 2     15 sec


November 3     20 sec


November 4     25 sec


November 5     30 sec


November 6     35 sec


November 7     40 sec


November 8     45 sec


November 9     50 sec


November 10    55 sec


November 11     1:00


November 12     1:05


November 13     1:10


November 14     1:15


November 15     1:20


November 16     1:25


November 17     1:30


November 18     1:35


November 19     1:40


November 20     1:45


November 21     1:50


November 22     1:55


November 23     2:00


November 24     2:10


November 25     2:20


November 26     2:30


November 27     2:40


November 28     2:50


November 29     3:00


November 30     3:15

Planks strengthen your

*Rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus (your abs)

*Trapezius, rhomboids, and erector spinae (your back)

*Serratus anterior and pectoralis (your chest)

*Deltoids and rotator cuff (your shoulders)

*Quadriceps (front of your thighs)

*Gluteus maximus (your bottom)

Can't wait to hear how it goes!


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