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Mental Health During the Holidays

Avoiding the Holiday Blues: 8 Mental Wellness Tips

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy this time of year. I am a sucker for holiday lights, gingerbread house making, and singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs. Hidden among all the merry-making, however, is anxiety and stress. In fact, the holidays can take a major toll on our mental health. Many people feel anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed this time of year. The never-ending shopping, obligatory events, dysfunctional family, and nostalgic memories can bring up all kinds of emotions. So let’s take time to take care of ourselves first.

Here are my 8 mental wellness tips for the holidays. 

Create boundaries with family.

You may have a family member (or two or three) who pushes boundaries and guilt trips. This person feels like they have a right to judge you and your life choices. It is vitally important to set boundaries with this person and communicate them clearly. If a boundary is crossed there will be consequences.

If you are staying with family consider only staying one night. Get a hotel or bounce around between family and friends the other nights. If family is staying with you, only agree to an amount of time that you are comfortable with. You do not owe them anything just because they are family.

Manage your time.

The holidays can be very exhausting with all the dinners, brunches, and other events. Be realistic with your schedule and only attend what you can. Do not give into guilt trips or talks of family obligations. You are in charge of your schedule.

Stick to your budget.

You are buying gifts, plane tickets, food, drinks, and the list goes on and on. Be sure to only pay with cash or debit so you don’t go into the new year with debt. Also, consider hosting a Secret Santa between friend or family groups. This way you are only buying gifts for a few people.

Be open and honest about your feelings.

The holidays can remind us of what we have lost. Maybe a family member has passed away or you come from a divorced family. Whatever the struggle may be, it is very normal to feel sad, lonely, and depressed during this time. The best thing you can do is talk about your feelings with your loved ones. Do not feel guilty about opening up during the holidays. This is what your family and friends are there for.

Keep a workout routine.

It is more important than ever to keep exercising during the holidays. This is vital for your emotional and physical health. If you’re going out of town to visit family, plan to attend a workout class together or go for a family run. This is a great way to hold each other accountable and spend time together.

Avoid overindulging.

This is easier said than done, but do your best not to overeat or overdrink. Both indulgences can affect your mental health, especially when you add on all the other emotions you’re feeling this time of year.

Find some alone time.

Make sure to take time to yourself in between all the obligations. Take a solo walk in the snow or grab a cup of coffee at the local cafe. Give yourself time to reset from the hustle and bustle.

Take time to reflect

The holidays are a great time to reflect on the past year. What did you accomplish? How did you grow? What lessons did you learn? What can you carry into the new year and what can you leave behind? Be proud of yourself!

Related Stories: Holiday Crohn’s Guide

5 Thought Patterns to Save You From Yourself

Grateful for Crohn's Disease

Why I am Grateful For Crohn’s Disease

You might be wondering how I could be grateful for Crohn’s Disease? Just a few years ago I would have thought this was odd, too. Being grateful for an auto-immune disease? Yeah, right. I would rather be healthy and not have any problems at all.

Now I know how incredibly lucky I am to have Crohn’s Disease. The struggles and resulting lessons have shaped me into the person I am proud to be. I could not imagine a life without it. 

I am grateful for finding my warrior side.

I remember being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I was 15 years old sitting in the doctor’s office with my parents when the doctor told us. I started to cry and shake. What does this mean? Year after year I was in and out of the hospital. While my sisters were carefree teenagers, I was getting IVs, going on and off steroids, and worrying when my next flare-up would be. Every time I would break down, I wished I was stronger. I didn’t realize that I was already braver and stronger than most people my age. I was enduring and overcoming a lifetime of struggles in a few short years. This realization was empowering. This is when my warrior side came out and it wasn’t going anywhere. I realized I can get through anything, health-related or not, because Crohn’s Disease has released my warrior side.

I am grateful for the incredible mind-body awareness I have cultivated.

When you’re dealing with any chronic issue you are super in tune with your body. You have to be aware of any changes or symptoms that could be concerning. With Crohn’s Disease, you know exactly when you’ve eaten something that doesn’t sit well or when stress is affecting your disease. Many people do not have this ability. I can not tell you how many friends and family members complain of a headache or constipation and have no idea why it is happening. They don’t remember what they ate and when I ask them if they are stressed, they deny any emotional issues. Crohn’s Disease has given me an incredible mind-body awareness that I would never give up.

I am grateful for the compassion and understanding I have towards others.

When you have dealt with a health issue you understand all the feelings that come with it. I can truly feel what other people are feeling because I have been there. This has allowed me to help family and friends who are dealing with struggles. What I have found is the more compassion I have towards others, the happier I am. This has made me a better partner, sister, daughter, coworker, and stranger. 

I am grateful for my healthy diet.

I never would have made changes to my diet if it wasn’t for Crohn’s Disease. These diet changes have significantly benefited my disease and mental health. I am grateful for my healthy diet because I know it will help all aspects of my life today and as I grow older.

I am grateful for finding yoga.

So much gratitude for yoga! For so long I wasn’t able to keep a regular exercise routine. I was either dealing with a flare-up or recovering from one. I remember driving home from work 2 years ago telling myself I was finally ready to start exercising again. I hadn’t had a flare-up for a few months and my body felt strong. I wanted to keep the health kick going, so I drove to a random yoga studio and the rest is history. The practice continues to transform my life in ways I never thought possible. I thank Crohn’s Disease for opening myself up for the transformation.

I am grateful for learning to never take my health for granted.

For years I prayed to be cured. I thought that maybe one day I would wake up and not have Crohn’s Disease anymore. During flare-ups, I would complain. During remission, I would complain. Finally I realized that it can always be worse. There is always someone dealing with something worse. I am lucky to only have Crohn’s Disease. 

 

Related Articles: How Yoga Changed My Life

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Crohn’s Disease 101: Everything The World Should Know

Education is power. With education we can become advocates for the people around us. We can make their lives easier. We can make our own lives easier. We can be inspired and inspire others to raise money for crucial research to one day find a cure. Let’s get educated!

The-BasicsWhat is Crohn’s Disease?

Crohn’s Disease was named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn who first described the disease in 1932, although it is mostly considered a 20th century disease. Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. It most commonly affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon, but it can affect any part of the GI tract. Ulcerative Colitis is in the same category of diseases, but is limited to the colon.

What are the symptoms?

Crohn’s is a chronic condition which means people will experience periods of flare-ups and symptoms, followed by periods of remission where symptoms go away. Symptoms include persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgency, abdominal cramps and pain, constipation, fever, appetite loss, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, and loss of normal menstrual cycle.

What causes Crohn’s Disease?

The cause is not completely understood, although research suggests hereditary, genetic, and/or environmental factors are contributors. In people with IBD, the immune system mistakes harmless bacteria in the intestines for harmful invaders. Cells travel out of the blood to the intestines and cause inflammation that does not subside, leading to chronic inflammation and ulceration. Diet and stress play a role in symptoms and current research is looking at whether these and other environmental factors also play a role in causation.

Who is affected?

Crohn’s Disease affects men and women equally and is most prevalent among people ages 15 and 35. It typically runs in families and is most common among people of eastern European backgrounds, although recently there has been an increase of cases among African Americans. Crohn’s is more common in developed countries, urban areas, and northern climates.

What are the treatments for Crohn’s Disease?

Prescription medications are most commonly used. Some of them are given intravenously or injected. Please click here for a detailed explanation on treatments.myths-busted.jpgCommon Myths About Crohn’s Disease

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Although a few symptoms are similar like diarrhea and abdominal pain, these two diseases are very different.  IBS does not cause inflammation, ulcers, or other damage to the bowel. It is much less serious.
  2. Stress causes Crohn’s, so just be more positive. There is no proof that stress causes Crohn’s Disease. There is evidence, however, that anxiety and stress are symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. Either way, telling a patient to just be positive is not helpful. 
  3. Follow a special diet and you will be cured. This is simply not true. No one diet is going to cure someone’s disease. It may help relieve symptoms, but the fact is this disease is so much more complicated than that. Patients are encouraged to form a diet that works best for them.
  4. A Crohn’s Disease patient is always sick and in the hospital. Although some patients can find themselves in and out of the hospital often, many of them reach long periods of remission. They can live pretty normal lives. 
  5. Surgery will cure Crohn’s Disease. Unlike Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease may not go away when the diseased part of the intestine is removed. It can come back in another part of the GI tract.

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Friend or family of a Crohnie? Here’s some advice.

We’re going to fart. It’s not going to smell good. We can’t hold it in because that hurts us. We will try to leave the room, but sometimes that’s not possible.

We are going to stink up the bathroom sometimes. Trust me, we are way more embarrassed about it than you are disgusted.

We are going to cancel on you at the last minute. We don’t mean to be rude, but we really don’t feel good. I know we confirmed plans only 30 minutes ago, but that’s how quickly our symptoms can kick in.

You’re going to cook an elaborate dinner and I am not going to finish my plate. Trust me, it looks delicious and I am dreaming about eating it all.

We’re going to feel tired sometimes, but we’re going to push through because we care about our time with you. If you notice we are a bit low on energy, encourage us to take a break.

We are going to soil our pants or the bed sheets. We are going to be so embarrassed like we want to hide under a rock forever. Please help us find the humor in this.

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What Never to Say to a Crohnie

“But you don’t look sick.”

“Stop worrying so much. Just be happy.”

“You go to the bathroom a lot.”

“Did you just fart? Wow, that smells terrible.”

“You’re so skinny. Do you have an eating disorder?”

“Wow, that’s a lot of medicine in your purse. Ever consider trying a more natural approach?”

“You should have eaten healthier when you were a kid, then maybe you wouldn’t be sick.”TOP-musthaves-1024x375.jpgCrohnie To-Go Kit: Must Haves When You Leave the House

– Baby wipes

– Scented spray

– Extra pair of shorts/pants and undies (Just keep them in the trunk of your car)

– Your doctor’s phone number in your cell phone

– Peppermint pills or your choice of tummy soother

– A sense of humorSelf-Love.jpgDaily Self-Affirmations for a Crohnie

  • Crohn’s Disease isn’t my fault. I did nothing wrong to get this disease.
  • I am doing my best. In fact, I am already stronger than most people I know.
  • I am allowed to be stressed today. I am dealing with a lot, so I am going to be easy on myself today.
  • I am no less than anyone else. Everyone around me is struggling. My struggle happens to be Crohn’s Disease.
  • Crohn’s is a part of me, but it doesn’t have to define me. I am whole and enough and worth everything the world has to offer.

Funny Crohn’s Memes For the Soul

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Holiday Crohn’s Guide

I absolutely love the holidays! It is my favorite time of year. With that said, I can get really overwhelmed ahead of time. There is no doubt my gut feels the stress while I am frantically shopping for gifts, mailing out holiday cards, trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise schedule, and anticipating the inevitable family drama.

The last thing you want is a Crohn’s Disease flare-up to kick off the new year. Here are six tips to help you stay flare-free this holiday season.

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Take care of your mental health before anything else.

It’s no secret that stress and anxiety have an effect on Crohn’s Disease. Take a break from all the craziness to do something relaxing.This could mean taking time to meditate, taking a break from holiday shopping to get a massage, or staying home on a Friday night to watch a holiday movie. Also, make sure you write down a to-do list so you can get holiday chores off your mind and onto paper. Remember, nothing is worth extreme stress. Find time to put things into perspective if you are getting overwhelmed.

Avoid trigger foods and maintain a healthy diet.

Holiday food is so enticing with all the meat, gravy, pasta, eggnog, and desserts. If you have Crohn’s Disease, however, it only takes one time to indulge in a trigger food for you to never make the mistake again. If fried foods or dairy hurt you, avoid those dishes. Stick with what you know you can eat. If you’re going to a family or friend’s house for a holiday meal, bring a dish you know you can eat. You’ll be helping yourself and impressing the host.

Maintain your exercise routine.

If you run, lift, or maybe practice yoga everyday, it is so important to keep that routine through the holidays. This can be hard to do since your sleeping and eating schedule will be off. A fun way to hold yourself accountable is to plan your workout with a friend or family member. It’s a fun way to catch up with them, too. You’ll be doing your body and mind a huge favor.

Don’t overexert yourself.

You’re probably already more tired than everyone else because of the medicines you’re on. Be sure to give yourself lots of breaks, take naps, and get at least 8 hours of sleep every  night. Your intestines are already going to be on hyper-drive, so make sure your family and friends know when you are feeling tired. Don’t be ashamed. You have an autoimmune disease and need rest.

Drink more water and less alcohol.

If you are the lucky Crohnie who can drink alcohol, don’t overindulge. We all know how that ends! Be sure to drink plenty of water, too. It’s easy to forget when we’re busy and distracted, so keep a water bottle with you at all times.

Take your medicines on time.

You’re going to be waking up and going to bed at odd times over the holidays. Be sure you are planning your medicine accordingly. If you get infusions, take that into consideration before you book flights. If you use peppermint pills or other supplements to soothe an upset tummy, make sure to pack them with you on your travels.

More resources:

Which holiday foods are Crohn’s friendly?

10 Holiday Survival Tips With Crohn’s Disease

Eating Tips To Get You Through the Holidays

5 Thought Patterns to Save You From Yourself

I recently received an email from a 30 year old woman living with Crohn’s Disease. One thing she wrote is so universal it deserves its own blog post:

“I often struggle mentally with the disease in that if I pretend like nothing is wrong with me and act totally normal, then maybe I will feel that way.”

How many of us have played this game with ourselves? I know I have! In fact, this is probably one of the most common and normal feelings for anyone dealing with a chronic illness and really any personal problem at all. It can be so hard to accept ourselves for who we truly are. Whether we have Crohn’s Disease, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, anger or any other trait we deem negative, we tend to ignore it. If we can just hide it from ourselves and others, then maybe it will just go away. We all know it just doesn’t work this way. Personally, I spent 10 years pretending like I didn’t have Crohn’s Disease and anxiety. I kept thinking I would outgrow it all and one day I would feel better and normal. I also thought if I didn’t let people know there was something wrong with me then maybe it would all go away. All this did was make me sicker and cause more fear and anxiety.

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Through the years I have practiced 5 self-acceptance thought patterns that I would like to share with you.

Embrace yourself, then love yourself anyway. This is vital. Above all, we must embrace ourselves for who we are so that we can start to love ourselves. This sounds cliche, but being honest with ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves. As soon as I started to accept that I will have Crohn’s Disease and anxiety my whole life I was able to look at those things as a part of who I am and not something extraneous. Then, I started the journey towards loving those parts about myself and seeing them as things to be grateful for.

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Normal doesn’t exist. Whatever your definition of “normal” is, I have some news for you. No one is normal. No one has it figured out. I still get trapped in this cycle of looking at other people- co-workers, fellow yogis, friends- thinking they are so normal. Nothing is wrong with them, but everything is wrong with me. These thought patterns are not only harmful to us, but they are simply not true. It’s a made-up narrative we play in our minds.

Live your own life and no one else’s. In a world of social media everyone is only posting the best part of their lives for us to see. This is so important to keep in mind when scrolling through your feed. Stop thinking your life is inferior to anyone else’s. Stop thinking you are the only one dealing with something. Literally everyone is struggling in their own way. Work on being grateful for your beautiful life and live it fully. Remember, even during your worst Crohn’s flare-up, someone has it worse.

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You are not alone. This is so important to remember. You are never, ever, ever alone.  Even during your worst flare-up or most depressed day, someone else if feeling or has felt exactly what you are going through. The best thing you can do for yourself during those times is talk about how you are feeling to people close to you. You will see how similar you are to everyone around you. They may not have felt a Crohn’s flare-up, but they have felt scared, hopeless, fed up, and annoyed.

You are exactly where you need to be. You’re not supposed to be any further along on your journey than where you are right now. If you still haven’t accepted your disease, that is okay. If you still have tons of negatives thoughts about yourself, that is okay. Give yourself a break. You are doing just fine where you are right now. All you can do for yourself is work on a positive thought or action every day. 

 

4 Self-Help Books Everyone Should Read (And Why You Shouldn’t Be Ashamed of Reading Them!)

I didn’t always love to read. I grew up with a reading comprehension learning disability, so books were my enemy for a long time. It was only when I graduated college that I fell in love with fiction novels and a whole new world opened up to me. I caught up on years of amazing book series that I missed out on like Harry Potter and Robert Langdon. Reading novels became an incredible way to learn about myself. I always seem to find a part of myself in every character I read about. Whatever adventure they go on, heartbreak they feel, or struggle they persevere through, I can connect it to something in my life and learn from their story.

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This is my home library. Notice the box set of Gilmore Girls!

Recently, I have added some incredible self help books to my home library and I want to share some of my favorites with you. Let me start by defusing the stereotype of people who read self help books. You may judge these people by assuming they are troubled, hurt, weak, helpless or lost. These are common stereotypes in society for anyone seeking help. I am here to tell you once and for all that these people are, in fact, the strongest humans on the planet. They are the people who want to be better, grow, conquer fears and insecurities, become a better friend, sister, mother, or partner, excel at work, gain personal power, overcome ego, learn gratitude, and overall live a happier life. These are honest people who want to work towards their higher self.

Self help books, personal transformation books, motivational books, or whatever you want to call them are an insider’s guide to surviving life on Planet Earth. Think about it. You’re getting inside information about life from people who have already failed, suffered, hit rock bottom, survived, thrived, and conquered. The lessons have already been learned, so you’re getting a massive head start on life. Why not soak up all that information from fellow humans who have been there and done that? You’re getting decades worth of invaluable lessons in a few hundred pages.

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For me, I struggle with finding my personal power and letting go of ego so that I can think and act of my own fruition. I sometimes find myself stuck solving other people’s problems, living other people’s lives, and making decisions based on the world around me. This causes me so much unnecessary anxiety, fear, and worry. So I want to ask you to be honest with yourself. What is holding you back from being your best self? What self-sabotaging behavior or thoughts do you need to address? What can you do today to be better than you were yesterday?

Below are four of my favorite books that have helped me so much this year.

Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David R. Hawkins M.D. Ph.D.

This book was the first self-help book I read and it changed my life. Dr. Hawkins is a psychiatrist who spent years studying ways to relieve human suffering. He found that surrender has the greatest practical benefit to relieving obstacles to Enlightenment and becoming free of negativity. He gives easy and effective ways of letting go in everyday life. This book is a must-read for every human being on the planet.

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The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power by Brendon Burchard.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels at the mercy of work, family, social media, or obligations. This book has helped me gain freedom from the grip the outside world has on me. You will learn that the key to a happier life is taking your life into your own hands. Before you can claim your personal power, you have to relieve yourself from other people’s demands. This is something I work on every single day.

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Codependant No More: How to Stop Controlling Others & Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie.

The bible for all you codependants out there! If someone else’s problem is your problem or you try to control the people in your life using the excuses of “love and concern” or you describe your feelings based on how other people are feeling, you may be codependant. It’s time to live your own life and stop tending to someone else’s. This book will be eye opening and incredibly freeing to you.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson.

When has the saying, “Just be positive and smile”, ever helped you? Let’s be honest, life is hard and striving for constant positivity just isn’t realistic. This hilariously honest book encourages you to embrace your fears and faults so that you can find true courage and happiness.

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There are thousands of self-help books for you to choose from, so find ones that greet you where you’re at in life. Remember, life is a journey and it’s supposed to be hard sometimes. It’s what you do during the struggles that are the defining moments of your journey. Continue being honest with yourself no matter how hard that can be. You are worth it. You are enough. Do something to be a better you. 

Keeping Your Gut Happy: How To Feed Food Cravings The Healthy Way

Ahhh, cravings. The bittersweet desires for delicious comfort food. We have all given into them more than we wish to admit. When I was younger, I would sneak into our kitchen pantry and indulge in an obscene amount of Fruit Rollups. This is definitely where my sugar craving began.

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Now as an adult living with Crohn’s Disease, I have to be more mindful in how I indulge in food. I learned a while ago that the food I put inside my body affects the way I feel physically and mentally. This is true whether you have Crohn’s or not. Food affects our mood, stress response, energy levels, sleep patterns, and so much more.

I have learned to feed my cravings by tricking them with healthier foods. I want to share some of my food alternatives with you and would love to hear yours, too! I am not a dietitian, so the following is only what works for me.

Fighting the Sweet Tooth: Cookies and chocolate are my weakness, but they also make me drowsy and can make my gut feel heavy and sensitive. I’ve had dietitians tell me to just eat more fruit to curb the sweet tooth, but that is easier said than done. Still eat your fruit, but here are some other options that work for me.

  • Honey. The nectar of life! I keep bottles of natural, local honey from the farmer’s market in my pantry. I will eat a spoonful of it or put it on a piece of gluten-free toast with banana. A bee-autiful way to curb that sugar craving!

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  • Oatmeal with brown sugar. Be sure it is organic rolled oats and organic brown sugar. Oatmeal is heavy and will fill you up quickly. Just a spoonful of brown sugar is enough to give you that sweet kick. You could also use dark chocolate clusters or peanut butter.
  • Protein Bars. Peanut Butter, chocolate, or fruity. Be aware that not all protein bars are good for you and some can upset a Crohnie’s stomach. My favorites are RX Bars and GoMacro Macro Bars. Both are gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free. You can find them at Trader Joe’s.
  • Ice Cream: Hold on! Don’t get too excited. There are only two brands I go for: Arctic Zero or Halo Top Creamery.
  • These two brands have gluten free and dairy free options. The best news is each pint is only 150-250 calories!

Soothing the Salt: The struggle is real, ya’ll! Before I was gluten-free, I loved barbeque-flavored chips. Now I go for healthier alternatives, but just as satisfying.

  • Chickpeas. I love making roasted chickpeas at home. Toss them with a little salt and other spices and your salt craving will be happy.

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  • Corn chips with guacamole or salsa. Go for low-salt or no-salt corn chips. I like XoChitl Corn Chips and Garden of Eatin’ Blue Chips. Make your own guacamole at home or buy at the store. There should only be about 5 ingredients on the back label. Same with the salsa.
  • Organic Almonds, Pistachios, or Sunflower Seeds. Make sure they are only lightly salted.
  • Terra Real Vegetable Chips. These chips are made from root vegetables with just the right amount of salt to curb the craving.

Ahh, Comfort Food: I used to love chicken wings. I can’t eat them anymore because of Crohn’s Disease, but I still crave them! I have found some healthy comfort foods that give me that same nostalgic, cozy feeling. 

  • Cauliflower pizza. I haven’t eaten real pizza in years. It really hurts my stomach. Cauliflower pizza is a great alternative. You can buy it boxed at the grocery store or make your own. Trader Joe’s sells a ready-made crust.

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  • Spaghetti Squash. This is the only pasta I can eat. Use a red sauce or olive oil if you’re sensitive to creamy sauces like me.
  • Vegetable or black bean burger. My favorite comfort food! You can make your own or buy from the grocery store. My favorite brands are Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers and Dr. Praeger’s Burgers
  • Sweet potato fries. Goes perfect with the burger! Regular fries can hurt my stomach, so sweet potato fries are the perfect alternative.

Need Caffeine Now: I don’t drink caffeinated coffee, so I am always looking for options when I am craving a pick-me-up. Here are two of my favorites that do not hurt my stomach or make me feel like I have to rush to the bathroom.

  • Kombucha. My new favorite obsession! This is a naturally fermented drink with probiotics. It aids in digestion, gut health, and improves mental clarity. You can find it at the grocery store, health food stores, health food cafes, and yoga studios. 

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  • Masala Chai. This drink is enjoyed by millions in India. It’s a spiced, sweetened black tea mixed with milk and spices like cardamom, ginger, fennel, and cinnamon. Be sure to make with Almond milk or Soy milk if you are sensitive to lactose. The spices in this drink help heal the gut. You can find the recipe online

Now, let’s talk about the most important part of all of this…Do not stress about it! It can take years to change habits. Just take each craving one at a time. Sometimes you won’t be able to beat it and you’ll eat the unhealthy option. That is OK. This is a journey and you’re supposed to have set backs. Just do your best every day and keep your goals in mind.