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

Tag Archives: carbohydrates

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.

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Did anyone else feel bad for Regina George when she was duped by Cady Herron when she asked if butter was a carb? I found myself laughing at the time the movie came out, but after a year of working with clients and more time talking with others, it’s clear that it can be hard for people to think about food in terms of their macro nutrients, especially carbohydrates.

So what is a carbohydrate and why is it important?

This post will talk about the what because it’s slightly more complicated that you think. There’s a little bit of the why in here, but that will mostly come in the next post.

Ok, so what are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the first source of energy for us. They are fuel for us when we are sitting, sleeping, exercising or thinking of doing all of those things.

The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) suggests that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65% of your diet…if you’re consuming 2,000 calories a day. We’ll talk about this more in the next post because I think it’s safe to say that most people won’t fit these guidelines.

The Institute of Medicine set the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)  for carbohydrate intake to a minimum of 130g a day. Obviously, this amount wouldn’t fit the AMDR – it would be too little based off a 2,000 calorie diet. The RDA number is set based off the estimated minimum use of glucose for the brain for an average body, which means it’s relative (Institute of Medicine, 2005). It might be slightly lower or slightly higher.

Since we have some of those basics out of the way, let’s start small, molecular small.

This is where biology and chemistry meet.

Carbohydrate means hydrated carbon (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). At the molecular level (and trust me this is helpful to know later) carbohydrates are made up of CH2O – 1 carbon, 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen. In biology we actually learned a little upbeat rhyme of the abbreviates to memorize the molecular make up for carbohydrates, lipids (fats), nucleic acid and protein: CHO CHO CHOPN CHON, but you had to study so you knew how many of each were needed. Moving on…

The simplest carbohydrate is a monosaccharide – you’ll find these in glucose and fructose, which are sugars that carbohydrates break down to (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). You’ll find fructose in fruit. Glucose can be found in corn syrup and plants and found in the blood stream after certain carbohydrates are consumed and broken down. No your blood isn’t made of corn syrup.

Below are the chemical layout for glucose and fructose at the molecular level so you can see the difference.

Glucose and Fructose molecules

When you add two monosaccharides together, they form a disaccharide. For this binding to happen, water has to be lost. This is how we get maltose, which is used to make beer, malt whiskey and malted milk candy (Thompson & Manore, 2015).

Below is a picture of maltose, so you can see how glucose joins together. It’s like they’re holding hands if molecules had hands.

 

maltose

We also get sucrose when glucose and fructose join together. Sucrose is found in plants and it’s how we get table sugar (Thompson & Manore, 2015).

Below is a picture of sucrose. See more water is lost. Goodbye H2O!

sucrose

A longer chain, known as a polysaccharide are made up of hundreds of thousands of monosaccharides connected by water loss. Starch is an example, this is found in plants and contains glucose mononers. Glucose is stored in us in the form of glycogen in our muscles as a form of energy.

There’s a lot of ‘oses.

Here’s a few other ‘oses:

  • galactose – doesn’t occur alone in foods. It combines with glucose to create lactose.
  • lactose – “milk sugar”. A common disaccharide found in cow’s milk and breast milk.
  • ribose – five-carbon monosaccharide produced in our bodies from eating other carbohydrates. Can be found in the genetic material in our cells

Knowing the information above can be helpful for this next part. Carbohydrates are considered either simple or complex (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Like stated above the simplest carbohydrate is a monosaccharide and consists of one sugar; disaccharides are also simple and consist of two molecules of sugar. As you imagine, the most complex is the polysaccharide that is made up of hundreds of thousands of monosaccharides.

What is considered simple?

  • fruit (fructose)
  • vegetables (fructose)
  • milk (lactose)
  • fermented beverages (maltose)
  • sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, table sugar, brown sugar (sucrose)

What is considered complex?

  • starches including grains like rice, wheat, corn, oats and barley
  • legumes like peas, beans and lentils
  • tubers like sweet potatoes and yam

The digestion process is different for each macronutrient (fat, carbohydrates and protein), which means they breakdown at different rates (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2017). Carbohydrates breakdown the fastest out of the macronutrients with fat being the slowest.

There are a few enzymes that help breakdown carbohydrates.

  • Salivary Amylase is found in the mouth in your saliva
  • Pancreatic Amylase and Maltase are found in the pancreatic juices (yes, gross I know) that are released into the small intestine to breakdown maltose
  • Sucrase and Lactase are found in the small intestine and help breakdown sucrose and lactose, respectively
*side note: when your body lacks the ability to create enough enzymes you may find intolerances like lactose in tolerant – you lack enough lactase enzyme to breakdown lactose. This can result in bloating or other digestive issues.

This is important to know the rate of digestion for a couple reasons:

1. Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed more easily causing a quicker energy utilization, which is why you may feel a “spike” in energy after eating something high in sugar, but then feel a “crash” later. This is also why individuals who are diabetic are encouraged to eat low-glycemic foods – foods that will breakdown at slower rates causing less of an increase in blood glucose since their bodies can’t produce insulin at all or don’t produce enough.

2. Our bodies can’t utilize complex carbohydrates in their consumed state, they need to be broken down to glucose (Thompson & Manore, 2015). These foods also contain fiber, which impacts how satiety controlling hormones are released (Chambers, McCrickerd, & Yeomans, 2015). This is why these foods keep us fuller longer even though protein has the highest satiety effect out of all three macronutrients.

When there’s not enough carbohydrates for this process the body turns to fat. To learn more about that, please check out this post.

Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates can be helpful for a  couple of reasons.

1. You can create a meal plan that combines complex carbohydrates with other foods to not only provide energy in the immediate time, but help you stay feeling full longer. That’s why oats and peanut butter “stick” with you for a long time. Being satisfied for a longer period of time prevents snacking and can assist you in staying in  caloric deficit if you are seeking fat loss.

2. You can create a meal plan that prevents or lessens “energy crashes”. Like stated above, complex carbohydrates take a longer time to breakdown a, which means glucose enters the blood slower so feeling tired or fatigued are less likely or are less impactful.

Carbohydrates that aren’t easily digested and broken down into this simple state are classified as fiber.

What is fiber?

Fiber is also a carbohydrate and is considered a polysaccharide, but it’s not easily digestible so it doesn’t provide energy to us (Thompson & Manore, 2015). There are two kinds of fiber:

  1. dietary – nondigestible parts of plants that make the form of the plant like leaves
  2. functional –  nondigestible parts of plants that are extracted or manufactured in a lab that is added to foods for health benefits

Even though fiber doesn’t provide energy to us, fiber is important because it helps regulate blood sugar. It also helps prevent constipation when consumed in a moderate (relative to an individual) amount, however, it can also cause constipation when over consumption occurs (also relative to an individual) (Anderson, et al., 2009). Foods with fiber also help regulate satiety hormone leptin, which tells our brains that we’re no longer hungry.

Currently, the recommended amount of fiber daily is 14g per 1,000 calories consumed, however, this number is relative to an individual and may be a little more or less based on your own caloric intake, weight and activity level. You should listen to your body to determine true needs. I personally need a little less fiber or I get bloated and constipated #everyonepoops.

 

 

Ok, so we know carbohydrates are the first source of energy for us. We know they breakdown at different rates. We know they’re relative to each individual. We know that they are found in fruits and veggies just like they are found in cookies and pizza.

Before we get into why they’re important and what the do for us, think about the carbohydrate sources you consume on a regular basis. Do they make you feel energized? Do you crash quickly in the day? Do you feel bloated? Do you combine simple and complex in your diet? Do you get enough fiber?

 

 

 

References

Anderson, J. W., Baird, P., Davis, R. H., Ferreri, S., Knudtson, M., Koraym, A., . . . Williams, C. L. (2009). Health Benefits of dietary Fiber. Nutrition Reviews, 188-205.

Chambers, L., McCrickerd, K., & Yeomans, M. R. (2015). Optimising Foods for Satiety. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 149-160.

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.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017, December). Your Digestie Syste & How it Works. Retrieved from National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works

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.


What happens when I find things in the pantry I forget I had? I start skimming through Pinterest so I can make it a fun consumable and get it out of the pantry. Today’s adventure was with a can of pumpkin puree. In the fall I always have a can on hand and I won’t lie I was surprised when I found a can today. After going through some pins, I got an idea of the basis for a protein bite or protein ball, let’s be real though, 5g of protein doesn’t make something a protein snack. It does, however, support the well rounded nutrition in a snack, but I just can’t call it a protein ball.

So with a can of pumpkin, some protein and a canister of oats I made some magic in the kitchen.

What You’ll Need

  • 120g or 1.5 cups of oats
  • 264g of canned pumpkin
  • 1 scoop of protein – I used a sample of Sun Warrior vanilla vegan protein
  • 30g of 1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 3T of Splenda
  • 2tsp of vanilla extract
  • a few dashes of cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, weigh out your oats.
  2. In the same bowl, weigh out your canned pumpkin. I added pumpkin a little at a time until the oats were sticking together.
  3. Mix in Splenda, cinnamon and vanilla extract. I added cinnamon a little at a time until I got the taste I wanted. At this point it tastes like an unsweetened pumpkin pie mix.
  4. Add in protein powder. As I’m using up the pantry, I used a sample of vegan protein powder. You can use any protein powder. A basic flavor may be best like cinnamon roll, vanilla or snickerdoodle. I don’t think there would be an issue using whey, casein or a blend. *If you find that the casein or blend protein makes the mix hard to combine, add a tablespoon or water or two.
  5. Using your hands, mix in coconut flakes.
  6. When thoroughly combined roll into a ball and divide into your preferred servings. I wanted to keep the macros under 30g of carbohydrates per serving, so I made 5 equal larger portions.
  7. After weighing out the total serving fell free to make into small pieces. Each larger portion made 4 pumpkin and oat bites.
  8. Chill to keep fresh. Because these are a no bake, minimally additive food, please keep in mine that they may mold if kept too long.

Of course before I could chill the container, JP felt the need to take one to try – a row of 4 was a serving. I put pumpkin spice peanut butter on mine, but you could have them plain or with a different nut butter. JP and I agreed they tastes like an unsweetened version of pumpkin pie. Cinnamon and vanilla was subtle, but tasty.

Macros per serving without peanut butter: 5.9F/22.4C/7.6P

I hope you enjoy!

❤ Cristina


We’ve been having a little fun with some food, while being mindful to not be too big of assholes. I still enjoy eating healthy, but we’re being a little more flexible with our breakfasts and making them a little bigger…especially on lab days where I can’t bring food into the room because #dissection.

What You’ll Need

  • Bread – your choice, I used Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Raisin
  • Egg whites
  • Peanut Butter – your choice, I used Jif
  • Half a banana
  • medium sized skillet

Directions

  1. On both sides of the bread spread your peanut butter. I used a full serving for my sandwich so I divided it evenly on both sides. I know someone is thinking, but the fat! Yes, I know, but trust me it’s worth it.
  2. Slice your banana into pieces about a centimeter thick. I used about half a banana for my toast – so a whole banana for both our sandwiches.
  3. Put slices onto one side of the bread and close with the other side. Yep, directions for a 5-year-old. This is where the full serving of peanut butter becomes more than tasty and is useful. It holds the sandwich together because bananas are slippery.
  4. Preheat skillet so it’s hot for when you place your sandwich on it.
  5. Place your sandwich in a shallow bowl and pour egg whites over. We eat half a cup of egg whites regularly, so I measured a half cup and poured that over. By pouring the egg whites over the sandwich you ensure that it gets covered and is less likely to fall apart.
  6. Immediately after covering your sandwich in egg whites, bring it over to your skillet and cook for one to two minutes before flipping. You may need to use your hand to hold the sandwich together during flipping just because it’s heavy.
  7. If you feel that it needs a little more cooking time that’s completely fine, bread thickness and amount of egg white absorbed will change cooking time slightly.

 

The macros for my sandwich and toppings – left over egg whites not used on sandwich eaten on the side – were: 11F/48.5C/20P

All the items I used to make my sandwich were found at my local grocery store. They’re not fancy and in many cases people view them as bad foods. I’ll preach moderation because it’s true.

I’m interested to know if you try different nut butters and breads and how your sandwich turns out. If you make this, send me an email and let me know how it was!

❤ Cristina