Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Body, My Temple

I'm not promoting body worship but I am in awe of the body and it's capabilities. All too often we are consumed with fitting a societal standard of what our bodies should be able to do, what they should look like and how they should be clothed. The advertising, beauty, fitness and health industries all play into body standards to greater or lesser extents.

Countless times I have judged what's "wrong" with my body. It's easier than focusing on what's right with it. It takes effort to do this, as it means combatting the images seen on tv, on billboards, and in ads that promote the constant and endless pursuit of the "perfect body." It also means escaping the mindset that bodies can in fact be perfect if we pay enough, work out enough, restrict and constrict enough...

This reduces the body to an object and fails to recognize it for what it really is - an incredible instrument.

When I worked in a Women's Center, the campus partook in the National Organization for Women's annual Love Your Body Day. It's held every October and centers on redefining standards of beauty and body sizes/shapes and accentuating positive attributes and the body's wondrous capabilities.

We distributed a list of ways to honor and love the body:

* Be mindful of daily thoughts on the body. If there are negative thoughts, counteract them!
* Pamper yourself - whether that means getting a 50 minute or 15 minute massage, painting your toes, or taking a bubble bath!
* Dance for no reason! Just be. My sister and I are notorious for this ritual.
* Tune into the body - Close your eyes, relax, and notice areas of ease and tension. What needs attention?
* Take a minute and thank your body for all it does each day - (my Yogini reminds us of this at the end of each practice - can I get an OM?!).
* Eat foods that nourish the body. Notice how you feel after a nutritious meal!
* Find clothes that flatter the figure you have today
* Write a list of all the things your body can do for you - I bet you'll run out of paper! Mehmet Oz wrote another book - You: Staying Young. He refers to the body as a city!! When you think of all the actions and interactions it conducts daily, it makes for a perfect analogy!

Finally, one of the most important things you can do to love your body is this:

* Trust your gut and other messages your body gives you.

"At the center of your being you have the answer.

You know who you are and you know what you want."


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Congratulations on your Rash!

Ok - it wasn't really as dramatic as it sounds or bad for that matter. I simply reacted to a food! Since late July, O and I have been detoxing and reintroducing foods that are most commonly identified with sensitivites and allergies.

I wasn't even formally testing the food I reacted to. I must have forgotten to introduce it earlier. On a recommendation from my nutritionist and in lieu of consuming much meat, I was to try tempeh, a fermented soy product and good source of protein. It's not as gross as it sounds. Tofu is another story. Tempeh is not tofu. I'm sorry tofu lovers but...yuck...not for me. Tempeh on the other hand, with a little soy sauce over some stir fried veggies, is yummy. But I don't think my body agreed with me. An hour and a half later it happened. Reaction! It was mild but itchy and very noticeable on my chin. It cleared by morning.

I went into work the next day, elatedly spreading the news to some friends. "I reacted to fermented soy!" With a confused look they said, "Congratulations?" I am weird. I was excited because in my mind reacting meant the experimental diet paid off. I knew that there was at least one food or food type that I was sensitive to and I may have just pinpointed it! When I told another friend later on that day and explained why this was exciting, he said, "ok, congratulations on your rash!" We had a big laugh. Now if only Hallmark made a card for that... :P

Next formal reintroductions include citrus, tree nuts and peanuts. I will also try the tempeh again by itself to see if, by process of elimination, the soy sauce was more of the culprit. The reaction explained a mild ambiguous reaction I had weeks ago to balsamic vinegar - another fermented product!

Yay research!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Time To Unwind

The past few months have sent me on a binge for information about health and it's relation to food. Some tests have provided helpful clues. I've read up on food sensitivities, the U.S. food supply, the food industry, food labels, and holistic nutrition. I even met with a registered dietician! Yesterday my mind started spinning when I found a whole other topic on food - inflammatory effects!

Stop. Rewind. No wait, unwind!

I was about to purchase yet another book, this time on an anti-inflammation diet. I stopped. There are so many theories out there and so few hours in a day to cram them all in! I've focused so much on food in the last three months that it's probably not doing as much for my health as I would like to think. I've drastically neglected some key ingredients to well-being - meditation/slowing down, yoga, and even a little spirituality.

There is a movement inspired by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, based in NYC. The organization's philosophy is to look at nutrition within a holistic framework. I love their food pyramid. Primary foods include relationships, spirituality, physical activity and career. When our primary foods are satisfying us or better yet, inspiring us, driving us, we are less likely to substitute secondary foods for what truly is sustaining us. A sole focus on food cannot heal if we are having trouble at work or trouble in a relationship. A sole focus on food, while ignoring or failing to adequately deal with stress, doesn't contribute to overall health.

Light bulb moment!

Recently making time for a brisk walk each night in the park to my favorite tunes has definitely contributed to a sense of balance, ease and even spirituality (tree hugger here). Exercise is afterall a super food! It helps me unwind after a busy day at the office.

Next step: Meditation! Check out O's journey. I hope to have her discipline!

Clearing the cluttered mind is one big step towards optimum health! I recently watched a Discovery Health program with my favorite doctor, Mehmet Oz. He took four adults, ran a bunch of tests, and found that the person that seemed most healthy was actually destined to be the sickest! Why? She wasn't managing her stress! She maintained a healthy weight, was working out 5 times a week and eating rather well, if memory serves me correctly. But she wasn't really dealing with her stress. Dr.'s Order: add yoga to her weekly routine.

I'm sure other practices would do - taking a 5 minute mental vacation from the "real world", listening to some soothing tunes, or getting down with your downward facing dog pose (I prefer shivasana). Mental health days are major plus! Breathing deeply certainly works. Have you ever been to a drum circle? That'll do it too!

How do you find your inner OM?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Going Green

It took me a while to embrace greens like Kale and Swiss Chard. For me it's due to a fear of the unknown. How can I season them? How the heck should I cook them? I was out to dinner in the city and sampled some very tasty chard in a dijon mustard sauce. Paired with a small filet, it was delicious! I started experimenting and while I haven't attempted a repeat of the aforementioned meal, I came up with something quite yummy:

Take about 8 leaves of swiss chard (I usually get all green but this time it's rainbow chard):

Step 1 - Wash and de-vein

Step 2 - add one slice chopped red onion and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinagrette (I use Annie's).

Step 3 - add the swiss chard on top and watch it wilt! Cooking takes about 2 minutes!

Step 4 - Enjoy!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movement is Medicine

I used to think workouts were a chore. They were usually monotonous too. Run today. Run tomorrow. Ice skate the following day. Repeat. (The ice skating part was fun) :)

Over the years I've changed my exercise habits to include hiking, yoga, and biking. I've acquired a few new DVD's too - a 10 minute dance routine and a 20 minute kick-your-butt video (thanks, Jillian!). These two are great in combatting the overused "I don't have time to workout" excuse.

Motivation is the key to making time for exercise. Most people will vary on the factors that keep them going. Calorie burning never lasted as a major motivator for me, despite how effective those Jane Fonda videos were. Competition and trying to keep up with Jane, who exercised insanely fast, didn't keep me going either. Posting pictures of skinny models as my target goal lasted for a day. Crazy! But today, here are the things that get me off my bum:

* Clearer Skin
* Opportunity to catch up with a friend = exercise buddy
* Sleeping better
* Increased flexibility
* Feeling stronger
* Feeling happier - yay endorphins!
* Feeling healthier - (apparently the body heals faster with exercise!)
* Oxyenating the body
* Detoxifying the body

And just recently, along came some information that was most inspiring. The Lymph. The what, you say? The lymph is a clear liquid that cleanses your cells and brings nutrients to them. What does this have to do with exercise, you ask? Exercise is the pump that helps the lymph circulate! When you exercise, you make a contribution to the cleanliness of your cells. Talk about good hygiene! Who knew!

All are good reasons to shake what your momma gave you!

Monday, August 11, 2008

In Love

My love affair began a few weeks ago at Gullifty's restaurant in Bryn Mawr. If you ever go there, I highly recommend the warm lentil salad - chock full of mixed greens, roasted red and yellow peppers, lentils and hummus with balsamic vinagrette. (For funguys and fungals, they also add mushrooms). It was love at first bite! And yet it took several weeks for me to actually attempt cooking them myself. I bought some lentils immediately but they sat in my pantry for a bit.

I'm weird about beans. I buy them loose and dry at Whole Foods and put them in pretty containers and label them. Then I wait a while to cook them. Should I soak them first? For how long? In how much water? Yada Yada. Then there's the cooking time.

With lentils, no pre-soaking is required! You just load them into a pan with lots of water and in about 20-30 minutes, you've got your beans, baby!

For 1/4 cup of dry lentils you get: 25% of your daily value of Iron, 60% of your dietary fiber and 13 grams of protein!

Here's what I did with my 1/4 cup: Added it to my brown rice pasta and topped it with slightly sauteed 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes and two garlic cloves. mmmmmm........

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Health History 101

Over the last few years I've seen many specialists. Some immediate concerns combined with general feelings of "blah" had led me on a search for answers. I am still working on finding the source(s) of "blah."

When you've visited a slew of doctors and they've all given their 2 cents, ordered tests, and written prescriptions, it's important to keep it all straight. Creating a Health History is a step in that direction.

Case in Point #1 - Records
I've seen three dermatologists in one year because I intuitively felt my primary had become overly aggressive, taking an average of 5 biopsies at every 6 month appointment and scheduling follow-ups to dig out more. My second opinion conducted two biopsies just weeks after my first doctor had last seen me (who naturally had just made several biopsies of his own but apparently wasn't too thorough). Maybe moles are like apples or oranges, depending on which doctor you ask. Doctor #3 has been conservative with his slicings - he records and watches. In fact, he has yet to "gut" me (I'm a little dramatic with my terminology). This makes me curious. Is he too conservative? I feel like I've got a goldilocks and the three dermatologists situation going on. Record keeping is especially important when you're looking for the skin docta who is "just right!"

Another recent experience involved my gastroenterologist, GI Jackie (seriously, this is what I called her). She had ordered a cat scan two years ago in an effort to identify the cause of my symptoms. When I didn't hear back about the results, I followed up to see what was going on. "Everything looks fine." I had a gut feeling (no pun intended) that it wasn't but I wanted to believe everything was ok. Fast forward two years later. In the interest of creating a health history and having all my records from every doctor I had seen, I ordered a copy of my cat scan results. I was alarmed to find the radiologist's note on my kidneys.

I called the GI office, wondering why this result had not been mentioned two years earlier. "We specialize in the digestive system," she said. "We don't work with the kidneys." She recommended that any concern with the kidneys be addressed with a urologist. I thanked her for that advice and stated that having that recommendation two years ago would have been helpful.

Note to self - Trust your instincts and find doctors who are thorough. As a back-up I now request all copies of results - for piece of mind and for 2nd opinions.

Case in Point #2 - Medications
When keeping records of current and previous medications for my doctors, I now include any natural supplements. I either experienced a freak reaction at the dentist's office or a horribly strange coincidence. About a week prior to my dentist appointment I had been reading a new book on supplements and foods that allegedly, among other things, contribute to better skin. I also started taking a small supplement for heart health and continued taking fish oil at night.

My dentist didn't ask if I was taking any new "medication" and I probably wouldn't have considered to include the fish oil or heart health pill in that answer. About an hour after the anesthetic wore off I felt a lump in my neck. Another hour later there was a second bump. Over the next few days my neck was inflamed with bumps and hives.

The dentist was quick to establish that her anesthetic had nothing to do with the reaction. At the time I only cared about knowing what was happening and why. I wanted to determine the cause of the reaction, not establish blame.

After researching further I discovered a possible answer - the anesthetic prilocaine may react negatively with blood thinners. I wasn't on prescription blood thinners BUT a lot of the natural supplements I had been taking had the added benefit of...thinning blood. I ended up seeing an allergist when the symptoms got worse. The symptoms eventually ceased but neither the allergist nor dentist established the cause, which might prove helpful the next time I need dental work. My reaction may have been coincidental or may have been related to the anesthesia. I may never find out. Sometimes doctors are more interested in treatment than underlying causes. And sometimes there can be no explanation.

Note to Self - Keep only those doctors that will listen to your concerns and answer all questions you have without making you feel like you are a hypochondriac or gathering information only with the intent to sue them. I now carry a list of current medications to notify any health practicioner during a visit.

Recording a Health History
Hoping to prevent further health concerns, I started to record all medications, diagnoses, history of family illnesses, previous and current health providers and procedures. I also recorded vacations I took (especially if vaccinations were recommended but not taken), my typical daily diet, sleep patterns and exercise. It's been a handy tool for me and my very proactive primary doctor.

Other Helpful Tools
I keep a binder that includes the Health History, labwork, doctor's notes/records, and a notebook. The notebook comes in handy to write any questions or concerns I have prior to each doctor's visit (so as not to forget anything) and take notes regarding necessary follow-up.

Eventually I hope to pinpoint what's going on. The symptoms could apply to a bunch of different things. While it feels a bit chaotic at times, good records-keeping plays a crucial role while providing the added benefit of reassurance that I'm doing everything I can to keep my ducks in a row.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Morning Joe

My friend O and I recently started a detox "diet" - which began with 14 days of elimination - drinking a combo of fruit and vegetable juices and whole/mostly raw fruits and vegetables. The following four weeks will include reintroducing foods that have been known to cause allergic reactions or sensitivities in people - gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast, citrus, soy, corn....etc. The goals are to clear out, give the body a lighter load to digest so it can focus on restoration and healing, and to monitor any sensitivities to the trigger foods. It's a 6 week program and we just had our second group meeting to discuss our progress with reintroducing foods.

We all agreed upon one thing - we want to go back to what essentially was a vegan diet! We just want to juice and eat our raw foods!! My skin was the clearest during those first few days and I no longer had "brain fog", which was a regular mid-day occurrence. Despite the deep sleep I had been missing for weeks, I had woken up feeling pretty damn good. I was able to function! Reintroducing trigger foods has contributed to the lethargy I feel and the brain fog has returned.

After reintroducing foods I've learned I don't crave much from my old "diet". During the two weeks of juicing/raw foods, I missed cheese a little (I started reintroducing it yesterday) and pasta (I've discovered gluten-free brown rice pasta and quinoa pasta - YUMMY!). I thought I would miss my coffee but that was the first craving to go! Here's my new cup of joe ~

3 Kale Leaves
2 Celery Stalks
1 Cucumber
1/2 Apple

It was definitely an acquired taste at first but when you get the right balance, it's delicious!

Even though the detox diet has sounded extreme to most people (it is when you compare it to the American diet) it has the groupies wanting more! And we'll all probably go back to eating some of the mainstream "foods" but we'll all be upping the ante with our fresh juices too!

My #2 Juice -
5 carrots
1 beet
1/2 apple
1/4 inch slice of fresh ginger

Another great outcome of this program has been the creativity of our group's experiences in preparing meals. There were foods I didn't know existed (I'm still thinking about that brown rice pasta!) and recipes that are quite scrumptious (gluten free waffles). Check out the cookbook we're using.

3 weeks down, 3 more to go!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Back to Basics

When I was in high school, like many teenaged girls, I was obsessed with weight. Ice skating further fueled this obsession. I counted fat calories and followed the number on the scale. When it came to food, I was only concerned with caloric intake. I frequently ate pasta, pierogies, soft pretzels and bagels and diet coke was my drug of choice. These "foods" were convenient, easy to make and fat-free. Cha-Ching!

Looking back now I can't believe I ate that stuff on a daily basis! In grad school I became much more mindful about food and especially it's connection to the lack of energy and anxiety I felt, which I had just attributed to the grad school experience. I realized I was at a point where my bad eating habits had finally caught up with me.

Andrew Weil, M.D., in his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, writes that the body is incredibly kind to us, working tirelessly to keep us in check even when we consume large amounts of not-so-great (ok, awful) "foods". While this is quite a generous act it is also very unfortunate. Many people will eat poor diets for years without any idea of what's to come. And while disease becomes inevitable as we age, healthy choices now can play a huge role in determining how long we maximize well-being and ward off illness and injury.

Sometimes we may not even think our diets are as poor as they are. This may be due to the way we view food and the measurements we use in classifying good health. Is good health based upon weight and the Body Mass Index? Can it be based upon calories? Clearly there is more to the picture. As I used to say to a former colleague who teased me about eating carrots while weighing 120 lbs, "It could be ugly on the inside." It probably was! The carrots and salads had been no match for my pizza and coffee.

It has been three years since I experienced the consequences of poor food choices and I consider my health issues to be a gift and lesson. Had I not been sick I wouldn't have forced a new view on what food is and what it does to the body. For me it was all about getting back to basics and questioning the origin of the species (in this case, food). What constitutes food? Where does my food come from? Answering these questions can be overwhelming but here's a great starting point. Tip #1 is quite useful and courtesy of Mehmet Oz who happened to make an appearance on the one and only Oprah show I've seen in years. Coincidence? I think not.

Tip #1 - Pitch the "food" if the first four ingredients are:

1) salt
2) sugar
3) high fructose corn syrup
4) partially hydrogenated oil

They have been designed to withstand a long shelf life. Sometimes identifying these ingredients is not so simple. For example, there are many names for sugar (look for anything ending in "ose" - dextrose, fructose, sucrose). There are other creative names like maltodextrin. Buyer beware!

Tip # 2 - Say "sionora" to anything that is enriched (despite how nice "enriched" sounds) - pasta, bread, cereal. Go for whole grains.

Tip # 3 - Parameter shop. Generally try to avoid the aisles of boxed and processed "foods". Repeat Tip #1 if needed.

Tip #4 - Stock up on organic produce. If the only option is conventional, try to avoid any fruits and veggies on the
Dirty Dozen list. They have high pesticide or insecticide residue. A conventional apple a day may not keep the doctor away. ;)

Stickers on the produce hint at agricultural integrity - stickers starting with a #4 are conventional; #8 are genetically engineered, #9 is your golden ticket - organic!

These tips involve steps towards incorporating more whole foods into the daily diet and in creating a path to optimum health. And while eliminating certain foods takes a little getting used to, it's motivating to think of the body like you would a car, an intricate machine. There are select fuels meant for cars and the body requires select fuels too. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils sound more like things to put in a car, not a human. If you can't pronounce the ingredients or they sound like something foreign, they should probably be avoided. By selecting the right fuels, we make a choice to invest in our personal vehicle and keep it well-oiled and running for years to come.