5 Healthy Things To Do Every Night for Clear, Glowing Skin

The older I get, the more important skincare is to me. I’ve already written about some of the basics you need to know in order to protect your skin from aging, even while you’re still in your 20s. Healthy, glowing skin starts from the inside. Have you ever caught a glimpse in the mirror after a stressful night with little to no sleep? You may have noticed that these kinds of situations can wreak havoc on the appearance of your skin.

Consistency is key when it comes to skin care. If your skin is chronically stressed for any reason, it can result in a breakdown of collagen. In fact, even skin irritation that you don’t detect—such as mild irritation from fragrances—can cause collagen breakdown.

To keep your skin hydrated, irritation-free, healthy and glowing, consider adding these five skin care practices to your nighttime routine.

Cleanse Completely

First of all, it’s vital to get makeup, dirt and any other contaminants off of your skin before you go to sleep. These days, some beauty gurus recommend a Korean skin care technique called double cleansing. First, you go over your skin with an oil-based cleanser to dissolve makeup and debris. Then, you wash your skin a second time with a more traditional cleanser to get down into the pores to dissolve dirt. The oil protects the skin from dryness caused by over-washing, while the two cleanses ensure that your pores are completely free and clear for the night.

Now, for some, this might be overkill. If you don’t wear a ton of makeup, a solid, effective cleanser should do the trick. But here’s what you should look for: a non-drying, gentle cleanser that won’t irritate your skin, strip it of its natural oils, or upset its pH balance. Even acne-prone skin types will be best served with a hydrating, moisturizing cleanser, rather than a drying one.

I’m personally loving this Heimish All Clean Balm for my first cleanse, and Drunk Elephant’s Pekee Bar for my second cleanse. Cetaphil’s Hydrating Cleanser is also of good quality, but I try to avoid using products that aren’t cruelty-free.

Seal in Moisture

To keep your skin healthy and hydrated, you need to seal water in. Invest in a good, fragrance-free moisturizer—and as mentioned before, don’t shy away from effective moisturizers if you’re acne-prone. I like to layer a moisturizer on top of a light facial oil, but again, that might be overkill for some. One or the other is perfectly fine if your skin doesn’t feel dry or tight.

The most important piece comes after you’ve found a good moisturizer: applying it correctly. Be sure to apply your moisturizer right after you’ve showered or cleansed your face. Don’t even leave the bathroom until you’ve moisturized. You want your skin to still be slightly damp so that your moisturizer creates a barrier, sealing in hydration and preventing water loss.

Take Turmeric

Turmeric is a fantastic spice for beauty. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, so it does wonders for the skin. Skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema are all caused by inflammation. After your last meal of the day, mix a ½ tablespoon of turmeric into a warm cup of almond milk to help settle your stomach and reduce inflammation.

Drink Triphala Powder

An hour before going to bed, it’s time to take your second beauty cocktail: a teaspoon of triphala powder mixed with hot water. Triphala powder is an ayurvedic ingredient that’s known not only for its digestion-promoting benefits, but also its anti-cancer properties.

Triphala powder’s main benefit for the skin is that it helps gently promote regular bowel movements without causing diarrhea or having a strong laxative effect. This gentle digestive help will help keep your intestines and colon clean, helping to keep your skin clear and glowing. As a bonus, the water you’ll consume when drinking your triphala powder (and your turmeric!) will lend hydration to your body.

Sleep for At Least 7 Hours

Finally, it’s no secret that good sleep is important for glowing skin. There’s a reason they call it “beauty sleep.” When you haven’t gotten enough sleep, lines and wrinkles become more pronounced. Get a good night sleep by establishing a nighttime routine and going to bed at a similar time every night. I’ll be sharing more nighttime routine tips soon — stay tuned!

This post is adapted from an article I originally wrote for Care2. You can find it here!

How (Not) To Cross The Border from Peru Into Chile

I left off in Arequipa, the second-largest city in Peru and the town from which Logan and I traveled to the Colca Canyon. It’s been a while since I posted, I know – and I still have a lot to share with you guys (like, three more countries’ worth of stories), which I plan to do over the next few months.

If you’ve been following along with our adventures, you’ll know that we toured the Colca Canyon on just a couple hours of sleep. We were literally dozing off and on throughout the bus tour all day. And our adventure was just beginning.

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We got back to our hostel in Arequipa at about 5 p.m., and immediately caught a cab to the nearest bus station. We knew our mission: Buy a bus ticket to Tacna, the southernmost point of Peru and our crossing-over point into Chile. In South America, you can pretty much show up at any city’s bus station and find a bus ticket to wherever you’d like to go. Sure, popular routes can sell out. But in general, bus travel is widespread and a super-convenient way of getting from town to town.

So, we bought the our tickets from the first counter we saw: a company called Flores. It looked nice enough… The logo had pretty flowers all over it, so how bad could it be? Well, while it wasn’t the worst bus ride ever, it was decidedly not the best.

The bus was wet and damp, and we were clearly the only tourists on the bus (not that that’s an issue – in fact, I thought it was kind of cool – but it’s a symbol of how non-luxurious this ride was compared to our experience with Cruz del Sur.) The ride was, of course, an overnight trip, and while Cruz del Sur served food and gave everyone blankets to sleep with, the Flores bus was more of an every man for himself sort of setup. Throughout the night, we’d stop at various towns and Peruvian ladies would board the bus and walk the aisles selling water and papas rellenas (doughy breaded stuffed potatoes). Now remember: At this point, we’d barely slept in two nights.

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The next morning around 5 a.m., we arrived in Tacna. And then things really started getting stressful. I’d known all along that this particular part of the trip was going to be odd. We had to find a collectivo, a bus or car that people share as a form of transportation, that would take us across the border into Chile. And we’re not talking about a cool Uber-pool situation. We’re talking about literally speaking Spanish and walking up to a driver and asking him to take us to an international border. And yes, as the Spanish speaker in our duo, I was nervous about this. But I’d done thorough research online and countless travel bloggers said this was the thing to do.

So, I found a collectivo. Yay! It was a double-decker bus full of backpackers like us, and all you had to do was hand your passport and your customs ticket to the driver (yes, I’d read this was totally normal and legit – the driver then makes a copy of your passport to give to the border agents so that he or she can legally get you over the border). But when it came time for us to board the bus, we realized something awful: We didn’t have our customs tickets. And they were, apparently, required in order to leave the country.

“Well, this is over,” we thought. “We’re never going to be able to leave Peru. We’re going to have to take three more overnight busses to get back to Lima to meet with the American embassy and have them get us home. So much for seeing Chile, Argentina and Brazil.”

I can’t emphasize enough that we were running on about four hours of sleep over the course of two very active days.

We sat down on a bench in the middle of the semi-deserted bus station (remember, it’s about 6 a.m. at this point) and tried to regroup. I did some Googling on what happens when travelers lose their customs tickets. According to some guy who lost his while traveling in Vietnam, customs officers will issue you a new one, even if grumpily. This was good news. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to backtrack to the American embassy after all – if we could convince a collectivo to take us to the border in the first place.

We asked a few taxi drivers, and they turned us down. We were about to give up when I had the genius idea: “What if we take a collectivo, but instead of the double-decker bus with backpackers on it, we use an individual driver?” This is difficult to explain unless you’re in the situation, but the individual driver option seemed a lot more shady. We ended up in a car with three South American dudes, none of whom spoke English, making the one-hour drive to the Peru-Chile border.

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But, the driver didn’t ask for our customs tickets, so… All we could do was cross our fingers and hope for the best. The best case scenario would be that the border agent would re-issue our customs tickets and we would successfully be able to cross the border and continue on our adventure without needing to make the two-day bus trek back to the American embassy in Lima. The worst case scenario? We’d drive an hour across the desert and the border agent wouldn’t let us cross without our tickets, so we’d be stranded in the desert. Or the taxi driver was actually running some kind of scam and would take our passports, kidnap us and harvest our organs.

So, what do you think happened?

……..

IT WAS FINE! We didn’t get kidnapped, the border agent let us cross, and we were soon in Arica, a beachy hippy town in northern Chile right on the Pacific coast. And that’s where our next story will begin. Stay tuned!

Peru is For Lovers: Cusco, Machu Picchu and Arequipa

Okay, so in a lot of ways, Peru wasn’t the most romantic setting in the world. But it’s who you’re with that matters. Logan and I really enjoyed our time exploring all sorts of landscapes throughout Peru. We saw deserts and jungles and beaches. We met friends from Peru, Switzerland, Argentina, South Korea and the United States. We did some yoga (in my case) and jiu jitsu (in Logan’s). We had our minds completely blown by the ancient city of Machu Picchu. And in the end, other than perhaps Brazil, we got to know Peru better than any other country on our itinerary, simply because we got to see so much of it. This is that story.

I left off in Lima, where we spent about three days enjoying the sights and sounds of Barranco and Miraflores, the city’s two most attractive neighborhoods. Our bus trip to Cusco was delayed at first, so when we finally managed to secure our seats on a Cruz del Sur bus to Cusco (I definitely recommend those guys if you’re bussing round South America), we breathed a sigh of relief. We were still a little bit nervous, though – the bus trip was about 18 hours long and we’d be traveling overnight. We were worried about the rocky terrain of the Andes and the overall experience of the bus.

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But we were fine, if a little uncomfortable. The first big learning experience was leaving Lima by bus. As we left the city, the urban bubbles of Miraflores and Barranco faded into the background as we got an up-close look at the poorer communities scattered outside of the city. Little shacks were everywhere…up and down mountains, across from big, fancy car dealerships, next to factories. But these communities also had plenty of roadside restaurants and bars for residents to gather at. They usually looked like big kitchens with communal tables for customers to sit at and enjoy a beer and some conversation. It was both sad and interesting to see the other side of Lima.

The food on the bus was pretty horrific and gave us both upset stomachs, which made sleeping through the night practically impossible. But when we finally woke up around 8 a.m., we were suddenly in the heart of the Andes. Drivers in South America, including our bus driver, give zero f**ks about speed limits (or maybe there just aren’t any). We nonetheless felt pretty safe, and enjoyed winding through the mountains on our way to Cusco.

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Cusco was totally worth the long, tiresome, mildly uncomfortable bus ride. Cusco is a very old city high up in the Andes, at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet. If any of you readers are Zelda fans, all I really need to say is that it is basically Hyrule Castle Town. Right down to the wild yet lovable packs of dogs that roam the streets at night.

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Anyway, to say that Cusco’s cityscape is beautiful and charming would be an understatement. Tiny cobblestone streets barely big enough for a car to fit through form the basis of the city, and the architecture itself is clearly thousands of years old.

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Cusco is also a very touristy town, and seems to be a popular location for spiritual-minded expats to settle down. This is where yoga and jiu jitsu finally came into our trip. I took some classes at the Yoga Room, where I met yogis from the United States, Canada, France, Australia and the UK. The vibe at the studio was simply amazing…it was a tiny little space in an old Cusco city building, and throughout the entire practice, I could hear the gentle street noises of the town outside. I found that this made me feel incredibly connected to the town. My teacher was amazing, and if felt insanely good to get back into my practice in a real studio – I haven’t really had access to much yoga since moving back to Twin Lakes.

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Logan also found a jiu jitsu school run by a British expat who’d moved to Cusco a few years prior. Logan’s jiu jitsu experience here has been a little different from what he expected. In fact, this school in Cusco was one of the very few places Logan actually got to practice during our trip. Often, he’d show up for class only to find that it had been canceled or the location moved. This was pretty frustrating for him – but at least he did find some good people to roll with in Cusco.

Other than yoga and jiu jitsu, our days in Cusco were spent roaming the city, eating at (admittedly not great) restaurants, and practicing our Spanish. We loved Cusco, but it primarily served as the jumping-off point for one of the main attractions in Peru: Machu Picchu.

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Getting to Machu Picchu is quite a process. We took a cab for more than an hour to the town of Ollantaytambo in order to catch the only train that goes to the area, Peru Rail. Like I said, it’s the only option – and it’s EXPENSIVE. Like, more than $100 per person expensive.

We took the train to Aguas Calientes, which is essentially the town that Machu Picchu is located in. And man, was Aguas Calientes cool. It’s at an altitude that makes is extremely jungle-like, so it was really rainy, lush, warm and moist.

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The entire city is built around tourism, so there are tons of restaurants to hang out at. We splurged on a meal of guinea pig (overrated, by the way) and then spent our evening sitting at an open-air bar right at street level, sharing a cigar and watching people walk by. All while wearing extremely fashionable panchos.

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The next morning, we set off for Machu Picchu. Now we had to take a bus to get up into the mountains. Once we finally got on the bus, the ride up the mountain was pretty incredible. When people say that Machu Picchu is a city on a mountain, it’s hard to really conceptualize what that looks like. But if you’ve ever hiked, you know the feeling of standing on one mountain, looking across at another, while a valley lies between the two. It’s breathtaking. And the entirety of Machu Picchu is just like that – and it’s AN ENTIRE CITY.

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Machu Picchu is so unreal. It’s an ancient Incan city built sometime in the 1400s, so it’s unfathomable how the residents were able to carve out the mountains and put such elaborate stonework in place. It’s meticulously well-maintained and simply stunning to behold. We spent a few hours simply walking around the ruins, resting and enjoying the scenery along the way. And that’s all there really was to it.

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After our adventures at Machu Picchu, we returned to Cusco for another day, and then set off for our final destination in Peru: Arequipa.

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The second-largest city in Peru, Arequipa is a lot more built up than Cusco, but much smaller than Lima. It’s primarily low-rise, and the neighborhoods we saw were all pretty standard for city life. We stayed near the Plaza de Armas (essentially the town square) in an area that was full of hostels and hotels, and in that area, the architecture was stunning. European-inspired columns, white buildings made of volcanic rock, countless courtyards and numerous city parks dotted the area. In fact, the Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas has been named the most beautiful in all of South America, according to one of the locals we talked to. And pretty much every city down here has a Plaza de Armas.

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Other than the pretty architecture, though, our time in Arequipa was pretty short and relatively uneventful. We spent one day venturing out into less-tourity areas, where we found a lot of stores (including a Peruvian shopping mall), bought an umbrella, and drank seltzer waters at gas stations.

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On our last day in Arequipa, we decided to go on an excursion to the Colca Canyon. And let me tell you, that was an exhausting day.

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We had to wake up at 2:30 a.m. to be ready for our bus ride at 3. The bus picked us up right from our hostel, and we spent the early morning hours on a 3-hour ride toward Colca, Peru. The people who live out near the canyon are relatively poor, and many of the women set up shop along the street to sell textiles and clothing.

Our tour of the Colca region lasted until mid-day, and some highlights included scenic overlooks and a foray into the canyon itself, which was definitely a desert landscape. It was fascinating to see that we could find ourselves in a desert just three hours after being in rainy Arequipa. But although the landscape was desert-like, it wasn’t devoid of moisture…there was plenty of fog, and Colca is known as a farming region, so rain must not be completely unheard of.

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So, while that was all fun and great, the “exhausting” element isn’t over yet. After getting back to Arequipa around 5 p.m., we had to immediately check out of our hostel, head to the bus station, and catch the next train for Tacna, the southernmost city of Peru. We were able to secure a bus ride at 10 p.m., so we waited around the station for the remaining four-and-a-half hours. Then, we bussed to Tacna overnight on about four hours of sleep – and the bus to Tacna was no Cruz de Sur. But I’ll get to that later. The trip from Tacna into Arica (Chile) is a story in itself, and this post is getting pretty long.

All in all, our time in Peru was incredible. Like I said, we got to see so many different cities and landscapes, and in the end, I think we got a really authentic picture of the people of Peru, their struggles and joys. Other than the fresh ceviche we had in Lima, we didn’t much like the food – spaghetti with french fries is a commonly served dish – but we loved the places and the faces. Most importantly, we got to see it all together. It was an exhilarating and busy two weeks, two of the most interesting weeks of my life. And our South America adventure was just getting started.

3 Days in Lima’s Most Artsy, Imaginative Neighborhoods

I’m writing this update from the common area of our hostel in Cusco, looking at a wall that’s brightly painted with birds, flowers and leaves – an accurate portrayal of the colors and sights of Peru. Cusco is our second stop, and also the base for our trek up to Machu Picchu, the famous Incan city that was one of our main reasons for coming to Peru. But more about Machu Picchu later. Our time in Lima, despite being the first location on our itinerary, was plenty eventful and definitely worth blogging about.

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We arrived in Lima at 5:30 a.m. after about 20 hours in airports and planes, and we were excited to check into our hostel, shower off and get some breakfast. After picking up our luggage, we booked an Uber to Barranco’s Backpackers Inn, and enjoyed the sights of sounds of early morning Lima along the way. I wasn’t really expecting Lima to be an exciting place to stay. I figured it’d be like any other big city, but that we should try to spend a couple of days there just to say we had. Besides, my dad had warned me that Lima would be dirty and relatively uninteresting, based on his experience when he traveled to Peru back in the early 70s.

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But it appears that a lot has changed in the past 50 years. For one thing, while I do realize that the majority of Lima isn’t represented by the area where we stayed, the city definitely has a bustling (and very clean) scene in the neighborhoods of Barranco and Miraflores. During our Uber ride, we drove along the coastline, where there were miles and miles of beaches and surfing spots. As we entered the Barranco neighborhood, I was blown away by the beautiful street art, colorful historic buildings and gorgeous landscaping around the neighborhood. When we finally arrived at our hostel, I was excited to see that it overlooked the ocean.

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Please excuse the squinting – the sun was SUPER bright that day.

Like I said, we couldn’t wait to shower and clean up after an entire day of air travel – but it wasn’t to be. We got to the hostel at 6:30 a.m. only to learn that we wouldn’t be able to check in until 1 p.m. We were exhausted, dirty, smelly and without a place to stay (even the breakfast restaurants weren’t open yet). But hey, at least I was able to negotiate a private room and learn about the check-in policies using only Spanish.

For the next six hours, we literally walked and walked and walked. We walked along the coast (beautiful ocean, but not so beautiful playa – in our area at least). We walked around the gorgeously green and quaintly historic Barranco neighborhood (basically Lima’s well-off hipster neighborhood). I taught Logan some Spanish basics. We learned that agua con gas (seltzer water) is available pretty much everywhere. And then we did all of that about four more times until it was FINALLY time to check in to our hostel.

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The next two days were spent doing much of the same. We ate at a few cevicherias and were really impressed by the freshness of the fish and the flavors that accompanied it. Ceviche is fresh fish served with corn, sweet potatoes (cold sweet potatoes, by the way), onions and sometimes other veggies, all drizzled in a light and lemony sauce.

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Logan continues to impress me with his willingness to jump right in and speak Spanish. I have more knowledge of the language, but I’m also more scared to use it. On one occasion, Logan spotted some interesting-looking fruits at a little vegetable stand and proceeded to run up to the woman manning the stand, pointing at a fruit and asking “Que es?” The minute she started answering his question, of course, he called me over to translate. But it was pretty admirable nonetheless. (By the way, that fruit was a South American pomegranate, in case you were wondering.)

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So that’s how we spent our days in Lima. Trying new food, practicing Spanish, walking around the neighborhood looking at cool buildings, ordering agua con gas and learning about exotic fruits. Oh, and we also spent a good deal of time in my new favorite place in the entire world: this park.

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This park was so incredibly lush and beautiful. One of the most impressive things about Barranco is its landscaped greenery and gorgeous public spaces, and this park is the pinnacle of these achievements. Colorful street art dominates the walls of the many businesses that have sprung up along the park, and hundreds of birds sing from the tall trees that dot the landscape. We spent more than a few hours lying in the park, admiring the unique art on display and listening to the sounds of Barranco’s residents strolling through and going about their days.

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Check out that sweet ant art. I named him Bernie.

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On our second night in Lima, we met two super cool girls at a bar. Both were close to our age, and one was a writer and the other a graphic designer. We immediately hit it off, and they asked us if we’d like to go to a party with them the following night. Of course, we were SUPER excited to accept. These two ladies were from Lima, born and raised. We were excited to get a more authentic look at Barranco’s nightlife.

And boy, it did not disappoint. The next night, after getting all dolled up for a night on the town, we met the girls at the same spot where we’d been the night before. Then, they took us to a more locally loved bar that was just a 10-minute walk from our hostel. The place was amazing – a beautiful courtyard outside of an old, historic building with European detailing. The scene was pretty impressive. Our new friends were very nice, and all of the people in their circle seemed worldly and interesting. On one occasion, after talking to one guy for about ten minutes, I was informed by our new friends that he was actually a well-known news anchor in Lima. Apparently I’d met a famous person without even knowing it. I would also venture to guess that there were a fair few members of Lima’s social elite there – there were A LOT of beautiful people.

We did hit one minor snag during our stay in Lima. After two nights in Barranco, we packed up our things and took an Uber to the bus station to catch our ride to Cusco. To our dismay, the bus we had planned to take was already full – which meant that we had to stay another night in Lima before we could leave for Cusco. So, we quickly reserved two beds in a different hostel in the neighborhood of Miraflores.

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If Barranco is Lima’s version of Wicker Park, Miraflores is its Lincoln Park. More urban but equally hip and upscale, Miraflores has tons of restaurants and shops. After checking into our hostel, we ventured out to find food and happened upon the best meal of our trip so far: anticuchos. Anticuchos are basically skewered meats, and the place where we got ours was clearly a beloved, family-owned joint. The meal was less than $3 USD, and seriously top-notch.

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After that last night in Miraflores, we were finally able to secure a seat on the next bus to Cusco, where we are now. But like I said, more about Cusco later. We really loved Lima and are so glad we got a chance to explore Peru’s biggest city, which is arguably the best reflection of its modern culture. You’re beautiful, Lima. Stay you.

And now, one shameless self-promotion: Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Snapchat for more pics and live updates from our South America adventure! 

3 Hormone-Free, Natural Birth Control Methods

Last week, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found an alarming correlation between hormonal birth control and depression. While doctors have known for a while now that birth control can cause mood swings and perhaps even depression, the new study puts the problem into a whole new perspective. Scientists found that after six months of taking oral contraceptives, women were 40% more likely than non-pill users to suffer from depression.

Now, correlation doesn’t always mean causation in science … but 40% is a really high figure. The study followed 1 million women between the ages of 15 and 34 over the course of 13 years.

Depression isn’t the only bad side effect of birth control pills. I recently wrote over at Care2 about how hormonal contraception can cause nutrient deficiencies. Hormonal pills can also cause weight gain, a lack of libido, and an overall feeling of numbness, due to the suppression of the natural female reproductive cycle.

Dr. Oejvind Lidegaard, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Copenhagen and a senior researcher involved in the study, told The New York Times that 40% “is not trivial.”

“… it is important that we tell women that there is this possibility. And there are effective nonhormonal methods of birth control.”

The question is: What are those methods, exactly? What non-hormonal methods of birth control are reliable enough for sexually active women to use with confidence? When we’re talking TRULY non-hormonal methods that have success rates over 90 percent, there are really only three options out there: the copper IUD, condoms, and the Fertility Awareness Method.

Option 1: The Copper IUD

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but here are the facts: Women often turn to hormonal IUDs like Mirena because they have lower levels of hormones than a contraceptive pill … but unfortunately, this recent study actually found that Mirena users had the HIGHEST rates of depression among hormonal method users.

Although IUDs are extremely reliable, only the copper IUD (which currently retails in the US under the brand name Paraguard) is non-hormonal. The copper in this device changes the consistency of vaginal fluids, rendering the environment inhospitable to sperm. It does all of this without any hormones, and therefore does not suppress ovulation, cause any kinds of nutrient deficiencies, or impact mood in any known way. Paraguard is more than 99% effective, making it one of the most reliable contraceptives on the market.

The only downside is that it does cause you to have pretty heavy periods, particularly at first, and may cause quite a bit of cramping. There have also been reports of the copper in the IUD causing an high copper levels in the body, which can lead to other problems. Nonetheless, for women who want to be completely hormone-free with their birth control method, it is the most effective option.

Option 2: Condoms

Good ol’ condoms are a standby for a reason. With perfect use, they’re quite reliable (98%), but you have to use them PERFECTLY (wear them every time there’s any kind of penetration, without fail) in order to see this success rate.

There are almost no health downsides to using condoms, unless you have a latex allergy – and even then, there are latex-free options. The big drawback is, of course, that they aren’t a ton of fun to use, and are often a burden for long-term couples who don’t need them for STD prevention.

Option 3: Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)

Before you laugh at me for this, hear me out: the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is NOT the Rhythm Method, and according to The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, it’s actually pretty effective when done right: It’s between 95 and 99% effective, in fact.

The problem is that this high success rate is only seen when FAM is done PERFECTLY – and that’s pretty hard to do. Hence the unplanned pregnancies that you may associate with this method.

In order to do FAM right, you have to be very committed to learning about and understanding your body. You need to have great discipline, and be ready to spend time every day tracking your cycle.

This doesn’t mean looking at an app that says you’re on “day 14” and then abstaining from sex that day. Rather than relying on numbered days of the month, you need to test internally to determine whether or not you’re near ovulation, track when that ovulation occurs, and stay away from sex (or use a condom) within a certain time frame around ovulation. “Day 14” means absolutely nothing, because every woman’s cycle is different. You may very well ovulate on day 9, meaning that by day 14, if you’ve had sex, it’s already too late.

So how do you figure out when you’ve ovulated?

  1. Track your basal temperature every morning, the minute you wake up. You’ll be looking for a pronounced temperature shift (at the .00 level, which is why you need the basal thermometer), which indicates that ovulation has occurred.
  2. Monitor your vaginal mucus, analyzing its color and quality to determine when ovulation may be near.
  3. Check your cervix to determine its position.

When you get in the habit of knowing the three factors above, then you must abstain from unprotected sex until four days after ovulation has occurred. You can’t have unprotected sex before ovulation, either – sperm can live in the uterus for a while, so if you have sex three days before ovulation, there’s a chance sperm will still be around to fertilize the egg.

Sound complex? It is. And there’s A LOT more to it than I’m even listing here. Rules that help you play it safe and whatnot. If you’re interested in FAM, I fully recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. I’m also happy to answer any questions you may have – just leave them below in the comments or get in touch with me through my Contact page.

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There are also some technologies that can assist with this, such as Daysy and Ladycomp. Like FAM in general, though, they’re only as reliable as your own analysis.

For what it’s worth, though I don’t use this method myself right now, I did use it for about three years and never got pregnant. But I was very diligent about tracking my cycle, I used condoms during the entire first half of my cycle, and I have very regular periods, which simplifies things.

A Short Aside, and My Own Story

I’d just like to close by saying that I don’t think any method of birth control is wrong. What works for you, works for you – and that’s amazing! I think that giving women the ability to choose when they do or don’t get pregnant is a crucial part of making a better world for everyone. I’m passionate about women’s options and the right to choose.

But, here’s my story: I took the birth control pill on two separate occasions (one of them being right now), and in both scenarios, I felt absolutely flat. Dead inside. Low on energy. Moody. Unattractive.

The first time I took the pill, I wasn’t yet aware of my body and the subtle differences in mood, libido and energy that came along with my use of the pill. It wasn’t until I went off it (I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and wanted to go more natural) that I realized how off I’d been feeling. It was seriously like awakening from a long slumber. I suddenly felt clear-headed, more passionate, less moody and more balanced. And I will reiterate: I never realized how bad I was feeling until I stopped feeling that way.

I’m back on the pill again now, and it’s not my ideal situation. Sometimes, the situation calls for it, and I’ve made my peace with it for now. I don’t blame women who want that reliability. But the truth is, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks, and this recent news about alarming depression rates is serious business. It’s good to know that there are some more natural alternatives around, should you want to go that route.

If you’ve tried one of the methods above, I’d love to hear your story! And if you take hormonal birth control now – do you love it, or hate it? Let me know in the comments!

5 Signs You’re Eating Too Many Carbs

Listen, you guys – I love carbs. When it comes to brown rice, sweet potatoes, succulent fruits and red wine, I’m always game (as long as I’m practicing my three rules of moderation, of course). But the truth is, when I look around me and observe the people in my life who don’t feel well 90% of the time, I really wish I could tell them to STOP EATING SO MANY CARBS.

I’ve already discussed why you shouldn’t eat sugar, but what about “healthy” carbs like whole-grain pasta, fibrous beans, vegetarian sandwiches or hearty oatmeal?

Although these carbohydrates definitely provide some nutritional benefits (including moderate levels of protein and fiber – they’ve got nothing on meat and veggies though!), eating them too often can take a toll on your digestive system, brain health, gut health and levels of inflammation. Let’s look at the research.

What Science Says About Carbs

Although study after study has confirmed that “fat fear” is unfounded and that natural fats are actually pretty good for us, many people still hold on to misguided fears about fats. While fats support our hormones, help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and are easy to digest, carbohydrates are, in fact, quite the opposite.

They’re bad for your blood sugar: Carbs – even healthy ones – cause spikes and falls in blood glucose levels. This is perfectly normal in moderation, but when we overload our system with way too many carbohydrates, it can lead to problems. We’ll touch on this more in a sec, but suffice it to say that dramatic changes in blood sugar are pretty bad for our pancreas, which is in charge of producing a steady stream of insulin to help our cells metabolize glucose and create energy. This is one of the major reasons why we’re currently facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes.

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They’re hard to digest: Additionally, most sources of carbohydrate tend to be irritating on the digestive tract. While fruits and veggies are plenty fibrous, fiber sources such as grains and legumes often add too much to our system, giving us digestive trouble. To add insult to injury, they also contain anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, oxalates and lectins. These compounds, again, are perfectly fine in moderation, but too much of them can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to health issues.

They cause inflammation: And finally, there’s inflammation to consider. Though I don’t consider gluten a poison by any means, it’s not even up for debate that digesting gluten creates a state of mild inflammation for our bodies. Over time, inflammation is known to cause chronic health issues. Arthritis, fatigue and weight gain are some of the more mild results of inflammation, while heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s are some of the more alarming.

With all these consequences in mind, let’s go over five signs you may want to reduce your carbohydrate consumption:

You’re Tired All the Time

If you chronically feel drained and fatigued, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re eating too many carbs and not enough proteins and healthy fats. Because of the spikes and falls in blood sugar triggered by carb consumption, your system is going to feel constantly stressed from the effort of digesting carbohydrates. Yes, switching to only unrefined, whole grain carbs can definitely help, but it won’t eliminate the problem unless you combine the shift with additional energy sources from proteins and fats.

As a side note, feeling endlessly tired is also a sign of iron deficiency. People who eat a high-carb diet often shy away from primary iron sources (meat), which has the effect of making them tired much more often.

You’re Often Hungry Between Meals

I don’t care how accustomed you are to snacking, the human condition is not constantly hungry. Feeling this way has to do with how satiated you are after meals.

Because fats are so calorie-dense, our brains are hardwired to feel satisfied when we eat them. This is why you’ll likely feel much more satisfied after eating a lot of fat than you will after eating a low-fat, high-carb meal. (And don’t go saying “But pasta makes me feel satisfied!” Yeah…that pasta is usually combined with a fat-rich sauce containing either cream or olive oil.)

You Feel Bloated and Gassy

Whether you’re gluten-intolerant or not, carbs are difficult to digest. That includes fruits and vegetables! Fiber is important SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE you can’t digest it. It moves through your digestive system, taking with it leftover food particles and promoting regular bowel movements.

Too many carbs, though, make this difficult. When pockets of gas get trapped between the food moving through your digestive system, you’re likely to feel extremely uncomfortable. A proper fat to carbohydrate ratio will be much more beneficial to your digestive system than eating a high-fiber cereal.

You Have a Hard Time Concentrating

If you’re interested in learning more about how carbohydrates affect brain function, I highly recommend the book Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter. I’m not an alarmist – I don’t think that eating some fresh bread every once in a while is going to give me Alzheimer’s. However, I do acknowledge that there’s a very real connection between what we eat and how our brains work.

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First of all, healthy fats are ABSOLUTELY BENEFICIAL for a healthy brain. Cholesterol has been demonized, but it’s actually thought to be a brain warrior. Cholesterol levels rise in older adults in order to help protect the brain from cognitive decline. Grain Brain cites numerous studies that have drawn a very clear correlation between the use of statins (medications given to lower cholesterol) and dementia.

Cholesterol doesn’t just affect the brain health of seniors, either. “Brain fog,” as it’s often called, plagues even young teens, and many nutritionists and doctors have postured that it’s a direct result of carbohydrate consumption – not only because of the spikes and falls of blood sugar that are triggered by carb consumption, but also because eating a high-carb diet often means skimping on healthy fats that are vital for brain health. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine even found that people following vegetarian or vegan diets (which I’m not necessarily opposed to, if done correctly) reported much higher levels of brain fog than those eating meat.

You Frequently Crave Sweets

Although everyone wants a donut every once in a while (myself included), constantly craving sweets isn’t a sweet tooth … it’s a dependency. And it’s caused by eating too much sugar (even if not in the form of fructose, then glucose, which is present in “healthy” carbs).

If you frequently crave sweets, it’s usually because of two things: 1. blood sugar problems, or 2. a lack of satiating fats in your diet. Again, I’m not saying that eating high-fat low-carb is going to mean you never want another slice of cheesecake … but your cravings will be much more rare, balanced and controllable.

If you’re interested in reducing your carbohydrate consumption, let me know! Or, if you’ve already done so, tell me how it worked in the comments section!

Vocalizing Your Ideal Lifestyle + How to Make A Vision Board

Well my friends, it has been a while. A LONG while. As some of you know, I ran a meditation challenge on this blog last month, and ever since then, things have gotten really busy here in my corner of the globe.

Right around the third week of the meditation challenge, my work life started to get a little overwhelming. And I’m SUPER happy about it. Building this freelance business has been a long process, but I’m happy to report that I’m more than halfway to my goal of earning what I consider a typical full-time salary.

I’ll rephrase to let that sink in.

I’m ALMOST at the point where I could afford to move out on my own. And I’m doing it all through freelance work!!!

My Ideal Lifestyle

I realized that I haven’t exactly come out and stated my precise career goals on this blog, which is definitely my bad. I think it’s beneficial to announce to the world – and to ourselves – what our goals are. Determining and then vocalizing our ideal lifestyle are the first steps toward the pursuit of that lifestyle and the manifestation process that is so integral to success.

So here it is: My goal is to earn a living remotely so that I can move around and travel whenever I feel like it. I don’t need to make a HUGE salary, but I want to make enough that I can afford to maintain my preferred lifestyle, which involves living in big cities, dining out, going to clubs and concerts, and generally having an active social life that helps me meet like-minded, happiness-oriented, mindful, well-traveled people like myself.

But we can’t have everything, obviously. What I DO NOT need or want in my life are possessions and debts. These things, I feel, tie us down. They perpetuate a belief that we must work for a living, rather than viewing our career as a central component of our identity and our lifestyle. I never want to live for the weekends, spending 90% of my time at a job that I simply go to in order to pay the bills. I never want to spend my hard-earned money paying off debt. I don’t want to be responsible for car maintenance, gas purchases, credit card payments, student loans, etc.

This is why my preferred lifestyle is one that is as minimalist as possible. My goal is to earn my living remotely, traveling (or, perhaps someday, staying put!) as I please, with only the possessions and debts absolutely necessary for survival. I prefer to spend my money on experiences, rather than material goods.

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And that’s where freelancing comes in. You probably know by now that I went freelance in January after a tumultuous year of personal and career disappointments. And now that freelance dream is finally becoming a reality! I feel so happy and blessed that my hard work is paying off and that the lifestyle I’ve worked so hard to create is finally on the horizon.

With all that extra work, though, have come longer hours! And unfortunately, that’s taken a toll on my blogging. Because my blogging is more of a hobby than a career, I have been finding it difficult to motivate myself to maintain this blog after writing for other websites all day long.

But I’m back now, and I feel more motivated than ever to continue my blogging pursuits! When the time does come that I’m able to travel more regularly (soon, soon, soon!), I want to be able to share those experiences with everyone who reads this blog. I also want to keep giving you guys interesting tips for how to create a lifestyle that you are IN LOVE WITH.

This week, I finally tackled a project that I’ve been thinking about doing for a very long time: I made a vision board. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a vision board is a collection of images that inspire you, generally in the realms of your chosen career and lifestyle. I’m super excited to share my vision board with you guys:

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How to Make A Vision Board

My vision board, as you’ll notice, centers on yoga, interior design, travel and uplifting images. I included a few quotes that I find particularly inspiring and motivating:

The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.

The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.

I also included images of homes like the kind I’d like to build someday – they’re colorful, modern, eclectic and loft-like. I have long harbored a dream to build my own little domestic “Girl Palace” (copyright pending.) (jk.), so the interior design-centered images represent someday being able to afford to make that dream a reality.

Finally, I added images of young women traveling, as well as some shots from a romantic relationship I really admire (Jesse and Celine in the Before trilogy).

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If you are interested in creating a vision board of your own, it’s really not hard! Here are a few basic steps:

  1. Collect a series of images that you find inspiring. Though mine are generally about travel, yoga and inspiration, yours might be totally different depending on your desired lifestyle. Maybe you want to showcase an admirable character from your favorite novel, a deity whose guidance you live by, a fashion item you’d love to wear, or images of a sport you participate in.
  2. Gather these images into one area, whether its physical (printing or cutting them out of magazines) or digital (creating a board on Pinterest or bookmarking images in your browser). If it’s the latter, you’ll want to print them out eventually, so keep that in mind.
  3. Settle on 8-12 images that represent you best. It can be hard to narrow these down, but trust me, too many images will be chaotic, and not really that inspiring at all. For what it’s worth, I myself ended up discarding eight images before settling on the 11 that are currently on my board.
  4. Design the board. I chose a cork board, as it was super affordable, matches with my modern style preferences and is easy to change out frequently. However, a picture frame or poster board would also work. Another creative idea is to display the images along a string of twine, securing with clothespins, and then draping the twine across your mirror or above your desk.
  5. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often. Mine is going to hang right above my desk, where I do all my freelance work and spend most of my time throughout the day. However, above your vanity, on a spiritual altar, or in your closet would all work great too!

I’m super happy with my vision board, and it’s already inspired me to stay motivated during the day. If you have one, feel free to share it below!

Until next time,

❤ Mags

2 Days in London

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to really buckle down with regard to my finances, which means I probably won’t be doing much traveling anytime soon. With airfare to Europe at an all-time low, it’s been tempting to break this resolution – but so far I’ve stuck with it. If I can afford a trip up-front, I’ll take it. Until then, though, I’m confined to the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

Since this is partially a travel blog, I’ve decided to look back on trips I took before The Olive Branch came into existence: primarily, my summer in Europe. I was only 21 when I took this trip, but I think that certain parts of the adventure really shaped me into who I am today. I learned that I wanted to become that girl – the travel girl. The adventure-loving girl. The girl who knows about world politics and foreign culture. It was really my summer in Europe that set the course for many of the choices I made in my 20s.

It was a summer of exploration. I got a Eurail pass and took the train throughout France, Switzerland and Germany, with a short jaunt in London to kick the whole thing off. I took this trip solo, but I had people to meet up with along the way: My cousin John, my good friend Nicole (a German girl who’d been a foreign exchange student at my high school), and Sylvie, who’d been my au pair when I was a little girl.

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I gathered so much information prior to my trip. I created a scrapbook with all of my plans, including maps, restaurants, language guides and backpacking itineraries. Of course, I ended up using none of it.

This would be my first trip to Europe, a place I’d been dreaming about for years. Looking back now, I almost miss the kind of excitement that’s unique to being a new traveler. Though I’m more seasoned now, the whole thing was such an anomaly back then.

With being new to travel, though, come the inevitable blunders. The night before I was supposed to board a plane for Berlin, I realized that I’d lost my passport. I had to put off my trip for an additional two weeks, expediting a new passport in the meantime. Doing so meant that I had to completely reroute my trip, traveling not from Berlin to London, but London to Berlin, and then back to London again to return home (this was the cheapest airfare available at that point).

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When all was said and done, everything worked out. On my flight to London, I was seated next to a handsome young Brit who ordered tea from the stewardess, a contrast to my enthusiastic coffee selection.

My dad had convinced me that it’d be really fun to arrive in London without having an inkling as to where I’d stay. When I arrived at Heathrow, the immigration officer glanced at my passport, asking me about my plans. The conversation went something like this:

“What do you plan to do in the UK?”

“I’m not really sure! I’ll just see where the trip leads me.”

Bit of a side-eye.

“Where do you plan to stay?”

“Oh, I don’t know! I figured I’d just find something.”

Long, cold silence.

“How long will you be here?”

“Only two days, and then I’m going to France.”

“What do you plan to do in France?”

“I’m meeting my cousin there, and probably doing a bit of traveling around.”

“And where does your cousin live?”

“I’m not really sure, actually.”

The poor woman probably thought I wouldn’t survive the trip.

I cringe looking back on this – I must’ve sounded like such a ditzy, idealistic American. Nonetheless, despite her icy stares, she eventually let me through immigration and customs, and I was on my way.

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The train from Heathrow into the city was so exciting. There were British accents all around me, and the neighborhoods I glimpsed as the train sped by were historic and picturesque, exactly as I’d always imagined them.

I took the tube (London’s subway) out to Earl’s Court, the neighborhood I’d decided upon from my research. It seemed both traveler-friendly and sort’ve authentically local. I stumbled upon a small and clean-looking hotel, and after asking the front desk clerk about rates and accidentally saying “dollars” instead of “pounds,” I decided to take a small room.

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I was tired because of the time difference, but I wanted to stick it out. It was only about 2 p.m. local time, and I’d only be in London for two nights. I took my tube map and whatever book I was reading at the time, and headed out to see the sights on foot.

When I got off the train at Westminster, I knew I was somewhere near Big Ben, but I wasn’t sure how I’d find it. I figured I’d have to walk a few blocks before I stumbled upon it. What happened instead was one of the coolest moments of my life. As I walked up the steps to the street, it was literally right there, towering over me, almost smacking me in the face with its grandiosity. I was completely stunned – it hit me that I was REALLY here. I was in London, the city I’d been dreaming about all my life.

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That night, I walked around Westminster, took a ride on the London Eye, and stopped at a pub for dinner before heading back to my inn. At some point, I also stopped into an electronics store to pick up a pre-paid flip phone. Getting international service on my own phone line would’ve been astronomically expensive on my college budget, so I decided to simply buy a pre-paid phone when I got there. So yes, I arrived on a different continent with no hotel reservations and no way to get in touch with anyone. Genius, I know.

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The next day, I hit up some more sights. I got around by walking and taking the tube, which to this day remains my favorite transit system ever (which is saying something, because I have a very deep and abiding love for public transit). I watched the changing of the guard at Kensington Palace, went to the street market in SoHo, visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, read my book in St. James Park, checked out the shopping at Harrods (kind of the UK’s version of Nordstrom or Macy’s), and wandered aimlessly around Chelsea, looking at the architecture and the gorgeous neighborhoods.

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I spent my mornings at my hotel, blogging while drinking milky English tea in the lobby. (That was a totally different blog, and unfortunately I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I must’ve deleted it.) The lobby, located on the second floor, faced the garden on the rear of the building, and it was open, airy and cozily decorated, always stocked with tea, fresh milk, fruit and cereal. To this day, I can still remember how it smelled. I loved sitting out on the balcony overlooking the garden, writing and taking it all in.

My time in London was admittedly short (and touristy), but it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city. In fact, I’ve been trying to go back for a longer stay ever since. If you know me personally, you may know that I very seriously considered going to graduate school in London. I was even accepted into a literature program at King’s College. It wasn’t to be, though. Maybe someday I’ll get to go back and explore the city in full. But by this point on my European adventure, my time in London had come to a close. It was time to head to Paris, where I’d be spending nearly a month hanging out with my cousin John and his wonderful, bohemian friends – my first taste of a lifestyle I’d grow to aspire to. But that’s a story for another day.