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Science Says Stress Is Killing Us. Do You Know Why?

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Stress is a word that haunts us. It inundates our lives. Its dangers seep through the nooks and crannies of our minds. We’re bombarded through TV, newspapers and the internet with the idea that stress kills! It is said to be responsible for a myriad of diseases from which we suffer: heart disease, cancer, headaches, depression, dementia and anxiety.(1) Our daily conversations are strewn with references to the stress we experience: the job, the kids, finances, terrorism, college educations, crime, etc. Life has become a balancing act of endless multitasking. Our sleep is punctuated with “what if’s.”  What if I lose my job?  What if I’m sicker than I thought? What if our child doesn’t make it to that special school? What if…?

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Given the importance stress plays in our lives, what is stress? Is it increasing? Is it something we’re doing that is fostering stress’ effect on our lives? Can it be managed? Is it as dangerous as they say?

Let’s explore what stress is and why it seems to be so universal and on the rise.

The Nature of Things

Medical science now recognizes that our biology is intimately intertwined with our emotions, thoughts and lifestyles. Science has admitted, after long denials, that the emotional challenges we face can make us ill. There is even a bonafide scientific discipline, Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), dedicated to studying mind/body interactions.(2) But more about that later. For now, let’s learn about the nature of stress. There are, generally speaking, three types of stress that Robert Sapolsky(3) an American neuroendocrinologist, professor of biology, neuroscience and neurosurgery at Stanford University has summarized: acute physical crises, chronic physical challenges and psychological and social problems.

Acute physical crises make up much of what animals face on any given day. They may be stalked by a predator or they may be hungry and doing the stalking. It can involve long running battles across the plains or through trees. One fleeing for his life, the other hungry and needing to feed her young.  Homo sapiens through most of our history have been either the hunters or the hunted.

Chronic physical challenges such as storms, famines, droughts and earthquakes have plagued animals all throughout natural history. Humans have had to recognize the seasons, cope with weather disruptions and the like. When it stops raining and water is scarce large herds of animals and humans have had to travel far and wide to survive.

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Psychological and social problems are reserved mostly for humans, other social primates and some animals. If I asked you to make a list of the things that worry you, what might they be? For most of us reading this article, much of what worries us would not be the fear of starvation because the crops have failed or whether or not we will be attacked by a predator while out searching for food. Mostly, we create stress through our own thinking.  I’m sure you have worked yourself up into a frenzy over some perceived interpersonal issue (the boss, the spouse, the traffic, the news) while sitting alone in a room. And, we can carry that frenzy around inside of us for hours, days, years and even entire lifetimes. This ability is what science has found can make us, in the long run, sick.

Sapolsky (4), in his acclaimed book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers states:

A large body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions. (p. 6)

Our social position in society adds to this long term stress. Are we closer to the winners at the top of the hierarchy or closer to the perceived losers at the bottom? Epidemiologists have demonstrated that societies with the greatest status inequalities are the least healthy. Not surprisingly, poverty is a sure predictor of disease. But social status alone and its accompanying stigma also is a predictor of ill health. In the famous UK Whitehall studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, (5) Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, the health of 18,000 British civil servants was tracked from 1968 to the late 1990’s. Marmot, in his groundbreaking work The Status Syndrome, found that:

The men at the bottom of the office hierarchy have, at ages forty to sixty four, four times the risk of death as administrators at the top of the hierarchy. More dramatic than the difference between top and bottom is the gradient.  The group second from the top has higher mortality than those above them in the ranking. (p. 39)

Although we suffer from all three forms of stress, it is the psychological and social aspects that we experience most in modern society. There are still physical threats, like gangs on the subway, and physical challenges, like hurricanes, but most of our stress comes from long-term psychological stress that we create in our minds and is the result of living in a hierarchical, competitive society. Our built-in coping capacities, inherited from our ancient ancestors, enables us to deal very well with physical crises and challenges but unfortunately is not as good at the stresses we face today.

What was once meant to help us survive is now killing us.

An excellent summary of the work of Sapolsky and Marmot appears in the National Geographic documentary Stress, Portrait of a Killer. (6)

Let’s take a look at how our ability to deal with stress is compromised in the modern world.

The Physiology of Stress

Our ability to deal with stress grew out of hundreds of thousands if not millions of years of evolution. When facing a threat or challenge Saplosky (4) indicates that the mind/body makes a “rapid mobilization of energy from storage sites…Glucose…and fats come pouring out of your fat cells, liver and muscles, all to stoke whichever muscles are struggling to save your neck.”(p. 11) To do this our heart rate increases, along with blood pressure and respiration.  Digestion stops, as does the sex drive and all growth related functions. A myriad of stress hormones flood the body, cortisol, epinephrine,  glucocorticoids, etc. The sensation of pain diminishes. Our immune system becomes compromised. When you’re running for your life there’s no time to worry about healing a wound or infection. This is all done to support our survival and maintain allostasis, the dynamic equilibrium of our body/mind.

In the end, it is the suppression of the immune system that does us in.

stress and illness

Stress and Modern Living

So now we come to the crux of the matter.  Our modern lifestyles burden our bodies and minds in ways very different from that experienced by our ancestors. Our stress response system was not intended to deal over the long-term with the psychological and social stressors we have created. Chronic, long-term stress is killing us. Saplosky says it succinctly:

It’s not so much that the stress response runs out, but rather, with sufficient activation, that the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself, especially when the stress is purely psychological.  This is the critical concept, because it underlies the emergence of much stress-related disease. (4)

Put another way by John Ratey and Richard Manning in Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization (7):

…the real problem, the killer, is the chronic, unrelenting, unremitting series of regular events that wears us down. (p. 237)

Regular events that remain perpetually unresolved and over which we feel little control, such as hours in traffic, the unfair boss, monthly mortgage payments, boring sex and relationships, lousy food day after day, addictions, lack of sleep, crime, etc. Our stress response never rests. In a fashion similar to the pancreas producing more and more insulin in response to excess exposure to glucose “If we repeatedly turn on the stress response, or if you cannot turn off the stress-response at the end of a stressful event, the stress-response can eventually become damaging.” (4) (p. 16)

Our stress response is always in the “on” position. We find it hard, if not impossible, to turn off our autonomic nervous system. We can’t relax. We need constant stimulation. Our blood pressure never returns to normal, our stress hormones remain high, our blood vessels are constricted and our blood thickens. Our moods fluctuate with anxiety or depression. The Mayo Clinic conservatively states that: “Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to…high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” (8) I would add Irritable Bowel Syndrome, insomnia, chronic fatigue, rosacea, allergies, asthma, anxiety, depression, anger, drug abuse, social and interpersonal problems and more.

Modern lifestyles predispose us to disease. Our ancestral health is compromised. Combined with sedentary behaviors, industrialized diets, Western hygienic practices (9) and certain vaccinations (10) stress creates the perfect storm of degenerative disease and psychiatric disorder. Although evolution designed us to meet a wide variety of conditions, modern living places us in a perpetual state of stress that exhausts our immune systems. This sets the stage for chronic disease.

In the next article, I will explore what we can do to reduce stress, restore our ancestral health and remain productive within modern society.  Meditation, fostering positive relationships and affiliations, successful aging, cognitive re framing, and “Going Wild” will be covered.

References

  1. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems
  2. http://www.stressforskning.su.se/english/research/research-areas/psychoneuroimmunology
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky
  4. Sapolsky, Robert M., Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. (2004). Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
  5. Marmot, Michael, The Status Syndrome. (2004). Holt Paperbacks.
  6. National Geographic. (2008). Stress: Portrait of a Killer. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs
  7. Ratey, John & Manning, Richard, Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization. (2014). Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  8. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987
  9. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-unintended-and-deadly-consequences-of-living-in-the-industrialized-world-5324305/?no-ist
  10. http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080304/news_1n4immune.html

 

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Awareness

Cancer-Linked Monsanto Chemical Discovered In Five Major Orange Juice Brands

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    The non profit group Moms Across America discovered glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, in popular orange juice brands across America.

  • Reflect On:

    Why is glyphosate ending up in our food? What kind of safety testing is our food going through? Why is Roundup legal in North America yet Illegal in so many other countries? Why are these findings not presented on mainstream media?

It’s confusing why non-profits spend so much time and resources on raising money and awareness for cancer research, but completely leave out the links between cancer and harmful pesticides, heavy metals, processed meats, electromagnetic radiation, various cleaning and cosmetic products,  as well as several other cancer-causing sources. All we do is try to raise money, and yet in doing so, we pay no attention to the causes.

If you have ever walked, ran, ridden, played a sport, or grown a moustache in support of large corporate-sponsored efforts to cure cancer, you are to be sincerely commended for your time, your effort, and your concern for your fellow human beings. Just know that such efforts have likely not—and will never—contribute to finding a cure for cancer.

Western cancer research is organized as a business whose fundamental motivation is profit, and has become the subject of numerous excellent books and documentaries, among them being Forest Gamble’s Thrive and Ty Bollinger’s The Truth About Cancer. Western medicine will likely never cure cancer because it’s so profitable, and it’s sad that they often ignore the causes of it. Doctors are only allowed to recommend the patented treatment.

One cause of cancer, among several other diseases, is glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. In November 2012, the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology published a paper titled Long Term Toxicity of Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-Tolerant genetically modified maize by Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team of researchers at France’s Caen University (source). It was a very significant study that made a lot of noise worldwide, as it was the first of its kind under controlled conditions that examined the possible effects of a GMO maize diet treated with Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide. The rats studied developed cancer, but the study was retracted and then republished in several journals across the world, but the original retraction caused hundreds of scientists to sign a letter in support of the study. It’s one of many examples that highlights how corporations control science and brush the important research that threatens their interests straight under the rug. You can read more about that particular study here.

In fact, I also recently published an article on Robert F. Kennedy explaining how our federal regulatory agencies have been completely compromised by these big corporations. You can watch that video and read about some more examples here.

There is a wealth of science showing how harmful glyphosate is to human health as well as the environment. This is why it’s completely banned in dozens of countries, as they’ve cited numerous health and environmental concerns. It’s quite clear that it’s not safe, and this isn’t really debatable.

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In fact, EU regulators recently decided to relicense glyphosate, and their decision was based on an assessment that was plagiarized from industry reports. It’s quite backwards that, for years, health regulators have been relying on the scientific reports from the companies that manufacture these products instead of seeking out independent scientific studies. A group of MEPs decided to commission an investigation into claims that Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (bFr) copy-and-pasted tracts from Monsanto studies. You can read more about that here.

The only science showing that glyphosate is safe is the science that’s dished out by the manufacturers and shareholders themselves, which is in stark opposition to all independent science as well as the science coming from foreign countries.

Corporations can’t be trusted these days, unfortunately, and neither can our federal regulatory agencies. This is why ordinary people are turning towards organizations that don’t stand to benefit or gain from these products and are completely non-profit, citizenry-driven organizations like Moms Across America.

Moms Across America is a National Coalition of Unstoppable Moms. Their motto is “Empowered Moms, Healthy Kids.” Their mission is  to “raise awareness about toxic exposure, empower leadership, and create healthy communities. We support local activities, initiate campaigns and share solutions nationwide to improve our health and freedoms.”

Glyphosate & Orange Juice

They are the group who took initiative and discovered that glyphosate is found inside of all 5 major orange juice brands across the United States. These juices are heavily marketed as ‘100 percent pure orange juice,’ but that’s not true as they’re loaded with unhealthy amounts of added sugars.

What is glyphosate doing in orange juice? Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, and 750 other brands of glyphosate-based herbicides. Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world, often sprayed as a weedkiller between citrus trees and found in irrigation water and rain.

Moms Across America founder Zen Honeycutt stated, “The discovery of glyphosate residue in orange juice is unacceptable, especially since a branch of the World Health Organization designated glyphosate a probable carcinogen, two years ago, back in the spring of 2015. The EPA has had ample time to revoke the license of this chemical and restrict its use in our food and beverage crops. As confirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, our children (who frequently drink orange juice for breakfast) are especially vulnerable to pesticides and measures should be taken immediately to protect them.”

Two samples of each of the following brands were tested for both the herbicide glyphosate and its residue AMPA. Positive results ranged from 4.33 parts per billion (“ppb”) to an alarming 26.05 ppb. Chemical farming proponents will claim that these levels are too low to cause harm, and are definitely lower than the EPA’s allowable glyphosate residue level of 30 ppm on citrus, but these claims are irrelevant in comparison to new data. Studies have shown that only 0.1 ppm (100ppb) of glyphosate destroys beneficial gut bacteria, weakening the immune system, which can lead to a wide variety of health and neurological issues. Considering the standard American diet is high in wheat, sugar, oatmeal, soy, and corn, with levels of up to 6000 ppb or 1.67ppm detected,  a child can easily exceed the 100 ppb if a glass of orange juice is added at  26 ppb. Additionally, 1 part per trillion (ppt) has been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. 1 ppt is equivalent to 1 drop in the water of 22 olympic swimming pools combined. Considering that studies show glyphosate bioaccumulates in bone marrow, any amount ingested is unacceptable.

Below is a chart of the brands that were tested as well as the results.

The full report can be seen here. The testing methodology was “Glyphosate and AMPA Detection by UPLC-MS/MS.”

The Health Research Institute Laboratories routinely undergoes independent, third party proficiency testing of its methods. The lab is also certified under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments act of 1988 (CLIA-88) to perform high complexity clinical testing.

The Takeaway

“It is commonly believed that Roundup is among the safest pesticides… Despite its reputation, Roundup was by far the most toxic among the herbicides and insecticides tested. This inconsistency between scientific fact and industrial claim may be attributed to huge economic interests, which have been found to falsify health risk assessments and delay health policy decisions.” – R. Mesnage (et al., Biomed Research International, Volume 2014 (2014), article ID 179691)

The only takeaway here is for one to be aware of and share this information, and to vote with your dollar. Don’t get your lawn sprayed with Roundup. Instead, seek out alternatives and don’t buy conventional food. Try and switch to organic and non-GMO products.

At the end of the day, human beings are the source of these corporations’ profits. We must educate ourselves and seek out information independently.

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Health

How To Activate Autophagy: Your Body’s Self-Cleansing System

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Autophagy, the body's self-cleaning system, allows the cell to get rid of old cell machinery, breaking them down into smaller parts to be reused by the cell. Activating autophagy through fasting has neuroprotective and immuno-regenerative benefits.

  • Reflect On:

    Intermittent fasting (IF) is an easy and sustainable way to activate autophagy as well as reap many other health benefits. The easiest way to IF is to pick an eating window that is eight hours or less every day that works best with your schedule.

 

The fountain of youth has long been sought by man, science being the critical avenue in which we’ve explored this prospect, and one Nobel Prize-winning scientist recently uncovered a vital piece in the search.

On October 3rd, 2016, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy, a term that translates to “self-eat.” In short, autophagy is the body’s self-cleaning system, a mechanism in which cells get rid of all the broken down, old cell machinery (organelles, proteins and cell membranes). It is a regulated, orderly process to degrade and recycle cellular components.

The process of autophagy is like replacing parts in a car—sometimes we need a new engine or battery for the car to function better. The same thing happens within each of our cells. During autophagy, old cellular debris is sent to specialized compartments within the cell called “lysosomes.” Lysosomes contain enzymes that degrade the old debris, breaking it down into smaller components to be reused again by the cell.

Fasting & Autophagy

Scientists have found that fasting for 12 to 24+ hours triggers autophagy, which is thought to be one of the reasons that fasting is associated with longevity. There is a large body of research that connects fasting to improved blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, weight loss, and improved brain function, and Oshumi’s findings provide greater insight into this research.

“Sporadic short-term fasting, driven by religious and spiritual beliefs, is common to many cultures and has been practiced for millennia, but scientific analyses of the consequences of caloric restriction are more recent…short-term food restriction induces a dramatic upregulation of autophagy in cortical and Purkinje neurons. As noted above, disruption of autophagy can cause neurodegenerative disease, and the converse also may hold true: upregulation of autophagy may have a neuroprotective effect.

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Food restriction is a simple, reliable, inexpensive and harmless alternative to drug ingestion and, therefore, we propose that short-term food restriction may represent an attractive alternative to the prophylaxis and treatment of diseases in which candidate drugs are currently being sought.”

So autophagy and fasting is in essence a form of self-cleansing, getting rid of the junk to make room for new healthy cellular components. And it is the accumulation of the junk that may be responsible for many of the effects of aging. The consequences of accumulating old proteins all over the place can be seen in two main conditions – Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and cancer. Alzheimer’s Disease involves the accumulation of abnormal protein – either amyloid beta or Tau protein, which gum up the brain system. So, if inducing autophagy cleanses the body of denatured proteins, it would make sense that the process has the ability to prevent the development of AD.

Other Benefits of Fasting—Stem Cell Regeneration

While inducing autophagy is one of the key benefits to fasting, there are also many incredible longevity-related reasons to fast.

A study in the journal Cell Stem Cell shows that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.

Fasting triggers regeneration of immune stem cels.

In a study on mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial involving patients receiving chemotherapy, long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles “flipped a regenerative switch,” changing the signalling pathways for liver stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems. Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose, fat and ketones, but it also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells.

During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induced changes that triggered stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells. In particular, prolonged fasting reduced the enzyme PKA, an effect previously found to extend longevity in simple organisms, which has been linked in other research to the regulation of stem cell self-renewal and pluripotency (the potential for one cell to develop into many different cell types). Prolonged fasting also lowered levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone linked to aging, tumor progression, and cancer risk.

How To Fast Intermittently & Activate Autophagy

While there are many ways to fast, one of the more sustainable methods of fasting is intermittent fasting (IF). IF is done cyclically and for shorter periods of time, so it is much easier to adopt IF into your weekly schedule as it won’t take much out of you compared to longer periods of fasting. In fact, practicing IF will have you more focused and energized throughout your day compared to when your body is in a constant state of digestion.

The easiest way to IF is to pick an eating window each day and stick to that window. This can be an eight hour window or less, but typically you want to keep your eating window under eight hours in order to reap the most benefits. An example of an eight hour eating window could be 11am-7pm, or if you normally eat later in the day then you could try something like 3pm-10pm.

During your fast you can still drink beverages as long as they contain no calories such as lemon water, tea, or coffee (without cream or sugar). There are incredible regenerative benefits to dry fasting as well (abstaining from consuming any food or water); however, dry fasting will push the body into deeper levels of detoxification and should be approached more slowly.

Breaking your fast is just as important as the fast itself. The first meal after a fast should be easy to digest. Juices, coconut water, and smoothies are great options as well as watery and astringent fruits such as grapes, cherries, and oranges. After that, salads are the next best option. After breaking the fast with raw fruits and vegetables, you can then move on to eating cooked foods as your digestive system will be activated by then.

Autophagy and fasting are the key to regenerating the body on a cellular level and, when used strategically and systematically, these tools hold enormous potential in transforming your health.

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Awareness

My 400 Days Without Candy & What I Learned About Sugar Addiction

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At the end of 2017 I decided to temporarily say goodbye to my dietary Achilles heel.

While I’m certainly not suggesting that I am some beacon of ideal healthy eating, I have always been someone who, for the most part, makes what I’ve found to be healthy choices. Except for my one glaring weakness… candy.

In particular, the really sour and heavily sugar coated kind, but you’d be hard pressed to find me turning down even those better classified as sweet, with all of their sugar fused within the confines of the chew. Cherry Blasters, Sour Patch Kids, Fuzzy Peaches, Sour Punch Straws, you name it, I ate it, and usually with a big smile on my face.

But no matter how much my tastebuds loved this stuff, I’ve always known that it’s not good for me (I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who actually thinks it is), so I decided to listen to my body, just as I had already done with a number of my other dietary changes. I opted to no longer ignore the stomach and headaches that would often come shortly after my sugary indulgences and give it up.

What started as a one month challenge quickly evolved into a three month challenge, followed by a one year challenge, and then a 400 day challenge simply because I liked the sound of the number. Here’s some of what I learned from this journey:

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The First Days Are Undeniably The Hardest

The old adage that it takes approximately 21 days to break a bad habit or make a new one in this case certainly held true. It was right around the 3 week point that I started to find myself far less tempted and far less frequently on the search for something to satisfy my sweet tooth. And believe it or not, the longer I went on, the less appealing the idea of eating candy became. It almost felt as if the memory in my tastebuds that had controlled so many of my past decisions had gradually faded away.

Mindset Is Everything

While I will fully admit that my quest to 400 was helped by it naturally feeding into another one of my “addictions” (a great joy in setting records and tracking analytics), I found that so much of the temptation to consume these sugary, salty and greasy foods really was incredibly temporary. Challenge yourself to at least not let it win once and you’ll likely see just how quickly its strength can fade.

It Paid Dividends

While I didn’t completely cut sugar out of my diet, as many people have so admirably done and documented about, I can say that cutting back even as much as I did felt really good for me. Some may be quick to chalk it up to the placebo effect, and understandably so, but I can honestly say that the above mentioned stomach and head aches occurred far less often over the 400 day span.

Real-Time Analysis: After The First Bite

Having now officially consumed my first piece of candy since 2017, believe it or not, it tastes different. Is it still tasty and did it satisfy me at some level? Absolutely. But it also tastes way more sugary and foreign to my body than it once did. It’s as if my body really wanted to make it clear by saying, “are you sure you want to bring this stuff back into the picture?”

Side Note: For those that are curious, since it’s the most common question I’ve been asked since embarking on this journey, the candy I chose to eat as my first piece was a Vegan Wild Cherry Belt by Squish Candies. (And no I’m not getting paid to brand-drop, and no I don’t make any commission should you choose to buy any at that link… unfortunately LOL).

Where I Go From Here

While I don’t see myself going completely cold turkey on candy again, I also cannot see myself consuming it nearly as much as I once did. And I do so happily, not out of punishment. While I’m also certainly not qualified to be giving out dietary advice, I am comfortable challenging all of you to give up something you know to not be good for you. See how your body feels both without it and after you re-introduce it.


For more brutally honest personal development content designed for those who actually want to change be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and to follow me on Instagram. And to receive my free eBook on 5 Simple Daily Hacks For A Genuinely Happier Life click HERE.

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