My #nomakeupselfie & The DIY Natural Facial

#nomakeupselfie alex picot-annand tag

As part of my inherent femaleness, I love pampering. I love having my feet rubbed and having baths full of essential oils and epsom salts. I feeling soft and smelling like an aromatherapy candle.

I’m also generally a cheap b*stard.

While I do occasionally pay for these services (holler at Pure + Simple!) for special occasions, I generally feel rather guilty spending large amounts of money to have my face vigorously rubbed. And so I DIY.

I’ve discovered that you can actually give yourself a fabulously effective facial using ridiculously cheap and accessible ingredients, most of which you probably already have at home. Below I will reveal one of my biggest beauty secrets as I outline this all-natural DIY facial treatment.

PREPARE:

Start with cleansed, makeup-free skin. I like to wear a head band during this whole process to keep my hair out of the way.

You will need:

-A clean face cloth

-Baking Soda

-Apple Cider Vinegar (Organic, Unpasteurized)

-Honey (Raw/Unpasteurized)

-Seabuckthorn Seed Oil (or substitute)

STEP #1: Exfoliate…with Baking Soda

Apply a warm, damp wash cloth to the face and hold there for half a minute or so. Repeat a couple of times until your face is nice and moist and your pores feel open. Apply 1/2 teaspoon of plain baking soda to the warm, damp washcloth and begin rubbing your face gently in a circular motion. Be extra gentle around the eye area and don’t forget the lips- they benefit from exfoliation too! The tiny mineral particles in baking soda are gentle on skin and act like a penny-pinching microdermabrasion treatment!

Because baking soda is very alkaline (and your skin likes to be slightly acidic) you will want to balance the pH by following up with a gentle, slightly acidic toner. Apple cider vinegar is perfect for this.

STEP #2: Tone…with Apple Cider Vinegar

The skin is healthiest when it is slightly acidic. This acidic outer layer is called the “acid mantle”. This acid mantle acts like a protective barrier against foreign invaders because bacteria and other contaminants are slightly alkaline in nature and therefore this acidic layer is inhospitable to them. Apple cider vinegar is great not only for normal skin but for acne-prone skin too. It restores the necessary acidity of the skin and it also has antibacterial properties which can reduce bacteria that contributes to an infected pore (i.e. a pimple).

For normal skin, mix apple cider vinegar with filtered water in a 1:1 ratio. For sensitive skin, use two parts water to one part apple cider vinegar. Soak a cotton pad in this mixture and swipe over face and neck area. Your face should be pretty glowy by now!

STEP #3: Make a Mask…with Honey

I loooove my masks. About once a week, you will find me hiding behind a greenish-grey clay mask, desperately trying to avoid laughter lest my clay face crumbles. However, sometimes clay can be a little too drying. And messy. Honey is an alternative mask that is much gentler and more hydrating than clay, but is still very detoxifying, soothing, and healing to the skin. Raw, unpasteurized honey (which usually doesn’t come in a squeezable bear) contains anti-bacterial agents, live enzymes, antioxidants, and vitamins. For acne-prone skin, try manuka honey, a type of honey from Australia that has excellent anti-bacterial and healing properties. To use, apply a thin layer of honey to damp skin, using a circular motion to rub it in. Leave the honey for about 20-30 minutes and then gently rinse it off with warm water.

STEP #4: Moisturize…with Seabuckthorn Seed Oil

Have you ever noticed that an apple or a bushel of kale doesn’t have a flashy label that says, “A good source of fibre!” or “American Heart Association Approved”? Although unfortunately that means some people pass these items up in favour of margarine or granola bars with catchy health claims on them, food without labels are often the healthiest. Same goes with face products. My favourite face oils are simple and say nothing about the percentage by which it will reduce your fine lines, deep wrinkles, or blotchiness. But don’t think they don’t perform. Oils like seabuckthorn seed oil, rosehip seed oil, and jojoba oil have research to support their treatment for aging, sun damaged, or dehydrated skin and can even help to treat skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Seabuckthorn seed oil is one of my faves, especially for the summer because it has a light, naturally occurring SPF.

Buy these oils at stores that have a fast turnover- most of them go rancid quickly- and keep them in your fridge if you don’t plan on using them up within six weeks or so. If your skin is acne prone, consider adding a couple of drops of thyme, lavender, or tea tree essential oil for extra acne-proofing effects.

To use, put 10 or so drops of face oil onto clean fingers and massage onto face and neck. And now you’re done, you thrifty goddess!

And Finally, My Thoughts on the No Makeup Selfie…

I think the whole “no makeup-selfie” thing is kinda interesting, in a conflicted way. On the one hand, the movement is sort of empowering because it’s like, “Hey! I don’t have to wear loads of makeup to be pretty! This is how a woman looks without eyelash paint! Deal with it!”. And on the other hand, it’s yet another opportunity to exploit our narcissism, and to potentially make others feel bad about themselves if they don’t happen to look stunning in that raw, ethereal, no-makeup sort of way. In other words, it’s an opportunity to say, “Yeah, I do look this beautiful all the time. And I swear I didn’t just spend an hour and 45 minutes arranging the light and camera angle to take 72 photos that I would later painstakingly curate to select the most flattering one. And also I didn’t cheat by applying some tinted lip balm and filling in my brows a bit.” 

And yet, there is my selfie, above this post. And while I did take about 20 photos to choose from, I am not wearing a stitch of makeup, and still bare the faint indents where my glasses sit. I had to eliminate the photos where I was smiling because I had something in my teeth. My skin is generally quite nice, except when it isn’t, and this photo was taken on a “quite nice” day. I am vain enough to be too embarrassed to post a no-makeup selfie on a day when my skin is not nice. So don’t start thinking I’m better than you. Selfies are not really reality.

You don’t see anyone posting a #pmsbreakoutselfie, do you? Or #doublechinselfie? No. No you don’t. 

All that to say that my selfie is real, but also manipulated in a sense. #imjustbeinghonest

Do you like a good at-home pampering? Do selfies make you feel self-conscious?

Take care,

Alex

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Sunny Lemon Gummies & All About Gelatin

lemon gummies close

Back in the day, when our Grammies were girls, food was different. Most of our Grammies and Grandpas grew up on what we call today “traditional food”.  Traditional food is a way of eating that is seasonal, local, and often built around recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Our ancestors were super savvy about using every last bit of food, and when the meat from an animal was consumed, the nutrition didn’t stop. Cartilagenous bones from animals were recognized as incredibly rich sources of nutrients and were boiled over many hours to make gelatin- and mineral- rich broths. These broths were the base of many meals and were often consumed daily.

Nowadays, most of us never eat gelatin, and if we do, it’s probably neon-coloured and full of artificial colours, flavours, and sugar.

It’s a wiggly wobbly shame!

Gelatin is a jelly-like protein derived from animal collagen. It is very high in the amino acids glycine and proline, which both help to stimulate collagen production. Collagen is the main protein that forms our connective tissues. That means collagen is essential to healthy tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, bones, blood vessels, the gut, intervertebral discs, and even the cornea of the eye!

You could say that collagen is the glue that holds us together.

Although gelatin is not a complete protein (it lacks tryptophan and is low in isoleucine, threonine, and methionine), it enhances the body’s ability to use protein. This is partly due to glycine’s role in stimulating gastric juices that are needed to digest and metabolize proteins.

What else does gelatin do?

-Used in the treatment of stomach ulcers. Gelatin peptides strengthen the mucous membranes of the stomach, which can help both prevent and heal ulcerations. [1]

-Anecdotal reports of reducing wrinkles. Wrinkles are thought to be in part caused by collagen reduction and one study showed the consumption of gelatin reduced UV-light induced collagen degradation in mice. [2]

-May stimulate growth hormone in the body [3], which encourages the formation of muscle mass and the breakdown of fat. Athletes are always trying to encourage growth hormone because it translates to a better body composition.

-Gelatin is sometimes even used as a sleep-aid! This is thought to work because of its high glycine content. Glycine increases GABA levels in the brain, which is a calming neurotransmitter.

- For weight loss, and for good digestion in general, your last meal should be eaten no less than about three hours before bed. But if you’re like me and get the nibbles before bed, try this calorie-saving tip: Eat some homemade jello! I sweeten mine exclusively with stevia so it’s low in sugar and calories but it feels filling.

-Helps to regulate the bowels when consumed with enough water.

-Anecdotal reports of reducing cellulite (which is thought to be partially caused by the breakdown of the collagen “netting” that keeps cutaneous fat in a smooth pattern).

In addition to the following recipe, you can add gelatin to smoothies, tea, soups, etc, for a nutrition boost. The most familiar way of consuming gelatin is to make jello, and the basic ratio for this is 1 Tbsp of gelatin to 2 cups of liquid (I like using honey or stevia sweetened fruit teas or pure fruit juice). The ratio of gelatin in my gummy recipe is more concentrated to create a firmer gelatin. Try it out and let me know what you think! Great for kids too!

 Sunny Lemon Gummies

gelatin lemon gummies

4 Tbsp gelatin powder*

2/3 cup lemon juice, room temperature or cooler

4 Tbsp raw honey

1/4 tsp turmeric (optional, for colour)

15 drops liquid stevia

Directions:

-In a saucepan, combine gelatin powder to cool lemon juice and whisk until combined. Gelatin is best dissolved starting with cool or lukewarm liquids, then heating it up to dissolve the gelatin crystals. Adding gelatin directly to hot liquids will create a clumpy sticky mess.

-Add honey and turmeric to gelatin-lemon mix and heat over low heat until gelatin crystals and honey have dissolved. The mixture should be thick and sticky.

-Grease gelatin/truffle molds with mild flavoured oil (grapeseed oil is perfect for this) or if you don’t have any molds, just pour into a glass Tupperware container.

-Refrigerate for 3-4 hours and pop out of molds and serve! If using a Tupperware, pop out the slab of gelatin and slice into cubes or use small cookie cutters to make fun shapes.

-Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

*Please note I use the grass-fed beef gelatin powder from Great Lakes Gelatin. Don’t confuse their gelatin powder (which is in a red can) with their collagen hydrolysate powder (which is in a lime green can). The collagen hydrolysate is also a wonderful product with many similar benefits, but does not have the gelling property that gelatin does, which is essential to these recipes. I can’t vouch for the quality of other brands of gelatin.

Have you tried gelatin yet and noticed the benefits?

Take care,

Alex

References:

1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/50126.php

2. http://forum.lef.org/attach.aspx/216/collagen_study.pdf

3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20216569

 

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Three Steps to Starting a Workout Program and Sticking to It!

I started going to the gym when I was around 17 or 18, to a mildly seedy YMCA in downtown Ottawa. I had a handful of friends who worked out, and I suppose I just wanted something to do after school other than watch The Simpsons.

My first years of going to the gym were pretty silly. I knew nothing about weights, so I would do about 100 repetitions of one exercise using 2 lb dumbbells and then an hour on the elliptical,  finishing my workout with about 150 crunches.

Nowadays, my gym time looks pretty different. I get my workout done in about an hour (including warm-up and cool down), I have abandoned those crazy crunches, and I even hired a personal trainer to design bad-ass workout routines that I can do on my own.

I’m a gym bunny.

Deadlift

[Photo taken by Clance Laylor]

We all know the benefits of exercise, but knowing something is good for us doesn’t always translate to action. If you are someone who knows you need to start exercising but can’t seem to rally the initiative to get moving, please read the following advice. Actually, my tips below can be applied to any situation where you may be dragging your feet and procrastinating, so basically, you have to read this no matter what.

Here are my top three tips for cultivating and staying with a workout (or any) program!

1) Don’t Wait to Feel Motivated

If you waited to “feel like” going to work, your boss would probably fire your butt. A big false assumption made about exercisers by non-exercisers is that regular exercisers have all this motivation and energy to work out.

It’s not true.

It’s not about motivation or feeling inspired. There are days when I literally stomp and growl my way to the gym. I let myself feel annoyed and even angry that it’s time to go to the gym and I do it anyway. And I always feel amazing after. I PROMISE you will too.

Feeling inspired and excited to work out can and does happen, but to be successful at anything, we must learn to do it even when we don’t feel like it. Be rational about the time your schedule allows to devote to exercise, and block off three to five 30 to 60 minute sessions to go for a power walk, lift some weights, or do a yoga class. And just do it!

The resistance involved in a mental battle between your “I-want-to-fuse-to-the-couch” side and your “I’m-Michael-Jordan-bitches” side requires more effort than actually working out. Think about that.

2) Focus on Specific Behaviours, Not Goals

There are two sides to goals. On one hand, they can be great motivators (think about that picture of the Brazilian supermodel that made you want to start working out because you want to look like her). On the other hand, they can be very discouraging (think about that picture of the Brazilian supermodel that made you want to stop working out because you still don’t look like her).

While goals are fine to have, a more encouraging thing to work towards is behaviours. If you have a goal of weighing 10 lbs less in a month and don’t reach that number despite sticking to your diet and exercise regime, you’re going to feel discouraged and may be very vulnerable to giving up altogether.

Focus instead on healthy behaviours, and the goals will be met naturally, at their own time. Be specific, for example committing to adding three servings of dark leafy greens a day, limiting alcohol to five drinks a month, and exercising for 60 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Specificity increases the likelihood of following through. Again, it’s important to be REALISTIC here and choose behaviours that are healthy and SUSTAINABLE. If your target behaviours involve skipping meals or exercising seven days a week, you will burn out. Be kind when considering your ambitions, and aim for long-term health rather than short-term fixes.

3) Put Your Shoes On, Girl!

When someone tells me they have a hard time going to the gym, I always tell them that the next time they feel themselves resisting exercise to suit up anyway. Even if the thought of 8 minutes on the treadmill or 12 bicep curls is too overwhelming, get your gym gear on. You can lace up your running shoes, right? You can walk to the gym, right? If you can do that, then start with that. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, once you are at the gym, geared up, you will be ready to work out. If not, promise yourself just TWO minutes on the treadmill or just ONE set of squats. You can do that, right? If you feel overwhelmed, just break it down into small steps and give yourself permission to stop at any point. The point is that you took some steps forward.

This practice of doing something rather than nothing also trains you to trust yourself and what you commit to. When we don’t trust ourselves to make good on a promise, we’re more likely to give up even before we start. Faith and confidence in our ability to carry out an intention makes us that much more likely to succeed.

I hope those tips have been helpful!

And remember, exercise is natural! Release the idea that it’s torture or that you’ll hate it. Your body loves and needs to move and sweat. It’s your head that makes exercise hard. So stop fighting yourself! Cue James Brown! Get up!

Take care,

Alex

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In Small Doses, Really Good Quality Dark Chocolate Is Medicine (I Knew It!)

As a terribly unoriginal member of the female species, I have a small obsession with chocolate.

Kakobohnen und Schokolade

[Photo credit]

However, I am also a chocolate snob, favouring only good quality (organic, fair trade, simple ingredients) dark (over 70%) chocolate. As it turns out, my palate has inuitively steered me in the right direction, because dark chocolate, in reasonable doses, is actually a health food. Although I have plenty of experience with unreasonable doses, I usually try to stick to one to two squares a day. And some days I don’t have it at all. Usually because I have forgotten to replenish my stock. And those are usually sad days.

According to researchers, 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day, about the amount found in one to two squares, represents the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Eat more or less than this amount and benefits begin to diminish. 

For the remainder of this article, please know that when I refer to “chocolate” I am excluding all types of white chocolate, milk chocolate, and the chocolate candy bars strategically placed for impulse buying while in line at the grocery store/drug store/corner store/gas station. These chocolate imposters contain little to no chocolate, lots of sugar, and often weird ingredients to colour, flavour, and preserve themselves. Please leave them on the shelves where they will remain in pristine condition for years and years (not a good thing!).

Researchers have been disproportionately eager and prolific at providing support for the notion that chocolate is actually good for you. Try finding a similar volume of research proving that fish eyeballs are good for you. You won’t find it.

Chocolate is high in a range of superstar nutrients and associated health benefits. Check it:

-Magnesium: A mineral involved in hundreds of metabolic reactions in the body, including muscle relaxation, blood sugar regulation, and hormone balance.

-Catechins & Epicatechins: Antixidants found also in red wine and tea, have been shown to delay some forms of aging, and reduce risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. [Source]

-Procyanidins: Antioxidants found also in dark pigmented berries which have been linked to lower rates of heart disease and overall mortality, and are important in the maintenance of youthful skin and good circulation. [Source]

-Phenylethylamine: A compound that improves mood and motivation. Abnormally low amounts have been found in those with ADHD. [Source]

-Theobromine: A bitter alkaloid also found in black and green tea that promotes circulation through vasodilation. That means lowered blood pressure, and possibly less need for Viagra. [Source]

-Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ): An essential nutrient found to protect memory and cognition in aging populations, reverse cognitive impairment caused by free radical damage, and stimulate the production and release of nerve growth factor, which is critical for the survival and maintenance of nerve cells..[Source]

DSC01340

With benefits ranging from mood support, to better aging, to heart health, you can feel good about a daily, small chocolate treat. Good quality, low sugar, high cocoa content bars that I like include: Green and Black’s Dark 85%Endangered Species Natural dark 88%Chocosol Darkness and Hemp GoldGiddy Yoyo Xtra Dark, Spirulina, and Chaga. They can all be found pretty widely in health food stores around Toronto.

And, if you’re keen and like to DIY, I encourage you to make your own chocolate creations! Here are some delightful chocolate recipes to get you started:

Superfood Chocolate

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Spiced Hot Chocolate from www.mynewroots.org

Please enjoy responsibly!

Take care,

Alex

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Flax Seed Cookies to Love Your Heart

Back in the eighties, when parents were mostly not aware of the ills of fluffy white bread, I was the only kid in school with “multigrain” bread in a sea of unblemished, alabaster Wonderbread-type sandwiches. My friends would wrinkle their nose at the sandwich my mum, also a nutritionist, had lovingly packed for me. “Alex, there are ants in your bread,” they would say. “No,” I replied somewhat self-consciously, “those are flax seeds.”

Flax cookies

Now that we are well into the new millennium, people know about flax seeds. You can even find them in commercial breads (which unfortunately, still doesn’t mean most commercial breads are good for you).

Cozying up to the romance of Valentine’s Day, February is, appropriately, Heart Month. It seems like every major chronic illness now has a month. We all hear about prostate cancer in November (or should I say Movember?) and breast cancer in October, pink ribbons aflutter. The Heart and Stroke Foundation nabbed February as “Heart Month’, and hearts heart flax seeds.

Shall I tell you more about this super seed?

Most people know of flax seeds as a good source of fibre and a source of plant-based omega 3’s. That is true although if you want to get your omega 3’s from flax, you are better off consuming the oil instead of the whole seeds. Whole seeds are difficult for the human digestive system to break down and therefore in order to obtain the full benefits of flax, they are best consumed freshly ground. I buy my seeds whole, grind them in small batches in a coffee grinder, and store them in the freezer to preserve freshness.

Here is a summary of some impressive things that flax can do, and below that you will find a heart healthy fibre-rich cookie recipe to help you incorporate more of this wonderful seed into your diet.

-Heart Health: Particularly in its whole form (ground up) flax seeds reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, improve circulation by improving blood viscosity, and at higher doses reduce inflammatory markers in the body (such as C-reactive protein) [1]. Recently, it was shown that two tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day significantly reduced blood pressure in hypertensive participants. The effect of flax was greater than any other dietary intervention so far in its impact on blood pressure [2].

-Breast Cancer Survival: Plant compounds, called lignans, found in particularly high amounts in flax seeds have been linked to better survival rates in women with breast cancer. It is thought that flax lignans act like weak estrogens and block the receptors from stronger estrogens encouraging the growth of cancerous cells [3,4,5].

-Diabetes: 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed per day lowered levels of fasting blood sugar and glycosylated hemoglobin (a measure of longer-term blood sugar regulation ability). An improvement in blood lipid parameters were also noted, with a reduction in total cholesterol, particularly LDL (the “bad’ cholesterol) and triglycerides [6].

-Fertility & PMS: Daily consumption of flaxseed reduced the likelihood of anovulatory cycles (menstrual cycles where ovulation doesn’t occur) and decreased symptoms of breast tenderness [7].

-Better Poops: For those prone to constipation, one to two tablespoons of ground flax seed a day helps lubricate the bowels and add bulk to stool, thus creating an easier, fuller poop. ‘Nuff said.

So, how do we sneak more of these little seeds into our diet?

Flax seeds are very mild tasting with a pleasant, nutty flavour. In terms of taste, they are easy to disguise, so they can be thrown into smoothies, cereals, soups, salads, burgers, and baked goods. Many people will just put the ground flax seeds directly into water, give it a stir, and gulp it down.

However, if you want a more novel way to incorporate a good dose of flax seed into your diet, try these cookies!

flax cookies

No Bake Flax Cinnamon Raisin Cookies

1 cup ground flax seed

½ cup almond meal

½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 Tbsp cinnamon

¼ cup raisins

¼ tsp sea salt

½ cup coconut oil

2 Tbsp raw honey

-Combine all dry ingredients (flax, almond meal, coconut, cinnamon, raisins, and salt) in a large bowl and stir well. Add wet ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Should form a sticky, thick dough.

-With clean hands, scoop out golf ball-sized amounts of dough, roll into a ball, and flatten slightly into a pudgy cookie shape. Place on parchment lined cookie tray.

-Freeze or refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then they are ready to serve! Cookies can be stored in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container for about a week. Makes about 16 small cookies. Each cookie contains approximately 1 Tbsp of heart healthy ground flax seed.

Please note that if you are using flax seeds for the first time, start slow! Flax seeds promote bowel movements and some people may be more sensitive to this effect than others. Start with 1 tsp at a time, and work your way up!

Take care,

Alex

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