the number one trap to going
gluten-free or fat-free or sugar-free!

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Anti-Inflammatory Ideas, Cooking at Home, Gluten Free, Healthier Choices, Holistic Pain Relief, Wellness | 0 comments

Have you decided to clean up your food choices hoping it will give you some pain relief in a more holistic way? If you have, you may fall into this typical, unhealthy trap!

First you decide to start eating gluten free. You think to yourself, “Well shoot, that’s easy—there are so many GF products on the grocery store shelves today.” Don’t you just have to switch bread for GF bread, pretzels for GF pretzels, pancakes for GF pancakes, cookies for GF cookies?

Won’t a few simple substitutions help your pain levels and improve your health? At the risk of disappointing you, the short answer is NO. The longer answer is not necessarily or it depends on your body.

All processed food products (whether GF or not) have many ingredients within them. You know I’m right if you’ve ever looked at an ingredient list, and realized that you can’t pronounce at least half of the ingredients. Why is that?

Gluten-Free Cereal

When one key ingredient (like wheat, saturated fat or refined sugar) is removed, the food’s manufacturer typically uses a variety of other ingredients to approximate taste, texture, or another characteristic. These ingredients can be harmless for many of us, but may also wreck just as much havoc in our body as the original offender.

Eliminating wheat and gluten from my diet gave me a HUGE boost in holistic pain relief of my inflammatory autoimmune arthritis. And about a month later, I had an amazing and disabling quantity of vertigo attacks. At the time, I attributed the vertigo to gluten withdrawal although I had experienced many vertigo attacks in years prior. About a year into my new gluten-free lifestyle, the vertigo started again and ramped up into some additional horrific symptoms. It turns out they were all connected to migraine activity.

It turns out that one of my main migraine triggers is MSG (monosodium glutamate), which hides in many ingredient lists with a lot of different names. On top of that, MSG is derived from “natural” ingredients so it’s even in the healthier  (but still processed) food choices.

But what does all this have to do with the many kinds of food additives? As a holistic health coach, it’s not easy for me to admit that I was regularly consuming some gluten-free foods with had a lot of additives. And I also was making assumptions that food I thought was “whole” wouldn’t have harmful ingredients—I had gotten lazy about checking ingredient lists!

Here’s an example: Head into the dairy section of your nearest supermarket and look at cottage cheese ingredient lists. Shouldn’t they have just a few ingredients – milk, cream, etc.? (Or as I like to joke—cottage and cheese, right?) The organic, hormone and antibiotic-free cottage cheese brands have just as many additives as the conventional brands. If you see eight brands on the shelf, you may find only one with the “old-fashioned” ingredient list. By that I mean less than seven ingredients that only include items your great-grandmother would recognize. Whether you eat dairy or not is a whole separate topic, but if you do then choose the type that has the “old-fashioned” ingredient list!

More importantly, look for ways to incorporate foods WITHOUT ingredient lists and labels. These are the truly whole foods in our lives—food that IS a plant (not food made in plants). These are things like vegetables and fruit, especially those currently in at the peak of their growing season. They are also minimally processed whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. Sustainably produced animal protein is a whole food—if you choose to eat meat.

Anything from a box, especially if it has health claims printed on the front, is suspect. Even though the label says natural and organic, you may find that food additives in that box are NOT helping you stay well.

Please be your own advocate and learn to read the labels. Choose whole foods if you’re going gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free—that’s the real secret to staying pain-free and healthy!


Do you just wish you could find a set of realistic, holistic tools you can put in practice that will minimize your pain and maximize your energy? Download my free PDF report to learn 17 EASY WAYS TO START MINIMIZING PAIN TODAY!

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what’s an elimination diet really like?

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Anti-Inflammatory Ideas, Ask the Coach, Cooking at Home, Gluten Free, Holistic Pain Relief | 0 comments

Broiled Salmon

Gluten Free and Migraine Friendly

As you’ve heard me say before, I went gluten-free a few years ago to help holistically manage my chronic arthritis pain. It was a big decision, and a big adjustment at the time. We re-vamped a lot of the things we do in the kitchen, and also changed the way we eat out.

But that was a tiny change compared to the migraine trigger elimination diet I’ve followed since March 1st—almost 70 days. An elimination diet is recommended many times by health coaches, nutritionists and even physicians. There are lots of different types of elimination diets, and just as many reasons why someone might embark on one.

In my case, a physician recommended the changes because I was having severe, chronic atypical migraine activity. Severe meaning it was massively impacting my quality of life and ability to work, play and simply function. Chronic meaning the migraine activity had lasted at this extreme level for several months prior the physician appointment. Atypical meaning there was very little headache activity involved but many other symptoms that health care practitioners and patients often don’t associate with migraine. More on my story is here.

The elimination diet that was recommended to me means that I have had to eliminate around 50 foods from my diet. It means that no foods (and even some personal care products) can be purchased without reading their ingredient list. It also means that eating out is practically impossible.

On the UP side, the elimination diet almost completely reversed my migraine activity within about 30 days. Some symptoms were eliminated in the first week!

But how do you take the dietary recommendations from paper to practice?

Gluten Free and Migraine Friendly

Gluten Free and Migraine Friendly

STEP ONE: Get a bound blank book to use as food log or diary. Since I am specifically trying to connect foods with migraine symptoms, I wanted to have something I could flip around in to see those connections. The same thing would apply if you want to connect pain-related symptoms to food.

STEP TWO: Make copies of the list of do’s and don’ts. One is attached to my refrigerator. The other is inside my food log/diary book. I’m working on making one virtual or “in the cloud” to access from my smart phone (helpful while shopping).

STEP THREE: On the list of do’s and don’ts, highlight those foods you use most in your food and cooking choices. For us, it was things like avocados, nuts, onions, and soy sauce!

STEP FOUR: Start reading labels in the kitchen to see what was “safe.” For example, the list said tuna was okay. But the list of ingredients on our tuna cans had vegetable broth in them, which is often “code” for MSG. So now when we shop, we look for brands of tuna without added broth in them.

STEP FIVE: Begin researching possible substitutions for your favorite foods on the “don’t” list. For example, switching shallots for onions. While it’s not the same exact taste, it works. And we’re also serving sauces on the side to accommodate my needs and all the other diners. With some regular experimenting and brainstorming, Cris and I have been able to enjoy a lot of fantastic “whole food” dinners together—all gluten-free and migraine-friendly.

Gluten Free and Migraine Friendly Broiled Salmon

Gluten Free and Migraine Friendly

The time I’ve spent in this elimination diet “phase” is a time when I have to give a LOT of thought to every bite. In our world of convenience foods and overscheduled lives, this isn’t easy. But trust me, living with pain or illness is harder than making extremely conscious food choices. For me it’s all about my mindset. I can either focus on the 50 foods I can’t have, or recognize the 1000 other options I do have. I also try to stay focused on the results that these changes have made in my health and my life. And like many challenges, elimination diets aren’t designed to last forever. So I often say to myself: “this too shall pass.”

Hopefully in just a few weeks, I’ll be able to start testing each trigger food and creating my own personal “trigger list.” Once I have that list (which may take a few months to solidify), I hope to be adding some of these eliminated foods back into my diet.


Do you just wish you could find a set of realistic, holistic tools you can put in practice that will minimize your pain and maximize your energy? Download my free PDF report to learn 17 EASY WAYS TO START MINIMIZING PAIN TODAY!

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anti-inflammatory diet for holistic pain relief

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014 in Anti-Inflammatory Ideas, Cooking at Home, Healthier Choices, Holistic Pain Relief, Wellness | 0 comments

Anti-Inflammatory DietInflammation, in its ideal form, is the body’s response to infection and injury. When it works properly, it’s a solution addressing pain and invading organisms. But when inflammation is systemic (throughout our body), low-level and persistent, we are neither healed nor protected. Long-term inflammation can be a factor in chronic pain, as well as many illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergies, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

Inflammation is more common today because our bodies are out of balance. Our bodies produce chemicals called prostaglandins, using nutrients from the food we eat as a raw material. The major nutrients that our bodies use to create prostaglandins are fatty acids from our foods. These are the omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids produce an anti-inflammatory response in our bodies. Omega-6 fatty acids produce an inflammatory response.

Our bodies need an equal amount of each of these fatty acids to maintain a balanced inflammatory status. However, today’s “standard American diet” provides us with up to 20 times as much omega-6 fatty acid as omega-3 fatty acid.

The goal is to balance your food choices so that the sum of all foods eaten over the course of the day is in the positive, anti-inflammatory range.

What are the main sources of the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids?

Sweets, starches (especially grains), and highly processed foods are the main culprits. We consume more cereal grains (and the oils produced from them) than ever before.

In addition, the animals we eat are also consuming increasing quantities of these grains (primarily corn). Even fish are being corn-fed in farms that raise seafood to meet our growing demands!

Does this mean I have to follow a highly restrictive diet?

No—it simply means you need to be aware of the balance of nutrients your body is receiving! Learn to make nutritional choices that support your body’s natural desire to create a balanced equilibrium of anti- and pro-inflammatory responses.

How do I know if a food is inflammatory?

Foods affect inflammation in complex and unpredictable ways. The IF Rating™ System is a new tool that takes the guesswork out of an anti-inflammatory diet by showing how different foods fuel or fight inflammation. Using the IF Ratings, you can create your own healing, inflammation-reducing diet.

The formula used to calculate the IF Ratings measures the effects of more than 20 different factors that determine a food’s inflammatory or anti-inflammatory potential, including:

  • amount and type of fat
  • essential fatty acids
  • vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
  • glycemic index
  • anti-inflammatory compounds

Components of an anti-inflammatory diet

Focus on meats, fish, eggs and leafy vegetables!

Low starch and other simple sugars: Insulin and high blood glucose are inflammatory. Have starch only in small portions (½ banana or one side of a hamburger bun) and preferably in unprocessed forms. Aim for less than 30 grams in any meal—less is healthier.

No high fructose corn syrup: High free fructose (in contrast to sucrose—table/white sugar) is inflammatory and contributes to cross linking of collagen fibers, which means prematurely aged skin. This doesn’t mean it’s better to switch to artificial sweeteners! Sucrose is much less inflammatory than alternative sweeteners.

High ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats: Most vegetable oils (olive oil is the exception) are very high in omega-6 fats and are inflammatory and should be avoided. Omega-3 fats from fish oil cannot have their full anti-inflammatory impact in the presence of vegetable oils, so consider how you cook them. Omega-3 supplements are often needed to overcome existing inflammation. For maximum absorption, be sure to take them at a meal where you also eat saturated fats.

No trans fats: All are inflammatory. Read ingredient lists and look for the words “partially hydrogenated.” Don’t believe “no trans fats” claims without reading the ingredient list!

Probiotics and prebiotics: The bacteria in your gut are vitally important in reducing inflammation. Most of the bacteria that initially colonize breastfed babies and are also present in fermented products seem to be helpful. A high-quality probiotic supplement can also be quite helpful.

Saturated fats are healthy and reduce the peroxidation of omega-3 fatty acids at sites of local inflammation, e.g. fatty liver. Saturated fats should be a significant source of dietary calories to balance you towards anti-inflammatory. Vegetable oils (corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower) are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and are dangerously inflammatory. These polyunsaturated oils are less healthy than saturated fats. Olive oil is the most healthy.

Vegetable antioxidants: Vegetables and fruits, along with coffee and chocolate supply very useful, anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants.

How can I balance inflammatory factors?

Here are some simple suggestions to add anti-inflammatory choices into your daily routine:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Minimize stress
  • Get a full night’s sleep
  • Eat whole foods, especially organic
  • Consider taking a high quality fish oil
  • Cook with aromatic spices – garlic, ginger, cayenne, turmeric are anti-inflammatory
  • Add avocado, kale, spinach, anchovies, wild Atlantic or sockeye salmon, Brazil nuts, and other anti-inflammatory foods

Mindful choices that add in more omega-3 fatty acids or develop relaxing behavior is the place to start! Making anti-inflammatory choices doesn’t have to feel like deprivation. Remember, everything is a balance.

Further Resources:

The Everything Anti-Inflammation Diet Book, by Karlyn Grimes

The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan, by Monica Reinagel (

Foods that Fight Fibromyalgia, by Deirdre Rawlings

Meals that Heal Inflammation, by Julie Daniluk


Do you just wish you could find a set of realistic, holistic tools you can put in practice that will minimize your pain and maximize your energy? Download my free PDF report to learn 17 EASY WAYS TO START MINIMIZING PAIN TODAY!

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holistic relief for migraine activity

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Ask the Coach, Holistic Pain Relief | 0 comments

Migraine Brain.jpgNever in a million years did I expect a doctor to tell me I needed an elimination diet. Most physicians have limited training in nutrition, and as a health and holistic pain relief coach I have a LOT of training in nutrition. I never anticipated being told that dietary changes were the right path for me.

How did this journey start? Well, back in early November, I caught a cold and then it developed into a sinus infection. Just as I started to feel better, it seemed like I felt worse again. The process of alternately feeling better and feeling worse continued for several weeks. During some of the “worse” intervals, I had some vertigo and quite a bit of disequilibrium. Disequilibrium is when you feel like you’re on a boat – and you’re not! Both of these experiences can be very disconcerting. Then I started to lose hearing in my right ear, including a distortion of low-frequency sounds.

The bad days began to outnumber the good days. Things were going from bad to worse, and no one seemed to have any answers for me. Some medications (like prednisone) worked for a time, but didn’t solve the problem and had scary possible side effects. I was too unwell to try to determine if there were holistic methods, except for getting lots of rest. Doctors, chiropractors, clinical nutritionists, acupuncturists … no one could tell me what was really wrong.

And then I was referred to the specialist I mentioned above. He spent about 20 minutes talking with me about the symptoms I was having. We also talked about the progression of symptoms over not only the several months before our appointment, but over many years prior.

And he told me it was all migraine activity! I could have fallen out of my chair, because I only get the occasional tension headache! In all the years I’ve been doing bodywork and coaching, I’ve always treated people living with migraines. And every time I was grateful that I didn’t live with the kind of pain levels migraines can bring. Here is the lesson for me: sometimes there’s a LOT more to a condition than you realize. Migraine is simply the inflammation of the blood vessels in your head and neck. And because of their location, that inflammation can affect so many different parts of our body.

Migraine includes symptoms throughout many systems of your body – not just your head. And many things, including what we eat and drink, can trigger migraine activity. Since we have more control over what we swallow, a migraine trigger elimination diet was the first step for me.

I thought going gluten-free was tough, but now that I’m forty days into this diet, I am here to tell you it’s much tougher. On the up side, I’ve experienced HUGE amounts of symptom relief. I am SO grateful for the fantastic good days that I am having now (even if it does mean I had no excuse to get out of spring cleaning)!

It would be wrong to tell this story without a shout out to my amazing husband Cris. He was there every step of the way, helping and supporting me with his whole heart. I am so lucky and grateful that he is in my life!

My message for you is this:

1. Even the experts have challenges to face and more to learn.

2. Food and nutrition are intimately connected to wellness.

3. Persist in looking for the solutions – pace yourself, but persist.

4. Asking for help is okay.

This experience has been (and continues to be) life changing. Since it does relate to holistic pain relief, I’m sure I’ll have more to share in the future. Stay tuned …


Do you just wish you could find a set of realistic, holistic tools you can put in practice that will minimize your pain and maximize your energy? Download my free PDF report to learn 17 EASY WAYS TO START MINIMIZING PAIN TODAY!

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9 tips for gluten free cooking at home

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in Cooking at Home, Gluten Free, Healthier Choices, Wellness | 0 comments

Today’s blog is a guest post from Confident Wellness Chief Operating Officer, and my darling husband Cris Graffa.

I love food. I love grocery shopping; whether meandering around a farmer’s market and relishing in the sights, smells, and sounds of the local fresh produce and meat stands or shopping at grocery stores looking for food sales and new items. I love to cook it—Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Asian, Greek, Mexican, Latin, Italian cuisines, et. al. Most of all, I love to eat it. I joke that I’ll eat just about anything as long as it’s not moving. Am I clear about how I feel about food?

Barbara and Cris

Barbara and Cris

I describe myself as a decent home cook but I’m definitely not interested in cooking as a profession. Clearly, Barbara is appreciative that I both enjoy and take care of the household food-related tasks. Although she typically makes her own breakfasts and lunches, I prepare around 90% of all dinners and meals when we entertain friends and family. We eat out the remaining 10% of the time!

Throughout our marriage of 18 years, Barb has always been very passionate about the connection between food, body, and mind and has researched that connection avidly for many years. Based on this research, Barbara decided to go gluten-free after understanding that it may result in reduced inflammation and pain. Frankly, I was skeptical that it would help Barbara’s chronic pain. Nonetheless, I agreed to give it a try reasoning that she could focus more on everyday life rather than pain.

Here’s what I encountered and the solutions that were implemented:

  • First we both learned to decipher food labels and understand that gluten is in wheat, barley, and rye. We went through our cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer and gave away gluten products such as pasta, flour, and various canned and boxed goods.
  • As an Asian American, it wasn’t customary for me to have bread with all meals. So, eliminating bread wasn’t a problem. However, I use soy sauce in many dishes. Many of the soy sauces available (I use Kikkoman) have wheat in them to aid the distilling process. However, I found a wheat-free soy sauce at the local Asian store. Not quite the same taste as Kikkoman, but doable.
  • I started buying gluten-free pasta. Some of it was horrible! Recently, we tried one that used both quinoa and corn flour that was very tasty. It was a winner; pasta problem solved!
  • I was chagrinned to find that there was gluten in some cream of mushroom soup as I often use it when making sauces. Without much more effort, I found it very easy to make my own cream of mushroom soup that is tastier, chemical- and gluten-free, and less expensive. Please don’t ask for recipes. I rarely use them.
  • It’s not necessary for everyone in the household to be gluten-free. I still have my beloved Kikkoman soy sauce in the refrigerator and I still make sandwiches with (usually) 12-grain bread. Nonetheless, I’m mindful about cross-contamination and will use separate utensils, cutting boards, knives, and pots and pans when not making a completely gluten-free meal.
  • As part of my cooking, I often dredged protein in flour. Now, I use either tapioca or arrowroot flour. I don’t notice a taste difference. Likewise, I’ll use them and/or cornstarch as thickeners.
  • Most of what I cook rarely contains canned or boxed foods. It has made gluten-free cooking much easier.
  • I thought that buying gluten-free products was going to be extremely expensive. Well, it is! However, there are many items such as gluten-free bread, soups, and other foods that can be made inexpensively and without adding a lot of time to overall food preparation. As an aside, Barb pointed out that the additional expense of gluten-free products would be more than offset by reducing doctor visits, prescription drug costs, and her overall well-being.
  • I still need to find a good solution for some foods such deep-fry batters. I had found a recipe for a gluten-free tempura batter that can be used for fried chicken and fish and chips. I’ll have to give it a try. We rarely eat deep fried foods but I consider it an occasional treat.

At first I thought shopping and cooking gluten free was going to be extremely difficult. After many months of being gluten free, we’re still experimenting with different gluten-free products to find those most palatable to us. As it turns out, the change hasn’t been overly difficult. One only has to practice mindful food shopping and cooking.

Do you just wish you could find a set of realistic, holistic tools you can put in practice that will minimize your pain and maximize your energy? Download my free PDF report to learn 17 EASY WAYS TO START MINIMIZING PAIN TODAY!

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