Sunday, September 26, 2010

Final Post On The 2010 Nutrition Program

I wrapped up my program with the nutritionist this week and I'm anxious to get this blog back on the "overall wellness track."

But first, here's a quick recap of what I garnered from 14 weeks of structured eating:

I had a great start on the program but found it difficult to maintain such strict eating "rules." Around the middle of the program, I started to make up my own guidelines and I found adaptations that worked well. I think that structure works fine for awhile, but it's important to also find your own threshold with various food groups.

Overall, I believe that a diet high in quality protein and fresh vegetables is the way to go. As far as starches and grains go, the "friendliest" foods for me were oatmeal and brown rice. Sweet potatoes too. Bread, pasta and baked goods are probably gone for good from my diet, and I'm okay with that.

Sugar has no place in my world and probably doesn't serve anyone well. My best days were the days that I went without any sugar, including "natural" sugars, such as agave. I found that my sensitivity to sweets is high and my tolerance is low. The problem that I found with sugar - even a small amount of it - is that a little bit created big cravings. It also doesn't support a steady blood sugar level, something I definitely need with days that include multiple transitions from clients to carpooling to clients to soccer practice.

Fruit was something that I grappled with. Low glycemic items - such as berries, melon and apples - were fine; bananas and mangoes and peaches were not. I'm careful now when I choose to eat fruit as it can have the same effect as sugar.

I get asked all the time about alcohol. I'm a wine lover. However, I found that the sugar content in wine was just too high for my body to assimilate to. Once I gave up sugar, a couple of glasses of wine would send me straight for the Advil bottle. So, instead of wine, if I have drinks with friends, I usually order a soda water with high quality vodka and a LOT of lime. People ask me, "Why not a vodka tonic?" What most people don't realize is that tonic is just like 7up, loaded with sugar. More bars should carry diet tonic; it's a great stand-in for regular tonic.

Another item that I've struggled with is dairy. We don't drink milk in our household. I don't like it and Ben doesn't seem to, either. For awhile we drank soy milk but the word is that soy is questionable, in terms of being a good alternative to milk. I use almond milk for smoothies but it's horrible on its own. I do buy high quality, high fat, organic yogurt for Ben. And I dip into it more than I should. I've never had a lactose issue but I've found that yogurt gives me an immediate stomachache. Which is too bad, because I genuinely do love it and I believe that the high quality stuff has great health benefits. Ben gets organic cheese but I only eat goat cheese. It's delicious and it's a good alternative to dairy cheese.

I write a lot about the heavy consumption of Zone bars in our house. I actually think that a Zone bar is the perfect "tide over" snack, in terms of calories, fat, sugar and protein. Ben eats one every night, right before bed and I try to keep one in my purse or gym bag at all times. It's the best bar I've found - in terms of nutrition and taste - and it's easy.

"Good" fat is something I'm still passionate about. I think that the world needs more flax oil and I'm just beginning to understand the health advantages of coconut oil (future post on this to come). I still eat handfuls of walnuts and almonds each day, and I have Ben eating a good half a cup of cashews daily, as well.

Vegetables are definitely becoming even more "center stage" in my diet. Before seeing my nutritionist, I probably averaged several cups of vegetables each day, with at least one cup being something green (spinach, mixed greens, asparagus or broccoli). At our last session, the nutritionist suggested that I increase my consumption of green vegetables to 4 to 6 cups a day.
That's a lot. Admittedly, shopping and prepping to meet that quota may be a little challenging.

Lastly, I wish that I could say that I gave up caffeine, but in all honesty, I'm more of an addict than ever! Short nights and long days make me grateful for multiple Starbucks locations. I really have no intention of giving up caffeine - ever. My own personal belief - which my nutritionist didn't support - is that caffeine is a great source of antioxidants and for many people, it is very well tolerated and perfectly fine to "wake up the system" at regular intervals during the day. I drink less than 4 cups a day (barely) and there are days where I wonder what I would do without it.

So, that's the recap on my 14 week nutrition adventure. In the end, I didn't lose any weight but I "swapped" nearly ten pounds of fat for muscle weight. And, consequently, my overall body fat dropped a few percentage points.

As usual, if you have any specific questions, please send an email or find me at the club. I'm always happy to share what I've learned.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Weeks 13, 14, 15: Lessons Learned, Uphill Battles, The Shortest of Leashes

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, lavish food, great wine, not-so-great road food, high quality vodka, low quality carbohydrates, late nights, early mornings, hard work-outs and not-so-easy lessons.

Three weeks of "doing whatever," relative to eating, has taught me that I'm no longer wired to "do whatever" and that when I "do whatever," my body is going to turn on me.

For starters, I made the uneducated decision to stop my endocrine medication. I believe that any decision regarding medication should be discussed with a medical professional. I'm not a medical professional and I don't know why I don't take my own advice more often.

But what's done is done and I learned that the endocrine medication needs to be with me probably for life. The symptoms of a faulty endocrine system are not fun and they do not go away easily. Combine complete disregard for nutrition with zero medication and the end result is hell. Self-induced hell, I might add.

What's very interesting to me - and to my nutritionist and to my doctor - is this incredibly unique scenario that I'm in. In an effort to boost my metabolism and encourage my thyroid to be more effective, I began a hard physical training program of strength training a month ago. Very little cardio, heavy emphasis on weights and resistance.

My nutritionist tested my body composition after four weeks of training. The results were amazing - I dropped nearly 10 pounds of body fat, and replaced each pound with muscle. On paper, it was a perfect scenario. Except for the fact that my basal metabolic rate did not change at all.

The basal metabolic rate for any individual is the amount of calories the body naturally utilizes on its own each day. When I began the program, my body was using 1,600 calories. Once my body composition shifted, I expected to see a sharp increase in caloric expenditure. After all, more muscle mass equals more caloric output. In theory.

In my body,that's sadly and simply not the case. My endocrine system is still too suppressed to allow my metabolism to shift into a higher gear. My basal metabolic rate was raised by a mere three calories despite the fact that I gained so much more muscle mass.

So this is going to be an uphill battle; one that will only be won with proper nutrition, thoughtful exercise and a good dose of Western medicine.

When I look back at the previous month, I can easily see that weight loss and overall well being is best achieved in my body through a high protein, controlled carbohydrate eating plan, with very little sugar, limited dairy and absolutely no wheat products.

For me, that means five small meals a day with oatmeal and brown rice as the carbohydrate mainstays and lots of green vegetables. I can get by with a small serving of fruit, provided that it is a low sugar choice (such as berries or cantaloupe).

I also think that oils really helped me get from meal to meal, without getting too hungry. Flax and coconut are my favorites. I love almonds, walnuts and cashews, along with all the nut butters, but I found that each are incredibly hard to digest. That didn't stop me from double and triple dipping into Ben's salty cashews each day.

Three weeks of straying taught me quite a lot; mostly, I learned that I am on an incredible short leash and that I have to work harder to stay on track and keep my endocrine system happy. It almost has to be looked at as a project, as much as I dislike how "high maintenance" that sounds.

In all honesty, I have been reluctant to get back to "brass tactics." But I need to. I can feel all the bad choices in my energy level. The gleam in my skin is not quite as noticeable. Afternoon caffeine feels like a mandatory sentence. My body has once again started to crave more protein, even though I have tended to give it sugar instead.

So, I'm back to it. After devouring white rice and a big piece of cake at a work function today, I knew I had reached my threshold.

In the spirit of sharing information, I'm being candid here because I think that other people - particularly women - may benefit from my experience. Many clients have come to me with weight loss challenges - they seem to be doing all the "right" things, yet the weight just won't come off. Sometimes a simple blood test can provide a myriad of answers, although the solutions aren't easy or quick.

I'm back to it today. Finding my own answers and feeling better.

As always, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me. We're all in this together!

Wish me luck as I take on my own project of wellness,

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Weeks 11 & 12: Anything Goes

On my way to vacation #2 with the kiddo. But before I go, here are the highlights of my nutrition program:

I stopped EVERYTHING last Wednesday to enjoy a week of great food, cocktails and not a lot of exercise. I tried to keep the sugar in check, at least.

Coming home, I eased back in very gradually allowing for more indulgences than usual. Feeding my body feels right, at least for right now. My garden is going crazy and I'm enjoying everything that's coming out of it. Still not much sugar, though.

I cut out my endocrine medication entirely. I didn't notice a difference without it. I do notice that if I eat clean, I don't need it. Yay for good food choices!

I've mainly been strength training at the gym. Not much cardio. I'm enjoying the challenge and the shift. My yoga practice feels stronger, as does my pilates practice.

Nine days on vacation with a nugget-loving child will certainly be telling. I haven't decided quite yet exactly what my own eating plan will entail. But it will, most certainly, NOT contain a nugget.

Freedom with choices feels good right now. Enjoying some of the most delicious food and wine of my life was so worth it.

More when we return.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Week 10: A Little Bit of This, A Whole Lot of That

A quick update on Week 10 nutrition...

I started integrating carbs back into my diet in a very controlled way. Brown rice was first - with no problem - and oatmeal was second. Also no problem.

Meals are way more frequent, and much smaller. I'm eating five times a day with small servings of protein (3 0z), brown rice (1/2 cup), and green vegetables (plain, unlimited). I start the day with 1/2 cup oatmeal, a half scoop of protein powder and a tablespoon of flax oil or coconut oil.

My exercise program has completely changed. I eliminated all cardio except for 40 minutes of high intensity interval training one time each week. I'm focusing my efforts on weight training and taking a day off with yoga or pilates.

I feel good. The scale is down seven pounds (although it doesn't matter) and I'm down a dress size and even bought a child's size swim shirt last week. I'm pretty much ready to throw on a bikini for my upcoming vacation.

But I can't eat like this forever.

For one, it's boring. Rice, chicken and salmon are great. But four times a day? Not so much.
It's also time consuming. If I'm leaving the house for any length of time, I have to tote food with me. Cold rice and cold chicken and salmon are not good. I'm also cooking a lot of protein each day, just to have on hand for every meal. Too much work.

Once I'm home from vacation, I'll go back to something that resembles high protein, controlled carbs and more food options.

And no, on vacation, there's no way I'll eat like this. I'll definitely steer clear of desserts but I plan to fully enjoy yummy meals at every opportunity.

As for the exercise, I don't know when I'll make the switch back to cardio. I'm finding that I enjoy the weights much more.

I will say that the biggest rewards from being on 10 weeks of the program are the compliments from friends and clients. I definitely feel like I worked hard, harder than I thought I could, and it's nice to get a little validation from all the effort.

I'll check in during the first part of August.

Be well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week 9: Momentum and Intution

I am roughly nine weeks into my nutrition program and I'm feeling the effects of extreme deprivation and hard, hard physical activity.

When I think about the last nine weeks, I'm amazed that I've been able to keep pace and stay the course with this rigid plan. My momentum was, up until last weekend, pretty darn stellar. But as is always the case, momentum can be both good and bad.

Last weekend, it was bad.

I was at my sister's house and she had a whole spread of food. Never mind that she had stocked up on protein and veggies for me. All I wanted were the things I couldn't have.

So I had them. And I had a lot of them. I'll spare you the details.

I got sick. I was sick for two days.

I asked myself, "why?"

The thing is, the momentum that saw me through nine weeks turned on me, this weekend, and became the most slippery slope. I couldn't stop with the margarita and the beer. I couldn't stop with the chips and salsa. I couldn't stop after the cookie. But I had to stop after the pie.

And that is what deprivation will do.

There's a reason that cheating is encouraged on diets. It's a built in way of allowing pleasure. Because without pleasure, food is no fun. Admittedly, that's how it's been for me for too long.

Nine weeks is too long to go without a treat!

And nine treats are too many to have in one sitting.

Do you see the point here? I do. I see it oh-so-clearly and now I get it, too: Indulge periodically. It's OK."

So, that's my soapbox moment on momentum. Go with it, but give it a break now and then too. Otherwise, it will turn around and totally beat you up.

Now, on to the semantics of the program.

At Week 8, I checked my weight and it was the same as when I started the program. Up a few ounces, in fact. But if I've learned anything during this program, it's this: the scale doesn't tell the whole tale and it never will.

I had my nutritionist check my body fat and my lean muscle mass. Body fat was down to 19% (from 25%) and muscle mass stayed the exact same (which is good).

So, once again, I have a good reason to throw out my scale, because it just doesn't provide an accurate picture. Ever.

I am pretty happy at 19% body fat. I've been as low as 16% before and that's not the greatest look for me. I could stay at 19% and be quite happy.

It is likely that the nutrition program has helped "reset" my endocrine system and thyroid and also likely that I will come off that medication in the next month. I haven't had a migraine since the program started which is huge and my doctor thinks that there is also a correlation between my nutrition and my headaches.

All this is good.

However, I've been starting to do more strength training and less cardio. I'm tired. My body doesn't feel like it's getting what it needs - in the way of energy - to sustain moderate lifting at the gym and long pilates sessions.

This is not good.

I'm waking up hungry at night and I'm ravenous in the morning. Eggs aren't cutting it. Neither is salad. I can't get back in the "ketosis" zone. My body is definitely talking to me. I don't want it to turn on me again.

Meanwhile, I have another eight weeks on my current program and my nutritionist isn't "allowing" for modifications just yet. I hope she's not reading this.

A colleague of mine, who happens to be a competitor for figure competitions, and who has the body of a supermodel, took one look at me and said, "You're not getting enough carbs. You look tired."

I told her about my diet. She gave me some ideas. Basically, if I'm going to be lifting weights and doing some cardio, I have to have grains. She suggested eating every three hours. Five mini-meals a day. I have to re-calibrate my protein. Less at each meal. Three ounces. And only brown rice as a carb, with the exception of a half-cup of oatmeal in the morning.

So, now, instead of four eggs in the morning, I'm having two, with the oatmeal. Then, four small meals of lean protein and a little brown rice and some green vegetables. I'm also keeping the flax, since it such a great supplement, and the apple cider vinegar, too.

No sugar. No other refined carbohydrates. No fruit. Lots and lots and lots of water. With a few tweaks, my friends says I can continue "re-setting" the thyroid, but in a way that supports my physical activity and output, and allows for more energy (hopefully).

I'm taking a week long break from my nutritionist. We'll see how I feel in a week. While I'm not opposed to going carb-free again, I certainly don't feel like it's working for me right now.

My intuition has always been one of my most powerful tools. Having body awareness is a huge component of good intuition and it's served me well in the past. I trust that it will now, too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Weeks 6 & 7: The Final Piece of the Puzzle

I am almost back to my old self. Except that my blood pressure is way too low.

The blood pressure issue has been the last - and the most puzzling - piece of the endocrine puzzle and I think I'm finally on my way to a completed picture.

Meanwhile, the nutrition program is going forward without any glitches and I'm feeling sooooooooo great! It's a whole new mindset for me; this eating with a very structured plan. I like it. My body likes it.

I've been on the list to see a specialist here in Sacramento for a long time. One of the best docs in the area - who happens to be on my PPO plan - agreed to see me months ago and our appointment was today. What I am about to share next is truly unbelievable: he spent an hour and forty-five minutes with me. He is, in a word, unbelievable.

He is also very perplexed by my blood pressure and thinks that it is somehow tied in to the entire endocrine shut-down. He even thinks that I could give up the endocrine meds, and that I could sleep better and that I would be much more energetic during the day. All this is possible: my heart just needs to beat faster!

While I was in the office, the doctor did an EKG and the nurse took my blood pressure no less than eight times. It almost became comical: "Stand up, sit down, lie down, do a back flip." You get the point.

The doctor got the point too and he is ON IT. I feel completely confident in his ability to figure this all out. He's even going to send me for a sleep study to see how my heart does during rest.

On the nutrition side, I feel like there's been a complete shift in my mindset about food and eating. Structure works for me; handfuls of convenience foods - always on the go - do not. I'm planning out meals now and selecting my favorite sources of protein. Sitting down with a meal that I've put the time and effort into creating is really, really rewarding.

My willpower was truly put to the test this last weekend when I joined a group of friends in Lake Tahoe. The kitchen was loaded with every type of junk food that you can imagine. I had volunteered to do most of the cooking so it was easy to put together meals that were friendly to my program. It wasn't even that hard to make my favorites, polenta and bruschetta for everyone else.


Some of the girls spent an afternoon baking cookies and cakes. The kitchen smelled delicious. In the afternoons, everyone would gather on one of the decks and enjoy wine and cheese. And crackers. And chips. And beer. Those occasions were hard. It was also difficult to make banana bread for the group on the second morning and not have any.

Going into the trip, I vowed to myself that I would not be high maintenance about the food; I would not be that girl. But that commitment required a stash of Atkins bars and a carton of eggs. It worked. Despite having a few vodka/diet 7up concoctions each day, I stayed in the ketotis zone and ate as much protein as I could.

Coming into Week 8 feels like a major accomplishment. I can't believe that I've reached the halfway point of the program and the thing is, I think that this way of eating is going to be with me for life.

I am happy to share information about my new doctor and/or ideas for low carb meals. Please find me at the gym or email me directly.

And do come join our Wednesday night yoga group! We're back; stronger than ever:
Del Norte Club, 7pm.

Best of health,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Low Carb Dieting: The Final Word?

One of my favorite authors is Jonny Bowden, a well-known nutritionist in Southern California. Jonny Bowden wrote the book, "150 Healthiest Foods On Earth" and it is arguably one of the best written publications on the healthiest food choices. I bought several copies earlier this year and gave them to clients and friends. I wrote about his book multiple times on this blog. I read it myself practically every day. It's been my food Bible.

So when I picked up the March/April 2010 issue of Pilates Style, I was thrilled to see a large, feature article by Jonny Bowden. Even better was the fact that the topic is one that is near and dear to my heart: the effectiveness of low carb eating.

I have been on a low carb eating plan for almost two months. I eat very few carbs, most of which are vegetables and nuts. I eat a lot of protein. I don't eat sugar. I like eating this way, although I can't say I'll do it forever. But Jonny Bowden thinks that maybe I should.
And so should everyone else.

Let's start with a little background on the low carb trend.

In 2004, it seemed that low carb diets were at the top of the charts. The Atkins diet had just been shown to produce more weight loss than either a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet in a study published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Many other studies around low carb eating showed improvements in triglyceride levels, body composition and reduced risk factors of diabetes.

Low carb was fast becoming the darling of the dieting world. The Zone and The South Beach Diet were both born from the low carb movement. Everyone knew at least one person on Atkins.

And then low carb eating faded, as starches came back en vogue.

According to Bowden, the words "low carb" simply fizzled in the media and in the mainstream. However, Bowden states that, "low carb is wildly effective, perfectly safe and has enormous health benefits." He goes on to say, "Low carb is alive and well, and if you're one the of folks who's historically dismissed it, you may want to take another look."

I've always wondered how low you should go, in terms of carbs. Currently, I eat anywhere from 20 to 40 a day, depending on my physical output and my appetite. The ADA (American Dietetic Association) designates a low carb diet as less than 130 carbohydrates a day. Bowden hardly considers this as "low." But it does provide good framework for a baseline, considering that Americans consume, on average, 300 carbs a day!

Bowden believes that you can get the most of controlled-carb eating and still eat up to 100 carbohydrates a day. He goes on to report that a copious amount of research supports the notion that even a modest reduction in carb intake is enough to stabilize blood sugar, reduce insulin and facilitate weight loss.

In fact, the highlight of the article - in my opinion - is Bowden's statement about simple carb consciousness: "Merely attempting to reduce carbs resulted in vast improvements in weight and overall heath among dieters in several, large scale studies."

One interesting thing that I have noticed in my own low carb eating, is that my mood has shifted dramatically. Once a slave to blood sugar dips and climbs, I am much more stable all day long. I no longer have a need for afternoon caffeine and my energy stays consistently high throughout most days. Bowden says that these improvements are due to insulin sensitivity improvement. He calls it "the dietary trifecta," meaning that insulin is balanced, pounds are being shed and there isn't that ravenous, "I have to eat right now" feeling. I call it pretty darn great.

To tie the issue up with the largest, prettiest bow possible, take note of this next finding. Bowden concludes the article by saying, "Remember, hard as it is to believe, your body has no physiological requirement for carbohydrates." If you're looking to lose weight, Bowden advises to get the vast majority of your carbs from vegetables and fruits, and not from pasta, rice, bread, baked goods, cereal and desserts.

The blueprint for weight loss, Bowden says, is this:

Carbohydrates: 100 to 130 a day (endless amounts of vegetables and berries and some melon)

Protein: 100 to 120 grams a day (poultry, seafood, lean cuts of red meat)

Fat: 60 grams ("good" fats such as olive oil, nuts, flax and avocado)

I was completely encouraged and heartened by this article. It's good to know also, that I can start to increase my carb consumption without giving up the many health benefits that I'm already experiencing.

My advice to my clients, based on this research, is to experiment with low carb eating as it seems appropriate. A gentle start might be replacing your lunch time sandwich with a salad and some protein. Gradually try weaning off of morning cereal and opt for high quality protein sources such as eggs or cottage cheese.

One meal at a time, one day at a time. Always the best approach to any successful dieting program!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Week 5: Life in Kitosis: I Have To Do What With That Stick?

It has been two solid weeks of extreme low carb living. Add those two weeks to the previous three weeks of grain-free eating. So, yes, you've done the math correctly: I have abandoned every culinary treat imaginable for five. long. weeks.

Can I get a collective sigh of sympathy?

Thanks. Now, let me share the news of Week Five.

The first ten days of the "true" low carb plan were a nightmare; the last four have been much more do-able. I think my mind is finally embracing this new way of living; now if my body would only follow!

My doctor put me on such an absurd dose of thyroid medication that I stopped sleeping. I was wired for days. I'm not normally one to deviate from a doctor's orders but after seeing him a second and a third time this month - with the same instructions: "Keep the dose where it is," I took matters into my own hands and sliced all those speed pills in half.

Now I am trying to compensate for the loss of synthetic energy by taking my body into a state of ketosis. Of course, this is all under the careful guidance of my nutritionist, Sydney. Along with a list of "approved" foods (select vegetables, some protein and a whole lot of water), she gave me a testing kit for keytones. Which is kinda like a home pregnancy test. Same procedure, at least.


I never became much of an expert at pregnancy tests but I can say that the last time I peed on a stick and it promptly turned pink, I freaked out. For days. Weeks. For almost ten months. That was over seven years ago.

Now, I live to see a bright pink stick each morning. Because it tells me what I need to know: ketosis is working!

Or not working. If there is a vodka incident the night before! Not that I would know.

Sydney has me testing for keytones every day. Constant ketosis is the goal of this program. Kick start the thyroid and the adrenals by making the body think it's in starvation mode. Great for the 6-pack abs, not so great for the mood.

But all that changed about four days ago when I discovered that I wasn't hungry between meals. I could go from class to clients, back to class, then to clients again and not feel ravenous. I haven't had a headache in six weeks. I gave up my afternoon coffee. I stopped craving sweets. My nutritionist says that this is kitosis. So it's not so hellish after all. I might actually survive, and more importantly, so will those around me!

My body, meanwhile, still thinks it's in hell.

One week into the program and I had lost nearly six pounds. I won't lie; it felt great to slide back into the yoga pants that I had shoved into the depths of my closet in the middle of the winter. I started looking at two-piece swimsuits. My body was starting to resemble its "pre-endocrine blow up" shape. It was not so hard to pass on the pretzels, the crackers, the cake or the chocolate. It was easy to imagine dropping even lower.

Then, exactly one week later at my check-in with Sydney, the weight was all back. And then some.

"What happened?" she asked.

Nothing had happened. I was almost angelic, save for one teeny glass of wine at a party and three bites of a friend's french toast at breakfast. Definitely not enough deviation to warrant the weight gain. Plus, the sticks were still showing a rosy hue of pink every morning.

Determined to defend my good behavior, I told Sydney to measure me. And that's when we noticed that inches had dropped everywhere.

I've always been attached to a number on the scale. Like any other female, I've done my fair share of obsessing over the ups and downs of that damn number. And believe me, I more than freaked out when the scale kept creeping up, up, up this winter.

But a good lesson in all this is that you just can't believe the scale. It lies. It tells stories. It makes you temporarily feel good. It can make you feel really bad. It is not your loyal and consistent friend.

If I was in charge of the nutrition program, I'd toss the scale out for good. It's much easier for me to gauge my success by being honest with myself about how I feel, how my clothes are fitting and how pink those sticks are.

For now, I'll keep weighing in with the understanding that my thyroid is trying to sabotage my weight but also with the knowledge that measurements don't lie, and neither do clothes. Energy doesn't lie, either.

And those pink strips; they're the most honest indicators of all!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yoga In The Park; It's Oh-So-Good

Move over Reformer and Spinning classes. My new favorite thing to do on Saturday mornings is Yoga In The Park.

This past Saturday morning, I met five friends at McKinley Park. We lined up our mats together, in full view of McKinley's famed rose garden, and spent 75 minutes breathing, moving and appreciating the beauty of being outdoors.

Yoga In The Park was created by local instructor, Gina Garcia. Ironically, I've known Gina for years but am just now enjoying the connection we have together as yogis. Gina has selflessly offered up her talents, her experience and her great playlists to our community with Yoga In The Park. Every class is free, but the experience is priceless.

Since discovering yoga nearly ten years ago, I've often said that the only downside of our Western practice of yoga is that it is generally not widely available to the masses. Studios are too expensive, gyms don't offer a "true experience," and instructors usually don't have the resources or the time to cultivate community outreach through yoga.

But now, thanks to the lovely Gina, all that is changing in the greater Sacramento area.

Gina has completed multiple trainings with the famed Baron Baptiste, who is known for his rigorous, yet passionate practice. One thing I love about Gina's teaching style is the fact that she puts her heart and soul into yoga. Her music is strong, she weaves themes into her teaching and she puts forth an energy that is radiant and warm. As she moves through the rows of students, it's impossible not to feel the sweetness of her presence.

Prepare to work hard in Gina's class. On Saturday, she had us in Bow pose at least three times, possibly four. On my final attempt at the pose, she caught my shoulders from behind and literally arced my back into what felt like the perfect Bow. It was a great adjustment; one that I would expect from a very good and very experienced instructor. It was an adjustment that I'm still feeling, three days later!

I'm going to spend as many Saturday mornings as possible in the park this summer. Each time I've gone, at least two people have joined me. Please email me directly or catch me at the club if you would like to come.

And a big thank you to Gina for taking on such a remarkable community endeavor. She's indeed spreading the best karma possible!

Yoga In The Park takes place during the Spring and Summer months each Saturday at 9:00am in McKinley Park. Class is held behind the Rose Garden. Complete details can be found on the Yoga In The Park Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Week 4: How Low Can You Go?

Before I get too far into this week's post, let me throw out a quick reference to the previous post which announces my return to teaching on June 23rd! That's right, I'll be back at Del Norte Club instructing the Intermediate class, also known as our "Yoga Love Fest." I can't wait to see you all then. Now for this week's topic...

I wrote out the title of this post one morning and then thought about the question all day long.

"How low can you go?"

I never knew how low I could go until I got there; and it was a pretty deep place of physical depletion. This spring, instead of experiencing renewal and rejuvenation, my body rebelled in ways that I didn't think were possible and I slipped into a dark well of fatigue, exhaustion and extreme cold. My hair became brittle; my skin lost its luster. My body became so puffy that my clothes didn't fit. I didn't want to exercise, I didn't want to socialize, I hardly had enough energy to be a mother.

Something was definitely wrong, so wrong.

After some major testing, I began a strong course of medication to support my failing endocrine system. I found my nutritionist. I swallowed handfuls of supplements and significantly changed my diet. I started to get better. My clothes started to fit again. My skin was glowing. My workouts were great. My social life looked more promising. The worried look on my son's face went away.

Then I went back to the doctor.

This last week, I found out that my thyroid is functioning at the level of a corpse, that I have the blood pressure of a newborn and that to begin to fix it all - somewhat naturally - I have to put my body in an unnatural state called kitosis.

I'm not totally dialed in to the correlation between kitosis and thyroid function but what I know is that as of last week, my diet changed dramatically and now I am eating a diet so low in carbohydrates that I'm pretty sure I'd qualify for an Atkins award.

Not that I want an award. But I do want to get better in the most holistic possible way. And potentially give up a medication that can't help my thyroid, can't help my blood pressure but can give me a synthetic sense of well being. Somehow, that just doesn't seem right. Anything that makes me feel good synthetically has to be short-lived.

Enter the new diet. Or, "The Plan."

My nutritionist reduced my carbohydrate intake to 20 grams a day. Did you know that a bowl of salad greens accounts for five carbs? Neither did I. But that's what I'm talking about: major caloric restriction.

I have to weigh every carrot, every nut, every lettuce leaf, every onion slice, ev-er-y-THING.

It was a major struggle at first. What to do when your run-of-the-mill protein shake has seven grams of carbs? That's more than a third of my daily allotment. Plain Greek yogurt is exactly half of my carb allowance. Forget an apple. Three strawberries? Maybe. If they're small.

Sydney, my nutritionist, promised that my thyroid would get better. She promised that my blood pressure would normalize. She promised she could get me there. And I believe her.

But I have to follow "The Plan." Strictly. Diligently.

This morning, as I was conducting a major science experiment called rationing out my day's carbs, protein and fat, my mom said what I needed to hear: "I know it's hard but you're doing it for Ben. I know you want to be healthy for Ben."

She's so right. Of course we'll do anything for our children, especially if our child's well-being relies on our own health. As a single mom, I carry this burden so heavily. Ben already spent most of the spring weeks with my mom, while I recovered. I do not want that to happen again. I can't lose any more time with him. So I'm acting. Embracing The Plan. Staying the course. Trusting in the process.

And it' working!

I know that I'm on my way. This is the best that I've felt in months, but boy is it hard, hard work.

Being ever-mindful of major dietary changes, I did quite a lot of research on low carb diets. What I found was surprising. It's not all bad. In fact, the low carb approach can actually be very good for most people. I'll be posting more about those findings.

As it is, I've probably given up grains forever and I never thought I'd say that. But it's a situation where the benefits of being without far outweigh the pleasures of a slice of bread, a bowl of rice or a handful of crackers.

Extreme? Yes. Indeed. But I've found that I can derive just as much pleasure by having a colorful salad with salmon, chicken or steak. And I simply feel cleaner without the grains. I can't explain it, but intrinsically I know that my body runs more efficiently when it's not burdened by the heaviness of most grains.

Lastly, I'm still on a big flax regime and I've added apple cider vinegar, too. I never knew of the health benefits associated with apple cider vinegar; there are so many! Vinegar has a great warming effect once it's in the body. I hadn't noticed it before because the amount I ingested was so minuscule compared to what I take in now. But it's another habit that I can easily see adopting as a life-long part of my wellness. In fact, many of my older clients complain of muscle cramping during our sessions together. Turns out, apple cider vinegar packs a huge amount of potassium. I'm definitely recommending it in lieu of, or in addition to, bananas.

I've deviated a little. I have a diet soda every afternoon. I had a little run-in with vodka. But I haven't touched the grains or the sweets in weeks and that feels like the biggest accomplishment of all.

Every day, I'm getting questions from clients and friends about my program. I'm happy to share what I've learned. Please send any specific inquiries to me or catch me at the club.

Tomorrow is my appointment with Sydney. I'll keep posting updates as I go. In the meantime, I'll be splashing with Ben in the pool, pushing hard on the treadmill, finding a new twist in yoga and enjoying the life that was returned to me!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm Back!

I am so excited to re-join my yogi friends for Wednesday nights at Del Norte Club! Mark your calendars; my first official day back will be June 23rd.

My doctor gave me the go ahead for limited yoga practice, which I interpreted to mean: full menu of all poses except for handstand. Headstand might be questionable too!

Nevertheless, I have tons of energy to share with all of you, and new music too.

I'm grateful for the outpouring of support that I received from all of you during the time that I was recuperating. As is always the case with my Del Norte community, I am humbled by the enthusiasm that you bring to our class and to our practice of yoga. It is both a blessing and an honor to be your teacher. And I promise to be around for many, many more Wednesdays from this point on!

Rumor has it that Judy will be joining us to practice on the 23rd. Then, we'll head out to the lawn area to enjoy some her amazing treats. Please plan to hang out for a bit after class that evening (kids are welcome, too).

One last thing. There is a wonderful project happening in our community called Yoga In the Park. Every Saturday morning, a free, 75 minute vinyasa class is held in McKinley Park at 9am. This endeavor is the brainchild of Zuda Yoga instructor, Gina Garcia. Gina is a lovely person and a truly gifted yoga instructor. She has generously shared her talents with 30 to 40 people every Saturday this spring.

I went to Yoga In The Park last Saturday and was amazed by the energy of the group. I plan to go every Saturday that I can this summer.

If you are interested in getting a Del Norte group together for a regular Saturday event, please find me at the club or send an email. You can find more details about Gina and her classes at McKinley by searching Yoga In The Park, Sacramento on Facebook.

Thank you again for your commitment to our classes together and for the warmth, compassion and devotion that you all collectively offer up. It is truly a special opportunity to share my love of yoga with all of you.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Loving This: Week 3

Talk about feeling great. A solid three weeks into the nutrition program and I feel amazing. Good enough to practice yoga, to keep up with my son and to return to teaching.

I'm back!

I've turned the corner, I think and am beyond the point of craving anything starchy. I even passed up the opportunity to "test" my body's threshold for wheat. As much as I wanted that big piece of bread, I just couldn't do it.

And I'm glad I didn't indulge in the bread because all of a sudden, the need to have it just went away, along with cravings for pretzels, crackers, rice and oatmeal (all of my favorites).

Instead, I'm drinking protein shakes and eating more protein than ever. I'm still integrating fruit and a little bit of dairy. And flax, of course.

Interestingly, my super adorable Southern California friend emailed me this week and we talked about her diet. She has type 2 diabetes and has struggled with it for years. She recently adopted an eating plan like mine, although hers is more rigid, and she's lost 25 pounds and needs no insulin. More importantly, she feels fabulous. (And she's getting married in August and I know that she'll be radiant!)

There are many, many good reasons to cut carbs and I'm finding more and more health experts who endorse this way of eating. Turns out, unless you're an extremely active athlete, you really don't need much more than fruit and vegetables - in addition to lean protein and a lot of "good fat" - to support metabolic function.

Only three weeks into the program and I'm seeing definite changes in my skin and hair. I have no idea whether or not I've lost weight and to be honest, I really don't care. At this point, it's much more about how I feel.

One supplement that I believe is helping me get back on track is Inositol. I think this is a good one for everyone to use periodically as it is a great support for the liver. Used in higher doses, it also supports mood (the studies on bipolar are fascinating!) and my own personal favorite: sleep. I use the Jarrow brand (I think Jarrow is an incredibly clean and credible company) and since it's a sweet powder, it mixes well into my daily smoothie/protein shake. There is no real upper limit on Inositol. Most people tolerate it well.

I will see my nutritionist, Sydney, this week. I have the feeling that she'll be cleaning up my diet even more in the coming weeks, which is fine by me because I'm learning so much in this process.

And now I understand why people give up things in exchange for feeling good. It's worth it. It really, really is.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Week, 150 Minutes

I get asked this question all the time: "How much do I really need to exercise?"

My answer always depends on whom I'm talking with and what their goals are.

But after doing some research, I have a better idea of a baseline exercise regime that everyone should be following.

According to the health division of the government, adults should move their bodies for at least 150 minutes a week. And I may regret disclosing this, but...

Pilates does NOT count toward the 150 minutes.

Any moderate to high intensity exercise - like walking, running, Spinning, aerobics - qualifies.

Pilates isn't considered aerobic, thus, it's not going to help your heart. It is, however, a great form of conditioning and, if done correctly, can be quite the strength training workout. Especially if you're exercising on the Reformer. Mat classes don't have nearly as much strength work as Reformer sessions. (There, I've saved my business!)

For more significant health benefits - including weight loss - adults are advised to increase aerobic activity to at least 300 minutes a week. Don't shoot the messenger; I don't make this stuff up!

The recent guidelines also emphasize getting more vigorous activity than a simple stroll after dinner; in other words, you need to break a sweat.

On top of the 300 cardiovascular minutes, you should consider squeezing in some strength training. Lifting weights will boost your metabolism, stave off osteoporosis and, from an aesthetic standpoint, you'll look much more toned. Just a couple of sessions a week - no longer than 30 minutes - can make a world of difference.

Truth be told, I definitely don't get my 300 minutes in. Despite the myth that I work-out constantly because of my profession, the sad truth is that I have to create exercise time just like everyone else. But I do try and walk whenever I can and will often sneak in my own Reformer session between clients. I also really enjoy the energy of a great Spinning class or a long yoga practice. Keeping it varied, I've found, is the key to not getting bored.

300 minutes is a lofty goal. And it can remain just that: a goal; provided that you are at least committed to logging 150 minutes each week for your heart.

Five workouts. 30 minutes each. As my six-year-old would say: "Easy-schmeezy!"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flax to the Max: Week 2

It's been ten days since I've had grains. Ten whole days of protein, fruit, vegetables and more flax than I ever imagined that I could ingest. I cheated and had two chocolate chip cookies on Sunday. And Ben made me eat one Cheet-o.Blockquote
I saw Sydney (my nutritionist) yesterday. "Have you been strict with the grains?" she asked. I can't lie for a moment so I told her about the cookies. I think she forgave me. At least she took my check.

She asked me how I was feeling. "Grouchy," I told her. "I think my serotonin is too low." She dismissed that comment rather quickly and told me that I would be going on an even more restrictive, or, "thyroid friendly" diet in the coming weeks. Basically, I have two more weeks to live it up on the fruit and the coffee. I have the feeling that the hammer is coming down.

Leaving her office, I was loaded down with supplements in the way of support for my thyroid, adrenals and endocrine system. I made the HUGE mistake this morning of downing all the pills with my coffee and shuttling Ben off to school - about an hour round-trip - on a completely empty stomach. I didn't stop on the side of the road only because I thought it would be very traumatizing for Ben to see his beloved mom with her head in the bushes, tossing up thirty-three different pills and way more coffee than anyone should have before 8am. Lesson learned.

The hardest part of this plan (aside from the extreme cravings for anything starchy) is gulping down huge quantities of flax oil. Barlean's makes a great flax oil that is strawberry flavored and it's pretty darn yummy. A few tablespoons in a smoothie is easy to take. I gave Ben a spoonful this morning. Never too early to start kids on the omegas. He asked for more. I use several tablespoons of Trader Joe's flax oil on my salad, along with some fresh lemon juice. You can't cook with flax oil but it does work nicely used in place of butter on sauteed or steamed vegetables. I especially like it on sweet potatoes.

"The big guy on the block" theory - as shared by Sydney - has resonated with me and that's why I've been so vigilant with the flax intake. It makes sense, when you think about it, that the body is going to absorb what it gets the most of. Trans fats, saturated fats, omegas, whatever. I want to have my body to have the best of the best. And I think it's starting to show.

My skin has taken on a healthy glow in the last couple of weeks. I definitely have more shine; in fact my doctor said yesterday, "Your skin looks luminous!" That might be a stretch, but I have found that I need less heavy moisturizer and make-up.

For the most part, I'm pretty settled into the no grains routine but I have had some moments - like this morning - when a protein shake sounded horrible. I broke the rules and had a bowl of plain Greek yogurt. It was either that, or a huge stack of pancakes.

I won't see Sydney for two weeks. At our appointment this week, she dangled a big carrot, or as the case may be, a slice of whole wheat bread. "Try one piece of whole wheat bread in two weeks," she advised. "See what happens in the following 24 hour period."

What will likely happen is I will keel over from pleasure. But in the meantime, I've got a big shot of flax oil waiting...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Comeback: Week 1

I'm finally blowing the dust off this blog and am ready to bring forth some new information on wellness.

The topic that is near and dear to me right now is the rare type of hypothyroidism that I have been diagnosed with. This elusive condition just about brought me to my knees this Spring but I'm on my way back - I think - and am aggressively seeking some answers as to how I got here and how I'm going come back to my "old" life: the life that didn't require a daily nap, three layers of clothing and a blood pressure cuff to ensure that I wouldn't keel over at any given moment.

Under normal conditions, the thyroid produces hormones - T3 and T4 being the most important - and these hormones are critical to overall well being. T3 and T4 are your "fire" - they drive your metabolism, they regulate your body temperature, they give you the necessary fuel to move through your day. Without these hormones, you're pretty much toast. Which is what I've been - with my nearly non-existent T3 and T4 - for months.

A deficiency in T3 and T4 can be detected via lab work, and is treatable with thyroid medication. Trouble is, the medication can take weeks, sometimes months, to kick in.

I decided that I didn't have months to feel better. I'm tired of being fatigued all the time. I want to go back to Spinning class. I'm ready to give up my heating pad. I miss my friends and our fun outings. I desperately want my life back.

A friend recommended a nutritionist to me. Although I'm a clean eater, I knew that I could probably make some tweaks to my diet for more support during this critical time of waiting for the meds to kick in.

Enter Sydney of Live Bliss:

I was warned beforehand that Sydney's program is very rigid but she promised, over the phone, that she could help me and I am willing to do just about anything. So I went in with the full expectation that my diet could change. Drastically. But that I could also feel much, much better in just a short amount of time.

Sydney started by measuring my body fat percentage, lean muscle mass, and BMI. All healthy ranges. But once we started into the body's major systems - particularly the endocrine - she became more concerned. "You're way too young to be going through this," she said. Tell me about it.

Right away Sydney told me that I would have to give up all grains, including rice. And oatmeal. Two of my favorite things in life.

Apparently, gluten is an irritant to the thyroid gland and, let's face it, gluten is in everything. We agreed that the funeral for grains didn't have to happen right now; but that after a gradual re-introduction of each grain, we could decide which would stay permanently. And what would go.

Sydney also suggested that I stop drinking fluids with meals. I can have as much water as I want 15 minutes prior to eating and then I have to wait an hour after eating before drinking again. So much for my hot tea after each meal. She shuddered when I told her about my nightly tea ritual and went on to explain that if your stomach is like a bowl, and if you pour several types of foods and condiments in it, then douse it with eight or ten ounces of hot water, the end result is a stinky mess. It actually made sense then.

Also, along the lines of beverages, I'm drinking an 8-ounce cup of water - on an empty stomach - with 1/4 teaspoon baking powder stirred in. Apparently, this helps the body naturally restore its alkaline levels (she tested my Ph level and it was actually fine so the baking soda is more for maintenance).

So, it's been six days of no grains and I'm missing them, definitely. Yesterday, I stocked up on organic chicken, salmon and sole. I purged my beloved crackers and I double-sealed my organic oatmeal into Ziplock bags to save for later (because if oatmeal is ruled out for good, there will be hell to pay!).

Sydney called me today and suggested that I bump up my flax oil consumption to 8 tablespoons a day. Yes, eight tablespoons. She told me something that I didn't know about fat: apparently the body absorbs the type of fat that it gets the most of. So, in my case, that would be a lot of olive oil and coconut oil (my two favorites). However, flax has the Omega 3s which are the most beneficial, overall, to your body. "The big guy on the block wins," Sydney said. "You want that guy to be flax." Good thing Trader Joe's sells the garden variety flax oil. I splurged tonight on Whole Foods' Strawberry/Banana flax oil, with the idea that if I have to drink so much of this stuff, at least it should taste good!

Lastly, I had a really sad moment today when Sydney said that I should give up dairy. For now. Although my instincts tell me that it's probably been a problem all along and I've been justifying its spot in our household by only buying high grade, organic milk, yogurt and cheese.

At least she hasn't said anything about coffee. Or wine. Or Trader Joe's dark chocolate almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar.

Speaking of chocolate, just this week, I asked my mother the proverbial question while struggling to get into last year's yoga pants: "Do I look fat?" "Not at all," she replied. "I think you look like Kate Winslet."

Hmmmphhh. Not the answer I had in mind.

Not to worry, though. By the end of this program, I could be looking like Kate Moss. Or better yet, Kate Hudson. And feeling like the Energizer Bunny.

I'll be seeing a lot of Sydney in the next few months and reporting back here on what I'm learning. Good nutrition advice is something that we could all use more of. I hope you find these updates helpful. Please feel free send an email with any questions or comments.

Here's to good health!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Missing My Wednesday Night Peeps

Dear Wednesday Night Yogis,

I miss you all terribly. And it's only been a week that I've been without your smiles, your warmth and your admirable commitment to our weekly yoga get-together.

In a way, I feel guilty for not being with you right now. Many of you have shared my own personal yoga journey; and several of you were in the first yoga class I ever taught - right there at DNC. You've all come so far in your personal practices, so much, in fact, that I rallied for our first ever "Yoga 2" class last year and gained the necessary approval to take you beyond the basics. I've watched with pride as each of you has grown in the practice; in different, yet very distinct ways.

This year, we experienced a huge surge in attendance on Wednesday nights. You brought your friends to class, you told other members about our class, you shared our "sangha" - our community - and helped us to grow to record numbers. Many yoga instructors, particularly in a city like Sacramento - never have the opportunity to teach groups as large - or as energetic and cohesive - as ours. It has truly been an honor to lead you all on this journey, this path, that we call yoga.

I'm reminded of a time when I walked into a yoga class in San Francisco with another instructor friend. It felt like walking into happy hour. People were laughing, embracing, talking loudly. My friend said, "This place is absolutely buzzing!" I've never forgotten that experience and I'm often reminded of it now, when I'm walking into Wednesday night class and one of you flags me down to tell an interesting story (Sarah!), while someone else grabs me in a hug (Nancy!) and yet another person hands me a plate of goodies (Brianna!).

You are all so very special to me and I promise to return to our space and our practice soon. In the meantime, keep coming, be kind to Judy (she might even bring you goodies!) and know that even though I'm not there on my mat, I'm there in spirit.

Stay with your breathe. Slow down when you can. Lift your heart. Stand a little taller. Bring your hands to your heart in Anjali Mudra. Fill up every space in your body and in your spirit with your inhale. Exhale. Let everything else go.

Warm blessings and hugs to you all. Namaste.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Took The Bar...And I Passed!

I recently took a class at The Bar Method and I survived to tell you about it!

The Bar Method, similar to Physique 57 (which Kelly Ripa attributes for her rockin' body), is only offered in major cities. It's a blend of ballet, yoga and pilates and there are many exercises performed at the ballet barre.

I've wanted to take a class at The Bar Method for months. While visiting my sister in the East Bay, I made a reservation to drop into the San Ramon studio. Classes are 60 minutes in length and the drop-in fee is $24.00, which is definitely on the high side for a group exercise class.

Nevertheless, I arrived at the studio a few minutes early and was greeted by two super toned girls who gave me a tour. The Bar Method is a franchise so any location you visit will be pristine and well appointed. The San Ramon studio did not disappoint. They have on-site child care (provided free which is a great benefit), lockers and showers. The place is absolutely pristine. There are two rooms for classes, each has ballet barres lining the perimeter and both are completely mirrored.

There were nine of us in the class. We started the class with light weights and did a quick sequence of shoulders, triceps and biceps. So much for the age-old theory of working the large muscle groups first. The instructor then had us drop to the floor for push-ups. Throughout the exercises, she walked around giving feedback and making adjustments. I felt like she spent a LOT of time correcting my form.

We then moved on to the bar and did an intense series of legwork with arabesques and plies. This part of the work-out was grueling. I was shaking beyond belief.

After about 20 minutes of legwork, we moved on to abs and spent an ungodly amount of time on crunches. Class finished with bridging and stretching.

I wasn't trashed at the end, but I definitely felt like I had spent a disproportionate amount of time on my belly and my butt, and not so much time on the rest of my body.

A friend of mine talked with me last week about the possibility of opening a Bar Method location in Sacramento so my visit to the San Ramon studio, was, in part for research.

In all honesty, I don't think that Sacramento is quite ready for The Bar Method. For starters, the drop in fee is way too high. I don't know of many people who could or would pay so much for a group exercise class. The whole energy of The Bar Method felt very cold to me. The facility was cold, the instructors were cold, the participants were cold. Cold doesn't bode well in a community oriented place like Sacramento.

Although I don't think The Bar Method is a sustainable business idea for Sacramento, I do think that there is much to be learned from the exercises - particularly the regime on the ballet barre.

The Bar Method is consistently ranked as the number one "butt kicking workout in the Bay." When I got out of bed this morning, I could see why. My gluts were so sore I could hardly stand it. So, butt kicking, yes it is, but I'm not sure that having my butt kicked is the best way to exercise. For the money, I'd rather go to a Reformer class or a yoga class - and at least walk away with a great sense of balance - both physically and emotionally.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Dark Side of Medication

This is not an upbeat post, but I'm feeling compelled to address a very important topic relative to medication. Here goes.

Medication - in the Western sense - can do wonderful things for us. It can lower our blood pressure, prevent insulin problems, prevent unwanted pregnancy, assist in achieving pregnancy, control cholesterol and help us feel better, overall. And these are just the every day benefits of medication, not to mention the incredible advances we've made in the last 50 years in the areas of heart disease, cancer and AIDS. Incredible, really.

But medications can have a very, very dark side; a big umbrella called side effects. Consider the medication that puts your body into a metabolic shut down. You don't want to get out of bed. Once you're out of bed, no amount of caffeine can inspire you to move forward into the day. Getting dressed is totally discouraging because nothing fits. Not even the clothes you bought two weeks ago. Breakfast #1 is with your son. Breakfast #2 is an hour later, because you're starved despite the fact that you ate a seemingly "good" meal the first time around, consisting of complex carbs, protein and good fat. Push through the day but it feels like sleep walking. Have more coffee at regular intervals. Eat, eat, eat and repeat. Can't wait just to sleep. Get on the scale and gasp at the number. 8 pounds in one month? Eat again and go to bed, praying that your body will find its "fire" sometime. Really, really soon. Please. Like now.

Welcome to my March.

My doctor put me on a daily medication at the end of February for migraine prevention. I have horrifying migraines, the type that put me out of commission for a solid day and sometimes require a visit to the ER for a demerol shot. They are wicked beyond explanation.

After missing four days of work in January, we (the doctor and I) decided that a more aggressive approach was warranted. Enter the medication.

When taking a controversial medication, it's always necessary to balance the benefits with the risks. The biggest benefit - in my eyes - was the fact that I went through the entire month of March without even a hint of a migraine. The risk? Missing out on life. Being checked out while I was with clients. Scheduling naps instead of connections with friends. But most important, I felt like Ben wasn't getting 100% of me. And I want him to have that. As much as I can give it to him.

So today, April 1st, I dumped the meds. My doctor wanted me to wait it out, give it another month but I just can't do it. My time in life is way too critical - as a mother, as a daughter, as a friend, as a business owner. It's all I have and while it can't be magical all the time, I want to be present for the magic when it whatever way it manifests.

Not a happy topic, I know. But so necessary to be cognizant of. Don't lose a minute, a day, a week and certainly not a month to a medication that just doesn't work with your body. For me, I'd give anything to get out of a migraine. Anything, that is, except for my spot in life!

Monday, March 8, 2010

30 Points!

Last week, I fasted overnight and had my cholesterol re-checked. It had been 3 months since the 2-5-0 verdict and I've since made some dietary and supplement changes. I've been anxious to see what, if anything, has changed.

The first words out of my doctor's mouth, when she called late Friday afternoon, were: "Your cholesterol dropped 30 points!! Excellent work!"

While the ratios have remained basically the same, the overall drop is very encouraging. So what have I been doing? A lot of things, none of which I can pinpoint the results directly to.

For starters, I take "Cholest-Off" each day. My dad says that the stuff reduced his overall cholesterol by 50 points. It is widely available at Rite Aid, Target or Costco.

I also bought the best derivative of Coenzyme Q10 that I could find. It is crazy expensive but the woman in Elliott's (who I trust implicitly) says that Co-Q10 is only effective in its purest form.

Fish oil has become my staple supplement. I take five fish oil pills each day; sometimes more if my body is feeling particularly inflammatory and vulnerable to illness. I buy the triple strength fish oil from Rite Aid.

As far as my diet goes, I eliminated butter, eggs and cheese. Sometimes, I'll have a little goat cheese or parmesan but I try and steer clear of almost all cheeses. I still use Smart Balance although I've loosened the household restrictions on butter and regularly feed it to Ben.

I eat nuts by the pound. Seriously. Several ounces a day, especially almonds. I can't say that this is a great strategy for weight loss but there is lots of proven evidence showing that nuts play a big role in lowering cholesterol. I think my mom is amazed by the packages of nuts that come through the kitchen each week. I've even persuaded Ben to start eating cashews - heavily salted, of course!

Wild salmon is on the menu two times each week. That, with the all the fish oil I take, has a great effect on mood and nerves, as well as the much-needed benefit of dropping cholesterol (all the good oil makes the arteries nice and slippery!). I also eat oatmeal several times a week with ground flax - both are superstars at reducing overall cholesterol.

I've mostly cut out all packaged foods (including crackers, cookies and pretzels) which I think harbor quite a lot of "hidden" and not-so-stellar fats. (But I have been known to get into Ben's coveted stash of sesame sticks!) I avoid desserts completely except for squares of dark, dark chocolate and big scoops of organic vanilla yogurt (still high in sugar but a decent substitute for heavy desserts).

Lastly, I aim for a minimum of eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I buy my produce from the farmer's market each week and then fill in around the edges with frozen blueberries, frozen mango, bananas and vegetable based soups. It's a lot of work to eat this way, but I've been doing it for so long that it's natural for me to plan meals around a high minimum of produce.

All in all, I'm super happy with the results of my latest cholesterol check and plan to keep things as they are, in terms of my supplements and my diet. The one thing I'd like to reduce is the Co-Q10 as it's just so darn expensive and its role in cholesterol reduction is somewhat questionable in the big picture.

My next check is in 6 months. I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You Only Get One Face

In the summertime, I'm mostly incognito - usually hiding under a huge, floppy hat despite the fact that I've slathered SPF 70 all over my face.

I'm obsessed with keeping my skin healthy, particularly the skin on my face. And I'm also convinced that the girl who covers up her face now is the woman who ages gracefully and healthfully into many, many decades later. I'm also a bit fearful of my family genes and the incidents of skin cancer in my family. So I lather up and cover up and use a lot of bronzer. It's a good combo.

But now I've discovered two little gems that are not only keeping my skin healthy, they're imparting this great glow that I never thought I would have. For years, I've spent my skin care dollars on high end moisturizers and night creams, only to be disappointed by the results. Recently, a dermatologist pointed out to me that we need to treat the skin directly with the things that it needs and not let the marketing messages from Olay, Ponds or whomever influence our skin care decisions.

For me, at age 39, that means integrating Retinol and Vitamin C into my daily life. And that's it. Just those two items. I still use my tried-and-true Cetaphil cleanser and my Boots No 7 moisturizer. I also use an organic eye cream. In the mornings, I apply Vitamin C serum (10%) onto my face. In the evenings, I use Retinol cream (.05%) on my skin. The Retinol can cause some minor pealing as your skin gets used to high concentration of Retin-A. But I think that the pealing is largely off-set by the great glow that the Vitamin C gives you each morning.

Certainly, there are other things I do for my skin. I eat 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I drink a lot of water. I take a ton of Omega 3s and fish oil. I am religious about washing my face every day. But it's amazing to me that just by adding in these two products, I'm looking at a whole new face in the mirror each day.

The products I've mentioned in this post are mostly available from doctors and "medical spas." You can also find them online. I use the Obagi line and the total amount that I spent on both items was less than $130.00. I think it's safe to say that I'll get months of use out of each, since just a tiny bit of product is necessary each day.

You really do only get one chance to preserve your face. It's so necessary to take the steps we can now - to ensure many years of health, glow and vitality.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Food and You

've been neglecting this blog lately. I'm spending way too much on my other writing. But I have many ideas and lots of content that will be posted soon. In the meantime, a topic near and dear to my heart - emotional eating - and how to tell what your body really needs.

You eat when you're happy. You eat when you're bored. Sometimes you don't know why you're eating at all. Sound familiar? This kind of eating is known as emotional eating and can create weight that your body doesn't need. Here's how to tell when your body really needs food or if you're hungry for something different (like a nap, a hug, a talk with a friend):

Real Hunger
Grows gradually
You'll eat anything
Can wait
You feel good after eating
You feel energized

Emotional Hunger
Hits suddenly
You crave a specific food
No amount of food fills you
You feel guilty after eating
You feel heavier

This afternoon, I ate quite a lot of dark chocolate with straight peanut butter. Yes, I was definitely craving that particular delightful combination and yes, I had already had a full lunch and didn't really "need" the extra fat and calories. But, I justified the treat by making the experience really mindful and really enjoyable. I didn't stand up and dip straight into the jar. I sat at the table and savored each bite. In all honesty, I only planned to have one square and I probably would have been satisfied with one square. But today is a three square day and I think it's OK because I really, really loved the heck out of those three squares.

Looking at the checklist above, I can say that yes, I did crave the chocolate AND the PB and that yes, it did fill me up (how could it not? we're talking tablespoons of straight fat here!). I don't feel guilty and I feel a little fuller than I'd like but now I know that two squares - maybe without the PB next time - would be a good bet.

It's always revealing to peel back the layers of our behaviors. This was a great exercise for me. I hope you find some value in it too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Update: 150 Foods

I'm a month into living by the "150 Healthiest Foods on Earth" and I wanted to share with you how it's going.

First off, know that this isn't a diet; instead, it's a way of eating that is pure and uncomplicated. It's vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein, oils and spices.

I've eliminated a lot of the foods that I had convinced myself were otherwise "healthy." Like crackers, pretzels, low fat chips and protein/energy bars. Ben still has them - and I won't lie and say that I haven't scooped up a handful or two - but my choices are now centered around things that don't come packaged.

I'm off of bread. Completely. And pasta. The starches I do eat are steel cut oats, brown rice, quinoa and potatoes.

I'm using more butter than I have in the past, and more oils, too. I'm drinking 2% organic milk and sweetening it with raw honey or agave (I don't like plain milk) and also adding in cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

We are using big cartons of plain yogurt. Ben was resistant to this as he loves the sweetened individual cartons. I use agave to sweeten his yogurt and he's slowly coming around.

I've eaten more organic chicken and beef this month. I've made soup several times and discovered that I love white beans and Swiss Chard in an organic vegetable broth, simmered with garlic and onions and sweet potatoes. Especially on a rainy, winter day.

In the afternoons, I drink an elixir of aloe juice (Trader Joe's), lemon juice, water and a splash of pomegranite juice. Aloe is a great anti-inflammatory agent although it tastes terrible on its own!

I'm eating dark chocolate a few times a week. And still drinking a lot of coffee!

So what's changed? I'm feeling more energetic overall and less lethargic in the afternoons. Everything in my closet is fitting better. I feel like my body isn't weighed down. I know I've lost a little weight but I'm not tracking it.

Surprisingly, my grocery bill has gone DOWN. Since I'm only buying packaged food for Ben, the majority of my grocery budget can now be allocated to fresh and whole food.

I truly believe that the information in the book can allow for transformation; I'm seeing it daily in my own choices. It's a powerful way of eating and one that I'd recommend to absolutely anyone.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Immunity? Yeah, I'll take some. Please?

What is up with me catching and holding on to every virus that comes my way this winter? My body really should be more selective: bronchitis, the stomach flu and a head cold are not the three illnesses I'd pick for myself. No, I'd rather just have your garden variety congestion. Or a little runny nose. Even just a belly ache.

But alas, here I am on Day 5 of the third illness, a nasty head cold, and feeling like my entire physical self has been ravaged.

What to do?

There has to be a reason that I keep getting sick. I'm always quick to blame my lack of immunity on my work conditions: dirty gyms, sweaty bodies, close quarters in our pilates room at the club. But I think there might be more to the equation and I'm bound and determined to figure it out.

It can't be my eating because I haven't missed a day of antioxidant-rich food in months. I drink plenty of water. I rarely drink wine anymore. I take upwards of 25 vitamins and supplements a day (I know, crazy!) I get an adequate amount of exercise. I even had a flu shot.

Some might argue that it's lack of sleep that makes me susceptible but I know people who get by - and thrive - on much less rest than I do. Granted, there is a stress component and I probably need to get a little better at managing that but I think I am; at least making baby steps in the New Year.

I'm not one to ignore health issues, particularly when my own well being is at stake. Case in point: the cholesterol issue. I've been taking mucho supplements since I had my initial cholesterol checked and am looking forward to better results later this month (I'm getting blood work done at the end of the month!). So, now it's time to tap into my resources and solve this issue of why winter viruses love to crawl into my body and hang out.

I'll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, here's to good health for the rest of the winter. And no more fevers, sneezes, or coughs please!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now THIS is Living!

I've been following the suggestions from "150 Healthiest Foods On Earth" and I thought I'd share what a "typical" day of healthy eating looks like. It's interesting; although I'm eating MORE than ever, I'm losing weight. Which just goes to show you that the right foods, eaten in moderate proportions, can help you with weight loss. No magic formula; just a whole lot of goodness:

Friday: High energy day, up at 5:30am, 50 minutes of cardio, 15 minutes of pilates, seven clients, several hours of entertaining my son. Bedtime: 9:30pm (pretty much collapsed!)

Breakfast #1: Coffee with 2% milk* and raw honey, 1 apple with scoop of almond butter

Breakfast #2: 1/2 cup old fashioned oats, scoop of whey protein powder, 3 scoops flaxmeal, raw honey

Lunch: Green salad with beets, grilled chicken, full fat dressing. 5 squares of dark chocolate, handful of almonds.

Afternoon: Americano coffee with half and half
Pomegranate juice mixed with aloe vera juice and lemon

Dinner: Stir-fried collard Greens, sweet potato with butter, chicken breast

Before bed: Milk steeped with cinnamon, cardamom, and fennel.

*Milk and all dairy products are organic. Chicken is organic, antibiotic-free.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Go Get This Book. Now.

If I'm going to endorse a product on this blog, I make darn sure that it's a good one. So, trust me when I tell you that you need to put down what you're doing and GO GET THIS BOOK:

One of my clients recommended this to me before Christmas. I ordered it through Amazon (best price I could find) and had it sent to my mom for Christmas. Now my mom and I are fighting over it and I'm getting ready to order my own copy. It's THAT good.

What I love about the author is that he interviewed dozens of nutritionists and used his own nutrition background to come up with the 150 healthiest foods. It's a non-biased, simplistic and straightforward guide on how to eat.

There are a few surprises in the book. I was happy to find that eggs and butter made the cut! As did beef. Of course, the beef needs to be free-range and organic but given what we're seeing in the news lately, why would you feed yourself or your family anything less than that? Cost is a factor, sure, but there are several other high quality protein sources that are listed in the book.

My goal in 2010 is to get rid of the packaging in my diet. High fiber bread is NOT health food, nor is any other kind of bread. No cracker can be called a health food. A Zone bar is not healthy. Do you see a trend here? Packaging. All the items I mentioned come from a package.

So here's what we're doing at my house. I have my weekly trips to the Farmer's Market for fresh produce. Ben's still eating crackers and bread, but I'm eating the "true" whole grains: oats in the morning, brown rice (with butter!) and quinoa.
We've have homemade cookies, sweetened with agave, in the freezer. The next step is to get off the agave and progress to raw honey. I just bought some at Whole Foods yesterday. It's pretty darn good.

The author uses a star system to delineate which foods he likes the best. We're trying to incorporate more of those into our meals.

If I could buy a copy of this book for all my friends, family and clients, I would. It is just that good.

Start the New Year off right with this easy and informative read. It will change the way you look at food, and more importantly, change the way you choose food for yourself and for your family.

On a personal note, I'm actually really excited about how transforming this information can be. I can already see a difference in my energy level and my mood - just be eliminating the foods that are heavily processed. I love the quote: "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." This book presents the opportunity to eat exactly as we should - and to reap the many rewards of making the best possible food choices.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Roasted Chicken with Wild Rice Soup

A dear, old friend of mine contacted me yesterday for a soup recipe that we both used to make. Her request reminded me of how delicious this soup is so I decided to share it here and make it this week myself.

Roasted Chicken with Wild Rice Soup

1 6-ounce box long-grain and wild rice mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (8 ounce) package of mushrooms, halved
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups water
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 (15.75 ounce) cans fat-free, low sodium chicken broth
1 (12 ounce) can fat-free evaporated milk
3 cups shredded roasted skinless chicken

Prepare rice according to package directions and set aside.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and next 4 ingredients (onion through mushrooms) and saute for 6 minutes or until onion is tender. Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Stir the flour, tarragon and thyme into the onion mixture and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups water, sherry, broth, and evaporated milk; bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until slightly thick. Stir in cooked rice and chicken; cook for 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated.