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

Monthly Archives: February 2018

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

 

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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


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.

 

References

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.