Tagarchief: #benefits

Meal planning for starters

Meal planning. Who does that? Only athletes and health freaks, that is what I thought many years. I have tried it a couple of times before, but never even managed to write down one week of meal planning. I read about it, thought it was a good idea, but that was about it. I thought it was hard and unnecessary. I thought thinking ahead for more than two days of what to eat was too much to ask. And yet, many days I could not find any inspiration for what to put on the table. I have to admit that it does take a while to figure out how meal planning works, how to make a shopping list, when to prepare the food in advance. But most of all, meal planning is maybe not necessary, but it helps a lot to in many ways. It clear you mind and life. It helps you space for more things to enjoy. It simplifies your daily life.

We just started this year with meal planning for our family. I did some research, I gathered recipes, I read on different blogs other people’s experiences. I must admit that reading other blogs got me inspired. Also seeing examples of how people do meal planning was very useful. Visual are really powerful. So, I got engaged. Also because I wanted to eat healthier, more whole foods, less refined sugar and carbs, more vegetables and fish. And before I knew it , I made myself a template for meal planning and I started planning. And I can say I enjoy it so much already, that I need to share with you the benefits of meal planning.

Meal planning saves time. It might be a little more work till you get the hang of it, but just think of all the time you save not going almost daily to the supermarket. You also don’t lose time looking around aimlessly what to buy. And you don’t waste time thinking everyday what shall I cook for dinner now. If you start meal prepping on a fixed day of the week, you invest a little more time on that day, but saves you lots of time on stressful, working days.

Meal planning saves money. It is a shock to realise how often I used to throw away food. Even in the last years, when I was very aware of food and environment. If you don’t buy impulsively, or because something is on sale, you probably end up not wasting money by throwing away unused and perished food. So not only you save money, you reduce food waste, which is a very sustainable thing to do too. You can create a meal plan where all the ingredients go together. When you go shopping, with your shopping list according to your meal plan, you buy purposely, so you buy less.

Meal planning makes you healthier. When you are uninspired what to cook, you are more likely to stick a frozen pizza in the oven or order Chinese. Or you grab unhealthy snacks in between meals. But when you plan your meals, your weekly meals are more nutritionally well-balanced.  You plan in advance and you don’t shop hungry and go for the easy, usually unhealthy stuff.

Meal planning decreases stress. You don’t have use a lot of energy everyday to figure out ‘what’s for dinner next’. You don’t have to squeeze in shopping for groceries between all your other daily activities. You don’t have to worry too much if you eat well-balanced. All these things to worry less about, are really helping to sensibly reduce your stress level. Also, on the long-term, when you have made more meal plans, you can reuse them and that will also mean less stress and more free time as well.

So, my 4th week of meal planning just started. How about you? You can find plenty of free templates for meal planning on internet. Why don’t you give it  try?

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Work on that mindset, be grateful

Gratefulness is a very personal and powerful tool you can use to work on your mindset. Your mindset is a som of all your beliefs and thoughts about yourself and the world that surrounds you. Your mindset will determine how your will act or react in certain situations. By improving your mindset you will improve your life. This post  about gratefulness is a first one in a series of how to improve your mindset.

Today I received a WhatsApp message saying ‘ Thank you for your card. Always nice to get real mail’. And I instantly felt a lot better and happier on this grey, heavily rainy day. Because after having dinner at a friend’s house last week, I showed my gratitude with actually writing a postcard and sending it. Now, I am a paper lover, and I really enjoy choosing or even making myself a card and writing a nice message or thought on it. But being grateful and showing your gratitude is one of the important things when you want to have a more positive way of perceiving your life.

You might have heard this before and still you are not a ‘gratitude’ person. This is not so strange, mainly because our human brain has a natural tendency to detect threats and negative things first, so we don’t focus naturally on the ‘normal’ and ‘good’ around us. If you were lucky enough to grow up in environments where feeling and expressing your gratitude was a part of upbringing, making gratitude a habit, that surely influenced your mindset. But if you didn’t, like me, you should start with understanding why and how ‘gratitude’ works.

  1. Gratitude is focus.  You start consciously noticing things. You focus on the present and the now, rather than being busy planning, worrying, analysing or wanting something else. This focus gives you clarity and you feel more calm and in balance.
  2. Gratitude is positivity. Feeling and expressing our gratitude turns our mental focus on the positive things in our life and makes us see the glass half full rather than half empty. When I was growing up my mother hated many house chores, especially ironing. So after she finished, my mum would sigh that she was finaly done with those chores. Just by saying it like that she was focusing on the negative side if this activity. When I went to live on my own, at first I also dreaded everything that had to do with house keeping. But then I discovered I actually liked ironing, it calms me down. And then I started to appreciate the fact that my house was clean after work being done and I got a sense of pride that I did that. So I started to focus on the positive outcome of cleaning, not the less positive activity of cleaning itself. I still can’t say that cleaning is a joy, but being grateful for a clean house is very much so. Gratefulness creates emotions like joy, love, pride, fulfilment, contentment, and it makes less room for negative emotions.
  3. Gratitude is health. That might sound strange, but when you have less negative thoughts and emotions you will sleep better at night. And getting enough sleep is one of the most important health habits and  benefits.
  4. Gratitude is satisfaction. When you have adopted being grateful as a habit, you will see life as a whole in a more positive way. The people around you will even notice your overall better mood and that you are generally more satisfied with your live.
  5. Gratitude in empowerment. Things like writing a gratitude journal, sending a thank you postcard, complimenting a friend, enjoying your fresh ironed shirts, showing appreciation, all this things will make you feel empowered just by doing so. You will not let yourself being taken over by negativity, even if negative things are also very much a part of life. You keep your balance yourself by being grateful for all the good in your life.

Gratitude is something you need to practice if you are not used to do so. Day by day, or at least a couple of times a week, and slowly your mind will shift in a more positive mood. You can use a gratefulness journal to write all the things you are grateful for at the end of the day. Writing is a very powerful skill, actual using your hand to write down your thoughts will make your brain absorb that gratefulness even more. Or you can make a gratefulness jar where you can put each day a note in with the mention of what made you happy that day. When you already start feeling it more consciously, you can also start expressing your gratitude towards the people around you. By simply mentioning it in a discussion, or sending a postcard like I did.

The best things about having a dog

Today our dog Marley turns 7 month old it will also be a month since he joined our family. And it really feels like he belongs here, with us. Marley is a rescue dog, found as a 3 month old puppy in Bacau, Romania. Sheltered in a dog rescue shelter, brought by the foundation @hulpdoetleven to The Netherlands. Marley is super cute, super smart and super family friendly. It took our two cats only a few days to accept him, and they are getting closer every day. Yeay!

Marley and me first time at the beach

About 6 years ago we said goodbye to our old dog Emma. We raised her as a puppy, she was like our first child, and when we had to put her to sleep when she was 12 our heart broke. We decided not to get another dog. Not only because the emotional attachment to our old dog, but also for the practical reasons which seem very logical: too busy with work, school, it’s time consuming, we don’t need to go outside anymore when it rains, etc.  But our daughter who grew up with a dog, kept talking about getting one again. She was often bringing the subject up, trying to persuade us, begging and charming us.  It took us about 2-3 years of every now and then discussions until we decided to get another dog. And now that we have had Marley for a month, I can only say that there are just so many benefits of having a dog, and only a few impediments… that really do not count. Allow me to sum up a few of the best things about having a dog.

  1. Fresh air. You go outside much more often and get fresh air; this was the argument our 13-year-old daughter kept using. And she was telling is that she  and us would benefit from it and she was of course right. You have to walk the dog at least 3 times a day, as a puppy even more often. Of course you can just walk around the block, but many times you look for parks, forests, lakes or sea sides, and the quality of air is much better there. Your whole body gets better oxygenated, especially your brain, which makes you focus better on your work, be more creative and  also cope better with stressful situations.
  2. Physical well-being. Because you have to walk the dog a few times a day, you simply get more physical exercise. We all live in a much to sedentary world, where sitting all day long (behind a desk working on our laptop or on a sofa watching our favourite series) does lots of damage to our bodies. Before we had Marley I struggled many days with reaching my goals of 10.000 steps a day. Now I know I walk enough every day, so no need to wear my activity tracker anymore. The most natural way of moving our body for us humans is walking. Of course any type of sports is healthy, biking, swimming, tennis, but walking is essential for our joints, posture, intestinal activity, spine or muscle tension. Having a dog makes you go out, walk, move, engage in physical activity, breathe fresh air (see no 1) and all of this makes you really feel your overall physical well-being improving. Just one month of having a dog, eating sweets for Saint Nicholas, about 4 Christmas diners and a New Year’s Eve one, and not to forget all the extra alcohol intake, and yet I feel lighter and more fit than a month ago.
  3. Social interaction. I have discovered more about my neighbourhood in this past month than in the 4,5 years I live here just by walking the dog. We are fortunate enough to live opposite a park, where many dog owners from around us walk their dogs. And yes, most of them I know now by the name of their dogs, but still, I get to chat on almost a daily basis with many new people. Of course about our dogs and how funny, sweet or naughty they are, but also about so many other things. And not only in our park, but in many other places I go walk Marley. For me, working a lot from home, this gives an extra social dimension to my daily encounters. And I love it.
  4. Mood up. Spending even only 10 minutes with my dog and I already feel much better. There is something in the way a dog wiggles his tale, jumps around, cuddles, runs to play with other dogs, enjoys mud, lies on his back to get more cuddles, looks like he is smiling all the time, and many more of these kind of behaviour, that just increases my mood almost instantly. Research has shown that playing with your dog increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are directly linked with your perception of pleasure and happiness. I am pretty sure this was a very thorough research. Dogs are also about your mental well-being.

    Dog and daughter enjoying nature
  5. Teaches children and teens responsibility. While our daughter wanted a dog very much, and found all sorts of arguments in favour of getting a dog, we did talk also about the responsibilities that go with it. Because a dog needs walking and food and care and cleaning after sometimes. Of course talk is just talk, so we were very interested to see how she will take upon her deal of responsibilities towards the dog. But she did. She walks Marley every day after school, and sometimes she needs to take the early morning shift. And she often joins one of us too when we go outside. She not only feeds the cats, but also the dog now. And when the dog was still having little accidents in the house, she cleaned up after him. I am very proud of her and I hope she will stick to this level of commitment to her pets.
  6.  Routine. A dog needs routine, or otherwise his bladder won’t be properly trained and we will be less happy too. And guess what, we humans also thrive when we have a better daily routine. Having to get up at a certain time in the morning and walk Marley, makes my head clear after taking in fresh air, and having already move my body makes me more ready to start with my plans for the day. I am not very good at following my daily routine by myself, so having a dog really helps me a lot.
  7. No more bore.  Actually, I don’t get bored easily, I always have things to do, plans to follow, dreams to create, and often not enough hours in a day. But I also like to take my time and wind down. And working by myself can sometimes feel like too soloistic and in need of someone to share my ideas or worries with. Well, Marley is a great asset. I can practice with him talks and trainings and he never finds any of my ideas silly.
Marley sleeping after a long walk.

So here we are, just a few days in the new year, after many celebrations. The clean sheet of 2018. Although every new day is a new beginning,  a new year has something magical. Fresh and full of possibilities. I am not (anymore) a new year resolution type. And I hope you don’t set too high goals to achieve yourself. It’s always tricky, you know. But if you are looking for more social contacts, more exercise, more fresh air, more fun and simply…to experience more moments of joy in your every day life, I wholeheartedly suggest to get a dog!

Knitting myself healthy

There have been a few hard weeks lately. Nothing came out of my hands. My to do list got longer, my goals fuzzier, my frustrations heavier. I don’t know exactly what hit me. Maybe it’s just a good old autumn depression, I used to be very sensitive to that years ago. I would just crawl up on the sofa after work and try to see as less people as possible in my free time. Maybe this year is dealing with some personal issues a part of it. Maybe it is a combination. But the main thing is that I was mostly feeling down, depressed, lacking energy and just wanting to be left alone.

It is still hard to just say it out loud: I am not so well, I am feeling down. Even saying that to yourself is hard, because it means you really have to acknowledge it. And when you do that, when you admit that to yourself, you just took the first towards healing yourself.
And that is what I did. Well, actually saying it was still hard, I texted my husband one tough afternoon and I felt so relieved afterwards. Just by texting that I got a little energy shot through my veins, actually felt is. Next, I talked to a friend. And then to another. And before I knew it I just said to myself I am feeling depressed, I need to find a way to get out of here.

So, how to get out of this? If it would be so simple, I am sure depression wasn’t a thing anymore. But it is, and it is very personal, and there is no one size fits all cure. At first I pushed myself to do more physical exercise. And even though I am jogging, I could not find the energy to do more. Then I pushed myself to maybe study or read more, work related, but that didn’t work either. Then I pushed myself to work more, but even though I had plenty of ideas, everything I was trying to achieve just crumbled down from lack of enthusiasm, inspiration and again lack of energy. I was going round in circles and hated it. I didn’t feel productive, achieving , contributing. Which made me feel even more depressed.

Then I had the epiphany that in order to break this vicious circle, I needed to do whatever really made me happy and would give me energy. Something totally out of my comfort zone. Something new. Something that maybe scared me but that I really wanted to do. But what was that?

The answer came in a Facebook post one day, at random. Someone mentioned that there is a lady who is willing to teach others how to knit. And by reading that, I immediately felt a little outburst of excitement going through my body. If there is something I have always wanted to learn how to do, it was knitting and crocheting. My grandmother used to make us the most beautiful creations when I was young, and I was mesmerised but her skills. But I never learned how to do it. And for years I was talking about learning how to knit, but I was scared I couldn’t. So I never really tried, or gave up after a few attempts. Up until now. I contacted this lady, she started teaching me, and within a few weeks I finished my first knitting project. I couldn’t be more proud!

My grandmother Nana and me, wearing her knitted angora hat (angora is a big no no now) and a shawl

Knitting is not something I am leaning because I have to. Or because I could make a career out of it and earn more money. I am doing it for me. It gives me satisfaction, which makes me feel good about myself, and that positives feeling gives me back my energy. I have literary something on my hands, I have to concentrate, focus, create, count, make mistakes and fix them, and I get to see how something is growing out of my hands.

In the olden days there was popular knowledge that knitting is benefiting your mental health. And today, more and more scientific research shows that the benefits of knitting and other handicrafts goes much further. It’s an anti-stressing activity, your blood pressure goes down, you focus better, it calms you when in crises, it helps slowing the decline of brain function and more. Studies have showed that people with depression start feeling more happiness after learning how to knit and that there is a direct link between our hands and brain that activates the happiness centre in our brain. This article for the New York Times gives a good overview of the latest findings over the Health Benefits of Knitting.

Benefits of knitting are numerous.

And me, I couldn’t agree more. I feel how the fog is being lift, I have more clarity and I slowly have more energy. I am still learning how to knit and I am discovering more and more techniques each step of the way. Although I didn’t start knitting because I was aware of all these benefits, my inner compass guided me. Instinctively, intuitively, I knew its was the right thing to do. It is so worth it.