New Year, New Diet?

It’s the new year which means chances are high that you’re either on a new diet or contemplating starting one. This month we are talking about some of the top trending diets. Each is often promoted as the end-all-be-all, but none of them are perfect. Have you ever considered why a diet works for some but not all?

In most cases, the “success stories” are less about the diet’s rules and more about what they stopped doing. For example, if you were eating a bagel for breakfast and snacking on chips all afternoon, the Atkins diet is going to “work” for you because you’re starting to consume protein and aren’t living on refined carbs.

For some people, the accountability of having a community can be all they need to see results. It doesn’t matter if they do Keto, Paleo, or just cut out sugar. By having a group of people to connect with, they can eat healthier consistently and notice improvements in their health.

So before you go and stock up on all of the “approved” food items for a new diet, here are the top two things we want to see in ANY way of eating:
1. It’s based on eating whole food
2. It’s sustainable.

Just prioritizing nutrient-dense food is going to be an improvement from a diet filled with processed foods, empty calories, sugar, and alcohol. Plus, consistency is going to create long-term changes. You can eat the healthiest diet, but if it only lasts for 2 months, there’s no point. Let’s take a look now at a few of the most popular “diets” you might be considering.

Whole30 is a popular diet that involves cutting out specific foods to determine which ones may be causing unpleasant symptoms. It requires removing all sources of sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, and desserts of any form for 30 days.

The positives of Whole30:

  • By removing all of the foods listed above, you’ll naturally consume whole foods (hence the name) that are rich in nutrients. Removing processed foods and sugar from your diet will always improve the way you feel.
  • It takes the focus off of calories and highlights the importance of eating high-quality food
  • Whole30 is a strict diet and will likely help you curb your sweet tooth.

The downsides of Whole30:

  • As an elimination diet, it restricts foods that may be part of a healthy diet for some people, such as legumes and high-quality whole fat dairy products.
  • Whole30 is thought of as a temporary solution, without attention to how to make it sustainable. What happens on day 31? It can be hard for people to transition into a maintenance style of eating.
  • Eliminating inflammatory triggers is an essential part of healing food sensitivities and repairing the gut. Without testing, there’s no way to know if healthy foods included in Whole30 might be problematic for you.

We love that Whole30 reinforces the importance of consuming a nutrient-dense diet, which many can benefit from. However, we think there’s a more precise way. At A Balanced Table, we use food sensitivity testing to identify which foods are causing your reactions, so there is no guessing involved. As a result, we can help clients find a way of eating that is sustainable in the long run.

Paleo is an “ancestral” way of eating that focuses on consuming meats, fish, eggs, plants, nuts, and seeds. It eliminates grains, legumes, and dairy, which are foods that couldn’t have been found by hunter-gatherers millenia ago.

The positives of Paleo:

  • Paleo prioritizes whole foods and a balanced intake of protein, carbs, and fats.
  • It removes processed foods with poor-quality oils and refined sugar from the diet.
  • Paleo emphasizes the quality of food, including grass-fed meat and organic produce.

The downsides of Paleo:

  • Without general macronutrient guidelines, it’s easy to go overboard on protein and saturated fat consumption.
  • High-quality sources of dairy can be a good source of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins for those who can tolerate it.
  • Whole grains, fruits, and legumes can be important foods for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

The Paleo diet incorporates a lot of valuable principles for a nourishing diet, such as consuming whole foods that come from a high-quality source. Some of the foods it excludes could be a great way to add variety to your diet if you tolerate them. Following a Paleo style of eating can be a great start if you’re coming from a diet with lots of processed food and will provide a solid foundation for your health.

Atkins is the grandfather of low-carb diets. The diet involves four phases that start out extremely low in carbs and gradually increase until you reach a maintenance amount of carbs. You are allowed to eat as much fat and protein as you want as long as you keep your carbs within the limit.

The positives of Atkins:

  • Emphasizing protein and fats is a great way to support overall health.
  • Promoting fat consumption is helpful to continue removing the “fat phobia” that is causing people to undereat healthy fats.

The downsides of Atkins:

  • Marketing for Atkins is big, and like many other popular diets, there are growing options for convenience foods such as bars and snacks that are “approved” by the diet but are still processed.
  • Atkins trades the fat phobia for carb phobia. The emphasis on low-carb can negatively alter people’s view of all carbs, even nutrient-dense sources such as squash, beets, and legumes which can also be a great source of fiber.
  • It is very focused on weight which is not the only measurement of health.
  • Each phase requires tracking carbs which may not be helpful for people with disordered relationships with food.

In general, low-carb diets can be a great strategy for individuals looking to regulate their blood sugar and optimize their health. However, you don’t have to go as extreme as Atkins. Instead, consider your macronutrient ratios and prioritize getting in your protein and healthy fats first.

There are a lot of versions of Keto, but the main focus is to consume high amounts of fat, very low carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of protein. The goal is to get your body burning fat for fuel instead of carbs. Many of its principles are similar to the Atkins diet.

The positives of Keto:

  • The focus on fat is great for supporting brain and hormonal health. It also helps to affirm that fat does not make you fat.
  • Keto is a very satiating diet. By focusing on fats and proteins, you don’t have to worry about cravings.
  • As a low-carb diet, Keto can be a valuable tool for addressing blood sugar imbalances and metabolic syndrome.

The downsides of Keto:

  • It’s often used for quick weight loss, which is not ideal. Dropping a significant amount of weight in a short period of time is stressful for the body.
  • Keto significantly reduces or eliminates nutrient-dense foods, including starchy vegetables and fruit, since they are higher in carbs.
  • There is no emphasis on the quality of the fats and proteins being consumed.
  • Females may really struggle on Keto, as it can affect hormone output and regulation negatively.

Keto is a popular diet, but it’s not for everyone and can be difficult to maintain long-term. We always prioritize plenty of protein and healthy fats for our clients, but some people don’t feel well on such a low-carb diet.

Ultimately, instead of going through endless elimination diets or randomly removing foods, we recommend testing to determine exactly which foods your body is reacting to. Once you know what food sensitivities are present, you can remove those foods temporarily, while we work on calming the immune response and reducing inflammation, to start experiencing relief from your symptoms. And if it’s simply weight loss you’re after, removing the foods that are causing you inflammation can be a tremendous place to start.

A Nutritious Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other large family holiday meals are all too often an excuse for out-of-control eating. Surrounded by loved ones and the traditional family dynamics that go with, we tend to turn to the comfort foods of our youth, which are generally laden with sugar and refined flour.

This Thanksgiving menu is meant to meet the needs of those who eat gluten free, dairy free, and non-meat eaters alike. I’ve made an effort to choose dishes that I know are healthy and delicious and feel “special” enough for the day, but that don’t contain things I wouldn’t normally eat.

Organic free-range turkey: I only buy organic free-range poultry, as it’s better for the environment, the bird, and my body. We roast the turkey simply, by creating a compound of Miyoko’s vegan butter and minced fresh herbs that we insert between the skin and the meat.

Gluten free cornbread stuffing: Technically, this is dressing, since we don’t put it inside the turkey. It’s a simple stuffing, made with gluten free cornbread, eggs, organic free range chicken broth, onions, celery, and herbs.

Sweet potato casserole with crunchy nut crumble topping: this is a bit of a splurge, even though it’s vegan, gluten-free and no refined sugars.  http://ohsheglows.com/2014/11/04/saweet-potato-casserole-with-a-crunchy-nut-crumble-vegan-gf/

Broccoli. Simply steamed. Just plain and yummy.

Low-sugar cranberry sauce: just fresh cranberries, juice + zest of an orange, and a little maple syrup to taste. People rave about how tart and delicious this is; it really cuts through all the other heavy rich dishes.

Roasted delicata squash salad with arugula, pomegranate seeds and feta: Sometimes I swap in goat cheese. Woo!  https://cookieandkate.com/roasted-delicata-squash-pomegranate-arugula-salad/

For our vegetarians, we love acorn squash with cranberry apple quinoa. Because this is a little too sweet, I use only the apple juice (omitting the orange juice), and just dried cranberries (omitting the dried apple.) I also use pecans instead of almonds. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/acorn-squash-cranberry-apple-quinoa

And finally, dairy-free pumpkin pie with a coconut crusthttp://allergyfreemenuplanners.com/2009/11/20/allergen-free-pumpkin-pie-recipe-gluten-free-grain-free-nut-free-sugar-free-dairy-free/

Wishing you all a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

Blog Takeover: Courtenay on Not Having All the Answers

I’m Courtenay Fisher, a reformed lawyer turned functional nutritionist.  Before joining A Balanced Table I was fortunate to further my nutritional and holistic health studies through Restorative Wellness Solutions where I met Ellen, achieved the designation of Master Restorative Wellness Solutions practitioner, and became an instructor. During this time I also evolved my own solo practice which shifted to become 100% virtual (thanks to the pandemic), setting the stage for me to join the ABT team.  You can read more about me here but at the moment Ellen has given me the opportunity to take over this month’s newsletter …

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a piece of nutrition advice that promised to resolve all your health worries, give you the flat stomach you’ve dreamed of and lead you to your zen, all in an easy to use (or follow, or swallow),  program, package or pill.  Sound familiar?  Anyone? 

As I introduce myself here I’d love to say with confidence that I have all the answers about nutrition.  But that would be BS, and I sincerely hope that you would raise an eyebrow.

The truth is, nutrition is a fascinating, yet complex, beast, and there isn’t one person – no matter how flashy his or her marketing – who has mastered every nuance.  

There are certain things that are foundational, and mostly free.  For instance, a nutrient-dense, whole-foods based diet (regardless of the label put on it), will beat a standard-American, processed diet all day, any day.  Approximately zero humans will achieve better health by ingesting more processed sugar.  And most of us, at least in the majority of industrialized nations, need to sleep more and better manage stress.  These proclamations are the ‘easy’ ones, even if unpopular (because, for real, who doesn’t want that donut?).

But the more I’ve learned, the more questions I have – not because I don’t ‘know’, but rather because I don’t want to become so entrenched in my beliefs that I miss the chance to improve.  I am beyond grateful that I was gifted with a relentless desire to answer these questions (big and small), assimilate knowledge gained and ultimately put it to use helping others navigate their health challenges and optimize their enjoyment of life.

Does this mean that I don’t have a plan when I work with clients?  Of course not.  But it does mean that if new, credible research emerges, I am not afraid to re-examine and adjust (read ‘improve’) recommendations.  One of my favorite phrases of late is, “strong convictions loosely-held” (thank you, Dr. Attia).  It’s a reminder to welcome the chance to discern new (even, gasp!, opposing) perspectives so as to continue learning, challenging, and improving upon what we ‘know’.  

I also know that the knowledge I’ve gained in working with countless clients and other practitioners is just as valuable as the theory that comes from reviewing research and studies.  A celebrated theory or intervention is useless if a client can’t tolerate it, for whatever reason, so the ability to shift in a thoughtful and educated manner allows for the best outcomes.  Ultimately the ability to marry these skills – knowledge and practical application – is a crucial factor in determining results.

So will I ever know “all the things”?  I sincerely hope not.  But here’s what I will tell you … 

The more clients I work with, the more convinced (and inspired) I become in the power of tailored nutrition and lifestyle approaches to create life-changing shifts, especially for those who feel ‘unseen’ or misunderstood by well-meaning experts.  This is the truth that keeps me coming back.

What kind of exercise is best? (hint: It may not be what you think)

When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I really should exercise more.”? I get it; we’re all busy, and often we make exercise feel like it needs to be a huge all-or-nothing commitment.

I probably don’t need to list for you all the benefits of regular exercise – ok, maybe just a few reminders: healthier bones, better sleep, boosted metabolism that burns more calories at rest, better mental health, stress relief, a healthier heart, and better sex. On top of all those, exercise is also critically important for maintaining blood sugar regulation. In particular, if you tend towards high blood sugar (perhaps having heard the words “pre-diabetic” coming your way), exercise has the ability to get desensitized insulin receptors working again, thereby lowering blood sugar.

Finding time to exercise paired with the dread of an hour-long slog at the gym are the biggest barriers I hear mentioned as I work with clients. The great news is that you don’t need to feel like you’re dying for an hour to get major health benefits. 

I like to think of this trifecta of movement as being the key to hitting your health goals:

1. Practice HIIT 1-2x/week. Studies are showing over and over that short bursts of high intensity workouts—known as HIIT, or high intensity interval training—are among the most effective types of exercise for lowering blood sugar and losing weight.

HIIT workouts are convenient both because no gym or equipment is needed, and because you can do them when you have just a few minutes to spare. I’m a big fan of the “7 Minute Workout: Fitness App”  (and there are other similar ones available), and I also like this great HIIT workout idea. Once you find some favorite exercises, you can easily create your own routines. Just aim for 20-30 second bursts of intense activity, followed by twice that–40-60 seconds–of rest. Work up to repeating 8 – 10 times, and go on with your day! 

2. Go for a daily walk. Walking is highly underrated when it comes to health and longevity; walking for a minimum of 30 minutes a day has huge benefits. Among these are better blood sugar control, prevention and reduction of joint pain, stronger immune function, and lower risk of cancer.(1) Not to mention, walking in nature in particular, also known as “forest bathing”, has shown significant reductions in stress levels; something everyone could use!

What we are learning now is that breaking up your walks into shorter stints throughout the day can have an even greater effect than, say, sitting all day but working out hard for one hour at the gym. So don’t think that a 10 minute walk you can squeeze into your 15 minute break-time doesn’t count! It’s the small movements in your day that will make the biggest difference.

A walk after a meal or snack is another great way to normalize your blood sugar levels. Using your muscles right after a snack lowers your blood sugar dramatically, fending off any spike you may have otherwise had. 

3. Lift heavy weights 2-3x/week. Get off the elliptical and pick up some dumbbells! Many of us get in the cardio, but skip the weights, and this can often be working to our disadvantage. Weight training is essential for bone health and metabolism as you get older, so it’s an important thing to incorporate into your exercise routine. When we have more muscle mass as part of our body composition, we have a higher resting metabolic rate, which allows us to eat more nutritious food without restriction. 

Choose weights that are heavy and lift until you feel muscle fatigue (like you can’t do another rep). If you’re just starting out, finding a bodyweight workout on youtube can be a great starting place. Aim for doing this 2-3x/week.

Did you notice that lengthy cardio sessions aren’t on this list? If you love running or spin classes, go for it! Just make sure that you feel good – not depleted – afterwards. If you feel worse after your workout, you probably pushed it a bit too hard. And if you’re a cardio-queen (or king), make sure you incorporate these other elements of movement into your week as well!

If you’re struggling to fit movement into your life, or feel like you need a health reset in general, please reach out – I’d love to talk about your concerns. At A Balanced Table, alongside my nutrition expertise and guidance, you will have access to our dedicated Health and Nutrition coach, Annie-Rose, who can help you to fit healthy habits, like movement, into your busy schedule – and give you some added accountability too!

Blog Takeover: Annie-Rose on the Power of Health Coaching

Happy Spring!

This is Annie-Rose Licht, the Health and Nutrition Coach at A Balanced Table, and I’m taking over Ellen’s newsletter today to talk to you a little bit about health coaching and why it’s so crucial for helping you to meet your health goals.

Health coaching is all about behavior change and helping to motivate people to start and stick to healthy behaviors. Health coaching is a huge trend in 2022, being called “the missing link in both healthcare and wellness” by industry experts. Why is this?

We are so accustomed to healthcare looking something like this: 

  • You go see your doctor.
  • He/she orders basic lab work.
  • They review the “lab high” markers and suggest you make a few basic changes (or prescribe a medication)
  • You are sent on your way to make changes on your own with a check-in in a year.

Does this sound familiar? While some people are able to do this (assuming they even receive good advice), most of us don’t make these changes. It’s too overwhelming, too different from what we’re used to; we simply need more support. And that’s where A Balanced Table is different.

At A Balanced Table, we don’t meet just once or twice. We meet regularly over the course of many months to ensure we provide you all the support, guidance, and consistency you need for success. Ellen does the in-depth lab testing, symptom analysis and sets the nutrition and lifestyle recommendations, along with your healing protocol, and I complete that puzzle by working with you to personalize this even further. 

We discuss your unique challenges and I help guide positive behavior change in a way that works for you. We spend time on your nutrition, but also work on equally important pieces in the health puzzle such as sleep, stress management, and movement. Let’s take a look at an example of this.

Have you ever read an article like “5 ways to get more sleep”? Articles like this can give some good ideas for sure. But how often do they apply to you and your unique situation? And more importantly, how often do you try the things they list? Often poor sleep is tied to nutrition, but frequently it is related to “sleep hygiene”, stress, or even meal timing or unbalanced meals, despite a healthy diet. When I work with a client who is continuing to have trouble sleeping, I start by asking questions like:

  • Is your bedroom completely dark (are there any LED lights on? Blackout curtains? Light from the hallway?)
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep or do you wake in the middle of the night? What time? How are you feeling during these wakings?
  • How do you go to bed at night? What’s your routine?
  • Are you using screens before bed? In bed?
  • Do you have a partner who snores? A dog who walks around in your bed?
  • When do you eat dinner? What do you eat at dinner?
  • How much time outside do you get in the mornings/mid-day?

All of these questions give me a really clear picture of why you might be having trouble with sleep. Once we have clues to what the root cause of your poor sleep is, we can implement strategies and small habit changes that can create drastic improvements. 

Why small? Small changes lead to bigger changes, and when you start small, you feel success early on. This is key for sticking with these new habits. By improving your health from every aspect through habit change, it allows you better healing rather than if you just changed one thing, such as the food you’re eating or the workout you’re doing.

This model of pairing health coaching with the more traditional practitioner is becoming more common, as studies are showing really positive results. Our complementary set of skills and incredibly hands-on approach is why we see so much success in this practice. Ellen continues to meet with our clients regularly, so now you have the benefit of twice as many interactions to give you all the tools you need to set up life-long healthy habits and see real results. 

What habit would you like to adopt for your health? If you’ve never worked with Ellen, you can reach out to apply to work with her here. And if you’re a current client without a package that includes health and nutrition coaching with me, you can book with me a la carte as well. I’d love to work with you!

Annie-Rose

Nerding Out

The other day, in a true sign of my overwhelming nerdiness, I had a Facebook debate about blood chemistry markers.

A friend asserted that, if they could only ever have one blood chemistry marker run for the rest of their life, it would be hemoglobin A1C. Considered the gold standard for monitoring for elevated blood sugar, A1C is essentially a 3-month average of how well you have controlled your glucose levels. The friend’s view was that, since this is so critical to controlling inflammation, it’s the key piece of information to have to avoid insulin resistance and thereby, chronic disease.

I politely disagreed. It’s entirely possible to have a totally normal A1C, and still have deeply dysregulated blood sugar and insulin resistance. I see it all the time on labs. Glucose regulation is a complex system (understatement!), which is why I evaluate blood sugar control by looking at as many as 7 specific blood sugar markers. A1C is just one piece of the puzzle.

But, here’s the fun part. As I told my friend, give me a food journal and let me evaluate your symptoms, and I can predict with pretty darn good accuracy how your blood sugar will look. Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, is entirely a lifestyle-related condition. Your diet, your stress levels, and your movement routine are what dictate how your blood sugar is controlled. Taking a look at all those things and understanding whether you experience symptoms like fatigue after meals or abdominal weight gain (as just two examples), clues me in to dysregulated blood sugar pretty confidently.

One of my absolute favorite interventions for elevated blood sugar is time-restricted feeding. Put simply, it means restricting your eating to certain hours of the day, with an elongated fast overnight. A good target is a minimum of a 12 hour fast overnight, with 14 hours being even better. Some people do so well, they quickly move into 16 hours fasted, eating their meals only in an 8-hour window during the day. (ie, eating only between 9 am and 5 pm). Extending your hours without food allows your glucose regulation systems to take a break overnight and can be a very effective way to re-sensitize cellular insulin receptors—meaning, helping your cells to allow insulin to bring glucose into the cells for energy again.  Most people feel great on time-restricted feeding, and find it very helpful for regulating blood sugar, weight, and energy. There’s also good research that it can help with overall longevity. One caveat: if you’re known to have low blood sugar/hypoglycemia, this isn’t something you want to try. (PS that’s also a lifestyle condition, so reach out, and let’s get that under control!)

So, what marker did I say would be my one “desert island” blood chemistry marker, instead? You’ll have to stay tuned for my next newsletter to find out!

5 Drool-Worthy (yet healthy) Pumpkin Spice Recipes

This is the time of year people everywhere await breathlessly….

…..the best time of the year….

….that’s right….

…..it’s PUMPKIN SPICE EVERYTHING TIME!!!!

Think this stuff isn’t popular? Check out #psl on Instagram.

Like most normal homo sapiens, I adore pumpkin spice and all the wonderful tastes of Fall that go along with it. Unfortunately though, most of the pumpkin goodies that flood the market this time of year are filled with artificial flavors, colors, and chemicals. There’s really no actual PUMPKIN to be found, which is a shame, since the lovely gourd is full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber.

I thought I’d do a round-up of some healthy pumpkin do-it-yourself things, and then I started searching…..and found recipes calling for tons of sugar, soy, and agave, among other things. (Avid readers of this blog know why these are all poor dietary choices.)

So, here are a few delightful yummies that do not feature crappy ingredients, and that will allow you to bring the flavors of Fall to your kitchen without overdosing on chemicals and sugar. If you’re searching for others, just be sure to bring a critical eye to what goes in them.

Protein-packed pumpkin spiced oats in a jar

Paleo pumpkin custard 

Pumpkin spice baked apples

Healthy pumpkin spiced latte

Pumpkin tahini grain-free porridge (I LOVE this for breakfast!)

6 Proven Ways to Build Resilience To Stress

This past year and a half has been a doozy. And more than ever before, I’m seeing the huge impact stress is having on my clients’ health. Today I want to discuss with you what stress is, its effect on our health, and how you can work to lower your stress levels, all in the name of mental and physical health. 

Are You Like Lauren?

This client, let’s call her Lauren, may reflect the way your life operates. You may be on autopilot, not really noticing the mental, emotional, chemical and physical stressors you’re introducing to your life on a minute-by-minute basis. So let’s take a look.

Lauren is a working mom of 3 kids in elementary and middle school. She starts her day dragging herself out of bed after hitting snooze three times, making the kids as balanced a breakfast as she can manage, and getting them packed for school and out the door on time. 

Her mind is racing with anxious thoughts: What is my number one priority at work today?; How will I get everything done on my to-do list?; Shoot, I didn’t plan dinner; I hope today isn’t the day there’s a COVID positive case announced at school. And so on.

Then she’s rushing to attend her 9 am meeting, coffee in hand (having skipped breakfast), feeling the beginnings of an upset stomach. Her day is packed with meetings and responding to emails. She has a few minutes to grab a bagel for lunch, then fuels on coffee and sugary snacks in the afternoon to prevent herself from falling asleep in yet another Zoom meeting. 

She ends her day starving, on edge, and tired, and opens her fridge to cobble together something for dinner (because who has time for meal planning?). Then it’s off to kids’ activity drop-offs. When the kids are finally in bed, she starts a load of wash (need clean masks for tomorrow!). Then she takes an hour to herself scrolling instagram while watching something escapist on Netflix with her partner, before finally dragging herself to bed. She wakes up in the middle of the night and has trouble getting back to sleep, with the alarm waking her the next morning far before she feels ready. 

Lauren is exhausted, anxious, experiences digestive discomfort, and has trouble staying asleep at night. She’s in survival mode, and it’s deeply affecting her health and happiness.

Does this sound like you? 

Many of us are experiencing some version of this go-go-go lifestyle, with mental and emotional stressors, along with physical stress like overtraining or under-sleeping, or chemical stress like a poor diet. And stress directly and indirectly affects our health. But the true effect of stress feels a bit abstract, so let’s look at a few specific ways stress actually affects our health.

  1. When we are stressed out, we are in “fight or flight” mode. Our bodies release stress hormones to give us a better chance of survival in the short term, say when running from a bear. Non-essential functions such as digestion, reproduction, collagen formation, and bone mineralization become inhibited. So when we are under chronic lower-level stress day-in and day-out, these functions crucial for robust long-term health start to break down, leading to unwanted symptoms.
  1. Stress causes leaky gut. It’s well-documented that stress increases intestinal permeability (widening gaps in the intestinal lining). This allows pathogens, toxins, and undigested food particles to pass into our bloodstream, triggering our immune system. This leads to inflammation that can be felt all over the body, including headaches/migraines, skin rashes or acne, joint pain, mood disorders, digestive discomfort, hormonal imbalance, and so much more. Leaky gut also leads to food sensitivities. When food particles that are not digested well enough to be absorbed properly by the body are allowed into the bloodstream, our immune system mounts an attack. After repeat exposure, our immune system tags these foods as the “enemy”, releasing chemicals to protect us, and giving us these unwanted symptoms.
  1. Stress leads to poor blood sugar regulation. When we are constantly stressed, our body is putting out stress hormones, like norepinephrine and cortisol, which increases our blood sugar. Increased blood sugar means more blood sugar crashes and spikes. This leads to energy slumps, sugar cravings, and middle-of-the-night wake-ups. Over time, this will affect our metabolic health, contributing to insulin resistance and heart disease.

And of course stress has indirect effects. When we are stressed, we don’t take the time to sit down and eat slowly in a rested state, which severely impacts digestion and absorption of nutrients. And we certainly aren’t prioritizing the foundations for good health; we aren’t planning out our food, making time for mindfulness or exercise, or getting enough sleep.

So, what can we do?

It’s best to address stress slowly, and start with the lowest hanging fruit, lest we get more stressed about needing to reduce our stress! 

Really, we have two options. We can either:

  1. Remove the stressors. Of course this isn’t always possible, but I encourage my clients to take a look at what is causing them the most stress and see if there’s anything they can do to get help with at least one of these items. Can they remove it from their list, even temporarily? Can they get outside help with it? 
  1. Increase our resilience to stress. Once you’ve gotten your stressor list down to the stressors you simply can’t eliminate or reduce, we focus here. Choose one or two of these to start increasing your resilience to stress today:
    • Move: a short walk after a meal (or anytime) can help reduce cortisol levels
    • Laugh: get together (safely) with friends, watch a comedy special. Don’t forget to have fun! Laughter and smiling increases the release of dopamine, which has numerous positive effects on our mood, sleep, and digestion.
    • Spend time in nature: Go for a walk in your local park, or get out for a hike. 
    • Meditate: Use an app like Calm or Headspace to practice meditation for at least a few minutes a day to get started. The science shows the effect of meditation on stress-management is considerable, so it’s really worth the effort.
    • Targeted supplementation, such as adaptogens. This comes with a caveat! Adaptogens are only useful when used in conjunction with other lifestyle measures and with testing to see which ones are right for you.
    • Prioritize bedtime: resist the urge to scroll on your device or binge-watch Netflix, and get in bed a little earlier; your health depends on it!

I’d love to hear from you; do you think stress is impacting your health? Reducing your stress is a key part of the healing process, but often we have gotten ourselves to a place where the impact has been so huge that we need to layer in other diet, lifestyle, deeper testing, and targeted supplementation to get you thriving again. 


This month at A Balanced Table, 3 spots have just opened up for new clients. In my program, I design a protocol specifically tailored to your symptoms, based on functional lab testing. You have full access to me, as well as sessions with our in-house health and nutrition coach, Annie-Rose (who can walk you through your stressors and help you mitigate them!). If you’re ready to invest in your health and finally feel better, I’d love to help. Fill out this short application to work with me here, and if we’re a good fit, we can set up a 15 minute appointment to talk about your specific concerns and how we may work together. If you’re excited about this idea, don’t wait! These spots will fill up quickly.

My Mold Story

For most of my time as a functional nutritionist, I completely resisted learning about mold illness and mycotoxins. My continuing education journey has taken me to a lot of places, but that was one I just wasn’t interested in visiting. “These people are SO sick,” I thought. It couldn’t possibly be something that I could help people heal from, I believed. And then the universe laughed, everything changed, and mold became the focus of my life.

Like many of us, I initially came to this field of work to try to help conquer my own health concerns. Around 2006, while still living the Standard American life, I started experiencing constant nausea. After medical testing proved fruitless, a Naturopathic Doctor identified various food sensitivities, and some gut pathogens. I took dairy and other reactive foods out of my diet. The nausea abated (but I sure missed ice cream!), and then it returned about 5 years later, in 2011, along with persistent heartburn and episodes of painful esophageal spasms. This continued for 4 years, with multiple practitioners having no success at relieving the symptoms or identifying the root cause. During that time, I graduated both NTA and all the RWS levels, and tried to put to work what I knew. Extensive gut healing protocols and attempts at introducing HCl didn’t work, despite successfully eradicating h pylori, and I always noted undigested food in my stool.  In 2015, I identified anti-parietal and anti-intrinsic factor antibodies both elevated, indicating an autoimmune attack on my stomach cells. 

At this same time, I began noticing constant swollen glands, fatigue, stabbing ear pain, poor memory and brain fog. When my nausea was very severe, it was often accompanied with vertigo: literally, “bed spins,” as if I had been drinking heavily. Most nights, I had to sleep propped up almost vertically, to keep the heartburn, nausea, and esophageal spasms under control. I also found that I was startling awake at night, which was accompanied with a rush of nausea and vertigo each time. My symptoms were always worse the week of my menstrual cycle, and would also increase with a cold or any similar immune challenge, and in times of high stress. Lastly, the skin on my face would often start peeling, with no explanation as to why.

Blood tests in 2016 identified a reactivated Epstein Barr viral infection. I implemented the AIP diet, which eliminated my memory and brain fog symptoms, but had no other effect after 6 months. I tried a liver detox protocol, which led to chills, diarrhea, headache, and increased vertigo, and was quickly discontinued. In late 2018, I found an expert functional MD who took me on as a patient, and everything changed. 

This doctor knew what I now know, and see all the time with my clients: we were missing something. I now had: a chronic virus, autoimmunity, neurological symptoms, bottomed out hormones, digestion that didn’t function, and the list went on from there, with no answers as to WHY. When you’ve done all the right things, run all the right tests, addressed all the issues, taken the pills, changed your food, handled your stress, and you’re still really sick, you’ve not found the root cause. For so many people, including me, that root cause is mold.

When my doctor suggested mold testing, I thought she had to be wrong. I have lived in the same home for 20 years, in a hot sunny part of California. My husband, an electrician, had crawled all over our house/attic/basement and definitively said there was no mold or water damage. And, in 2017, I had run an ERMI mold test of my home that showed no high levels and was considered “normal.” 

Yet, my urinary mycotoxin test came back with high levels of a few different mycotoxins, the poisons that molds emit. Very specific blood panels (for markers I had never even heard of!) showed extreme inflammation and immune activation that occurs as a result from mold exposure. Specific genetic testing showed that I have a genetic makeup that only a very small percentage of people have, that renders them highly susceptible to mold toxins. I was diagnosed with CIRS–Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome–as a result of exposure to mold toxins. Having an answer, as anyone who has had a mysterious chronic illness knows, was an enormous relief. Finally, there was an explanation for how I felt! Not to mention, there was something to DO. 

And boy, did we do it.

A highly trained mold inspector who works exclusively with CIRS patients found mold throughout my HVAC system, and under my roof. We got rid of 75% of what we owned, due to contamination from mycotoxins that can’t be cleaned off of porous surfaces. We moved to a rental house for 8 months. And we gutted our house, taking it down to the studs, and replacing absolutely everything. We blew through our savings, and the stress was beyond anything I could have imagined. I undertook a very complex and hefty mold detox protocol, that still continues in an edited version. Upon moving out of our house, I was almost immediately 75% better. Healing from CIRS is a slow process, but I am doing the work, and it has been an amazing journey for me and my health.

Given my status as a lifelong student and overachiever, it was no surprise to anyone that I quickly learned everything I possibly could about CIRS and mold toxicity. The very topic I had long avoided became the focus of my education and has now become the passion of my client work. It’s estimated that 50% of homes and 80% of public buildings (churches, hospitals) have water damage, which means they have mold. And 25% of people are genetically susceptible to being made sick by mold toxins (a much smaller percentage are extremely susceptible, like me). Do the math, and you quickly realize that mold toxicity illness is absolutely rampant. It’s been called “the next Lyme disease,” in terms of its hidden health burden. 

The silver lining to all of this has been my ability to now help others who have been sickened by mold. The processes, testing, steps to healing, and supports I use, all based on the latest research and thinking in the field, have come together into an effective system that is changing lives. 

When I stop to identify the big WHY–why did this happen? why me?–I realize it was so that I can use what I’ve learned to help others heal. There are so few practitioners out there doing this work, and so many people who need it. 

(Originally written as a guest blog post for Restorative Wellness Solutions)

Welcome Annie-Rose to A Balanced Table!

I’m so thrilled to announce the addition of Annie-Rose Licht, NTP and RWP, to the A Balanced Table team!

Annie-Rose couldn’t be more excited to join Ellen at A Balanced Table as the Assistant Nutritionist, where she will use her nutrition and coaching expertise to give you additional support in your health journey. Annie-Rose is passionate about working with clients to create sustainable change, specifically nutrition and lifestyle modifications that you can maintain for life!

She will be working with many of you to answer day-to-day questions, guiding you through habit change, and being a source of consistent encouragement. Some of the things you might work on with Annie-Rose:

  • Troubleshooting food substitutions (i.e. how do I replace flour tortillas?!)
  • Menu planning, recipes, and quick meal ideas
  • Habit change around food, movement, stress relief, and sleep
  • Cheerleading and emotional support – we celebrate your big and tiny wins!
  • Answering questions about your protocol, whether it’s food or supplement related
  • Coordinating logistics, such as scheduling appointments, and ordering and answering questions about testing

A little about Annie-Rose: Annie-Rose graduated from the Nutritional Therapy Association and has continued on to become certified in both Gastrointestinal Healing and Optimizing Hormones through Restorative Wellness Solutions. 

She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 6. When she’s not meeting with her wonderful clients or doing nutrition research, she can be found cooking up simple, delicious nutrient-dense meals, reading, exploring nature, chasing around her energetic kids, or attempting to grow an organic garden.

Please join me in welcoming Annie-Rose! She can be reached at annierose@abalancedtable.net , and is available to all ABT clients for health, nutrition, and habit coaching. Make an appointment with Annie-Rose here.