I'm SO excited to announce the Members Area is now LIVE! Membership includes access to exclusive content, my favorite recipes and resources, curated information, mindfulness practices, special offers, online classes and live coaching from me in a smaller setting. I will be constantly adding new content, so you'll never run out of ways to improve your health and build a life you LOVE. Membership is $150 per year, but for the rest of September I'm offering a special Founding Members price of $50 for your first year. You will have immediate access to the Wellness Feast 14-Day Pre-Holiday Reset Cleanse (a $275 value) that starts on Monday, September 30th. You can purchase your membership on the STORE page. And please SHARE this information with anyone you know who is ready to take a meaningful step towards greater health and wellness. This is a great way to get a taste of coaching before diving all the way in.
Here's to your health!
Are your genes your destiny? Can you make lasting lifestyle changes to reduce stress and inflammation, boost immunity and fight disease? Can you reclaim your joy? Yes you can! Let’s get the ball rolling. Enter your email in the Stay In The Loop form above. You will receive two FREE gifts: the Wellness Feast Superfoods List and a discovery coaching phone session.
Your time is NOW! Join the Wellness Feast team on September 7th at the Food for Others Tysons 5K & Fun Run. Your registration is your ticket to a FREE health & wellness transformation workshop at Oakton Library on Thursday evening, September 5th. My goal is to inspire you and help you set your wellness intentions as we head into fall and a new school year. Plus you'll learn a few tricks for developing healthy new habits! Then as a team, we'll get moving on the 7th and make a real impact on our neighbors in need. One of my core beliefs: we must help the undernourished. Don't miss this chance to help our community and get some free coaching! And by the way, I'm WALKING the 5K. Others are running, and some are doing the one-mile Fun Run. This event is for EVERYONE! Join the team here!
Yesterday, I did something I've been meaning to do for YEARS. I stopped by GreenFare Organic Cafe in Herndon. (This is the point in the post where I'll get the call from my mother-in-law, because I was a mile from her house and didn't stop by to say hey and raid her garden. Grandma, I had to run to pick up kids from camp, I'll make it up to you by taking you there for lunch!).
First, some background. I have been stalking a plant-based lifestyle for nearly a decade, largely because I have done so much nutrition research around my son's asthma and food allergies, and it's crystal clear: vegetables and other plants are your ticket to good health. That being said, I was raised in the South on fried chicken and red velvet cake. So I could never quite commit. I was also a baker for three years, so mine wasn't exactly a whole foods lifestyle. I've eaten more cake than I care to admit. For me, the wake-up call was a speedbump in my own health road a few years ago, and that's when I became a mostly plant-based eater. I say plant-based instead of vegan because, heck, OREOS and potato chips are vegan (so were many of the cakes I made), but they're not exactly disease-fighting. Now, let me quickly address something:
Don't worry, if I'm your health coach, I am not going to make you "go vegan." I respect your choices. My job is to walk alongside you and help you make incremental, positive, sustainable lifestyle changes, NOT to turn you into me. My food choices are based on my particular biology and, yes, choices. The same is true for you.
That being said, you're going to love GreenFare Organic Cafe as much as I do. Opened in November 2015, GreenFare is "an innovative community restaurant and learning center that serves organic, whole plant food in concert with medical professionals, environmentalists and animal welfare advocates who recognize that this optimal diet can positively transform the world... [The cafe] strives to provide a local, sustainable and seasonal menu that is delicious, fresh and locally prepared, along with catering and a variety of events including cooking classes, book signings and Kickstart programs, among others, to stimulate thinking about the impact of our food choices on ourselves, our families, the environment and animals." You can read more at their website, but let me tell you, they're not just striving to do it, they're DOING it. I grabbed one of their ready-made meals on my way out, organic spinach and sweet potato lasagna ~ it was delicious! But I digress . . .
I met with the CEO and owner, Gwyn Whittaker, for a few minutes mid-afternoon during a lull in the restaurant action. As soon as I walked in, I felt relaxed. And I was thrilled to see a bookshelf full of some of my favorite reads by Michael Greger, Michael Pollan, Joel Fuhrman and Kelly Turner. I grabbed a glass of water and sat down to take it all in while Gwyn finished a meeting. The cafe feels like what it is: more than a restaurant. It's relaxed, calming and full of things to explore. Gwyn greeted a few regulars as she made her way over to me. I only had a few minutes to spare, but it didn't take long for me to recognize Gwyn's energy, ambition, warmth and vision.
If you're already a plant-eater like me, I encourage you to make GreenFare one of your regular spots. And if you're just curious, or ready to take a bigger step, take a look at GreenFare's website for a wealth of information, classes, resources, meal delivery options and kickstarter programs. In the meantime, I had a whole bunch of questions for Gwyn after we met, so here's more information!
Have you always been a plant-based eater? What and who inspired you?
Most people were not born vegan, they discover it over time. My journey began in my early teens when I saw a vein in a piece of steak and made the connection. I stopped chicken and turkey in my twenties for the same reason; then seafood after reading The Ethics of Food Choices. The myth of needing protein and calcium from animals was finally dispelled when I watched the film Forks Over Knives. I’d lost a partner to heart disease and so the documentary really resonated.
How did you decide to start a restaurant that exclusively serves plant-based meals?
I did a pilot with 45 people for ten days; basically the Jumpstart that is shown in the film PlantPure Nation, that I had helped to fund. Changes in health were so dramatic in ten days, that I decided to pursue opening GreenFare as an educational restaurant.
Did you have experience cooking plant-based dishes? How did you know where to start?
I’m not really a big cook; I love the Forks Over Knives app that has quick and easy recipes! I hired Pericles Silva as an Operations Manager from Whole Foods; he’s a Sports Nutritionist who has been plant-based for decades. I found a space that had been a restaurant before and bought equipment from a vegan food truck that had gone out of business. I had started and run an IT business for ten years, so I tend to focus on what I know and hire people where I don’t have experience.
How do you choose your menu offerings? Do they change seasonally?
We have a seasonal and local menu (we’re one of six USDA Certified Organic restaurants in the US); our produce mostly comes from Amish organic farmers in Lancaster, PA. Our recipes are inspired by the many books that we carry at GreenFare.
How has the community responded? Do you ever meet with resistance from people who are trying it for the first time?
I think the community has responded well; we continue to see a groundswell of people who want to try plant based and who come not because of this but because they love the food.
We prepare our dishes without the tools that the food industry uses to get people addicted: salt, sugar and fat. So, we cook without oil, and keep salt on the table for people to add to their taste for optimal health. We also use whole dates as a sweetener and not simple sugars that trigger these addictions. We focus on optimal nutrition with organic, minimally processed fresh plants, without these additions that cause harm over time.
I love the idea of your kickstart programs. So many people are curious about plant-based/vegan diets, but they feel overwhelmed about taking that first step. How did the kickstart program get started, and what have you learned along the way?
PCRM.org (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) offers free classes in their 21 Day Vegan Kickstart online. We enable it with the same book and videos, except that we provide live interactive classes as well as two meals a day for 21 days. We see people lose weight, normalize blood pressure and cholesterol and a whole host of other health improvements in a very short time frame.
Tell me about your nutrition classes. Who have some of the teachers been? Are there other things GreenFare is doing to educate people about the benefits of a plant-based whole foods lifestyle?
Most of the books that we have at GreenFare have been presented by the authors; most of the greats have come through: T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Neal Barnard.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
I love PlantPure Nation by Kim Campbell and Quick and Easy Forks Over Knives.
What are some of the ways you’re getting your message out to the community?
Mostly classes at GreenFare (I do a newsletter that you can subscribe to at www.greenfare.com), a weekly Reston Farmers Market on Saturdays, a Fairfax Veg Fest that we’ll be doing again next April, and events with local companies where we cater and do lunch and learn talks.
Most of us were brought up to finish our meat and drink our milk. Do you have any advice for people who have made the choice to go plant-based, but can’t seem to convince their friends and families of its benefits?
Read How Not to Die, watch Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, What the Health, and the upcoming Game Changers (www.gamechangersmovie.com). It comes from a decision to focus on your own health, the environment, and for many, loving animals. You can’t say you love animals and then choose to eat them or their products. There are more vegans and vegetarians from ages 12 to 22 than there are 22 and up, so a huge movement is driving change in the industry.
What’s YOUR favorite dish at GreenFare?
I love all of them, but my favorite is the Organic Spinach and Sweet Potato Lasagna. We have a meal plan too, so I always have GreenFare meals in my refrigerator ready!
Today I had a call with one of my success coaches. As part of my health & life coach training, I'm required to log a certain amount of time being coached myself. It's pretty amazing. We were talking about fear, faith and a whole bunch of other really cool things. And I decided I needed to sit with some of what we talked about, and maybe even write a little about it. So apparently, I've decided to take that even further and write in a very public way about it, right here on this blog. Talk about facing your fears!
First, let me tell you something about myself. I am obsessed with Christmas. Like, OBSESSED. When I started my little baking business three and a half years ago, sometimes I wondered if I had secretly started it so I could bake more during the holiday season. Of course, then it kind of took OVER the holidays, and that's a story for another day.
In any case, I happen to share this almost pathological love of the holidays with my mother-in-law. We're like Target, we decorate our homes inappropriately early for the holidays. Several years ago, she called me and told me that the Hallmark Channel runs Christmas movies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the holiday season. Wasn't that great?! I kind of rolled my eyes and thought, "Okay, I'm not THAT bad." Well, it turns out, I AM that bad. At some point that season, I turned on Channel 240, and there was no turning back.
I've since kind of psychoanalyzed myself on this and realized that it's a little bit of a drug for me. It's mind-numbing. Perhaps a little better than drinking a bottle of wine to cope with stress, but potentially addictive nonetheless. It's a great way NOT to face something you need to face. Watch really, really formulaic holiday movies and imagine your life is as neat and predictable (and so well decorated for Christmas!) as the lives of the women in the movies. Especially the ones who leave their big corporate jobs (or get in car accidents on the way home from their big corporate jobs and bump their heads and get amnesia . . . ) and find themselves in a quaint small town with old-fashioned values and a hunky, outdoorsy guy from her past. I actually happen to be a former corporate type, now living in her home state with a hunky, outdoorsy guy. Lucky me!
For the first few years of my Hallmark addiction, I confessed it to no one. And this gets me to my point: the fear of the EYE ROLL.
For most of my life, I was very goal-oriented. I still am, but it's not the primary driver that it was for the first several decades of my life. I got good grades. I set high goals and worked at them. I got a lengthy and expensive education, and I moved to New York where I practiced law for almost a decade. That particular path did not really lend itself to looking weak, soft or silly. I was a born achiever, I was raised to be tough, and I worked in an industry that expected you to have a thick skin. I remember my very first internship, when I was in college, at a political consulting firm. I had been hired to "do research" but in reality, I did a lot of running files around Washington DC and making coffee. The first week I was there, one of the gruff execs told me to go make coffee, and I ran into a little trouble. I was 20 years old, I didn't drink coffee, and I had no idea what I was doing. Plus the machine was broken, it turns out. After about 20 minutes, he walked in and completely unloaded on me. "How fucking hard is it to make coffee?!" was all I heard amidst the yelling, and I burst into tears. I quickly excused myself and went outside to pull myself together. About an hour later, he came over to my desk and offered an awkward apology and mumbled something about how I shouldn't feel bad, we all have emotional moments sometimes. I remember thinking both "He's telling ME not to feel bad?" and "For as long as I live, I'll never cry at work again." And many, many times over the next ten or fifteen years, I rolled my eyes when someone at work (and sometimes in regular old life) was too emotional or, in my opinion, too soft.
It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today. Which is this: I am smart and goal-oriented and well educated, and all that stuff. But I am also silly and spiritual and introspective. Sometimes I'm weak, sometimes I'm strong. My emotions can run pretty big. I have learned SO much in the past few years about empathy, compassion, forgiveness, love, life's messiness, and, you guessed it, taking care of yourself and the people you love. I have made mistakes, and I have made progress. I want to keep learning, even though it's not always easy, and I'm ready to share what I've learned with anyone who thinks it might be helpful. But I'm a little bit scared of the eye roll. The "Oh great, another health coach." The "Oh right, another woman who went through some things, hit her late 40s, and now she's a life coach." But guess what? I'm okay with that, it turns out. Because I can't ask YOU to fearlessly follow YOUR dreams, if I'm not willing to do the same.
So listen up world. I'm here for you when you're ready to tackle your goals and dreams, because I've been there, and I'm working as hard as I can for you. And also, my name is Nicole Seevers, and I'm a Hallmark movie-aholic. (PS, TWO different people in my family gave me those tee-shirts up there for Christmas last year. I think that's called an intervention.)
One of my core beliefs is "We must help the undernourished." ABUNDANCE, guys! Here's the deal. You're working on moving your body every day anyway. Let's do it together and share our abundance. The Food for Others 5K and Fun Run is Saturday September 7th. I'll be hosting a free HEALTH & WELLNESS TRANSFORMATION WORKSHOP the week before to inspire you and help you set your wellness intentions as we head into fall and a new school year. Then, as a team, we'll get moving on the 7th and make a real impact on our neighbors in need. Details to come!
Yesterday morning I sat down and opened up a new blog post with the intention of writing about what I’ve learned about the health effects of alcohol. I thought this would be a good topic because (1) alcohol is a heavily debated subject in the health and wellness space, and (2) one of my good friends recently asked me a kind of funny, yet meaningful, question about health coaching and wine. Then my morning got the better of me (ie., I had to pay attention to my children) and now it’s the weekend and I’m sitting down again to do this post. However, since then, I’ve participated in an exercise around beliefs with another student in my coaching certification program. And I decided that my post about alcohol is really part of a bigger issue: beliefs around food and health.
So let’s go back to alcohol for a moment. But bear in mind you could substitute other words for alcohol in the next few paragraphs. Sugar, for example. Cake. Deli meat. Processed food. Bacon.
So this friend and I were hanging out poolside while our daughters were at swim team practice. I love this woman, she’s the cool to my hot(flash). While I’m all drama and chattiness and hand motions, she’s all calm and efficient with her words and stillness. My best friend in life is the same way. Clearly, when it comes to good friends, I have a type. Anyway, we were talking about the health coach thing, and she asked, “Aren’t you worried about being under a microscope?” And I was like, huh? And she said, “You know, like people will be watching for a misstep. Like if you have one too many glasses of wine?” Now I don’t know WHAT she is talking about, I have NEVER had too many glasses of wine.
Right, so I basically responded that I don’t really care if someone is judging me for drinking wine, my whole shtick is about balance and moderation, avoiding extremes, progress not perfection, making small changes to get big results, building better habits, etc. etc. But it got me thinking.
I have actually spent a fair amount of time researching this issue over the last few years. The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other organizations we generally trust have stated that there is a clear link between alcohol use and the risk of developing breast and other cancers. On the other hand, some of my favorite medical authors, Dr. Kristi Funk and the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, have noted that it’s a little more complex than that. How about red wine, particularly pinot noir, with its resveratrol and anti-estrogen properties (quite like the endocrine therapy given to most breast cancer survivors)? Look at that Greek island where everyone has wine with lunch and they're living longer than we are (of course they're also eating a lot of local veggies, herbs and fish, living in community, moving and resting). What if you just have one glass, with a meal chock full of cancer-fighting foods? Could there be some synergy there? Or as one oncologist pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing here, stress is absolutely a contributor to the expression of cancer, so three martinis on an empty stomach, probably not a good idea. But if a glass of wine with dinner is part of how a patient lets go of stress, then it’s probably not a problem.
Now listen, there are plenty of doctors and other medical professionals that would disagree with that statement. They may actually be right. Some medical professionals would also say you shouldn’t have any sugar. Or they’d point to the World Health Organization announcement that processed meats (hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage and some deli meats) are carcinogenic and are linked to increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.
If a cancer patient consumed a fair amount of alcohol over the years, ate hot dogs in the summer, had bacon with breakfast on the weekends and ordered dessert from time to time, did he cause his cancer? That is a very polarizing question. There are some out there that will say his lifestyle probably contributed to his cancer, but that’s good news because he can also contribute to his healing by eating plant-based and anti-inflammatory foods, green tea, mushrooms and all the wonderful phytochemicals out there that act as medicine.
Okay, but what if someone has an unfavorable genetic profile? A predisposition to getting a particular type of cancer or some other disease? Then does it not matter? Bring on the Twinkies and sausage and tequila, he's going to get sick anyway!
But hold on, there’s some really cool stuff out there about epigenetics, the ability to actually change gene expression through diet, lifestyle and other choices. The breast cancer gene is there, but maybe we can keep it from “turning on” by making sure the terrain is healthy. In other words, feed the body and spirit in a way that boosts immunity and the body’s ability to kill off any pesky cancer cells before they become life-threatening.
Is your head spinning yet? Let’s go back to that glass of wine. Or the slice of cake. Crispy bacon. The cheeseburger. Food has power, but our beliefs around food can cause us to give it too much power. I’m actually taking this verbatim from something my friend and fellow coaching student said yesterday. She suddenly realized she had been giving food too much power. And we ALL do that. Especially women. If you think that slice of cake is going to make you sick, fat or both, your brain is taking that in and, I promise: it’s sending danger signals to every cell in your body. Do you know what IS going to make you sick, fat or both? Chronic inflammation from stress. If you obsessively worry that you have cancer (or you're going to get cancer) because you spent your twenties going out for cocktails after work, you’re going to fire up your fight or flight response, your body is going to release hormones and neurotransmitters that cause inflammation, and that will take its toll on your health. Stress is good, in short doses, when we’re really in danger. Not when we’re stuck inside our heads beating ourselves up for what we ate or drank. It’s a slice of cake, not a saber-tooth tiger. But your mind might be telling your body they’re equally dangerous.
So don’t get me wrong. I generally eat pretty healthy, I probably eat more vegetables than a lot of people you know, I get out and move when I can. Sometimes it’s a long bike ride, sometimes it’s just a quick walk around the neighborhood because I have 20 minutes before someone gets off a school bus. I meditate. I pay attention to stress (even if I don’t always manage it perfectly). But I also have learned that if I have a glass of wine or a treat, it’s part of enjoying life. And that’s all it is. To quote one of my teachers, it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both and more.
Beliefs are powerful. And so are you.
Today I was listening to an interview of Dr. Frank Lipman. If you don't know about him, you can read more here. He put out a book last year, How to Be Well, which I intend to read ASAP. (You'll learn soon enough that I'm a bit of a wellness book junkie and have been for decades.) In the interview he said, "The small ordinary actions we take on a daily basis, or our habits that we perform daily, have extraordinary healing effects." He went on to list some of those things most of us take for granted, that he believes have really important health effects: walking in the forest, walking barefoot on the beach, being kind to others, practicing gratitude, listening to music, having a pet. Daily actions. "It's not just about a low sugar diet, and going to the gym, and sleeping well, which are all very important, but it's those other little things that people don't associate with health, which are hugely beneficial." Wow. Yes.
My aunt used to say that she could just put her face against a horse, just take in that warm smell, and it would do wonders for her. It must be genetic . . . there was a time in my life when I was under tremendous strain, but by all outward appearances, I was the healthiest girl around. I was on the phone with my father, and I was in this hurricane of anxiety that I just couldn't see my way out of. I was sitting in my car as we talked, and he knew I was at the barn because my daughter had a riding lesson. All of a sudden, he just cut me short (my father never cuts me short, which is saying a lot because I'm a talker), and said, "Nicole, I think you need to hang up and go for a ride. I think this is really important." I argued that it was too late, the lesson was almost over, I had been crying and looked awful, etc., but he insisted. And what that did was INTERRUPT that stress response. The stressors were still there, but by walking away from it and getting outside and connecting with life - of the animals, my daughter, the grass, the air, the insects humming - I was able to derail for a while what that stress response was doing to my health.
It does not have to be a horse. Sometimes I just step out onto my postage stamp of a front yard in my bare feet. Sometimes I lie down with one of the kids on the couch and watch The Loud House with them, or I'll ask my son to play the piano. He doesn't know that's why I'm asking (although, he probably knows why now). It also doesn't have to be about a specific stressor. Even the "little" daily stressors can accumulate and settle into our bodies, sending signals to our brains that result in a whole host of issues, from poor digestion to inflammation to hormone imbalances: text notifications and emails piling up and the to-do list and work and money and traffic and environmental toxins. The list goes on. We are emotionally, physically and spiritually bombarded almost constantly. But if we can establish some of those daily habits Dr. Lipman was talking about, a walk outside, a show of kindness, a moment of gratitude, snuggling up with a person or a pet, he's right . . . it can have tremendous effects on our wellbeing.
By the way, that's our rabbit Clover up there. He's the greatest rabbit of all time. He loves his people, and we adore him. He's very good at interrupting the human stress response.
It took me about thirty years to figure out something I heard articulated so well in one of my courses last week: there's baggage around the word EXERCISE. "You should exercise." "I don't have time to exercise." "I really need to exercise more." And here's the thing. I don't like the gym. I really wish I did. I want to like the gym. I've tried mixing things up a little: the treadmill, the bikes, elliptical trainers, lifting weights, swimming, different classes. Some things are more fun than others, but when I'm at the gym, I'm pretty much counting the minutes until I can leave. Running is the same way (I can't run anymore for reasons I'll get into another time). It does release stress, it does help me fit into the clothes I like to wear, but I pretty much can't wait for it to be over.
MOVING your body, on the other hand, is fun. And easier than you think. I too was brainwashed for a while into thinking if it was really that much fun, you must not be working hard enough. No pain, no gain, right? A few years ago, I started riding horses. I became really good friends with a woman at the barn who was a more advanced rider. She broke her foot (not riding horses, by the way) and had to take a few months off. By the time she was back at the barn, she was complaining that she'd gotten out of shape, that the break from riding had left her core and legs weak. I rolled my eyes on the inside, because I thought, there's no way that's a workout. Turns out I was wrong. And I can't believe it's a workout because it is SO MUCH FUN. You know what else makes me stronger and gets my heart beating? Lugging the bales of hay out to the paddock to feed the horses. Carrying buckets of water and feed to their stalls. Shoveling and raking the ring. And on top of all that "exercise," the sounds and smells of the barn are just flat out good for my soul.
I also started cycling about a year ago with my husband. There's a good story behind that also, but my point is . . . that is a SERIOUS workout and I still LOVE it. I feel incredibly powerful on a bike. I was really nervous at first, especially when we were on roads. Also I fell over a lot when I got those pedals that you clip your shoes into. But now I'm addicted.
You may think horses stink (they do) and biking seems like a fair amount of trouble (sometimes it is), maybe the gym really IS your scene. But the takeaway here is, you don't have to have a dedicated hour in an official workout place with your fitness band/watch telling you your heart is in the fat burning zone (I came of age in the 80s, it was ALL ABOUT the fat burning zone). Just MOVE. Even if it's for a little bit. I sat at this computer for six hours yesterday working on the web site and attending classes, so when I took my middle guy to his piano lesson, I took a walk around his piano teacher's neighborhood for a half hour. It was gorgeous. The "computer kink" came right out of my neck.
Try new things. You might not like them. Keep trying, you'll find something you do, and in the process, you just might surprise yourself. Take the kids for a walk after dinner (I do this a lot in an attempt to wear my daughter out). Play outside with them. Find an adult league for a sport you used to love. Swim with the kids in the pool this summer, have races to see who can swim 25 meters first. Jump on that bike. Dance! If you're moving, you're getting healthier, you're managing stress and you might even be connecting with that teenager that hasn't spoken in 48 hours.