Cecilia Portnoj, sociologist and nutritionist behind Lagom Health, shares with us some useful tips on holistic wellness and how to take good care of ourselves in a Lagom way this season.
Words: Meri Frig
Can you tell us about your approach in Lagom?
At Lagom, we believe in moderation and consistency. Consistent or repeated actions, in combination with time, guarantee permanent progress. We offer holistic, relaxed and kind nutritional counselling. We rather speak about nutrition than diets. My mission is to empower people to treat their bodies and minds with respect.
Individuality and psychological flexibility are also important aspects – food has a different meaning for all of us. The ambition is to help people find a lifestyle that is in line with hers/his individual values and motives. We need to live a life that serves us.
Health is more than absence of disease. We can find a state of optimal health, when our body's systems operate optimally, not to forget how our minds affect our health.
I want to bring out issues related to health and wellbeing in a personal but direct manner: by speaking about moderateness. Nutrition is, despite being multifaceted, very simple. What if we would treat our bodies with respect, not letting external factors to determine our value?
What does ’lagom’ mean to you?
Basically, it reminds me of being reasonable, to not over-do things. I noticed that inflexible self-discipline and a continuous chase after a balanced bliss didn’t work for me. This narrow-minded mindset actually made me feel even more stressed out. That’s why I chose to try the opposite. To be present in all my moments, whether they are 'good' or 'bad'. The trick is to introduce some rituals of being self-compassionate, stop punishing yourself, and to get to a friendly state with food and your body.
In my everyday life, you can see me eating a healthy and well-composed breakfast and lunch, but then I’ll gladly enjoy a delicious bowl of pasta Bolognese, a glass of wine and a good dessert in the evening. Enjoying every moment.
To me, lagom is a worldview that I have learned to embrace only later in life. I believe that it is wise to be mindful about what our bodies need internally, for them to function optimally.
What are some healing foods that ease stress?
First, it is important to focus on the real issue - by which I mean that we need to identify what is really causing the stress.
During stressful times, it is important to regulate the blood sugar levels and take care of your sleep. I would say that a substantial breakfast is the key to steady energy levels for the day ahead, even more so during times of stress. Make a jar of your own granola by mixing buckwheat, coconut flakes and a selection of nuts and seeds with coconut oil, cinnamon and a little honey. Bake in the oven for 5-8 min and let it cool. Sprinkle your homemade granola and berries on top of your breakfast bowl (porridge, smoothie, natural yoghurt…). Or make granola bars to grab and go.
Eating well is definitely a form of self-care that should be taken in consideration during stressful times. There are certain foods that should be emphasised:
* In order to feel more energetic and focused, you need to take care of you B vitamin intake. Vitamin B6 helps to make serotonin, our happy hormone. To increase your dietary intake for B vitamins, include foods such as: leafy green veggies, nuts, seeds, avocados, meat, fish, chickpeas, potatoes and bananas.
* Magnesium is dramatically depleted in times of stress. Magnesium helps to relax muscles, reduces anxiety and is helpful if you have difficulties to get sleep. Magnesium boosters in your diet could be nuts and seeds, leafy green veggies, whole grains, like oats, brown rice, quinoa, beans and lentils.
* Vitamin C helps lower the body’s response to the stress hormone cortisol. This is because our adrenal glands, which are responsive during stressful episodes, contain the largest store of vitamin C in the body. Therefore, consuming foods like citrus fruits, berries, kiwi, tomatoes and colourful veggies can help to improve our body’s response to stress.
"My routine is to wake up early every morning and focus on nothing else but me, just to centre my thoughts."
* Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish, nuts and seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce 'rushes' of stress hormones, and protect against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
* Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can stimulate the brain to increase serotonin production and help stabilise blood pressure to reduce stress.
In addition to having breakfast every morning, I munch on Finnish berries, and try to drink a green smoothie every day. Berries are bursting with vitamins and antioxidants. My body definitely benefits from eating berries when I need to repair and protect my cells from stress.
"What if we would treat our bodies with respect, not letting external factors to determine our value?"
You mentioned you have also learned about the importance of Lagom from your own personal experience. Can you tell us about your own journey to better health and wellbeing?
I’ll gladly share my story with you. The fact is that, to reach holistic wellness, it is not enough to just be mindful about what you eat, but you have to focus on the real psychological issues, even though that is more challenging.
As a young girl, it was very important for me to perform well in everything. My approach to wellbeing was based on external factors and I examined my health with the wrong motives. I suffered from constant ear infections and flus. I had a strong need to constantly please everyone, had a stomach ulcer and allergies. I did not fully understand PMS symptoms before I was almost thirty. I believed that it is completely normal to have a meltdown once a month. At some point, I decided to investigate from a different perspective and examine health from a more holistic viewpoint, taking into account all parts of life, and the effect of my mind on my own health. I started with simple and small changes that supported my physical and mental wellbeing. I repeated the same acts one day after another and started with the basics: reducing stress. I stopped compulsive exercising, started to eat nutritious food, made sure I rested enough, and learned self-compassion. Small repetitive acts led to change and feelings of success, which supported the healing process.
What foods and habits do you recommend for the colder and darker winter days?
As a Finn, I love the sweater weather. At this time of the year, I bake a lot. At the moment, I’m into gluten-free cinnamon buns and soon our kitchen will be messed up with ingredients for gluten-free gingerbread.
During cold and dark days, I really like to feast on slow and rustic food. Stews and soups are made on a weekly basis in our home. But in order to keep my vitamin intake on-point, I eat a lot of fruits, berries and green vegetables. As I call myself a spokesperson for self-compassion, I also enjoy comfort food every now and then. When it comes to habits, I would say that you need to make your everyday life enjoyable, or sort of keep up a nice routine that makes your day extra nice.
My routine is to wake up early every morning and focus on nothing else but me, just to centre my thoughts. This means that I don’t even glimpse at my phone or computer during this time. This routine is extremely important, especially if I have a stressful day ahead, or if I feel nervous or anxious about a performance or meeting ahead. In addition to this, I exercise on a daily basis.
I enjoy cooking together with friends every week. Last Sunday, me and my friend, chef Teemu Laurell, tried out a new pumpkin soup recipe. His tip was to add marjoram in it – this tasty and nutritious soup turned out super delicious. I like to use a lot of herbs traditionally used in the Finnish cuisine, such as lovage and marjoram, when I cook. They add lovely nuances to a dish, and many herbs also have great health benefits.
"To reach holistic wellness, it is not enough to just be mindful about what you eat, but you have to focus on the real psychological issues, even though that is more challenging."
What are some of the best foods to boost immunity?
Some of the most important aspects of immune health, outside of lifestyle choices, are the foods we put into our body. A majority of your diet should be made up of unprocessed, natural foods, such as fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
My best tip is to eat probiotic food, because 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Feed your gut bacteria and keep the population healthy and strong. Sauerkraut, naturally fermented pickles, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and kombucha are all food that will rock your immune system.
Extra tip: Look after your sugar intake.