Finding the balance of physical and mental health through adventures and fitness

Day 78, Movie Quote 8: “Dare to Aim Higher, to Break Barriers…”

“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as your proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’have barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.” – Interstellar


It’s Monday.

I just registered for my last class of my program. It’s United States Government. Perfect timing given the state of affairs we’re in. Public health officials affect change on policy – you need to know the laws and process before you try to break them or change them.

I have no idea where the last 18 months went. This is what I will say in June when I wrap up my final course.

There are many aspects to my health journey.

There was the day I got started. I don’t remember it, it’s not crystal clear. I know I refused to weigh myself initially because I knew it was bad. I went based on my clothes. I didn’t even track my food – I just ate less, but even that amount was still more than most people when they start. I saw weight loss and fat loss. My clothes got big, my body got small and I looked at my wallet thinking where will the money for new clothes come from.

There was day I started running. There was the day I started paleo – the day I stopped paleo. There was the day I decided I wanted to be a competitor and I started lifting, macro counting and clean eating. There was the day I decided clean eating wasn’t for me.

There’s been personal bests. There’s been solo 5Ks. There’s been a handful of competitions. There’s been a skin removal surgery. There’s been maintaining and gaining and loss. There’s been a fluctuating amount of weight loss, but size has been pretty much maintained…except these damn hips.

There’s the mental aspect of the journey. Deciding that health is more important than a bag chips or the dollar menu. Deciding that while there may not be motivation every day, effort should be made more often than not.

There’s been MANY conversations with myself. There’s been:

Girl, you look great! You’re crushing it. You can do this. You can’t do this. What did you get yourself into? Just another rep. Another five pounds is nothing, pick up the bar. Bed early, up early. If you don’t care about you, then who will? You shouldn’t eat that. You definitely should eat that. Stay on the floor a little longer, then pick yourself up. If you can get into the shower the morning will feel better. If you can get out of the shower you can make today good. Set a timer so you can study for your test. If you don’t study you won’t understand this. If you study too long you’re going to overload yourself. It’s ok that you didn’t get to the gym today, look at everything else you accomplished! Well, this plan was better on paper.

It’s no surprise, or it shouldn’t be at least – that there’s a mental or emotional connection with the physical manifestation of health, fat loss, weight loss – whatever label you give your journey.

I’ve said some uplifting things to myself. I’ve said some terrible things to myself. Sometimes I think about why I’m not as supportive of myself like I am my clients.

It’s not that there aren’t standards for them, but everyone has a different life.

Today is the last day of being 28 and I don’t know everything about myself.

I’m still learning about my capabilities. I’m still learning when to back off and when to push harder.

The past 18 months have had some ups and downs. There’s been some sitting on the kitchen floor moments – a lot less though when I think back.

The past 18 months have been a very different environment. Going to school for my bachelor’s was easy and I don’t remember struggling to adapt to a different schedule every semester.

In the past 18 months, I’ve taken 12 classes, five were lab intensive. I have one more course like I mentioned above. I’m also finishing up fieldwork into the summer. I need 300 hours minimum of unpaid public health related work.

In the first month, I launched my health and lifestyle coaching business.

I hate calling myself a health coach, I hate saying lifestyle coach too. Health coach has become synonymous with scheme or product pusher. Health and lifestyle coaching, for me at least, is so much more than fat loss. It’s analyzing the role our environments play in our lives and developing a plan that allows for flexibility that is unique to the client. It’s about long-term behavior change. It’s about making connections and finding what works for the individual.

Wanting to help people in this way pushed me to go back to school.


While coaching others, I share my experiences too while connecting them to theories and research. I share even my darkest moments with them because we are human, an we can persevere. They need to see that we can persevere – that they can persevere too.

By the end of the month eight in school I came to realize that health is bigger than I thought. Public health was a natural choice for me because it mixed what I believe health to be: emotional and mental and physical. I had been sharing on social media how my mental health impacted my choices and impacted my health.

However, I hadn’t been considering other external barriers.

Simply, if you don’t have healthy food in your home you won’t eat healthy food. When creating a healthy, balanced meal plan you want to look at foods that support you and those that hinder you. If you believe elimination of certain foods is important because of temptation then by all means remove them and work through the larger issue of why food controls you. This is a simple idea.

This is a barrier that can be easily removed. But what about those who can’t afford it.

If you don’t have an apple in the kitchen then you can’t choose an apple as a snack. But what if you’re at the grocery store and you can’t purchase the apple because $2.99/pound outweighs the cost of buying a bag of rice to feed a family?

I want to empower people. I want people to feel confident in their decisions. I want them to consider all the roles they play in their life. I want them to think about what impacts their choices and the process they go through when deciding.

I tell my clients there are some things you can’t control. I tell myself that too. When life gets hard we talk about it from two angles: what we control and what we don’t.

You can argue that people could spend their money more wisely to afford fruits and vegetables. You can also argue that they may not see the long-term effects of that and may only be able to see the short-term implications of making their dollar go further.

In the past 18 months, I’ve worked with about 60 people on various health and lifestyle goals and there are many similarities including internal barriers they create for themselves. The bigger question I started asking myself while going through course literature was “what about the external barriers that cyclically divide who should be healthy and who shouldn’t be?”

At nine months into my program, I started thinking bigger. I started thinking about my community. I started thinking about affecting change so that being healthy isn’t just for those who can afford it.

By month 10, I decided I wanted to create access. Not only do I want people to be able to make healthy choices, but before they can even consider a healthy choice, they need opportunities and access to choices.

Month 12, I had been reading even more outside the classroom than I already had been. I was going through legislation and interviewing for my fieldwork placement. I also decided I need to do more writing in the New Year. I work to educate my clients so that they can make informed choices, but I wasn’t sharing this aspect of me here. That’s where Wellness Refocused Education posts came from. I’ve been slower to write than I want to, but guys – this semester is kicking my butt.

These educational posts are meant to get people thinking, provide resources for them to continue to research on their own and more importantly help those who don’t want the help of a coach for whatever reason, but want to be more knowledgeable.

I started fieldwork in month 13 and that’s when I realized if I want to create more access, I want to get involved in policy. I want to get involved in program creation and implementation. I want to start at zero.

Last month, in month 14, as I was researching for fieldwork, I saw how environment dictates priority. I saw how the interpretation of standards influences if someone will go above and beyond or do the minimal requirements. I saw the conflict between these two.

I joked the other day at the office and said I want to solve hunger. A woman I was speaking with looked at me with all seriousness and said, “we need to talk the next time I come in. I’m working on a project that we should talk about.”

I never knew that when I said I wanted to help empower people to make healthy choices and feel confident in their choices, I really meant that I want to affect change so that there are choices and opportunities for individuals to create healthy lives for themselves without or with minimal barriers.

I wasn’t thinking big enough in the beginning.

I love coaching, but I also love the idea of making an impact in this way too.

I’m getting involved in my community. I’m currently running a book collection for kids for a local organization that focuses on victims and survivors of domestic violence. I’m raising money to support an organization that provides programming for food access (see below). I’m trying to see the larger picture and the connections.

This morning, in month 15 – I was told that invitations for a leadership and goal setting workshop I created and will be running at the end of April will be sent out soon to about 400 members of the honor society I’m in. I get to do what I love with a group of people in an academic and professional setting.

I’m a small person. I’ve actually shrunk. I’m 5’3.5″, I used to be 5’4″. But I need to keep dreaming. I need to keep thinking big.

By June classes will be completed. By August I’ll have an official diploma in hand.

I’ve already started looking and applying for jobs.

I don’t know how these months have gone by so fast, but I know the moments in which something in my perspective changed.

This health journey is so much more than my weight loss. It’s so much more than a competitor’s heart or coping with mental health.

I guess I’m interested to see what happens to my corner of the world if I can move the needle a little bit.

I say all the time, I never thought I would be here.

I thought I would look older, feel older. I thought my career would be different. I thought I would comfortable, but I’ve never been good at siting still and getting comfortable.

❤ Cristina


Day 72, Movie Quote 7: “People Like You Come Along and Knock Down All The Obstacles We Put In Your Way”

“Most people live life on the path we set for them. Too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while people like you come along and knock down all the obstacles we put in your way.” The Adjustment Bureau

I’ve been thinking about this post all weekend.

This weekend I got to relax. I didn’t have to do homework or reading immediately because I have break this week, but I will get back to it soon so I can stay on top of it.

Instead, we had friends over on Saturday night for food and drinks. We laughed a lot. We stayed up late. We made brunch on Sunday, and disconnected a bit.

But in the back of my head, I thought about a check-in I had with a client on Friday afternoon. It was our last check-in for this block of eight weeks and she has grown so much.

Periodically throughout the weeks of a coaching block, I’ll ask a client how they feel about progress so far based on their hopes and expectations from the start of coaching. I will also ask them to think back a few months or a year and compare progress. Sometimes I’ll ask “thinking back, did you ever think you would get here? Did you ever think this could be reality?” I also take notes during check-ins so I can look back and make comparisons and ask better questions.

In the screening process and during the first call as we’re getting started, I will tell every single client that it’s possible that goals will either shift a bit or completely change. That it’s possible that as we’re working on something, another thing may pop up that was unexpected that may have more importance in the moment. It’s not that we’ll stop working on the initial goal completely, but it will be worked on in a different way.

So Friday’s client is a mom. I’ve said it before that mom’s are my favorite population to work with. They don’t see their magic the way I do. It could be because my mom wasn’t the greatest, while she tried in her own way to be. I guess I think of mom’s as unicorns. Something I never really had, but something I know exists out there, somewhere.

So this client, this mom. She’s like other mom’s I’ve worked with. She’s got ideas and she’s got heart – a huge one. She wants the best for her kids and her family. However, she struggled to see how her environment impacted her.

By day, she’s a corporate employee who’s worked her way up. By night, she’s a small business owner, a leader, a chef, a chauffeur, a study-partner, a companion and so much more. I’m sure this sounds familiar to a lot of you. We don’t wear the same roles or hats, but we all wear many.

In the beginning of coaching, her short-term goals included wanting to get back in the gym and having a plan, she wanted to better understand how to balance her nutrition, she wanted to build her business; her long-term goals included becoming a certified dyslexia specialist and tutor, having a successful business so she could leave her job and maintain a level of health and wellness that made her feel good and confident to teach her kids how to be healthy too.

So in the beginning, we were focused on figuring out an eating style that worked for her. This was the first step. She understood macronutrients, but had never been a part of the diet discussion. We tried macro-counting  and then realized that with her schedule – in and out of the house, it wasn’t realistic and attainable. She suggested intermittent fasting because she had been doing some research and thought based on what she had read it may be beneficial. We talked about its benefits, we talked about its clinical purposes, we talked about how it would fit and work with her life. She said it would help alleviate stress from the evening rush with her children and tutoring.

I recommended trying it for a week so she had time to adjust to a more structured time shift and eating window. We also made a macronutrient shift because she recognized that she was eating more fruits and vegetables, less grains, but more fats like olive oil, avocado and nuts and we wanted to make sure that she was capable of eating in a shorter window and enjoying what she was eating.

Physical activity was discussed. We spoke about her workouts and what her goals were. Initially, she needed to get to the gym and see where her strength was because it had been a while she since had been consistent in the gym. We talked about tracking workouts so that she could see where she was starting over at and then could build from there. We talked about what she liked about the gym. She likes to do the classes at her gym sometimes, but she also likes to work out with her husband. Realistically, for her schedule, classes aren’t always able to be fit in. And with kids – her and her husband have to alternate who’s going to the gym and who’s driving them around. So we talked about workouts a week at a time – how many days do you want to be there and how many days are realistic. She just needed some consistency to start with. So three days, that’s baseline.

During our eight weeks, she had multiple regional business trips that put her seated in a car and in meetings for hours. She had a trip or two where she flew out of her time zone for a few days. There were days she was completely in control of the agenda and days she wasn’t.

Life popped up and added surprises.

At the very beginning of coaching, and possibly just before, she and her husband had learned that both of her children were dyslexic. It provided explanation for a lot of things, but that also meant changes to their family dynamic. One child also has ADHD, which is often associated with dyslexia and it meant adjusting their diet. While science is still looking for answers, there are associations with Red Dye 40 and hyperactivity. There could be better research, but this is a start, so it’s where they started.

This was something that they didn’t expect to happen, however, if you ask her how the elimination of a foods with Red Dye 40 is going, she’ll tell you that her kids point out it on the labels, they ask questions about foods they’re eating and they’re not really missing foods that have been eliminated.

With the diagnosis, it also meant needing more opportunity to go over school work in an environment that helped them thrive rather than made them feel as though they would never understand. Evenings now consisted of tutoring, which meant dinner wasn’t together – someone had to drive; the gym wasn’t priority and days felt a little bit longer. However, she saw the magic of having someone who could help her children. It ultimately showed her how she could help them too.

Check-ins frequently consisted of talking about tutoring and how household changes were going. We would go over measurements and discuss workouts, but we also talked about work and her own business. We talked about her business plans and how she was balancing everything.

There were emails that would reflect her own disappointment because she couldn’t see that progress still occurred even though it was slow. It may not have been as fast as desired, but still moving in the right direction despite everything else that was happening around her. However, there were also text messages saying clothes were fitting better and that through her business she believes that she’s finding purpose in other areas of her life.

During our last check-in, she told me the day she’s resigning from her corporate job, which is happening faster than she thought it would. She said, it’ll give her the opportunity to finish her certification so she can teach her children at home next school year because they aren’t able to get what they need where they are now even though the school has been informed – the resources just aren’t there.

She said leaving her job will give her time to work on her business a little bit more and that will allow flexibility as a family. Easier to plan vacations. Easier to say yes to activities like sports for her children who spend more time studying than playing.

She may be able to shift her eating structure because there will be more time and the family can sit down for dinner together again. She said, she’s actually excited about cooking.

She’ll be able to have more routine with her workouts. She’ll be able to fill her cup up more often so that she can fill the cups of others too.

Figuring out the next steps for her children, pushed her to think about what she really wanted out of her own future and career. On Friday, she seemed to talk with a happier voice that was relieved and ready to take on the future.

Looking back, in eight weeks, she accomplished a lot. There were some obvious things and some things that weren’t so easily visible. Some things that weren’t intended, but life wasn’t perfect the past eight weeks either.

  • lost 6 pounds
  • lost 11.875 inches
  • found a balance with her activity and nutrition that worked for her in the moment while examining external factors
  • tried new things
  • trusted someone else
  • was capable of creating an environment of open and collaborative communication
  • trusted herself enough to take a leap of faith without perfect timing
  • decided to home school her children regardless of the thoughts of others
  • redesigned her business model

So when I asked her that question about what she’s accomplished with coaching, how this experience has been for her, where she started and where she was a long time ago, she said she had always wanted to leave her career, but never thought she would be able to.

Two things she said to me that will always stick with me:

“I always thought really small.”

“I couldn’t see possibility passed what I already had.”

When she said these words, she looked up at the ceiling, I knew that it didn’t matter if she crossed off everything she had listed in the beginning perfectly, because it was clear that progress was made and that she knew it.

There is something bigger inside us that takes a while to uncover.

When we trust ourselves, when we trust our hearts – we’re more capable than we could’ve ever imagined.

We all can be unicorns.

❤ Cristina

Day 63, Movie Quote 6: “Fall Into Your Grave Grasping a Character You Never Were”

It’s Sunday morning and JP’s still in bed. The alarm wasn’t set this morning, so it’s no surprise to me that I was up sooner and that he just kept on snoozing. He needs the sleep and it’s clear my body is ready to take on today.

The past few months I’ve had client calls on Thursday night when I get home from night class and one Friday evening before it’s really Friday night. This week, I didn’t have calls with those clients, because when we check-in it’s designed around their schedules as well as mine – they’re both traveling. When this happens, it’s a little bit weird because now I have space in my schedule that I’m not used to, but it’s also exciting because I can get work done or do nothing if I choose. We did a combination both nights.

I finished medical micro lab reports 9 and 10…before getting an email from our professor that we now have an 11 and 12 to write, but I’ll do those this week after exams.

Quickly after 9 and 10 were written, JP and I looked at each other and asked what movie should we watch. We can be terrible at picking a movie. Between the two of us we have about 300+ DVDs and Blurays…then we have Netflix, HBOGo and a few other streaming services – we don’t have cable and if I need the news I go straight NBC News, newspapers web sites and the AP.

We had at least decided to narrow it down to a category – comedy. We scrolled and then found Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey from 1999. JP asked if this was the same on as the one on Netflix. Nope. The one on Netflix is a documentary interviewing Carrey about his experience filming Man on the Moon as well as footage from his behavior while filming.

We then decided we had to watch both.

So Thursday – Man on the Moon. And Friday – Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond.

I watch movies two ways. 1) I watch while doing other things so I have background noise to prevent it from being too silent in a room, but I end up drowning out the film because I’m so involved in what I’m doing over the film. 2) I watch with analyzing ears and get sucked in.

Man on the Moon pulled me in. It was a film that was funny until it wasn’t. Man on the Moon is about Andy Kaufman, who was an actor, performance artist and entertainer among other things. He was controversial. He was liked. He was hated. He was funny and he was an asshole – according to him these were just characters. He didn’t like comedy in the traditional sense and I think that’s what makes him great. What he believed to be funny may or may not fall onto the right person’s ear. Kaufman died when he was 35. The film has a cast of actors that actually knew Kaufman and in the film Jim & Andy, I learned that his family actually came to the set.

This film did make me laugh. It also made my jaw drop because I was in shock. JP said he was confused and it didn’t have a plot, but the film was the depiction of Kaufman’s life and I think that was the point. Kaufman had said in interviews he wanted to confuse people and keep them on their toes. He wanted to be unpredictable.

On Friday, we watched Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, which interviews Carey in the present day while cutting to footage from the filming days. Carrey’s acting style is best described as method acting where he tries to get as connected to the character as possible. During the filming of Man on the Moon he played all of his characters at all times. He played Andy. He also played Tony Clifton – a persona of Kaufman’s that he played regularly, but denied often. Carrey also played himself, sometimes. The footage of his behavior as these other characters when not filming, but just on set, made you forget who he was.

I enjoy Jim Carrey and I do think he’s a good actor, but seeing footage of how he portrayed these characters outside of the film and how people responded to him made you feel lost. As we were watching Jim & Andy, I was confused because I didn’t know what to expect from Carrey. In his present day interviews in the film, he explained how Kaufman’s work while he was growing up had shaped how he viewed comedy and being and a performer. Kaufman’s ability to put on characters without care allowed Carrey to take chances.

Carrey talks about his own parallels to Kaufman and how he felt when creating. He opens up and in a few moments almost breaks down.

Carrey said two things that stuck out to me in his interviews.

At some point when you create yourself to make it, you’re going to have to either let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are, or you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping a character you never were.

This made my heart sink. Because sometimes this is how I feel and I think back and try to figure out when did this start meaning something. I’ve been blogging for about six years. This is my second web site. I’ve been sharing my journey that long. I’ve shared a lot of angles of it. I’ve shared a lot of my ideas – some of which now contradict each other because I know more now than I did before. But I’ve always shared in the most honest way possible. Does that mean that every single thing is written down or photographed? No, but I’m sure many think that’s the case.

This past year with some success and some failure, I’ve been working on hard on letting my creation go and taking the chance on being loved or hated, but trying to not let either impact how I do what I do. 

I still get messages saying people miss me on Instagram, but I think that shows the reliance we have on human connection even if it’s through a screen. I’ve written back and forth with people via email kind of like Pen Pals. I’ve made some good friends through social media because they didn’t treat me like more than I am, a person who tries to be healthy.

I look back and try to think when did I make the shift and allow the voices to get so loud that it was a force to tell me yes or no?

We see a lot of half-truths online and a lot of false-truths too – it’s hard to dig through it all.

The best we can do is tunnel our vision when necessary and move forward regardless.

The second thing Carrey said was more about how he specifically does acting, how he creates characters.

Where did this character come from? What is the dirt that the pearl is built around? And the pearl is the personality that you build around yourself as a protection against that thought: “If they ever find out that I’m worthless, if they ever find out that I’m not enough, I’ll be destroyed”.

While I try damn hard to be honest and not create characters, I do think aspects of me can be compartmentalized – Cristina as a competitor is not the same as Cristina who’s living a healthy life. Cristina the students is similar to Cristina the professional, but not the same as Cristina the coach.

I wrote the other day about being or feeling inadequate and I think that sentiment aligns with this from Carrey. We use aspects of ourselves to be protected, but we also use those same parts to shine out and add something to the world.There are other aspects we try to drown out so they’re less noticeable because we find them unimportant.

When I was working with my tutor yesterday, he was telling me about the schools he’s applying to – he’s 22 and is looking at bio-chem programs. We talked about his transfer application essays. I said I had helped a friend of ours from the honor society write some her application essays because she struggled to talk about herself in a way that highlighted how she can overcome challenges. I told my tutor – schools won’t find it interesting if you say that you have a disability, but they want to know how you took what life handed you and ran with it. They want to know how your deafness has made you a great leader for a student organization. They want to know how you overcame homelessness and survived and what that means for what kind of energy you want to put into the world – maybe not so hippy dippy in that regard, but they don’t care that you have ADD, a lot of people do, but they care about what that has meant for you as far as how you’ve developed into a person they want to have at their school.

In this sense, you need to show the pearl and you need to show some of the dirt.

I think with social media, I’ve been told I’m worthless enough times to last me a lifetime that I don’t need to worry so much if that’s a thought for others. I know it is. What I’m working on is how do I prevent myself from believing it. Many times when I tell you it’s going to be a good day – I’m reinforcing it for myself. When I’m telling you that I hope you have a productive day – I’m saying it to myself too.

I’ve felt destroyed, so I don’t necessary connect with what he’s saying here, but when I saw his face and heard the words come out of his mouth, I just sat there and stared and thought you can be on top of the world and still feel and fear worthlessness.

I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately – in my studies, to my tutor, to my professors, to JP, to my friends, to myself and to you, here are a few more.

Is what’s under the pearl so bad? Would you rather a life of happiness with falsehoods, or a roller coaster knowing truth?

❤ Cristina

Day 58, Movie Quote 5: “Cricket, cricket, cricket…cricket, cricket, cricket”

Every movie has awkward silence. I just couldn’t think of a fitting movie to watch and pull a quote from. Not everyone is as philosophical as Ferris Bueller or Good Will Hunting. But the awkward silence will do, I think it may be a perfect fit.

Yesterday, I posted a link to a podcast I had listened to during my lift. The past year I’ve been listening to more podcasts, watching more TedTalks and listening to more ideas about science and health. I’m trying to get more perspective as I really nail down what kind of impact I want to make in the world around me.

The Ted Radio Hour is a podcast that I listen to religiously. They combine multiple Ted Talks into a theme. I’ve shared a few individual Ted Talks, mostly around mental health, but there are so many talks that you can listen to or watch, whether you have five minutes or 60. Whether you like poetry or psychology or chemistry – these ideas are there.

Yesterday’s talk was about stigma. Half way through, I knew I wanted to sit down and write this post. I knew I needed to share this with you. I quickly shared on Facebook, but I knew I wanted to sit down and give myself some time to write.

I guess, we should first define stigma.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

If you look to see what causes stigma, you’ll find that it’s a social construct. According to an article written by Julio Arboleda-Florez for World Psychiatry discussing social stigma, “how [stigma] develops is not matched by our knowledge of why it develops, although a model posits that the original functional impetus is an initial perception of tangible or symbolic threat.” So stigma is created by us, which means it can be broken by us too.

There were four talks in yesterday’s podcast. Each one was different and each one had me nodding, but the first one stuck out to me most, then the second.

Johann Hari discusses heroine addiction in his talk and how perceptions of drug addiction as well as behaviors towards addicts contribute to the cyclical nature of addiction. He discusses how environment plays a larger role than we think. He acknowledges that chemical response makes a body dependent, but that environment can perpetuate the behavior that guides a person to the drug.

Hari explains that in the 1970s, a psychologist named Bruce Alexander conducted an experiment to study drug addiction behavior. The experiment is known as Rat Park. Previous studies had isolated rats and provided them with water bottles: one drug-laced and the other free of drugs. What these studies had found was that rats had nothing better to do than drink from the drug-laced bottle. In Alexander’s experiment of Rat Park, the creation of a rat community with multiple rats of both genders, food, toys, space to walk around and mate in provided the opportunity to be less lonely and have more purpose. They found that while rats did still drink out of the drug-laced bottle, they drank less often.

I know you’re probably thinking, well they’re just rats, well yes, because experimentation on humans is illegal, but also that’s how much research is conducted.

There were issues with Alexander’s study. It was far from perfect. It’s not as simple as eliminating stress and believing that you can overcome chemical dependency.

I think what prompted the study was the timing. The United States was having a war on drugs because we always are. Looking through other articles about Rat Park it seems as though Alexander may have been trying to get people to consider how much of an impact our environments have on us. I think he wanted us to stop treating addicts as less than human. He just may have been taking it to far and forgetting a few other things along they way, such as how trauma or environment can impact brain chemistry…

Hari talks about decriminalization of drugs, and that’s another post for another time. But What got me thinking was the parts about environment and what impact that could have on decision making initially.

In my Facebook post yesterday, I related this perspective of addiction to food and to weightloss. Loosely quoting Hari, we have psychological needs that need to be met and if they’re not, we’ll figure out how to fill the void.

I think it’s possible that initially our environment impacts our choices, but eventually, chemically we become reliant.

Inspiring Quotes About Mental Health Stigma Quote On Mental Health She Was Powerful Not Because She Wasn't

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Over-eating and eventual binging was an escape when anxiety was high, when flashback occurred and when I felt the world crumbling around me. I would black out at times and not remember that I ate so much until I realized my stomach hurt or there were half eaten items on the counter.

My binging didn’t have a particular attachment to any specific food either – it was the hunt. I would take nibbles of everything until I found the right texture, or the right flavor. Maybe it needed a crunch or it needed to be salty. Maybe it would be a bell pepper or a cracker. Maybe it would be cheese or peanut butter. Maybe a handful of nuts. The hunt provided a rush, that immediately crashed when I found what I didn’t know I was looking for. It was like a switch.

I go to cognitive behavioral therapy and I find that it helps. I struggle less to keep my anxiety and flashbacks in check. I know therapy isn’t for everyone, but finding the right fit is like finding the perfect dress. When it’s a great relationship – you know.

I lift, I run, I yoga (yep, totally a verb now), I mediate. I bake – I baked today. I clean. I nap. I color. Each thing helps at different times. I write, I journal, I blog. Sometimes they don’t work and that’s ok to.

Everyone’s eating disorder is different. It’s caused by different events. Sometimes different events can trigger it in the same person. Coping mechanisms are different.

While not everyone that has disordered eating behaviors has an eating disorder, the behaviors shouldn’t be ignored.

I talk about mental health often, not because I want to be a martyr, but because I want people to see that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. I want people understand that what goes on in our heads, isn’t always reflected on the outside. I want mental health discussion to be normalized.

I opened up much more about my mental health in the fall of 2016 because it helped me cope while I was on medical leave. Talking about anxiety and PTSD, helped me face it. It helped me realize that Talking about binge-eating and trauma – helped me find the connections because behavior, environmental and chemical response.

When I screen clients, the last questions I ask are if they have any questions for me and why do they want to work with me. I want to make sure that we have a safe environment where we can be honest with each other to make sure that they get the help they need, even if that means finding someone else. But this end of the exchange is important because it’s opening the door.

What I’ve realized from analyzing my behaviors and then researching them, then working with others – is that context is important. It’s key to figuring out why a behavior exists in the first place. While judging the behavior may be our first thought, we need to pause, step back and ask why.

Food can be an addiction. Exercise can be an addiction.  Recognizing compulsive behaviors is a first step, but asking why food is comforting or why food is the enemy, help along the path to reclaiming ourselves.

I’m not a therapist. I don’t claim to be one. I find behavior interesting. What I can do is tell someone what I see and what I hear and I can encourage them to seek help from someone who can help. I’ve done it with about a quarter of my clients with almost all of them accepting the advice and finding someone in that scope.

I want you to think about your behavior and where it comes from. I want you to think about you talk to yourself about these behaviors. Maybe think about how you cope and why those mechanisms work for you.

I want you to think about the behaviors you see around you and ask yourself – why you think they may exist. Then ask yourself about your initial judgements of behavior around you.

Next, I want you to think about how we can break down stigma. Maybe how your story can help someone else? What prevents you from sharing your story? Or if you do share it, what continues to encourage you?

I will never stop sharing my story even though it may change form or location. I don’t know what sharing can do for the next person, but I hope what I say makes someone shake their head and say, “I’m not alone”.

❤ Cristina


Day 51, Movie Quote 4: “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller”

Have you ever felt like you were playing hooky? I remember Senior Skip Day – the amazingly intentional day that high school seniors don’t show up to school. Everyone knows when it’s going to happen – typically before finals. That was glorious. I had no issue with that.

Image result for bueller

Playing hooky as an adult is a lot less fun, and I feel like it reminds me of all the things I should be doing that I’m not doing. Being sick isn’t really like playing hooky, but that definitely how I felt.

I’m a pretty healthy person – I don’t get sick often, however, the past year, hasn’t felt like that and I know it’s for a few reasons:

1. stress

That shit will kill you. Stress impacts the immune system and how you respond to stimuli i.e. pathogens of illness and disease #vocabularyword When you’re stressed out, your immune system isn’t capable of reacting fast enough… in my head, I imagine a really bad fist fight with B cells (the body’s intelligence system) telling  T cells (the fighter cells that are released to combat illness) how to box the invading cells.

2. JP and I take care of ourselves differently

Since we moved in together in 2016, we have been able to time each other’s sickness. Gross, but true. I can tell when he’s coming down with something because he gets heavy congestion and he wears exhaustion constantly. Within a few days, especially if he’s been flying he will come down with a cold. Then within about 5 to 7 days, I get whatever he’s had.

His remedy to ALL illness is to drink a half gallon of orange juice with pulp… He prefers Florida Natural. He calls it “Healing Power of Citrus”… I don’t think he fully understands how Vitamin C works, but if it makes him happy and it has the placebo effect, then have it with the OJ. He does sleep a lot and that’s important, but there’s a lot of laying around in one spot, which can lead to more congestion and further infection. He needs to be cuddled and no matter how snotty he is, he has no issues rubbing face into mine.  It’s usually around this time that the germs start jumping to safety onto me.

My remedy is to drink a lot of water and some tea with some honey… or a lot of honey. Spicy soups are my go-to if I’m congested – chili paste is fantastic for the sinus. I go to bed earlier than my grandma-status, but I also try hard to not lay around because I’ll feel more exhausted if  I’m not mobile. While he needs cuddling, I need to be left alone – more than normal. Some of it is that I feel gross and I don’t want to share in the grossness, and some of it is that I’m not big on cuddling and touching in general and when I’m sick I really want to be left alone.

I’m sure people with children know what it’s like to have sickness pass through the house – when one child has something, it’s just a matter of time before the whole house has experienced it.

EVERYTHING has been washed. We’ve wiped down everything we could with bleach and when it was nice, we opened the windows to get fresher air inside.

While being sick isn’t the end of the world, last week felt like an eternity away and I couldn’t tell you were the days went.

My head felt like it was floating on Monday and Tuesday, which made focusing in night class or at work interesting. I wore a mask in class, which was cheered on by my classmates who all exclaimed they don’t have time to be sick…me neither. By Wednesday I could have coffee again and food tasted normal again. We went out for dinner for Valentine’s Day because my taste was back and I felt like I would be able to stay up a little later. Thursday proved that just because you can stay up late doesn’t mean you should. Friday was better – so much better. Saturday was good, but not enough for me to feel ready to go to hot yoga. Something about downward dog and almost 100 degrees doesn’t sound like a great time after being sick.

Sunday was the first day I felt like I could have my shit together, i.e. I felt like I could get all my work done without taking breaks, I felt like I could plan effectively, I felt like I could catch up and get ahead, I felt like I could be mobile without wanting to die.

So Ferris, while he’s playing hooky he creates these opportunities for adventure. While I was sick and kept thinking about everything I needed to do, I also thought about how it had been a while since I had really slowed down. Sometimes being sick and drugged up on DayQuil I get philosophical and somehow Ferris Bueller’s Day Off seemed to be fitting.

Ferris says “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

This semester is going to fly by. It’s almost March. I’m almost 29. Graduation really is around the corner. Getting sick, while terrible, reminded me that to be healthy – I need to slow it down. Getting sick was my body’s way of saying “Hey girl, relax. It’s ok to shift gears.”

There are eight more days in February, I’m not making promises that I’m going to be good at slowing down for the semester, but I’m going to try. I do still feel like my work list is forever long, and after talking with Alicia, we’ve decided we’re going to be perpetually tired until graduation in May. But hopefully the next time I get to play hooky, it’s for something good.

❤ Cristina

Wellness Refocused Education: Carbohydrates Part 2

The last post talked about what carbohydrates were at the molecular level. I know it can be boring and in many cases it’s a lot of information to be taking in, but it’s also a good base to understand what they do for our bodies, how much we need and where we can find them.

What do carbohydrates do for our bodies?

The simple answer – they provide energy for us. They are the first fuel source utilized and they are preferred by different organ systems like the nervous system. This doesn’t mean we can’t get fuel from other macro nutrients like fat, it just means that the optimal choice for a healthy body is typically carbohydrates. We get 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates consumed (Thompson & Manore, 2015).

The more complex answer glucose provides the necessary nutrients in cellular respiration for the creation of Adenosine triphosphate or ATP (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). Below is the process of cellular respiration – it utilizes glucose and oxygen, which breaks down to carbon dioxide, water and ATP, energy not used can be lost as heat (not pictured). This answer gets even more complicated, but if you’re interested and have 10 minutes, here a little video about it.

Image result for cellular respiration equation

ATP is needed in  almost all forms of cellular work. You want to dance – you need ATP. You want to run – you need ATP. You want to walk around the house cleaning – you need ATP, or maybe you don’t want it. Each action we do, from sitting at the breakfast table to lifting weights in the gym needs ATP to be performed, but they all use different amounts of energy.

Our cells can only store a limited amount of ATP, which means we need to continuously create it throughout the day.

I know some of you are thinking, yeah, but what about the keto diet and running on fat or ketones. I talked about that in this post. But for the sake of lessening carbohydrates as an enemy, we’re just going to talk about them here.

So how many carbohydrates does a person need in a day?

This question can be tricky because it goes back to the individual and the goals. Someone who is more active may need more than someone who is less active. Activity can be related to your job like a teacher who walks and stands most of the day or an office employee who sits most of their day. Activity also relates to additional exercise like lifting or running or yoga or swimming.

Currently, it’s recommended that carbohydrates make up the largest part of your nutritional intake between 45-65% of calories. The United States bases these numbers off of a 2,000 calorie diet – so for the sake of round numbers means 900 calories (225g) to 1,300 calories (325g) should be consumed (Thompson & Manore, 2015). That’s a lot of carbohydrates.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences “estimates that the average adult needs to take in food that provides about 2,200 calories of energy per day” but they also acknowledge that this will vary ( Institute of Medicine, 2005). Regardless, that’s a lot of calories and when I think about the conversations I hear about weight loss and dieting – many doctors suggest low calories. My doctor years ago tried suggesting I stick to 1,200 calories to lose weight. So if energy balance is estimated at 2,000 to 2,200 calories, why do people suggest such drastic nutritional decreases? Faster progress? I don’t know the answer.

Anyway, my own carbohydrate consumption makes up 42% of my total calorie intake at around 185g on average.

After working with clients, my own trial and error and other research – I don’t fully agree with this recommendation and here’s why.

  1. Many people aren’t eating a 2,000 calorie diet.

This caloric recommendation is inflated and is all to hopeful that individuals are working out a specific number of times a week for a specific length of time – that’s just not realistic. Also, not everyone needs this many calories for optimal function plus exercise. I eat just under this recommendation, sometimes going higher when I go out to eat.

2. Even those who have healthy organ function, don’t necessary feel great eating this many carbohydrates regardless of the carbohydrate source – remember fruits and vegetables are carbs too!

I can attest to this. When I consume more than 240g of carbohydrates, I feel tired and sluggish – even when the carbohydrates are combined complex from grains and simple from veggies and fruit. Some vegetables also make me bloated like brussels sprouts and broccoli because of how they break down in the digestive system #enzymes, which also means I have to be mindful of how I build my meals and how many greens I’m eating. Yes, even without the cookies or process carbohydrates, I don’t feel great eating that much.

3. Those focusing on a whole foods, minimally processed approach can easily consume more carbohydrates through beans, quinoa, rice and higher carbohydrate veggies and fruit like sweet potato, apples and bananas – but this can still be a lot of volume.

Volume keeps us full, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. If you’re too full from breakfast, even five hours later, it’ll be hard to consume lunch, which can prevent someone from hitting caloric goals. It might be great in a deficit to be full, but not so great when you’re trying to maintain or build. The feeling of constantly being full isn’t pleasant. Also, if you think about how we discuss carbohydrates and the stigma that carbohydrates lead to obesity and general weight gain – a lot of people aren’t eating beans, quinoa, rice or carbohydrate dense vegetables and fruits.

I’ve had a number of clients tell me they weren’t allowed to eat bananas and apples before because it was too many carbohydrates. My suggestion – if it fits your plan calorically/macro nutrient-wise and keeps you satisfied, there’s no reason to get upset about eating fruits.

So, what are your goals because like I mentioned above the body uses different amounts of energy to fulfill different activities.

The more intense the activity, the more carbohydrates may be necessary. The reason behind varying amounts of carbohydrate consumption? Studies have shown that most people have more than enough stored fat (body fat) to support exercise, but because of how the body uses carbohydrates we need to replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrates) (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).

Both strength and endurance athletes need an adequate amount of carbohydrates. So whether you’re lifting in the gym or are an active runner or marathoner, you may need more carbohydrates. Not only does this provide fuel to conduct the activity, it can help with preventing muscle loss by utilization of glycogen. Carbohydrates post-exercise also replenish depleted stores.

So what is adequate for an athlete? The higher end of the recommended intake for carbohydrates (45-65%) would probably be more adequate, but you need to listen to your body and how it feels on carbohydrates. Old research used to suggest over 65% of calories coming from carbohydrates, but newer studies show that isn’t necessary.

According to a study conducted in 2010 examining the role of protein and carbohydrates post-exercise found both protein and carbohydrate consumption were necessary to promote protein synthesis (the process to develop proteins i.e. muscle) and glycogen synthesis (process to replenish glycogen stores). They found that amount and timing can be impactful for synthesis, but more importantly the quality or kind of source for both nutrients played a huge role (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).

This doesn’t mean that you need to drink a protein shake immediately or you need to gobble up a cup of oats as soon as you take your shoes off.

While this post is about carbohydrates, it would be irresponsible to divide the research in protein or carbohydrates because they go hand-in-hand in this case.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Protein consumption can happen within an hour of exercise for optimal protein synthesis.
  • The kind of protein matters:
    • Casein is slower digesting
    • Whey is faster digesting
  • Digestion happens in your stomach, which can result in some bloating if you do consume large quantities of protein – not a terrible thing, but can be uncomfortable.
  • The amount of protein matters. This study showed positive results from only 20g of protein consumed post-exercise.
  • Carbohydrate consumption post-exercise was found to be most effective in glycogen synthesis for up to two hours after exercise had ended.
  • Combining the two may have the best results.
    • “A small amount of whey protein in addition to carbohydrate consumption in the recovery phase of exercise is a more sufficient means of increasing protein synthesis (Poole, Wilborn, Taylor, & Kerksick, 2010).”

So go home, shower and make your food and grow.

So where can we find carbohydrates?

When we think of carbohydrates and when I hear people talk about carbohydrates they immediately think of this:

Image result for bread

Or they think of this:

Image result for dunkin

But really, carbohydrates can also mean this:

Image result for fruit

And it can mean this:

Image result for vegetables

While I share the fun eating that I do and how it fits into my plan and lifestyle, I also have a large number of fruits and veggies in my daily diet that also make up my carbohydrate total.

Here’s what’s I eat:

  • blueberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • oats
  • sweet potato
  • broccoli
  • English muffins
  • rice
  • bell peppers
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • black beans
  • pretzels
  • pickles
  • navy beans
  • asparagus
  • strawberries
  • romaine lettuce
  • avocado
  • jalapenos
  • spinach
  • bananas apples
  • spaghetti squash

In the previous carbohydrate post, we talked about simple and complex carbohydrates and the difference. It’s about the rates in which they breakdown. Fiber can help a food be more complex and slower digesting, which can help keep us fuller for a longer period of time. It also slows the increase in blood glucose levels, which is important for people who are diabetic.

When I talk to my clients about how they’re creating their meal plans for the week, we discuss how they’re combining food and how it makes them feel. I have one client who says that she feels great with oats and yogurt in the morning, but I have another client who says lunch has to be her carbohydrate dense meal because in the morning she’ll feel sluggish otherwise regardless of how much sleep she gets.

Like I mentioned when we talked about fat and the Ketogenic diet, I believe there’s no reason for elimination of food groups and nutritional sources for someone who has healthy functioning organs. The recommendations set by governing bodies are  created from studying a healthy functioning body. Having an allergy or intolerance or autoimmune disorder/disease is a completely different story and should be controlled differently.

Eating for fat loss is about being in a deficit, which is what elimination diets assist with, but moderation of all food groups assists your body in getting everything is needs down to the micronutrient. If I’m going to be blunt – being in a deficit takes self-control, elimination diets don’t teach you how to have self-control around “normal” food or how to make better choices when going out to eat. They teach you to say “I’m allowed” or “I’m not allowed”. We learn to categorize things are “good” and “bad” – the conversation surrounding food becomes a reflection of ourselves…But that’s also a tangent for another time.

I believe that paying attention to the source of carbohydrate and how it makes you physically feel teaches us how to create a nutrition plan that fits our needs. I don’t like being bloated so I try to not eat broccoli and Brussels sprouts on the same day, unless I’m also taking a digestive enzyme. I know I feel better with moderate carbohydrates so I stay between 150 to 200g of carbohydrates.

I challenge you to think of carbohydrates in this way. Ask yourself:

  1. What carbohydrates you enjoy eating and how they make you feel?
  2. What foods are your surprised to learn are carbohydrates?
  3. Does your daily diet consist of simple and complex carbohydrates?
  4. Do you consume more simple or more complex carbohydrates?
  5. Could you be more balanced in how you create your daily plan so that you stay satisfied to stay on track and accomplish your nutritional goals whether they’re for fat loss, maintenance or building?

There are days I know I can be better and choose a piece of fruit over a piece of chocolate – we all have those days. But I also know that a piece of chocolate won’t hurt me just like one serving of fruit or vegetable won’t exactly help me. It takes a string of good days to add up to progress. Just like it takes a string of bad days to really make a detrimental impact.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t yell at the cookies when you walk by the snack aisle. Remember vegetables are carbohydrates too.



Institute of Medicine. (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Poole, C., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., & Kerksick, C. (2010). The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal of Sports Science Medicine, 354-363.

Reece, J. B., Taylor, M. R., Simon, E. J., Dickey, J. L., & Hogan, K. (2015). Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections. New York: Pearson Education.

Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2015). Nutrition: An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.

Day 24, Movie Quote 3: “Your Move Chief”

“Some people can’t believe in themselves until someone else believes in them first.”– Sean Maguire, from Good Will Hunting

I can be like this.

But,  it used to be worse.

I used to feel – I used to believe that I couldn’t do great things unless someone else saw it in me to. That kind of thinking got me no where. That kind of thinking caused me to set goals that never really were about me. I’m a little more risky with my goals now, but I still look on with caution at times.

I think we all need some kind of validation that we’re making the right moves.

I was driving in the car the other day and I had the radio on, which may seem like a normal thing. But sometime over the summer when I was figuring out my life for lack of a better phrase, I found myself stuck on sports talk radio. I know that’s really weird and JP doesn’t understand it either, but I found myself unable to change the radio station.  However, about a month ago, I started playing with the buttons to find something else.

Again, this is weird for many people, but to me it makes sense and for others with anxiety or trauma in their past, it’s going to make sense to. Voices that seemed calming for a few months with concepts that I had to focus on so I understood the discussion weren’t necessary anymore. I didn’t need to hear those specific voices over the airways any more to get through my drive.

So, I’m driving and I’m listening to the radio and the guest of a show talks about how when we are determined to achieve something we look forward at what is still yet to come. He said, it’s reasonable to reflect because we do need to think about where we came from sometimes.

He then continued to compare it to driving.

You drive by looking forward. Yes, you do use the rearview mirror or side mirrors to see what’s happening behind you, but if you continued to look that way the whole time you’d crash. He explained that to move forward you need to see straight ahead of you and with a wide windshield you can see so much more road than you do in the overhead mirror looking back.

I don’t know why, but this just clicked and then the skies open up and things felt good… no, not really, but it did click.

I didn’t think I would ever be here. I’ve said that before. But with the first week of classes behind me, I really never thought I would be here. When I started this degree, it was solely to be able to be more educated and better qualified to assist others.

I think experience is important. For me it was hard to listen to a doctor who had never been overweight or never struggled with their health in the ways I had. It was hard to connect with people that couldn’t empathize with me about how I saw or felt the world. I think experience is necessary to be able to see the world from multiple points of view, but I also believe you need education behind you to further that experience or provide some foundation.

I know people can be successful with one or the other, but for me, I want both because you don’t know what you don’t know until you learn what you didn’t know.

Thinking about the conversations in class and the state of affairs of healthcare and health education and stigma in general – I’m thinking more about population health. That’s what public health is anyway. I found it interesting because it intersects everything I practice and preach – mental and physical as well as how social relationships make an impact on both of those aspects of health. Population health asks how do we assist large groups of people, how do we to educate different populations at their level, how do we create an environment where people who want help can ask for it, how to provide resources and tools to prevent illness and disease.

I love working with clients on an individual level, but if there isn’t access to basic needs like healthy food options for the short term, they won’t be able to see how to create a plan for the long term.

It’s weird to say that coaching may never be full-time like I thought I wanted it to be, but I think that also means that there’s more possibilities than I imagined. I guess the road is wider and continues on.

I think working with individuals has shown me that I can teach, that I can make a difference in how someone sees themselves and therefore sets, works towards and achieves their goals. Going back to school has shown me that it can start with an interest and with hard work, it can become more than Googling research articles for fun.

We all have doubt.  I have doubt. But little things over time can help us change how we see ourselves and our abilities.

Week one of the spring semester done, fifteen more until graduation.

Let’s make some magic happen.

❤ Cristina