herbal tea

Stop, Drop, and Self-Care

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Self-care is a concept that has been gaining a lot of buzz lately, but it’s really nothing new. Self-care is any activity that we do intentionally in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. But in today’s busy world, it’s a practice that’s easier said than done. We don’t like to take time out of our day to stop and spend a little time focusing on our needs, and listening to our body.

We all have have bad days. Days where nothing seems to go our way. You’re tired, miserable, cranky… and sometimes it can be hard to let go of the negative feelings. But we don’t have to let them get the better of us. In our society which is so focused on being busy and productive, it can feel impossible to take a half an hour for ourselves. However, taking just a half an hour to destress and cope with our aggravations or disappointments can have a beneficial, long-term effect.

According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year. In this article we’ll cover how stress effects us and learn a simple five step self-care plan to cope with daily stress.

How stress effects our body

Not only do many Americans feel stressed, but stress can have detrimental affects on our health. Speaking with the American Heart Association, Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., said, “When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure… to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome.” Yikes! But that’s not all. Stress can also led to weight gain. Stress causes insulin levels to rise, which leads to a decrease in fat oxidation. Both of these result in increased fat storage, according to Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, Ohio. Stress can also lead to a weakened immune system, slower healing, sleep dysfunction, and more!

How stress effects our mind

Stress has direct effects on our mood which can cause irritability, sleep disruption and cognitive changes such as impaired concentration. To make matters worse, when we are stressed, we are less likely to engage in healthy coping mechanisms. Healthy coping mechanisms such as eating nutritious meals, going for a walk, spending time with loved ones, all of which are actions which help to keep our mood elevated. How many times have you been stressed and instead of dealing with it just hunkered down, forced yourself to work, or ordered an unhealthy dinner? It’s something we all do. However these decisions, which often make us feel better temporarily, can sometimes prolong our negative mood and create a vicious cycle.

The longer we avoid taking a break to do something good for ourselves, the longer we feel stressed. Sustained or chronic stress, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, which has been linked to depression.

Our Five Step Self-Care Action Plan

Ok, so now that you’re stressed about how bad stress is, what to do?! Having a self-care plan can be a great way to combat stress. Think of it as your “emergency plan”, when you’re having a bad day. For best results though, this half an hour plan can be done daily, especially at the end of the day. This plan doesn’t just promote self-care and giving yourself a break, it also promotes awareness. By meditating and journaling, you create a little more, and very much needed space in your busy brain. By taking a step back, and looking at your feelings and your experience, you can become a little more aware of how your daily activities effect you, and come up with ways to resolve conflicts or even just realize what was good about your day, and what you’re grateful for.

Step 1 - Make a cup of herbal tea.

Step One: Brew a cup of herbal tea

Brewing a cup of herbal tea is our first step to our self-care plan. Peppermint, chamomile, kava, passionflower, or valerian root are all helpful herbs that can help reduce stress.

Light some candles

Step Two: Light Some Candles

While there aren’t a lot of scientific studies based around candles and stress relief, there is something quite soothing about candlelight. I usually prefer scents like lavender or woody scents when I’m trying to relax.

Put on relaxing music

Step Three: Put on Some Relaxing Music

Playing relaxing music or ambient sounds like rainfall or ocean waves, can in fact reduce stress. Music is a great way to set the tone (no pun intended) that this self-care time is for relaxation and reflection.

Journal for 10 min

Step Four: Journal for 10 Minutes

Multiple studies have found that journaling can help you manage stress and improve your mental health. Simply taking 10 minutes to write about your day, can help you to get a little clarity about what’s upsetting you and how to resolve issues you’re facing. If you’re stuck on what to write, start with writing down three things you are grateful for today.

Meditate for 5 minutes

Step Five: Meditate for Five Minutes

There is no other item on this list that is more researched and more effective than meditation. There are literally hundreds of studies out there about the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction. You don’t have to have a guru or go to a class to get started with meditation. Just set a timer for 5 minutes and sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. That’s it! If thoughts come up just be gentle with yourself. Acknowledge the thought and refocus on your breath. It’s a practice – so don’t expect to be perfect on your first try! Spending some time to clear your thoughts and be aware of your body and breath is enough.

Make it a practice

Now that you have a five step list for self-care, use it! As we mentioned before, this practice works best if it’s a daily or weekly practice. Taking time out of your day to take care of yourself is very important, and although it may seem selfish, it’s not! Taking care of yourself means you are in a better place to take care of others. Staying healthy, mentally and emotionally, is just as important as eating a balanced diet and exercising.

Stop, Drop, and Self-Care

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Mexican Black Bean Salad

Mexican Black Bean Salad

This healthy vegan black bean salad is an easy main dish to make and a great item for your weekly meal prep. One batch is enough for four servings. Full of protein, fiber and healthy fats, it pairs well with roasted sweet potatoes or rice. Adding sliced avocados to this salad right before serving would make it extra delicious. I like my bean salad a little on the spicier side, so I’ve added jalapeño slices and cayenne pepper for a little extra kick, but feel free to omit those ingredients.

Mexican Black Bean Salad
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 30 minutes
Mexican Black Bean Salad
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 30 minutes
Ingredients
Seasonings
Servings: servings
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine the rinsed and drained black beans with the chopped olives, red onion, olive juice, and jalapeño slices. Add the garlic, salt, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and fresh cilantro. I like to add the diced tomato last so it doesn't get too mushy from mixing the ingredients.
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Veganism is not a Cure

Recently, a post on Compassion Co’s Tumblr caught my attention. The original post was by someone who admitted that they decided to no longer eat a plant-based diet. Their reasoning behind their decision was that, “Veganism wasn’t the “miracle cure” a lot of people say it is”. Now, this post is not about judging that person for their decision. Everyone has to make the decisions that are right for them. But what really interested me about the post and the resulting discussion was the concept of “veganism as a cure”. As much as I am passionate about and advocate a plant-based diet, I would never go so far as to call it a “cure”.

“Cure” is a loaded term. It conveys the idea of a permanent solution to an ailment, a complete reversal of illness. I think the term “cure” is used far too often. Let’s face it “cure” sells. Having dealt with years of chronic pain, I can completely relate to wanting to find a cure. I spent so much time, money and energy searching for a complete stop to my pain. Part of the reason I adopted a plant-based diet was to help reduce my inflammation-related pain as a plant-based diet has anti-inflammatory benefits. Emphasis on the term “benefits”. A plant-based diet is not a cure. If one is allergic to dairy, and cuts dairy completely from their diet, their dairy allergy is not “cured”. It is controlled, the symptoms will not occur as long as they don’t consume dairy, but it is not a reversal of the allergy.

If you are looking for a cure for any personal ailment by adopting a plant-based diet, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), those who eat a plant-based diet are at a lower risk for developing heart disease, certain types of cancers, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension (high blood pressure). Studies have shown that a plant-based diet appears to be “useful for increasing the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases”. Basically, if you are eating a plant-based diet, you are incorporating more fruits and vegetables in your diet, which results in better nutrition overall. Better nutrition equals better overall health and wellness. However, as much as nutrition can assist in resolving certain ailments, it should not be considered a cure.

As I found, chronic issues are something we often have to learn to live with. My hip, the source of my chronic pain, will most likely never be “100%”. It will always need a little extra love, on and off physical therapy and it is very likely to cause me more pain the future. I spent 3 years looking for a cure and being met with disappointment after disappointment when the pain returned. This led to misery, depression, overall hopelessness. I endured so much suffering. I turned a corner when I reframed my approach to the pain. All I can do, every single day, every single moment, is to practice compassion towards my body and my pain. Part of my compassionate practice is to also practice compassion towards other living beings. I find it makes it easier to practice compassion towards myself, when I take the time to show it towards others. Instead of a cycle of pain and suffering, I have been focusing on a cycle of compassion and healing. There will be bad days and hard times, but overall the journey has been a far more positive experience.

A related post by Compassion Co pointed out that “veganism” is different than a plant-based diet. While we use the term interchangeably on this website, he has a point. Veganism, as Compassion Co so eloquently put it, “is a way of living that seeks to exclude all animal exploitation from one’s daily life as far as is possible and practical”. A major component to practicing veganism is by eliminating animal ingredients from one’s diet as our current food industry practices are filled with animal suffering, exploitation and death. Together, those who practice veganism are strengthening a movement which reduces the exploitation and consumption of animals. Veganism is an act beyond one’s self and one’s own needs. The long-term vegans I know are ones who are passionate about the ethical reasons for going vegan. I tend to believe that if one’s intentions to make a lifestyle change encompasses reasons beyond themselves, they are more likely to be successful in creating a lasting change.

For all its benefits, a plant-based diet is a choice one can make that gives back for all the reasons I’ve covered here, and I’m sure even more. But, if you want to go plant-based permanently, please don’t consider it a cure. When you go into a diet, any diet, expecting a permanent and complete change, you will be disappointed when things don’t go exactly as planned. I think it helps to view a plant-based diet as a practice, one that helps to promote healing and strengthen your body’s immune system. Additionally, every day that you practice a plant-based diet, you are furthering yourself from the suffering of other beings. It is an act of positivity and resolve that creates a cycle of compassion and health. To continue the cycle, do not focus on permanent solutions or cures. Focus on the benefits for yourself and for others.

Fighting Colds Before You’re Sick

While seeking natural approaches and remedies for colds, flu, and various viruses, it’s always good to begin with simple prevention techniques.

Hand sanitizers have their place, but nothing works more effectively than simply washing with warm water and soap. Technique is important. Be sure you pull up your sleeves and wash all the way up to your wrists, especially if you routinely find yourself leaning with your chin on you hand. Wash thoroughly, scrubbing also between your fingers. Try to avoid touching your face, especially around nose, mouth and eyes as those are gateways for germs. When working or living in close quarters with those who are ill, try to wash your face when you wash your hands, even if that means carrying a moisturizer with you.

If you work in a place where co-workers or fellow students seem to always be sick, you might think about carrying WetWipes or a similar product and take it upon yourself to do a simple wipe of doorknobs, keyboards, telephone receivers, bannisters or handrails, elevator buttons, touch screens, or other surfaces which multiple people are handling daily. That practice can sometimes break the cycle of viruses making the rounds. Be sure to do that around your house whenever someone is ill too, and don’t forget steering wheel and gearshift if you share a vehicle. We don’t want to become germaphobes, but easy steps like these can reduce communicability dramatically.

Simple saline nasal spray (Ocean is the name-brand) is also a mechanical preventive if used regularly throughout the day. Saline sprays restore moisture to dry nasal passages, lessen inflammation, and wash out bacteria and pollens. I prefer the spray to a neti pot as it is more portable and works as a simple wash rather than carrying surface germs deeper into the nasal passages and sinuses. If you do use a neti pot, be sure you are sterilizing it and using distilled water, not tap water.

Prevention also includes a basic healthy lifestyle, including healthy diet with plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, regular exercise, and enough sleep. A well-fed, fit, well-rested body is better equipped to fight off viruses and even many bacterial infections. A good quality food source vitamin/mineral supplement is an excellent support to immune function. Garlic, vitamin C, and probiotics have all been shown to boost human immune systems as well, whether consumed as foods or in the form of supplements. And those prone to frequent upper respiratory illness might benefit from taking Astragalus, a proven immune-supportive herb, during cold and flu system.

But even the healthiest among us can’t avoid every single pesky virus around! So if you feel yourself “coming down with something”, what next? Check back next week for how to deal with colds naturally.

Olives

Transitioning to Life Without Cheese

One of the first reactions non-vegans have when confronted with the concept of a vegan diet is, “But I could never live without cheese!”. I will be totally honest, transitioning to a vegan diet wasn’t easy for me. I full-heartedly encourage people who want to transition to a vegan diet to do it at their own pace. For me, it took several YEARS. Yes, years. Cutting out most dairy and eggs wasn’t a problem for me, but cheese… I loved cheese. But slowly over time I was able to remove cheese from my diet, and in this post I’ll detail tips for making the transition easier.

1. Set goals

Start with easily achievable goals for yourself such as, “I will only eat cheese once this week.” Then, as you feel more comfortable set what you think is a more challenging yet achievable goal. Some people might find that after a few weeks of only eating cheese once a week, they can cut it out completely. Others may need to set a another goal of once a month or once every other month. Do what works best for you. Remember, it’s not a race! Go at your own pace and you will have much more success.

2. Make Plant-Based Substitutions

One of the main components to ditching cheese is to satisfy your craving for the salty fatty flavor of cheese with a vegan equivalent. When first confronted with the idea of a vegan diet, many people see it as restrictive. They focus on the exclusion of meat, dairy and eggs instead of how the diet can open one up to new meals and flavors. If you reframe the thought “I can’t have cheese” by focusing on what alternatives you CAN use in your meals, the exclusion of cheese will feel less restrictive. Simply put, think of it as a creative challenge. The following are a few examples of whole-foods plant-based alternatives to cheese.

Avocados

An easy plant-based substitution for cheese is to use avocado. Instead of adding cheese to your favorite Mexican dish, simply add sliced avocado or guacamole with a touch of extra salt. You can also add avocado to salads, wraps, sandwiches and burgers in place of cheese.

Olives

My favorite equivalent became olives. I wasn’t a big fan of olives most of my life, but after trying fresh Cerignola olives I fell in love. Cerignola are mild, buttery olives that are easy to find in any fresh olive bar and a great way to tip your toes into the world of olives. A local market in my neighborhood offers a vegan wrap with hummus, avocados, kalamata olives, and fresh baby greens. The wrap became my cheese-free go-to for a quick lunch. If you absolutely hate olives, there are other snack alternatives that might hit the spot: peanut butter on crackers or pretzels, salty roasted almonds, and edamame with sea salt.

Cashew Cheese

You might notice that I haven’t mentioned processed vegan cheese alternatives. While some brands have succeeded in creating awesome vegan cheeses, they aren’t so great for you, your wallet or your cheese craving. And sadly, many brands have completely failed. Before journeying down the path of processed vegan cheeses, try creating your own cheese alternatives. Cashew Cheese is not only easy to make but versatile! In a food processor, blend 1 1/2 cups raw cashews (soaked in filtered water for 2 hours), 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup nutritional yeast, 1-2 cloves of freshly minced garlic, 1 tsp sea salt, 1 Tbsp freshly chopped basil (optional), and add water until you get a consistency you are happy with. Add to pasta dishes, use as a dip with crackers or veggies, or as a spread in a wrap. You can also play with different flavors by adding spices you love.

Tofu Ricotta

Tofu Ricotta is a very easy plant-based substitution that you can make yourself in just a few minutes. First, squeeze out the excess water from a package of firm tofu. In a large bowl, mash the tofu with your hands until it’s crumbly. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a dash of black pepper, 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast, 2 teaspoons of olive oil and as much freshly minced basil as you desire. Tofu ricotta is great to make at the beginning of the week for use during the week. Add to a boring dish of pasta and sauce for a fast protein-rich meal.

3. Practice Mindfulness

At Compassionate Fitness we advocate progress not perfection. Practice mindfulness by offering kindness towards yourself if you find yourself giving in to the temptation of a slice of pizza or a cheese plate at a party. Every moment is a new opportunity to start over. Dwelling on guilt only makes going vegan a negative experience. Your energy is best focused on making veganism a positive experience. Be mindful of cravings and negativity and try to reframe those thoughts in a positive light. And, if you do find yourself dwelling on the negative thoughts or giving in to cheese cravings, forgive yourself, move on and try again.


So, if you are struggling to cut out cheese from your diet, try out these easy steps and see how long you can go without cheese. I found that once I went a month without cheese, when I did cave in and eat the occasional slice of pizza, both my stomach and my sinuses were displeased. Having my body negatively affected by consuming dairy made it even easier to cut it out of my diet. You might notice the same reaction. Also, going vegan isn’t just about you and your health. Keep in mind that your efforts are also a way to show compassion for the animals affected by the dairy industry. Every day you go without cheese is a day that you’ve practiced compassion and took a stand against the suffering of animals and the pollution of the environment.
Good luck with your transition. If you’re trying to cut out cheese, tell us how you’re doing. If you’re vegan, feel free to comment with your tips and tricks!

Top 3 Favorite Vegan Protein Powders

The number one question vegans get asked is, “Where do you get your protein?”. The answer is simple, we get our protein from a wide variety of sources. Beans, grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables all are sources of protein. But for a quick source of protein, protein supplements can be an easy addition to your diet to make sure you are getting an adequate amount of protein in your diet. The following are some of our favorite vegan protein powders.

1. Naturade Pea Protein – Chocolate

Naturade Pea Protein is a great protein supplement for when you are on-the-go. It tastes great with just water or the milk alternative of your choice. For an indulgent snack, blend 2 scoops of Chocolate Naturade Pea Protein with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, frozen banana and a cup of soy milk.

Naturade Pea Protein – Chocolate

Details: Soy and Gluten free. 20 grams of protein per serving. 3 grams fat. 140 calories. Non GMO-pea protein. No artificial flavors, sweeteners or colors.

 

2. Orgain Organic Protein Plant-Based Powder

Orgain’s protein powder in Sweet Vanilla Bean has a distinctive malty flavor. Although it’s not its best just mixed with water or soy milk, it is great blended in smoothies or added to oatmeal. Our favorite way to enjoy Orgain’s protein powder is to make a serving of oatmeal and add one scoop of Orgain, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and enough soy milk to mix in the ingredients. Remember to make your oatmeal with a little more water than usual so that it’s easier to melt the peanut butter and mix in the protein powder and a dash of cinnamon on top. Sweeten with diced apples, maple syrup or both for a healthier alternative to an apple pie crumble.

Orgain Organic Protein Plant-Based Powder, Vanilla Bean

Orgain Organic Protein Plant-Based Powder, Vanilla BeanOrgain Organic Protein Plant-Based Powder

Details: Soy and Gluten free. 21 grams of protein per serving. 5 grams fat. 150 calories. Non GMO. No added sugar.

 

3. PlantFusion Protein

Our third favorite vegan protein powder is made by PlantFusion. PlantFusion has a lot of delicious vegan protein powders in their Phood line, but for daily use, we recommend PlantFusion’s original. It can be added to most smoothies and stay undetected. It’s a great choice for when you want the other ingredients in your smoothie to shine. Our favorite green smoothie to make with PlantFusion original flavor is to blend 2 scoops with 1 cup soy milk, 1/2 cup orange juice, a big handful of baby spinach, 1 banana and small handful of frozen mango.

PlantFusion Protein

Details: Soy and Gluten free. 21 grams of protein per serving. 2 grams fat. 120 calories. Non GMO.

Homemade Seitan Recipe

One of the major criticisms of a vegan diet is that a lot of the meat alternatives are processed and full of unnatural chemicals and additives. But you don’t have to rely on packaged, processed “fake meats” to get your protein on a vegan diet. Making your own seitan is a cheap and easy alternative to buying packaged meat alternatives at the grocery store. The result of this recipe is a low calorie, low carb, high protein chicken alternative that you can add to salads, tacos, pasta dishes – whatever your heart desires. Each serving of this recipe has about 80 calories, 4g carbs and 17g protein per serving.

Recommended Products for this Recipe:

Homemade Seitan
Print Recipe
Seitan or "wheat meat" is a meat substitute that is made from wheat gluten. Seitan is believed to have originated in ancient China, as a meat substitute for adherents of Buddhism. This recipe creates approximately 25 pieces of seitan which can be used as a chicken substitute. Add it to tacos and burritos, salads, wraps or sauté with seasoning - the possibilities are endless.
Servings Prep Time
10 (approximately) 25 min
Cook Time
30 min
Servings Prep Time
10 (approximately) 25 min
Cook Time
30 min
Homemade Seitan
Print Recipe
Seitan or "wheat meat" is a meat substitute that is made from wheat gluten. Seitan is believed to have originated in ancient China, as a meat substitute for adherents of Buddhism. This recipe creates approximately 25 pieces of seitan which can be used as a chicken substitute. Add it to tacos and burritos, salads, wraps or sauté with seasoning - the possibilities are endless.
Servings Prep Time
10 (approximately) 25 min
Cook Time
30 min
Servings Prep Time
10 (approximately) 25 min
Cook Time
30 min
Ingredients
Dry Ingredients
Wet Ingredients
Broth
Servings: (approximately)
Instructions
Dry Ingredients
  1. In a large bowl, add the 2 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tbs nutritional yeast, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/2 savory seasoning. Mix well until all the seasonings have been distributed evenly throughout the mix.
Wet Ingredients
  1. In a liquid measuring cup combine 1 2/3 c water and 3 tbs liquid aminos.
Combine & Knead
  1. Slowly add liquid to dry ingredients, stir until well mixed. You should end up with dough that's not too wet or too dry. (Not all liquid has to be used.) Knead the dough for a few minutes until it is well combined. There shouldn't be any dry areas where the dry mix is still flaking off. The dough should be very firm and slightly elastic. Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with a towel and let rest for 15 min.
Broth
  1. While the dough rests, combine the 12 cups water, bouillon & liquid aminos in a large bowl. You can play a lot with the flavor here, adding more or less salt or bouillon to suite your tastes. Bring pot to a boil.
Simmer
  1. When the 15 min have passed, stretch the dough (it should be much softer now). Divide the dough lengthwise so you have two loaves of seitan. Slice each half into evenly sized pieces. Put the pieces in the boiling water. Simmer for 30 min. Take note, the seitan pieces will puff up a lot! That's normal. Stir occasionally during the 30 min to keep the seitan moist, as the pieces may float up out of the water.
Storage and Cooking
  1. Let cool a bit before cooking. Now you can prepare it any way you'd like. Sauté with seasoning, bake and cover with the sauce of your choice or eat it "raw" in a mock chicken salad. The options are endless! Store in an airtight container with the broth to keep its optimal flavor. Before cooking, squeeze out the excess broth in the seitan.
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Welcome to Compassionate Fitness

Welcome to Compassionate Fitness, an online journal dedicated to whole-food, plant-based nutrition and wellness. We advocate a holistic approach to achieving optimal wellness by incorporating a whole-food, plant-based diet with mindfulness based meditation, moderate exercise and natural medicine. To us, compassionate fitness isn’t just about practicing compassion towards animals through a plant-based diet. We believe compassion towards others and towards ourselves is an integral part of achieving our ideal levels of happiness and well-being. We look forward to growing our audience and creating a supportive community of like-minded individuals and to reaching out to those who want to learn more about our approach to health and nutrition.