As many take time to celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we’d like to add our admiration as well. We applaud all moms, as their experiences – being a mom, managing a family and realizing one’s professional goals – are universal, but remain uniquely personal too. So we thought of no one better to get some advice from than The Paleo Mom, Sarah Ballantyne.
When it comes to finding that all-important work/life balance, Sarah has done and seen it all. In this interview, we get her unique point of view as THE Paleo Mom, and she offers some tips for moms looking to have it all.
In case you haven’t heard of Paleo Mom, here’s a quick backgrounder. (See the end of this article for her full bio).
Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. is the creator of the award-winning online resource www.ThePaleoMom.com; cohost of the syndicated top-rated The Paleo View Podcast; New York Times bestselling author of Paleo Principles, The Paleo Approach, The Paleo Approach Cookbook and The Healing Kitchen, and creator of the online program Go To Bed.
My followers are so engaged, supportive and positive! It’s awesome! They motivate me to keep going, to keep being innovative in the resources I create, and to stay focused on my big-picture goal of reversing the epidemics of chronic illness through scientific literacy and health education.
I do have to admit that it sometimes feels surreal, knowing the impact that I’m making in so many lives, probably because I’m pretty isolated in my day-to-day life. My team all works remotely and I work home alone in my basement. Plus, I’m pretty anonymous in my day-to-day life, expect maybe at my local farmers market where I seem to run into more and more people who follow my work. So, when I do get to talk face-to-face with a follower, it forces me to acknowledge the importance of everything I do (that’s a good thing!). I feel so honored when someone shares their personal story with me at a conference or book signing. Events give me momentum to move forward.
I follow the Dory principle of being a working mom: just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. I rarely take a break that isn’t focused on my kids or working out. I don’t watch much TV or spend much time online that isn’t directly for one of my projects. Pretty much, I’m working at one of my jobs (entrepreneur, mom, wife) all of the time and I avoid time sinks as much as possible. That being said, I do still achieve work-life balance, but I maximize everything that I do. I work at a treadmill desk with a light therapy box on (activity and bright light exposure to improve sleep!). If I want to listen to a podcast or an audiobook, I do so while cooking dinner. We love hiking on the weekend, which combines family time, nature time and activity. I also prioritize being present with my daughters, but that usually results in laughter, interesting conversation, and cuddles, so I get stress-relief out of that time commitment!
I honestly often feel like I’m failing to adequately balance the competing demands on my time and energy from family, work and personal life. I’ve had to start looking at activities that protect my health (like going to bed at a good time or getting to the gym) as part of my job in order to make sure they get prioritized. I’m better at the balancing act than I used to be, but socializing and hobbies still take second fiddle to work and family, and that’s something I’d like to improve.
I have a very analytical brain, so organization doesn’t just come easy to me, it actually relaxes me! That being said, I rely very heavily on the calendar on my phone, take copious notes in every meeting, write myself daily To Do lists, have an amazing COO who helps me stay on top of tasks, have an awesome husband who keeps track of the school calendar, and I batch my time during the day instead of multitasking (basically means I work on one thing at a time and turn off social media and e-mail when I’m trying to get something else done).
I have very strict boundaries in terms of self-preservation that I stick to. For example, my bed time and workouts are non-negotiable. No meeting, interview, or deadline is every allowed to interfere with them. I’m always available to read to my girls at bedtime (I love reading to them and doing all the voices!). Probably my biggest trick here though is attitude: I’ve learned that the world will not implode if I don’t get X, Y or Z done today. I try to stay on top of all my deadlines and avoid procrastination as much as possible. And, I have an awesome team and delegate as much as I can.
I love gardening, hiking, reading and I’m also a professional improve team. I perform out of two local theatres a few times a month with weekly practices. I love the creativity and silliness of improv, having to think quickly, and having the opportunity to laugh until my face hurts on a regular basis. Plus, it makes me even better at character voices when I’m reading to my kids.
An early bedtime! Really, that feeling of overwhelm usually creeps up when I’m getting run down because I’m trying to do too much and letting my To Do list interfere with my boundaries. Taking a night off and going to bed extra early recharges me, and I usually find that every problem has an easy solution the next day!
The science is unequivocal: not getting enough sleep increases risk of every chronic disease. Plus, not getting enough sleep affect cognitive and physical performance, makes it harder to make good food choices, makes us less motivated to be active, and negatively impacts our social skills! I think the number one key to improving public health is to get everyone sleeping enough and sleeping well. Once people are sleeping well, they naturally eat less fast food, choose more vegetables, have more managed stress, and want to be more active! I would go so far as to say that sleep is the lynchpin of health.
I have a bedtime and I stick to it! I really believe that everyone needs a bedtime, not just kids. I also work with a light therapy box on my treadmill desk during the day, keep the lights dim and red in the evening, try to avoid eating late, rarely drink alcohol, and cut off caffeine at noon, all things that improve my sleep quality (which I’ve been able to quantify thanks to my Oura ring).
Getting enough good sleep on a regular basis is actually the main reason why I’m so effective at doing everything that I do! I probably get double the amount of work done per hour when I’ve had a good sleep compared to when I’m feeling run down. It’s a night and day difference (pardon the pun!). And, it’s one of the reasons why I protect my bed time so closely but also make many other choices in my day that are geared towards improving sleep quality.
There’s certain ways that I intentionally adapt to a poor sleep and then there’s other reactions that aren’t so intentional. In terms of my choices, I dial my workout intensity way back, I try to take more movement breaks during the day, and I try to make sure I can get to bed extra early the next night. In terms of unintentional reactions, I crave more caffeine and sugar, and am much more easily distracted during the work day. I’ll let myself have an extra cup of tea and maybe some dark chocolate, but I have yet to figure out a way to keep me on task when I’m tired.
I’ve always been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person and my Oura data confirms that. Fortunately, my schedule is well suited to that chronotype, so I’m good to go!
I take a good hour between when I start getting ready for bed and when I turn out the light. That time includes conversation with my husband, reading, stretching, and veg time (like playing silly games on my phone or listening to a podcast).
I’ve taken yoga on and off for 24 years, which means I’ve practiced meditation for about that long as well! My preference is for simple breathing exercises though a mindfulness practice, and I usually find a couple 3 to 5 minute breaks for mindfulness throughout my day. I also do workout with a personal trainer four times per week, which has been key for me. Because I manage four autoimmune diseases with diet and lifestyle, being able to actively adapt my workouts is the only way that I’ve been able to be consistent with them.
Don’t underestimate the importance of expressing appreciation! I love hearing words like “thank you for…” or “I appreciate it when.” I think that’s better than any gift!
We thank Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, The Paleo Mom, for sharing time out of her busy schedule this week to share some perspective for Mother’s Day.
Want to know more about sleep and recovery tracking? Learn how the new Oura ring can empower your decision-making.
Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. is the creator of the award-winning online resource www.ThePaleoMom.com; cohost of the syndicated top-rated The Paleo View Podcast; New York Times bestselling author of Paleo Principles, The Paleo Approach, _The Paleo Approach Cookbook _and The Healing Kitchen, and creator of the online program Go To Bed. Sarah earned her doctorate degree in medical biophysics at the age of 26 and spent the next four years doing research on critical care medicine, innate immunity, gene therapy and cell biology, earning a variety of awards for research excellence along the way. Sarah’s transition from academic researcher to stay-at-home mom to award-winning and internationally-recognized health advocate and educator was driven by her own health journey, which included losing 120 pounds and using both diet and lifestyle to mitigate and reverse a dozen diagnosed health conditions. As a scientist both by training and by nature, Sarah is deeply interested in understanding how the foods we eat interact with our gut barriers, immune systems, and hormones to influence health. Sarah’s innate curiosity goes further than just understanding diet and she is also deeply interested in the impact of lifestyle factors like sleep, stress and activity. Her passion for scientific literacy and her talent for distilling scientific concepts into straightforward and accessible explanations form the foundation of her work and her dedication to improving public health. Learn more by checking out Sarah’s website, podcast and books. You can also find Sarah on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.