Category Archives: Healthy Living

Should You Be Worried About Osteopenia?


Bone health is not my area of expertise, but I just learned something about osteopenia that is so shocking that I feel compelled to share it.

I just had my first bone density test and my joke ahead of time was that if I didn’t pass, everything I know to be true is a lie. So you can imagine my surprise when they diagnosed me with osteopenia! I was shocked – how can this be when I am the poster child for how to live to prevent osteoporosis?

As you can see by what I grow in my garden, I eat like a giraffe – lots of leafy greens. I also eat a wide variety of calcium-containing foods. I do both of the recommended osteoporosis-preventing types of exercise – weight-bearing (walking or hiking every day) and resistance (practice yoga four days a week). So how on earth did my test results land me in the yellow bar of the test results? Not green for normal or red for osteoporosis, but right smack dab in the osteopenia category.

The answer is disturbing – not in terms of my risk for osteoporosis – but in terms of companies that are profiting from fear. The reason behind my test results is that the test is comparing me to the average 30-year-old woman – and that the slight thinning in my bones measured by the test is normal!

Here is where it gets disturbing. (You can click here for one of my sources for this information.) It turns out that scientists have a good sense of the type of bone changes that lead to increased risk of fracture – and this is when a diagnosis of osteoporosis is made. However, a group of scientists felt the need to come up with a term to describe the thinning of bone as a person ages. They dubbed this “osteopenia” but did not intend for it to be seen as a disease state – and certainly not one that required treatment.

However, drug companies like to sell drugs. It turns out that a major osteoporosis medication was not meeting sales expectations. Capitalizing on the scientist’s “osteopenia” label, this company prompted the development of lower-cost bone density screening machines – making them appealing for doctors to install in their offices. These machines produce that nifty little green/yellow/red chart that makes a dot in the yellow area look so alarming. And these alarming results are a great way to sell more medication. So, the system is a win for the machine manufacturers, the drug makers, and the average physician who can now bill for the screening as well as any follow-up visits if a person started taking osteoporosis medication. The loser in this scenario is people like you and me who are being treated for something that may be nothing more than normal aging.

The nurse at my doctor’s office sent me home with the recommendation to start taking calcium supplements (2400 mg per day) and instructions for how to use a resistance band. She said I might hear from my doctor if he also wanted me to start taking an osteoporosis medication (no call yet!)

Here is the bottom line – osteoporosis is a bad thing. It puts you at risks for fractures, which can lead to other health problems and even premature death. (And if you have IBS, you might be at greater risk for osteoporosis – click here to read more about that!) Therefore it is important to eat calcium-rich foods, to make sure that your vitamin D levels are adequate, to eat a clean diet, and to do both weight-bearing and resistance exercises.

So, although I am no longer concerned about my osteopenia diagnosis, I am not going to turn a blind eye to any risk for osteoporosis and I will keep doing all of my healthy things. What I am not going to do is to take a calcium supplement, as there are concerns about calcium supplementation increasing one’s risk for osteoporosis. I will go back next year to be re-screened. I want to see how my bones look compared to themselves – not as compared to a 30-year-old woman.

Please remember that I am not a medical doctor. You need to have an open discussion with your doctor about your own personal risk factors. The information I have just provided you is intended to prompt you to do your own research so that you can make an educated decision for yourself – as opposed to be unnecessarily treated due to a self-serving nifty little color-coded chart.

UPDATE: My primary care physician has now informed me that the recommendations for osteoporosis screening put out by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have changed. In the absence of risk factors, screening should not occur until a woman is 65 years old. If my gynecologist had known this, I wouldn’t have been screened at all – and would have been spared from unnecessary testing and anxiety.

The Bottom Line?!?!

Get educated and work with your doctor on an approach that is safe and conservative, not one that is profitable for unscrupulous companies.


Eating Clean: A Long and Winding Road

eatingcleanHave you heard the term “eating clean”? It means to eat foods as Mother Nature intended them to be – free of pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, additives, preservatives – all of the not-so-wonderful wonders of the modern age. Although this sounds great in theory – and certainly optimal for our health – it is not always so easy to achieve and most definitely rarely happens overnight.

I was listening to a lecture given by Joshua Rosenthal, the Founder of IIN, the nutrition school I am attending, and was struck by a point that he made – that learning to eat in a way that encourages health and healing is a process. This got me to thinking about my own road to eating clean and how I am constantly making tweaks that bring my nutrition up to a new level. And, I recognize that sometimes I hit potholes (holidays, birthdays and that once a year hot dog!)

I also am keenly aware that for people with digestive issues, such as IBS, the road to eating clean can be a perilous one. Sometimes eating fruits and vegetables makes you feel worse, therefore it seems safer to avoid them. This is one of the reasons that I am so grateful for the FODMAPs researchers. They have provided people with a list of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are less likely to cause distress, helping IBSers to eat these nutritious foods with more confidence.

My coaching mentor, Jeanette Walker, offers a helpful approach for steering on the road to eating clean – that of the notion of “bad, better, best.” This simple driving direction can be so useful as you evaluate the things that you typically eat. Can you take something that would be on the bad list – overly processed, filled with ingredients that you would have to be a scientist to know what they truly are – and find a substitute that is a little cleaner? Can you find a recipe and make it yourself so that you can ensure that you are using ingredients that your great-grandmother would easily recognize?

I am on the road to eating clean, but still have many waypoints to get to. A big area for me is in terms of finding (and affording) beef, chicken and pork for my carnivorous house mates that come from animals that have been raised humanely.

So, my fellow “happy health nuts” get on the road to clean eating! Read those labels, buy organic when practical, and cook your own foods!

Related Reading:


How Not to Be Like Everyone Else

Let’s face it. The average American is not the picture of health.

emergency roomI recently had the fortune/misfortune to be in the Emergency Room of one of the world’s most prestigious heart hospitals with my elderly father.  Although I am very grateful that we have access to such amazing medical care, I was very disheartened by what I saw that day. What made my heart sink was that there was not such a big difference between the looks of the patients lying sick in their beds and their visitors. The visitors looked bloated and overweight, there skin was dull or broken out, and their bodies were hunched over and moved stiffly. In other words, it was only a matter of time before they were the ones lying in the beds hooked up to the machines.

Through my nutrition training and the gazillion books on nutrition that I have read, I now know that it doesn’t have to be like this. Human beings were meant to be strong, healthy, fit creatures. What is keeping us from that state is our Standard American Diet. All of our convenience foods are keeping our hospitals very busy.

I have been a sandwich generation person since my kids were babies. I have been by my parents’ sides and watched them deal with cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and dementia. It is my firm intention to not put my own kids through that. Hence all the green juices and green smoothies!

One thing I have been known to say is that, there are days in your life that you spend on the beach, and then there are days that you spend in hospitals. If you were to ask me what my passion is, deep down, what drives me to do the work that I do, I would have to say that my passion is to keep people out of hospitals! So that there are more days that you can be doing what you love as opposed to days where you are ill and in pain. I found my way into digestive health because I saw a need to help people who were understandably stressed out by IBS. Combining my  passion and my work brings me to a place where I want to help people who have digestive distress to find a way to live and to eat that not only clears up their digestive symptoms, but also keeps them away from the diseases of our modern day.

How does one do this? You need to stop eating like everyone else (which you are already doing if you have IBS!), and eat like your great-great-grandparents did. This means a diet filled with real, whole foods – light on the sugar, light on grains, and full of quality animal protein (if that’s your thing) and a wide variety of vegetables. This means that when you to parties and restaurants and supermarkets, the foods that you choose are going to be very different from those around you. And you need to be okay with that. To ‘fit out” as Joshua Rosenthal of IIN says. And to know that you are treating your body the way that it deserves to be treated and that you are perhaps inspiring those next to you to start to make healthier choices.


Is Juicing Right for You?

Joe Cross and Dr. Barbara Bolen

Joe Cross, Juicing Guru

Last week, I had one of the most amazing nights of my life! I was invited to a reception and preview of Joe Cross’ “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2”. Have you heard of Joe? He was the affable Aussie fellow who chronicled his 60 day juice fast in the documentary “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.” If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it. Even if you cannot ever imagine yourself drinking a green juice, the stories in the film are highly compelling. It’s definitely an enjoyable movie to watch, better than most of what Hollywood pumps out for us.

The evening was a great experience. It started with a reception at Joe Cross’ gorgeous Reboot office in New York City. Who knew a cocktail party could be green and clean? They served a yummy pear with ginger drink and Joe’s famous “Mean Green” juice. The canapes were all vegetable-based and gluten-free. My son (who agreed to be my date for the night) and I were treated like celebrities by the Reboot staff. We got to meet Victoria Moran, author of “Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day, as well as other cool New York City people.

The highlight of the experience was a private meet-up with Joe himself. This is a guy (or bloke, as he would say), who not only turned his own auto-immune-compromised health around, but also has inspired thousands of people worldwide to do the same. I was given a few moments to pick his brain about a subject near and dear to me: “Does Juicing Help IBS?“.  Although Joe is no scientist, his explanation as to why juicing works, e.g. reducing inflammation, shunting energy away from the process of digestion, infusion of micronutrients, etc, made a lot of sense to me.

We were then whisked off to a theater to see a special showing of “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2.” Joe himself sat right behind us! The sequel has all of the charm of the first, but with a broader message about the need for all of us to prioritize our health and break away from our junk food way of living.

Is juicing right for you? I encourage you to watch the movie to decide for yourself. Remember, you don’t have to go on a juice fast in order to benefit from juicing. For myself, drinking green juices on a regular basis was the only thing I found in over 10 years that helped to significantly reduce my chronic migraine pain. I now walk around thinking, “huh, I’m not in pain.”  Much as I love green smoothies – they are simple, delicious and make my body feel awesome – I don’t get the same migraine pain relief from them as I do green juices. As Joe Cross says, “Blending does the chewing for you, juicing does the digesting for you.”

What about juicing for digestive problems? I think that juicing might be just the thing to break the Catch-22 of IBS. IBS makes you fear vegetables, but you need vegetables in order to heal your gut. The Reboot staff told me they get a ton of testimonials from people whose IBS cleared up following a “Reboot”. If you are interested, but hesitant, I would recommend starting out juicing fruits and vegetables that are low in FODMAPs.

The first “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” is available for live streaming on Netflix or for purchase on Amazon. The sequel can be pre-ordered as it will be available in November 2014.

 Want to learn more about juicing? Here are Joe Cross’ books – they both take the mystery out of juicing and provide lots of healthy recipes:


Seasonal Allergy Relief

ragweedFor years, I took an anti-histamine every day. I had chronic post nasal drip and suffered from classic bouts of allergy attacks – sneezing, itchy eyes and itchy face and scalp. I thought allergies were “just something I had.”

Then I began to live a healthier life. I pretty much got my allergies from being problematic all year long to just bothering me in late summer, early fall (ragweed?). In fact, whenever I would fill out a health form at a doctor’s office, I would write the word “August”, when asked about allergies.

This year, I noticed that my August/September allergy symptoms have been minimal. A couple of short-lived episodes of itchiness around the eyes and face, with a sneeze here or there, but I have not had to take an anti-histamine once!

For those of you who feel cursed by your allergies, I offer you my ideas as to how this major change has come about. Keep in mind that these changes did not come about overnight, but have been a long process. I am reminded by what Elizabeth Gilbert said when I saw her at a book signing following her smash hit, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia“. She reminded the audience that her success did not come easily – rather she spent years living on the edge of poverty and working odd jobs to support herself while pursuing a career as an writer. Also, keep in mind that what worked for me, may not work for you. Last, remember, I am not a medical doctor! I offer you thoughts regarding the improvement of my allergies. You must work with your own doctor to come up with a treatment plan that is safe for you.

My steps to allergy relief:

  1. Use a neti pot every day. It is my understanding that using a neti pot helps to rinse off excessive mucus from the sinuses. This is theorized to help the immune cells lining the sinuses to function more effectively. What I know for sure is that once I starting using a neti pot daily, my frequency of getting head colds dropped dramatically. (See, “How to Use a Neti Pot.”)
  2. Significantly reduced my intake of dairy products. I used to love to drink the milk from my cereal bowl in the morning, as well as enjoy a large glass of milk every day with my lunch. However, I had read that milk contains many allergens. If the immune system is busy taking care of the allergens I was putting into my body, it had less ability to deal with allergens in the air.
  3. Started practicing yoga. I don’t know about the specific research on yoga for allergies, but all that twisting and stretching has got to be good for the immune system.
  4. Started growing my own vegetables. There is the theory that consuming foods grown in the same spot on the planet that you live in has some extra health benefits. It makes sense that plant foods filled with microorganisms that are surviving in my little plot of land offer some special weapons against the environmental challenges I face.
  5. Significantly increased the amount of greens that I eat (drink!).  Like most Americans, I ate plenty of broccoli and peppers, but rarely went near a leafy green. Now, (in large part, thanks to my garden!), I take in greens like spinach, kale, bok choy and Swiss chard on a daily basis. I started out eating more of them in salads and sauteed as side dishes, but then moved on to green smoothies and green juices. The health advantage to green leafy vegetables is that they both soak up nutrients from the sun and pull nutrients from the ground. It is their job to not only breathe for the plant but to keep it thriving in spite of radiation from the sun and other environmental onslaughts. All that plant-based self-protection enters my body when I consume these nutritionally power-packed greens.
  6. Eat a clean diet. I no longer eat like an average American. I eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. I avoid junk food, processed food and fast food. It took me a long time to get to this point, (See, “Eating Clean: A Long and Winding Road“), but now this way of eating is natural and comfortable. It only stands to reason that giving my body the right fuel, as well as not making it work so hard dealing with the wrong food, has allowed my immune system to turn its energy toward helping me deal with any pollen in the atmosphere without making me suffer with undue itchiness.

What about you? What have you found helps or hurts your allergies? Which of my steps are you willing to try. I would love to hear from you – leave your comments below!


Spiralized Zucchini

2014-07-03 20.21.13 Gluten and I have an interesting relationship. It’s similar to that of a neighbor that you used to hang out with all of the time when you first moved in, but now are content to just wave hello to when leaving your house. In the past, I did a gluten-elimination without seeing any noticeable effect on my health. However, I also know that when I eat food that contains flour, even if it is whole wheat, I don’t feel great. Therefore, I try to listen to what my body tells me and basically try to avoid gluten whenever possible.

I was a kid who would not have survived into adulthood if it were not for spaghetti. It was the only thing that I liked eating. I am not making this up. All of my relatives would say, “Barbara eats like a bird.” My love for pasta lasted well into my adult life, until I started to become more aware of the impact that diet has on our health and the large role that white flour plays in the onset and maintenance of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Since I don’t feel well when I eat pasta, I am okay with avoiding it most of the time. However, what I still love is a great, homemade marinara sauce. I like to put shredded carrots in mine to amp up its nutritional value. But, what is one to do with marinara sauce if you don’t want to eat pasta? The answer lies in spiralized zucchini! (This is an especially convenient option if your garden is like mine and prolifically offers lots of zucchini this time of year!)

To make spiralized zucchini, you can use a spiralizer, which is a little gadget that slices the zucchini into long, beautiful strands. Another option is to simply use a vegetable peeler to slice your zucchini into long ribbons. Either way is super-simple and only takes a few minutes.

Some people, particularly those on a raw food diet, eat their spiralized zucchini raw. I personally prefer it sauteed with a little olive oil for a few minutes until it starts to cook through. If you have digestive problems, I would recommend the cooking option, as raw veggies can be harder on your system. Either way, you end up with a nutritious, super-easy base for your favorite pasta sauces, without the gluten and carbs.

Have you tried spiralized zucchini? Did you like it? Do you have a recipe to share? Have you tried other spiralized veggies? Share the health below!


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When Local Trumps Organic

2013-09-20 14.31.06Okay, organic is best. It is – eating produce grown without synthetic pesticides reduces the toxicity your body has to deal with. But there are times and circumstances when buying local just might be the better choice for you and your family.

It might surprise you to read that I do not shop at my local Farmers’ Market. Although I love the idea, my pocketbook does not love the price markup that the farmers can get away with because I live in an affluent area. In my quest to find a good source for healthy produce, I wandered into a farm-stand hosted by a local sod farm. The first time I shopped there I actually returned to the store, carrying my six bags of produce and asked them to re-weigh everything because I was sure that they had UNDER-charged me!

The only drawback to this farm-stand was that the produce was not necessarily organically grown. But I know something about the agriculture on Long Island where I live which makes me feel okay about buying local and not organic. Because Long Island is an island, it does not contain farms with vast acreages of just one crop.  This actually makes for healthier food.

A major problem with modern agriculture is that when you have entire counties or even states growing the same crop, the crops grow very weak and lose their natural disease- and insect-resistance.  As I can see when I look at the vast array of crops offered for sale at the farm-stand, my local farmers can use traditional methods of disease and pest management, which involve crop variety and rotation. Therefore the amount of synthetic pesticides in the produce I buy locally is significantly less than that which I might pick up at the local supermarket.

Similarly, because local farmers are not engaged in mono-agriculture, they have the capacity to use traditional farming practices of enriching the soil, thus enhancing the vitamin and mineral contents of the produce I am purchasing and consuming.

There are other ways to feel good about buying local over organic. When you support local agriculture, you are keeping more green space in your local environment. Enriching the local farmer may also help those farmers to afford to grow more of their crops organically, which is a win win for everyone. Finally, there is less of a toll on the planet when you eat locally. Sure, you are eating a healthier plum when it is organic, but a lot of fuel may have had to be burned in order for that plum to reach you.

What to do? If you can, grow your own – that guarantees that you are eating both organic and local.  Whenever you can afford it, vote with your dollar and buy organic.  Support your local farmers – shop at farm-stands, farmers’ markets or join a CSA. But, the bottom line is, eat your vegetables and fruits. No matter where or how they are grown, they are still good for you!


What Does Healthy Feel Like?


I have just returned from a short road trip where I spent time with my two young nephews. If only I could bottle up that energy and sell it! However, this middle-aged body did pretty well keeping up with them — a nice reward for all of my healthy-living efforts.

One day we hiked through a peaceful pine forest that led to the mouth of a cold, running stream. This is where things got interesting. Because of some early spring snow, the banks of the stream were icy and muddy, making them very, very slippery. The plan was to hike to the bottom of a waterfall. To get there, we had to make our way upstream. This required fording the icy stream at several locations – leaping from rock to rock – and then holding on for dear life as we crabbed our way along the steep banks of the stream. It made for a great challenge – a bit like rock climbing, but without the terror. I had that Micheal Franti song in my head the whole time, “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”

As I made my way along the banks of the stream, surrounded by the gorgeous snow-covered pine trees, and taking in the lovely gurgling of the stream followed by the roar of the waterfall, I was acutely grateful for the state of my body. I had great energy, thanks to my high intake of plant foods. I was able to squat to scrabble alongside the banks, and stretch my legs to jump from stone to stone, thanks to my yoga practice. My stomach was quiet thanks to my clean way of eating, so no need to have immediate access to a bathroom. This is what health feels like to me.

What does health feel like to you? Where does your body let you down? What does your health prevent you from doing? What does your body need in order to get to a state where it doesn’t interfere with your life? If you are struggling with finding your way toward wellness, please, please contact me and let’s see what can be done to allow you to live a full, vibrant life.


Homemade Almond Butter

2014-04-08 18.12.30

Everyone has their crazy quirks. Mine is that I do my grocery shopping at 6:00 AM on Saturday mornings. This was originally by necessity due to my home responsibilities and work commitments. However, I am now spoiled. I love having the store all to myself and seeing the shelves fully stocked. It is also a bit like “Cheers”, as all the early morning staff knows me by name.

What does this have to do with almond butter? Recently I noticed that the store had not stocked almond butter for a few weeks. I asked one of my stock buddies to order some. When it came in, he was aghast at the price. He asked me what my husband thought about the price. I assured him that this was on top of the list of things never to be shared with my husband. I like to keep my husband on a strict “need to know” basis when it comes to the price of health foods.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking about homemade almond butter. I was under the mistaken assumption that you needed a high powered blender to make almond butter from scratch. I recently got the high-powered blender, just to find out that a food processor is the much better tool for making almond butter. Dopey me – I could have been making it all along, saving myself some big bucks at the supermarket.

I used the directions from this article:


I only used one cup of almonds because I don’t use that much up in a week. At the start of the grinding, the processor is quite loud, but that subsides quickly. I found that with the one cup portion, it only took 10 minutes for the almonds to turn into butter. I did need to stop the processor fairly often to scrape down the sides.

Now that I know how easy it is to make almond butter, I will never have to buy that expensive store-bought bottle again (or have to hide the store receipts for that matter!)


Read Labels!

mashedpotatoesAs I make my way on my “road to eating clean“, sometimes I swerve off into the ditch. The only good thing about such bad driving is that it most certainly provides an opportunity for learning.

Recently, I had a day where I needed dinner to cook itself – I wanted to attend my son’s wrestling match after school. I put some ribs into the slow cooker and steamed up some sweet potatoes to be mashed upon my return. However, my older son does not like sweet potatoes, so I (hanging head in shame here!) bought a tub of those pre-made mashed potatoes.

At dinner, as we discussed the negative health effects of food additives (head back up with pride!), my son looked at the label on the mashed potatoes. It didn’t start off too bad – milk, potatoes, butter. Then some ingredients that were not quite so recognizable. The kicker was when he got to the word, “titanium.” Wait, what?!?! Why on earth would titanium be in a tub of mashed potatoes?

Later on that evening, he did a Google search on titanium. He said, “Mom, it is commonly used in paint, sunscreen and food coloring.” I was horrified! How does the FDA allow a substance that is used in paint and sunscreen to be used in the foods that we eat? Needless to say, I will no longer be buying pre-cooked mashed potatoes. I will either make them from scratch or teach my son to like sweet potatoes!

So, my happy health nuts, learn from my experience! Read those labels and make sure that you are not feeding yourself or your loved ones metal in their mashed potatoes, or any of their other food for that matter.

Like what you read? Maybe it is time for you to take a step toward creating vibrant health for yourself. I will work side by side with you to achieve your health goals, whether that be having a trouble-free digestive system, reducing pain, losing weight, having more energy or getting better sleep. Get started today! Click here to sign up for your health breakthrough session.