Dr. Steven Bratman coined the term orthorexia (“right appetite”) more than two decades ago to describe what happens when health-conscious diets go too far.

Although it still hasn’t been accepted as an official medical diagnosis, orthorexia nervosa is a proposed eating disorder that involves an extreme obsession with eating a “correct” diet. People with orthorexia nervosa strive to eat only foods they consider healthy and strictly avoid foods they deem to be unhealthy or impure. Their obsession with eating a healthy diet takes over their lives, eventually impairing their mental, social, and even physical well-being.

The topic of orthorexia is controversial within health circles. On the surface, it can be hard to distinguish between folks who are simply health-conscious and those who have crossed the line into disordered eating. Any diet—even relatively mainstream ones like Mediterranean or paleo—could veer into orthorexia depending on the individual.

People who raise concerns about orthorexia often get accused of “fit-shaming.” Then the straw man arguments begin: “Oh, so I guess it’s healthier just to eat Twinkies and Big Macs, then?” No, obviously not. Orthorexia starts with food rules or following diets, but it’s much more than that.

To be clear: Wanting to be healthy is not orthorexic. Neither is believing that some foods are healthier or more nutritious than others. Cutting out certain foods, tracking macronutrients, or following a specific diet is not inherently problematic.

However, those behaviors can be stepping stones to orthorexia, so this is a conversation we need to be willing to have.

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia nervosa is a preoccupation with healthy eating that ultimately interferes with health and well-being.

The first stage involves setting rules and restrictions around what foods you will and will not eat. Specific rules vary from person to person. An individual might avoid gluten, food additives, GMOs, dairy, animal products, nightshades, sugar, artificial sweeteners, grains, or whatever they deem to be unhealthy.

Before you get defensive, understand that food rules are only step one. They are necessary but not sufficient for developing orthorexia nervosa. Many people follow set diets or restrict certain food groups without developing orthorexia. Diet behaviors don’t cross the line into orthorexia nervosa until they start to interfere with quality of life.

Definition of Orthorexia Nervosa

Eating disorders and other mental health disorders each have a set of diagnostic criteria. These are like checklists that help doctors and therapists decide when a particular diagnosis is warranted. Currently, orthorexia nervosa is not recognized as an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). That means there are no agreed-upon diagnostic criteria.

Nevertheless, researchers and practitioners need to be able to differentiate an ardent healthy-eating enthusiast from someone who has crossed the line into disordered eating. Experts have proposed various ways of defining orthorexia nervosa.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4340368/‘>2 Perfectionism and narcissism may also contribute to orthorexic tendencies.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27756637/‘>4 More research is needed in each of these areas.

It’s not clear whether orthorexia nervosa is related to gender, age, or BMI.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26724459/‘>6 We’d expect these folks to prioritize healthy eating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their beliefs or behaviors are problematic.

Healthy Orthorexia Versus Orthorexia Nervosa

Although the concept of orthorexia is more than two decades old at this point, researchers and clinicians are still trying to draw a clear line between healthy and unhealthy concerns about food. In 2018, researchers from two Spanish universities proposed a new tool called the Teruel Orthorexia Scale to separately measure “healthy orthorexia” and orthorexia nervosa.https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0219609‘>8 Because this is a new measure, we’ll have to wait for more studies to provide insight into this vital distinction.


At its core, orthorexia is “clean eating” taken too far.

Hopefully it’s clear that orthorexia is about much more than simply being health-conscious. As Dr. Bratman explains:

“Adopting a theory of healthy eating is NOT orthorexia. A theory may be conventional or unconventional, extreme or lax, sensible or totally wacky, but, regardless of the details, followers of the theory do not necessarily have orthorexia. …Enthusiasm for healthy eating doesn’t become ‘orthorexia’ until a tipping point is reached and enthusiasm transforms into obsession [sic].”

You can believe that diet profoundly impacts health, avoid specific foods, weigh and track all your food, and still go about your merry way without developing orthorexia nervosa.

But, if you feel your diet taking over your life, or if the thought of eating something off-plan makes you break into a cold sweat, it’s a good idea to seek help. Even though it’s not an officially recognized mental health disorder, many eating disorder specialists focus on treating individuals with orthorexia nervosa. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline is a good place to start.

Orthorexia Nervosa FAQs

Is orthorexia an obsession with healthy eating?

“Orthorexia” means wanting to eat “correctly.” The term may be used to describe disordered eating, as in orthorexia nervosa. That is an obsession or preoccupation with eating only specific foods that you consider healthy and avoiding foods you think are unhealthy.

What are the main warning signs or symptoms of orthorexia nervosa?

The defining characteristics are: (1) having strict food rules about what you will and will not eat based on your definition of “healthy,” and (2) those rules negatively impact your psychological, social, and/or physical well-being. Truly healthy diets should enhance, not detract from, your quality of life.

How common is orthorexia nervosa?

No one really knows because of problems with how orthorexia nervosa has been measured in the past. Estimates range from as few as 3 percent of people in the general population to more than 80 percent in health-focused communities, but those numbers may not be reliable.https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_olink/r/1501/10?clear=10&p10_accession_num=kent1585488932218267‘>10

Is fasting or eating only one meal a day the same as orthorexia?

Orthorexia nervosa has to do with beliefs about food quality and eating only “healthy” foods. People may also use fasting to try to achieve health, but that isn’t the same as orthorexia. The same goes for excessive exercise. Both can co-occur with orthorexia, but they aren’t themselves orthorexic.

Is my ______ diet orthorexic?

No diet is inherently orthorexic, no matter how restrictive it is. Context always matters. You can’t decide if someone’s diet is orthorexic without knowing why they are following it and how it is impacting their emotional health, physical health, social relationships, occupation, and overall quality of life.

Primal Kitchen Buffalo

The post Orthorexia: Where to Draw the Line Between Healthy Eating and Obsession? appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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angry man in trafficIf you ask the average person on the street to list “Primal emotions,” anger will be one of the first examples they offer. You understand why: It’s raw. It’s overpowering. It feels like it comes from deep down below, from somewhere instinctual. To most people, anger is the realest emotion of all because it’s so sure of itself. There’s no mistaking anger.

Though anger has a negative connotation these days, it’s there for a reason. All emotions have a purpose. If they didn’t, emotions as a physiological category wouldn’t have arisen and survived millions of years of evolution. An emotion is an adaptation to an environmental condition. Anger exists because it promotes—or promoted—a survival advantage. Those animals who felt something approximating anger outcompeted those who didn’t. That’s what it comes down to.

On the surface, anger is a self-protective adaptation. By showing anger, we display a capacity for aggressive action to those who would threaten us or our tribe—and most socially astute, reasonable people (and even many animal predators) will retreat in the majority of situations. Anger, in this way, is part of the “checks and balances” system inherent to our social contracts. It gives the other party pause to consider whether it’s really worth the trouble to encroach.

But like other emotions, anger is also an internal messenger. When we feel the rush of anger overtake us, that’s an internal signal that a line has been crossed. Maybe someone has threatened or harmed a loved one. Perhaps you’ve become aware of an injustice. And when a line has been crossed, anger is your signal to act: to defend yourself, your family, your integrity, your home, or your ideals.

Unfortunately, the line isn’t always worth defending. Sometimes we mess up and feel angry over something silly. A line has been crossed, but it was a ridiculous line that doesn’t objectively deserve the response. That’s what we need to figure out and manage: why are we angry and what can we do about it?

You certainly can’t just ignore it. The visceral energy of anger is remarkably durable. Because it’s a fact. It exists. It will come up. Lines will be breached. Most of us no longer live in the same ancestral environment where raw unfiltered anger makes obvious sense, but arise it will all the same. We kid ourselves if we think we’re immune to its inherent human force. How can we keep it reined in enough to not thwart our own well-being or run afoul of the law? How can we control or manage it—even channel it? In short, how can we have and express well-deserved anger without getting burned by it?

Tips for Managing Anger (So It Doesn’t Manage You):

Practice mindfulness, and bring that deep awareness to anger when it rises.

This isn’t about leaving society. It’s simply about being cognizant of what you’re feeling and how those feelings unfold in you. To do this, we learn to stop identifying with our feelings and come to observe them instead. Mindfulness practices can be essential here. And it doesn’t have to be as involved as an hour long meditation. Alternatives exist. The “count to ten and breathe deeply” stuff you tell kids trying to handle their anger works on adults, too.

Get back in your body while you’re at it.

Use the awareness to feel yourself become flushed in the face. Notice the blood retreat from your extremities. Sense the emotional force rising in our abdomens or pulsating in your forehead. Then breathe into those sensations, disarming each before they take off into uncontrolled rage. With practice, we can nip anger (when we deem it unproductive) in the bud by not trying to manipulate ourselves emotionally but by putting our full focus on physical “symptoms” and addressing those.

Ask if it’s really worth getting angry.

Taking a step back in the heat of the moment—or better yet before the anger actually erupts—to objectively assess the merits of your anger can make a big difference. Long commute? Sure, that’s annoying, but is it worth it to get angry? Who is it helping? What adaptive effect is the anger producing? Remember: anger is suppose to be beneficial. It’s supposed to trigger positive results, actions.

Keep going.

Follow the thread of your anger to determine who or what you’re really angry about. If you’re angry at your long commute, are you angry at the traffic? The other drivers? Your boss? Probably not. Maybe you’re actually angry at yourself for getting yourself into this position. See? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Or maybe you’re angry at something you saw on the news. Some politician said something, and now your day is ruined. What’s that about? What the hell are you doing to yourself? How can you avoid this kind of anger in the future? Politicians are always going to say and do infuriating stuff. What if—stay with me now—you stopped listening?

Fortify your line.

Remember how anger is an emotional reaction to a perceived breach of your line?

Our lines are porous these days. Whereas most ancient humans did meaningful work, had plenty of leisure time, slept when it got dark, ate whole natural foods, and knew nothing of what transpired the next village over, the standard baseline setting for the modern human is tons of chronic stress, not enough sleep, poor diets, too much news consumption, unfulfilling jobs, and a disrupted, discordant way of life. In many ways, our lives are harder and we are more susceptible to anger than ever before. We know more things and thus have more to be angry about, and when we get angry we are less equipped to deal with it.

Your family being threatened is one thing. That always deserves anger. There’s no getting around that. But if you find yourself blowing up over silly things on a regular basis, or everything, you need to fortify your line. Keeping your micronutrient intake up, getting regular physical activity, sleeping enough, managing your stress, taking care of business in general, limiting your news intake, finding a higher purpose or power toward which to strive—these are the baseline anti-anger interventions.

Find healthy outlets for aggression.

Modern life can keep us peaceful—or subdued, depending on how you look at it. Some folks do well with this, while others just don’t. Your quick temper might be a sign you’re not getting your thrills from the physical risk and adventure you inherently crave. It’s not wrong to feel aggression, but it should be directed in a healthy direction. Instead of picking fights with strangers in the parking lot, try martial arts, boxing lessons, or competitive sports.

Transmute your anger.

Anger is energy, unfulfilled. Directionless energy that has to go somewhere, has to express itself. If there are things in your life you aren’t taking care of, that frustration can explode outward as anger—often in response to something otherwise inconsequential or minor. Direct the simmering energy within toward a productive outlet.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How have you learned to manage your anger? What role does it play in how you operate day to day? 

Primal Kitchen Buffalo

The post How to Manage Unproductive Anger appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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mom and daughter making christmas cookies togetherLet’s not beat around the holly bush: the holiday season just isn’t the same this year. You could get down in the dumps about it OR you could get creative about finding ways to celebrate with friends and family. Honestly, it’s ok to do both. Grieve the ambiguous losses we’re all experiencing this season while also looking for ways to make the best of what we have.

We might be apart from loved ones, but we can still be together in spirit. One thing I’ve realized this year is how often physical closeness is used as a proxy for bonding. That is to say, people get together in the same physical space and call that “bonding,” when all they’re really doing is being near one another. Being in the same room is great—oh, how I miss it—but by itself, it doesn’t generate emotional closeness or deep connection. Nobody is making lasting memories simply by virtue of watching a football game and eating turkey together.

This year, we have an opportunity to get out of old holiday ruts and try something different, maybe even start new traditions. Somebody needs to put the ho-ho-ho back in the holidays, and I nominate you. Here are some ideas you can put into action:

Things You and Your Loved Ones Can Create Together

Family members or friends all contribute, and the final project is something special to keep for years to come. You’ll learn more about your family members and end up with a record of special memories or family favorites. As a bonus, these ideas are all free!

Shared photo album

Set up a shared album in any of the many online photo album tools. Invite family members to submit their favorite family photos from years past, or ask for old holiday photos specifically.

Level up: Optionally, arrange the photos chronologically. Do a family Zoom session and view the slideshow together, pausing to reminisce and tell stories about the scenes from the images.

Family cookbook

Everyone submits their favorite recipes. A shared Google doc will do the trick, but it’s even better if someone collects the recipes and arranges them in a pdf. Free tools like Canva make it simple to lay out a basic cookbook, which everyone then gets as a holiday gift. You could even have them spiral bound and sent to folks who prefer hard copies.

Level up: Host a Zoom party where everyone cooks a special family recipe together or a virtual dinner party where everyone prepares recipes from the cookbook at home.

Memory book

Same idea as the cookbook, but everyone submits their favorite memories of holidays past or recounts the wildest family legends.

Level up: Have one person collect the memories and put the stories in a slideshow to be shared during a virtual get-together.

Music playlist

Nominate an “emcee” to collect everyone’s favorite songs (holiday or otherwise) and create a family playlist in Spotify, for example.

Level up: Everyone agrees to play the playlist at the same time—maybe while opening presents or during a specific meal—so that you’re sharing an experience even if you’re not together.

2020 time capsule

You might think you won’t want to remember 2020, but when enough time passes, you may feel differently. Anyway, future generations will be fascinated by what we went through. Create a family time capsule with items that are emblematic of this year. Masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper are a given, but what else sticks out for your family? Did you play a specific game over and over, or maybe you binge-watched certain shows together? Perhaps you took memorable hikes or did a special staycation. Put in items that remind you of those. Have each family member write down their memories, positive and negative, and seal them in an envelope to be opened later.

Other Things You Can Do Over Zoom

Happy hour

Pajama party

Ugly sweater party

Sing-along, karaoke (yes, you can do Zoom karaoke!)

Virtual painting party: Many of the “paint and sip” establishments are closed in person but host virtual events.

Virtual cookie or gingerbread house decorating: Everyone gets their own supplies. Have prizes for most creative, most festive, or most decorations on one cookie.

Get thee to Etsy! Etsy has loads of downloadable virtual holiday-themed games (like this) or other games designed to play over Zoom. There are also a variety of online games that you can play remotely. Maybe Great-Grandma wants to learn how to play Among Us?

Other Ideas

Cookie exchange, ornament exchange, or secret Santa. If you’re local, leave goodies on the porch, or do secret Santa by mail if you’re separated geographically. Maybe this year you instead do “letters from Santa” where everyone writes a heartfelt letter of appreciation to someone else in the family or friend circle.

Family walk or 5k. If you can get together safely with local friends and family members, that’s one option, but most races have gone virtual this year anyway. You can “host” an event where everyone goes out and completes a 5k on their own one morning. Convene on Zoom for celebratory post-race cocoa. If you want to go all-out, create print-at-home race bibs, custom shirts, and/or medals.

Attitude is Everything

None of these options will suffice if you go into the holidays with the attitude that they are already ruined. No question, it’s disappointing that we can’t have our normal holidays this year. However, we can choose to embrace the opportunities we do have. Just as many of us found unexpected silver linings with the lockdowns (No commute! More quality time with our kids!), there may be silver linings here too. For example, you may “get together” with more family members than usual since everyone’s calling in virtually.

Keep an open mind, and don’t expect this year to be subpar. I guarantee that focusing on the negatives will ruin your holiday spirit. Make a conscious effort to get excited about trying something new. Don’t be surprised if these turn into some of your most precious holiday memories!


The post How to Really Bond with Your Family This Holiday Season appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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woman about to make a phone call to set boundaries with family around the holidaysWhen you were a kid, adults probably drilled into you that you should “be nice,” share your toys, and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Those are necessary lessons, of course. Humans are prosocial creatures. Our ancestors needed the protection of the clan, so they had to get along and be team players. Individuals who caused strife within the group risked being kicked out, which could be a death sentence.

It pays to be considerate of others, but that message often gets twisted into “don’t rock the boat” and even “other people’s needs are more important than your own.” When getting along is your top priority, you become loathe to assert your own needs. However, in the long term, being too self-sacrificing is detrimental to your relationships and your own mental wellbeing. It’s a slippery slope into allowing other people to make unreasonable demands on your time or say or do things that hurt you (often unintentionally).

Moreover, not being honest about your needs is unfair. Other people never get the chance to reciprocate the consideration you’re offering, and all the while you are stewing in hurt or resentment because you aren’t getting what you want.

Boundaries protect your time and your physical and emotional space. They help ensure that your needs are met. Boundaries can look like:

  • Turning down social invitations.
  • Saying no to requests from your boss or coworkers that you can’t reasonably fulfill or that are outside your scope.
  • Staying true to your values (e.g., shutting down a conversation that has turned sexist or racist).
  • Protecting your personal space from other people who are sapping your time, energy, or happiness.
  • Enforcing much-needed personal time.

Did you get squeamish just reading that? The truth is, setting boundaries can be incredibly uncomfortable, even downright scary. Keeping the peace is the path of least resistance, but it’s not always the right choice. Learning to set healthy boundaries is one of those necessary-but-difficult adulting skills that we all need to practice.

What Does It Mean to Set Healthy Boundaries?

Boundaries communicate how we want others to treat us.

The word makes it sound like they are walls we erect to keep other people at arm’s length, but the intention is actually to foster better relationships. Sometimes it does mean creating distance from someone. Often, though, you’re letting the other person know what they can reasonably expect from you or telling them what would make a given situation agreeable to you.

Boundaries are not “mean.”

Boundaries are honest. They facilitate positive interactions by reducing the likelihood of mixed signals, miscommunication, and disappointment. In fact, setting boundaries is an act of generosity for yourself and others. You could lie, shut down, or cut others out of your life when you’re not getting what you need. Instead, you’re doing the hard work to improve the situation.

As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boundaries create clarity. It’s kinder to give important people in your life—whether they be friends, romantic partners, relatives, your boss, even your hairdresser or personal trainer— the chance to have an authentic relationship with you. The alternative is letting them labor under the impression that you’re happy when you’re not. Think about how awful it feels to find out that a friend has been secretly upset with you, or your boss thinks you’ve been doing a lousy job, but you had no idea.

Brown uses the term “shared purpose” in the workplace context, but it is relevant to any of your relationships. When you prioritize “being nice” above being honest, people don’t ever really know where they stand with you. Relationships can only be successful and fulfilling when all parties are on the same page.

Boundaries are not selfish.

Other people’s needs are not more important than your own. Setting boundaries simply means putting your needs on par with others’.

This message can be hard to accept. Boundaries can feel selfish, especially if you aren’t used to asserting yourself. Others may act like you’re being selfish when your needs conflict with theirs. There’s nothing inherently selfish about candor. You can care about other people and be loving, helpful, and generous without exceeding your personal boundaries.

Sometimes you do use boundaries to create space to focus on yourself, and that’s not selfish either. Everyone deserves to prioritize their own wellbeing—all the time, but particularly when you’re dealing with illness (acute or chronic), grief, depression, or other issues. Who benefits if you collapse under the weight of trying to do it all?

Boundaries Don’t Mean You Never Compromise

You’re probably not going around setting boundaries in most of your day-to-day interactions. There’s no need. Boundaries are generally reserved for situations in which your time or physical or mental health need a buffer. Even then, nothing precludes you from seeking out mutually beneficial arrangements.

Even people who are great at boundaries don’t get their way all the time. They understand how to prioritize, but they’re willing to put their foot down when it matters.

Signs That You Aren’t Setting Healthy Boundaries

The following are signs that you’re in a situation where you probably need to establish better boundaries:

  • Resentment or simmering anger toward someone else
  • Consistently low energy/motivation to complete a task or interact with someone
  • Feeling disempowered, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Saying “I have to…” or “I should…,” followed by dread, namely in situations where you don’t actually have to do that thing. You probably should pay your bills or call the dentist about your toothache. You don’t have to bake cupcakes for the bake sale or go to your parents’ house for Christmas.

How to Set Boundaries

1. Be honest with yourself.

Step one is asking yourself, “In what situations am I feeling overwhelmed or burned out? Toward whom do I feel resentful? Where is my energy stretched too thin?”

Next, be totally candid with yourself, without judgment, about why you aren’t already setting better boundaries. You would have already done it if it felt easy. Something is making you avoid rather than confront the situation. Usually it’s that you don’t want the other person to be mad, hurt, or embarrassed; you strongly value being helpful or agreeable; or you fear social or professional repercussions.

2. Get clear on what you want.

In an ideal world, how would the situation be different? You can’t ask for what you want unless you know what that is.

For example, let’s say you have a coworker who repeatedly comes into your cubicle to chat, interrupting your workflow. Possible solutions (boundaries) include:

  • Request that they only email or text you during certain periods of the day.
  • Put a do not disturb sign on the back of your chair when you’re trying to focus, and ask them to respect that.
  • Schedule a standing morning coffee break with them, and ask them to let you work until then.

However, none of these is the right answer if what you really want is to keep your coworker relationships strictly professional, no idle chitchat necessary.

3. Ask for what you need.

Keep it clear and concise so the other person understands exactly what you’re requesting. Again, setting boundaries is not mean, so avoid apologizing or overexplaining. You can convey through your tone of voice and word choice that you feel neither angry nor aggressive.

Melissa Urban of Whole30 fame has a useful green-yellow-red system. Essentially, it means you employ the minimum effective dose needed to establish the boundary. Start by being gentle but direct if it’s your first time communicating the boundary and/or you suspect the other person is not intentionally overstepping. If you have to repeat yourself, or if the other person’s behavior is explicitly harmful, you should feel free to draw an even more explicit line in the sand.

Taking the coworker example, you might start by saying: “I love chatting with you, but I get my most focused work done in the morning. I need to be in the zone from 9 to 12. Will you jot down the things you want to remember to tell me, and we can catch up at lunch?”

If your coworker repeatedly “forgets” not to interrupt you:

  • “Remember, I said I need to concentrate in the mornings. Hold that thought until lunchtime.”
  • “I need my cubicle to be off-limits in the morning.”
  • “I can’t talk now.”
  • “Please don’t come into my cubicle just to chat.”

4. Hold firm

After you ask for what you want, there’s often an awkward pause, or sometimes the other person apologizes profusely. You might be tempted to add a concession that suggests maybe the boundary isn’t firm. That’s not clear, which means it’s not kind.

Do: “I have a hard time refocusing when I’m interrupted. When I’m wearing my headphones, that’s my sign I’m not available to chat. Let’s catch up at lunch.”

Don’t: “I have a hard time refocusing when I’m interrupted. When I’m wearing my headphones, that’s my sign I’m not available to chat. I mean, unless it’s really important. Don’t even worry about it.”

What If the Other Person Gets Upset?

They might, and that’s not your problem. You can only control how you communicate, not how the other person reacts.

Don’t expect them to react badly, though. Other people often respond with grace if you communicate your needs in a straightforward, non-blaming manner. Sometimes they will react with hurt, anger, or defensiveness. Your job here is to hold firm and stay in your truth. Don’t apologize or backpedal. “I understand it’s disappointing, but the answer is no. Maybe we could pick up this conversation again in a day or two.”

In healthy relationships, setting boundaries usually works. The recipient might initially respond poorly, and they may sometimes overstep by mistake. Just as setting healthy boundaries feels uncomfortable, being on the receiving end can be difficult too. Most people don’t have a lot of practice in either role. However, good relationship partners ultimately respect your boundaries.

When you keep having to set the same boundaries with someone over and over, or if they respond with extreme negativity, you need to ask yourself whether they are someone you want in your life. An inability to respect boundaries is a sign of a toxic relationship.

Setting Boundaries This Holiday Season

The holiday season can seriously test your boundary-setting skills. Between the increased demands on your time and extended family dynamics, a whole fortress could be in order! Here are some examples, from gentlest to firmest:

When You Want Certain Discussion Topics to Be Off the Table:


  • We’d love to see you, but we’re all feeling extremely burned out after this election cycle. We’ll only be able to attend if we can agree not to talk politics at the dinner table. If everyone is amenable to that, let me know, and I’ll start making travel arrangements.
  • We’ll come, but we aren’t staying if there’s a repeat of last year. We’re going to have to leave if anyone starts fighting about politics.
  • Honestly, I’m feeling skittish about how much animosity there has been lately. I’m going to pass on the holidays this year.


  • I know you’re concerned about my health, but it makes me uncomfortable when you bring up my weight. I’m taking care of myself, and I don’t want to discuss my body. Can we please change the subject?
  • I only discuss this topic with my doctor. I need you to respect that and not ask me about my weight anymore.
  • My body isn’t anyone else’s business, and comments about my weight are hurtful. Please stop.


  • No thanks, I’m not drinking right now. I don’t mind if other people are drinking, but I’m doing a personal experiment. I hope nobody tries to pressure me.
  • I’m not drinking right now, and I’d like everyone to respect that. Thanks.
  • Nobody else is affected if I don’t drink. Let’s please drop it and have a pleasant evening.

Safety, Personal Comfort Regarding COVID Measures


  • Thank you so much for the invitation, but with everything being so crazy right now, we’re going to stay home. Let’s plan to Zoom, though! When is best for you?
  • We’re disappointed too, but we have to do what makes us feel safe. This year, it’s staying home. We’ll miss everyone.
  • We’re not comfortable compromising on this. The answer is no, and we’re not going to change our minds.


  • Thanks for inviting us! We will come grab a cocktail in the backyard, but when people start to move inside, we’re going to head home.
  • We’d only feel safe coming if it was a small group and everyone is outdoors. If not, we’ll pass this time, but we look forward to seeing you a different time!
  • We’re not comfortable socializing in groups right now. Thanks for asking, though.

(Remember, “Thank you so much for inviting us, but we’re unable to attend” is a complete response. These suggestions are for when you want to offer more explanation or if the host is pressing you for more.)

Setting Aside “Me” Time, Protecting Your Schedule


  • Hey, [spouse/partner]. With holiday busyness, I’m having a hard time finding any time to exercise. It’s really affecting how I feel physically and mentally. Can we sit down and figure out where I can schedule 30-45 minutes to work out each day?
  • I need to exercise to stay healthy and happy. I’d like to set aside 7 to 7:45 a.m. as my workout time, which would mean you’d be in charge of getting the kids’ breakfast. Is that doable?
  • If I don’t get half an hour to myself to exercise every day, I’m going to lose it. The whole family will be happier if I disappear for 30 minutes after dinner. Cool?


  • The decorating committee sounds fun, but I’m already swamped. I’m not able to take on any extra projects. I’ll be happy to donate to the toy drive, though.
  • No, but I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with. I’m sure it will be great!
  • I’m not able to help with holiday festivities this year.

Saying No to Obligations/Forced Holiday Fun


  • Oh gee, no thanks, I don’t want to participate in the office Secret Santa this year. Have fun!
  • Secret Santa’s not really my thing, but thanks for thinking of me.
  • No.


  • The annual cookie swap is so much fun, but I just don’t have time to make 10 dozen cookies. Maybe I could swing by for a glass of wine.
  • I won’t be able make it. Can’t wait to see the pictures on Facebook!
  • No.

It’s normal to feel nervous if this is new territory for you. These conversations can be uncomfortable even for boundary-setting pros. Give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself that candor allows you and the people around you to be more authentic. Boundaries can improve relationships, or they can release you both to pursue more compatible ones.

When you set boundaries, you implicitly encourage others to set their own. Go into these conversations with the mindset that you’re being constructive. Most of all, remind yourself that maintaining harmony isn’t a path to true happiness when peace comes at the expense of your wellbeing. It’s far better to do the (hard) work to build relationships built on honesty, mutual respect, and shared purpose.


The post Setting Healthy Boundaries around the Holidays appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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how to explain food choicesHoliday get-togethers can be dicey, even uncomfortable, for those of us who eat a “weird” diet. Everyone has an opinion or a biting remark. As tempting as might be, you can’t just holler, “I’m not weird, YOU’RE weird. I’M eating a SPECIES-APPROPRIATE DIET!” in Aunt Martha’s face when she tries once again to put a biscuit on your plate.

You have to say something though, right? Or do you? When do you have to explain your food choices?

I’m tempted to say: Never. End of post.

By and large, your diet is nobody else’s business. But communication is vital in relationships, and here’s where it gets tricky. On the one hand, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, and it’s disrespectful on their part if they expect you to justify or defend your choices. Often, though, people are just concerned, confused, or simply curious. You don’t owe these folks an explanation, but in the spirit of open communication, you might choose to offer them one.

General tips for keeping the peace:

Keep it personal. You won’t get as much pushback if you focus on how your diet makes you feel. Don’t launch into a lecture about phytates or how soda is ruining our country’s health. Nobody’s looking for a lesson on leaky gut and inflammation during dinner.

Don’t overexplain yourself or get defensive. Keep it short and sweet, then move on.

Don’t try to convert them. If you start to proselytize, you’re doing the same thing to them that they’re doing to you. Your simple explanations will plant the seeds for anyone who’s interested in learning more later.

Don’t get sucked into an argument. State firmly that you’d rather not discuss your diet. If the other person continues to challenge you, walk away (or, in 2020, leave the Zoom).

Beyond that, the best strategy for dealing with diet queries depends on who’s asking and why:

Mild Incomprehension

This is the “I don’t get it…” and “Wait, so you’re not going eat stuffing?” crowd. There’s no malice. They just can’t grasp why someone would give up bread and pasta.

Strategy: Deflect

  • “Haha, I know, I thought it was crazy when I started, too, but I can’t believe how much better I feel. Plus I get to eat all the turkey. Ooh, will you pass me a leg? Hey, how’s work going?”
  • “No stuffing for me, thanks. I’m trying this experiment for a while longer. Did I see on Facebook that you’re writing a book?”
  • “It’s true, I’m eating Primal/paleo/keto/carnivore now, but you don’t want to hear me ramble on about my diet. Let’s go see if Mom needs help setting the table.”

Sincere Curiosity

You can tell these folks from their tone of voice. They are genuinely interested in hearing what you’re doing (and maybe even trying it for themselves).

Strategy: Lightly educate

It’s up to you how deep you want to go here. My advice is to stick to basics and offer to talk more later. Avoid launching into a diatribe about why they should cut out grains and sugar while they have a bite of pie halfway to their lips.

  • “I kept hearing people say how much better they felt after cutting out gluten and dairy, so I decided to try it for myself. They were right. It helped so much with some health issues I was having. It was hard at first, but every time I eat bread now, I remember how much worse I used to feel. I’m much happier eating this way.”
  • “Really, it just means that I’m eating tons of plants, meat, eggs, and stuff like nuts and cheese, and dark chocolate. Easy. The big thing I’ve noticed is how much more energy I have. My skin cleared up, too. If you’re ever interested in trying, I can tell you more.”
  • “Some of my friends wanted to try keto, so we all read this book called The Keto Reset Diet for our book club. It’s been five months, and I’m still going strong. The book made it easy if you ever want to borrow it.”


Good-natured teasing is one thing, but ridicule is another. Keep your cool and get out of these conversations as quickly as possible. There is nothing to be gained from engaging. Depending on your relationship with the person, you might use humor or directness, but either way, shut it down.

Strategy: Escape

  • “Good one, Uncle Greg. Hey, I’m going to get some egg nog.”
  • “Isn’t it great how we don’t all have to eat the same diet, yet we can still be friends! I’m going to go check the score of the football game.”
  • “I’d rather not get into an argument about this, so let’s change the subject.”


This one’s a little more complicated because criticism can come from very different places. Some people are just mean-spirited grinches who like to find fault in others. With them, use the escape strategy above. Don’t let them bring you down to their level.

Often, though, when people criticize your diet, it comes from a place of fear or insecurity, not hostility. Fear because what you’re doing goes against everything they believe to be true about health. All they may know about your keto diet, for example, is that a fitness celebrity told them it is dangerous. Or, they may feel threatened by the uncomfortable realization that they could be doing more to be healthy themselves.

Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from. You’re not going to unpack all the layers of flawed conventional wisdom, self-esteem issues, and complicated family dynamics in this one conversation, but at least you can respond with compassion and grace.

Strategy: Acknowledge, reassure (for fear-based criticism), change the subject

  • “Thank you so much for caring about my health. My doctor knows how I eat, and my labs are great. Let’s go see what the kids are up to.”
  • “People do say this is a fad, but honestly, it’s how everyone used to eat in previous generations. It’s nothing new, and I’ve never felt better than I do eating this way. But anyway, I heard you guys are adopting a puppy!”
  • “Yes, I know they say that whole grains are important for health. I’m always open to changing my diet up again, but I’m going to try this way of eating for a little while. Do you think anyone would like to go for a walk before dinner?”
  • “Yes, that ‘documentary’ caused quite a stir, didn’t it. To be honest, there were a lot of problems with the science. I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but I can send you a blog post. It outlines all the flaws and provides a bunch of journal citations if you’re interested. Just email me to remind me. Do these green beans have bacon in them? So good!”

The Guilt Trip

These people act as if your diet is a personal affront to them. “You’re not going to have any of the pie I worked so hard on?” “What’s Christmas without cookies?” “But you always loved my cornbread stuffing!”

You don’t need them to understand or approve. They just need to respect your choices or at least be quiet about them.

Strategy: Flip it back on them

  • “Oh Aunt Mildred, I do love your pie! At times like these, I wish I hadn’t discovered how sick gluten makes me. I know you’d hate for me to spend the rest of the evening in the bathroom!”
  • “Cookies are great, but the only thing I really want is to spend time with you. Family is so important to me, and we don’t see each other enough.“
  • “You’re right, but I’ve learned that I feel so much better when I eat this way. It’s hard to say no, but I’m sure you’ll support me like you always have. Thank you so much for understanding!”

The Exceptions to the Rule

I said you never have to explain your food choices, but it’s just common courtesy to let your hosts know ahead of time. Explain your situation, and make it clear that you are not expecting them to change their menu to accommodate you. Offer to bring a side dish or dessert.

If you are hosting, and you plan to make only options that suit your diet, you aren’t required to give your guests notice. However, if that means you’re not making traditional dishes that your guests will expect, you might give them a heads up. Let them have the option of bringing their own Hawaiian rolls.

Lastly, remember that while you don’t owe it to anyone, it might be ok to chill on some of your diet rules for one night. A few bites of pie could be a small concession to keep the peace (as long as it won’t make you sick). Of course, if your family or friends are going to make it that unpleasant, you’re also free to decline the invitation.

Have you had to deal with less-than-supportive friends or family since you changed your diet? How did you handle it?


The post Holiday Meal Script: When and How to Explain Your Food Choices appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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sad woman under holiday stressIt’s the most wonderful time of the year again! The time for family gatherings (but not this year), holiday feasts (maybe), and, according to my TV, buying brand new his-and-hers SUVs (not ever).

I’m not being sarcastic, I do enjoy the holiday season, but there’s no question that it’s stressful. The whirlwind of holiday excitement, decorating the homestead, dredging up the same old family fights, last-minute shopping, and love-hating the winter weather can be a lot, even under the best of circumstances. For all the people who relish this time of year, there are others who dread it.

Some stress is unavoidable, especially if the holidays are difficult due to complicated family situations, past losses, or financial hardships. However, a great deal of holiday stress is self-imposed. As much as you might feel like you have to do certain things to make the holidays magical for everyone, very few are truly non-negotiable. Just because you usually put up elaborate decorations, bake 12 types of cookies, and produce homemade gifts doesn’t mean you’re required to this year. It’s possible—though not always easy—to opt out of the things that cause more stress than pleasure.

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By setting some basic ground rules for yourself, you can manage a great deal of holiday stress:

Control the variables you can control.

These are things like:

  • How much you do or don’t stick to your usual healthy routines.
  • How much time and energy you devote to decorating and upholding other holiday traditions.
  • How much money you spend.
  • Who you do or do not celebrate in person this year.

Try not to lose sleep over the things you can’t control.

  • COVID restrictions
  • Whether or not other people are following the rules.
  • Other people’s expectations of you.
  • Whether friends and extended family are accepting of the boundaries you set for your immediate family.

Have reasonable expectations of yourself and others.

I’d argue that unreasonable expectations are at the heart of a lot of holiday stress. There’s only so much time, money, and emotional energy to go around, and we often spread ourselves too thin. This year, stress is higher than ever, nerves are frayed, and we’re probably not at our bests. If ever there was a year to lower your expectations and make do with less, this is it.

Treat yourself and others with kindness and compassion.

My mantra is always prioritize self-care, but this goes beyond that. It means extending yourself and your loved ones extra grace when tasks go undone, tempers occasionally flare, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy. Basically, be cool to yourself and others.

Ok, I hear you saying, but these are all pretty abstract. What are some concrete ways to avoid, or at least mitigate, holiday stress?

7 Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

1. Prioritize sleep

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you can do this one thing, a lot of the other things will fall in line. Prioritizing sleep lays the foundation for stress management.

How so? First, sleep deprivation is inherently stressful, physiologically and mentally. It makes you cranky and irritable, so it’s darn near impossible to extend that aforementioned grace to anyone, including yourself. You make poorer decisions and have less willpower to do hard things, like sticking to your diet and setting healthy boundaries. Plus, you’re more likely to end up sick and unable to do even the basics.

On the flip side, when sleep is non-negotiable, it’s easier to say no to things like staying out too late at holiday parties (maybe not this year…) and drinking too much and too often. Your mood and outlook are better, so it’s easier to spread positivity to others.

Melt stress away with Adaptogenic Calm

2. Schedule “me time”

As in, literally put it in your calendar. Set reminders on your phone. Make sure your family knows what times are off-limits for urgent laundry requests, homework checking, and general griping.

Ideally, you’d set aside a daily block, plus a weekly time that’s devoted to just to you. For example, you might schedule 30 peaceful minutes in the morning before the busyness of the day starts, plus an hour or two one evening that’s your self-care time. Read, journal, meditate, walk, sit quietly with a cup of coffee, watch holiday movies—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s restorative, not draining. Protect this time. Make it sacred.

3. Stick (mostly) to your typical food and movement/exercise

I say mostly because I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to indulge a little on the holidays, but your mileage may vary. In my experience, the holidays are more stressful when you feel pulled in different directions, wanting to enjoy traditional foods or the occasional treat but feeling that you’re not “allowed” because of your diet. “Mostly normal” allows for flexibility.

More generally, it’s ok to relax when we’re dealing with so much else in the world right now. Especially if you’re a perfectionist, it might be good to lower your standards just enough to take some of the pressure off.

That said, don’t let the pendulum swing completely. There’s no good reason to spend the next six weeks making choices that cause you to feel bad physically and mentally. Strive to find the sweet spot where you are enjoying the holidays but not setting yourself up to feel miserable in January. Remember, good nutrition bolsters your body’s natural defenses against stress.

4. Set boundaries ahead of time

Setting boundaries with other people can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re not particularly assertive. Nevertheless, it’s an important adulting skill that can massively protect your own mental health and prevent conflict when done correctly.

If you don’t want to talk about politics, your diet, or anything else at the next family dinner, say so before getting together. Be kind but firm and direct. Explain why you’re making the request and what will happen if your wishes aren’t respected. For example: “It really hurts my feelings when you and Dad make comments about my weight. If I’m going to come over for dinner, I need that topic to be off-limits. If you both can’t agree to that, unfortunately I’m going to have to stay home.”

Boundaries can’t save you from all drama, but they can help you avoid the worst of it, or at least give you an escape route if things go south. They aren’t just for other people, either. You may also need to set firmer boundaries for yourself, deciding ahead of time what behaviors are and are not acceptable. Committing to sleep, me time, and what dietary excursions, if any, you choose to take are all forms of boundary setting. So is making a budget and sticking to it.

5. Only do the things that really matter

Ask yourself: Which of the tasks and traditions that suck up my time every year actually have to get done? Which do I want to do? What would happen if I didn’t do ____ this year? Could we still have a wonderful holiday if we only did ____?”

Perhaps upholding every family tradition truly fills your metaphorical bucket, in which case, go for it. On the other hand, if you just can’t bear the thought of going through all the usual motions, you can and should feel free to Marie Kondo your holidays—keep only the things that bring you joy and scrap the rest. Let each of your family members nominate their top two or three priorities and make those “must dos.” Let everything else be “we’ll sees.” Worst case scenario, if it turns out that you do miss spending hours elaborately wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, you can do it next year again.

6. Come up with a guilt-free mantra and use it liberally

Guilt is usually the result of the stories we tell ourselves: “The grandparents will be so sad if they don’t get their homemade ornaments this year,” or “Christmas won’t be the same for the kids if we don’t have our cookie decorating party.” They may or may not be true, but in any case, they’re not your problem. It’s not your job to burn yourself out trying to make other people happy.

This is where self-compassion comes in. Instead of playing a loop in your head about how you’re single-handedly ruining everyone’s holiday, try: “This year is hard, and I’m doing the best I can. That’s all anyone can reasonably expect from me, and I’m not going to feel guilty.”

Instead of “I’m not going to feel guilty,” you can sub in:

  • “It doesn’t help anyone if I sacrifice my mental health trying to make the holiday perfect.”
  • “My family loves me and understands.”
  • “I can choose not to be around people, even family, who make me feel bad about it.” (Setting boundaries!)

7. Stave off seasonal depression and anxiety

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes seasonal affective disorders, but some people are more susceptible than others. Shore up your defenses if you’re someone who typically struggles in the winter months.

Start by eating a nutrient-dense diet. Depression and anxiety symptoms are linked to a host of nutrient deficiencies, including magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, and folate.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23950577/‘>7 Supplement if needed with a multivitamin/multimineral.

Seasonal depression also seems to be linked to decreased serotonin activity in the brain, and possibly increased melatonin levels. Both could cause or be the consequence of dysregulated circadian rhythms.https://www.biopsychiatry.com/tianeptine-vssri.htm‘>1

This doesn’t mean that serotonin has nothing to do with depression, or that it’s bad for depression. It just means that the story is a little more complicated than we thought.

Now the anecdote. Back when I was doing some research for a new probiotic supplement, I tried one that had been shown to increase serotonin levels: B. infantis. This is how I do things usually. Most all my products are created to solve a problem in my own life. I figure that if something appeals to me or fixes an issue affecting me, it will help others too. So this time, I added the powder to a smoothie and down the hatch it went. About half an hour later, I got the distinct sense of what I can only describe as emotional numbness. There was just this big blank emptiness in my heart and mind. I felt robotic, except I was a robot who had memories of what it was like to feel. It was a very uncanny, unnerving feeling that I don’t ever want to feel again.

Maybe the dosage was too high. Maybe I shouldn’t have been taking a probiotic strain meant for human infants (B. infantis is present in infant guts and breast milk). Maybe if my baseline levels of serotonin were lower, the probiotic would have helped. But that’s not the point of all this—it’s that boosting serotonin isn’t necessarily good for mood and happiness.

What Does Serotonin Do?

Serotonin facilitates communication between neurons, making it a major regulator of mood, learning, memory, and sexual desire. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7214430/‘>3 We usually think of learning in the context of knowledge or skill acquisition—learning a language, learning calculus, memorizing state capitals—but it also applies to mood acquisition. We aren’t happy just because. We are happy because we experience positive stimuli and the resultant good mood is reinforcing our continued pursuit of said positive stimuli. The good mood is how we learn, and we learn with the help of serotonin. And because we’ve learned to associate good moods with positive stimuli, the effect sustains itself. Depression alleviated. Meanwhile, in a low-serotonin state, a patient can experience positive stimuli without learning that it’s actually positive. They never make the connection. Or, rather, they never feel the connection.

Low brain serotonin is also linked to increased rumination—getting stuck on the same thoughts or thought patterns—another manifestation of decreased connectivity between neurons in the brain. Thoughts don’t “flow”; they get stuck.

Although we mainly think of serotonin as a neurotransmitter acting on the brain, our guts are the biggest producers of serotonin. About 90% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the gut, where it helps trigger the contractions that push food through the GI tract and initiates nausea and vomiting (when necessary).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837296‘>5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480364/‘>7 This may explain seasonal affective disorder, where depression spikes during colder, darker months. It may also explain why sun exposure increases cognitive function in both depressed and healthy subjects, or why bright light exposure prevents bad moods after tryptophan depletion.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17582745‘>9

Without light, you can’t convert tryptophan into serotonin.

Bright light doesn’t imply full blaring sunlight. Going outside on a cloudy, late autumn day will expose you to far more bright, natural light than you’ll experience sitting inside with the lights on. I’d guess the main reason winter is worse for serotonin is that people are less likely to go outside and brave the bad weather.

Get your light as early as possible. A 10-15 minute walk just after sunrise (no sunglasses; bathe in the light) sets the tone for the day.

Get Sun or Take Vitamin D

Vitamin D—which we synthesize from UVB exposure—allows the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150225094109.htm‘>11

You might take cod liver oil or eat the actual livers, as that provides both vitamin D (for increased tryptophan conversion) and long-chain omega-3s. However, a good daily dose of omega-3 supplementation through high potency, pharmaceutical-grade fish oil works fine, too, for those who get ample vitamin D otherwise.

Spend Time in Nature

I’ve written about forest bathing in the past for its ability to lower stress hormones, improve mood, reduce blood sugar levels, and even increase natural killer cell activity, a marker of anti-cancer ability.

Don’t Avoid Carbs Entirely

Carbs spike insulin, which shuttles amino acids out of the blood and into cells. This leaves tryptophan as the dominant amino acid in the bloodstream, because it’s bound to albumin and inaccessible to insulin. When amino acids compete for conversion into neurotransmitters, tryptophan wins, and serotonin rises, because no one else shows up.

Many readers of this blog prefer lower-carb diets. I’m the same. If you feel like your serotonin levels need a boost, consider increasing carb intake a little. Just one meal containing carbohydrates should get enough tryptophan into your brain for conversion into serotonin.

Take Curcumin

Turmeric has emerged in recent years as a powerful antidepressant, in many cases equalling or even surpassing the effects of prescription antidepressants.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035031‘>13

So maybe you need curcumin, the isolated polyphenol found in turmeric, to really affect depression. Maybe your chicken tikka masala isn’t replacing your SSRI. But absent outright depression or serotonin-based mood disorders, cooking with turmeric should help regulate normal serotonin levels.


Exercise increases serotonin via two pathways. First, the activation of motor neurons increases the firing rate of serotonin neurons, thus boosting the synthesis and release of serotonin. Second, exercise consistently elevates tryptophan levels in the brain, even for hours after the session.https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.1988.tb05366.x/abstract‘>15  It also makes the brain more sensitive to the effects of serotonin. Personally, I’m drinking my coffee.

Get a Massage

Conventional experts will say “massage just feels good.” Well, yeah. That’s the point. Getting a massage boosts serotonin by 28%.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15479988‘>17

One study found that a food-based multivitamin/multimineral supplement drink called Lavita increased tryptophan and serotonin levels in healthy subjects. While that product does purport to offer a boost in many micronutrients, a solid Primal diet with quality meats and good, varied vegetable intake should provide the same nutrient base. Of course, many of us choose a comprehensive multivitamin/multimineral supplement as well.

Take Tryptophan on an Empty Stomach

Taking tryptophan on an empty stomach eliminates the competition for brain uptake with other amino acids you’d encounter when eating tryptophan-rich foods, allowing tryptophan to flood the brain and trigger serotonin synthesis.

That’s what I have for today, folks. Thanks for stopping by. Share your thoughts and questions on the comment board, and have a good week.


The post 12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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uncertain timesHumans are hardwired to crave certainty. Psychologists argue that it’s an innate need, programmed into our biology and reinforced through evolution.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301008217300369‘>2 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00243/full‘>4 When it persists, uncertainty becomes a form of chronic stress. I don’t have to tell you how that erodes every dimension of health. It also sucks up valuable mental resources as our brain seeks to resolve the uncertainty.

That’s bad news in times like these. The usual advice applies: practice self-care, gratitude, mindfulness, radical acceptance. But coping with times like these isn’t a matter of mere self-care, not in the way the term gets thrown around. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of bubble baths, chamomile tea, and gentle movement. When it comes to self-care, those are the basics, the bare minimum of kindness we should all be showing ourselves regularly. They’re important, but when our sense of certainty and control have been upended, it takes more than the basics.

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings…

Uncertainty and lack of control have real consequences for our psychological and physical health. Suppressing emotions, denying how challenging the situation is, or engaging in self-recrimination only compounds the problem.

Especially now, when everyone is in the same boat, it’s tempting to downplay our feelings. There’s no need to compare your suffering to others’. There’s always someone who has it worse than you, but that doesn’t mean your feelings are valid. On the contrary, if you’re struggling right now, your feelings are absolutely valid. Your fundamental needs aren’t being met, and you may be dealing with legitimate fears about safety and wellbeing. Many of us are experiencing some form of ambiguous loss, as our ability to engage in “normal life” has been stripped.

…But Avoid Spiraling

It’s one thing to process how hard the current situation is. It’s another to give in to catastrophic thinking.

This is where self-compassion, gratitude, and acceptance practices can help. Together, they allow you to recognize your suffering (to use self-compassion language) while also keeping some perspective. You might also work on both-and thinking, which is a coping strategy from the ambiguous loss literature. Both-and statements acknowledge that multiple, even seemingly contradictory, things can be true simultaneously. Examples might include, “I can feel grief and despair, and also hope,” or “I am less productive than I used to be, and I’m also continuing to make progress.” (More on that shortly.)

When feelings feel too big or too hard, it’s helpful to process them with someone else. Remember, therapy is self-care. One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it’s easier than ever to access mental health services from the privacy of your home.

Melt stress away with Adaptogenic Calm

Lean on Other People…

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity, trauma, or stress—bending but not breaking, ideally becoming better adapted to face difficult situations in the future. One fundamental source of resilience is having others upon whom you can rely, people who will share your burden and help you get through difficult times.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a large circle of close friends and acquaintances. Rather, it means fostering meaningful and supportive relationships with individuals and/or belonging to groups that provide similar benefits. These might be religious affiliations, volunteer organizations, support groups, or even your workplace.

Of course, this only works if you are willing to reach out. It can be as simple as showing up for a Zoom happy hour with friends, but also don’t be afraid to request more. In my experience, people want to help. They’re just waiting to be asked.

…And Find Ways to Be There for Others

The flip side of this is allowing other people to lean on you. When things feel out of control, being there for others helps you heal, too, by creating positive energy and purpose.

There are lots of ways to be prosocial. Pick up the phone and call someone. Take one small task off a coworker’s plate, or write them a note of appreciation. Donate money or time to an organization working to affect positive change. Write a letter to your congressperson. Send a care package. The act of giving can actually create energy, so long as you’re careful to balance it with filling your own bucket.

Expect Less of Yourself…

How many think pieces have been written over the past six months giving us permission to be less productive than normal? I guess not enough, because I see lots of people continuing to beat themselves up for struggling at working, being less strict with their exercise routines, and letting their houses be messy.

Clearly, we underestimate how much uncertainty in and of itself drains our mental resources. While we may be over the initial shock of the pandemic—though the hits of 2020 keep on coming—the uncertainty and lack of control remain. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to rest. Reevaluate your standards for “success.” Say no where you can.

…But Keep Getting Things Done

It’s all well and good to say you should lower your expectations and say no to things, but what about the things you have to get done? Jobs, parenting, and caregiver responsibilities can’t simply be tossed aside. While I do support the idea that it’s ok to do less right now, sometimes you need to buck up and take a step forward (mental health crises excluded).

Action, any action, can be self-reinforcing because you’re exerting control again. Maybe it’s checking the easiest task off your to-do list, taking one small step towards completing a project, or doing five minutes of exercise. Just keep the ball rolling. Do NOT focus on the ways in which your effort or performance is less than what it used to be, but rather that you’re still making an effort in the first place.

Maintain a Focus on Health

Emotional eating, drinking, and laying on the couch all day are completely understandable responses to times like these, but ultimately, they compound the stress. You know how much better you feel when you maintain some semblance of healthy eating, movement, and sleep, or conversely, how crummy it feels when you let it all slide. By and large, these are variables that you can control even when everything else feels like it’s gone to hell.

Again, I’d encourage you to reassess your standards of success here, adjusting to your current reality. It’s ok if you don’t have the wherewithal to make elaborate dinners or train for a 50k. Resist the temptation to let the pendulum swing completely in the other direction, though.  Think of each meal as one small act of productivity and each walk as an accomplishment.

Be in Nature

Few things are as inherently healing and soothing as spending time in nature. Research into the practice of forest bathing documents all sorts of benefits from, essentially, going into the forest (or even just a park) and being mindful. A recent study found that taking “awe walks,” which are simply outdoor walks in which you have the specific intention of experiencing awe, lead older adults to experience more positive emotions and less distress.Raise your hand if you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. Aside from the fact that being in the middle of a pandemic makes everything more stressful, you’ve got work obligations and family commitments, then there are food choices to make, at-home workouts you think you should be doing, and non-stretchy pants you’re feeling bad for not fitting into.

It’s a lot. I get it, and it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed. That said, staying in a state of overwhelm is a choice.

Yep, you heard me, it’s a choice. And if you’re ready to get out of the seemingly relentless spin cycle of life (and the tight chest and racing mind that come with it), stick around. I’ll be unpacking the real reason you get overwhelmed — spoiler alert, it’s not because your to-do list is too long — plus, four things you can do to change it.

Why Do I Get Overwhelmed?

I’ll give you an example from my own life. As a health coach, I’ll often hear my clients say that they just can’t do it. They can’t swap out their toast and cereal for breakfast. They can’t make time to get outside. They can’t get to bed earlier. They can’t…fill in the blank.

In my opinion, “I can’t” statements reflect limiting beliefs. They aren’t real; they’re just stories we tell ourselves, and identities we accidentally end up identifying with. It’s not that you can’t, it’s that something is holding you back. I find that most of the time, when I dig a little deeper, that thing is fear.

Types of Fear That Cause Overwhelm:

  • Fear you won’t be able to handle it
  • Fear of getting it wrong
  • Fear you won’t get it done (on time)
  • Fear that you’ll be judged
  • Fear of the consequences
  • Fear of not being in control
  • Fear of being embarrassed
  • Fear that you don’t really deserve it

Whether you’re experiencing worry, stress, or complete overwhelm, fear is usually at the helm, just FYI. But the goal here isn’t to be fearless (there actually are some benefits to fear),https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2882379/‘>2 The stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol flood your system, preparing you to fight or flee. Not only that, the amygdala instantly shuts down the neural pathway to your prefrontal cortex which temporarily impairs all rational thinking, making you feel disorganized and out of control.https://www.marksdailyapple.com/deep-breathing/‘>5 It doesn’t matter what kind of breathing you do — box breathing, alternating nostril breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing all work. Just make sure that the method you choose is rhythmic, meaning that you breathe in and out for about the same amount of time. After a few minutes you’ll notice that your mind has slowed down and your energy is much calmer.

Try this: Here is a triangular breath exercise that I’ve created for my clients. Inhale through your nose, counting slowly to 6; hold for a count of 2 at the top; and exhale for a count of 8. Repeat for 1-3 minutes or until your mind feels calm again.

Check Your Stories

You know the limiting beliefs and thoughts that prevent you from achieving your goals? These are your stories. And I call them stories because they’re just not true. You may have picked them up from things you heard your parents say growing up or from an experience you went through. Maybe you decided along that you always drop the ball. Or that things always feel too big for you, and who were you to achieve big things anyway?! These narratives become a form of identity that not only reflects who we think we are, but also what we think is possible for us.

Try this: Next time you catch yourself doubting your greatness, turn it on its ear. Instead of saying, “I don’t think I can stick to a new way of eating” try “I am fully capable of doing new things.”

Take the Stairstep Approach

When I work with new clients, they often feel overwhelmed by all the things they think they have to do. There’s cleaning out the cabinets, figuring out which brands are canola-free, learning how to make their own bone broth/kombucha/beet kvass… This is about the time I sneak in my stair-stepping approach. This technique is awesome because it breaks the journey down into smaller steps, which is less intimidating than trying to leap to the end in a single bound.

Try this: On a piece of paper, literally draw a staircase. Identify the bottom step (this is where you are now) and then identify the top step (this is where you want to go). Figure out the very first thing you need to do to get to the next step, then do that thing! The rest of the steps will reveal themselves as you go.


Just because you can do all the things, doesn’t mean you need to. A lot of times we get overwhelmed simply because we put too much on our plates. Just like there’s no gold medal for getting more done, there’s no punishment for doing less. Your worthiness has nothing to do with how much you accomplish or don’t accomplish. That being said, there’s also no shame in delegating out tasks and responsibilities.

Try this: Think about what areas of your life could use some assistance. Can your spouse cook up a healthy dinner tonight? Can your kids help you sort through Primal recipes? Make a list of the tasks you want to dole out and if you need help getting more comfortable with asking for help, read this.

Go From “I Can’t” to “I Got This”

Life can be overwhelming, even when you’re not in the middle of a pandemic. But by paying attention to your triggers, your stories, and your breath, you can restore your ability to think, to listen, and move forward. It does take practice, but eventually you can train yourself to respond rather than react. Follow these four steps and see how it works for you:

  • Breathe
  • Check your Stories
  • Take the Stairstep Approach
  • Delegate

How do you manage overwhelm? What tactics do you use to move through it or avoid it all together?


The post What it Really Means When You’re Overwhelmed (and 4 Ways to Move Past It) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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