When you hear the word supplements what do you think of first? Do you think of fish oil? Do you think of a multi-vitamin? Do think of protein powder? Do you think of steroids?
For the beginning few months of last year when I went back to school, I worked at Vitamin Shoppe. This gave me the opportunity to be around everything from apple cider vinegar to protein powder to BCAAs to fish oil to probiotics. Vitamin Shoppe is a really well rounded store if you’re looking for something to help fill in the gaps.
The store is divided into two sections.
When you walk through the front door, the left hand side was what you could consider lifestyle health. It had all of the vitamins and minerals, it had digestive aids like probiotics and enzymes. It also had greens powders and gender-specific care.
On the right hand side was where the sports nutrition lived. It was protein powder, fat burners, energy drinks, BCAAs, pre-workout products.
The middle of the store is where the tea, protein bars, beauty products lived.
While it was retail, Vitamin Shoppe doesn’t provide commission, so you can have an authentic conversion with customers about what their goals are and what they’re looking to buy to match those goals. They provided us with a lot of education about the products we were selling including information from studies published from the NIH for additional research. At the same time, I was just starting my health science courses and was reading everything I could about vitamins and minerals and how they cause specific functions in the body to occur. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
You could see the wheels turning as a customer decided which side of the store they needed. In some cases, we would have to introduce them to the other side of the store.
For many who trained hard, they typically went to the right, but every now and then we would get them to go to the left.
For a better conversation, there will be a few posts about supplementation.
We’re going to start with the left side of the store with vitamins.
First, there are 13 vitamins considered essential, just like essential amino acids, this means that the body must consume these through diet because it can only make a small amount of none at all (Thompson & Manore, 2015). If you have variety in your diet and have healthy functioning organ systems, you’re probably consuming enough of all of these vitamins through dietary means.
Individuals that have malabsorption disorders such as celiac disease are more likely to have deficiencies because of ability to absorb dietary fat. Individuals who also consume too little fat could be at risk as well. For better assistance to determine deficiencies, talk to you doctor and have a conversation about getting blood work done.
There are two kinds of vitamins:
- Fat soluble
- Vitamins A, D, E and K
- Water soluble
- Vitamin C and all B-vitamins
These two categories determines how a vitamin is absorbed, stored and then removed from the body.
Fat soluble vitamins need dietary fat to assist with transport and absorption (Thompson & Manore, 2015). They are also stored in adipose tissue (fat tissue), which means we don’t need to consume these every day. Since they can be stored in the body, consuming more than what is utilized can lead to toxicity. This occurs much more often when utilizing supplements, food rarely leads to toxic levels of fat soluble vitamins.
Toxicity of fat soluble vitamins can lead to a number of symptoms. The symptoms below don’t occur as a reaction for every fat soluble vitamin, but is a list of symptoms of all fat soluble vitamins.
- bone and joint pain
- birth defects
- liver damage
- blurred vision
- hair loss
- skin disorders
Deficiency of fat soluble vitamins can lead to a number of symptoms. The symptoms below don’t occur as a reaction for every fat soluble vitamin, but is a list of symptoms of all fat soluble vitamins.
- night blindness
- impaired growth
- impaired immunity
- impaired reproductive function
- osteomalacia or osteoporosis in adults
- rickets in children
- impairment of nerve, muscle and immune function
- impaired blood clotting
Water soluble vitamins can be found in a larger variety of foods than fat soluble vitamins and are easily absorbed through the intestinal tract directly into the blood stream (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Our bodies don’t store water soluble vitamins, any excess is excreted in our urine after filtration from the kidneys. Since water soluble vitamins are removed through urine output it can be difficult to reach toxicity levels. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely – at least through dietary consumption.
Toxicity of water soluble vitamins can lead to a number of symptoms. The symptoms below don’t occur as a reaction for every water soluble vitamin, but is a list of symptoms of all water soluble vitamins.
- liver damage
- blurred vision
- glucose intolerance
- nerve damage
- increased kidney stone formation
Deficiency of water soluble vitamins can lead to a number of symptoms. The symptoms below don’t occur as a reaction for every water soluble vitamin, but is a list of symptoms of all water soluble vitamins.
- decreased memory
- muscle weakness
- swollen mouth and/or throat
- tingling and numbness of extremities
- neural tube defects in a developing fetus
- fractures and bone pain
- nerve damage
Some of the symptoms for both fat soluble and water soluble vitamins could be mistaken for other illnesses, but again to determine toxicity or deficiency for you as an individual, talk to your doctor.
This post is about fat soluble vitamins. We’ll get to water soluble a bit later, but now you know that there are two kinds of vitamins and what vitamins are categorized where.
So we have an idea of what fat soluble means, what is their purpose?
Fat soluble vitamins play an important role in specialized functions in the body by assisting complex systems.
Vitamin A is has multiple uses in the body, but Vitamin A isn’t just one compound. You may have heard of retinol, retinal or retinoic acid – these are different forms of it.
It’s required for eye functions. It assists our eyes in the ability to adjust to light changes, it also protects color vision.
During cellular development Vitamin A helps with cell differentiation, meaning it helps cells change their composition so they can each have different functions like hair growth or body growth.
In the reproductive system, Vitamin A helps with the production of sperm in men and fertilization in women as well as fetal development during pregnancy.
Vitamin A is important to the immune system (Stephensen, 2001). It assists innate immunity (the kind your born with) by allowing for the development of mucosal barriers and allow cells to work properly. In adaptive immunity it plays a role in developing T helper cells and B cell. A example of adaptive immunity would be developing antibodies after chicken pox exposure – you weren’t born with the chicken pox or the immune cells, but you adapted to the infection and developed them.
Vitamin D is best known for assisting with calcium absorption and helping keep bones strong. It also assists calcium with muscle contraction by allowing calcium to flow into muscle cells. If calcium levels are too low, normal contraction and relaxation can be inhibited with can lead to both skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle issues (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Vitamin D can help with the reduction of inflammation.
We can obtain Vitamin D when sunlight triggers synthesis in our skin (Office of Dietary Supplements, 2018). Individuals who live in regions that experience more darkness may not obtain enough through sunlight, but can obtain Vitamin D through food and if necessary through supplementation – but we’ll get to supplementation later.
Vitamin E is a name for a group of compounds with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from the effects of free radicals, which can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer (Office of Dietary Supplements, 2018). A free radical is an uncharged molecule and is highly reactive (Timberlake, 2018). Free radicals can be introduced to the body from the environment such as air pollution or ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Vitamin E also works in the immune system and impacts T helper cells.
Vitamin K is less known, but not any less important. Similar to Vitamin E, Vitamin K is a name for a group of compounds that assist the body with blood clotting and bone metabolism (bone remodeling and growth). Healthy functioning individuals don’t typically need to worry about Vitamin K. However, individuals who take anticoagulants or have bleeding disorders will have Vitamin K levels assessed regularly to determine the need for supplementation.
The amount of Vitamin K recommended is so small that most diets in the United States meet minimum needs through diet (Office of Dietary Supplements, 2018). Vitamin K isn’t typically used in supplement form like other vitamins because the need is so small. In the case of individuals who have disorders that prevent proper absorption, a doctor may recommend a specific dosage.
So, while deficiency and toxicity aren’t common, they can happen.
Toxicity is most common through supplementation, which is why it’s important to be careful when deciding to add a fat soluble supplement to your routine. While it may seem silly to consult your doctor on something of this nature, a quick phone call could assist with preliminary direction. Proper blood work will be able to assist in guiding the conversation.
A study published in 2015 examining adverse effects of supplementation found that supplements in general were the cause of over 23,000 emergency room visits per year (Geller, Shehab et al). The study was conducted over a 10-year period and researchers “defined “dietary supplements” as herbal or complementary products, and vitamin or amino acid micronutrients.”
A large concern with supplementation is toxicity, but quality of product and claims should also be on your radar.
Poor quality could lead to adverse effects and false claims can encourage individuals take products they don’t actually need. Supplements also are more likely to have a higher chance to interacting with prescription medications.
You will notice that labels on supplements ranging from vitamins and minerals to protein will say “these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.” At the top of the latest consumer report on dietary supplements from the FDA, you will find the statement “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”
I think this approach protects the FDA and doesn’t fully look out for the consumer. They do have marketing regulations, which sets a baseline, but it also shows the holes and what companies are able to get away with too.
According to the NIH, it is the responsibility of manufacturers to have evidence of label claims, but they don’t need to provide them to the FDA prior to products going to market. Once on the market, these products will be monitored. A good example of product monitoring, while not vitamins – the protein claims for the Lenny and Larry Complete Cookies were found to be false. The cookies had varied amounts of protein, mostly under the claims. This led to the reformulation of the cookies. While this is an example of a food item, it’s also used for protein supplementation and can be found in health stores.
What foods can they be found in?
All of the these vitamins can be found through a diverse diet and since they can be stored in fatty tissue they don’t necessarily need to be consumed daily. Below are a few examples of foods that have these vitamins – it’s possible that you’re getting enough of them already.
But what if my app tells me to?
Something to be mindful of – tracking applications. For those who track their food with a phone application like My Fitness Pal, be mindful of the information those applications report to you. The daily values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet and don’t always self-adjust to the calorie goals for individuals. Since there can be variance in the foods found in the database, they might not be 100% accurate. Lastly, deficiency and toxicity may happen over time, so if you believe you’re low or high with consumption of a vitamin one day, you may balance it out another day. Don’t supplement just because “My Fitness Pal told you to.” It’s a helpful tool for macronutrients, fiber and sodium, but I don’t believe the vitamin and other mineral amounts need to be monitored with it unless stated by a doctor.
While vitamins don’t work to provide you energy, they assist in the hundreds of reactions to keep you going allowing macronutrients to be broken down and utilized effectively.
Next time, we’ll talk about water soluble vitamins, what they do and where they can be found.
Geller, M.D., A. I., Shehab, Pharm D., MPH, N., Weidle, Pharm. D., N. J., & Lovegrove, MPH, M. C. (2015). Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements. The New England Journal of Medicine, 373:1531-1540.
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018, March 2). Strengthening Knowledge and Understanding of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from Naational Institutes of Health: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018, March 2). Strengthening Knowledge and Understanding of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from National Institues of Health: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018, March 2). Strengthening Knowledge and Understanding of Dietary Supplments. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/#h7
Stephensen, C. (2001). Vitamin A, infection, and immune function. Annual Review of Nutrition, 21:167-92.
Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2015). Nutrition: An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.
Timberlake, Karen. (2018). Chemistry: An introduction to general, organic and biological chemistry. New York: Pearson.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Dietary Supplements. Washington, DC: FDA.
Like the other macronutrients, protein can be misunderstood.
Like dietary fat, I’ve heard from people including trainers that protein can make you fat if you consume too much. Let’s be clear – too many calories can lead to fat gain, not necessarily any one specific macronutrient. However, with that in mind, we need to be thoughtful about what is paired together with protein as well as how protein is utilized in the body. Is eating a whole egg really a problem, or is it that many people won’t just eat one or two yolks, but will pair the meal with buttered toast, multiple pieces of fatty bacon and top it all with salt? While these components may not always be the “healthiest” choice, individually they can be fine in moderation, but together – it’s like a league of villains, or can be if they are consumed too often.
Ok, so what is protein?
Chemically, protein is a polypeptide of 50 or more amino acids that have biological activity. Protein is found in our DNA, which means it is found in our muscle mass, blood, bones and skin. “They function in metabolism, immunity, fluid balance, and nutrient transport, and in certain circumstance they can provide energy (Timberlake, Karen, 2018).”
Nutritionally, we know that one gram of protein has four calories associated with it. We know that protein needs are lower in comparison to carbohydrates and fats because the body utilizes carbohydrates as a first line of energy followed by fat (Thompson & Manore, 2015). This doesn’t mean that protein isn’t important. Dietary protein helps us conduct daily business. It helps the body to function without depleting protein found in the body (i.e. muscle mass).
But, you can consume too much protein and we will get to that, but first some background.
In chemistry, protein is called a polypeptide, which a chain of amino acids.
Amino acids are called building blocks because they are single units that bond together to make protein.
There are 20 amino acids found in our bodies (Timberlake, Karen, 2018). We can make 11 of them, but there’s another nine that we need to get with our diet. Amino acids that must be consumed are called essential amino acids. They’re essential because without them our bodies can’t make other proteins for other body functions like neurotransmitters. The 11 amino acids we can make are called nonessential amino acids.
*essential amino acids
I’m sure many of you have heard of BCAA’s or branched chain amino acids. You’ve probably seen them in the store in a pill or powdered form. Simply, these are specific amino acids that have a branch. They can assist in decreasing protein synthesis, which means they can help prevent muscle breakdown and losses, however, there isn’t much research the proves this to be true or consistent (Wolfe, 2017). There are three BCAA’s out of the nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine.
I’ve heard people say that amino acids are inferior to protein. You can’t confused BCAA’s with all amino acids. I would say that drinking or consuming a BCAA if you recognize deficits or holes in your nutrition can be helpful, however, I would recommend that you eat a complete protein rather than drink amino acids or a protein shake. But – remember, it’s also about preference too – drinking BCAA’s won’t hurt you and some people just like protein shakes. I’ve tried BCAA’s, but I never noticed a difference and that could be because of dietary diversity even when in a caloric deficit.
So an amino acid is equal to a single unit, protein is equal to many units of amino acids. As you can imagine, there are many combinations of amino acids and the combination determines the function of the protein in our bodies.
Here are some things in our bodies made up of amino acids:
Above, I mentioned complete protein. A complete protein has all of the essential amino acids in it.
Examples of complete proteins:
- egg whites
An incomplete protein lacks one or more essential amino acids.
Examples of incomplete proteins:
- corn – missing lysine and tryptophan
- beans – missing methionine and tryptophan
- almonds and walnuts – missing lysine and tryptophan
- peas and peanuts – missing methionine
- wheat, rice and oats – missing lysine
Dietary protein helps us build our bodies (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Our bodies are resilient and function smartly. When protein is broken down in the body, the amino acids are recycled into new proteins. Like mentioned above, protein helps with hormone balance, fluid and electrolyte balance, repairs our bodies and helps us grow, but as an energy source our needs are pretty low. This is due in part because we recycle amino acids because our bodies don’t have a “specialized storage form” of protein.
So how much should you eat?
At one point, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) suggested .8g per kilogram body weight per day for both inactive and active individuals. However, more research has shown that individuals who are active may need more. The ranges should vary based on a number of factors such as gender, age, size, but also the kind of activity you do, which is where I slightly disagree with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A 2009 review of these guidelines determined the following concepts:
- protein is a critical part of the adult diet
- protein needs are proportional to body weight; NOT energy intake
- adult protein utilization is a function of intake at individual meals
- most adults benefit from protein intakes above the minimum RDA
They examined current perceptions about protein as well as benefits to treat and prevent obesity since 35.7% of U.S. adults were considered obese and 16.9% of U.S. children and adolescents were obese at the time of the review. The most recent NHANES data from 2013-2014 shows that 38% of adults are obese with 19% of children and adolescents being obese. A major flaw pointed out by this review highlighted the proportion of protein to carbohydrates and fats may be adequate with high energy consumption, but that as “total daily energy intake is often below 1400 kcal/day” when individuals seek to lose weight it could be potentially harmful to limit protein needs to the RDA as a loss in lean muscle mass could result (Layman, 2009).
In 2011, a study looking at required and optimal amounts of dietary protein for athletes found that while the RDA was .8g per kilogram, it was would be appropriate for athletes, both endurance (distance runners) and strength (bodybuilding and weightlifting) to consume between 1.6 to 2.25 times the RDA or 1.2g to 1.8g per kilogram (Phillips & Van Loon, 2011). The study also suggested that protein consumption between 1.8 to 2.0 per kilogram could be helpful depending on caloric deficit for the preservation of lean muscle mass.
Now, remember this study looked at protein consumption for very active people.
If you’re sedentary, there’s no reason to consume as much as an athlete. If you are active, you may also need to consider how much potential lean muscle mass you have. If you’re overweight or obese, your protein needs may be less.
I formerly had a client who was consuming 1g per pound she weighed and it was over 200g of protein because a former coach had recommended it. She had an equal amount of protein to carbohydrates, which is a common calculation, but necessary.
A 1:1 ratio of protein to weight in pounds is a common suggestion and it’s one that I utilized when I first started tracking macros, but as I started looking at my specific goals and needs, I realized what I was consuming wasn’t helping me and I redistributed my nutrient goals.
While this client was very active and participated in weightlifting multiple times a week this 1:1 ratio of protein was inappropriate for her because it wasn’t taking into consideration lean mass, but instead overall mass. It also left her feeling bloated, hungry and often with disproportionate nutrients to be satisfied.
So what can happen if you consume too much protein?
There are a few health conditions that have raised concerns, but they may not impact everyone – there’s also some contradictory research and you need to figure out what side of the fence you’re on.
Concerns around heart disease and high protein consumption also involve high amounts of saturated fat found in animal products (Thompson & Manore, 2015).”. High saturated fat levels have been know to increase blood cholesterol levels and increase risk for heart disease. However, a moderate protein diet that is low in saturated fat can be good for the heart. Again, this is correlation, not necessarily causation.
Another concern is that excess protein found in the urine due to kidney impairment. “As a consequence, eating too much protein results in the removal and excretion of the nitrogen in the urine and the use of the remaining components for energy (Thompson & Manore, 2015).”
When protein is found in the urine it’s called proteinuria. As part of the body’s fitration system, kidneys remove waste from your blood, but allow nutrients like protein to return to the bloodstream to be recycled through the body. Protein in your urine can be a sign of impaired kidney function. It’s important to note there is no evidence that more protein causes kidney disease in healthy people that aren’t susceptible to the disease, however, more water should be consumed to flush out the kidneys because of protein metabolism (Thompson & Manore, 2015).
Bloating is also possible if “too much” protein is consumed in one meal and your body doesn’t produce enough enzymes to assist in digestion. Chemical protein digestion occurs in the small intestine as a result from the enzyme pepsin. “Too much” is relative. I get bloated if I have more than 40g of protein in a meal. Depending on planning I can prevent too much consumption, but that’s not always the case.
Like mentioned above, athlete and highly active individuals may need more than the RDA, but the average person may not need as much. Much recent research I found that examines the impacts of high protein consumption utilizes athletic bodies in high resistance training settings, which isn’t necessarily a sample that will provide data that can be used for recommendations for an inactive or lightly active person.
The data is still interesting, but may not be helpful to the average person.
When I did find research articles discussing higher protein needs in obese individuals, I found many studies designed diet plans for participants with sub-1000 kcal/day. This is an extreme diet that may not typically be suggested for one to conduct without being monitored. An example of this extreme design is a study published in 2015 that examined normal protein intake versus high protein intake as well as carbohydrate reduction to determine success in weight loss and maintenance. Researchers assigned adult participants to 800 kcal/day for eight weeks and once participants had an 11 kg loss they randomly assigned them to a new plan with varying protein intake for six months. They found that individuals with higher protein intake were able to adhere to the plan, which not only resulted body fat losses, less inflammation and better blood lipid panels, but also were capable of maintaining losses. Researchers also suggested that less restrictive approaches also lead to higher adherence (Astrup, Raben, & Geiker, 2015).
Again, interesting, but this is an extreme that hopefully many won’t use or need.
What about if you eat too little?
While we don’t need as much protein for energy as many believe, we do need dietary protein to assist in building our bodies like mentioned above. Without dietary protein, our bodies breakdown stored protein i.e. muscle to be utilized to assist in daily functions such as creating amino acids. A true deficit of protein can result in a greater number of infections if the body is unable to produce enough antibodies. A true deficit occurs over time and in extreme circumstances; however, can be more likely if an individual is in a large caloric deficit.
So, easy question- what food sources have protein in them?
Obviously meat is an excellent protein source, but there’s more than meat. Legumes like lentils, black beans and green peas as well as nuts have protein in them too. While oatmeal is a well-known grain, it also has about 5g of protein per half cup serving. Dairy, while also another carbohydrate source, is also an excellent source of protein and the mineral calcium – if you’re not lactose intolerant!
Vegetables that have protein in them that I recommend to clients who are trying to balance out density and volume in their eating include broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
Like the other macronutrients, protein can be flexible within reason. Considering multiple factors to determine a specific plan for you will be key. It might take trial and error, it may also take some adjustments, but give yourself time.
Your nutrition should be specific to you and your goals. It should take all of you into consideration like have you approached menopause or had a hysterectomy? Hormones play a huge role in overall nutritional needs. What’s your sleep like? Are you on medications? What’s your stress like? Are you sitting more or less than before?
I know many of these questions can seem silly when posed, but they are important.
The body is a weird organism, just when we think we have it figured it out, it changes on us.
Layman, D. K. (2009). Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. Nutrition and Metabolism, 6-12.
Phillips, S., & Van Loon, L. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Science, 29-38.
Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2015). Nutrition: An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.
Timberlake, Karen. (2018). Amino Acids, Proteins and Enzymes. In K. Timberlake, Chemistry: An introduction to general, organic, and biological chemistry (pp. 548-583). New York: Pearson.
Wolfe, R. R. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14-30.
“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.
In 2016, I asked my friend Alicia to write about what it was like to be a college kid trying to be fit, and trying to figure out what health meant for her. She wrote three posts.
Her first post in her own series talked about her past and how she got to where she was. She discussed her own eating disorder, but that she didn’t even recognize the behavior as a problem. She mentions that even though she had been diagnosed, recovery had been brushed off by professionals and it was left up to her and her parents to determine the next steps without guidance.
Her second post talked about preparing for her junior year. Getting ready for the semester and how she was planning for it. She made some suggestions for others based on what worked for her.
In her third post, Alicia talked about mental health and school work and the transition of her boyfriend moving out of the state to head to graduate school while she was still in her undergraduate career. She talked about how even though she planned for the semester, she still found herself making new plans.
She says she’s not a great writer, but when we talk all I can think of is how her perspective is important, even when the conversation is all over the place. During a recent conversation I asked her to think about writing again. She’s a senior now and almost done with school. In the past year, the meaning of health has changed for her. Her thoughts about her career after school have changed. The way she talks about herself has changed.
Below is her fourth post.
I’m a busy person.
I am one of those people who cannot sit still, I have to keep myself busy, whether it is homework, lifting, cooking or working. I grew up in a family of workers. My mom works two jobs and my dad owns a business and works three part-time jobs. I currently work three jobs and am a full-time undergraduate student. As you can see, I often barely have time to breathe. My mindset typically as a student is to do homework, go to work, get a workout in and strive to do the best that I can do.
When it comes time for a break from school, it is hard for me to deal with it. I do pick up more hours at my jobs, but I often come home and feel like I’m not being productive because I don’t have school work to do.
With having a month off of school for winter break, I found myself actually bored (I was shocked myself). Realizing that I had so much time to do whatever I wanted was honestly very hard for me to grasp. I am a planner. I like to plan my days because it helps me not to feel rushed throughout the day especially if it is busy. When I looked at my days and saw that I only had to work a 5 hour shift and nothing else, it was shocking. I never have time to myself, I don’t give myself even 10 minutes sometimes to sit down and reflect on the day, even though that is something that I like to do.
Shifting my mindset to not being busy is often very hard for me. I don’t go out much, I am very introverted, and that is one of the reasons that I work and stay busy with school work. While I was on my winter break I would stay home typically with my dog #DogMomLife. I was able to give myself time to go to the gym because I had more than an hour. I didn’t have to worry about having to rush through a workout.
I had a week to myself where I worked a very little amount of hours and got to spend time with my boyfriend who was in from Connecticut. For once, we got to enjoy time together and again, not feel rushed. There were days we got to spend the whole day together, not everyday because my work schedule, but it was still more than we’re used to.
Classes have just started and the realization that this is my last semester of my undergraduate career has finally set in and I’m having to shift my mindset again.
My mindset goes back to school comes first. I have to get back to being busy, to planning my days out in my planner, and trying not to be overwhelmed. However, this semester – by planning my days out, I’ll make sure that I have at least a half hour to myself where I can go to the gym or just meditate.
Having a different mindset is not a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Changing mindset to fit your current life can spark your motivation, push you forward and help you reassess the direction you want to take.
For a long time there was a war on fat, like over 30 years long. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading labels and understanding what you’re consuming. Not necessarily saying no to the processed food, but understanding or knowing what is in it. Well, taking that a step further – we need to also understand that the guidelines that back those labels up are created by governing bodies that may or may not benefit by creating certain guidelines or encouraging certain studies.
I’m not saying that the FDA or USDA or other regulatory groups are bad, but I am saying that the information can be misleading or a generalization in some cases.
A good example: the nutrition label you see on your boxed and canned goods is based off of a 2,000 calorie diet. This means the percentage listed as daily value is based off of 2,000 calories, but you may not be eating 2,000 calories – you may be consuming more or less.
Another example: the most recent guidelines by the USDA have a caloric recommendation for individuals based on gender, age and activity level with all numbers being whole, round numbers. These numbers are only below 1,400 daily calories for children under the age of 6, sedentary males peak at 2,600 calories for a 19/20 year old with sedentary females peaking at 2,000 calories for ages 19-25 – individuals who are more active peaked calories up to 3,200 daily. The guidelines state that the sample bodies used to determine were an average height and a “healthy” weight (page 77-78).
“For adults, the reference man is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds. The reference woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds.”
I’m 5’4″ and I weight about 138 pounds. I’m roughly 17% body fat, which is lean and considered athletic for a female. My measurements are small. I don’t fit the sample body. I also don’t know many “healthy” men that would fit this sample body either.
The first dietary guidelines were rolled out in the 1980s and at the time, the biggest concern was heart disease and heart attacks. Ultimately, the first guidelines recommended against all fat and foods that had cholesterol like red meat. However, more research has shown that not all fats are created equal and that dietary fat is necessary for bodily function. In the most recent guidelines for 2015-2020, it’s stated that saturated fat consumption should be 10% or less of overall calories consumed (page 15 footnotes). It’s also recommended that you replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about fats. Have you ever heard about triglycerides? It’s possible that your doctor has mentioned this term before when discussing blood work and overall health. These are the most common dietary fat we eat. This is also the form that fat is stored in our bodies.
The science of triglycerides
Triglycerides are a molecule consisting of 3 fatty acids attached to a 3 carbon glycerol backbone (Thompson & Manore, 2015). They are classified by their chain length (how many carbons are attached), their level of saturation (how much hydrogen is attached to each carbon) and their shape.
The first way to classify – chain length. The first thing we learned in biology is that structure determines function – if you have a wheel it can move things forward, right? It can’t make things fly. There are three chain lengths: short (6 or fewer carbon), medium (6 to 12 carbon) and long (14 or more carbon). The lengths determine the method of fat digestion and absorption as well as how the fat works within your body. As you imagine, the shorter the chain, the faster the digestion and absorption (Thompson & Manore, 2015).
Now, saturation level. What’s the difference between these two kind of fats?
The simple answer – saturated fatty acids have closely packed molecules because they lack a double bond that would “space” them out. This means they can solidify at room temperature, example: a jar of coconut oil. unsaturated fatty acids do have a double bond, which prevent them from solidifying at room temperature, example: olive oil (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015).
Lastly, shape – the carbon molecules impact the shape. The lack of the double bond in saturated fat allows the chain to be straight and pack tightly together. The double bond in unsaturated fat prevents the chain from being straight and actually adds kinks, which makes them liquid at room temperature.
But what about bottles of coconut oil at the store, how are those liquids? Coconut oil that is liquid at room temperature is manipulated during manufacturing. The removal of natural fatty acids that solidify allow liquid coconut oil to be just that. Lauric acid, the fatty acid in coconut oil known for its health benefits like being a germ killer, is actually removed in this process. This is because it’s melting point is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To read more about the production, safety and use of liquid coconut oil check out this article.
Coconut oil isn’t the only thing that is manipulated on the market. Unsaturated fats can also be manipulated by food manufacturing in a process called hydrogenation, which started in the early 1900s (Thompson & Manore, 2015). This process adds hydrogen molecules, which in unsaturated fats causes the double bonds to be partially or totally removed allowing the fat to become solid and store more easily for a longer period of time.
This is also where we get trans-fats, which actually is describing the double bonds in the molecule. This kind of fat is found mostly in foods that are manipulated, although a small amount of natural trans fatty acids are found in cow’s milk and meat.
Now that I’ve confused you, triglycerides do contain essential fatty acids that are important for health (Thompson & Manore, 2015). Essential fatty acids (EFA) are obtained from the foods we consume – our bodies cannot produce them. There are two groups of them: Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids have a double bond 6 carbons from the end (omega = end of the chain, 6 = number of bonds away from the end). Linoleic acid is an omega-6 that is essential for human health. This is found in vegetable and nut oils like peanut oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and soy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids have a double bond 3 carbons from the end. Alpha-linolenic acid is the most common in our diets and primarily comes from plants like leafy greens, walnuts, flaxseeds.
Why are EFAs important?
They’re precursors to biological compounds found in every cell in the body that regulate cell function.
Why is fat in general important?Fat provides energy; it has 9 calories per gram, which makes it the most dense energy source. Our bodies use fat when we’re at rest and during physical activity.
- Fat helps transport vitamins A, D, E and K throughout the body, which help regulate functions like calcium absorption and utilization, cell membrane protection, blood clotting, bone health and vision.
- Fat regulates our hormone production and cell function. *
- Fat contributes to satiety, which means we stop eating sooner and helps us feel full longer.
Fat Importance on Cell Function and Hormone Production
This is something I talk a lot about with my clients. Fat is important because of the reasons listed, but as someone who works predominately with women this is something I want to drive home with them. There’s no reason to fear dietary fat, but we do need to moderate it. Phospholipids are a major component of our cells (Reece, Taylor, Simon, Dickey, & Hogan, 2015). These are similar to fats, except they contain two fatty acids attached at the glycerol, not three. Steroids are hormones produced in the adrenal cortex, cortisol is an example of a steroid hormone, which regulates carbohydrate metabolism and provides an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Fat -loving and the Ketogenic Diet
As the war on fat has started to settle, the rise of high fat diets like the ketogenic diet have started to become increasingly popular for fat loss; however, this style diet isn’t for everyone and should be monitored because of other potential health outcomes.
So what is the ketogenic diet?In simple terms it’s a high fat, very low carbohydrate (~20g or less daily), moderate protein diet that has been utilized to help with refractory epilepsy since the 1920s (Gupta, et al., 2017). It’s especially helpful for children with epilepsy, but according to the Epilepsy Society, adults may also benefit from it. The ketogenic diet has also been found to assist with fat loss in individuals who are obese lose as well as help manage other disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome (Gupta, et al., 2017). However, be reminded that less extreme diets that moderate calories will also result in fat loss as long as the individual adheres to it and a diet that moderates carbohydrate intake may also assist with PCOS.
So how does the ketogenic diet work?
Our bodies utilize carbohydrates that have been broken down to glucose as a main source of energy (Thompson & Manore, 2015). While our bodies also use fat as fuel, glucose is favorited by red blood cells, some nervous tissue and our brains for energy.
When we don’t take in enough carbohydrates…. let me pause…enough carbohydrates doesn’t mean hundreds of grams daily. Enough carbohydrates could be 100g a day depending on the age, gender and activity levels of the person. Ok continuing…our bodies start looking for another fuel source. In the process of ketosis, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and creates ketone bodies or ketones that will be utilized as fuel. These ketones are a natural appetite suppressant that can help control nutritional intake (Thompson & Manore, 2015).
What about the keto diet is beneficial to different populations?
The effects on the “central nervous system, cellular metabolism and metabolic pathways, have shown promising results in a variety of neurological disorders, traumatic brain injury, acne, cancers, and metabolic disorders (Gupta, et al., 2017).” “The ketogenic diet alters the energy metabolism in the brain, therefore altering brain excitability,” which impacts how cells communicate with each other and regulate the CNS (Lee, 2012).
Is there one way to practice keto?
This is a tricky question. The classical diet of keto that is utilized with epilepsy patients suggests strict ratios of fat, carbohydrates and protein at every meal. It also includes little protein and carbohydrate because of the body’s ability to be “knocked out” of ketosis by too many of either.
The medium chain triglyceride (MCT) diet allows for a little more carbohydrates and protein. This version provides some flexibility and allows MCT oil to be used a supplement. Nutrients are also calculated by the percentage of calories for each group, meaning it’s not a specific number of grams, but a percentage of overall calories.
If keto can be helpful, why shouldn’t everyone utilize it?
A true ketosis diet should be monitored because of higher risks for other health concerns like osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones), hyperlipidemia (abnormally high fat in the blood), nephrolithiasis (kidney stones). Some of these health concerns can onset as we age, but nutritional deficiencies can increase risk. This means that supplementation is necessarily because there is a lack of diversity by lowering carbohydrate intake. This would be a recommendation for many people seeking fat loss with any diet – supplement appropriately.
The use of carbohydrates in our diets isn’t just for daily function like walking, talking and sitting; they’re also used for fuel during prolonged period of activity and protect again the use of stored protein as a fuel source i.e. muscle loss (Thompson & Manore, 2015). When our bodies don’t have enough carbohydrates our bodies continue to find fuel sources, and while in a perfect world we imagine the body will find stored fat to utilize, it will also find stored protein. Not only does this result in muscle mass loss, but it can weaken our immune systems and prevent optimal function. However, this kind of loss can be associated with too little calorie intake because a nutrient group has be drastically decreased or eliminated.
If ketone levels are too high the blood can become very acidic and can lead to ketoacidosis. This actually prevents optimal body function and ultimately can lead to damaged tissue.
Why don’t I believe the ketogenic diet should be prescribed to everyone?
My personal belief is that the ketogenic diet should be utilized for clinical conditions like epilepsy and other cognitive or metabolic disorders. I do believe that some people feel better on lower carbohydrates, but lower is relative.
I had a client who recognized she felt physically better on higher fat, moderate carbohydrate and protein. Her macros were 75F/100C/147P or 1,663 calories. Her goal was fat loss and this was a deficit for her. On days that she would run long distances (over 4 miles) she would increase her carbohydrates between 20-40g because it helped in those runs.
Yes, I eat processed food and things with real and artificial sweeteners in them, but I also know that’s not for everyone. I know not everyone can moderate these foods and that’s completely ok. I do believe that one way to work towards creating a healthier food plan is to examine the carbohydrates that are you taking in and how they make you feel. I ask my clients to do this often by making a list or notes when they recognize they feel bloated, jittery, exhausted, fatigued, etc.
Carbohydrates breakdown to sugars like stated above so in many cases they feel these things because of 1. too much sugar (real or added) 2. too many overall carbohydrates 3. the kind of carbohydrates they’re consuming (simple versus complex). I don’t think extremes need to be implemented to see change or progress unless specified by a physician.
Mentally, I think elimination diets that pull full groups of foods can be harmful over time to the relationship that we have with food. Creating a balance lifestyle also means enjoying foods that tastes good, but isn’t necessarily the greatest for us, but understanding that moderation is key. Eating out, attending and participating in parties and functions is a part of life and experience. While many suffer from auto immune disorders or illnesses that force them to create alternative eating styles to manage their health, many don’t need extreme measures.
Health coaches, lifestyle coaches, personal trainers, wellness coaches, etc. people assisting others like I do, should be encouraging individuals to bring in all their resources to find what ultimately works for them in a reasonable and safe way.
We shouldn’t fear fat in our diet, but we also shouldn’t fear other nutritional groups either – we just need to better understand them.
Epilepsy Society. (2016, March). Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from Epilepsy Society: https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/ketogenic-diet#.WkzL6TdG1PY
Gupta, L., Khandelwal, D., Kalra, S., Gupta, P., Dutta, D., & Aggarwal, S. (2017). Ketogenic diet in endocrine disorders: Current perspectives. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 242-251.
Lee, M. (2012). The use of ketogenic diet in special situations: expanding use in intractable epilepsy and other neurologic disorders. Korean Journal of Pediatrics, 316-321.
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.
It’s been about a month since I’ve written on here, but let’s be honest, that was a recipe – that’s not real writing.
I’ve said it before on Facebook more recently, but here as well – I write when I feel compelled. I write when I feel it’s the most beneficial to me. I feel like this is something I always write when I’m coming back after a hiatus of not writing as well. But sometimes I need the reminder of why I blog or why I don’t, and I think you do to.
This year has been all over the place. I think it started with adventure and a new high. A new direction, a path that I was excited to take and discover. I felt that I was going to learn more about myself and the biological world that I had barely scratched the surface of. I’m sure some of you sat there and thought, well damn her life’s a mess – I’m pretty sure I said that a few times from my living room floor.
Academically, I have pushed myself well out of my comfort zone. This pursuit started so I could better meet my clients needs. I had been asked many times to help with weightloss and meal planning, I had been asked to coach people to help them create a healthier lifestyle, but people were asking based on my experience alone. For me, that’s not enough. I don’t think you can just have an education, and I don’t think you can just have experience. You need to blend the two and be open minded to learn more and learn often.
I’ve taken some classes that are straightforward like anatomy and physiology, and I’ve taken some that are more fluid like nutrition and sociology.
With finals I started to feel slightly burnt out, but that’s normal after writing thousands of words, reading through dozens of studies, studying for hundreds of hours and filling up multiple notebooks. It doesn’t matter if you take one course or five courses – it’s brain power. Along with my classmates, I had been saying I was ready for this semester to be over, but I’m also so excited and ready for next semester.
My courses: medical microbiology, chemistry and epidemiology. Eleven credit hours. All in person. All night classes. There are going to be some long days because I still work three days a week in a doctor’s office. I will also be starting an internship.
I start an internship for my program that should last for at least half the year. It’ll total roughly 300 hours at least. it combines my love of health and education along with serving specific populations – in this case, children. I think if we start the conversation while their young and the parents are involved, then positive habits can be created and in a fun way that doesn’t make them seem so tedious and boring.
On the more personal end of things- yoga, lifting and running have helped me get back to feeling like I did before with my activity. I’m feeling good about the ratio of ass sitting to mobility. I’m physically feeling more comfortable in my skin and have been working on getting my strength back up. I know the upcoming semester will be a little more unique as far as scheduling because I will have some long days shifting from work to internship to class to coaching, but that’s part of goal development. At different times, some routines make sense and others don’t. I’ve gotten better at not fighting it, and going more with the flow.
Since October 1st, I’ve run 76.62 miles. Nothing ground breaking, but a lot more than I had been running earlier this year because it wasn’t necessary to my training and I didn’t feel it in my heart to do so.
Eating has been normal. Indulging in a lot of cocoa and some treats that are only available at this time of the year. However, I’m creating a balance. I’m making the decision to indulge versus mindlessly doing so or feeling guilty about it. Stress hasn’t felt out of control, aside from the standard academic stress – I’ve been meditating a little less than I was before, but I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. My meditations have also changed, which wasn’t something I was expecting.
It’s been three months since I’ve been off birth control and hormonally, I’ve noticed a lot of change. My anxiety is different, reactions to similar situations are a little different – I feel less wiped out and that has been the biggest change.
Sitting down writing this out is weird because in my head I think I want to share what my next steps are, but then part of me goes who cares? That’s the honest truth. I’ve always had both thoughts in my head, but the one always overpowered the other. I think about what is different, and I think I finally realized the answer.
I want to help people and that’s not a bad thing, but it also means that I forgot I can help someone indirectly by sharing my perspective.
On Facebook, I’ve started to share more about my interest in public health, my investment in organizations on campus, what I’m writing and talking about in class, but I’m going to start doing that here too. Writing has never been something I felt like I had to do, it wasn’t something that was an outlet for me. After talking with friends and doing a few too many videos on Facebook, I’ve been missing it.
My goal is to be more active in writing because I do enjoy it, but I need to protect it so that it doesn’t feel like an emotional burden. Some part of me also believes that there are people who click on my posts to actually read them, not just skim them to see if I’ve fallen on my face. So there’s that – the indirect way to help someone else.
I’m not putting a schedule out there for writing, but my promise to myself is that I’m going to sit down more often. I have a few recipes in my drafts folder I’ve been meaning to finish as well. So that’s on my to do list during break.
I have a list of things I want to do over the break before the spring semester starts. There’s no penalty if things don’t get crossed off, but I have a wish list, but that’s for another conversation.
The fall semester starts in 9 days.
I’m feeling excited. I’m feeling anxious. I’m feeling relieved.
I’m excited about the fall because it means more flexibility. I know there are people who think this is a piece of cake, but remember the grass always seems greener on the other side – there are still things that aren’t all sunshine and daisies. I have a good balance of everything that is important: work, school, boyfriend and myself – not necessarily in that order and not always in the same order.
One thing that is hard for me is to sit still. I know I need to relax and give myself a break, but it’s really hard. I thrive on structure and being busy. This year has been a damn rollercoaster and it’s the most time I’ve ever had to myself.
While summer classes were very busy and left little wiggle room, since finishing them at the beginning of August, I have found myself with time to slow down if I choose too. That has been quite the challenge.
I think about the summer and my mind races – I don’t know where to start. This isn’t what I expected my summer to be, but that doesn’t mean it was bad.
I ate more than I intended, but I don’t really regret it. Yeah, I had days where I will look at JP and poke myself, but really, this was the first time I wasn’t saying ‘no’ or pushing back. I probably should’ve said no more than I did, but I’m moving on and you should too.
I’ve said before that you can a lot about a person through how they write during certain times. When it’s been rough it reflects in my writing, when it’s getting better it also reflects.
I look back at June 17th and a reread that post – found here. I agree with that Cristina. I shake my head with her because I still feel parts of her. The parts that are in disbelief that I ended up here, but sometimes I don’t even know where here is. I know that sounds confusing, but I think some of you can relate.
Sometimes when I think about my future I see one thing, but the reality becomes another. Each day brings something new and we should embrace it. Embrace the risk and see what happens – that’s the hippy side of my thinking. The other side of it is calculated, like, yes, of course you ended up here and if you turn this way you can take this path and if you turn this other way there’s another path. This summer I became better at blending these two thoughts. I don’t always need to be calculated and sometimes it’s just not going to happen.
Thinking about what I wrote in regard to balance in June – that Cristina needed a nap and a cup of tea, but she was trying her best. If only she knew what was in store during the cross city move. However, July was better and August even better as I crashed then got back up and found some kind of routine that I could make sense of. For the past five weeks I’ve had a solid workout schedule that makes me feel like I’m balancing fitness Cristina with all the other Cristina’s. We still have breakfast together, but on Sunday’s I lift while he stays in bed, however, he’s been going running while I go to the gym. On week days, I go to the gym when he leaves for work, so I have about an hour for my meals to settle – I’m not a fan of lifting on a full stomach, I definitely prefer fasted like I do on Sunday’s, but that’s just my preference.
Adding yoga a week and a half ago was a really good idea because I’m already feeling a difference in my back, so I’m alternating it with my lifting and running – still taking a rest day somewhere in the week…wherever it makes sense for that week.
I believe in bagels – you can read about that here. I believe in working hard for what you want. I believe in jumping and taking risks. I believe in making minimal excuses and breaking down barriers. I also believe that my grind is going to look different than the person beside me. It won’t always be understood and that’s ok.
I wrote less this summer because I didn’t feel I needed it like I have in the past. That is a risk for me. That is new. I’ve connected in other ways that were just, if not more, meaningful. However, it made me uncomfortable to feel like I couldn’t share my day. If you meet me in person, I won’t talk much until I am comfortable with you and then it’s going to be late nights with liter and a half bottles of wine. I think that’s what happened. I was so comfortable talking to a screen, forgetting that people are on the other side. This summer I relearned how to communicate in a way that I felt was safe. That meant more journaling and letting experience happen with maybe a photo or two to capture it. Below are some photos from this summer.
I’m taking my bagel philosophy and charging full on into September. We might not talk like we used to, but I can’t wait to take you with me.
Let’s define success.
We define our perfect world all the time, but is that what success actually looks like? Is that what success would feel like? Perfection?
For some, success means working out five days a week and eating on track every day. For others, it means being on time or early to everything they have scheduled. For most, it means never allowing or embracing the moments they fall short. Never allowing something to be misplaced. If a mistake is made they consider starting over and over and over until they just don’t start again.
We confuse success with perfection and we have every right to confuse the two. When we think about our goals, we see them in a perfect world scenario and we don’t want to think anything less. Society also tells us to not dream of anything less. When I speak to potential clients about their goals we talk in a perfect world scenario and as they become clients, I dive deeper. We talk about the perfect world, but I ask them what would make this week successful – is it really about checking everything off the list or is it about the attempts made? Is it about just getting out of bed on Tuesday or acknowledging when something isn’t working for them instead of just assuming they’re the failing piece of the puzzle?
I’ve worked really hard to allow myself to fall short or fail when seeking to accomplish my goals because I don’t believe it’s true failure when I can’t reach out further after exhausting myself. Failure is not when you have to find a new route or seek a secondary solution. Failure is giving up completely. Failure is say I can’t when in reality there’s nothing stopping you, but yourself. I do think everyone has greatness in them, somewhere. I also think everyone’s greatness is different and is defined by some limitations whether physical or mental or pure lack of interest, but there’s something inside brewing. Remember greatness and limitless are two different things.
Most people I’ve talked to don’t talk about failure in this way, just like they don’t redefine success weekly or reevaluate their goals midweek when it seems a wrench has been thrown in. Many I’ve spoken with believe if they can’t accomplish the immediate task before them then they have failed. But the way I see it, they just didn’t find the right solution for them.
I define success by defining failure. I’m starting to define both by defining my fears.
I’ve been listening to a lot of TedTalks and podcasts from leadership to investigative journalism. It really depends on my mood. The TedTalks are more towards leadership and thought process. I want to watch a video and see the person’s body language; how they engage with an audience and the gestures they provide to the language they speak. Podcasts are more for running errands and hanging out around the apartment. Something to listen to casually, but not have to be glued to my television.
A recent TedTalk I watched was from Tim Ferriss called Why you should define your fears instead of your goals. We goal set to develop strategy to work towards growth, but rarely do we talk about our fears and how to overcome them in order to achieve new things, work towards the eventual goals that are being prevented from being a thought to begin with.
Ferriss shows the audience a model to evaluating and understanding your fears. After listening and then rereading the transcript it made sense. You need to start by listing your fears, so here are two of mine that I’ve been working on recently
- School – not being smart enough for the sciences in my program
- Utilizing medication over holistic approaches – the past few months have left me with chronic stress and hormonal imbalances related to anxiety
After listing them, you need to think about them long and hard, then define them. Ferriss says “you’re writing down all of the worst things you can imagine happening if you take that step”. He suggests that you should have 10 to 20 bullet points.
So let’s look at my first. School.
- I could fail a class
- If I fail a class, I would have to retake a class
- I would have to spend more time study than desired
- I’ll waste money if I’m not able to do well
- What if it takes longer than I have planned?
- What if I don’t fit in with my other classmates because of my background and previous education?
- What if an interest isn’t enough?
- What if others don’t understand why my degree is important to me?
Ok so, there’s 8, but you start to get the point.
I decided to go back to school because I don’t believe that just a certification gives someone the full understanding to help people with whatever the certification is. I think you need personal experience and a little more textbook knowledge. I have personal experience with my own health and fitness journey. I’ve tried a number of different approaches to nutrition and fitness. In my professional career, I did goal setting, strategy development and implementation in a fundraising setting, but those skills are transferable. The only thing I felt I was lacking was a formal education. I choose public health because it was well rounded from looking at the physical implications of health to psychological and social implications.
Before going back to school I contemplated the list above, but I never wrote it out. I thought about it alone, in my head. I talked it out with friends. JP and I had a number of conversations. I still talk about this list with friends even though I’m going through courses and I’m doing well because part of me is waiting for something to happen. I don’t really know what, but that’s where self doubt comes into play.
The next step is to “prevent”. Ferriss asks the audience to consider what you can do to prevent anything on the list from occurring or if not prevent, what could you do to minimize the probability.
So, school. To prevent failing I can make sure I’m studying and asking questions when I don’t understand the material. To prevent over studying and making myself feel wiped out I can look at my study habits and determine what is the best method to learn the information at hand. Every course may take a different strategy and in some cases, I might not be able to prevent over studying. I can re-evalaute my timeline periodically and check in with the academic support team to make sure that I’m on track for the timeline I have planned. Somethings are just out of my control because I can tell you now that most people ask me why I went back to school and don’t understand why I wouldn’t be satisfied with just the certification to be a personal trainer.
I want to make sure that I have a better understanding than what’s provided through the organizations that offer these certifications. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I also know that I don’t want to just provide someone with a workout plan. I want them to understand why they are executing it and I want to be able to dig a little deeper if we find that some methods don’t work. I want to find a solution for the individual, and I believe that having a more formal education will help give me a baseline to do that.
The fourth step in fear-setting, as Ferriss calls it, is to list out what you can do to “repair” if any of these do come fruition. If school takes a little longer then I just need to redetermine my timeline and understand that another degree is a lot, but worth it anyway. If I fail or do poorly in a class, I can retake it and yes, that would suck spending more money, but my prevention plan should’ve been better and this would be an opportunity to reevaluate…again.
After these steps, he asks the audience to consider the benefits of attempting to act upon these fears. He lists things like confidence, emotional growth, financial growth, etc.
Going back to school pushed me out of my comfort zone. Taking these courses is making me think in a new way and relearning how to learn material and study. The first section of anatomy and physiology started to connect the dots of the interdependence our organ systems have on each other. It reinforced what I knew about mental health and the mind – total body connection. It reinforced what I knew to be true about my own mental health and how hormone function greatly impacts more things than we ever consider. My courses on public health have pushed me to think about all parties involved and how the actions of one person have an immediate impact on their own life and the direct connections they have, but also the indirect connections they have on the world around them and visa versa. So even if I don’t get an A in every class, even though I want to strive for perfection in this case, I know that I’m still learning and challenging myself.
Next, think about the cost of inaction. If you don’t do anything to chip away at these fears.
Honestly, if I hadn’t planned to go back to school, I wouldn’t be coaching right now. I wouldn’t be considering adding personal training to my resume and I wouldn’t be willing to connect with people in this way to support their journeys – whatever those may be.
I also wouldn’t have ever known if I can learn this way, understand this information and be able to assist people outside of sharing my journey. If I didn’t decide to go back to school and then act on that idea, I wouldn’t have been able to change career paths. Whether I go back to fundraising in a different area of the nonprofit sector or not, I’m no longer stuck on a path that was unfulfilling and causing me stress and anxiety. While there are new challenges, these challenges are less than those before.
So. moving on. Let’s think about our goals. Let’s define success and failure and be realistic with ourselves, but let’s also think about how our fears developed and what we can do to change them. We doubt ourselves a lot and when those around us place doubt on us, we continue to prevent ourselves from seeking our full potential.
Can you imagine what we could accomplish without doubt and fear?
When I started my weight loss I never thought there would be an end to it. I thought it would take a life time to lose weight and be healthy. Last year I talked about this before my surgery. Even days after my surgery I still couldn’t believe I had accomplished the weight loss aspect of getting healthy. I couldn’t believe the turns that my journey had taken and where I ended up. There are still days that I wake up and say, “yep, this is my life.”
I’ve battled, sometimes floated, with what life is like maintaining a healthy, normal (relative to me) weight and size. Maintenance is harder than losing. It’s 100% true. I haven’t been losing weight for health since last year and I know that seems confusing for people who have started following me within the past eight months. That’s also the difference between using your body for sport and just living life and focusing on overall health.
In previous posts you can see a shift in my mindset, in my mental health. Just like in the tone of someone’s voice, there are times you can see in my writing that things were bothering me, or just weren’t going in a direction I had been anticipating – which ultimately threw me off. While I’ve been stressed from classes, it’s normal stress, it’s not stress than gave me the urge to write, so I haven’t blogged, but I’ve journaled.
The past five weeks have been tough to say the least. The idea of balance has really taken a new life form. This past week was the first week in a month and a half that I felt I truly had routine with everything and felt some kind of peace with all aspects of my life.
I have four days left of classes, then 13 days off before starting the second summer session. I decided to take anatomy and physiology this summer because they’re foundation classes for my program. I need them to take other courses and by doing them in the summer it allows me to get ahead in my program. I also decided to take nutrition this summer because I have a big interest in it from my own experiences and I felt that it would be a good class to take at the same time as an intense lab course. In the long run taking these three classes actually saves me a year of school because of timing. I have busted my ass to think differently and learn how to study differently, learn how to memorize information. I have pushed myself to the point where I’ve said to JP “I don’t think my brain can hold anymore information.” His response – “Cristina that’s not how the brain works.” Thanks babe.
The past five weeks I have gone to class Monday to Thursday from 8 am to 12 pm. On Monday and Wednesday I go to work right after class and I’m there until about 6 pm. On Fridays I work from 6 am to 1 pm. I’ve been working with nine amazing clients this past month, a few new and a few re-occurring. Professional Cristina has been in full force with appropriate pockets to study. Days are packed! But I also made sure that I had the chance to have breakfast every morning with JP before we went our separate ways and that we had dinner together most nights too. Balancing professional Cristina with my relationship made it hard for me to figure out how to keep fitness Cristina in check so that personal Cristina felt that she had alone time away from professional development and relationships.
This isn’t being selfish, this is being realistic. You can’t give all of yourself to everyone else and then expect that you have energy left to give to yourself. I told JP this.
I told him that I missed my morning workouts. Yes, I was still going on Sunday morning’s while he’s still in bed, but I did miss the work week morning lifts. I like how they started my day. So we picked a day that he could do breakfast on his own and made sense for my class and work schedule – Wednesdays. In a perfect world, I’m working out five days a week because I like how it makes me feel. Monday’s and Saturday’s are rest days because that makes sense with my schedule. I have three back and leg combo days and my friend Alicia created two upper body days for me with the idea that one could be dropped if I getting to the gym wasn’t a priority one day – and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes focusing on my nutrition becomes the focus because doing homework and study is a priority.
I tell my clients on every check in that success looks different every week. I ask them do they believe the previous week was successful when they think about their goals that were initially set and what the outcomes were. I ask them what will make this upcoming week successful. If the goal is to get to the gym five days in the upcoming week, will four days still make them feel accomplished? If they reevaluated goals in the middle of the week after realizing they may have taken on too much, is that success – allowing yourself to reevaluate and not feel defeated? Is success partly looking at what you have accomplished and understanding why other things weren’t done and maybe continuing to work on them each week instead of setting a hard deadline?
A YouTuber I watch often made a video about this over the past week and it had me saying yes, over and over again. Success is different for everyone and it will even look different for you each week.
Finding a new routine took a lot of effort and is still taking a lot of effort to ensure that I feel like I’m doing everything I want to, everything I need to and that I still have time to breathe. But like I do with my clients, I ask myself what good still happened this week, what was I able to get done.
This week – I got four lifts done (skipping today as a rest day). I got a 98% on my quiz in A&P. I got a 94% on my exam in nutrition. I had date night with my boyfriend and ate the most ridiculous of ice cream sundaes. My lifts felt better than they have in weeks. I wore a crop top and wasn’t self-conscious about it. I gave myself a break from studying for two nights so I could relax and be strategically spontaneous.
Maintenance is hard, but to me it’s not necessarily about the scale or the tape meaure. Finding a new routine is hard. Shifting focus is hard. It’s through what challenges us that makes us better. The qualitative goals challenge us more than those that are quantifiable and they should. It’s like oxygen, we know it’s there because we’re breathing, but mostly we’re trusting that it doesn’t run out and leave us gasping. We have to gauge our progress in our qualitative goals based on feeling and we have to trust ourselves that we’re doing everything we can.
I am doing everything I can. I feel pretty good about the future.
This week my manager and I were talking about my weightloss journey. He’s bulking and I’m cutting again. There’s also another employee who’s cutting for figure. We work at a supplement store so I assumed it would be common practice for the employees to be this way.
I showed him a transformation photo. Actually, I showed him this one.
He looked at it and then looked away. Then he asked to look at it again. He said it didn’t look like me, and I agree. I think there’s features that you can see of my current face in my old face. But it’s not me anymore. I’ve talked a lot about the mental growth that you can’t see in the photos that we all share. I’ve talked about the struggles that you can’t see either.
For me, this whole journey was about re-gaining confidence and pushing myself to new limits. Not only telling myself I can accomplish great things, but then actually following through. It was about proving myself wrong because more importantly this is for me and no one else. Taking risks and learning a lot of new things along the way. I’ve told you this before. This isn’t anything new. This is what the journey is about.
But I guess something that we’ve never really talked about is happiness. We’ve talked about how goals evolve and how methods need to be flexible to support new and evolving goals, but what about happiness. What does happiness look like at different stages?
My manager kind of asked about this. He said you’re smiling in the photo, didn’t you know you were that big. Had this been someone online, I would’ve been pissed because that’s such an odd thing to say. But since there was some context to our conversation, I just explained – it was the Senior Ball during Senior Week in college and it was a lot of fun, I was still happy as a heavier person. As a fat person I was still happy. Size doesn’t dictate true happiness.
This I believe wholeheartedly.
Today I pull happiness from a latte or a homemade cookie from the farmer’s market. I pull happiness from a cup of tea waiting for me at the end of a long day. I find enjoyment from hearing that a client believes their week was successful even if there were a few bumps in the road – they are learning to not be so hard on themselves.
Before, I remember being excited for a nice day to be outside with friends on campus drinking a beer. Not wanting to miss a moment and being pissed when I was stuck in biology lab on a Tuesday night because night class sounded like a good idea at the time. I didn’t want to be left out. I found happiness in all experience – good and those to never be re-visited.
When people tell us that we’re fat or were fat or are getting fat, they’re not telling us something we don’t already know. I knew I was getting heavy, but I chose to not care. As my waist grew so did my defensive humor, and now as a more fit person my comebacks are fast and I’m considered witty. Go figure that was used to deflect before. When I started losing weight, I started for find happiness in places I never thought I would like the gym or trying a new recipe modification.
Clearly, I have always loved food and I am a self proclaimed foodie, but I had never been this creative in the kitchen before. Now, I’ve set boundaries. Not everything should be healthy, some things are best when the stick of butter stays or you sneak in extra peanut butter. Happiness is when JP will try some random creation and actually enjoys it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sad sometimes. Go ahead and cry if that’s going to help. Scream if you need to, but try to not break your cell phone – nothing is worth a cracked screen.
We all experience sadness differently. Don’t think just because someone shows you highlights online that they are never sad. Some are just better at hiding it. I think frustration can fall into that as well. I still get sad or angry or frustrated when I don’t do something well that I know I’m capable of doing. Again, I don’t think size dictates how you feel about anything – you don’t lose your emotions when you lose weight. You may gain some perspective, but I don’t think you completely change your emotional thought process.
I look back on photos and try remembering what was happening when it was captured. Some smiles are genuine and others are cheesy, some have terrible angles because that’s how I thought I could make myself look thinner. No, Cristina, that’s not how that works at all. You just look like you have a broken neck – oh well, lesson learned. Also, duck face, not cute. Try again. I never thought about if I was unhappy. Of course I had times of sadness and times I didn’t like my size, but I don’t think I would’ve ever allowed that to consume everything I had. I had a lot of sadness and anger and frustration this fall and that was exhausting. Kitchen floor and all, but comparing my old life to this one including the fall – nothing can compare. I am the fittest I’ve ever been and something still triggered me.
I believe I’m the happiness I have been in a while and that’s exciting and scary because I love this feeling and I don’t want it to go away. I also know that means I’m going to have to work at keeping it. Finding happiness in the perfect cup of coffee and reminding myself that a 5-hour class on a Monday night is going to be worth it when I hold that degree. Look forward to each day at work because I truly love what I’m doing. It’s not just a job, it’s the hallway to greater opportunity.
I’m lucky that while some shitty things have happened, I have also had some opportunities line right up.
Today, look for happiness in places you don’t always seek it from. Maybe it’s five minutes of quiet until you realize the kids trashed the living room. Or maybe it’s not cooking the yolk all the way through – I hate when that happens. I hope you can wear a smile on your face because happiness looks great on everyone, at every size.