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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Thing About Food…

In Food, Training on September 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

The first time in my life that a lot of people began asking me about my diet, I became very uncomfortable. It was right after I’d gotten sick– after dropping 30 pounds when eating became such a painful and unpleasant process that food made me anxious. It was right after my IBS diagnosis and way before I figured out what I could and couldn’t consume to avoid a beeline to the bathroom when I was out in public. It disturbed me that some friends and family (and many acquaintances) were suddenly “amazed” by my transformation. When they asked for the “secret” to my weight loss, I wanted to (and often did) tell them that the “secret” was to feel awful for three months, get so small and weak that everything feels cold and you can never stop shaking, and to spend ridiculous amounts of time looking for a g*ddamn toilet (TMI, sorry). In retrospect, I probably should’ve been gentler in my responses… but being perpetually underfed makes one a feeble, hangry (hungry+angry) cretin.

Those of you that remember my arrival in State College might (actually, should) be surprised– or rather, appalled– along with me that anyone had such a response to my weight loss. It disgusts me that we’ve so saturated ourselves with the promotion of “weight loss” that any weight loss is presumed intentional and commendable. The gym’s photo of me when I signed up as a member is pretty terrifying. I cringe every time I see it… I didn’t realize it at the time, inhabiting my own body and experiencing the (albeit very fast) “gradual” change to thinness, but I look like I could snap. There was nothing healthy about being so skinny that sitting was uncomfortable because my bones dug into the chair.

But food is a strange beast. I find it infuriating that people get so dictatorial about other people’s diets– or that people refuse to understand when an individual struggles in reforming that diet. I’ve probably said it before, but… the solution for most addictions is abstention. But we have to eat. Repairing unhealthy dietary habits requires more than sheer avoidance or “eating all the things.” A binge eater or anorexic needs to confront his/her “addiction” every day. Finding balance is so much more challenging, and means something different for every individual. For me, any unfamiliar food filled me with fear. Eating out felt like playing Russian roulette with my stomach– except all six chambers were probably loaded. I was really sick and in denial of my sickness. I wanted to be “normal” (whatever the hell that means) so when people insisted “oh just try this” or “don’t be like that, have a piece,” I did. So I never figured out what my trigger foods were, and felt perpetually ill.

I felt like I had no control over my body until I finally took charge of my diet. This required a lot of experimentation to figure out what worked for me. It required saying no to a lot of things and rejecting other people’s dietary “wisdom” no matter how right they thought they were or how well such advice had worked for them. I still have bad days sometimes, but they’re a lot more manageable. I can go out to eat now too, and have become an expert at navigating menus for the things that won’t make me sick. To get to this point, I had to confront certain things about myself– that I’m not “normal,” that the average diet wouldn’t work for me, that I’d have to sit out of the pizza parties and that sometimes I’d have to be “lame” and reject the party offerings. But, fortunately people have been pretty understanding and I can have a perfectly good time at parties without eating pizza or drinking beer. Even if it means I have to bring my own Chipotle take-out to the party.

This time around, when a lot more people in my life have come back asking for nutrition advice, I hope it’s because they’ve seen the reverse transformation– that I’m actually working my way back to health. I’m still nervous dolling out dietary advice because the one thing I’ve learned is that it’s immensely personal. A notorious example from our gym is my favorite enduro-addict who can have a tube of Pringles and a package of Oreos washed down with a Rockstar for dinner, every single night, and feel fine. He’s shredded, has spectacular endurance, and is all-around healthy. His lipid panel is apparently stellar. It works for him. But probably not for the average human.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if I didn’t have to eat the way I do, I probably wouldn’t recommend so much care for anyone else. Between the IBS and CrossFit, if I have one bad day, I can do spectacular damage to my body. I know that I’m bad at keeping myself out of the gym even when I’m feeling weak from IBS flares, so I do my best to avoid all triggers… otherwise Jo goes in to work out in a body devoid of nutrients and her body tries to eat itself and the hangry cretin comes back. I’m also (getting) better at taking it easy if I’m having a rough day.

So… now when people ask me for nutrition advice, I generally have two points to emphasize:

1) For the great majority of people just looking to get healthier, eating whole, minimally processed foods will be everything you need. If you can recognize the ingredients (if they didn’t come from a lab), they’re probably okay for you. If it lived and died before you ate it (including plant-matter), it’s probably okay (don’t eat poisonous plants, cook your meat… unless it’s sushi… or tartare… mmm tartare).

2) Beyond that, diet is largely personal. Some people function better on high-carb, low-fat, others vise-versa. Don’t use the scale to gauge your progress. Use how you feel. Do you feel more energized or sluggish? How do your clothes fit? How are your lifts? (Hopefully, you’re lifting 😉 ). How is your recovery? Give everything you try enough time to play through your system (2-4 weeks) and then reassess. Don’t listen to anyone else’s dogma. Don’t follow what Rich Froning or Michael Phelps or Miley Cyrus eats (souls? She eats souls, right?). Revising your diet is confusing and daunting– partially because there’s not a lot of concrete research in the field of nutrition (and it has a new fad every month) and partially because our bodies are so adaptive and dynamic that it’s difficult to isolate any one factor as the change. The only way to feel like you have any grasp of what’s going on is to take control of your own nutrition– make your own damn decisions and track your progress based on how you feel rather than how you’re told you should feel.

Anyway, this month’s been really rough in terms of stress-factors and… well a lot of unexpected life complications. I apologize for the tapering of posts. However, after a few recent conversations, I felt this was worth saying. It’s nothing new or revolutionary, but particularly for those beginning their own journeys towards health, I feel it might be worth hearing. You’re not broken. It gets easier. You’re not alone.

Be good to yourselves.


Of Scars and Healing

In Food, Rhetoric, Training on March 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm


There are two quotes about scars that I really love:

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds…
– Jane Hirshfield “For What Binds Us”
And one recently quoted in a CrossFit magazine:

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

 Ernest Hemmingway

One of the many highlights of my recent trip to Houston was that I got my first tattoo. I’ve planned this one for years now. In the first months of my CrossFit career, our box programmed the “Filthy Fifty,” which starts with fifty box jumps. On box jump number one, improperly warmed up, my hips refused to fire, my knees did not rise, and I crashed shin-first into the corner of a box. As a silly, stubborn Jo, I proceeded through the workout anyway. I tipped the box to its scaled height, finished the next 49, rounded out the jumping pull-ups, whirred through the kettlebell swings and walking lunges and knees to elbows and push presses, back extensions, burpees, and double-unders. And finally,  after the WOD, sweat-dampened and panting, with my adrenaline finally draining, I realized my leg felt wet. I was bleeding through my shin sleeve.


Poor Jefe helped me peel the sock from my leg– and half my shin came with it. We cleaned up the wound, studied it, and decided meh… I could afford to not go to the hospital. Wrong.


Silly Jo went home and tried to apply liquid bandage on the injury. Silly Jo quickly discovered three facts: 1) Liquid bandage stings like a motherf***er; 2) Liquid bandage is not made for large wounds; 3) Liquid bandage congeals and solidifies very quickly. I left the strange, translucent caulk in my injury for a few days, but was troubled by the fact that the wound never stopped bleeding and had started to discolor. I tried removing it with nail polish remover, with soap and water, with rubbing alcohol and every other solution found via the internets. Eventually, out of frustration, I carved the remaining bits of solidified bandage out of my leg with an xacto knife. The scrape never stopped bleeding. Two weeks later, I went to university health services, whereupon they informed me that the wound was infected, that I needed antibiotics, and that I should have gotten stitches when the injury first occurred. For the next two months, I needed weekly or biweekly visits to the hospital to treat the and inspect the wound. Since then, I’ve had a darkened scar on my shin.


Anyway… this particular vignette of Jo’s stupidity is symptomatic of one of the repeated ways in which I screw up. When my IBS problems first started in New York, I refused to see a doctor, or to admit that I was sick for so long that I let my body waste away while I worked myself to skin and bone. By the time my box-jump injury healed, I’d only started to gain back the weight I lost with those six months of digestive illness, and I liked the idea of tattooing over my scar– of commemorating the process of healing, of reminding myself that sometimes I screw up and hurt myself and I need to be responsible for the process of recovery.


Since then, I decided I wanted the image of a CrossFitter performing a rope-climb up the scar. The Cookie Monster was also planning on getting a tattoo during my Houston visit, and I happened to love the linework of the artist he picked, so I contacted Chris Sparks of Article 91, and he promptly drew up a design for me. The process itself was entirely bearable. The parts directly on top of bone (skinny girl + shin tattoo = lots of bone) sucked a little. But… when you’ve hand-carved plastic bits from an infected injury over that exact same area, a few needles aren’t that bad.


Anyway, that relates to a recent small revelation I’ve had. I’ve been a bit frustrated with my recent plateau. My lifts have stalled out and my maxes have stayed where they were half a year ago… at best. Some of them have dropped. As a blind stroke of luck, I contacted a very prominent professional CrossFitter/CrossFit coach (one of the Level 1 Seminar staff, as well as a general superstar and totally sweet human being), and she wrote me back and offered to look over my nutrition and give me guidance. Again, I’m stunned by the generosity and approach-ability of the CrossFit “elite.”


I sent her a bunch of questions (being me) and a diet log and she wrote back with a recommendation for a zone-paleo protocol (as she follows) and gave me a block prescription based on my training schedule, weight, height, and bodyfat estimate. I’ve resisted the zone for a really long time because… well, I hate the amount of time and effort it takes to weigh and measure, and I’ve assumed that… being a recreational CrossFitter, I don’t need to be that precise with my diet. Which I don’t. But unfortunately, I also just plain suck at feeding myself appropriately for my activity levels. Even with my IBS under control, my hunger cues are frequently wonky, my stomach gets screwy anytime I’m busy or stressed, and I react abysmally to dairy and don’t do well with much gluten, and if I accidentally ingest too much of either, it takes my system a week to process food normally again. So… basically, my body’s a fragile bitch.


When I told Zebrapants that I’d stumbled into wonderful, free advice, he told me to weigh myself the next morning and again in two weeks to gauge progress and to adjust accordingly. So… for the first time in a while, I stepped on the scale again this morning. 100 lbs. Which… to me tells me I screwed up again. Since I’ve been following the box’s programming more, I know I’ve been lifting less and metcon-ing more… but apparently haven’t kept track of what that’s done to my body composition. The weight loss, of course, explains the corresponding stall and drop in my lifts. I’m actually lucky they didn’t drop further.


Anyway, when I received my Zone block prescription, I thought it didn’t look like much. I plugged it into an excel sheet and figure out my daily meals and wondered at the fact that it didn’t look that different from my usual meals, except with fewer spoonfuls of almond butter. However, yesterday was my first day actually on “the Zone.” The day started easily. I weighed and measured everything, and it all felt consistent with my usual experience except that I couldn’t let myself snack anymore. However, then I wound up trapped on campus for the entire afternoon, surrounded by archival materials for one of my seminar papers. My professor had left me in his empty office with the instructions to lock up after him when I left, so I couldn’t run home to eat, and I couldn’t leave his office empty. I then violated one of the bigger rules of the Zone– and one of the specific pieces of advice given to me by the CrossFit coach who’s been so kind as to answer all my emails: don’t go more than 5 hours without eating. I worked as late as I could stand it before going home to eat, and realized that I still had nearly half a day’s worth of food to fit into the last three hours of my day. On a normal day, I would’ve just eaten dinner, shoved down a few spoonfuls of almond butter and collapsed into bed. But because I’d been tracking everything, I sat down and diligently consumed three meals until I crossed all my blocks off the list. Then I slept. Of course, that’s not at all ideal, and still a far cry from how I’m supposed to be eating, but it helped me realize what I’ve been doing wrong. The last few months, I’ve been getting busier and busier. Trying to balance teaching, student-ing, CrossFit-ing, a long-distance relationship, family, and friends both near and far, I wind up with long afternoons and evenings when I don’t eat until I get home at 9:00 or 10:00pm. By then I just shovel down what I can and crash. So while my days usually start well and balanced, I end up at a deficit by sheer nature of the fact that I have these gaps in the middle of the day when I don’t slow down to feed myself. It’s aggravated by the fact that it’s hard for me to find quick pick-up-and-go items that are dairy and gluten free. SO! New resolution: carry food on self. Feed self while out and about. Stay in “the zone.”


I still feel silly measuring and weighing everything, but I hope this’ll teach me to take better and more consistent care of myself. I hope it’ll help me break my plateau, and I feel comfortable and confident knowing that both this generous knowledgeable CrossFit expert and Coach Zebrapants are willing to help me reevaluate once I’ve given this an earnest effort and see how to progress from here. Also, I’m hoping that after a good period of doing this, I’ll have a better innate sense of how much and how often I should be eating and I can be more lax about things… and won’t need the scale for every meal.


I’m learning that healing and recovery is a process… but not one that I have to undertake alone. I’m grateful for the supportive people around me who’ve helped me pry bloodsoaked socks from my legs, who will help me tally my almonds so that I’m eating enough to grow, who will listen to me as I weep over a failed clean or a frustrating seminar paper, or a troublesome student. Inevitably, we will fall, we will scrape and break and shatter. But hopefully we come back together stronger, wiser, more resilient than before.


In Food, Training, WOD on October 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

There’s a four-letter word in CrossFit more forceful than any of the offhand expletives screamed against the backbeat of dropped barbells and box jumps: F-R-A-N. Only the Cyborg would be cruel enough to program both Nancy and Fran in the same week (which he did), though at least he gave us warning before Fran. When the announcement came on our box’s facebook page, I realized that I have managed to avoid Fran for all my sixteen months as a CrossFitter. The first time our box programmed it, it was a partner WOD. The next time, I could not yet clean 50lbs, and I spent all 20 minutes cursing at a barbell as I dropped it again and again. The third time, it was my rest day, and I “conveniently” prescribed my own replacement WOD after my lifts the next day. A prescribed Fran has been on my horizon ever since I managed 65 lb cleans… but for a while, I knew the weight would still be too heavy and I would all but slog through the workout. And since then, well… I’ve just been dreading it. It’s silly. I think a lot of the stigma that surrounds Fran is just a product of the way CrossFit has talked about it and put this girl on its own pedestal. Inherently, there’s nothing about it that makes it more demanding than many of the other girls– but because it’s THE benchmark workout, athletes push harder and dread it more, using their Fran time as the indicator of their ability.

So… even with all this wisdom and perspective, when Fran appeared on our whiteboard this week, I knew I’d have to do it Rx’d… an actual measure of myself as a CrossFitter– no excuses about how small I am, no stories about how I’ve never been an athlete. If I can do it RX’d, I can compare my number to that of all other CrossFitters.

How was it? Hellish. Though I still don’t think that Fran is harder than a lot of the other girls, the combination of thrusters and pullups, I think, is strategically cruel. My grip– one of my weaknesses– gives out first, and being unable to hold onto the bar makes both movements impossible. For those of you who don’t know, Fran is actually a relatively short workout. It’s 21, 15, 9 reps of Thrusters and Pull-ups. Today, our time cap was 15 minutes. The best CrossFit athletes can manage it between 2 and 3 minutes. But it takes them another 20 to pry their spent bodies off the floor.

For me, my limiting factor is definitely my shoulders. With my max press somewhere just below 75 lbs, the weight is just a bit much. I’m getting better at using the drive from my legs and hips, but I think my shoulders still bear a disproportionate amount of the “overhead” effort. The pull-ups felt fine. The Cyborg “no-repped” me on a few, but I’m getting a better sense of how high I need to pull for my butterfly kips. It’s just damn thrusters…

I came in at 9 minutes 30 seconds. And… you know what? I’ll take it. It’s fucking long for a Fran time, but it’s a far leap from 20 minutes of failing to clean 50 lbs off the ground.

If you guys haven’t seen this, the e-book Bigger Smaller Bigger has been making a small splash in the fitness world. Writer/Fitness enthusiast Nate Green undertook a (probably reckless) project in which he gained 20 lbs (mostly muscle) in 28 days, lost 20lbs in 5 days, and reconstituted himself in 24 hours. Other than the initial 28 day ramp up, the cutting and reconstitution routine is actually something that MMA fighters practice regularly to “make weight” for their fights, but I haven’t seen anyone document the process in such detail. Now Nate subjected himself to all sorts of unnecessary hell, but at least he did so with the guidance of a couple experts– Dr. John Berardi (of Precision Nutrition) and MMA trainer Martin Rooney (who has worked with am impressive list of legends). The website/ebook documents all of Nate’s diet and workout routines, so I won’t go into detail on that. Of course, he doesn’t advise that anyone try such a hapless undertaking, but he does construct some rather helpful takeaways for those looking to put on weight. Mostly… it’s hard, and it requires eating a lot more than you think you should. That’s something I struggled with a lot when I started getting “bigger.”

As of today, I weigh 118, which means that from the time I started CrossFit, I’ve put on 30lbs– more than 1/3 of my person. A very, very necessary 30lbs, mind you, but I was sort of relieved reading Nate’s blog to realize that I wasn’t just a singularly weird person while doing it. My past year has involved a lot of eating to the point of discomfort.

Wayyyy back when my stomach problems first started, I got used to eating less and less because food caused me pain. By the time I arrived in State College, I’d pretty much forgotten what a normal plate of food looked like because I was  used to scraping by on so little. So when my coaches told me to “eat more,” I was definitely eating more– but even “more” at that point was barely a drop in the bucket. Nate Green– who, I assume, does not have IBS, was not recovering from a stomach infection, and did not have to pop 4 or 5 prescription-strength pills a day– felt uncomfortable and bloated while on his weight gain regimen. My first months of really aggressive “eating” were absolute hell. When I finally got sick of being small and weak, I ramped up the size of my meals until they took me 30-40 minutes to finish. For months, I went to bed unable to sleep because I was full to the point of agony.

But what Nate observed… and what I learned… is that, the body is a weird little survivor– even mine, with its shitty, awful no good digestive system. I went from force-feeding myself spoons of peanut butter, to a pretty spectacular birthday feast at the Brazilian steakhouse– after which our waiter approached the table and told me, “I’ve never seen anything like that before. Thank you.” (seriously). I’ve chilled out a bit on pounding down food– I can go to bed comfortably now, and thankfully my IBS has been recovering a lot since I’ve stopped taxing my system so much. But I’m still gaining and getting stronger… In June, I declared that I wanted to try an Rx’d Fran in under 10 minutes before the New Year, and I’m glad I can check that one off my list. New long-term goal? A “Man Fran” (95lb thrusters) in under 15 minutes by this time next year :). Watch out world, Jo’s getting a little less scrawny day-by-day.

Sunwarrior Protein Powders Review

In Food on October 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Despite a childhood love of things milky and cheesy, my adult life has been plagued by a debilitating, severe lactose intolerance. Now, I know people—these awful pretenders—who claim to have lactose intolerance, who may experience a mild tummyache after a few slices of pizza or a bowl of ice cream. But these silly poseurs have obviously never endured the real thing. For me, what began as a mild discomfort after milk-based products worsened over a matter of months. Soon, I could no longer have anything related to anything that touched the idea of something to do with dairy without hours of a bedridden, fetal-positioned Jo, whimpering and wishing for the apocalypse. And still, I can feel the after-effects of dairy for days.

Due to stubbornness and common wisdom, I’ve tried to keep whey protein in my diet as long as possible since all the research I find seems to suggest it’s the most efficient form of protein post-exercise and for muscle production. But my tolerance has gotten worse and worse in these past years… I’ve tried every available brand of isolates and “lactose-free,” but if it’s milk-derived, I tend to experience some amount of misery. These past two years, I’ve just accepted the fact that I’ll be a little uncomfortable on a daily basis because without the shakes, I had a hard time recovering after workouts, and my strength stalled out too frequently. But it’s finally become so frustrating that I decided I could no longer live like that. So, once more, I gave up the whey again and embarked on a search for a replacement.

I happened to remember a few vegan bloggers I followed (back in the pre-Paleo days) and the fact that they all spoke highly of Sunwarrior. I also remembered that it’s “the first completely hypoallergenic protein” and often recommended to IBS sufferers (such as myself). They offer two types of protein powders: their “classic” protein, which is made from raw, sprouted brown rice, and the new “warrior blend,” which includes raw pea protein, raw cranberry protein, raw hemp protein, Coconut MCTs, Fenugreek, Glucomannan, and Leucine. The absolute simplicity of the “classic” formula appealed to me, but I was curious about the difference between the two so I wrote the company, and their generous, responsive representatives were delightful and sent me samples of every single one of their powders in all available flavors (“classic” and “warrior blend” each come in vanilla, chocolate, and “natural”– which is entirely unflavored and unsweetened). I wanted to try them all before I reviewed, so that I could give you a thorough evaluation.

Taste and Texture: I have to admit that I have a bit of an unusual palate after growing up in an Asian household… Though I was surprised by my first sip (more by the sandy texture than the taste), I do enjoy both the classic and warrior powders. The “classic” formula reminds me a lot of rice milk, which we drink in Taiwan. There’s an “earthy” taste to it, but it’s rich and thick and filling. The “warrior blend” formula is a bit thinner, but reminds me a lot of one of my favorite Chinese desserts (or rather, favorite desserts of all time). The Chinese make sweets of adzuki means and mung beans– if you’ve ever gotten “boba” or “bubble tea,” these shops probably offer a “red bean” and “green bean” flavor (which are adzuki and mung, respectively). To me, these shakes taste like the sweetened mung bean soup my mom used to make when I was a kid. The sweetness of both the classic and warrior blend is milder than that of commercial brands, but I actually really enjoy that and think that it makes the shakes much more appealing after a rough workout. The chocolate, I’ll admit, is not very “chocolately,” rather, just mildly sweet. The vanilla flavor comes through really well on the Warrior Blend version, and is probably my favorite flavor. However, all of them are tasty, and I would even drink the natural flavors straight without any additives.

Usage and Effect: The brown rice protein is the first and only protein powder I’ve tried that officially doesn’t upset my stomach in anyway. It’s actually remarkable. The jury’s still out on the warrior blend. Because I enjoy the taste of the vanilla warrior blend so much, I’m hoping I can still have it, but I did experience a little (tiny, tiny bit) of discomfort after my first serving. But I was fine after the second and third, so I’m hoping that it’s a fluke. Nevertheless, I’ve purchased a tub of the chocolate brown rice and I’ve been fine after weeks of that, so I know at least that one is safe. I’ve read a few reviews complaining about mixability, but I haven’t had any problems. It doesn’t dissolve as quickly as some whey powders, but a few good shakes in a blender bottle have worked well for me. Additionally, I’ve felt better-recovered after my workouts than when I don’t take any post-workout shakes. I noticed that I felt sore after workouts if I didn’t have a whey shake afterwards, but both of Sunwarrior’s protein powders seem equally effective as the top-of-the-line whey-based products in helping my body cope with all that I subject it to. It’s too soon now to make any determinate statements about strength gains, but we’ll see in the coming month.

Until then, thank you very much to the lovely folks at Sunwarrior for helping me find an effective, gentle fuel source.

Westside Change-up and The New Love of My Life

In Food, Training on September 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I need to publicly and shamelessly declare my undying love for The Civilized Caveman. Seriously, if George Bryant ever wants to elope with me and spend our days swinging kettlebells, spreading the good word about functional fitness, and making pulled pork, the offer’s on the table. I’ve been following his website for a while now. He’s a fantastic chef, and most of his recipes are accessible to culinary-bumblers such as myself. Seriously… they’re delicious, but relatively simple. In addition to that idiot-proof pulled pork recipe, I recommend the holiday Lara Bar and the bacon-wrapped tahini and sundried-tomato stuffed chicken breasts (yes it’s appropriate to drool). I’m not much of baker, but for those who miss more baked-good-like things, he has quite the selection of paleo-friendly brownies and scones and other such goodies as well.

But that’s beside the point. The Civilized Caveman is a man of many talents. He also is a US Marine, owns and runs his own photography company, and is a mischievous, covert philanthropist. I listened to his recent podcast on Abel James’s show (which I’d never heard before), and shared a lot about his life philosophy. Apparently he partakes in regular, anonymous acts of goodwill. He’ll buy $25 gift cards for Trade Joe’s and tell the cashiers to apply them anonymously to anyone’s cart at their discretion. He goes into coffee shops and treats strangers to their morning cup ‘o Jo(e). But it’s not just a money thing. He made a point about how… you can tell if someone looks a down and might need a extra dose of kindness for the day– or when someone is walking insecurely and might delight in being told she (or he, you never know) is beautiful. We so often overlook the small, but truly pivotal ways that we can impact someone’s day– or week. A smile, a few words, a tiny gesture of generosity can turn someone’s day around. About a week ago, before I even heard the podcast, I’d had a long and shitty day of work. It was my off day, but I still swung by the gym just to say hi. Everyone was busy, so I didn’t stick around long, but there were a few friends who greeted me with such effusive smiles that I left in a drastically better mood than when I stepped in. After a day of feeling overlooked, mired in my own thoughts and issues I’d magnified in my head, I just needed the reminder that there were people who cared. Small differences.

He also talked a bit about the motivation behind his training: he wants to be a giant, grown-up kid. And honestly, I agree. After a year of CrossFit, I’m proud of where I come, but I also know I’ll never be anything close to a Games competitor– nor do I really have that impulse to compete. I want to be fit so I can celebrate and enjoy my good health–particularly with friends and family. So… I’m trying to keep that in mind, even as I encounter frustrations with my strength gains (or not, as they may be).

About the strength training…

It’s  been perplexing me lately. Since I’ve started my tentative Westside Conjugate programming, I’ve seen some awesome PRs. I quickly hit new highs on my squat and my press, and I tried some variations (safety bar squat, swiss bar press) with positive results. However, my biggest fear in undertaking a westside-based program is that, with only one max-effort lift per week, I’d be neglecting some of the major lifts. After three weeks of concentrating on squat for lower body and press for upper body, I finally returned to deadlift and bench (which were my two better lifts before). However, though I hit my landmark 225 (a bit over 2x bodyweight) right before starting Westside, I could barely manage 205 on Monday– and the form was atrocious. My bench has not moved. I think I’m not strategizing well.

After for too much time perusing Westside templates and more methodology, I think I’m going to try alternating squat varations and deadlift variations each week– same with press and bench. Additionally, I’m going to try a four week cycle so that I revisit the same lifts every four weeks. Jefe keeps pressing me about “variety” and how I should take advantage of the wide range of options that Westside gives me… but the problem with being such a novice at all these movements is that I have no idea whether I’m hitting a PR because I’m getting stronger or a PR just because I’m very unfamiliar with each lift and the learning curve is steep. Revisiting after four weeks will give me a better gauge on things. If it seems to be going well, I might try to extend the cycle by adding more variation.

So… I’m thinking something like this for my max effort lifts:

Week 1: Squat / Press

Week 2: Deadlift / Bench

Week 3: Safety Bar Squat / Swiss Bar Press

Week 4: Deficit Deadlift (or deadlift with chains) / Floor Press (or close grip bench)

I may be naturally adding more variation anyway by switching between 1 rep maxes and 3 rep maxes. I read something about how novice lifters might want to shoot for a 3 rep max as opposed to a one rep max because we need to spend more time under tension. It also appears that common wisdom says that dynamic effort benches should be done for sets of three– as opposed to the two that I’ve been doing– so I’m going to try 3×10 starting next week.

Before I start my next cycle, though, I may spend this week’s max effort day retesting my deadlift. It’s a matter of pride… I wasn’t really warmed-up when I tested and I started my first warm-up weight too high… I was anxious about squeezing my lift in before the group class started… which may be me making excuses for myself, but I’m going to move my lower body Max Effort days to Sundays so I can use the open gym time rather than trying to rush to the box after class so I have enough time to fly through the movements before the group WOD. It’ll throw off my weekly timing a bit, but I’ll still have 72 hours between working the same muscle groups, so I think it should be all right.

That said, I’m not absolutely devastated by the backslide on my neglected lifts because I know that I’m getting stronger. I can consistently add weight on my assistance exercises, and I PRd my power clean at 95 lbs today. Grace– I’m coming after you :p.

Free Stuff! Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil

In Food on August 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I’ve made no secret of my love for coconut products, so imagine my exuberance when granted the opportunity to review the Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil from Tropical Traditions. I use coconut oil for most of my primary cooking purposes– from frying eggs in the morning, to sauteing vegetables, to pureeing it with mashed sweet potatoes. It also makes a killer, easy  fudge. I prefer coconut oil because I find it’s a lot less harsh on my irritable stomach than a lot of other cooking oils. I’ve tried several different brands, but Tropical Traditions prides itself on its unique production process. From their website:

The fresh coconut meat is shredded (wet milled), and then cold-pressed using the water from inside the coconuts to make coconut milk. The milk is then allowed to sit for about half a day, while the oil naturally separates from the heavier water. The oil is then filtered from the curds (coconut solids). No chemical or high-heat treatment is used, and this oil contains no trans fatty acids. We do NOT mass produce this oil. It is made by families who are coconut farmers using old-fashioned traditional methods that have been used in the Philippines for hundreds of years.

I was a little skeptical about whether or not this process would be reflected in the taste– especially since we eat oil with other foods rather than by itself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the  depth of flavor of this product. Even just upon opening the jar, I noticed that the oil was smoother and softer than that of other brands. The entire jar has an even consistency, and the oil has a wonderfully rich, sweet butteriness that elevates even my rudimentary cooking techniques.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m hosting a giveaway for 1 quart of Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil (more details below). All you have to do is subscribe to their newsletter here, and send me an email at telling me you did so. (Entries will close on Friday, September 7, 2012). The winner will receive 1 quart of deliciousness, shipped entirely free of charge.

Many thanks to the folks at Tropical Traditions for the opportunity to taste and review their product. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway so you can try it for yourself!

Disclaimer: Tropical Traditions provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose.  Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.


Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil - 32 oz.Win 1 quart of Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil!

Tropical Traditions is America’s source for coconut oil. Their Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is hand crafted in small batches by family producers, and it is the highest quality coconut oil they offer. You can read more about how virgin coconut oil is different from other coconut oils on their website: What is Virgin Coconut Oil?

You can also watch the video they produced about Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil:

Tropical Traditions also carries other varieties of affordable high quality coconut oil. Visit their website to check on current sales, to learn about the many uses of coconut oil, and to read about all the advantages of buying coconut oil online. Since the FDA does not want us to discuss the health benefits of coconut oil on a page where it is being sold or given away, here is the best website to read about the health benefits of coconut oil.

Daily Foodstuffs and Swole Jo

In Food, Training, WOD on July 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Thank you to everyone who read my last, very emo post. I’m so grateful for all the supportive feedback I’ve received and reminded of how lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful community. Really, you guys rock… and I promise not to overrun you with the sappy stuff too often.

Did everyone catch the CrossFit Games this weekend? To be honest, I was a little disappointed to see last year’s heroes take first repeat their wins this year, but I admit that it’s unfair for me to begrudge them their hard work. My heroes this year, however are:

Matt Chan– the oldest competitor to take the podium, and this year’s second-place finisher.

Chris Spealler– the only competitor to participate in all six CrossFit games. At 5’5″ and 151lbs, he’s almost 60lbs smaller than a lot of the male competitors. The commentators loved that. But it was so inspiring just to watch him keep up with the other athletes. And never does he blame his performance on his size difference.

Talayna Fortunato– The women’s third place finisher. From my limited research, she seems to have burst out of nowhere. Just a spectator at last year’s games, she arrived full force this year. She discovered Rudy’s Outlaw Way programming via some other CrossFitter’s blog and began following it without knowing what it was. Eventually, she started making a splash in her region, and someone informed Rudy about it, whereupon he offered to coach her (distance coaching– lots of videos). Outlaw was already recruiting a small following before the Games. After Talayna’s incredible finish, and the success of many of their other athletes*, I expect it to explode soon.

[*Full list of Outlaw Games athletes:
Individuals –
-Talayna Fortunato – 3rd
-Elisabeth Akinwale – 7th
-Candace Hamilton Hester – 27th
-Candice Ruiz – 29th
-Alicia Gomes – 32nd
-Christen Wagner – 41st
-Rika Diederiks – 43rd

-Chad Mackay – 9th
-Patrick Burke –16th
-Justin Allen – 26th
-Austin Stack – 34th
-Kevin Simons – 37th
-Jason Hoggan – 38th
-Brandon Phillips – 42nd

-CrossFit Central – 13th
-CrossFit Champlain Valley – 18th
-Team Butchers Lab – 23rd
-CrossFit CDR – 24th
-CrossFit 7 Mile – 41st]

I was also crushed to see Kris Clever miss the podium by a single spot. She put up an incredible fight all the way through Fran, but couldn’t hang onto the bar for the last set of pull-ups. That’s where Talayna took the lead. I also find it interesting how strength seems to be the deciding factor for men (Chris Spealler, admirable as he is, just couldn’t keep up when the weights got heavy), but for the women the fight seems won or lost on gymnastics skills. All top three women were college gymnasts. Actually Annie (first place) and Julie (second place) were both gymnasts and pole vaulters. Some strange, magic combination there? Power, flexibility, body awareness…

As for my own training, the deadlift went well today. I actually had a revelation that I can drop the bar from the top of the lift and not guide it back down– thereby saving my strength for the next pull. I’ve probably been wasting energy this entire time doing it the other way. Anyway… I’m really aiming for a 200lb max before the end of August… fingers crossed. Not much more work today– just pull ups, a few rowing sprints, and some GHDs. I also played around with the reverse hyper, which made my lower back feel delightful. I need to look up some videos on proper usage though and make sure I’m not just flailing around on it like an idiot.

I’m also playing around with going to the gym later in the day. To be entirely (and again, all too) honest, I used to stick with the morning because 1) I’m obsessive and I like to check things off my “to-do” list ASAP… and even something as enjoyable as working out becomes part of that to-do list… but also 2) because my IBS used to be so awful that the morning was the only time I wasn’t in pain… Fortunately(!) eating mostly paleo has led to a major, major improvement in all of that. I suppose I haven’t given you an update since I started experimenting with the reintroduction of foods. Here’s what I’ve discovered thus far:

Dairy: OMG NO. … I knew I reacted poorly to dairy, but I’ve been on-and-off with yogurt for a while, so I decided to take a leap off the stupid cliff chance and try 1/3 a container of Greek Yogurt. That took about three days to fully recover. Never again. I was a big dairy fan as a kid so every now and then I have a lapse in judgment and think “maybe I can try just a little…” But really, if you see me ever thinking about reaching for something that comes from a cow-boobs again… slap me. Bad bad bad.

Wheat: Not great… some discomfort, but bearable… as in I don’t need to be crazy paranoid if there are wheat contaminants if I’m eating out, but still something I’ll avoid for my daily comfort.

Peanuts: Not an issue (HOORAY!)

Whey protein: Very much so depends on the brand. I’m guessing that some supplements have different percentages of lactose that may or may not upset my system. I’ve been very happy with Nitrean+ from AtLarge Nutrition. The owner, Chris Mason, is very active in the CrossFit community and answers all my obnoxious little questions about nutrition.

As for the other stuff… to be honest, once I eliminated it, I haven’t felt the need to bring it back– aka spend money on finding out whether I’ll feel horrible. I know that I react poorly to soybeans… I’m wondering if tofu will have the same effect on me (should be easier to digest, since it’s fermented), but I haven’t bothered to go out and buy tofu yet. Garbanzo beans seem acceptable. Not sure about other legumes.

I’ve also been caffeine-free for… what is it, almost a month now? I haven’t bothered to discover if it upsets my stomach because I don’t want to reintroduce the stimulant to my system. It’s pretty easy to stay off it now, but I’m pretty sure that if I had a taste, I’d go back to my cup a day. I may return to it once the semester starts up, but until then, I’m enjoy my days without energy crashes.

I’ve received a few emails asking about my daily foodstuffs, so I guess I’ll address that here. Keep in mind, I’m far from a nutritional expert, and what works for me might not work for you.

Breakfast: Usually an egg scramble of some sort (they used to be omelets, but I got lazy and stopped making them look pretty). Eggs, frozen veggies, and leftover meat. Roasted chestnuts.

Lunch: Turkey, homemade guacamole, and roasted or sauteed vegetables of some kind. Sweet potatoes.

Pre-workout: Deli meat wrapped around almond (or peanut) butter. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. Also, sometimes I have a few pieces of non-dairy cheese (not at all paleo, I know. But the soy additive doesn’t seem to bother me and I have a bunch left over from before I started the paleo experiment. Seems to be just the soybeans themselves that I shouldn’t have. I’m curious about soy sauce)

Post-workout: Nitrean+ shake, sweet potato

Dinner: Meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork… thinking about trying lamb sometime), veggies (roasted or sauteed in coconut oil), mashed sweet potato dressed in coconut oil and smoked paprika.

Dessert: Avocado Mousse… also peanut butter.

Snacks: I snack a lot, despite the common paleo advice not to… Usually spoonfuls of peanut/almond/coconut butter, slices of deli meat, veggies with guac, frozen berries, that sort of stuff. Also, reheated sweet potato fries. Or cold sweet potato fries. In front of the fridge, straight from the tupperware. I’m classy like that.

I also drink a lot of almond milk, which is supposedly not paleo because of some additive or another… and coconut milk, even the stuff with guar gum because I really can’t bring myself to care about minutiae like that. As long as I’m not crippled with stomach pains, it’s fine by me.

As for portion sizes, I usually go with 1.5 to double the protein recommendations per meal, unlimited leafy greens, fist-size for all starchy carbohydrates, and unlimited fats. Keep in mind, I’m also a bit of a physical weirdo so this is probably only useful to small women trying to get swole :). That said, the scale reads 109 today. That’s fucking incredible. Unfortunately, I’m not lifting quite as much as I’d hoped to be around this weight, but I’m hoping that will come with time. Also, disappointingly, this means that my 200lb max won’t quite be 2xbodyweight as I’d hoped, but let’s just count on those lifts continuing to rise…

Bottoms Up!

In Food, Training on July 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Are there any sights sadder than the bottom of a peanut butter jar?

Fortunately, I was consoled by this shipment of rich, buttery sweetness:

I’m a pretty huge fan of iHerb ( They carry a huge stock of supplement/hard to find “health foods,” their prices are almost always lower than actual stores, and they ship for free on orders over $20. Here, I found coconut butter for almost half the price that they were at our grocery store. Yes, I bought two. Don’t judge me. Also, if you’re a first-time customer, you can receive $5 off with the promo code: SOD407 . They also send you free samples of stuff with your shipment, which is how I discovered a pretty tasty, Whole 30-condoned hot cocoa called CocaoCeps (you can search for it on the site; wordpress won’t let me link it).

But enough about food. The training. I was actually very happy with today’s squats. I’ve received a lot of tips from lifters far more experienced than I about the importance of a full squat, but today was the first time that really clicked for me. I’m definitely squatting deeper than I ever used to, but sometimes I’m still a little high. I’m reaching the point where I can feel the difference though. When I hit the optimal depth, the lift feels significantly easier– as if there were 25 fewer pounds on my back. It’s funny… because my brain is afraid of dropping the full depth as if that would make the lift harder, but in actuality (as the Archeologist explained to me today), reaching that bottom position allows you to engage the proper muscle groups, which 1) propels you out of the hole faster/stronger, and 2) protects you from injury (aka tipping heavy, above-bodyweight loads onto smaller, ill-prepared muscles).

It’s a mind game. One I lose frequently. If I’m not “scared” before I lower myself into the lift, I can hit the bottom position just fine. If I psych myself out, I start back up too soon and end up making the lift harder on myself. As one of my favorite, curmudgeonly Marines reminds me, “Don’t be a pussy.” I think this means that I’m going to have to start asking for a spotter for all my work sets… It’s something I’ve avoided if I’m fairly confident that I can survive the load because usually people are busy with their own things at the gym… but having spotters there gives me the confidence to engage the full range of motion. So… apologies to people who might be around when I’m squatting now. 🙂

Despite the good news on the squat, I’m ticked off about my press. I broke my plateau last week, managing 62.5 for 3 sets of 5. This week I failed after two reps with 65, and only managed four reps a set for 62.5. I know that women often struggle with the press… but this is now the third time I’ve stalled out at this weight, and I want to do something about it. I’m going to look into more supplementary work for shoulders and incorporating shoulder movements into my workouts… I just don’t want to overtrain the muscle group either.

Anyway… it’s a reminder that I’m nearing the end of this linear progression. My deadlifts are almost at my goal of 200lbs. I think my bench still has a tiny bit of room to grow, and we’ll see about those power cleans… but the squat and press are piddling out pretty damn quickly… though I’m hoping I’ll at least be able to break this old plateau. I’ll have to do something thinking about what comes next. For now though.. a trip to Wegman’s. One can’t live off coconut butter alone!

Whole 14: DONE

In Food, Training, Uncategorized, WOD on July 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Dear Whey Protein:

I know we’ve had our ups and downs since I first discovered you during my misguided P90x years. We’ve been on again and off again and on again. I’ve dabbled with at least 6 different brands until I at last found one that was 1) affordable and 2) gentle on my stomach. And after all that effort, I’ve abandoned you for the past two weeks in pursuit of my Whole 14. I’m so, so, so very sorry. Please come back to my life.



Okay, facetiousness aside… I’m done with my Whole 14! 😀 And, even though I said peanut butter would be the first thing on my reintroduction list, today I went straight for the protein shake. I know that’s not the wisest decision because whey powders contain a crapton* of ingredients, but I couldn’t resist.

[*Crapton: Approximately 2,000 crappounds or 100 cubic crapfeet.]

Also, I feel better after the protein shake. Part of it must be placebo-esque, but… whereas I’ve felt worn down a couple hours after each workout for the past two weeks, I felt fine with my usual recovery drink. Today’s workout, by the way, was lovely. It was definitely a long-and-slow day… I’m really starting to embrace these strength-focus days when I can just kind of move at my own pace and prepare myself before each lift.


Back Squat 3×5

Should Press 3×5 (PR!) I finally broke past that plateau with which I’ve been struggling for the past… forever

Pull ups, strict: 7, 7, 7 (Winner!)

And then a WOD that I took at my own pace…

7 Rounds:

100 ft Farmer’s walk (1.5 pd in each hand)

10 box jumps (20″)

10 burpees (I’m starting to get so slow at these after not doing them for a long time…)

Oh, I suppose if you’ve been paying extra close attention, you might notice that I just squatted on my “rest” day. I’m experimenting with resetting my schedule so that I squat on wednesdays and saturdays now because the box has the occasional gymnastics/striking class on Thursdays, and now we plan on playing CrossFit dodgeball (!!! 😀 !!!), so I’m hoping that this schedule might better accommodate more CrossFit extracurriculars 🙂

Happy July 4th to all. I bitch about the problems in America as much as the next person, but honestly, I’ve seen what my parents went through to earn their citizenships here so that I could have opportunities they didn’t have in their home country. There’s a lot of dumb shit in the land of privilege, but how fortunate are we to have those privileges? And how absurd is it that we’re so protected, so safe, that so many of us can walk around ignorant of the men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to ensuring those privileges?

Happy Independence Day. Thank the brave for keeping us free. 🙂

Homemade Sandbag!

In Food, Training, WOD on July 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm

So, I’ve reached the final day of my “Whole 14,” and I thank you all for bearing with me as I whined about my digestive dilemmas. The verdict? I’m glad I did it. There were some definite benefits to eating cleanly “paleo.” As I mentioned before, I slept better than I have in years. Though I still experienced (disappointingly) the occasional IBS symptoms, they were dramatically reduced and much more infrequent.  I didn’t experience sugar highs or crashes (at least not after those initial four days of awful withdrawal). Also, I felt satiated after meals. I stayed full for a lot longer, and when I felt hungry, my blood sugar didn’t swing (so no dizziness, no irritability– I’m usually irreducibly hAngry when I’m hungry… which is also usually too frequent). The downside is that my recovery never made it back up from what it used to be, which baffles me. If I feel so much better in so many other ways, why does my body struggle to repair itself now? Other inconveniences: I was never particularly handy in the kitchen to begin with, so I spend way too much of my time cooking. And, really, I don’t see this as a fully sustainable lifestyle for me. I’d like to be able to go out and have a few drinks with friends (though I know that alcohol aggravates my symptoms, but I make concessions anyway…); I’d like to enjoy meals out without worrying about all the ingredients, etc… I also need to be able to buy cheaper… not-grass-fed-everything. A grad student’s salary doesn’t quite support a paleo pantry. Nevertheless, there are a few things from this experiment that I would like to keep: 1) COCONUT BUTTER. 2) fewer sweetened things. I don’t think I’ll abandon sweeteners altogether, but I like not getting sugar cravings… and not being shaky when I’m hungry… but I wonder if I can keep the cravings at bay if I reintroduce a few sweetened things? I guess we’ll find out. 3) Less caffeine. I’m curious as to whether or not caffeine screws with my stomach… I intend to try something like a half-caff americano when I start back up to see… but I also like not needing that afternoon cup anymore.

Unfortunately, my strength progression has definitely slowed, and I’m hoping it will revive with the reintroduction of (hopefully) most foods. I’m hoping that I can find the worst triggers and eliminate those while not adhering to nearly so rigid a set of guidelines.

Anyway, yesterday’s deadlifts were a little shakey– 5 at 175lbs (~1.75x bodyweight). I’m going to bump it up another 5 for next week, but I’m nervous. My grip is actually my limiting factor on my deadlifts. With 175, by the time I stand, my hands are already half un-clenched, and from there it slips to the ground. I intend to incorporate more farmer’s walks into my supplementary work and hopefully that’ll help.

This morning, I woke with a bit of extra energy, so I played around with my new homemade sandbag:

1 duffel bag + rubber mulch bound in trashbags (and then in contractor trash bags– not pictured) + obscene amounts of duct tape.

The duffel bag is bigger than I’d like it to be, so I’ve ordered some rope from Amazon and I hope to tie off the extra fabric at the end so the garbage bags/mulch don’t slide around as much. To christen my new toy, I started this morning with Ross Training’s 25 Repetition Roulette:

1 burpee

clean sandbag to shoulders

press bag overhead

overhead lunge with each leg.

Repeat for 25 total reps. Quick and simple, but effective. I like the amorphousness of the bag and how it forces you to adapt to the shifting weight.

Afterwards, I also did ten reps of my own invented dumbbell complex. It’s basically a renegade row with a squat clean thruster afterwards. So the full movement is:

Push up (with hands on dumbbells– for me this was 25lbs)

“Row” (pull the dumbell up) with your left arm

Push up

Right-arm row


Squat clean the dumbbells to your shoulders

Thruster the weights overhead

That’s one rep. I only did ten, but that was enough for a quick morning workout.

In direct contrast to my stunning productivity yesterday, I have achieved close to nothing today. So… I should probably get on that before tonight’s activities. Happy Tuesday, all.