A few months ago I experienced a family situation and I felt immediate and extreme stress and anxiety. I am lucky enough that my exercise pal lives right around the corner so I sent her a text asking “Can we go for a walk NOW?” She is awesome for her willingness to drop everything to head out for a long walk or a yoga class. And yes I felt sooooo much better afterward. Plus I realized that night, that it was the first time in my memory I had consciously turned to exercise to alleviate stress. I admit it! I have a long history of turning to less effective methods of stress relief-- like being grouchy with my husband or eating handfuls of chocolate chips.  But this time I actually experienced a more thorough relief of stress along with the benefit of a good brisk walk. It was a win win situation.
       You guessed it! Your challenge for this week is to initiate some new and healthful ways of dealing with everyday (or even occasional and extreme) personal stress.
       For every day you consciously utilize a new and healthy method to reduce stress you earn your 5 bonus points for a total possible 35 points for the week. You don't have to use a different method each day if you find a new one that works for you-- but I encourage you to try a variety of stress relievers. 

The key to practicing quick stress relief is learning what kind of sensory input helps your particular nervous system find calm and focus quickly. Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so an awareness of your preferences is essential for reducing stress.


If you’re a visual person, try to manage and relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imagining the soothing images. Here are a few visually-based activities that may work as quick stress relievers:
  Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento.
  Bring the outside indoors; buy a plant or some flowers to enliven your space.
  Enjoy the beauty of nature–a garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard.
  Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
  Close your eyes and picture a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.

Are you sensitive to sounds and noises? Are you a music lover? If so, stress-relieving exercises that focus on your auditory sense may work particularly well. Experiment with the following sounds, noting how quickly your stress levels drop as you listen:
  Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music.
  Tune in to the soundtrack of nature—crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing.
  Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office.
  Hang wind chimes near an open window.
Smell & Scents

If you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed, surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming.
  Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
  Lie down in sheets scented with lavender.
  Smell the roses—or another type of flower.
  Enjoy the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors.
  Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.

Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations. Focus on things you can feel that are relaxing and renewing. Use the following suggestions as a jumping-off point:
  Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  Pet a dog or cat.
  Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento).
  Soak in a hot bath.
  Give yourself a hand or neck massage (or indulge in a professional massage)
  Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.

Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue:
  Chew a piece of sugarless gum.
  Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
  Sip a steaming cup of cocoa or tea or a refreshing cold drink.
  Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
  Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).

If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Here are a few suggestions:
  Run in place or jump up and down.
  Dance like nobody's watching
  Stretch or roll your head in circles.
  Go for a short walk.
  Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.

Good luck ladies and may you find many new ways to relieve stress and honor this wonderful body that we have been blessed with! 


Repeat of past favorite challenge- Mix it up! 

This challenge has been the favorite in many of the rounds of competition we have done so here goes again! 

Get out of rut: Try new fruits and vegetables
I was inspired the other day by a friend’s story of how she had grown up hating eggplant and was disappointed to have a friend serve it at a meal they shared. Not wanting to appear rude she felt she must choke down at least a little of it, when to her surprise it was delicious! Who would have thought that what had been a slimy ordeal from childhood was actually yummy when prepared with garlic and cooked on the grill?
I had a surprising experience just this evening as I prepared an evening snack for some teenagers that came to our home for a church meeting. I had heard some complaints just a week before when these same teens were served store bought cake and cookies at an event. So wanting to give them some healthier fare I served warm artisan whole wheat bread with honey butter (bought at Costco I just re-heated), sliced oranges and assorted veggies served in a cup with hummus. I couldn’t believe my ears when one of the girls asked what a slice of raw red bell pepper was and another exclaimed she had never before seen a snow pea pod.
Thinking that you too may be in a rut of always eating romaine in your salads, and always eating apples or oranges for your fruit I thought I’d challenge your variety for our bonus challenge this week.
In a recent study Georgia State University nutrition students challenged fellow students to a “nutrition fear factor” test to encourage them to try new foods.
Alexandra Friel, one of the organizers, said, “Everyone has seen the ‘Fear Factor’ television show, and we all tend to think we are a little braver than we really are. We wanted to put Georgia State students to the test.”
So, she headed to DeKalb Farmers Market with fellow student Rebecca Sterns to select food for the taste test. They choose some that might be familiar, such as kiwi, fresh coconut and raw mushrooms, and some that many students had never seen, let alone tasted. Jackfruit, star fruit, pomegranate and durian were on the menu, as well as baba ghanouj — an eggplant dish.
The results? “Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience of tasting different foods that were interesting and healthy to eat,” said student Lauren Sieber. “The most interesting was the durian. It is by far the worst-smelling fruit in the world, but once you get past the smell, it tastes pretty good.”
Listed below are five foods that you may not have tried and they are just a small sampling of the wonderful variety we can choose from in our diet
• Plantains: A staple of Latin American cuisine, they look like large bananas, but are really a starch vegetable rich in potassium and vitamin C. Try the ripe ones (they will look almost black) for your test. Slice it, sauté with a little butter or margarine and a pinch of brown sugar and salt for side dish or dessert.
• Broccoli rabe: This vegetable, popular in Italy, is also called rapini and has slender stalks with broccoli-like flower buds. It can be bitter, so blanch it, toss with balsamic vinaigrette and serve it as a side dish. It is also good in salads or soups.
• Fresh or Dried figs: If you like Fig Newtons, try a dried fig instead: moist, chewy and flavorful, a perfect snack. There are many varieties. The Southern California Mission fig is one of the most popular. (Note this is one of my favorite snacks when I am craving sweets. Honestly the plain dried fig is as yummy as a fig newton. I buy them at Costco)
• Carambola: It’s used in Southeast Asia and is also called star fruit because when sliced each piece looks like a star. Choose a sweet variety, like Arkin. Look for one that is shiny and firm to the touch. Kids will like how it looks, and moms will like the extra fiber and vitamins A and C that it delivers.
• Eggplant: If you like hummus, try something new, like baba ghanouj served with pita wedges or flatbread. This Middle Eastern dish is used as a spread or a dip. My neighbor made it for me recently and it was so delicious I literally licked the plate. 
YOUR CHALLENGE FOR THIS WEEK IS, EACH DAY EAT A FRUIT OR VEGETABLE THAT YOU DO NOT NORMALLY EAT (to figure out if you “normally eat it” all foods that you have eaten within the last month cannot be used for this challenge. So each day you should be trying a new fruit or vegetable that you have not eaten in the last month nor during this week of the challenge) For every day that you try a new fruit or vegetable this week you earn the 5 bonus points.
Here’s a recipe that might be fun to try and please feel free to share any recipes on the blog that you have found for our more unusual fruits and veggies!
Baba Ghanouj 
Makes 2 cups or 8 (1/4-cup) servings
Hands on: 30 minutes 
Total time: 90 minutes
2 pounds eggplant,
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice,
1 small garlic clove minced,
 2 tablespoons tahini paste (sesame seed paste),
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, 
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Grill the eggplant over a hot fire or under the broiler until the skin darkens and wrinkles on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. The eggplant should be uniformly soft when pressed with tongs. Transfer to a baking sheet and cool for 5 minutes.
Set a small colander over a bowl or in the sink. Trim the top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit the eggplants lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop the hot pulp from the skins and place the pulp in the colander. You should have about 2 cups of packed pulp. Discard the skins. Let the pulp drain for 3 minutes.
Transfer pulp to a food processor bowl and add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until the mixture has a coarse, choppy texture, about 8 one-second pulses. Transfer to a serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until lightly chilled, about 45 to 60 minutes.
To serve, use a spoon to make a trough in the center of the dip and spoon in a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
— From “Perfect Vegetables From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated” (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95)
Per serving: 50 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.
Nutritional bonus points: Don’t let the 72 percent of calories from fat scare you. This is a low-fat, low-calorie dip, and the small amount of fat comes from heart-healthy fats in the olive oil and tahini.
         Years ago when my youngest daughter was in high school she decided to go on a diet of “no processed foods.” It was one of the busiest weeks of my life! In an effort to support her I was baking bread, cutting up fruits and vegetables and even tried my hand at making crackers. Yikes!
         Luckily for me the phase only lasted about a week but it was a good reminder to me that a healthy diet is a diet rich with real food—food your grandma would recognize, food without a long list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce.
         Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added salt, carbohydrates, or fat. Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and non-homogenizeddairy products. Originally all human food was whole food
         Diets rich in whole and unrefined foods, like whole grains, dark green and yellow/orange-fleshed vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, contain high concentrations of antioxidant phenolics, fibers and numerous other phytochemicalsthat may be protective against chronic diseases. "A diet rich in a variety of whole foods have been recognized as possibly anti-cancer due to the synergistic effects of antioxidants and phytochemicals common is whole foods.
                       A focus on whole foods offers three main benefits: they provide greater nutritionfor being a source of more complex micronutrients, they provide essential dietary fiber and they provide naturally occurring protective substances, such as phytochemicals.
         You  may be staying within your daily calorie allowance and even getting in your 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables but you may still be relying too much on highly processed foods.
         In general foods with really long shelf lives are the most highly processed foods. You have to wonder about the freshness and nutritive value of something with an expiration date 18 months from today! Yikes!
         I love Michael Pollan’s (I LOVE his book Food Rules) reminder that fried foods, pastries and even soda are treats and should be very occasional treats. He goes on to share that potatoes became America’s favorite vegetable only when the food industry did all the work of peeling, cutting and frying the potatoes—and cleaning up the mess. His theory is that if the only time we ate French fries was when we made them from scratch ourselves they would be the occasional treat they were intended to be. He purports that the same is true of fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies and ice cream. He advises to enjoy these treats as often as you are willing to prepare them yourself from scratch and he guesses that will not be daily.
By now I’m sure you are worrying about what our weekly challenge is going to be and this is it:
  1. If you want the big challenge eat only pure whole foods this week supplemented by home made foods  (bread, crackers, ice-cream, protein bars etc.) you have made from scratch.
  2.  If you are not up for that you can also earn the 5 daily bonus points if you set aside one meal a day that you eat ONLY whole foods. 
 That’s right if you want a poached egg on toast you made the bread. If you want a garden salad with grilled chicken you grilled the chicken and made the salad dressing from wholesome ingredients. And while there are easy options (a smoothie made out of whole fruits and vegetables, scrambled eggs with fresh herbs and veggies etc.) I want you to notice and be mindful of what whole, fresh, healthy foods taste like so that you will make them a bigger part of your daily diet.

I considered having this week’s challenge be to eat only “whole foods” for the entire week but I thought this goal might be out of reach for many of you. So instead I want to challenge you to do your best this week to eat as many whole foods and as little processed foods as possible.

To earn the 35 bonus points for this week you must go at least one full day eating ONLY whole foods. And you must also make a good effort the rest of the week to substitute several of the processed foods you normally eat with real, whole foods.

On your “whole foods” day you should eat only  :

1  Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
2  Lots of fruits and vegetables
3  Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, butter  and cheese
4  100% whole-wheat and whole-grains fresh bakery or home baked rather than packaged and preserved
5  Seafood(wild caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
6  Meatssuch as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)- local and grass fed is best
7  Beverages limited to water, milk , all natural juices, naturally sweetened only
8  Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
9  All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation

What you CANNOT eat:
1  No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
2  No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
3  Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredientslisted on the label
4  No deep fried foods
5  No “fast foods”
How to Avoid Processed Food in General
1  Read the ingredients label before buying anything. I am sure you have all checked out food labels but have probably mostly looked for fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this is important, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you may want to reconsider before buying or eating.
2  Increase your consumption of whole foods especially vegetables and fruits. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. It is wonderful when your main concern becomes selecting whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.
3  Buy your bread from a local bakery. Perhaps you’ve made the step up from white bread and you have been buying whole-wheat bread from the grocery store. Yikes- check out the ingredients list. Many grocery store wheat breads list 40 different itemson the list. Isn’t it time for a change? Why would there be so many on the list if it only takes a handful of ingredients to make bread? For those of you in Utah I highly recommend Great Harvest Bread Company. Not only do they grind their own wheat every morning, but their honey whole-wheat loaf only has five ingredients – whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and honey. For those of you without a good source of wholesome whole grain bread with only “real” ingredients it might be time to start baking your own
4  In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box.  Read the ingredients to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of “Wheat” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.
5  Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients” according to Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.
6  Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. According to Michael Pollan not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious”, but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to the supermarket produce, which travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate.
Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries then you might not eat them very often. And if you had to buy rock salt and real cream to churn your own ice-cream every time you wanted to enjoy it you’d probably eat it way less often. Only eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods as often as you are willing to make them yourself from scratch will automatically ensure the frequency is appropriate.