Tag Archives: health

You are so totally what you eat

A recent RADIOLAB podcast called GUTS really got me thinking about food (as if I didn’t think about food enough already throughout the day…) but it helped me get beyond meal planning and really dig into what happens when you eat. I’m not a biology whiz, but I understand on very basic levels how the human body processes food. I know the types of foods I should embrace to reach my fitness goals, and the types of foods I should avoid. But, that’s about it. This podcast helped me take things to a higher level.

First, the RADIOLAB folks explored what goes on when your stomach digests food. Digestion is pretty basic, right? Your stomach uses what it needs from the food you eat and sends it around to different parts of the body - maybe muscles need to recover, bones need to mend, etc. But, the podcast got me thinking that in a very strange way that any given meal essentially morphs into the being who ate it. It becomes an inseparable part of the body – fueling cells and bodily functions – rather than just being the input and output of a system. This gives a new perspective on the old adage that you are what you eat.

Perhaps the most interesting terrifying part of the podcast was when a researcher, John Cryan, spoke about the thousands of species of bacteria that are alive and well in your body. You’re never alone. There is a whole world of little creatures hanging out in your gut at any given moment, and you better hope they are in balance otherwise you might experience the stomach virus from hell. But, I digress…

Cryan also spoke about some interesting experiments on mice that look at how the presence of different types of lactobacillus bacteria (same stuff in yogurt, cheese, and more) in their guts impacted their personalities and how they react to stress. Turns out, the mice have a direct link - the largest nerve in their body - between the stomach and brain. When the nerve is intact, and the lactobacillus is present, it seems that a message goes from the gut to the brain for the mice to remain calm. Sever that nerve, and the mice react with panic. Then, Jonah Lehrer, a frequent RADIOLAB contributor, came on to say that a similar experiment was done with humans: participants who ingested high levels of probiotics exhibited biological reactions similar to taking anti-anxiety meds. 

From my (non-scientific) everyday observations, it’s pretty clear to me that when I eat well, I feel good. When I don’t, not only does my body feel terrible, but I also feel an emotional impact as well. I’m sure part of it is psychological – that immediate guilt of eating something unhealthy, how it wouldn’t be so hard to have eaten a piece of fruit instead of a cookie - but it makes sense that biological reactions to the ingredients in food could compound these emotions. That’s even more reason for me to steer clear of the bad stuff – and I certainly don’t want to upset the crazy microorganisms that keep my body in balance.

There is no way that this summary has done the podcast justice so click here to listen to the GUTS episode and let me know what you think!

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Lessons I’ve Learned from Training the Dog (so far)

It was only hours after we returned from our honeymoon that Cooper officially moved in with us - and it was quickly apparent that the honeymoon was over and we had a major new responsibility at home. Despite being a self-proclaimed “cat person,” I was feeling optimistic about training Cooper – I did, after all, read Dog Training for Dummies on the plane ride to and from St. Kitt’s. How hard could it be if there was a Dummies book about it?

Turns out, it was harder than I thought. About a week into “home schooling” Cooper, I put the book away and decided we needed help. Professional help. We signed up for a weekly training class with Ken Berenson who runs sessions at the Round Hill Community Center in Greenwich for both beginner and novice level dogs. On the first night of school, Ken used his miniature poodle named Bear to demonstrate what we’d be learning during our time in what I took to calling “first grade.” My jaw dropped to the ground as Bear listened and responded to everything Ken said – he stopped on a dime, he sat, he stood, he ran, he retrieved – it was magical. At the same time, I was practically sitting on top of Cooper, a gangly mess of legs, fur, and paws, to keep him in one place. Bear was prim, proper, and well-behaved. In other words, the complete opposite of Cooper. (I suppose that only helped to illustrate Ken’s points about the value of a well-trained dog.)

Over the next few weeks, I was pleasantly surprised that Cooper started to show improvement. On the last night of first grade, we walked in for the test. This was it – Cooper either graduated and moved on to 2nd grade, or he was held back. Not wanting to have spent the last six weeks of training in vain, I tried to reason with Coop and explained that failing was simply not an option. He must have understood me, because we moved through each section of the test rather successfully. I insisted that Cooper give me a high-five, one of his favorite only “tricks,” after he received each passing mark. Ken handed us Cooper’s certificate and I did what any proud dog parent would do: I mailed away to the American Kennel Club for Cooper’s “Puppy Good Citizen” medal. It was $10 well spent on the medal because I honestly believe Cooper enjoys wearing it:

It was a proud day for us.

To date we’re about halfway through the 2nd grade with Cooper, and while he’s still a little pretty crazy, he is a better listener and I no longer have to sit on him to get him to stay still.

All this time that we’ve spent training Cooper got me to thinking that we’re on parallel tracks, really. Cooper’s training wouldn’t be going well if we didn’t put in the effort – which is how I feel about the time I spend at the gym. The more disciplined and committed you are to training, whether at the gym or puppy school, the better the results. It’s helped me realize a few things like:

1. There will be good days, and there will be bad days.

Right after I took the picture of Cooper wearing his medal, we went to our regularly scheduled training class and Cooper was the “bad puppy” in school. I felt like he wasn’t listening and by the time we left, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had to wonder – did the photo shoot with his new medal go right to his head? Did he think just because he got to wear it, that he could stop paying attention to me? But, after all, I have bad days, too.  Whether I’m preoccupied or just not giving it 110%, not every workout is fantastic. So I cut him some slack – we embraced the bad training session and moved on.

2. There will come a distraction that is too tempting to resist - but there are always consequences.

We installed an electric fence around the property, and Cooper quickly learned about what happens when he gets too close to it. Even knowing this, every once in a while the temptation on the other side is too strong and he hears a fateful warning beep before a little zap. That’s how I feel when I fall off the clean eating wagon. I am completely aware of what I’m doing and I know I’m going to feel bad about it later, but in the moment those [chocolatey deserts/greasy buffalo wings/cheesy nachos] look way too good to pass up. Luckily, those moments are less frequent for both of us. I am learning to train myself to think beyond the immediate satisfaction and have my own warning beep – instead of focusing on how good something tastes in the moment, I think ahead to how I’m going to feel afterwards, both mentally and physically, and it’s easier to say no. 

3. Rewards go a long way.

Cooper cooperates better when there is a reward at stake – usually it’s a tasty treat or his favorite toy. Rewards seem to work the same way for me, but I tend to reward myself with new Lululemon gear rather than food. The more I work out, the better reason I have to replace my sneakers, buy new (smaller!) workout pants or get a fun new workout top.

4. Proper equipment (and form) makes a big difference.

One of my favorite games to play with the Coop is a simple game of chase – I take off running and he chases me. If I get far enough ahead of him, I hide and wait for him to find me. Then we do it all over again.

We were playing the other night and while he was hot on my tail, I took off running, went to make a hard right up the stairs, and completely wiped out on the hardwood floor… because I was wearing socks. I collapsed into a heap, simultaneously crying and laughing, and Cooper came over and started piling his toys on top of me. It was a painful, yet hilarious, reminder not only is playing chase with a 70 pound dog inside the house a terrible idea, but I really should have been wearing sneakers.

To boot, it was bad form of me to try to outrun the dog who has more legs and a lower center of gravity. But, it’s a good reminder to always use good form and the proper equipment, especially at the gym.

5. It’s OK to rest.

Working like a dog.

Everyone needs a little break at some point – and all too often, I find myself pushing through a busy schedule to tick off to-do list items, stay up late to get things done, or cramming way too much into one day. Sometimes the best thing to do is take the lead from Cooper: kick back and take a nap!

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Fashion show at the ER

The last couple of days have been… interesting. I was scheduled to leave at 4:45am Monday morning (yesterday) for a business trip, so on Sunday I packed, got myself ready, and went to bed. Flash forward to Monday at 3am and I was sick as a dog with the stomach flu - I frantically called around to cancel my travel arrangements before the car service showed up at my front door.

The next several hours were progressively difficult; I was unable to keep anything down, not even water, and shed five pounds because I was so dehydrated. In the early afternoon I rallied – I felt a bit better and managed to eat four whole saltines – the crowning achievement of the day. Shortly afterwards, my fever spiked and I was feeling weaker than ever. My mom came by to check in on me, took one look at me, and made the executive decision that I needed some medical attention – off to the ER we went. 

It helps to try to find at least some humor in these types of situations, so when the nurse checking me in complimented me on my Christmas-theme pajama pants, I told her she should pay close attention to the rest of my outfit: a bright pink sports bra, powder blue tank top, and bright aqua zip-up hoodie. When she asked if I needed a wheelchair to get to my room, which was at the end of one of the long, bright hallways of the ER, I decided to walk. She said she’d be right next to me if I felt faint, and joked that this way, everyone else in the ER could see my outfit. I told her that I felt like a model, strutting my stuff down the catwalk during fashion week. I considered holding up the puke bucket garbage pail that I brought from home like a trophy as I paraded down the hall… but I refrained.

It was a pretty short visit – they gave me fluids and anti-nauesa meds and I left a few hours later with strict instructions to limit my diet to the blandest of bland foods, but a fun perk was that the nurse suggested popsicles as a way to get much needed fluids and sugars back into my body. I’m feeling well enough today to write this short post, so I know I’m on the mend. Other than that, I’ve been cleaning out the DVR, napping, and watching solid reruns of Saved by the Bell.

The last couple of days have been a good reminder of maintaining balance – of taking the time to rest and take care of your body when it’s clearly sending out distress signals. I called into the meeting that I missed by phone, and while it wasn’t ideal, it sufficed. I’m lucky that I didn’t get sick in Denver, or worse, en route.

That’s all for now, just a quick check-in - I hope to be back to some regularly scheduled posts later this week!

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Striking a balance

I am determined to lead a better balanced life. I want it all (or at least, as much of it all as I can get): a successful marriage and (at some point soon) children, a satisfying career, a healthy & fit lifestyle, fantastic relationships with my family and friends, a full night’s sleep, and more… not in any particular order. I’ve been learning the hard way that as lovely as it sounds, your life won’t just “fall into place” without a lot of hard work. Over the last three years, I’ve been doing a lot of re-balancing. Let me tell you a bit about the road that led me to this point…

Three years ago, my days were chock full of things I didn’t find enormously enjoyable but they were a must: wake up, work all day, grad school all night, homework until my eyes crossed, squeeze in a few hours of sleep and… do it all again the next day. I also tried have some fun and socialize with my family, Chris (my then-boyfriend, now-husband), and friends. This schedule left little time for me to focus on taking care of myself; my regular workouts fell by the wayside and I ended up putting on a substantial amount of weight. It was completely my fault, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise since I had quietly been buying bigger clothes while promising myself I’d eat better soon and work out harder the next week.

Time passed and little by little, I started to find some balance – I finished grad school, switched positions at work to my field of choice, and moved in with Chris. Something was off though – I still wasn’t satisfied with my body and health. It appeared I wasn’t the only one who noticed I had put on some weight. The kickboxing instructor at my gym, Kim Pearson, suggested I take her “Body Blast” training class at 5:45am. I agreed, and after the initial shock of a very early wake-up call, I made it through the first class intact! It was hard, and I felt like throwing up, but I was determined to work through the discomfort and kept up with class. Further following Kim’s advice, I started following the Eat-Clean Diet and as I began to revamp my pantry and diet, I quickly learned that the key to my ultimate happiness was controlling how I felt physically and mentally. 

In the midst of my fitness makeover, in January 2011, Chris popped the question and we planned our dream wedding in only 9 months. Initially, the time frame stressed me out and I worried that wedding planning was going to distract me from my fitness goals, but I refocused my priorities and made it work while shedding the dreaded “grad school weight” and then some.

Today, exactly one year later, I am 40 pounds lighter than I was when we get got engaged. I married Chris in a beautiful ceremony and we had a fantastic reception that wouldn’t have been half as much fun if I had still been carrying around extra weight and feeling crappy about myself. We started married life off on the right foot and that pretty much brings us full circle in my story. I’ve emerged on the other side of the last few years a better balanced person with refocused priorities and a lifelong commitment to being healthy.

So stick with me and check in often as I share the things in life that challenge my balance in good ways and bad. In the posts that follow, I’ll be sharing trials, tribulations, and triumphs; recipes and workout woes; and various other ups and downs of my days spent looking for harmony among all these moving parts.

Coming up next… a new twist on buffalo wings, just in time for the Superbowl!

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