Homemade Chicken Veggie Soup


It is that time of the year.  The leaves are changing colors, there’s a chill in the air, brunch outside is no longer an option, the tree at Rockefeller Center is up (but not yet lit), and people are beginning to sneeze on the subway and in the office.  I love soup in general, but in the fall and winter months, I eat it constantly.  It keeps you warm and helps cure the common cold.

I have found that making my own soup is much more delicious and satisfying than anything you can get in a can, in a store, or even in a restaurant.  You can cater the soup to your own taste; making it as spicy as you prefer and adding almost any kind of vegetable.  The below recipe is one that I have come up with and love.  The best part is that you can make a large amount at once and save it for later.  You can even freeze the soup and get a chance to taste the goodness weeks later.  Here we go!


  • Three yellow onions
  • Four habanero peppers
  • Two serrano peppers
  • Five carrots
  • One package of shiitake mushrooms
  • Half a package of white mushrooms
  • One piece of ginger
  • One package of kale
  • Four chicken breasts
  • Bay leaves
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Wine
  • Two packages of chicken broth (32 oz)
  • Chicken bouillon

Begin by preparing the chicken.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Place chicken breasts in a baking pan and season how you wish.  I like to bake my chicken in a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and oregano.  Bake the chicken until almost done then take out of the oven and let it rest.IMG_8959

In a large pot, begin by sautéing the onions, peppers, and ginger (finely chopped) in a little bit of olive oil with salt and pepper. IMG_8958

Once they begin to become soft, add the carrots and once the carrots have softened a little bit, add the mushrooms. IMG_8960


As the vegetables are sautéing, add some wine (red or white, whatever you have on hand).  Once the vegetables are close to being cooked, add bay leaves and cayenne pepper for an extra kick.  Then you may pour in the two packages of chicken broth and the chicken bouillon.IMG_8961

Let your soup simmer and cover with a lid.  In the meantime, cut the chicken breasts up into small pieces.  Add the kale to the soup and let it continue to cook. IMG_8962

Taste your mixture and add spices and wine to taste. IMG_8963

Once you are satisfied with your soup, add the chicken and let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Voila!  You are done.IMG_8964

If you want to make your soup more of a meal, add some noodles or wild rice, how
ever, with the amount of vegetables included in this recipe, you probably do not need it.

Enjoy your soup and look forward to several portions of yummy leftovers!

Take your power back as a diabetes patient!

unnamedLiving with diabetes is difficult. Let’s not deny that.

Sometimes more so, sometimes less. On a day-to-day basis, there are many ways you can make it less difficult.

And then there are those times when it all becomes just difficult.

You feel unsupported. Alone. Misunderstood. Frustrated. Angry. Unheard. None of which help your blood sugar to stay stable either, right?

One of these instances that many a diabetes patient has experienced at least once throughout their diabetic career, is at a doctor’s appointment.

Not only do you have to see various types of doctors regularly, but it seems as though most of them don’t even listen to what you say.

You know what it’s like. You explain your case, how you’ve been feeling and what’s going on with your blood sugars, which don’t seem to make any sense, not in this, nor in any other possible parallel universe.

And all your doctor says is something very comforting along the lines of: “well, to me, it just doesn’t seem like you’re trying hard enough!”


It’s just as if they haven’t even heard what you just said, or, alternatively not even cared one little bit.

But what about if you have been “trying hard enough”, done everything in your power to get diabetes under control and, if for no other reason, not have to listen to that one sentence being said at every appointment? What are you supposed to do then?

For a long, long time, all I did was say “yes, doctor, I’ll try harder for next time.” And I’m sure you’ve done it, too, if only to get out of the doctor’s office and go back to your, apparently, according to them, unfulfilled life.

As soon as I got back home after those appointments, things got back to what used to be my normal. I’d do exactly what the doctor told me to do – try harder with all the tips, tricks and tools they had given me. Which only left me as disappointed the next time I had to endure another doctor’s visit.

I’m not certain when I had had enough of this circus, actually. But one thing was for sure, I felt I couldn’t keep disappointing myself like that anymore. I cleaned up my act, what I ate, how I exercised, how I viewed blood sugar numbers and what role my doctor played in this cobweb that is diabetes care. This took me quite a long time as I did it with baby steps, very gradually.

This was despite my mother always telling me since I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 2; “you are your own best doctor”. What she meant by this was NOT that I could just ignore health care professionals opinions and treatments, but rather that I know my body the best, only I can feel what treatment (or anything else) is the best for me and only I have the power to make the necessary changes to my care to make diabetes-magic happen. Sure, my doctor can help, advise, check and support me, but ultimately I’m the one who needs to make the decisions regarding my own care. And that requires a lot of preparation, skills and knowledge. Oh, and a little dash of courage, too.

I want to share my 5 best tips on how to become so confident during a doctor’s visit that they can’t help but listen to what you’ve got to say.

1. Knowing your options

I can’t tell you this enough: Research. Your. Options. It’s about keeping up to date with new tools, new science and new helpers.

Often I’ve arrived at my doctor’s office with a bucket full of new information that I’ve spent time and energy researching, only for us to come up with some kind of awesome solution to whatever is going on right there and then. A solution that my doctor, nor I had thought of. We got there together because I brought her new information.

Also, knowing what your test results mean without having to rely too much on your doctor to explain them to you is pure gold. That way you can get to a solution quicker as a team, as well as it enables you to be able to ask for extra investigation (i.e. more tests) should they be necessary. This goes for all test results, from HbA1c to thyroid tests to cholesterol to vitamins and minerals.

It also gives you the power to say no to suggested treatment options that you, through your research, have found out won’t work for you. For whatever reason.

This is a lot about taking responsibility for your own care. Knowledge is power!

2. Your Dream Health Care Team

This is one of my favorites!

Assembling your Dream Health Care Team is essential for you to get access to the best care for you and your needs.

What does this mean? As soon as you can’t be completely honest with a healthcare professional and your relationship isn’t working, it’s time to look for a new one.

For example, say your endocrinologist only wants to push more medications on you, whereas you would like to explore options for as long as you can, is when it could be in your best interest to find a new endocrinologist whose thoughts are more aligned with your own. This goes for any healthcare professional, from the aforementioned endo to CDE to nurse to nutritionist to ophthalmologist to GP.

In the end, you’ll end up with an awesome Dream Health Care Team that you know has your back whatever may or may not happen. I know I love my Dream Team of ladies helping me with whatever I need!

3. Get to Know Superheroes

Batman, Superman and Catwoman are all on your side!

Jokes aside, superheroes in this case means people that are going through the same thing as you are; other diabetes patients!

The absolute easiest way to do this is through the diabetes online community, or DOC for short, where you can find all kinds of diabetes related questions, issues, stories, experiences, and, first and foremost, help and inspiration to find a solution that suits you.

So check out a few diabetes related Facebook groups, blogs and forums. Your questions are there to be answered, preferably by people who have gone through the same thing themselves and live with diabetes 24/7.

4. The Fine Line

Empowering yourself with all this knowledge is fantastic. And necessary. But it can also easily come to a point where it’s all just too much.

Watch out – knowing too much and being a besserwisser about it is annoying. For everyone involved.

There is a very fine line between being annoying and being just-informed-enough-to-get-your-point-across-efficiently. If you push too much, the only thing you’ll achieve is to leave both your doctor and yourself feeling frustrated and unwilling to find the best possible solution for you. You still want your doctor on your side; they’re the key for you to get exactly the help that you need.

Remember that your physician also has years of experience with you and other patients individual forms of diabetes, so completely dismissing their opinion and suggestions is just as silly as just accepting everything they say. You need to find the fine line between these two.

5. Celebrate!

Don’t forget to celebrate!

Celebration is unmatched in terms of effectiveness for motivation and continued self care, especially when it comes to people with diabetes.

And it’s all about celebrating the small stuff, like a great blood sugar reading, a well-bolused meal, correctly guesstimating your basals for exercise or a successful visit to the doctor’s office.

The more small things you find to celebrate, the more you are able to appreciate yourself, with diabetes being a part of that self.

Learning these steps and daring to take them in preparation for, and during, your next doctor’s appointment is a very courageous, yet necessary thing to manage your ride with Diabetes as well as you possibly can.

“You are your own best doctor.” Remember that.

Create Your Perfect Diet


In the struggle to eat right one of the biggest challenges is figuring out which diet to partake in.  But before you dig into the world of diets, let me stop you–there’s an easier route.

You’re closer than you think to the perfect diet; the one that will help you reach your health goals, manage your concerns, and run smoothly alongside your lifestyle.

What’s the missing key, then, to unlock this mystery diet?  Your body!  And by body, I also mean what’s in it: your mind and your emotions.  Yes, one of the best ways to arrive at the perfect diet is by listening to our bodies.  I call this the Foundational Diet.

But it’s not always clear on where to start, or how to facilitate such communication.  And what do our emotions have to do with any of it?

Here are three tips to help you connect with your body in order to unlock your perfect diet:

Pay attention to how you feel with each meal

How did you feel after that Chicken Caesar Salad?  Any better or worse than after that grilled veggie sandwich?  By sensing negative reactions (bloating, sluggishness, heartburn) or positive ones (stable energy, improved clarity, satiated for hours), we begin to understand which foods work best for our body.  From there it’s simple: add in more of those foods that make you feel good.

And here’s an extra tip: the simpler the meal, the easier it is to understand how various ingredients make you feel.  This is especially helpful if you suspect an allergy.  You may want to be tested for if you find that you consistently feel bad with a particular food or meal.

Write it down

Keep a journal handy–digitally or traditionally–and write down every meal, snack and beverage you consume.  And don’t stop at the food: be sure to include how those foods (or beverages) made you feel, as I describe above.  It might sound tedious, but this practice helps you hone your ability to read your body’s cues; to know which foods in your diet contribute to your health goals, and those that don’t.  Writing it down provides reinforcement!

Confirm the consequences

Once you establish connections between certain foods and the way you feel, you’ll begin to see the value of your choices.  Every little decision leads you closer to a diet that helps you reach your health goals.  Like realizing your body feels better with whole milk in your morning latte rather than skim.  That’s encouraging; it builds confidence!  You’ll also be able to discern which foods are worth your while;  no one will have to tell you “don’t eat x” when you know for yourself “x” makes you feel crummy with a headache.

It is so empowering to know every choice we make–however small or large–has a consequence.  That our body can and will react to what we eat!  This connection is the foundation of every healthy, personalized diet.  Which is why I call it the Foundational Diet!  And over time that connection will become stronger and clearer.

And me?  My Foundational Diet provides freedom.  It also ensures I pay attention to every meal.  For example, I find that I have steadier energy, brighter skin and better sleep when I really limit my sugar intake.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy sweets, but I know not to overdo it because I don’t like to experience those reactions.  (This is me weighing the consequences!  Chocolate tastes great and enhances serotonin, but at the same time it does add caffeine, sugar and most likely weight!)  What else?  My body loves quinoa.  It gives me energy, helps with digestion and keeps me satiated after every meal – it just works well with me!  This is helpful to know so that I can be sure to keep it a constant in my diet.

And what was that about emotions?

A healthy diet is optimized when we’re in a happy state; when we’re encouraged and confident our choices are leading us down the right path.  Stress hormones, like cortisol, force your body to store energy, which can lead to weight-gain, bloat and digestive discomfort.

So along with dietary choices, emotions matter!  Surround yourself with individuals who will encourage and support you in your health endeavours.  Lyfebulb sees great value in having such a community, which is why we love to connect people through our Lyfebulb Connect initiative.  Join us!

Please note: these tips are geared for individuals who are without medical conditions; for those interested in making dietary changes with a medical condition please consult your doctor first.


Drinking and Diabetes


Enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail is part of many peoples’ idea of a good time. For some, it is even a daily habit that according to many medical experts is beneficial for cardiovascular health. The so-called French paradox is based upon epidemiological observations that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. There are two main possible explanations for this observation: Red wine and stress.

In France, the consumption of red wine is higher than in most other countries, and the components in the wine that seem to be important are alcohol, reservatrol, procyanidins, and polyphenols.  Several studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption leads to positive changes such as:

  • Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol
  • Reduces the formation of blood clots
  • Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol
  • Produces changes in blood pressure


The other main difference between French people and the rest of the world is the amount of stress they are under. There is clearly a correlation between stress and heart disease, and especially in women, events such as myocardial infarctions can be triggered by a stressful situation leading to vessel contractions and reduced blood flow. Perhaps the French are just not as stressed as the rest of us? They are well known for leading lifestyles that are relatively lower in stress when compared to the US and other cultures. They take long lunch breaks where they connect with friends and family, along with longer vacations in the summer. They have a controversial 35 hour work week. All of these result in a less stressed population.

So what about diabetes? People with diabetes have at least double the normal risk of developing heart disease, and in women with diabetes, that risk is more than 4 times higher than in non-diabetics. This is due to many factors, the constant assault on the vessels by higher than average levels of sugar, low blood sugar that can cause disruption of oxygen flow to the tissues, and the general state of oxidation that leads to higher LDL and triglycerides. In people with diabetes who have complications, the neuropathy and the kidney disease can also cause cardiac issues that are related to the nerve function and the metabolic and electrolyte imbalances in kidney disease. However, recommending alcohol to a person with diabetes is not as simple as one would think.

Alcohol is broken down by the liver, which is also the location for much of the body’s storage of glycogen. Glycogen is used for states of low food supply, when the blood sugar needs a boost, and energy levels are low. Only the liver glycogen can be utilized by the brain and the organs, while muscle glycogen is used by the muscles only. In a normal individual, glycogen storage in the liver is around 100 g, but in a diabetic, that level may be much lower due to chronic insulin deficiency. Even more importantly, in a normal individual, the hormone glucagon from the alpha cells in the pancreas, enables glycogen metabolism into glucose when the blood sugar is low, but in a person with diabetes, low glucose is normally associated with excessive insulin levels, which prevent glucagon from acting on the liver. This is why a person with diabetes can pass out when overusing insulin, or missing a meal, exercising too much, etc, since the normal compensatory mechanisms cannot be put in place.

When a person with diabetes drinks alcohol, the first thing that happens is that the blood sugar goes up, due to the sugar and calories in the drink. One should clearly avoid sugary mixers, fruit juices, and high calorie sodas, that only exacerbate the effects of alcohol on the blood sugar, and we have seen options out there that work nicely, such as Be-Mixed and using lemon/lime seltzer to get a nice flavor. Vodka has the lowest amount of calories and lowest sugar content of liquors, and red wine generally has lower sugar content than white wines and champagne.

Alcohol can also negatively impact blood sugar levels each time that it is consumed, regardless of the frequency of consumption, but this is especially dangerous in “new drinkers,” such as teenagers and college students who do not know their limits. Acute consumption may increase insulin secretion, due to the sugar in the beverage, and can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), but it may also impair the hormonal response (glucagon release that triggers glycogen metabolism into glucose in the blood) that would normally rectify the low blood sugar. Drinking as little as 2 ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to very low blood sugar levels. The liver is no longer able to release glucose from the stored glycogen sometimes several hours after consuming alcohol, so one has to be aware of this effect even the morning after drinking.

The best way to handle alcohol as a diabetic is:

  • Never to drink on an empty stomach
  • Never to drink alcohol to satisfy your thirst, but keep water on the side and continue to have it available while you are drinking
  • Never to consume alcoholic beverages during or after exercise
  • Never to drink alcohol combined with sweet mixers


Being a recovering diabetic, I have learned how to deal with alcohol, and I have very specific approaches that I stick to. For me, food is essential with alcohol, otherwise I very quickly feel dizzy and the scary thing is that I do not know if it is due to a hypo or to the alcohol just impacting my brain. The types of alcohol that work for me are red wine and vodka, not necessarily in that order. When testing my blood sugar, those two tended to increase my blood sugar the least, upset my stomach the least and not give me head aches or other sequelae. I tend to have olives and some crackers with a dip made of avocado or chick peas together with my drink, and a normal dinner when I am having wine. Most restaurants and bars can accommodate this, and at home I always keep snacks for cocktails. As a matter of fact, my fridge is often more stocked with those kinds of foods than with meat, fish or chicken! I love tapas-style dining, and adding some smoked salmon, nuts and raw veggies, make this a whole meal…

With that brief lesson, we at Lyfebulb hope you can continue to enjoy alcohol in moderation and that if you are diabetic or close to someone with diabetes, you have learned a little something both about the benefits and the risks of drinking!

Insulin vs. the Clock

The clock is one of my dearest friends. At least, when it comes to controlling blood sugar.

I know this sounds silly. But it turns out that insulin does not always get absorbed at the same rate. And knowing when and how to make the correct adjustments has made an incredible difference for my health.

It’s all about timing:

I’ve been insulin-dependent for over 25 years. But only recently have I begun to realize that correct timing is one of the best ways to keep my blood sugar stable.

I use an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor, and a glucose meter for type 1 diabetes. The pump gives me insulin in two ways:

  • basal insulin: This is a constant drip. It’s set at various hourly rates throughout the day to reflect my activity levels.
  • bolus insulin: I take these kinds of doses for food or to correct a high blood sugar.

Sustained Activity Adjustments:

Thinking ahead is key for any type of sustained cardio activity, especially when it’s outside of the daily routine. Even a thirty-minute walk can affect my blood sugar. So one hour before I start exercising, I lower my basal rate. For example, if I plan to hike two hours, I take a decreased amount of basal insulin for two hours. The reason I do this an hour ahead of time is because the insulin tends to be on a one-hour delay. So lowering the basal from 1-3pm would set me to be receiving that lower basal from 2-4pm.

Cardio Workout Adjustments:

“Beep-bep-beep!” I have an alarm set in my pump that reminds me to adjust my basal setting for more routine workouts. It goes off one hour before my cardio fitness class usually starts. Since I don’t take the class every day though, I have two different responses to this alarm:

  • If it’s a day that I won’t be working out, I just silence the alarm.
  • If it’s a day that I will be working out, I set a one-hour temporary basal rate. I’ve found that lowering the rate to 75% of what I usually take is about right to keep my blood sugar stable throughout the class.

Extended Inactivity Adjustments:

Once in a while, I am subjected to day of sitting. For times like this, I increase my basal rate. For example, if I’m going to be in a car from 1-5pm, I raise the basal rate from 12-4pm. Setting the rate to 140% of what I usually take keeps my blood sugar from creeping up while I’m traveling.

 Heavy Weightlifting Adjustments:

I’ve heard that heavy weightlifting can increase your blood sugar. But this never seems to be the case for me. I usually lift weights for about 30-40 minutes, and leaving the basal rate as-is works just fine. Maybe I need to look into lifting even heavier weights J

Treating a High:

I don’t like high blood sugar. When treating a high, my initial reaction is to take a whole bunch of insulin as soon as possible. But I’m working to control this impulse, since it usually just makes everything worse. Instead, I take a correction bolus and wait. The correction bolus will work towards bringing my blood sugar down over the next three hours. So I generally avoid taking any more insulin during that time. And if I’m patient, I’m usually rewarded with the beginning of a gentle decline on my pump sensor graph within an hour.

Post-Fasting Adjustments:

If I haven’t taken a bolus for food in the last six hours, my body goes into a state of delayed insulin absorption. To accommodate this delay, I take my breakfast bolus and then wait. It can take 30-60 minutes for the insulin to affect my system. I keep an eye on the clock and my sensor graph. After 30 minutes, I check to make sure my blood sugar isn’t going up, and then I start eating before it begins to drop.

Happy Timing!

I hope you found this article to be helpful. Feel free to leave a comment or check out more of my articles on twitter @Robinrjsmith.

Starting with the Basics!

We’re excited to introduce something new in our Lyfebulb Lyfestyle series: monthly cooking demo videos!

These videos are short and sweet and full of helpful cooking tips.  The recipes are simple, straight-forward and healthy – we want to empower those in our community and beyond to find inspiration and comfort in the kitchen!

Some recipes (like today’s) only include one ingredient.  These dishes serve as a foundation or ingredient in meal prep, which is one secret to maintaining a healthy diet with a busy schedule.

Without further adieu we present to you this month’s video: Starting with the Basics (Quinoa & Kale)

Enjoy!PS.  We’d love to see your healthy cooking creations on Instagram!  Tag us or use the hashtags #Lyfebulb and #LyfebulbLyfestyle so we can encourage and inspire one another!

Breaking Down Fat


Fat: good or bad?  Often blamed for weight-gain and other health issues, the truth is most fat won’t make you fat.

In fact, our bodies need fat to fuel our minds and keep us thinking clearly.  It also gives us long-

burning energy and keeps us satiated longer between meals. The trouble is there’s a lot of confusion around fat: where it’s found, why there are so many forms, and the role it plays in one’s health.  It’s a lot to think about!

To help you get the best fats in your diet, take a look through this quick guide:

Monounsaturated Fat

Known as the healthy fat, it helps to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing the good cholesterol (HDL) aiding in the fight against heart disease.  Monounsaturated fats can be found in whole milk products, nuts, like almonds, cashews and walnuts, in addition to avocados, olives, and olive oil. This is why Mediterranean foods have been hailed as one of the most heart-healthy cuisines around.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fat is made up of three different fatty acids: Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9.  To support a healthy diet, the focus should be on Omega-3 fatty acids, which is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties.  Fatty acids also promote healthy skin and the development of our cells, reducing the signs of aging. Look for foods like wild salmon, mackerel and herring, as well as flax and chia seeds.

Saturated Fat

This is a confusing and controversial fat.  Saturated fats generally come from animal products in the form of dairy, eggs and meat, but coconut products like oil and butter are also high in saturated fats.  In recent years there has been a reversal on the thinking that saturated fats cause heart disease, and a lot more support for foods that might help keep you energized and fuller longer, like butter (specifically grass-fed), coconut oil and eggs.

Trans Fat

The artificial fat.  This “bad fat” was created through a process in which liquid oils are hydrogenated in order to withstand processing and provide a longer shelf life. Stay away from this one, which is known for its connection to weight-gain, inflammation and heart disease. Since this fat is found in processed and packaged foods, be on the lookout for partially hydrogenated oils listed in ingredients, a clear indicator trans fats lurk inside.

Keep in mind: while we do need fat in our daily meals, it is high in calories.  According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s recommended that fat make up no more than 30% of our total daily calories (this does not include saturated fat; for more information on daily value intake, see the NIH site.  Carbohydrates and protein are other common nutrients monitored on labels.)  If you eat around 1600 calories a day, you should be getting around 50g of fat.  I don’t usually promote calorie counting, but when making changes in one’s diet it is important to be aware of portions and quantities.

How do I like to incorporate healthy fat into my diet?  (these percentages all assume a 1600 calorie day)

  • When I have oatmeal in the morning I mix in a generous teaspoon of chia seeds, which deliver 3g of fat  (6% of the daily value)
  • I’ll also mix in a scant tablespoon of butter to my oatmeal, adding 11g of fat (22% of the daily value)
  • I love hard boiled eggs as a snack.  One egg provides 5g of fat (10% of the daily value)
  • Throughout my meals I’ll use extra virgin olive oil, approximating 2 tablespoons, which – at 13g a tablespoon – brings in 26g of fat (52% of the daily value)
  • I might have a few walnut halves in the afternoon adding around 5g of fat (10% of daily value)


And that brings me to 50g of fat, which might make up 30% of my daily diet if I’m eating around 1600 calories.  I love the benefits good fat adds to my diet, which includes flavor!

Here are some other common sources of fat:

  • Half avocado has 21g
  • 8oz whole milk has 2.4
  • 4oz wild salmon has 7g
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter have 15g


Do note that every diet and body differ so what’s right for you may not be right for the person sitting next to you.  Age, gender and lifestyle will all affect the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis as well as how your body will react to and digest nutrients.  To better understand just how much fat your diet needs, use the NIH’s daily value as a starting off point and experiment with quantity; you may find that you do better with more fat or you may find you do better with less fat.

Lyfebulb Lyfestyle is here to help you live a richer, fuller life – not a restricted one.

Traveling with three kidneys, two pancreata, and a pacemaker!

Living life with a chronic disease is at best a daily battle, but most of us don’t have a choice other than just soldiering on. Traveling makes life even more complex, but why should we forego the pleasure of seeing new or familiar places across the world simply due to chronic illness?

I recently went on two business trips on behalf of Lyfebulb, that I really enjoyed thanks to the people I met, the discussions generated, but also the different atmospheres and food that I had the chance to sample. I used to dose insulin many times daily, and with time changes and new environments inherent with travel, the control of my blood sugar was difficult to manage. Since I received a kidney and a pancreas transplant, other issues have arisen, but my sugar seems to be unaffected thanks to the functioning pancreas!

So what are the issues?

First, I can no longer pass through security at airports due to my newly implanted pacemaker! The pacemaker protects me from passing out at inopportune occasions, such as when I was hailing a cab outside my building on the Upper East Side in February, or when I found myself face down on the floor of a public ladies room in June. Embarrassingly, I also passed out in the street walking home after a doctor’s appointment! These incidents were not only inconvenient, but also extremely dangerous.  What the doctors realized after a number of tests, including placing a small device under my skin, was that my heart had stopped several times, and that was the reason for my syncope (medical term for passing out). To avoid this from happening again, I received a so-called Managed Ventricular Pacing (MVP) Device, made by Medtronic in June of this year.  It kicks in when my heart rate drops 25 beats over a period of 10 seconds, or if my heart rate drops below 50 beats per minute. In the first case, the MVP pacemaker will take my heart up to 100 beats per minute over two minutes and in the latter case, it just pushes my heart back to 50 beats per minute. Having this device prevents me from hurting myself due to passing out, and has made my circle of family and friends feel more secure regarding my safety. So, being patted down or going through the alternative detector (with a bit higher radiation) is a small price to pay!

Thanks to the transplanted kidney I received in March of 2009 from my father, I do not need dialysis and I am free to travel, work, exercise, and live an almost normal life. My transplanted pancreas, which I received in January of 2010, makes my life truly worth living again! It is remarkable how much better I feel now as compared to how I felt as a diabetic dependent on insulin injections. I did not realize how bad it was before receiving the pancreas, and having normal glucose control. The obvious improvements are clearly the reductions of severe hypos (sugar-lows), and the elimination of the really high sugar values.  However, I did not realize how much insulin dependence impacted me! It is also an incredible quality of life enhancer to be able to skip meals, or eat when I want to, since I do not need to match what I eat while dosing insulin. As a diabetic using insulin, I had to be so careful. Even the milk in my coffee could put me a roller coaster of sugar highs and lows. These issues are no longer present, but since my two organs are foreign, I need to take chronic immunosuppressive medications, which make me more sensitive to infections and certain kinds of cancer. Traveling poses risks for everyone due to the confined space in the airplane, the many people we meet at airports, and the different types of bugs we may encounter. Lately, I have tried to take a few precautionary steps when traveling:

  1. Stay hydrated and rested. One cannot overestimate the power of being hydrated and having had enough sleep. I thoroughly believe we lose power and immune defense mechanisms when we do not take care of those basic principles. When I get on a flight, I try to sleep as much as I can, and I try to arrive at my destination a day before the important stuff to acclimate and rest. As a young, healthier person, I would travel the day of meetings, often overnight to avoid missing daytime work. Now, however, at the age of 43, and with all my issues, I plan differently. I also constantly either carry a bottle of water, or ask for water on the plane or in meetings. It is clear that we lose fluids, and the most obvious signs are our skin and hair, but more importantly for me is my single kidney, which requires heavy hydration to fulfill its function of clearing of toxins from my body. You can determine whether you are hydrated enough by checking amount and frequency of urination, as well as the color of your urine. Once your urine turns from light yellow to a darker color, you know that you are dehydrated. I am also not afraid of asking my doctors for sleeping pills prior to travel. It is hard to adjust to a new time zone, and for me, zopiklone (Ambien) works wonders.
  2. Bring clothes that aren’t clingy or too tight. Despite all the hydration, I seem to swell somewhat when I travel. This is probably due to my single kidney not being able to dispose as well of the fluids, or maybe my veins not being able to shuttle back the blood, or perhaps that travel increases the permeability in the interstitial tissue and one gets some edema. Thus, I always wear support stockings on the plane, and often the first few days abroad too. They make pretty nice-looking ones nowadays, and with lesser pressure than the past – just enough to avoid having heavy legs that don’t fit into the shoes or boots you want to wear. I like bringing layers when I travel, since the air on the flights is often cold and spending time at airports or in the elevated AC in meeting rooms do not agree with my internal thermostat. I save the pretty figure-hugging dresses for when I am back home or if I go away for a longer period and have time to adjust.
  3. Do not drink alcohol. When I travel for work I hardly ever drink alcohol. I definitely never drink on the plane and very rarely at business dinners.  When I travel I have a maximum of a half glass of red wine, since the alcohol dehydrates you and makes the time adjustment even more difficult. I also find that alcohol makes me swell, so I avoid it unless I am away for a longer period of time and for more of a social purpose.
  4. Eat things you know you can handle. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way! I love experimenting with food, and trying new things, but I save that for when I am home, or if I travel for a longer period of time and the trip is more for pleasure than business. Even then, I stay true to my preferences and avoid anything raw, spicy, or foreign. I tend to eat similar things daily: yogurt (plain) with nuts and cereal in the morning, bananas and nuts throughout the day, for lunch I try to have a vegetable soup and some whole grain bread, and for dinner grilled or boiled vegetables with a grilled piece of fish. I seem to have many more small meals when traveling, since it is harder to get all my calories in the main meals when I am not sure what I can get. Thus, I will grab a piece of toast or crackers in between meals, and the carbs seem to settle my stomach. I had a terrible experience last year due to salmonella poisoning from either a salad or under cooked shrimp, so I stay away from raw veggies, cut fruit, and any shell fish. Some people enjoy coffee when they travel, but my drink of choice is definitely tea. Simple English breakfast with a tiny bit of milk is delicious, and even better with a piece of dark chocolate or biscotti…

Sometimes despite all the best intentions, we cannot prevent getting sick while traveling. This has happened to me a few times, and I try to prevent a catastrophe by learning about my destination ahead of time from a medical care perspective. Going back to Sweden obviously does not involve risk for me, since I studied at the Karolinska, and know the hospital well, but if I go elsewhere, I try to do some research on university hospitals that have transplant and cardiology expertise. It is important to travel with your drugs, your list of medications, and some extras to have on hand. I tend to bring Tylenol, Imodium, my sleeping pills, and some vitamin C. I do not bring antibiotics since I am careful not to overuse them for a few reasons: 1) I don’t want to aggravate the resistance that is already growing in the world, and 2) It is critical I get the right kind when I get sick, since taking the wrong kind can exacerbate the situation. Obviously NEVER check your medication, but carry them with you in the cabin and if you are traveling with someone – let him or her carry an extra supply for you in case yours gets lost.

I am back home now and thanks to all my precautions, I feel strong and did not suffer much from jet lag!


My Journey

My name is Shayna.  I am a 35 year old woman living in the Boston area.  I spend my days working as a second grade teacher in a small town outside of the city.  When I am not working you will find me with my friends and family enjoying beach trips, traveling, cooking, shopping, reading, attempting to be a runner, taking photographs, laughing, AND navigating my journey with IBD.

I have the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) known as Ulcerative Colitis (UC).  Ulcerative Colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine, also known as the colon, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucous. The combination of inflammation and ulceration can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent emptying of the colon.  What information is left out of that definition, is that UC can be a very silent, private, embarrassing, and invisible chronic illness.  I was diagnosed with UC when I was 18 and a brand new freshman at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  I was so excited to go to college and be away from the small town I had grown up in.  Instantly I made great friends and pledged a sorority.  Life was fantastic and I really was enjoying my first year away from home.  But around November I can remember waking up one morning in my dorm and feeling awful.  I knew something was NOT right.  I had a fever, pain, I was running to the bathroom constantly, and my stomach was so distended even a light touch hurt.  I was so embarrassed by the never-ending diarrhea I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, not even my mom who is a nurse and who I always went to if something was wrong.  At one point after weeks of suffering I started to withdraw from everything.  I stopped going to classes because I couldn’t make it from one building to another without having to stop at a bathroom.  For the first time in my life my grades dropped and I just couldn’t keep up with the work.  I no longer wanted to hang around with my new friends and sorority sisters, and would spend my nights and weekends in bed watching TV or sleeping for an abnormal amount of time.  Only due to sheer desperation I finally told my mom what was going on.  Within days after telling her she had picked me up at school and I had an appointment with a gastroenterologist (GI) doctor and a scheduled for my first colonoscopy.

On the dreaded scope day I was scared and the awful and miserable prep medications didn’t help at all.  Luckily because my mom worked at the hospital where the procedure was being done they allowed her into the procedure room with me and she held my hand the entire time.  I remember being conscious and the doctor taking one look at my large intestine and announcing that I had Ulcerative Colitis.  In that moment my mind and the world around me went still.  I couldn’t hear what was being said.  All I could think was:  what is Ulcerative Colitis?  He must be wrong?  Not me!  At some point I looked at my mom and she was crying so I knew this couldn’t be a good thing.  We went home that day with some medications that I knew nothing about and started to research IBD.  At the time there was very little information about the disease and the options for treatment were scarce.  I can remember sitting with my mom and making her promise not to tell anyone about my illness, not my grandparents, my aunts, cousins, sister, or friends.  I felt embarrassed because I had already convinced myself that I had caused this and it was my fault that I had this disease.

Over the next four years of college I spent most of the time trying to hide my illness from roommates, friends, and professors.  If I was sick instead of calling the doctor or letting a professor know that something was going on I just stopped going to classes.  I would shut out friends when I was sick and sometimes just go home without telling anyone.  I didn’t take my medications responsibly and truly believed I could live without them.  It was extremely difficult to live the life of a college student and manage a disease that I knew nothing about and wasn’t willing to accept.

Finally after years of failed medical treatments and many, many hospitalizations we reached the point where surgery was the only option.  In 2004, at 24 years old, I underwent major surgery to remove my colon and create an internal pouch called a J-Pouch.  A J-pouch is an internal pouch to hold stool that is created from the last part of the small intestine (ileum) and attached to the anus or the remainder of the rectum. The terminal ileum is sewn back onto itself to form the shape of the letter “J.” This pouch functions as a replacement for my large intestine.  This surgery was done in two separate stages and during the first stage I received an ostomy.  An ostomy is a surgical procedure, in which an artificial opening is made to permit the drainage of waste products outside of the body.  The recovery from this surgery was extremely difficult.  I felt very alone and as though I had no control over my body.  This external bag was not an easy thing to deal with as a 24 year old female.  I felt so different from my friends and was envious of how different their lives were from my own.  BUT with the support of my family I made it through and after 13 weeks the second stage of the surgery was performed, my ostomy was reversed and my J-Pouch was connected.  Surgeons and doctors told me that these surgeries would CURE my disease and I was so excited to start living my disease free life.  Years later I found out that this statement about being “cured” was sadly not true.

In the past ten years, since my original J-Pouch surgery, I have undergone five other surgeries, been hospitalized more times than I can count, developed a chronic medical issue called Pouchitis, taken many medications with terrible and unknown long term side effects, been forced to go on short term disability for months at a time, and suffered from extreme pain and diarrhea because of this unremitting illness.  During my last surgery my doctors found that I also suffer from endometriosis.  Endometriosis is a condition resulting from the appearance of endometrial tissue outside the uterus that causes pelvic pain.  This diagnosis is very new to me and has now become part of my journey.

My illness is part of me every day.  I wake up with it, I eat with it, I work with it, I socialize with it, it comes on vacation with me, I go to sleep with it each night, and because this I have had no choice but to accept it and embrace MY life.  Over the years, I have learned that sharing my story is a gift.  As I opened up about my illness, I was accepted by friends, family, and even strangers who could relate because they knew someone with IBD or had IBD themselves.  I have had the opportunity to share my story with people who are newly diagnosed and I truly know how important it is for them to hear that I understood exactly what they were going through and that I survived.  It is my goal in life to continue the conversations about this very invisible illness and to advocate for myself and for the people who just aren’t ready to speak up quite yet.

I live an incredible life with my boyfriend, family, and friends.  I continue to work at what I believe is the very best job in the world as a teacher.  In spite of this illness I have done so many things…received my Master’s degree and CAGS degree, traveled all over the United States, purchased my first home, and laughed each day with the people whom I love the very most.  There were days where I believed none of this was possible, each day is hard but I AM a survivor, a fighter, and I AM stronger than I ever thought I could be.   I hope you will continue to read about my journey and begin to share your own.  When were you diagnosed?  Are you able to share your journey with others?

Xoxo, Shayna

Lyfebulb Lyfestyle – an Introduction


Here at Lyfebulb we are passionate about connecting people, inspiring change, and impacting lives.  As we grow, we want to be sure we stay in touch with our community on a regular basis.  Therefore we are excited to share a new series on the Blog, Lyfebulb Lyfestyle, which is dedicated to the holistic lifestyle encompassing Lyfebulb’s pillars.

Every Wednesday you’ll find something new: Blog posts promoting simple but effective health tips or videos showcasing easy, delicious recipes.  In either case, the goal of this new series is to inspire us all to live a healthier life and improve the quality of that life in a way that is fun and pleasurable.

Quality of life is important to Lyfebulb and it is important to me.  As a Holistic Health Coach my goal is to help men and women all over the world improve their quality of life, not just through diet and exercise, but through a balanced lifestyle.

My journey began many years ago and has seen me through various dietary approaches, exercise regimens, and life phases.

It started with a relatively healthy upbringing, which had me eating whole grains and healthy fats, but also generous amounts of ice cream and Cheetos.  Around the time I turned 20 I saw my body changing and realized I knew nothing about taking care of my health through food.  I dove head first into the confusing world of diets: the dos and don’ts – so many restrictions!  Not wanting to adhere to one of these strict plans, I did my own research and found a way of eating that kept me healthy and restored my confidence.

After college I moved to Italy where I spent some time soaking in the culture and rediscovering myself in a new setting.  As one might expect, it was here that I began my love affair with food.  I learned to cook, letting my taste buds guide me and discovered that quality mattered.  I stopped being a picky, calculated eater and began to enjoy meals of all shapes and sizes.  And I did so with gusto.

Later I moved to New York City and settled into a career working at one of the largest advertising agencies in the city.  It was my dream job and I was happy with the way life was going, at least from the outside.  The corporate world was wearing me down with its long hours and endless demands.  My energy began to suffer as did my complexion and mood.  Despite the limited time and kitchen space, I still found ways to maintain a healthy diet – though eventually it became clear to me my diet alone wasn’t the solution to living a full and healthy life.  Holistic health mattered.

It was through all these experiences that I learned to get out of survival mode and into a place where my circumstances didn’t determine the fullness of my life.

My name is Alexi Morrison and I am passionate about living a full and vibrant life.  I am a Holistic Health Coach in practice since 2009, and I believe that true health is achieved not just through diet and exercise, but by living a lifestyle that promotes emotional well-being, balance, and joy.

I live in downtown Manhattan with my husband and daughter and I am thrilled to be a part of the Lyfebulb team promoting health and wellness.  Always operating from a holistic perspective, I count Pilates, reading and quality dark chocolate as sustenance.

Stay tuned for many new Lyfebulb Lyfestyle posts to come!


Food For Thought #1: The Frankensteinification of Grains (Part 2)

Mutagenesis and the Frankenstein Grain

The Process of Mutagenesis has just as terrifying health implications as hybridization. Mutagenesis in grain is carried out by exposing wheat strains to mutagens in the form of hazardous gamma rays and x-ray radiation, and other chemical manipulation. Although, the implications of exposing the food we place in our body to hazardous chemicals and radiation is self-explanatory, it is important to note its potential hazards on livestock and the ecosystem as well. These essentially “mutant” wheat strains are also fed to livestock, which taints the animal food we consume as well. Addressing its effects on the ecosystem is a whole other battle in itself , but essentially you have these genetically superior crops of grain that can withstand disease and reproduce rapidly. This will impact plant diversity through monocultures, as well as induce even stronger plant based diseases to combat the now more resistant strands of grain.

Though wheat is not genetically modified, manipulation of wheat through procedures such as Mutagenesis and hybridization pose serious health implications.
Though wheat is not genetically modified, manipulation of wheat through procedures such as Mutagenesis and hybridization pose serious health implications.

‘Jonesing’ for Some Cornflakes

In addition to the autoimmune responses triggered by these manipulated strands of grain, there has been an established correlation between negating wheat from the diet, and pervasive withdrawal symptoms that accompany it. Once digested, wheat gluten protein breaks down into smaller molecules known as polypeptides. These gluten-formulated polypeptides are called exorphins, for their ability to mimic morphine-like activity in the brain. Exorphins travel through the bloodstream and have the capability of permeating the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain the gluten based polypeptides have the ability of creating low-grade euphoria and satisfaction in the brain. Naloxone a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of morphine, is used to block opiate receptors in the nervous system to inhibit the affects of morphine. “Surprisingly”, this same drug is used to suppress appetite by blocking very similar euphoric pathways associated with foods such as wheat. In fact the pharmaceutical companies have capitalized on this opportunity by creating FDA approved drugs such as Contrave, which is a combination of Naltrexone and the antidepressant Bupropion. This drug was designed to suppress appetite, and the depressive state that is associated with the decreased appetites withdrawal symptoms.

Individuals who have weeded off of grain have experienced a multitude of withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may include, low-energy, nausea, intense cravings, depression, dehydration, emotional outbursts, bloating, headaches, and an intensification of joint pain. Some argue that these ‘withdrawal’ symptoms result from the low blood sugar state associated with the immediate negation of grain-based foods. However, many of these symptoms are uncharacteristic of what one expects to see in an individual exhibiting hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

The consumption of wheat mimics opiate like receptors similar to those activated by the use of morphine. This results in a low-grade euphoria that leads to a kind of wheat/grain addiction. When one stops consuming wheat, they will experience withdrawal symptoms associated with their decreased consumption.
The consumption of wheat mimics opiate like receptors similar to those activated by the use of morphine. This results in a low-grade euphoria that leads to a kind of wheat/grain addiction. When one stops consuming wheat, they will experience withdrawal symptoms associated with their decreased consumption.

The Fox in Sheep Clothing-Amylopectin A

In addition to its withdrawal effect, individuals who stop consuming wheat have seen a decrease if not a complete remission of previous health problems. Health complications such as hyperglycemia, onset diabetes, allergy, sinus issues, and gastrointestinal tract issues have all been documented as health complications that result from consuming wheat. According to Dr. William Davis, this may be linked to a complex carbohydrate unique to wheat known as Amylopectin A. Amylopectin A is highly digestible by the enzyme amylase found in saliva as well as by stomach secretions. Highly digestible carbohydrates such as Amylopectin A are the reason why complex carbohydrates are said to be better than simple carbohydrates such as sugar. Simple carbohydrates high rate of digestibility increases blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, and high insulin levels. This results in insulin resistance, and other complications such as type 2 diabetes and hyperglycemia. The Amylopectin-A carbohydrate found in wheat is evidenced to increasing blood sugar ounce for ounce higher than common table sugar (the most basic of simple carbohydrates).

The highly digestible nature of the complex carbohydrate Amylopectin A found in wheat bread, raises blood sugar ounce for ounce higher than the Common white table Sugar.
The highly digestible nature of the complex carbohydrate Amylopectin A found in wheat bread, raises blood sugar ounce for ounce higher than the Common white table Sugar.

With a Grain of Salt

Though consuming wheat, a type of grain, has been linked to all these astonishing health defects and complications, it is necessary to note that it is mostly the manipulation of wheat in modern urban agriculture that has lead to these health complications. Even the consumption of the misleading complex carbs of wheat, and its misleading Amylopectin-A only prove detrimental if consumed abundantly and at specific intervals. As stated before, the thoughts and findings shared on the Food for Thought series, are merely to provoke thought and educate on potentially misleading truths throughout nutrition. It is up to you to continue this education and determine whether the supposed benefits of wheat outweigh its potential documented threats.

Chicken Salad with Couscous


 1 chicken breast

 1 yellow onion

 1 shallot

 1 package of baby kale

 ¼ package of Casablanca pearled tri-color couscous

 Olive Oil

 Balsamic Vinegar

 Soy Sauce

 Dijon Mustard

 Goya Abobo Seasoning

 Oregano

 Salt, Pepper, and Cayenne Pepper

This is a hearty salad that is a complete meal all wrapped in one. Begin by cutting the chicken breast into small pieces and marinate it in olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and Abobo seasoning. Prepare your salad dressing by combining a finely chopped shallot, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, and Dijon mustard. Set the dressing aside.

Chop up the onion and begin to sauté in a skillet. Once the onion is soft, stir in the chicken and sauté everything together until the chicken is fully cooked. At the same time, prepare the couscous according to the package instructions.

Once the chicken with onion and the couscous are done, remove from heat and mix the baby kale with the homemade salad dressing.

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Combine the chicken with onion and couscous once both have had the chance to cool down slightly.

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Finally, serve the salad in a bowl and place a portion of your chicken mixture on top. The result is a well-balanced combination of vegetables, carbs, and protein. Hearty enough for a cold winter evening and easy enough to do after a long day at work!

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