Hold the Pickles, Pass the Ice Cream

The Gummy Bear Files, Part III – Dealing with sugar cravings during pregnancy.

Snapseed (5).jpg“Are you having any weird cravings?!”  This is the number one question I have been asked since becoming pregnant.  And the answer is, NO.  I am not having any weird cravings.  No pickles and ice cream for me.  My doctor even told me about women that have craved fresh mud when pregnant (ew).   Definitely also not me.

Now let me clarify something.  I said I was not having weird cravings, but that does not mean I am not having any cravings.  Namely I am having cravings for one thing only: SUGAR.  Before getting pregnant I was on a very low-carb (almost zero sugar) diet.  Before I even knew I was pregnant my desire for cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and all things sugary and sweet skyrocketed and I did not understand why.  I found it really  stressful to deal with, and in the beginning of my pregnancy I gave in to those cravings.  A LOT.  I gained more weight in my first trimester than I needed to, but this is also my first pregnancy and I have definitely learned from this experience.

I told myself that it was okay to eat whatever I want because I was pregnant.  But in all honesty this is not actually true.  When you are pregnant it is even more imperative to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.  Everything that you put into your body is going to be broken down and digested by the baby as well.  And with my family history of diabetes, there is always a chance that I could develop gestational diabetes.

My challenge became: How can I manage my sugar cravings without completely going off the rails? 

Here are my tips for doing just this…

  1. Make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet. Include plenty of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, some starches, and healthy fats.  Whole foods keep you full much longer than processed sweets.  Oftentimes if I’m craving something sweet I literally just eat a regular meal of chicken and veggies.  I promise you there’s no more room for a dessert after that.
  2. Eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than eating 3 large meals.  Not only will this keep your blood sugar from crashing at any point, but it is also incredibly useful for keeping that pregnancy reflux and excessive bloating at bay.  Trust me.  If you eat too much your already growing and swollen belly will not feel very good.
  3. Keep sugar out of the house! This is pretty common sense, but if sugary foods are not easily accessible to you, you will think twice about having to do the extra work to obtain them.  Set yourself up for success.  If you know that you won’t be able to stop at just one serving of ice cream, don’t leave the grocery store with a pint of your favorite flavor!
  4. Fruits.  I always keep my fridge stocked with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and apples.  The fructose in these is usually enough to satisfy your sugar cravings, plus fruits have nutrients in them that you won’t find in that pack of oreos.  Win-win.
  5. Distract yourself.  If you’ve just eaten a meal and find yourself yearning for an unnecessary dessert, distract yourself by going for a 15-20 minute walk.  Not only are you getting a little bit of movement and exercise, but by the time you get back you probably won’t even be thinking about those donuts that were on your mind before you left.  Endorphins from exercise can be just as satisfying as the high you get from a sugary treat.
  6. Drink a glass of water.  When that mid-afternoon hankering for a cookie sets in, drink a full glass of water.  Sometimes your brain mistakes thirst signals for hunger.  You’ll get a little extra hydration, plus the water will take up the space in your stomach where that cookie would have resided.
  7. Delete food delivery apps if necessary.  Fortunately (and unfortunately) we live in a world where your significant other does not have to run to the grocery store at 10 pm to pick up whatever sweets you might be craving.  It is so simple to just push a few buttons on our iPhones and someone will deliver fresh baked cookies (or even Dunkin Donuts!) right to your door.  If you find yourself falling back on Postmates or UberEats on a regular basis, even if you are not keeping sugary foods in your house, do yourself a favor and just delete the app until your pregnancy is over.
  8. Don’t restrict ALL the time.  Allow yourself to a indulge a little every once in a while.  If you always say no, you will wear out your willpower muscle and this can lead to binges and overeating.  I like to set parameters with myself.  5 days of the week I do not allow myself to have any sugar.  That gives me two days of flexibility, so if I go out to eat with friends and decide to partake in dessert, I won’t feel so guilty.

One of my favorite ways to allow myself to indulge a little in dessert is to make healthier options to keep at home.  I love to experiment with low-carb and low-sugar baking.  If I have an absolutely unbearable craving for something sweet, I like to at least know exactly which ingredients (and how much) are in what I’m eating.  In fact, in my next post I’m super excited to share one of my favorite recipes for almond flour chocolate chip cookies with you all!

Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself! If you do eat something sweet you hadn’t planned on, don’t beat yourself up!  It already happened, just keep moving on and make sure to have plenty of vegetables in your next meal.  It is absolutely OKAY to treat yourself every once in a while, just make sure the bulk of your diet comes from healthy, whole foods.  This is true of anyone, but especially for pregnant women like me, who are using all of our resources to grow tiny and healthy humans!

Pregnancy, PCOS, and Paleo

The Gummy Bear Files, Part II

Let’s talk about some girl problems today. And perhaps you’ll start to see just why I consider me getting pregnant such a miracle. I have never had normal periods. From the time I was 14 years old I always struggled with debilitating cramps and pain, so bad that I would even stay home from school some days. Obviously this wasn’t normal. Soon after, my first gynecologist discovered that I had some cysts on one of my ovaries, and at the tender age of 14 I was put on oral contraceptives because this was the only way to make the cysts go away and achieve some sort of normalcy in my cycle.

Fast forward 10 or so years and I had more or less been on the pill consistently THIS. WHOLE. TIME. In fact, it got to the point that any months I spent not taking the pill I simply wouldn’t even get a period. I sometimes would stop taking it because of worries that long term use would affect my fertility. After one of these 3-4 month stretches of consciously not taking my pill and not having a period, I decided to bring it up at my annual check up.

I was about 23 or 24 and this time I was officially diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS). Again, my new doctor told me that the only way to control the cysts is to consistently take an oral contraceptive. He also mentioned at this appointment (and I will never forget these exact words) “That when I am ready to start trying to get pregnant we will need to have a whole other conversation.” He made it very clear that it would be difficult for me to get pregnant naturally with PCOS.

This is not surprising, as infertility or complications with getting pregnant is one of the most common PCOS symptoms. My aunt suffered from PCOS and had to undergo many stressful and expensive fertility treatments before finally getting pregnant around age 35 or 36. Once pregnant, she also developed gestational diabetes. Not sure if these are necessarily related, but maybe. Insulin is one of the hormones involved in PCOS so it would make sense that these two conditions would be comorbid (comorbidity, noun, the presence of two or more simultaneous medical conditions, for you non-science geeks out there).

So with a familial history of PCOS (my maternal grandmother also had it) how did I manage to so easily and unexpectedly find myself expecting a little one?? Could LIFESTYLE have anything to do with it? Honestly, I 100% believe that this is the case. Let’s discuss further, but first a disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A DOCTOR, JUST SOMEONE WITH ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE WHO HAPPENS TO ENJOY EDUCATING MYSELF ABOUT NUTRITION AND THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

For those of you that don’t know, the symptoms of PCOS can include the following:

  • Abnormal menstruation – either a lack there of or extremely heavy menstruation; lack of ovulation
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Unwanted hair growth
  • Mood changes – mood swings, depression, anxiety (my adolescence was definitely wrought with plenty of depression…)
  • Acne
  • Infertility
Source

By no means did I experience all of these, but many of them have affected my life at one time or another. The depression was a big factor in my life up until the last couple years or so. I’ve suffered with mild acne, fatigue, and most definitely the complete absence of periods for months at a time. In fact, the doctor had a hard time determining my due date because I had been off the pill since about January 2018, had my first “normal” period on March 28 and then never had one again after. Yet there I was in early September already 9 weeks pregnant. That means I had gone at least 3-4 months without having a seemingly “normal” cycle. Yet apparently I was.

Around the same age I was diagnosed I had also become addicted to crossfit. And as so often happens when one discovers crossfit, my eyes were opened to a whole new universe of nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle changes. I didn’t embark on my crossfit journey without rearranging almost every aspect of my life to supplement that journey.

I started consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I began educating myself about the structure of the human body and about how sports performance is affected by nutrition. I read books about the paleo diet and that evolved into me following a low-carb ketogenic diet for almost 2 years straight. I cut out ALL processed foods, sodas, almost all sugar. I couldn’t even touch a food item in a plastic wrapper without cringing. I taught myself how to cook (and VERY WELL, I might add) so that I could make all my healthy food at home. If I was ever in a situation where I didn’t know the exact ingredients present in the food I was eating, I almost couldn’t even bring myself to put it in my body.

Every day for breakfast I had scrambled eggs with spinach and bell peppers, with 1-2 strips of bacon. For lunch I would always have chicken or ground turkey with kale or broccoli and carrots or cauliflower or some combination of vegetables. Every night we would cook dinner at home which always followed a simple formula: one type of meat, one vegetable, and a serving of healthy fats. One of my favorite examples of this is a little grass fed steak served with roasted Brussels sprouts and half an avocado. It became so incredibly simple to eat healthy. I just tried to include as many vegetables as possible, and the more I tried the more I loved them and loved experimenting with different ways to prepare them.

I was DISCIPLINED. I denied myself desserts, and the more I did the easier it became. It’s crazy how the more you eat vegetables and lean proteins and other healthy foods, the more your body craves that sort of food and rejects what was previously deemed “normal”. I was disciplined and I saw results. I lost that little bit of extra body fat (I was never super overweight), but more than that I saw my body composition changing completely. I developed muscle tone and I looked and felt FIT. Even more importantly, I felt STRONG and HEALTHY.

I started getting sick less and less and my stamina in my day to day life improved. I had (and more or less still have, despite growing a human inside me) SO MUCH MORE ENERGY. Two or three years into this lifestyle change I went back to my gyno and never had the cysts again. At this point I was still on (and occasionally off) the pill. So obviously, that had to be the reason for the management of my PCOS symptoms right?

There are plenty of anecdotes on the internet of women who have decreased or even reversed PCOS symptoms on a low-carb or ketogenic diet. I feel like I am one of those anecdotes. I genuinely believe that my fertility health was positively affected by my long term and consistent dedication to health and eating good quality foods. I spent so much of the first half of my twenties so anxious that I would never be able to have my own children. That I would never be blessed enough to get to experience growing a life inside of me. Even after hearing countless nutritionists and even Robb Wolf himself (go check out his podcast The Paleo Solution, it is geeky, informative and all-around awesome) declare the link between the ketogenic diet and improvement with PCOS symptoms.

For all the anecdotal evidence, there has unfortunately not been many scientific research studies done on the subject. One such study was conducted by researchers at Duke University, on eleven women with PCOS over a 6 month period. The women followed a low carb, ketogenic diet (less than 20g of carbs a day) and by the end of the study had improvements in body weight, percent testosterone, and fasting insulin levels. Two of the women in the study even became pregnant, despite suffering from previous infertility problems!

Now, as someone who’s respectful of the scientific method it’s important to point out that one study (or even a few studies) does not necessarily prove causation. At best, this study reinforces the link between insulin levels and PCOS and warrants more extensive research. Despite this, I think the myriad examples of anecdotal evidence of women whose lives have been changed by following a low-carb lifestyle merits giving it a try for yourself.

If you’re trying to get pregnant but have been finding it difficult, whether due to PCOS or not, take a look at your lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to evaluate some of your habits and change them for the better. It’s never too late to start exercising and it’s never to late to follow a diet rich in quality foods, and low in processed, sugar “foods”. (I put that in quotations because an apple is a real food. The unpronounceable chemicals in the ingredient list on a plastic wrapped cookie are NOT real foods.)

I believe that you have the power to create lasting, positive changes in your health based on your daily habits and the nutrition choices you make each day. Day to day it may be difficult to detect any differences, but then all of a sudden three years have passed and you realize how much weight you’ve lost, or that you can run three times farther than you ever were able before, or that you have a baby on the way when you never even thought you’d be able to conceive. Little changes add up to make a BIG DIFFERENCE.

Thus concludes part II of my pregnancy journey. (To read Part I click HERE). I’m so ecstatic to be sharing my emotions and experiences with you all. If you continue to follow along, even if you don’t learn something I hope to at least provide some entertaining reading material. Thanks for reading, and look out for my next post on DEALING WITH SUGAR CRAVINGS IN PREGNANCY in a few days.

Happy holidays and happy new year!!

The Gummy Bear Files

About 3 months ago I wrote a post about my negative experiences with obsessively tracking macros, how it affected my relationship with food, and my subsequent gradual weight gain. To this day I still have not tracked any of the food I’ve eaten and followed a much more intuitive pattern of eating, but there is a very good reason for this. It turns out my expanding belly, exhaustion, and moody disposition was due to more than just nutritional inconsistency. On September 1, I found out I am expecting my first baby.

7 weeks → 12 weeks → 20 weeks

From Bawling to Blessing

I’ll be honest – my first reaction was tears, lots of them. We were NOT trying to have a baby, and in fact I didn’t even think it would be possible (or easy) for me to get pregnant [more on this later]. I’m going to be blunt here, since early July my boobs had been KILLING ME. They were tender and swollen and I just assumed I was “about to” get my period – for 5 weeks in a row.

My only other symptom was exhaustion. I became less and less motivated to push myself in crossfit as it subsequently became harder to lift big weights and catch my breath in intense endurance-heavy workouts. I continued to push myself and figured I was just kind of in a rut, a rut related to my recent food cravings and what I saw as “bad” eating habits. If I could just completely cut out carbs or completely cut out sugar somehow my performance would rebound.

One day I got out of the shower and my boyfriend looked at me and exclaimed (again, very bluntly), “Babe, your tits are HUGE! That’s not normal maybe you should show your mom.” So we went in the kitchen, I flashed my mother and her immediate reaction: “Claire I think you’re pregnant.”

No way. I didn’t believe it so decided to take a test that night. It was immediately and obviously positive. But maybe that one was just a fluke??? Nope. Next morning I took another one, it was ALSO positive! When I took the first test I started bawling. I couldn’t contain my tears, the emotions were so overwhelming. I have never been pregnant before and didn’t even know how to react. What about my body?!? How will I support the baby financially?! AM I EVEN READY TO GROW AND RAISE A WHOLE HUMAN BEING?!!!!

My boyfriend walked in, looked at the test, broke out in the biggest smile I’ve ever seen and said, “WHY ARE YOU CRYING?! WE’RE GOING TO BE PARENTS!” He was so happy it melted my heart.

After we finally made it to the doctor I found out I was already 9 weeks along *gasp*. The baby literally looked like a tiny gummy bear:

Tell me that is not the most gummy bear looking little guy you’ve ever seen.

I won’t lie, I mourned the loss of my abs and waistline. I stressed about having sugar cravings and being hungry all the time and feeling like I was eating way too much. I was horrified that my size 0 pants were beginning to not fit. Even though I was overjoyed (I’ve always wanted to be a mom) it took me a good month to accept that there’s a life growing inside me and that right now IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. It is okay to gain weight right now. I will have the opportunity to get fit again. It will be fun, like a project that I am starting anew. I worked so hard over the last 3 years for my health and fitness.

I have not stopped lifting weights and crossfitting throughout my pregnancy. I have had to make a lot of modifications and I am definitely not as strong or “toned” as I used to be. But I have been blessed beyond belief. I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience what it is like to bring a little person into this world, to give all of myself to another human being.

The Adventure Begins…

My life will NEVER be the same, but this will literally be the most amazing adventure we have ever embarked on. I know my baby daddy will be the most incredible father ever, and he has already been so supportive and helpful in every aspect. I’m 27 years old. I always envisioned that I would have a baby WHEN I was a certain age, WHEN I had a certain job, WHEN I had x amount of money saved up. If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that life never goes like that. Life just happens and then you figure it out. You just have to be present and enjoy each moment as it comes, rather than stressing about all the “what if’s”.

I’m totally new at this but I think I’d like to share some of my pregnancy experiences with you guys. If you all are interested, in the coming days I will be sharing about:

  • Lifestyle and PCOS
  • Pregnancy nutrition and dealing with sugar cravings
  • Working out when pregnant
  • Dealing with grief during pregnancy

The last bullet point is especially close to my heart. If my thoughts can inspire or help even one person I will be happy. If no one even reads this and I simply have an outlet to organize my thoughts and work through the emotional rollercoaster of life, I will be equally as happy.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is a picture of some teeny tiny feet. Because these teeny tiny feet are inside of me and I still cannot wrap my mind around what a miracle this is.

100 Days of Tracking Macros

(Or Why I Deleted MyFitnessPal)

This morning I logged into MyFitnessPal, just as I have done religiously for 102 days straight (apparently), and kind of had an epiphany/breakdown.  This past May, I joined a certain online nutrition program that will remain nameless because I still really idolize, respect, and look up to the owner as a person.  They are doing great things for many people and putting a lot of amazingly positive content into the world that I still read daily.  I think I am coming to the conclusion that tracking my food just isn’t for me (and may not be for everyone), for reasons that I will elaborate on shortly.

I did not join because I needed to lose weight, or needed to get a certain physique for a competition, or anything like that.  I joined simply looking for a way to increase my nutrition knowledge and take myself to “the next level” (whatever that is).  I was already looking great and feeling great, having followed a relatively keto lifestyle for more than a year.   I guess you could say I had more or less figured out what worked for me.

I never tracked my food.  I ate when I was hungry and fasted when I was not.  I did not weigh myself for months at a time and would be remarkably surprised on those rare occasions that I did weigh myself and find that I had lost weight.  I ate mostly protein, vegetables, and fat.  Coming from a historically very disordered relationship with food and borderline sugar addiction, I felt I had these both under  control.  I rarely had cravings for sugar or dessert, and did not think about the quantity of food that I ate on a minute-to-minute basis.  For me quality became the most important factor.

Anyways, for whatever reason, I decided to blow almost $500 in order to have someone tell me exactly how much food I am supposed to eat each day.  All of a sudden quantity took center stage again.  I had to make sure I ate exactly the number of grams of protein, carbs, and fat that were prescribed to me EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  Even if I did not feel hungry, I was expected to eat them.  Which more often than not resulted in me stuffing myself at the end of each day, just to hit my numbers.

From 0 to 200.  Real Quick.

The main issue I had right at the start was the fact that I was assigned to eat 200 grams of carbs a day.  200?!  The number alone made my head spin.  I had spent the last almost two years eating less than 70 grams a day.  I got my carbs from vegetables and the occasional sweet potato and that’s about it.  At the time I was not eating fruit (even though I LOVE fruit), and honestly feel that this played a huge factor in the drastic reduction of my sugar cravings.  Sugar acts like a drug on the brain, releasing dopamine and all the happy feels whenever it is consumed.  The more you introduce sugar to your body (even in the “innocuous” form of fructose), the more the body craves it.  Take out sugar altogether, and eventually the cravings simply disappear.

Now here I am, trying to fill in 200 grams of a macronutrient that I am simply not used to consuming.  My coach recommended sweet potatoes, mangoes, bananas, apples, oatmeal, quinoa.  Not only did I start eating a TON of fruit (HELLO, SUGAR!) but reintroducing long-absent grains back into my diet.  All of a sudden I’m drizzling honey on my fruit because, hey, there’s 17 more grams of pure carbohydrate to bump up my numbers.  Needless to say, my sugar cravings came back at full force with a vengeance, and I am still battling them today.

Where I expected to lean out and gain muscle, I instead started to feel overfed, bloated and fat all the time.  I don’t know whether I was actually in a state of ketosis before, but I definitely was used to fasting at more regular intervals.  If I didn’t feel hungry I simply wouldn’t eat breakfast in the morning.  Now I was force feeding myself just to make sure the numbers on MyFitnessPal were approved by another person each day.

Eating out at restaurants became a HUGE stressor as well because I felt compelled to exactly, accurately track every single morsel of food that went into my body.  If I felt like I didn’t have control over the ingredients going into my food, then I didn’t have control over my nutrition and that somehow that made me a failure.  I felt that even one day of not having control would completely set me back in my fitness goals.

Abs to Flabs

The irony of this nutrition program is that it is supposed to heal your relationship with food and help you realize that it’s okay to be flexible in what you eat.  If you look on instagram, there are boatloads of success stories.  Side by side images of people with flab and then well-defined abs 4-8 weeks later.  Honestly, I pretty much already had visible abs when I started the program.  But week after week, as I continued to trust the process, I watched in horror as my abs became softer and less noticeable.  How did I seem to be the ONE PERSON not achieving great results with this program?!  I know that I was not cheating.  I am so strict with myself about what I eat (almost to a harsh and negative degree), that I did the program exactly as I was supposed to.

I started compulsively weighing myself each day.  I did not feel that I was gaining muscle (certainly doesn’t look like it), yet I was seeing the number on the scale slowly creeping up.  I panicked.  How do I get the number to go back down?!  When did everything get so out of control??  I was weighing and measuring all my food to the gram, much to the annoyance of everyone in my family, and tracking everything in MyFitnessPal just like I was supposed to.  And yet every day I felt worse.  I felt physically worse and mentally worse.

Where I was supposed to “heal” my relationship with food, I actually created an anxious cloud of unhappiness and guilt.  If I couldn’t track it, it was somehow “immoral”.  If I went over my calories or one of my macronutrient numbers I was hammered with guilt and feelings of shame.  After two months I decided to cancel my subscription of this service, only to be told I had to be billed for one more month because I had agreed to a three-month minimum commitment.

That’s fine.  I paid for the last month but I did not log in or check in with my coach.  I tried to readjust my macros on MyFitnessPal to resemble a more ketogenic style of eating.  I continued to track, but still felt immense guilt and failure when I did not hit my self-imposed macro numbers.

I’m A Slave 4 Food

(Yes, in my mind I sang that to the tune of the Britney Spears song).

As the summer progressed, I realized that I had become a slave to my thoughts about food.  I thought about food literally ALL.  THE.  TIME.  I woke up with cravings for breakfast (usually something sweet), and as soon as I finished breakfast I was thinking about lunch. As soon as I finished lunch I was planning what to make for dinner.  After dinner I was battling the desire for dessert.  I have been going through periods of extreme restriction and then breaking down and eating unhealthy desserts because at times the willpower simply requires too much mental energy to maintain.

I feel bloated all the time and I feel inconsistent with my nutrition and I don’t like what I see in the morning when I look in the mirror.  I used to wake up full of energy with a flat stomach, and if it bloated during the day because of veggies (yes, I love broccoli and cauliflower but they do cause temporary bloat), the next morning I would always feel brand spanking new again.  Somewhere, despite the extreme illusion of control created by tracking, weighing, measuring, and reporting my food, I went off the rails.  WAY off.  And I can’t seem to find my way back to being okay like I was before.

Food has simultaneously become a source of pleasure and a source of guilt.  I eat for pleasure then immediately feel guilty if I overeat or consume something that doesn’t “fit my macros”.  Somewhere along the way I have stopped speaking to myself with kindness when it comes to food.  I know I am not fat, I know that most of this is in my head.  I am beyond a Type A personality.  If there was a letter before A, I would be that type.  Seriously.  I like to control everything.  And feeling so out of control with my eating has caused me a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Should You Track?

Ultimately it’s up to you.  If you are someone that really needs to lose a lot of weight and has a hard time controlling what you eat, then the discipline instilled with tracking might actually do you a great service.  If you aren’t as educated about food quality or have never learned about proper quantity as it relations to nutrition, then I highly recommend finding a nutrition coach to help you get started in your journey.

However, if you are someone like me, who is already very good about eating wholesome, healthy foods, and tends to have a somewhat disordered relationship with food, I do not recommend including tracking or weighing food into your routine.  I became unhealthily obsessive about tracking my food to the point that it consumes most of my thoughts.  It became a direct reflection of my self-worth as a person.  If I am under my calorie goals, then I am worthy, but if I go over any of my numbers somehow I am not worthy.  Trust me, I know it sounds crazy.  But that’s just the nature of eating disorders.

Tracking macros can easily give way to these unhealthy obsessive thoughts which in turn can result in restrictive eating patterns.  Or the opposite: making unhealthy food choices on a much more frequent basis simply because it “fits in your macros” for the day.  I was adding honey, cashew ice cream, excess fruit, frozen waffles into my daily eating routine simply because I needed to “fill in the carbs”.  And now that I am trying to remove those sugar cravings and go back to eating real foods that make me feel good, it is EXTREMELY HARD.  My brain is screaming at me to eat chocolate chip waffles for breakfast, when I know my body feels so much better when I have scrambled eggs with spinach and peppers.

MyFitnessPal is not my Pal.

I am not saying tracking is not for anyone, but it is not for everyone.  I made a nutrition move that I thought would benefit me in the long-term, and now feel like I am picking up shattered pieces of myself as I go.  I feel like I have to repair my relationship with food and a big reason for this blog post was to kind of work out my anxieties and put them onto paper. (You know what I mean).  I know there’s no end goal to nutrition.  You don’t just get to a certain place and that’s where you stay for the rest of your life.  It’s a constant balance of lifestyle and eating what’s good for your body at that particular moment.  I’m hopeful that I will get out of this rut.  It seems like the more I try to regain control, the more out of control things get.

So today I simply decided to let go.  I deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone (!!) and for the first time in 102 days, I could not tell you exactly how many calories I ate today. I cannot tell you how many grams of carbs, fat, or protein.  I am just going to eat when I am hungry and not eat when I am not hungry.  I am going to gradually reduce my sugar intake, in hopes that the rampant cravings will slowly subside.  I will love myself, even if I eat something “unhealthy” and I will love myself when I have a perfect day of nutrition.  I will no longer be a slave to my kitchen food scale or to my bathroom scale.

In the end, it is important that I nourish my body and my mind.  Obsessively tracking all my food was doing neither of these, and so today I have said goodbye.

Some Thoughts Regarding Alcohol

We’ve all been there.  Especially if, like me, you went to college away from home. You were 18 years young, and finally got to experience that sweet taste of freedom and cheap, watered down beer.  I am 110% guilty of falling down this college-drinking rabbit hole and gained more than the freshman fifteen.  I had immense difficulty losing (and maintaining that loss) until recent years.  What starts off as benign college fun can turn into something more sinister, and even affect your health.

 

Isn’t alcohol what being an adult is all about?!

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It’s the culture – you go to house parties, go out for drinks with your friends every weekend night starting on Thursday (Thirsty Thursday is a real thing, people), you sneak pregame drinks in your dorm room.  But this doesn’t stop at college, it carries over into after work happy hours three days a week, and turns into “needing” that glass of wine (or four) every night after work just to wind down.  I was that chick at college parties that would literally HOARD room temperature bud lights in my purse, just to be stocked up when the party inevitable ran out of booze.  I firmly believed that you could not go out and have a “fun” weekend unless it involved a whirlwind of cocktails and bad decisions.  Needless to say, I entered into adulthood with a very unhealthy, “all-or-nothing” relationship with alcohol.

My junior year of college, I started working out because I seriously wanted to shed that freshman fifteen – which at this point had become more like the freshman 25ish.  I became obsessive about counting the calories I ate, never once stopping to give second thought to the calories I DRANK.  Yes, I lost some weight due to eating lower calorie foods, incorporating lots of veggies, hitting cardio 4x a week with mild strength training (I had yet to discover crossfit!!), but I always seemed to kind of plateau.  I never quite got to the level of fitness and health that I wanted.  I thought I was doing everything right!  Oh, the frustration that ensued!

Alcohol goes straight to the a** (and belly and face and joints).

At this time I was still drinking a lot of wine on the weeknights – you know, because that’s what adults do, right?! – and going out to drink on weekends Friday through Saturday.  And don’t forget about mimosa-fueled Sunday brunches.  That’s a lot of empty liquid calories.  Like, a lot.  One mimosa has about 160 calories with 9 grams of sugar.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever had just one mimosa… yeah I didn’t think so.  Multiply that by 4 or 5 and you’re staring down the barrel of almost 1000 calories, just from your brunch drinks alone.

And there’s the other sneaky thing about drinking: it affects your eating habits as well.  When you’ve had a few drinks, all of a sudden it becomes so much easier to make poor food choices.  Who cares about that 1 am pizza??? I’ll tell you who doesn’t care: those three beers, two tequila shots, and four vodka sodas you consumed in a span of 3 hours.  And what about the next morning when you wake up cranky, dehydrated, and feeling like a jackhammer wrecked your whole body?  Definitely gonna need a triple stack of pancakes and/or a giant plate of sour cream chicken enchiladas to soak up those bad decisions.  And then the downward spiral ensues.

As I started to maintain a healthier lifestyle throughout the week, it became so much more noticeable how crappy I felt on the weekends after countless drinks and junk food.  By every Monday morning, I felt like an inflamed whale, only to get right back on track and feel great again by Friday night.  This cycle of healthy week, boozy weekend, Monday morning guilt lasted for years.  I thought this was normal, along with my IBS issues that came along with it.

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Here we encounter a prime example of me not following my own advice and drinking a beer.  Inflammation and gastrointestinal issues ensued post consumption of this beer.  But it was really hot out and this beer was refreshing and provided a great photo op. (Taken with Moment lens.)

Alcohol: the other macronutrient???

Now I am certainly not saying alcohol is terrible or that you should NEVER drink it, but in my personal experience I have just found that overall I feel better when I don’t.  I don’t need to get blackout wasted to have a good time, and I’d rather just not experience the post-drink inflammation and blues.  If you are trying to lose weight, an easy way to boost your progress is to seriously limit or cut out alcohol altogether.  Remember, alcohol is NOT a macronutrient that your body needs.  On the contrary, your body views alcohol as a toxin, and will always preferentially burn any alcohol that enters your system.  That means any carbohydrates, fat, or protein that enters your system at the same time as alcohol will not be processed.  I repeat, ALL OTHER METABOLIC PROCESSES WILL CEASE.  All of a sudden, you have all these extra carbs, fats, and proteins floating around in your body, so what happens to them? They get converted to fat and stored for later!

So next time you go out for dinner and drinks, remember that when you drink a lot of alcohol, and eat excess calories, the alcohol is hindering your body’s ability to metabolize that food.  Again, I am not saying to never drink.  It’s just no wonder so many of us gain the freshman fifteen when we are poor college kids drinking alcohol all the time and eating fast food at 2 am after a night of partying.

The key is to find BALANCE.  If you must drink, save it for special celebratory occasions.  And when you do drink, don’t drink to excess.  Have a few drinks, and remember to drink water so you don’t get dehydrated.  And try not to give in to those late night alcohol-fueled munchies: they are not your friend.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

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Did this image of the most enticingly delicious, absolutely sugar-laden waffles grab your attention?? Good. Because today I want to talk about something that affects me as a teacher, and should also be affecting you as a parent: breakfast.  In particular, I want to discuss the affect that high-carb, sugary breakfasts devoid of nutrients can have on your child’s ability to function at school.

I may not be a nutritionist quite yet, but it’s never too early to make an impact.  This week I got to experience what it was like to positively influence the nutrition of one of my students.  This 5-year-old is exceptionally smart, loves being at school, and genuinely enjoys the learning process.  Let’s call this boy Liam*.  Liam is a brilliant student, but he can also tend to be very silly and jumpy at times.  The key phrase here is at times.  This past Monday he seemed to be having a particularly difficult time sitting still and concentrating on his work.  And an idea just struck me so I decided to ask him: “Liam, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?”  His answer?  FROSTED FLAKES AND CHOCOLATE MILK.

Now I’m not a parent, but after five years of experience educating young children, I know how picky children can be about food.  I also know what a battle it can be early in the morning to get your child fed and out the door in a reasonable time.  Too often this leads to children eating sugar-filled breakfasts in a rush, such a frozen waffles with syrup, sugary cereal, cookies, and at times even candy! (Yes, I have witnessed the mother of a two-year-old girl feeding her daughter M’n’Ms at 8:30 in the morning at carpool). Most parents don’t even realize just how much sugar their children are eating, not just at breakfast, but throughout the entire day.

Frosted Flakes have 10g of sugar in one 3/4 cup serving, all 10g of these being added sugars. But let’s be real, how many of us pour a bowl of cereal and actually measure out “one serving”.  Realistically, Liam was probably having double this, or even more.  So let’s say 20g for the cereal.  The chocolate milk has even more sugar, at 24g! 10.25 of those grams are added sugar.  So before 8:30 in the morning Liam has already been loaded with 44 grams of sugar – this is equivalent to 11 teaspoons of sugar.  Have you ever added 11 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee?  I’ll just let that sit there for a minute.  No wonder he couldn’t stop fidgeting, running around, and was unable to focus on his math lesson for more than a few seconds at a time.  The sugar-consumption recommendation for adults is no more than 40 grams of added sugar a day.  With this one meal, Liam has already gone over this recommendation.

The average child under 12 years of age eats about 49 pounds of sugar per year.

How could this be affecting your child in the classroom?

  1. Behavioral Problems: We all know that excessive consumption of sugar leads to children “bouncing off the walls.”  In Liam’s case, all the sugar he had eaten for breakfast literally manifested as him jumping up and down.  No matter how many times I called his attention, it was as if he couldn’t control it.  And the fact of the matter is, if Liam is jumping around and acting playful, his friends are going to follow suit.  Too much sugar leads to disruptive behavior in the classroom that affects the other children – and drives the teacher crazy!
  2. Attention Span and Memory: Sugar consumption causes the brain’s hypothalamus to release excess amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.  When this cortisol is flooding through a child’s little body, they find it very difficult to sit still and stay focused on their work in school.  Without the ability to pay close attention to the lessons, it is unlikely that they will be encoding that knowledge into their long term memory.
  3. Refusal to Eat Healthy, Nutritious Food: Sugar is like a drug – eating it feels really good because the neurotransmitter dopamine is released by the brain.  The more sugar children have in their diets, the less likely they are to eat vegetables, fruits, and protein-rich meats – the sustenance that their bodies and brains need to grow and develop.  Constantly being fed sugar means that your child will struggle to accept the less-sweet taste of foods such as green vegetables.  Too many times I have witnessed the meltdowns of 3 and 4-year-olds refusing to eat the “healthy” items in their lunchbox because they know there is a bag of Fruit Loops or a bag of chocolate chip cookies waiting to be devoured at the end.  Too many times I have seen these children simply refuse to eat their lunch because they are not allowed to have the sugar.  Needless to say, these children are not getting the nutrients they need.

When Liam told me what he had for breakfast that day, I informed him that I was going to speak to his mom about the amount of sugar he was eating for breakfast.  Turns out he beat me to the punch, because the very next day at carpool his mom informed me that he had already told her what I wanted to talk to her about.  Luckily she agreed with me and and given him something much more nourishing to eat for breakfast that morning: eggs, toast with peanut butter, and a side of fruit.  She was so thankful I had brought it up with him, because – and these are her exact words – she couldn’t get him “to eat anything but that goddamned cereal.”

To say that Liam was a different child that day is an understatement.  He was calm and concentrated, able to complete his academic tasks without excessive interruptions and distractions.  Every day this past week I made sure to check up on him and ask him what he had eaten for breakfast because I could see such a dramatic difference in his behavior.  I heard peanut butter, I heard fruits, I heard waffles made with almond flour.  Such a far cry from the processed, sugary meal he had consumed on Monday morning.

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Ideally, your child’s breakfast should be a balance of healthy protein, fats, and carbs.  Consider proteins such as eggs; low-glycemic carbohydrates such as fruits (berries, bananas, apples), oatmeal, and even vegetables (if you dare!!); and healthy fats such as avocado, almond butter, or peanut butter. Be wary of nut butters that have added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup – always be sure to read the labels before purchasing!

Remember, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but make sure you are sending your child to school fed with the nutrients he needs to function and learn effectively.  Not only will you be benefiting your child’s long-term health, but I promise your child’s teacher will be eternally grateful!

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

New Gut, New Me – Part 2 of My “Healthy Gut Experiment”

So my two week elimination diet has come and gone, and will probably be sticking around a little longer, for reasons I will elaborate on shortly.  I had totally intended to write a post at the one week mark, and then again at exactly the two week mark, which would have been this past Saturday.  But life kind of just happened to get itself right in the way, as it so frequently seems to do.  I am so proud to say that I was actually successful in completely sticking 100% to the goals I set for myself (in regards to diet at least).  I usually go into any sort of elimination phase with a “so-so” mindset, like “Oh I’m giving up cheese, but it’s okay if I just have a little bit of this feta with my dinner.”  And then the next thing you know I’m housing a whole wheel of brie cheese.  This time there was no brie involved.  I did not eat cheese for the full 14 days.

I even bought myself a colada (Cuban espresso blended with sugar for those non-Miami folks out there) 12 days into the elimination.  I bought the coffee.  Didn’t drink the coffee.  Decided at the last minute that I had more willpower than that and ended up sharing it all with my coworkers.  But in the end I successfully eliminated coffee from my diet for the whole two weeks as well.

The first week went by uneventfully.  Overall I felt sort of better, because I wasn’t drinking any alcohol which meant I was sleeping better and feeling more clearheaded.  And removing the caffeine resolved a lot of my anxiety.  I have been making a conscious effort to drink more green tea in the mornings, as well as decaffeinated teas such as Trader Joe’s Ginger + Turmeric Herbal tea.  Ginger and turmeric are both high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and supposed to work wonders for your digestion.

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But despite my efforts, that first week I DID NOT EXPERIENCE ANY NOTICEABLE IMPROVEMENTS IN MY DIGESTIVE HEALTH.  I still felt bloated and had major abdominal discomfort.  I still was not able to use the bathroom on a consistent basis.  I felt more than a little physiologically and psychologically frustrated.  But despite this frustration I remained persistent, hoping that maybe after two weeks I would notice a difference in my health.

And then on Monday of the second week, a miracle happened.  I was finally able to use the bathroom WITHOUT the aid of medication (constipation is definitely not fun, my friends -_-).  And then again on Tuesday.  And Wednesday.  And Thursday.  What’s more, I felt good, no GREAT, the whole week.  My stomach was not uncomfortable, I felt full of energy, I had a lot of good days at the gym.  I cannot say for certain that it was the lack of coffee, cheese, or alcohol, because during all of this time I was also not eating bread, grains, or anything with gluten.  Not because I was specifically eliminating them, but because I already know from experience that my body does not digest these substances very well (In fact, I finally got tested for Celiac’s and will find out the official results in about a week).

The only thing I guess you could say I sort of cheated on during these two weeks was the alcohol.  The second week was rough, mainly because I found out my little cat has lymphoma.  I spent almost the whole week in and out of the vet’s office, worrying myself sick.  I was sad and decided to have a glass of wine this past Thursday, after going 12 days without.  Even though my stomach had been feeling great the whole week, I woke up on Friday feeling less than stellar.  I could not use the bathroom that day.  What was the one variable that changed?  The alcohol.

On Friday I didn’t drink, and felt normal again on Saturday morning.  Then on Saturday night I had two vodka soda’s at dinner.  Can we guess how I felt on Sunday morning??? Yeah.  So there you have it.  A two week elimination diet has led me to the conclusion that I’d rather not drink at all.  I’ve never really been addicted to alcohol per se, but I’ve definitely overdone it more than a few times throughout my  life.  It’s been years since what you could call my “partying” days, but these days if I ask you to meet me at the bar, I’m probably talking about my crossfit box.  There comes a moment when alcohol just kind of ceases to be worth it.  I think this was that moment for me.

So now I’m about halfway into week three, and I still haven’t added cheese or coffee back into my diet.  Perhaps I will re-introduce them slowly, gradually (because let’s be honest, there are few things I love more than cheese)…but why ruin a good thing?  This was only supposed to be a two week experiment, but given the success I’ve had I think I will continue it a little longer.  I have my doctor’s appointment next week to find out the results of my bloodwork and abdominal ultrasound, but it seems to me the gastrointestinal issues I’ve been experiencing my whole life are nutrition-related.  Fingers crossed that I’ve finally solved this mystery once and for all.

I cannot emphasize enough, if you are experiencing any sort of bloating or gastro issues, carefully analyze what you are eating!!  Maybe choose one potentially aggravating item (such as cheese, bread, or lactose) and try removing it for 2 weeks-30 days. You don’t have to remove three at a time like I did, because that might be a little extreme. But, what’s the worst that can happen?  You might find out that you actually are not intolerant to that food item!  I’d say that sounds like a pretty good outcome to me.  And if you do feel relief after elimination, you’re just one step closer to lifelong health and wellness.