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Fall has come and gone and we are still fan girling over butternut squash soup and pumpkin spice lattes. #SorryNotSorry #BasicBs.

But seriously… In the dead of winter there is nothing more satisfying than cozying up on the couch with a hot and hearty meal.

This soup is loaded with Vitamin C, E, (lots of the) B’s, and Potassium.  It’s also super versatile– toss in whatever veggies you have on hand.

We happened to have these ones laying around the kitchen and the turn out was Bomb.com.

Sometimes, keeping a recipe simple can really allow the ingredients to shine a bit stronger! We trimmed the main ingredient list down to Butternut Squash, Fennel and Apple. Though we aren’t the biggest fans of fennels licorice flavor, it actually tastes incredible in this soup and really pulls the dish together! 

Harvest Mix Soup- Fennel, Apple and Butternut Squash (Paleo, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Vegan)

Harvest Mix Soup- Fennel, Apple and Butternut Squash (Paleo, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, Vegan)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cups of cubed butternut squash
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1/2 medium onion, slices
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and cubed
  • 3 cups of stock
  • 1 tsp of thyme (dried or fresh)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 0% non fat greek yogurt (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Spread butternut squash, fennel and onion on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of oil and dash of salt to season and roast for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are slightly tender and brown
  3. In a large pot, heat the remaining one tablespoon of oil and spoon in the squash, fennel and onion mixture
  4. Adding in the apple and thyme, and cover with 3 cups stock
  5. Let simmer for about 20 minutes
  6. Optional: For a dash of heat add 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
  7. Using an immersion blender, Vitamix, or food processor blend soup until smooth
  8. Portion into bowels for a warm and nourishing meal prep and top with a spoon full of greek yogurt (optional)
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What I Ate Wednesday #4

Happy What I Ate Wednesday! Last week I was indulging on my double chocolate fudge birthday cake and today.. kale water.. LOL it actually wasn’t bad!

I’ve been experimenting with my dehydrator to make homemade green powder. After a few tries I finally made an easy to use kale powder that adds an nutrient boost to any recipe. Today my morning elixir consisted of warm water, 1/2 tsp. kale powder, lemon, ginger powder, tumeric and cinnamon. Before tossing in a packet of stevia to mask the odd combination of ingredients, I decided to take a sip and test it out in its raw form. Wasn’t bad! The stevia went back into the cabinet and I downed my kale water as is.

Today was my rest day so I went for a walk and then had steak, eggs and sauteed spinach for breakfast.

A few hours later I had 2 handful of crushed walnuts and homemade jerky

Lunch consisted of a simple salad of romaine, broccoli, radishes, baby corn, chicken and a sprinkle of kale powder. I dressed my salad with apple cider vinegar and EVOO.

Sunflower seed butter was my snack

By the time I got home from my internship all I wanted was food and sleep. I inhaled one of my chicken thighs and some string beans before realizing I needed to take a pic for my this post. I removed my one eaten chicken bone and quickly took this horrendous pic.

Rainbowl

Rainbowl

The more color, the more nutrients! I always have a ton of cooked and raw veggies on hand so I just throw everything in a dish, add a protein and drizzle olive oil or add some nuts and seeds for fat.

Side Note: I pick up all my unique fruits and veggies at ShopRite!

Ingredients:

  • Bibb lettuce
  • spiralized yellow squash
  • 1 sliced radish
  • sliced and baked japanese sweet potato
  • baked chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • steamed purple cauliflower
  • olive oil or your favorite dressing

Directions:

  1. Lay down a few lettuce leaves as your base
  2. Top lettuce with spiralized squash
  3. Layer the rest of the ingredients in rows: sweet potato, radish, chicken, cauliflower
  4. Sprinkle seeds on top
  5. Drizzle olive oil or your favorite dressing on top

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Could Your Breakfast be Sabotaging Your Energy Levels and Fat Loss?

If you find yourself sluggish and/or hungry soon after breakfast it may be time to change things up!

A bowl of oatmeal topped with coconut sugar and fresh fruit is definitely a delicious way to start the day, but it’s all carbohydrates. It’s good to have carbs in your morning meal but too much (even the good kind) may lead to weight gain and sluggish energy.

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  • Carbohydrates raise blood sugar signaling the release of a hormone produced in the pancreas called insulin. When blood sugar elevates insulin works to regulate these levels by taking up the sugar from your bloodstream and bringing it to your cells to use for energy. Insulin works to eliminate or store fat.
  • Too much insulin causes your body to stop burning fat and start storing it.

What Causes High Insulin Levels and Sugar Crash and How it Leads to Weight Gain 

  1. Refined carbs- When we eat low fiber refined carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, white bread, pasta, etc.) blood sugars rapidly increase (sugar rush). Insulin levels rise and quickly swoops in to take the sugar from your bloodstream (sugar crash).

2. Not including protein and fat in your meal– A breakfast consisting of sliced banana on 100%             whole wheat toast with a drizzle of honey has nutritional value, but its still all carbs. Although                 these complex carbs contain fiber which helps slow that rise and fall in blood sugar and insulin,             incorporating a protein and fat in the meal slows it down further. Remake your breakfast by                   adding greek yogurt or hard boiled egg for protein and nuts or nut butter for fat.

Do you find yourself needing to eat several times a day because of poor energy or hunger? Or do you think you’re hungry but you’re actually just tired? When we eat a meal that is high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat we risk taking a ride on the sugar rollercoaster. When blood sugars run high and then crash it leads us to reach for more food soon after the meal we just had. The unfortunate result of this scenario is we tend to choose foods with high sugar content for quick energy. When we do this, the cycle repeats.

On another note fiber keeps us full, and since refined carbs contain little to no fiber eating a bowl of lucky charms for breakfast will not fill you up and lead to eating more food.

Carbs Stimulate Hormones That May Lead to Overeating 

Eating lots of carbs in the morning causes an increase in the calming hormone, serotonin and a decrease in cortisol, the hormone that gets us up and moving. Starting your day with a carb filled meal may make you feel tired and reaching for more food for energy.

If you have a hard time getting going in the morning try swapping out your bagel and cream cheese for an omelet with veggies and a slice of ezekial bread.

Bottom Line:

  • Eating a breakfast high in carbs (especially refined) and not incorporating protein and fat can lead to a sugar crash and overeating soon after your meal to compensate for lack of energy.
  • To avoid this eat complex carbohydrates full of fiber like fruits, veggies and wholesome grains like brown rice,  quinoa, and Ezekiel bread (or another quality 100% whole wheat bread).
  • Incorporate proteins and fats into all your meals

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V(Egg)ie Bowl

This is a super easy recipe that does not require measurements. Feel free to add, omit or substitute ingredients!

Ingredients:

  • spinach
  • zucchini
  • cauliflower
  • onions
  • broccoli
  • radishes
  • bell pepper
  • egg
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Lay down a bed of spinach in a shallow bowl
  2. Spiralize (or slice) zucchini and sauté in olive oil until soft
  3.  Top spinach with zucchini
  4. sauté onions, cauliflower and broccoli and lay over spinach
  5. cook egg
  6. while egg cooks, slice radish and bell pepper and garnish your dish
  7. finish by adding the egg!

Healthy dinner Ideas

Healthy Habits Part 3: Cleaning Up Dinner

I’m a little late on this post but here goes! The past few weeks we discussed how to change up breakfast and lunch to make them healthier. If you would like to go back and read those posts click on the following links:

Healthy Habits Part 1: Cleaning Up Breakfast

Healthy Habits Part 2: Cleaning Up Lunch

 

A brief overview of the previous posts:

  • Breakfast should be the largest meal of the day in terms of calories and carbohydrates. Since you are literally “breaking-a-fast” this meal should consist of proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

 

  • Lunch should be a bit lighter (again in terms of calories and carbohydrates) but still filling to keep you going through the day. We achieve this by increasing the amount on non-starchy vegetables in the meal (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, okra, etc.) and decreasing the amount of starchy veggies and complex carbs (rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beets, peas, etc.). Doing this will increase the volume of food at lunch but not the calories or carbs.

 

Dinner, in my opinion, is the simplest of all meals. If your goals are fat loss I recommend keeping dinner nice and light making it the smallest meal of the day filled with a lean protein like chicken breast and fish and non-starchy vegetables. I do not promote or condone consuming starchy and complex carbohydrates at dinner, it all depends on your needs and goals. If dinner happens to be my post workout meal I do consume complex carbs, and if it is not then I stick to lean meat and non-starchy veggies. This is what works for me and may or may not work for you, so play around with it!

 

However, if you are striving to gain weight and build muscle then load up on the carbs!

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21 Day Sugar Detox- Week 1 Recap

After a long December of warm chocolate chip cookies, creamy Christmas cocktails and gluten laden meals I needed to get my body and mind back on track! #NewYearNewMe right?!

About a week ago the whole Verna family took on Diane Sanfilippos 21 Day Sugar Detox. I think I speak for most when I say the first week of any diet is the most difficult. It was a hard 7 days, but doing this as a family made it a million times easier.

My brother and I have been making batches of homemade chicken, turkey and beef jerky.

My Mom rid the fridge and pantry of all No-No foods

And my big Italian Dad…

Well, he’s certainly trying his best! I think he’s getting used to cooking healthier, and after a little scolding he stopped rebuying the foods my Mom threw away.

In addition to the strong support system at home I also came up with some tricks curb the inevitable chocolate cravings.

  1. Set an Incentive, Treat Yoself!: At the beginning of each week set a non food related reward for yourself. If you stay on track with your diet enjoy a mani/pedi, massage, day trip, a new outfit, shoes, sneakers, etc. This gives you something to look forward to, which might increase motivation.

Last week my mom and I decided to treat ourselves to a cute outfit from the Gap and after a                  successful week, today we cashed in on our reward!

  1. Chug! Chug! Chug! – On JJ Virgins health podcast she mentions curbing sweet cravings with sour flavors. Next time you have a hankering for a Reeses cup try mixing 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a large glass of water!
  1. Get some Z’s- Stop eating 3 hours before bed (this doesn’t mean you should be going to bed later!). When my cravings spike at night I force myself into bed. Majority of the time I lay there awake reading a book or surfing the web, but my mind is occupied and my body is way too comfy to go all the way to the kitchen.

Progress:

Everyone in the family agrees they feel more energized and have already dropped a few lbs!

As for me, I never focus on what the scale says, instead my progress is based on how I feel and how my clothes fit. Here is a quick summary of my personal experience after one week on the 21 DSD:

  • I feel less bloated!- My cousin bought me adorable workout leggings for Christmas. When I tried them on a week ago they did not fit, but today I slipped them on with ease and they fit PERFECTLY! (wee!)

  • Glowing skin- I don’t normally have skin issues but I can absolutely tell a difference in my face from when I began the detox
  • My energy levels are up

Final Thoughts: With the exception of 2 slices of swiss cheese and one bite of a protein bar, that I have to review as a BodyBuilding.com rep, I have stayed on track with the detox. The progress from week one is amazing and motivates me to crush week 2!

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Post-Workout Nutrition and Why it’s So Important

This morning I woke up extremely sore and super energized. After noticing the sky was still pitch black I grabbed my phone to check the time– it was 3:50AM! I shut my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but after an hour and a half of counting backwards, meditating, and changing positions I realized there was nothing left to do but get up and roll with it *Sigh*.

Let’s rewind and discuss why my body was reacting this way.

One of my best friends, CarlyAnn, recently moved back to New York from Nashville. Yesterday she suggested we hit the gym to lift and catch up. The intense leg workout left us hobbling back to my car in a successful yet miserable state.

The smart thing to do would be to have a nutrient dense meal, but instead we decided to skip lunch and run a couple errands!

When I finally got home (hours later) it was almost time for kickboxing. I grabbed some homemade jerky and headed to the studio. Towards the end of class my body was shot and my muscles felt useless. I dragged my lifeless body home, forced down a piece of fish and peas and turned in for the night. This morning I woke up extremely sore.

Can you tell where I went wrong? Lets see..

  1. I totally overtrained my body
  2. I did not refuel properly

What Happens to Our Bodies When We Exercise

Here are just a few things going on inside our bodies during exercise:

  1. Fatty acids from fat, protein in the form of amino acids, and glucose and glycogen, both of which are sugars that come from consuming carbohydrates are used as fuel
  2. Muscle fibers are being torn (this is a good thing! With a good post workout meal and adequate sleep these muscle fibers repair, grow, and gain strength!).
  3. Cortisol levels rise

What is Glycogen?

Glycogen is a form of sugar stored in the muscles and liver. Our bodies are programmed to use the sugar in the blood before tapping into glycogen stores (1). When blood sugar levels drop too low, glycogen is released from its stores to give the body quick sugar and a jolt of energy. Think of glycogen as a backup battery pack for the body.

Cortisol the Fat Burning, Lean Muscle Building Hormone

Cortisol is a steroid stress hormone that gets a bad rep for being associated with weight gain, acne, etc. But when released at the right time cortisol acts fat burning, muscle building and energizing stimulant. Cortisol levels peak in the morning to help wake us up and get the day started. As the day progresses, cortisol levels naturally begin to drop so that by the end of the day we are able to fall asleep.

We also elevate cortisol when we engage in physical activity. Cortisol production promotes the development of lean muscle which is essential in losing fat (yay!). However, when we finish our workouts cortisol level are high and should be lowered by having a wholesome meal of mainly protein and carbs. If you make it a habit to not eat upon exercise cortisol levels will remain elevated causing weight gain (mainly in the abdominal region), sleep disruption, and muscle breakdown.

Bottom Line:

After an intense workout..

  • some of our glycogen stores are depleted
  • muscle is broken down
  • cortisol remains elevated causing a multitude of negative effects

Therefore the purpose of a post workout meal is to restore glycogen and repair muscles in order to build beautiful lean muscle, lower cortisol levels and to just feel good!

How Soon Should You be Eating After a Workout?

It is important to eat within 60 minutes of your workout, but if you really want to take full advantage of your revved up metabolism eat within 30 minutes of exercise (2). The quicker you get some nutrition in your body the sooner you restore glycogen stores and rebuild muscle proteins to stimulate the growth of new lean muscle.

What Should You Eat?

A meal consisting of protein and medium to high glycemic carbs that is low in fat is the quickest and most efficient way in recovering your muscles and utilizing the meal as energy rather than storing it as fat.

High Glycemic Carbs: Digest quicker

Protein: Helps repair muscles

Keeping the meal low in fat: Fat slows digestion and we want our muscle cells to be replenished as quickly as possible.

The following lists contain examples of simple and easily digested foods:

Carbs:

  • Potatoes
  • Carrots, corn, peas
  • Rice
  • Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
  • Rice cakes
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Note: I always promote eating wholesome foods but if you’ve been craving lucky charms or that chocolate chip cookie (AKA cheat meal) then post workout would be the best time to eat it!

Protein

  • Grassfed organic protein powder
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Wild caught fish
  • Chicken
  • Lean beef

 

References:

  1. Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Chapter 21, Glycogen Metabolism. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21190/
  2. Jentjens, R. & Jeukendrup, A. (2003). Determinants of Post-Exercise Glycogen Synthesis During Short-Term Recovery. Sports Medicine, 33(2), 117-144. http://dx.doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333020-00004

Photos:

  1. Carbohydrate metabolism. (2017). Slideshare.net. Retrieved 8 January 2017, from http://www.slideshare.net/ganeshbond/carbohydrate-metabolism-31707764
  2. Ballachey, G. (2017). Cortisol and Sleep – Sustainable Balance. Sustainable Balance. Retrieved 8 January 2017, from http://sustainablebalance.ca/cortisol-and-sleep/

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Starting the 21-Day Sugar Detox

Towards the end of my December recap post I briefly mentioned embarking on the 21 Day Sugar Detox. Here is some information on how I discovered the detox and my experience thus far…

I dipped a toe into the pool of podcasting over the summer at the start of my dietetic internship/grad program. Normally I like to stay up late and research interesting fitness and health related topics to stay current with the literature and become more knowledgeable for my clients and myself. However with my day spent at the hospital and my nights consumed with grad work I began losing out on my research time (and sanity! haha).

 

A friend suggested I start listening to some health podcasts during my long commutes to and from the hospital. This is how I discovered Balanced Bites Podcast and co-host Diane Sanfilippo’s 21-Day Sugar Detox.

I’ll be honest, with my background in nutrition I can be very skeptical while listening to these wellness podcasts, but co-hosts Diane and Liz preach the same nutrition beliefs as myself. These ladies get me through a 2 hour commute each day with discussions ranging from nutrition for thyroid functioning to gut health to skin care. Through my incessant podcast listening Diane mentioned her 21-Day Sugar Detox book and I was immediately hooked.

Again, I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to buying nutrition books but I trusted Diane and went forward with my purchase. The detox wasn’t filled with wacky juice recipes, soup cleanses, etc. but rather whole foods, clean and tasty recipes and insightful information.

Side note: I originally had a colorful picture of fruits, veggies and proteins but found an avocado putting on pants to be more interesting

Anyways! In her book, Dianne goes through a preparation phase, which includes enlisting friends or family to embark on the detox journey. I have successfully recruited my mom (the sweets QUEEN), my dad (the carb loving Italian), and my brother (the “if you don’t put your name on it I’m eating it” offender). The day before the detox we all indulged in some creamy Cold Stone ice cream before saying “sayonara!” to all things sweet.

Today is day 2 and everyone seems to be holding up pretty well! I will fill everyone in on our triumphs, struggles and (hopefully) progress!

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