What will we be doing in Benin?

What will we be doing in Benin?

Arial view of Porto-Novo, Benin

What will we be doing in Benin?

The internship in Benin is with the Hubi & Vinciane Foundation, an organisation that has been active in the country for more than 40 years. As nutrition & dietetics students, two of us will be spending 10 weeks working locally with the foundation, learning and assisting them on their various nutrition-related projects.

The projects involved topics such as preventing, detecting, and treating malnutrition, education in villages and in schools on healthy eating, and the prevention of hypertension and diabetes. We also hope to learn more and help out with many of the other projects that the foundation is active with. (Learn more here.)

Of course, we have our own personal goals for the internship period, such as:

  • Gaining experience at both the community and hospital-level
  • Learning about local food, ingredients, preparation, and the role food is playing in their culture
  • Learning about how accessible healthcare is and what barriers might exist for people to access health services
  • See first hand the initiatives to prevent/detect/treat malnutrition
  • Understand how nutrition might be creating other health challenges
  • Follow along with other projects through the foundation, like education on feminine hygiene & support, community garden projects, agricultural entrepreneurship, etc. 

We will be living on the hospital campus, about 15 minutes outside of the city of Parakou. Parakou is the largest city in the north of the country. We will fly into Cotonou (on the coast in the south), and spend the first days in the capital, Porto-Novo, before journeying by bus about 8-10 hours north to Parakou.

Keep checking back regularly for updates on what we get up to during our time in Benin!

Photo via Unsplash, arial shot of Porto-Novo, Benin’s capital city.

This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing

This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing

This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing; woman with her head down grabbing her hair in frustration

This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing

Hands up if you’ve ever felt stressed or overwhelmed before?

(Pretty sure you should have your hand up right now!)


Stress is a normal part of life, but large amounts of it, or long-term, chronic stress can start having an impact on our health.


And often, stress is the reason why you’re struggling to find the pattern to your digestive symptoms.
⁠ Stress is a huge trigger when it comes to your digestion. I would maybe even go so far to say that it’s the number one trigger!

It might be why one week a meal can be perfectly fine, and the next week the exact same food ends up in a whole lot of discomfort.

What types of stress can affect your digestion?

When we think about types of stress, we often overlook or downplay the importance of certain areas. Things like deadlines, finances, relationship troubles probably come to mind immediately, but they are just the tip of the iceberg really.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, below I’ve summarized some of the big categories of stress with examples.

 

Physical stressors:

  • Over-exercising
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor sleep (quality and/or quantity)
  • Injury or illness, surgery

Chemical stressors:

  • Allergens (whether food-related or otherwise)
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Drugs

Sensory stressors:

  • Bright lights or chaotic colours
  • Loud noises
  • Crowded or cluttered spaces
  • Strong scents

Psychological:

  • Deadlines
  • Traffic jams
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Worrying about digestive issues
This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing; man pouring coffee from one cup to another, the second overflowing and spilling over his hand

How can stress management help with digestion?

So now that you have an idea about what types of things might be causing stress on your body, let’s look at two angles to consider stress management itself:

  1. How big is your bucket – aka how resilient are you to stress? How effective are you at dealing with and recovering from it?
  2. How full is your bucket – aka how much stress are you under? What areas can you identify to decrease the total amount of stress hitting you?

Most of the time, when we talk about stress management, we focus on tactics that build resiliency. How can we make our bucket bigger and therefore manage the ever growing list of stressors we are collecting?

These are actions and habits that you have that reduce the overwhelming feeling of stress or help you increase the size of your bucket so that it takes more stress to even make you hit that feeling in the first place.

This way of viewing stress and digestion is game changing; pink background with an alarm clock, calendar, and pencil on top

What activities can help build stress resilience?

Often these are activities that feel relaxing or recharging in some way. Everyone is going to be different, so just because something works for your friend or family member doesn’t mean that you will find it relaxing or refreshing.

If you’re unsure if something is truly helping you reduce the feelings of stress and overwhelm, note down before and after the activity the number (between 1 and 10) that reflects your feelings of stress at that moment. If your number is higher or the same afterwards, then maybe that activity isn’t for you!

 

Some examples of activities to build stress resilience:

  • Meditating / breathing exercises
  • Journaling
  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Getting a massage
  • Going to the spa or spending time pampering yourself
  • Exercising
  • Being in nature
  • Yoga or stretching
  • Talking to a friend
  • Snuggling a pet
  • Reading a book
  • Having sex (with a partner or alone!)
  • Shopping
  • Watching a TV show or movie
  • Listening to music
  • Laughing
  • Doing something creative
  • Gardening
  • Cooking

⁠Focusing on stress-relieving activities is a great approach, but don’t completely overlook ways to also decrease the total amount of stress you’re subjected to.

If you’re not sure where to start with this, why not book a free breakthrough session with me and I’ll share with you my 4-step process for evaluating and reducing the stressors in your life!

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Broccoli and Lentil Soup

Broccoli and Lentil Soup

Broccoli and Lentil Soup

Broccoli and Lentil Soup

Somehow spring seems to have disappeared here the last week or so, and I find myself craving more warming, nourishing food.

​It looks like it is back to soups! This hearty soup is with broccoli and lentils, and will really fill you up. Plus most of us could use some extra servings of veggies in our diet. Many aren’t getting their daily requirement, and the vitamins and minerals that we get from vegetables are vital for good health – including keeping our immune system strong.

Just take care if either of these two main ingredients bothers your digestion – the double hit of these two gas-makers could cause you some bloating if you’re sensitive.

​Otherwise it is a good serving of veggies and fibre. I hope you enjoy!


Broccoli and lentil soup

Broccoli and Lentil Soup

Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 10 mins
Course Soup
Servings 6 servings

Equipment

  • Immersion blender or regular blender

Ingredients
  

  • 750 g Broccoli florets
  • 2 Carrots, Medium chopped
  • 2 Celery stalks chopped
  • 1 Onion, large diced
  • 2 Garlic cloves minced
  • 200 g Dried blonde lentils
  • 1.5 L Broth, chicken or veggie
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Parsley chopped
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Sour cream garnish
  • Green onion or chives garnish

Instructions
 

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over mediumheat. Add in the onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
  • Add in the carrots and celery and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Add in allremaining ingredients excluding garnishes. It is OK if the broccoli is not completely submerged in the liquid; it will sink / you can push it down as it cooks.
  • Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat tosimmer. Simmer for 30 minutes until broccoli and lentils are soft.
  • Using an immersion blender, or in 3-4 batches in a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth. (Only fill the blender halfway each time and be sure to start on a low setting and slowly increase, opening vent in lid to allow steam to escape.)
  • Return to pot over low heat and add additional salt & pepper to taste.
  • Plate up and top with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chopped green onion. Enjoy!
Keyword Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegetables, Vegetarian

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Mealtime Hygiene – 5 Tips for Mindful Mealtimes and Better Digestion

Mealtime Hygiene – 5 Tips for Mindful Mealtimes and Better Digestion

Mealtime hygiene 5 tips for mindful mealtimes and better digestion | group eating around a picnic table

Mealtime Hygiene – 5 Tips for Mindful Mealtimes and Better Digestion

Mindful Mealtimes: Why HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat

It might surprise some of you to know, but almost as important as what you eat, is how you eat. You can be eating all the so-called “right” foods, but if your mealtime hygiene is lacking, you might not be reaping the benefits! By working on improving your mealtime hygiene you’ll also be working on better digestion; it’s really a win-win situation.

So what do I mean with mealtime hygiene? Well, it’s basically your habits around eating your meals. Do you eat on the go, at your desk or in a meeting, or sit down for a family dinner? Do you eat quickly or slowly? All these things can affect your digestion.

Proper digestion is so important; you could be eating amazing, nutrient-dense foods, but if you can’t properly digesting them then your body isn’t getting all of the benefits! This could lead to subsequent cravings and unnecessary snacking, as your body calls out for the nutrition it couldn’t get from your meal.

What you need to know about the parasympathetic state, a.k.a. rest and digest mode

Our autonomic nervous system has two key states: the sympathetic and parasympathetic state.

The sympathetic state is where the “fight or flight” stress response is turned on, it’s a state of being a lot of us find ourselves in often in these modern times, from stressful commutes to work to managing relationships, finances, or high workloads. This is our active, energetic, reactive state. It’s a positive reaction when we have a specific stressor to focus on, like the extra adrenaline needed for a push towards a looming deadline.

To contrast, the parasympathetic state is our “rest and digest” setting. It’s where the body can rest and repair/rejuvenate itself, and its the state we need to be in for digestion to function properly. It’s less active, more passive, and we need to find a comfortable balance between both of these two states.

By making sure your body is in the parasympathetic state (or rest and digest mode) at mealtimes, you’ll be setting yourself up for better digestion and less stress on your digestive system overall.

Want to know more about what proper digestion looks like? Check out this blog article.

Mealtime hygiene 5 tips for mindful mealtimes and better digestion | group eating around a table

How to use proper mealtime hygiene to get yourself into rest and digest mode

1. Carve time out for meals

Stay away from on-the-go meals and eating at your desk or in front of the TV and try as much as possible to sit down separately for your meal. Even though you think your brain can multitask while eating doesn’t mean your body is able to process that meal properly. The first part of digestion is triggered by the brain; the thought and smell of food can get the process kickstarted – for example, you start salivating which produces enzymes that help in the breakdown of carbohydrates.

2. Ditch the distractions

We are conditioned nowadays to always occupy our mind with something. Whether it’s scrolling our phones while waiting in line, in the bathroom, or at the dinner table, it can be really difficult to disengage from the constant stream of information. But it’s important to stay away from screens while you’re eating – even if it does feel super uncomfortable the first few times! (And no, you can’t just substitute a book or magazine for your usual scrolling.)

If our mind is distracted by whatever we are reading or looking at, it’s also distracted from really registering the act of eating and properly triggering our digestive system. Plus you’re much more likely to have your stress response triggered by something that you see or read, pulling you out of rest and digest mode. 

 

3. Take your time

The first physical step of digestion is the act of chewing; if you inhale your food as fast as possible to move on to the next task, you’re only putting undue burden on the rest of your body, which won’t be able to take up the slack. Chewing mixes our food with saliva which as said starts the breakdown of carbohydrates. But the act of chewing itself also breakdowns proteins and fat into smaller pieces – the smaller the better and easier it will be for the rest of your digestive system to further break everything down.

Try and aim for 25-30 chews for every mouthful. It might feel tedious at first, but you’ll quickly start noticing the difference. By doing this you’ll also automatically slow down your eating, giving yourself more time to digest your food and lower the likelihood of over eating.

4. Breathe your way to better digestion

Before you start eating, try taking some deep calming breaths to help relax your system and switch over to that parasympathetic state. Be sure to pause between bites and repeat these breaths, it will help you stay mindful and present and less likely to rush through the meal. Try a box breathing exercise that is shown to relax and bring people into the rest and digest mode. Inhale for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold again at the bottom for 4 counts. Repeat a few times before starting your meal.

5. Enjoy yourself

Eating should be pleasurable! It’s a great time to relax with family, friends, or colleagues over a good meal, and that congenial atmosphere that is created with good conversation, laughter, and connection can actually help your digestion. Try to keep any potentially stressful conversation topics for another moment, away from mealtimes. Relax and enjoy yourself and the food!

Getting started with mealtime hygiene and mindful mealtimes

Don’t bite off more than you can chew! (Sorry, not sorry for the pun.) Start slow and build it up so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Choose one meal to focus on implementing proper mealtime hygiene, like dinner, and once you get the hang of it, go from there.

The bonus is that a lot of these habits easily stack together. Focusing on chewing more slows you down, and you’re less likely to crave the distraction that a screen might bring.

Good luck, and enjoy your meal!

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Pepper and Tomato Omelette

Pepper and Tomato Omelette

A woman outside in workout clothes holding a drawing of a happy gut; find bloating relief and reduce IBS

Pepper and Tomato Omelette

I make omelettes all the time, especially for lunch. They are so easy to load up with whatever vegetables you happen to have on hand.

Plus you can easily make a double portion and it will keep just fine in the fridge so that you’re set for lunch the next day as well!

I choose this particular combination of veggies, however, specially for the nutrients they are offering. The peppers, tomato, and eggs all come together to provide you with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that can be especially helpful to combat the effects of stress on the body.

It’s also a great idea to get a portion of veggies in at lunch time – we want to be aiming for around 3-5 servings per day (or roughly 300 grams), and if you leave it all until dinner you’re just setting yourself up to fall short.

Just another reason to load up this omelette with whatever you have on hand!

Pepper and Tomato Omelette

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Breakfast, Main Course
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

  • t tsp olive oil
  • 4 eggs large
  • 1 bell pepper (red or yellow) diced
  • 1 tomato, medium diced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • fresh chives, chopped to garnish (optional)

Instructions
 

  • In a medium-sized frying pan over medium heat warm the olive oil.
  • Add in the bell pepper and tomato and cook until soft (around 5-8 minutes), season with sea salt and pepper. Spread veggies out evenly across the pan and reduce heat slightly.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs.Pour over the bell peppers and tomatoes, tilting the pan as needed to cover all the veggies.
  • Cover and allow to cook until liquid is mostly gone (around 10 minutes, check often). Dot top with goat cheese and finishing cooking until all liquid is gone.
  • Fold omelette over and divide in half for two servings.

Notes

Depending on your individual needs and appetite, feel free to increase the number of eggs.
Keyword Gluten Free, Vegetables, Vegetarian
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Are you struggling to get more veggies into your diet? 

Sign-up for the FREE 5×5 veggie challenge and learn how easy it can really be! This 5-day challenge will help you tackle some of the major obstacles holding you back from finally getting started on your healthy living journey.

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