March 2016 - Vitanova

Tara Marlow’s Story – Life is Short. Make It Matter!

Tara Marlow is the travel blogger behind the site Travel Far Enough, where she and her husband inspire others to quit their corporate cubicles and live the lives they dream of. But her own life and dreams weren’t always aligned: until 2011, Tara worked 70-hour weeks and envied those whose lives revolved around traveling and writing about it. A road trip with her preteen daughter brought Tara’s priorities into focus, challenged her to drastically reorient her life around them, and compelled her to live her dreams. 

I grew up in Australia and took my first overseas trip as an 18-year-old. I was immediately bitten by the travel bug! At age 22, I moved to America, where my former husband and I thought we’d stay five years before moving on. The marriage didn’t stick, unlike the travel bug, but a beautiful daughter came from that marriage.

Five years turned into 20; I met my wonderful husband Rich and built a career in Texas. Before I realized it, I was drinking the Kool-Aid of corporate America and found myself working 70 hours a week. I got up each day to rush out the door, work at a frenetic pace, and come home only to work more while throwing dinner together before sitting down in front of the TV to work on my laptop. I had migraines a few times a month from the weight of it all.

Work was costing me my health and my relationships with family and friends. However, I stuck to my promise to my daughter that we would take a mother-daughter trip every year. In 2010, I knew I needed to get away from the craziness for a while and that our annual girly getaway would slip through my fingers if I didn’t make a plan. So, I asked her if she wanted to take a road trip. Without any hesitation, she said, “Let’s go to Mount Rushmore.”

I laughed because Mount Rushmore had never been on my list! But she’d learned about it in school. I thought, “Why not?” We agreed that we’d make it an epic two-week road trip and visit some other cool places along the way. We researched the stops to make, created road-trip playlists, downloaded audiobooks, found a questionnaire we could talk through, and came up with a mantra: “Try something new every day.” Little did I know that this wouldn’t just become a fun road trip; it would change my life.

My daughter and I reconnected as we traveled. Our reconnection on the road made me realize that I was missing out on her life when we were at home. I wondered what I had missed over the years of 70-hour weeks.

A year later, both my father and Rich’s father passed away. Around the same time, my daughter came to me while I was working and asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. I replied, “Yes, but give me five minutes.” Three hours later, I finally went to her bedroom to find her sobbing on her bed. She said, “Mum, you said five minutes. It’s been three hours.” This was not a proud parental moment.

That was the absolute turning point for me. It was time to listen to what was happening in my life. I talked with my husband, and he said, “You know, yes. You are spiraling. You’re not in a good place. You should consider what else you can do.”

In mid-2011, I got my ducks in a row at work and gave notice. I rediscovered my passions for travel, writing, and photography and researched them like crazy. For the next year, I took online courses and sold my photography at local markets. Life was good. I could breathe again.

In 2012, our life changed again. My husband had his own “aha” moment after watching my transformation and decided to join my quest. After a family discussion, we decided to move to Australia. Even with the stress of an overseas move, my migraines stopped.

For our family of three, moving to Australia was the right decision. Now, I can spend three hours deliberating John Donne poetry with my daughter, take hikes with my family, and go camping or explore epic snorkeling spots in the middle of the week. And when my daughter graduates, Rich and I will be traveling full time. Life is open to us now.

We have a daily routine focused on family, health, and following our bliss. Over coffee and our daily vitamin D each morning, we plan our day. It may be writing, working on marketing, or exploring a new spot. When my daughter returns from school, we talk about her day at length. We make healthy meals together with the abundance that Australia’s farmers’ markets have to offer. Our evenings are like most families’, with a key difference: we ditched the TV when we left America. We love it. Life is healthier for us in every way.

I’ve thought about what drives me to make each day better than the last, and it’s simple. It’s what we talk about on our website: Life is short. Make your life matter.

Kay Stephens’ Story – Embracing Each Day

International model and businesswoman Kay Stephens’ life changed drastically in an instant one windy New York day in 2003. As she walked to class, gale-force winds hurled a 60-pound pole from a poorly secured construction zone fence into the left side of her head. She saw the wind knock down the construction materials like dominos as she blacked out. Her life has never been the same, but Kay hasn’t let her immense challenges get her down. Instead, she embraces each day as a fresh start and is empowering other brain injury survivors through her Faces of TBI campaign. 

Before my brain injury, I found success and fulfillment in many ways. Not only was I an international fashion model with work in my home country of Jamaica and in London, but I also had done public relations for public, private, and governmental entities, had run a grooming and modeling school in Jamaica, and published a book that sold 20,000 copies in the Caribbean. My wonderful daughter had just started high school in New York, where I was attending Queens College.

My concussion happened as I went to class one day. Right as I was feeling thankful that I’d made it to class in one piece, a metal pole from a makeshift construction fence struck the side of my head. My neck went one way as my body went the other. In the emergency room, doctors told me I had short-term memory deficits from the concussion that would remedy themselves within a few weeks. They said I was fine otherwise and did not do an MRI or CT scan. But the truth was that I had suffered many injuries, including herniated and bulging discs in my cervical spine, a torn rotator cuff and tendons, hip and right shoulder bursitis, pelvic injuries, and more. Some of these would not be discovered until years later.

The problems I experienced after that did not make sense to me, and I hid them for a long time, thinking I was going crazy. I couldn’t smell for three years. I had problems with my vision, hearing, and urinary systems. I could look, but I couldn’t interpret what I saw or read the words on the page in front of me. Sounds that are in the background for most people, like a clock ticking or a refrigerator humming, were suddenly loud and overwhelming for me because I couldn’t filter them out. I had terrible neck spasms and blinding headaches.

The true nature of my injuries was not uncovered until 2008, when I finally took control of finding out what had happened to me. I underwent neuropsychological testing, which revealed a “mild” traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which caused short-term memory and attention deficits and emotional deregulation. Parts of my brain had very low oxygen flow. I had to focus on each injury one at a time, and to date, I’ve had more than 1,300 appointments stemming from this one accident. My brain injury may be categorized as mild, but its impact on my life has been immense.

Life as I knew it stopped that day in 2003. My type A personality had to retire early, and surviving my TBI became my primary focus. I underwent so much treatment that I experienced secondary health issues; medications that helped me with aspects of my injury caused gastritis so bad that I wanted to die as I lay in the hospital. Help came in the form of a homeopathic nutritionist who gave me some critical advice: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” I cured my gastritis through an intestinal cleanse, dietary restrictions, and a commitment to the right foods. Combining this with my routine physical therapy and other treatments has allowed me to return to some of my old activities and manage my emotions.

I strengthen and center myself every day through quiet time and prayer. This time connects me with my inner strength and my spiritual sense of a higher purpose. Music is therapy for me, and I connect socially in small group settings with the people who have rallied around me. These things have helped me make my dream for the Faces of TBI campaign a reality. This campaign will raise public awareness of the invisible disability of brain injury to increase understanding, tolerance, funding, and emotional support for those with brain injuries.

I encourage others with brain injuries to accept yourselves. I couldn’t have gotten here without finding the courage to accept my new, disabled self and making changes to support my own success. Find someone to share your feelings with who is objective, while also building your support network of friends and family who accept you the way you are. Envision your new goals, renew your love for yourself, and do what brings you joy! Like me, you can choose to make each day a fresh start.

GMOs: What’s the debate about?

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are living organisms in which the DNA has been altered with the genetic material of another species. Most GMOs are plants that have been modified to withstand the application of herbicides; the weeds die and the farmers’ crops survive. In one odd instance, to study human-genetic disorders, Chinese geneticists took the bioluminescence DNA from jellyfish and inserted it into the genes of pig embryos, creating piglets that glow in the dark when put under a black light.

So, why, if GMOs offer benefits to farmers and medical studies, are more and more consumers becoming alarmed? Because today, more than 90% of all soy and corn sold in the United States has been genetically modified, along with sugar beets and canola oil. Not only are these commodity crops our staples, but they’re also common ingredients in many processed foods. In fact, 80% of the food in the U.S. contains some GMOs, and while Big Food, chemical companies, many biotech scientists and world organizations insist GMOs are safe, critics claim genetically modified foods raise serious health concerns.

According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, “several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.”

And, although some attempts at genetic engineering have been done to increase nutritional value, The Institute for Responsible Technology states that the two most engineered traits are “herbicide tolerance and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These results have no health benefit, only economic benefit.”

Even worse, not only have GMO crops become tolerant to herbicides, so have weeds, creating “super-weeds” which require even heavier applications of most toxic chemicals such as glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup. Scientific American recently reported that the World Health Organization declared “glyphosate a probable carcinogen.”

Unfortunately for Americans, the United States has the loosest restrictions worldwide. According to the United States Library of Congress, “Compared to other countries, regulation of GMOs in the U.S. is relatively favorable to their development…the U.S. is the world’s leading producer of genetically modified (GM) crops.”

Currently the debate has moved into the spotlight on the political stage. Since the federal government won’t pass more stringent laws regarding GMO use, states have taken matters into their own hands. In 2014, Governor Pete Shumlin of Vermont passed one of the nation’s first mandatory labeling laws for GMOs, which requires all foods that are genetically modified or have genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2016, and legislation currently in Congress and backed by the Big Food lobby is trying to stop the law from taking effect, arguing that state-by-state labeling requirements would make it challenging for the food industry to comply.

Many consumers nowadays want to be informed about the GMOs in their foods. Until laws mandate that the food industry tells us which foods contain GMOs, we can only rely on those responsible companies that can assure us no GMOs have been used. Look for the label “non-GMO” or “no GMOs” to be sure.



Scientists Create Glow-in-the-Dark Pigs Just in Time for Your Next Rave

Rochelle’s Battle with Celiac Disease

Rochelle Asmussen led a normal life until celiac disease turned her world upside down. With healing came weight gain and a frustration that she was stuck in a rut. She discovered the way to a better, fitter, happier life through a personal trainer and daily rituals.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease about 17 years ago. I was so sick and so uncomfortable, but it was a blessing to find out it was just a food allergy and not something worse. For a long time, we were thinking that I was really sick. The doctors didn’t know what was going on. They had no clue. These days, celiac is so mainstream. The food was awful back then for anyone with a gluten allergy. Now, it’s great. I don’t even think about it anymore.

I’ve always been fit, but since getting celiac and becoming very thin from being so sick, my metabolism just completely changed and I gained all the weight after my body healed from the damage. It isn’t fair. I finally got my body fixed and felt better and then the weight came on and my metabolism got all messed up. So, ever since then, I’ve been struggling with my weight and trying to get it down. Then, I turned 50 and my hormones went crazy with menopause, stress, job, children, a teenager and a college kid, bills, and anxiety. I knew I needed a change.

At a scrapbooking convention, my friend, Shelly, was casually saying that she had just gotten her training certificate in personal. She was wondering how to find a job, whether she should go with a gym, etc. I told her she should think about training people in their homes. I can speak from experience, I don’t like going to gyms because I’m embarrassed. I’m heavier than anyone else there and I wonder if people are judging me, so I told her I would love it if someone came to my home. We began working out together a month later. I told Shelly I didn’t know if I could do it, or if I’d be good at it, but I wanted to do it. It’s a very vulnerable feeling. You’re getting down to your nakedness, almost, and then you’re exercising and grunting and groaning in front of someone else.

I had to start with measurements and weight, and that was the hardest part. That’s where I had to face everything, and now someone else knows too. It’s now out there. We started really slow, and I loved her style; she was very easy on me. I couldn’t do much to begin with.

Shelly took notes and pictures to when we started and as we go along. She ups the ante as I get stronger and has created exercises that are harder and harder. When we first started, I could barely get up off the floor. It was really hard. I had to use a chair or other things to help me up. Now, fast-forward a year later and I can jump right up, and I don’t even need to use my hands. I can do full burpees. I used to just move slowly from one foot to the next, and now I can jump through them properly. My squats are also amazing. Shelly put me against the wall and just had me hold the sit position. I said, “This is all you got? I can do this another two minutes!” I was doing shoulder raises at the same time and I could do that all day, too. My biceps are stronger, as well. I feel completely different. My balance is even better than before. She’s always got me on a balance ball or something. My core is stronger. Everything feels different. I feel so good. Weight-bearing exercise at my age is so important.

I also have a competitive husband, and we now have FitBits—and so does Shelly. We’re all friends on the FitBit program, so we challenge each other constantly. We can see each other’s seven-day cumulative steps, and we are always competing against each other. When I see that one of them has more steps, I think, “Oh, my gosh, I only have 8,000 steps. I’ve got to go for another walk!” Even though I’ve already done my hour workout and already been all over the house and up and down the stairs, I then go for that extra walk. I’ve got to! I’ll take the dog one more time. The dog helps; she will go for a walk whenever I want and however many times I want.

This has completely changed my thinking. I’m always thinking about what active thing I can do next and I don’t mind running up and down stairs anymore. I need my steps and I need to beat my husband! It’s been so good for both of us. He got his FitBit a year before I got mine. He bought mine for me for Christmas last year. When I got mine, his life also changed for the better. Because he’s super competitive, he’s been getting about 20,000 steps a day. We call him the nightwalker. He goes downstairs and walks on the treadmill at midnight.

Before, I didn’t like exercise; I did it because I had to. Now, I really look forward to it, and I love that Shelly is coming over. I get up early every morning, and I think, “Yay! I’m going to work out today!” She’s making me a better person all around. I’m taking my vitamins now because she has suggested it. My husband can tell me all day long that I really should take my vitamins, but if Shelly tells me, I’ll do it.

My goal for my weight loss right now is two pounds a week. By spring break, I want to feel better when my family goes to Mexico. That’s my new goal. I have to cut out all the wine and bad stuff. So far, I’ve been building a lot of muscle, so my weight hasn’t changed as much as I would like, but things are fitting better and I feel better. I just have to stop drinking my calories in wine.

I’ve never had a goal before. I always know what the end result is, but I haven’t made the little goals. Two pounds a week doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up quickly. Two pounds is pretty easy.

Thankfully, I have a kid to get off to school, so I have great morning rituals. I’m not supposed to work out on an empty stomach or with too much food, so I have a little bit and then warm up with 2,000 steps on the elliptical even before Shelly gets there. I also do “I am” affirmations all the time, too, and I start my day by meditating for 20 minutes.

I work out every day now, and I feel so good. I used to be sluggish and tired. Now, I have much more energy and I look forward to working out. My skin looks better. I’ve been drinking more water, sleeping better. I still have anxiety at night, but it’s getting better. Working out helps the anxiety a lot. Even just fresh air helps.

We’re realtors, so we have a lot of stress and anxiety. Getting out there and getting that breath of fresh air because you’re trying to get your steps is so uplifting. I can leave in a huff and angry, and by the time I’m halfway around the first block, I’m thinking, “This is great! Why was mad? I don’t even remember.” I can’t even yell at my husband if he makes me mad because I’ve forgotten why I was mad.

I used to listen to positive books when driving to see my mom as she was dying, before I started working out with Shelly. That was the beginning of this new transformation. I am committed to this—it’s been a year and I’m still committed to it. This has shifted my thinking into healthier choices. Exercise and taking care of myself will be something I do for the rest of my life now. I love it.

Eleuthero Helps us Adapt to Daily Stress

Stressed out on high adrenaline? Wiped out from too much on your to-do list? Modern living can have many of us feeling that rollercoaster of energy levels––the highs, the lows, the sharp turns––when what we’re trying to achieve in our lives is balance.

Luckily, we can look to the past to help with contemporary life. Siberian ginseng, more recently referred to by its scientific name Eleutherococcus senticosus (or eleuthero, for short), is one of the five most important herbal adaptogens. Functionally, when we’re too revved up with stress, or too slowed down with fatigue, adaptogens help our bodies adapt and rebalance, regardless of which rollercoaster loop we’re on.

Eleuthero’s use dates back 2,000 years in Chinese medicine. Not to be confused with Chinese or Korean ginseng, eleuthero produces somewhat different effects on the human body. Pronounced eh-LOO-thero, it is one of the most widely researched herbs in the world, proving its efficacy not only through scientific studies but also through the empirical evidence of thousands of years of application.

So, how does an adaptogen work?

According to an article by Jill Stansbury, ND, in the Journal of Restorative Medicine, “Adaptogens are plant-derived compounds that normalize endocrine function and promote adaptation to environmental stress. Adaptogenic herbs modulate stress responses, enhancing energy production and sleep quality and improving immune function.”

The Natural Medicine Journal includes, “Siberian ginseng is used to invigorate qi; strengthen the spleen; nourish the kidney; provide energy and vitality… In traditional Russian medicine, Siberian ginseng is used to stimulate the immune system. Siberian ginseng is among the five adaptogens most commonly used by Western herbalists.” Siberian ginseng also maintains blood pressure already within normal limits, promotes a healthy inflammation response, and supports respiratory, heart, and liver health.*

In my own experience, having used eleuthero on and off for more than a decade, I can attest to my body’s response when taking this particular adaptogen. When I’ve been pushing too hard, I’ll find myself recovering in a deep sleep. When I’m dragging, it seems to revitalize me. says, “Unlike many herbs with a medicinal use, it [eleuthero] is more useful for maintaining good health rather than treating ill health. Research has shown that it stimulates resistance to stress and so it is now widely used as a tonic in times of stress and pressure.”*

Can anyone out there in the modern age not relate to this?


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