Finding the best artist for the job

If you’re a content manager or creative director in charge or sourcing creative talent for work in your brand, you’re familiar with the complicated process of finding the right artist for the job. It can be hard! But it’s not impossible. And best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. 

Through many years of doing just this, I have developed some tried and true methods of getting the most out of your artist shopping to ensure that you’re able to pair the right artist with the right job. 

Finding the right creative talent for brand work

When it comes to finding talent, there are several ways you can do this, whether you’re a business owner or a content manager:

Network with local creators. Artists and writers are everywhere if you know where to look! You may be able to find freelancers working in shared workspaces or working for other content managers, website designers, and marketing professionals. (Networking isn’t for everyone, but if you are a social person, this is a great start!)

Online networking via LinkedIn. Putting out a call for artists and creative talent on LinkedIn can be a good starting point if you’ve already networked with other professionals in your field. These connections will see your request and be able to put you into contact with others. If you’ve been a creative yourself, you may also have met writers and creatives in other business ventures who may be interested in working for you, or at the very least, connecting you with other contacts in their field. 

Work with an agency. My personal favorite method of finding creatives is working with an agency. Most cities have creative agencies that pre-vet their creatives, have dedicated teams trained to help you find the appropriate talent, and offer simple methods of billing that make it a lot easier for your accounting team to keep track of payment. This method will also be your best bet if you’re a small business owner and want to leave the management of the creatives themselves up to someone else. 

Some people choose to find creative talent via online gig sites, but this is not my preference. Gig sites (think Fiverr, Freelancer, and Upwork) make it difficult to develop relationships with creatives, strategically underpay them, and take large cuts of the funds for themselves. I’ve also gotten really terrible work out of Fiverr and Freelancer, probably because of the poor pay. I would rather spend $300 on an article written by a professional and have it be good enough to put live after a quick read-through than spend $100 on an article through Fiverr and have to rewrite the whole thing in order to put it on my site. (The truth is, I stopped working with Fiverr after this happened to me several times. I was working harder than I had been before because the articles I was receiving were of such low quality!)

Personally, I appreciate working with professionals who I can communicate with directly, who are appropriately compensated for their work, and who are willing to develop a relationship with my brand. I find that better work comes from creatives that feel appreciated, and the key to that is communication and compensation! 

Hire for a single small job first

When I hire new creative talent, I seldom sign them for more than a single small project to begin. This is a matter of self-preservation as a content manager, because I can never be sure whether the new creative will work well with me and my team, whether they’ll fully understand the brand, or whether the rest of the team will like their work. This makes it a lot easier to part ways with an artist after the first project, if it doesn’t go well, without having to have any complicated “you’re fired” conversations. As a non-confrontational person, I prefer to avoid those at all costs! (Working with an agency also makes this easier as you can convey the message via your rep and allow them to handle the difficult conversations.) 

To begin, I present each new hire with educational materials during a get-to-know-you meeting. Most often, these are conducted via phone call as the benefit of working with offsite freelancers is that they may be located anywhere. (This is especially helpful if you want New York or Los Angeles talent but you’re located in the Midwest, for example.) During these phone calls, I give a brief presentation (pre-written to avoid stumbling or stage fright!) about the brand and the project that I’ve hired them for, and then I allow them the opportunity to ask me questions. Open communication is the best way to get good content from a freelancer as they need to learn about your brand in order to present accurate information in an appropriate voice for your customer base. 

In addition to a phone call, it’s important to provide your new hire with all of the detailed information they will need to understand your brand and the assignment. 

How have you sourced talent for your creative projects in the past? 

Have you tried the single project method? How has that worked for you?

Camp Nanowrimo it is!

Well, the quarantine has gotten to me, and I guess that means I’m going to hunker down and write for the month of April.

My Camp Nanowrimo profile for those who want to keep track of my progress.

I’m working on a story that first hatched in my brain 13 months ago, but it arrived as the “key” to a problem I’ve been contemplating for many, many years. This story is “the one” that answers the problems posed by many of the other stories I’ve already written (at least in part) and that’s why it’s so important to the whole.

However, I have no intention of revealing my secrets just yet because this story is merely mapped but not really written. And I don’t know about you other writers, but I myself find that the more I talk about a story the more absurd it sounds. Whenever I tell someone what I’m writing, I feel like I would rather crawl into a hole than explain the plot, which I suppose is why we develop pitches and sluglines. It’s really damn difficult to condense an epic novel into a bite-sized, digestible description for a person who ultimately may never read the story at all.

So instead, here is a clue:

An illustration I found on the internet that provides the perfect teaser to my tale

Please feel free to follow along! Or, if you’d like, support me on my Patreon. Middle tier and above actually gets you some excerpts which I would love to share! The story speaks for itself a lot better than I can speak for it.

I’m on Patreon now and I’m thinking about the future

Here we are, in uncertain times, times which already struck for me shortly before the virus swept in, full swing, to our country’s workforce. But uncertain times are challenges, not necessarily the end of everything. I don’t know about you, but right now I’m still finding myself to be pretty excited about the future and looking forward to the new things that are to come for me. And of course, I’m making plans.

Get the link to my Patreon profile

I set up my Patreon profile a few months ago, back when I was traveling in New York and then Alaska. Things felt a little frustrating then, as if I was in exile from my life, and I needed some hope and inspiration. Plus I was holed up with one of my best friends who always inspires me and gets me excited about creating! When we were there, I had things in the works that I wanted to look forward to and get help with. Now, with everyone I know in quarantine here at home, I can’t help but notice that the times are similar to what I felt during that month of isolation which wasn’t so very long ago. For me, the feelings that are coming to the forefront are those of hope and excitement about the opportunities that these troubled times will bring, not just at a personal level, but at a national one.

Yesterday a friend and I chatted about what life-after-coronavirus might be like, how this situation will highlight even more systemic issues in our government that will need to be addressed and changed after the event. I think workplaces will make changes, markets will make changes, businesses will diversify, and more, to make sure that they are able to stay afloat in times like these, times which are inevitabilities.

And on a more personal level, I too am thinking about ways I can diversify my talents and work. But even more than that, I’m thinking that life has knocked me down a few too many times in the past few months (even years!) and I have not answered its challenge. Now, I will.

Making plans for the future

I’ve set up my Patreon profile and I’m asking for supporters even though beside so many artistic and inspiring friends, I feel unworthy. The truth is, these artists and creatives in my life have been inspiring to me and provided me with the much-needed push that has made me want more for myself.

I want to share some of the things I’ve been working on, but I’m going to encourage you to check out Patreon to see them. I stand by the belief that you shouldn’t announce all of your plans to the public, but then again, I am quite a secretive person at times, I’ve been told. (I usually just refer to it as “thinking deeply” but, we can call it secretive if you want.)

Meanwhile, I do also encourage you to follow and support some of my favorite artists who are out there working hard already. Please feel free to check out my profile too to learn more about what I’m working on and how you can help me make it happen.

Tom Day Art

Digital portraits

Patreon profile

Instagram

Art by Tom Day

Hoosier Queen KP and Queenspirit Magazine

Handcrafted jewelry, art magazine, and more: Korie is a woman of all trades!

Patreon profile

QueenSpirit Magazine on Instagram

Hoosier Queen KP on Instagram

Korie with the latest issue of QueenSpirit Magazine

CinemaRolls Podcast

Important links to access the podcast

Patreon profile

Sarah and Sarah

 

The coronavirus has made us a remote working world: Remote working tips and tricks

This coronavirus scare has half the business world working from home, and for many people, that’s an entirely new experience. I remember my first WFH position back in 2012. It took me a while to get into a groove of remote work that made me feel comfortable. Questions I asked myself when I first started to work remotely were:

  • How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?
  • How much work do I have to do to prove myself?
  • How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room?
  • Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?
  • What about working in pajamas?

There were about a thousand questions in my mind, these being just a few. As an introvert, I enjoyed the prospect of being at home and instead of having to get up, get dressed, and go sit in some cold office, but as a social person, I also worried about myself having a lack of community. Now that I’ve been working remotely for the better part of the past 8 years, I can provide a much clearer picture of what a day in the life of a remote employee actually looks like, as well as some tips for how to ensure optimal productivity and a sense of accomplishment. 

What does a workday look like for a remote employee?

Depending on your job type, you may have a specific start time where you have to be clocked in and begin working. No matter what time that is, your life is automatically going to be a bit easier because you won’t have to factor in your getting ready or commuting time. That is easily my favorite part of the remote working experience. Here’s an example work day for me:

7:30 – 8:00am: Wake up, take my time getting out of bed, make my morning cup of coffee, cook some breakfast that features protein and veggies (my favorite: poached eggs, sauteed kale and mushrooms, and a carb like gluten-free toast, buckwheat, or rice), get my laptop out and start working through my morning emails. 

8:00-9:30am: Thankfully at my most recent job, no one would ever schedule meetings before 9:30am because they were all commuting into Manhattan. I always took advantage of that window of time to get into my own work. Right after coffee and breakfast, I’m at my sharpest, so this is a great time to do some writing. For me, that often includes preparing creative briefs for important projects, writing corporate communications for my role as a senior-level copywriter, copyediting projects that other writers have submitted to me, etc.  

9:30-11:00am: On some days, this is the time for company meetings, and I often schedule my meetings for this window on other days as well. Online conference calls are convenient and easy to do at this time of day because I’ve already eaten and had some coffee, and I’ve already been productive this morning. I am not a huge fan of video conferencing, and most companies I’ve worked for don’t require them, but if they are required, two hours into my day is time enough to get dressed and do hair and makeup. (I generally keep it pretty simple anyway.) On days when I don’t have meetings, I use this window of time to pack up some simple snacks into a lunch box and head out to the local coffee shop. 

This is one of my most important tips for remote workers: Find a space where other people are working remotely, whether that’s a coffee shop or a shared workspace. For me, it’s Indie Coffee Roasters, a clean and modern space in downtown Carmel, IN where lots of professionals gather daily to drink exceptionally delicious coffee! It can be so helpful to have a space where you can go, see and be seen, and engage in a little social banter on occasion. I prefer to sit up at the counter where socializing can happen, but many professionals like to sit at tables to be a little more isolated from socializing but still near other people. Now that I’ve had time to become accustomed to remote working, I am able to be in a public place and still be productive, but it may take time for newbies to work up to this. 

Obviously in our current circumstances, social working spaces are not appropriate options at this time. However, I highly recommend setting aside time to have FaceTime or Marco Polo chats with your friends to get your daily social fix.

11:00-12:30am: This is the window of time when I’ve first arrived at the coffee shop and I usually spend a few minutes socializing with friends. While many people who work in offices have already had some social time in their day, I’ve already been working for 3+ hours and this is my first socializing opportunity. 

12:30-4:30pm: During this final period of the day, I usually stay at the coffee shop, have a working lunch where I snack on the food I brought with me, and finish the rest of my required work for the day. 

When I close my laptop at the end of my time at the coffee shop, I usually keep it closed for the remainder of the day, which is how I manage my work-life balance. I find it to be important to keep the separation in place so I don’t find myself tempted to work evenings just because I’m “in the office” which doubles as my home. 

Some questions about remote working

Should I set up a home office?

Personally, having a home office space has never worked for me. I like working right in the center of the action, but that works for me because I’ve lived in a home where I was the only remote worker and I’ve lived completely alone. This is something that is up to each individual to try out. Some people may need a door they can close to cut off the rest of the world while they work, while others, like me, may need to simply leave the house and go out in public to work. 

How do I handle workplace questions? How can I avoid miscommunication? 

Open communication is important in any workplace, but especially for remote workers. In order to ensure that I have a good relationship with my coworkers, I spend several weeks per year working in the office for face-to-face meetings with my team. This may not be an option for everyone, so in cases where you can’t work in the office, I recommend frequent check-ins and at least one phone call a week talking with critical coworkers to build relationships with them. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Verbal communications will clarify a lot of confusion that comes from text/IM communication.  

How do I avoid distractions?

Distractions will be an issue when you’re working from home because you don’t have the fear that your boss is looking over your shoulder to get you back on task. However, personal integrity and self-regulation is a quality that you will have to develop if you want to be a trusted remote worker. It takes time to work up to this, but it’s important to do it. 

What should I do when I feel unproductive or unmotivated?

This is tough! I personally only feel unproductive or unmotivated when I’m doing a job a don’t like, and this is something I avoid at all costs! I love being productive and accomplishing things. However, when these feelings do occasionally hit, I usually make a hard stop for 15 minutes and try one of these tactics:

  • Take a walk
  • Eat a nutritious snack
  • Meditate
  • Change your work location 
  • Do something that engages a different part of my brain, like draw a doodle or read a book for a few minutes

How do I maintain a work-life balance?

As I mentioned earlier, I find it important to have a hard start and stop on my workday. That, of course, doesn’t mean I would make myself unavailable in an emergency. (As the remote employee in a team of in-house employees, I would often get called upon to handle a situation that would arise while everyone else is on public transportation just after a workday ends and I’m the only one with access to the computer!) However, for personal sanity, it’s important to have a hard stop for yourself so you can shift gears into your personal life. I also enjoy working from a coffee shop or remote working location so I can have the opportunity for a commute home to decompress. 

And the questions from the top

How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?

First of all, a good boss will not make you feel micromanaged, so hopefully, this is a personal concern and not one that has been put on you by the person you work for. My best advice for this is to simply do your work and do it well, meet deadlines, and communicate with your coworkers and managers whenever relevant. The best way to inspire trust is to be trustworthy!

How much work do I have to do to prove myself?

This same concern should be addressed by the above question. If you really feel that you have to prove yourself constantly, you may need to assess whether your working environment is healthy for you. But that’s a different topic entirely! 

How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room? 

I believe this question was also addressed above. Motivation is self-made, but taking breaks also helps!

Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?

My gut says no. If you really want to be productive and complete quality work, you’ve got to keep yourself focused. Besides, if you have a TV show you’re really invested in, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you watch it without the distraction of responsibility. 

What about working in pajamas?

This is up to each person individually, but for me personally, I can never wear sweatpants and get work done. I believe in actually showing up for work, and for me, that involves wearing pants. But, you should do what makes you feel good and productive.

What other questions do you have about the remote working experience that I might be able to help with? Drop them below!

Writing well as a business professional: Is corporate writing coaching a good choice for your business?

Have you ever hit send on an email only to notice a glaring typo?

Has anyone ever embarrassingly replied to one of your emails to say that they didn’t understand what you were trying to say?

Have you ever received a business email that didn’t make sense to you because of typos or poorly phrased sentences?

Professional communications are incredibly important in an internet-run world. Business people are expected to see and respond to messages quickly and efficiently, but that can leave way too much room for errors. In a world where we often respond quickly with text messages to our friends and family, it is possible to take that casually conversational style into the business realm where it just isn’t quite as welcome. 

Giving your employees the tools they need to succeed

If you own or manage a brand, it’s in your best interest to ensure that your team is communicating effectively with each other and especially with your clients. It’s incredibly important to your business’s success that your employees are representing your business in a professional manner. 

The truth is though, many business professionals are great at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they are great at writing! Even if your employees are never going to be “professional writers” in the traditional sense, writing coaching can help them to become more confident as writers so that they can communicate with clients, vendors, and team members with clarity and ease. 

Corporate writing coaching for businesses

I love helping business professionals succeed, and one of the ways I can offer assistance is through corporate writing coaching. How does this work? As a brand owner or manager, you can offer your employees an opportunity for writing education, including group or one-on-one training, depending on the number of employees interested in the program and level of training that each individual needs. 

Contact me directly at CrystalLynn23@gmail.com to learn more about what writing coaching entails, see an outline of a course syllabus, and get a quote for your brand.

Good writing and clear communication can be the difference between business failure and business success! Help ensure that your business and employees are set to succeed. 

Upward Mobility in a Writing Career: How Does that Work?!

Writers can never truly advance in their careers, did you know that? We can ask for higher rates, but ultimately we still have to produce every single thing that we get paid for. In other words, if we want to advance in our careers by making more money, we still have to write more in order to make that happen. Does that make you frustrated as a writer? It frustrates me, that’s for sure! I’ve been a professional writer for 13 years, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the possibility for upward mobility in my chosen career through a career in content management.

In the time that I’ve written professionally, I’ve produced so many pages of content that I couldn’t even begin to count. This content has come in the form of entire websites, web pages, blog posts, learning articles, white papers, magazine articles, short stories, essays, social media posts, media scripts, and more. There is a direct correlation between material produced and hours worked, which can be a frustrating thing for writers. We need more time in the day if we want to create more work and thus make more money.

So the question becomes this: What is the workaround?

Being a writer can be a frustrating career path. Even as your skill improves, it can be difficult to increase your rates based upon your experience alone, and the upward mobility of the career path is not as clearly laid out as many other career fields. Writers are often self-made, many of them without formal education in their specific field, making it difficult for them to claim expertise and charge higher rates. Additionally, it can be discouraging for writers to have to constantly create content in order to be paid, when other fields offer professionals the opportunity to oversee work being done and manage direct reports as they advance in their career. Content management is a relatively new role that offers a different option for writers who wish to advance in their field. 

A content manager is similar to an editor in that they’re in control of the quality of the content and they manage its creation and presentation. Instead of doing this for a printed publication like a magazine they do it for a digital one: a website. 

If you’re a professional writer interested in advancing to a role that is more managerial in nature and requires you to produce less while making more money, a content management or content strategist role might be the one for you. There are things you can do within your writing career to begin preparing you for this shift, making it possible for you to qualify for a new role, whether within the company where you already work, at a different company, or on a contract as a freelancer. 

Most writers, whether they realize it or not, actually perform some of the functions of a content manager already. Some of these tasks may include:

  • Planning a content calendar for articles, social media posts, blog posts, etc. 
  • Auditing existing content to ensure that details are up to date
  • Conducting light keyword research for SEO
  • Managing content projects that require additional artists (for example, white papers which are downloadable PDFs and often have to be laid out professionally after the content is written.)

If you’re doing any of these tasks in your job already, you can easily add light content management to your skillset on your resume. If you’re hoping to find yourself in a content management role full time, you should begin taking on some additional content management tasks and have a conversation with your current manager about your career goals. Even if your ultimate career goal is to become a content manager working for a different company, you can often use your current role as a learning experience, taking on extra tasks to build up your resume in the area where your interests lie. 

Need advice? I would love to help!

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How to Eat Gluten-Free

I’ve been eating completely gluten-free for over three years and it’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I say this, but I do realize that for some people, the process can be daunting. This is especially true of people who enjoy eating lots of processed food. Before I started eating gluten-free, some of my favorite snacks were crackers and cheese, garlic bread, pasta, pizza, and cupcakes. The people who ask me how to eat gluten-free are always concerned about losing their favorite treats. I admit, this is a valid concern, but before you start to lose heart, here’s the simple start to eating gluten-free.

Getting Rid of Gluten

“How do I eat gluten-free? Gluten is in everything. I’ll never be able to eat my favorite foods ever again!”

Whenever someone finds out that they need to cut gluten, usually because a medical professional suggested it, I find that most people have a huge attitude about it, and their response is initially a bit irrational. As creatures of habit, most humans don’t like change, especially when it’s a change to something super personal like our diets. If the “hassle” is really the part that bugs you the most, you’re in for a treat. Getting rid of gluten out of your diet is probably the easiest thing a person can do.

First of all, gluten is NOT in everything. Gluten is in a lot of processed food, but all of the fresh, real food you find around the outside edges of the grocery store (not the center aisles) is almost completely, naturally gluten-free. You will never find gluten in any produce, fruit, vegetable, dairy product, milk, butter, eggs, or meat, unless they’ve been processed in some way. (Like fried chicken or deep-fried zucchini, for example.)

If you’re starting to see where I’m going with this and not liking it, just hold on for a minute.

This is where I like to invoke Chris Kresser whose position on eating and nutrition is pretty solid. “Eat real food,” he says. The simple reminder that processed food is NOT real food is enough to get my attention. (More on processed food in future posts. I PROMISE!)

Tracking Your Daily Food Intake

All right, time for some practical application.

When you first make the commitment to go gluten-free, I recommend starting by identifying all of the sources of gluten in your daily life. You may need to track your food intake for a few days first if you don’t keep constant tabs on what you’re eating. My Fitness Pal is a great app for food tracking, and I recommend that everyone have that app and use it occasionally on their food journey. (You’ll hear me mention it every time I talk about making some major diet change.) For this exercise, writing everything down can be just as effective as you won’t be counting macros or anything. (Yet…I promise to make you do it on other occasions though!)

A list of foods containing gluten that you eat in a day might look like this:

  • Breakfast cereal
  • Sandwich
  • BBQ sauce
  • Ice cream cone
  • Beer

If you commonly eat a lot of processed or packaged foods, or dine out a lot, especially at chain restaurants or fast food places, there may be lots of sources of hidden gluten in your diet, and this list may be a lot longer than my example! For more specifics, you can check out this comprehensive list of gluten-containing ingredients.

A Note About Cross-Contamination

If you’ve been told by your doctor that you can’t eat gluten anymore, you may want to consider the potential dangers of cross-contamination as well. Food labels will mention possible contamination (with labels that say something like “Made in a facility that processes wheat products” or “May contain wheat”) and most restaurants will be up-front with you about possible cross-contamination or ask you if you want their kitchen staff to handle your food with fresh gloves. In your own home, you may want to consider purchasing a new toaster or have one that isn’t shared with the members of your family who still eat regular bread.

Personally, I have learned to choose which situations I’ll be concerned about cross-contamination, depending on my risk and on previous experiences with getting sick because of cross-contamination concerns. People who are extremely sensitive or have a Celiac diagnosis should definitely be aware of the dangers.

stop before ordering french fries

It’s true that most French fries are naturally gluten-free (they’re just potatoes) but some companies put flour on them to retain their shape, so be sure to read labels if you’re still purchasing pre-packaged foods. Always ask restaurant staff about their French fry making policies as well. Most restaurants deep fry their French fries in the same fryers that make breaded chicken, fish, and cheese sticks, and that means that breading may easily end up on your fries, making you sick. Some restaurants use separate fryers, so be sure to ask around and know which restaurants are safe for you.

Choosing Alternatives to Gluten-Containing Foods

Once you’ve identified the list of all gluten-containing foods that you eat on a daily basis, the process of switching to gluten-free alternatives is fairly simple. Breakfast cereals, bread, sauces, and even desserts and beer all have extensive gluten-free options on the market that can be worthy replacements for the gluten-filled versions that you have to get rid of.

In the world of processed food, it’s so incredibly easy to find gluten-free options that you will probably not even miss a beat.

Some of my favorite processed gluten-free products that helped me transition out of gluten-filled processed foods are listed below to help you out:

For the record, I don’t really buy or use ANY of the above items anymore, but these are brands that are relatively reliable and are working to ensure that gluten-free options are out there for people like us. I applaud them for that effort.

Also, most of these options are available right at your local grocery store as well, but they are often a good deal more expensive when purchased there. I recommend shopping around online for better deals (or clicking my links to find them on Amazon.)

You can also message me for more help. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t mind being a resource for people who need help with this process!

Next steps

Now, you’re eating gluten-free! Congratulations. That was easy, wasn’t it?

I’m not going to let you stop here though. You’re gluten-free, but if you are eating the items that I suggested above on a regular basis, you are not yet eating “healthy.” Take a deep breath, and if you’re ready, keep reading.

When Going Gluten-Free Doesn’t Work

Eating gluten-free is easy enough to do initially, but there is a lot more to “eating healthy” than simply replacing everything processed with wheat with other foods that are just as processed but without wheat. Unfortunately, many gluten-free alternatives, like bread, cookies, and cereals, are actually made with more sugar than their counterparts. This is because wheat gluten acts as a binding agent in most baked goods, and without it, bakers and food manufacturers need to find something else that is sticky enough to hold the food together.

Many people who go “gluten-free” by simply switching to gluten-free processed foods may find themselves feeling initially better after the change, but not long-term. If this occurs, it is usually because, in the effort to rid themselves of gluten, the person has dramatically increased their sugar intake.

You’ve just solved one problem by creating another!

Count Your Macros

The best option for most of us is to track our complete daily macros (consumption of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and I like to throw in tracking sugar too because sugar is one of the biggest sources of health problems today.)

Once you begin tracking your macros, you’ll have a better idea of what your daily food intake looks like. Most Americans are getting a bad balance of macros (such as too much fat and sugar but not enough protein, or too many carbs and sugar, but not enough of them sourced from healthier vegetables and fruits, respectively.)

At this point, I would suggest tackling the gluten sources that contain the most sugar, like gluten-free bread, desserts, and cereals, but you may find it in other treats as well. (For me, my daily Starbucks habit was one of the greatest sources of sugar in my diet, but I was also getting it from drinking chocolate milk, eating chips with seasonings that were hidden sources of sugar, etc. These were all things I kept consuming regularly for years while eating “gluten-free” and I just couldn’t understand why I was still so sick!)

Get a Food Allergy Test or try an elimination diet

Most medical practitioners can provide food allergy tests that are either covered by insurance or somewhat affordable (several hundred dollars at most, often with payment plan options, if they aren’t covered by insurance). If you’re still experiencing symptoms and discomfort, you may be allergic to something else besides gluten, like dairy or eggs.

Just keep in mind, if you are told that you don’t have food allergies, that does not mean you should carry on as normal and continue eating lots of sugar and processed foods. You can also try an elimination diet to help you determine which foods are causing difficulty and which foods need to be cut. In fact, elimination diets are such a great idea that you can find information about them from lots of nutritionists, health websites, practitioners, etc. I’ve seen elimination diets promoted by some of my favorites like Kelly Brogan and Chris Kresser, and I’ve linked to these resources below.

Understanding More About How Food Works

In my opinion, the biggest issue surrounding nutrition and chronic disease is that many people simply don’t understand that food is the fuel that makes our bodies work. If you’re hoping to fuel your body so that it works the best it can, you need to give it the right nutrients.

Overall nutrition resources

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan

The Paleo Cure: Eat Right for Your Genes, Body Type, and Personal Health Needs — Prevent and Reverse Disease, Lose Weight Effortlessly, and Look and Feel Better than Ever by Chris Kresser

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer

The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo

Elimination Diet Resources

Mind Body Green Simple Elimination Diet

Change Your Food, Heal Your Mood ebook by Kelly Brogan

Autoimmune Paleo Protocol by Chris Kresser

Opening Up the Dialogue About Processed vs. Real Food

The world of nutritional health is such a complicated one in our modern society, yet this statement seems like the type that I would have crossed out if I saw it as the opening line of one of my students’ essays 10 years ago. How could nutritional health be complicated, especially here in the United States, the land of plenty? Unfortunately, the answer is simpler than it seems. We have “plenty” of things to eat, but most of it isn’t real food.

the chronic illness and processed food connection

Let me be clear up front. I am not judging. How could I? I grew up eating lots of vegetables from cans, enjoying some of my favorite treats like boxed macaroni and cheese, ice cream sandwiches, Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, squeeze cheese, Ovaltine, Starbucks lattes…and writing this list out used to make me hungry, but now it just makes me cringe. When I was a kid, I struggled with all kinds of things like OCD, occasional depression (which I didn’t realize at the time, but understood later), anxiety, constipation, and upset stomach.

As an adult (age 24) I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after a long period of unexplained illness. (You can read that whole story elsewhere on my blog.) Even after I was diagnosed, the medical care surrounding the treatment of the illness was confusing and weird. Doctors told me I was in a waiting game because until my thyroid actually “did something” (what a terrifyingly vague warning!) there was nothing they could do to treat me. Meanwhile, I asked what I should do about my diet and activity levels, and I was assured that since I was skinny, I was probably fine. So I carried on as always, going merrily along on my own unhealthy way, eating some real food, but a whole lot of fake, processed food as well.

In 2013, my health hit a wall. I started experiencing those stomach problems that had always plagued me, but with even more intensity than ever before. I had acid reflux almost every day, and I could never decide what was causing it. Over time, I started to realize that the acid reflux generally followed food consumption, so eventually, I stopped eating almost entirely and subsisted primarily on my daily Starbucks chai and any other small amount of food that didn’t make me feel too full. Sure, I ate salads and things like organic chicken, but I was consuming more sugar than anything else. (Back when it was still funny, my friends affectionately called me “the hummingbird,” because I lived on sugary beverages and was always jittery with anxiety.)

My doctors had no idea what to do with me. I was diagnosed with GERD, chronic acid reflux, and an anxiety disorder, but these issues, they assured me, had nothing to do with my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. Of course, that wasn’t reassuring in the least! Over the following 2-3 years, I stopped eating gluten, which is recommended for anyone who has an autoimmune disease, took food allergy tests, got back on a serious exercise regimen, and minimized the sugar intake in my diet. I started feeling better, but still, I didn’t feel good. Even though I was now 100% gluten-free, the acid reflux occurred regularly and without warning or any identifiable triggers, I spent nights lying in my bed having inexplicable panic attacks, and I spent an entire winter focusing all of my energy on the simple task of not ending my life.

How was I so sick, so desperate, and so unhappy, and yet no doctor seemed willing to admit that I had a problem? I convinced them to do an upper GI scope and they happily told me that my stomach was incredibly inflamed, but there was no sign of any apparent “cause,” and they sent me home. This was when the depression reached its peak. How could I go on with my life when I was suffering so much and there was no explanation about why?

The simple answer? I was suffering from malnutrition and no one caught it.

baby steps: Treating illness with nutritional medicine

When I found Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, I had been searching for information about alternative treatment options for depression. Even though my depression was so deep that I was continually envisioning my own death, there was a little part of me that still wanted to believe I could get better and could live a life where I felt good, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I started with baby steps, trying Kelly Brogan’s 30-day reset diet. It was fairly simple and at first, if I’m being honest, absolutely nothing happened. On that diet, I was still consuming some sugar through natural sources like honey and maple syrup and berries, but with the removal of other potentially inflammatory foods like grains and dairy, I did start to notice some physical changes. It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and cut out my favorite vice that things really started to happen.

Breaking up with processed sugar

Breaking up with sugar was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Within the first few days of quitting sugar completely, I went through a few normal mood swings. They were far less than they would have been if I hadn’t already been significantly reducing my sugar intake in the 6 months that preceded this. After getting off sugar, I started feeling less of that groggy, sad feeling and instead, I started feeling calm happiness, energy, and confidence. I thought that it couldn’t be just the sugar, but by then, my body had become pretty accustomed to the clean diet I was eating so the only major change had been to cut the last little bit of sugar out of my diet.

Now, when I slip up and have sugar, I feel those unpleasant sensations in my body starting over again. I realize now that underneath what sometimes felt like my body completely rejecting me, there were subtler elements that I often didn’t recognize, like the achy feeling that occurred with a sugar crash, and the depression feelings that would often occur because of the ongoing body aches.

I’d been dizzy and nauseous and achey and unhappy, because I didn’t realize that I was riding a nonstop rollercoaster of sugar spikes and crashes.

Should you stop eating sugar?

I’ve talked with a lot of people who seek me out asking for advice. They see my food pictures and admire me for eating healthy, but often I start losing them as soon as I tell them what’s actually required.

“I can’t eat dessert anymore?”

“What about Starbucks?”

“How much sugar per day can I have?”

And before you know it, they’ve gone MIA. It happens, I’m not judging. In fact, I usually recognize my old self in their actions and, if anything, it strengthens my own resolve.

By the way, if you’ve asked me for advice and not been able to follow through, don’t cut off communication with me because you’re embarrassed. I know it’s hard to follow through, but that’s why I’m here to help you. I didn’t have anyone to walk me through it and that would have been helpful.

It’s okay to be “not ready,” to perhaps “not believe” that it’ll make a difference, or even to “feel fine” and therefore be willing to put it off again and again. It’s okay to live your own life and make your own decisions, but before you do, I recommend that you at least look at the information that’s out there and USE WHAT YOU LEARN to make your decision.

I’m dying to help everyone. As soon as I hear someone feels sick, I am there trying to preach the gospel of good nutrition, but I’m learning that I can’t save everyone. Some people need to be convinced with facts and evidence, other people need to get their hearts ready, and still other people may never change their minds.

The best I can do is share the information that I find most useful and hope that it will help someone else, or help someone else help someone else they love.

Take baby steps, if you must. One. Little. Step. At a time. Just never stop moving forward.

Educational resources about nutrition

It’s no secret that I love listening to Chris Kresser, whether in his books or his podcast. He collects the most interesting data on nutrition and shares the world of other knowledgeable experts, and he presents the information in the most educational and applicable way. While this podcast might not be the best choice for your START on a nutritional journey (for that, I recommend the reading suggestions at the very end of this post), if you’re already taking your steps toward better health and finding yourself struggling, this podcast may help put some things into perspective regarding supplemental nutritional support.

Chris Kresser’s mantra is “Eat real food,” and I’ve taken that for my own as well.

By the way, this resource is mentioned on the podcast. I’ve explored it a bit and so far, it’s extremely robust and helpful. It details tons of important nutritional facts all in one handy “cheat sheet.”

(If you listen to the above podcast, there’s a COUPON CODE that can be used until, I think, March 26, 2018, so hurry up!)

Crystal’s Healthy reading list

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan

The Paleo Cure: Eat Right for Your Genes, Body Type, and Personal Health Needs — Prevent and Reverse Disease, Lose Weight Effortlessly, and Look and Feel Better than Ever by Chris Kresser

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg

The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer

The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight by Valter Longo

5 Most Common Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet

First of all, let it be known that I am not a doctor and don’t have any right to medically recommend things. (I’m currently studying, not practicing, nutritional therapy.) This post is merely meant to be informative and helpful in terms of different symptoms you may encounter while on a ketogenic diet. Remember to talk with your actual doctor if you have any concerns! 🙂

Ketogenic diets have grown in popularity, and whether you’re adhering to one because of a health condition, fitness lifestyle, or personal preference, you may experience a number of side effects from this dietary choice. While experiencing unpleasant side effects might make dieters frustrated and want to quit, there are very simple means of addressing these and getting yourself back on track. Here are a few tips for overcoming some of the most common side effects of a ketogenic diet.  

Acne

No one enjoys breakouts, especially the kind that never seem to go away! Unfortunately, many people experience acne during the adaptation phase of the ketogenic diet. It makes sense; your body is changing dramatically in ketosis and that means some of the initial reactions will be more negative than the ones that will develop over time. If you experience acne, treat it gently with natural cleansers and try not to pick at it. It will go away in time if you stick with the diet.

One tip I’ve gotten a few times this winter is to use tea tree oil to treat spots. I never had tried it before and I really like it! it’s not as harsh as spot acne treatment, but it’s also not so mild that you don’t see any results. Plus it smells nice and doesn’t contain chemicals, so there are a few wins for this remedy in my book! I get my tea tree oil very affordably at Whole Foods.

Bad Breath

Keto breath is a common early symptom of ketosis and is caused by the ketone release through your breathing. Some people may choose to brush their teeth more or chew gum or a natural breath freshener to minimize the effects. It’s important to note that this symptom is not caused by the mouth but by the lungs, so it may not be possible to eliminate it entirely. Fortunately, this symptom is part of the adaptation phase and goes away after a short time (1-2 weeks).

There are all kinds of tips for masking the breath, but I think the most effective is “chew gum.” It’s not really coming from your mouth and it’ll go away soon. No need to take such drastic measures. For me, I noticed it for a couple of days and then it disappeared very quickly.

Dehydration

Dehydration, and its primary associated symptoms, constipation and muscle cramps, are common results of ketosis. There are several concerns that this could be pointing to, such as:

  • Not enough water consumption
  • Changes in the microbiome due to ketosis
  • Over-consumption of constipation-causing foods like cheese, eggs, and nuts

Dehydration is treated with water and electrolytes, which help your body retain the water. Choosing the right kinds of minerals to consume can also help alleviate the symptoms of dehydration. Add pink Himalayan salt to your diet! At my house, we got a few packages of Nuun electrolyte tablets so that we could all stay hydrated in ketosis. We liked them a lot! 

Exhaustion

Because a ketogenic diet requires your body to fuel from a different source than what it’s probably used to, you may experience some weakness, exhaustion, reduced physical strength, or even reduced cognition. This is a passing symptom. Once your body grows adapted to its new energy source, this symptom should go away. One option for dealing with this can be consuming more fat. Eating an avocado may potentially help!

“Keto Flu”

Keto flu is one of the most common side effects of the ketogenic diet, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Most people who experience keto flu feel as though they have a flu-like illness, with symptoms like runny nose, headache, aches and pains, etc. A means of remedying this situation can be eating more frequently (have a fat and protein rich snack every 3-4 hours) and ensuring that you drink electrolyte-rich beverages to reduce dehydration.

Why Keto?

For me personally, a ketogenic diet has done wonders for a number of symptoms I struggle with due to my autoimmune disease. I have found the diet to help me increase my calories without increasing my food intake to levels that I can’t manage. I’ve lost weight, especially bloat, and I’ve experienced increased strength and brain power. I don’t think the results are necessarily typical because I’ve heard different reports from many different people. Everyone has their own way of responding to a diet.

If you’ve tried or are trying keto right now, what are your experiences? I always love to hear what others have to say about their experiences in the realm of better nutrition.

 

Additional Resources

The Keto Diet” by Leanne Vogel 

My friend who has also been doing kept, recommended this book to me and it’s been a great resource! Not only is the information helpful, but the recipes are also pretty great. If you click on this link to buy the book, you are using an affiliate link that provides credit to me for the recommendation 🙂 Always appreciated!