Although summer is my favorite, I do love September. The changing colors outside are gorgeous and (usually) the weather takes its time transitioning to full on freezing. I also love fresh starts and fall resolutions and getting back to routine, perhaps especially this time around when I’ve been out of it for so many weeks. I feel a bit behind in general as I attempt to catch up on everything personally and professionally in addition to preparing for a major move back to the States in just three months (that in and of itself is both exhilarating and anxiety-provoking simultaneously!). And while there’s so much to do and I have a tendency to just dive into it all full-steam ahead, I am continuously proving to myself that its usually best to get the basics under control first and foremost. And while you may be rolling your eyes at my being slow on the uptake at this stage – it is easy for us all to underestimate the power of foundational habits.
When it comes to making positive changes in your life, have you ever felt like if you could just master that one thing everything else would suddenly click? It’s that feeling that if you could make that one small change or get that one area of life under control the rest will fall in line. I’m not necessarily talking about living in a “grass is greener on the other side” mentality, falling prey to the arrival fallacy, or even relying on some sort of magical genie. The reality is, however, that there are a few high priority habits and behaviors which do influence and set a foundation for many of our other goals, resolutions and willpower challenges. Experts in habit research call them foundational habits, arguing that virtually anything we can do to reduce stress and better manage our health improves our self-command and ability to stay committed to our higher level goals.
Because our heart-rate variability so strongly predicts our ability to practice self-control, things that increase it actually have a dramatic effect on all the rest. Therefore, continuously the research on routines, resolutions and sustainable behavior change suggests that there are some dominant and foundational habits which should be considered first and foremost: sleep, exercise and diet.
For the majority of my life I was in denial about the importance of sleep. I am a very energetic person naturally (likely in part because I have placed significant value on the other two elements of the foundational habits trifecta), I enjoy keeping busy, and I consistently push myself to the limits in terms of taking on commitments. I remember being 18 years old and hearing my father’s disapproval of my “burning the candle at both ends” as I woke up to be at work by 6:00 AM after arriving home well after midnight consistently. However, I have been converted over the past few years after reading so many studies which suggest that so often we live with constant sleep deprivation which impacts us in a litany of ways we may not even suspect or notice – such as its negative impact on our self-control.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, describes sleep as the cornerstone of foundational habits because “being mildly but chronically sleep deprived makes you more susceptible to stress, cravings and temptation. It also makes it more difficult to control your emotions, focus your attention or find the energy to tackle challenges [because] it impairs how the body and brain use glucose, their main form of energy. When you’re tired, your cells have trouble absorbing glucose from the bloodstream. This leaves them under-fueled and you exhausted. With your body and brain desperate for energy, you’ll start to crave sweets or caffeine. But even if you try to refuel with sugar or coffee, your body and brain won’t get the energy they need because they won’t be able to use it efficiently. This is bad news for self-control, one of the most energy expensive tasks your brain can spend its limited fuel on.” Some research shows that even a single night of poor sleep can impair our prefrontal cortex and push us unnecessarily into a fight-or-flight state, which is physiologically stressing and decreases heart rate variability. As someone who was convinced I was doing just fine on the limited sleep that I was getting, it took more than a little convincing, but I have now come to value a more consistent sleep schedule as a high priority and use the iPhone bedtime reminders to help me start winding down and getting ready for bed earlier so I can get a full night’s rest. Well that is unless I’m traveling back and forth through up to 7 hours of time zone change craziness…
Building good foundational habits (including making sleep a priority) has a disproportionate impact on anything else we are trying to start or stop doing. Which is why I’ve been trying to give myself some grace to catch up and recalibrate my sleep schedule over the past week. It’s taking longer than I would have hoped and I have to say, I am struggling with the “lack of productivity” in some areas, but I do believe that it’s a worthwhile investment. As are the other little things that I do to maintain some consistency in the nighttime wind down and morning routine. Among the best strategies I’ve implemented for over the past several years has been my commitment to meal prepping breakfast for the week over the weekend. It alleviates a lot of unnecessary stress before bed or in the morning rushing out the door and ensures that I have adequate nourishment to get my day started right. And if you’ve been following along for awhile, you know my opinion is that a breakfast frittata is one of the best of the best meal prep friendly options! So here’s a new fall-friendly version: a Whole30 Butternut Squash and Sage Frittata which is easy to make in advance and easy to take on-the-go throughout the week. Giving you a few more minutes for other things which will set you up for success – like sleep!
- Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1"x1" cubes 1 medium
- Ghee, melted 2 TBSP divided
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Black Pepper .5 TSP
- Yellow Onion, diced 1 medium
- Garlic Cloves, minced 3 each
- Ground/Minced Turkey 1 lb (400 g)
- Fennel Seeds 1 TBSP
- Fresh Sage, roughly chopped .25 cup (5 g)
- Eggs 8 each
- Full Fat Coconut Milk .5 cup (120 ml)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F/ 204 C and line a baking sheet with foil
- Peel and cube the butternut squash into 1"x1" pieces and then toss in a bowl with half the melted ghee, the sea salt and black pepper to coat
- Spread the butternut squash over the foil lined pan and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the remaining ghee and add the diced onion, sautéing for about 3 minutes or until slightly translucent and then add the minced garlic, cooking for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the turkey, crumbling it in the pan and then then add the fennel and sage, mixing everything well.
- Cook for about 5 minutes or until the turkey is browned and then remove from heat.
- In your mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and the coconut milk together well to combine and then add the turkey mixture. Once the butternut squash is finished, add that as well and stir to combine.
- Reduce the oven heat to 350 F / 180 C and then lightly grease an oven safe baking dish. Pour the mixture into the dish and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the eggs are set.
- Enjoy! This one is a good one to make while you are prepping up other things for the week and will easily last up to a week if kept refrigerated and tightly covered. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!