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Posts Tagged ‘Nutrition’

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.

Jo

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Nutrition and Self-Experimentation

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

As a child, I accused my mother a lot of hypochondria-by-proxy. She sent me to the doctor for every kind of test at every possible opportunity. Obviously, she was just a concerned parent– and with good reason; I was often sick and battled a myriad of chronic conditions. Everything runs in my family– heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes, morbid obesity, cancer… Both my parents have had cholesterol problems in the past few years.

I’ve also mentioned that my mother is a clinical dietitian. She’s actually a damn good one, and I’m very proud of her and what she has achieved in her practice. Her specialty, however, is dealing with the already unwell and prescribing palliative nutrition for those who require intravenous care. She does not specialize in everyday nutrition. So when it comes to how we should eat… as I’ve been seduced by the more paleo school of thought… we’ve disagreed with increased frequency. In order to remedy her high (LDL) cholesterol, my mom turned to whole-grains and a more vegetarian-based approach. She’s also warned me often about the dangers of the coconut milk I pour into my morning coffee. All my research and my mother’s advice have given me two conflicting ideologies that have made it difficult for me to commit to any methodology.

However, since I started working with a Coach, she took my nutrition out of my hands– which I needed. But it means that, for the past two months I’ve been consuming amounts of saturated fat that would make my mother faint. Egg yolks, bacon, and coconut oil every morning. About 7 tablespoons of coconut oil every day. Tons of red meat (over 1lb of meat a day…). For the months leading up to this, I’d been slowly ramping up to this style of eating– so I’d say it’s been about a good year that I’ve been trying a more fat-based diet… I just really threw myself in headfirst for the past couple months because I was sick of straddling the line, unsure of whether to believe all the new advice I got from the ancestral-based movement or to trust in the “tried-and-true” “whole-grains” type wisdom.

I want to make the caveat now that I think the way I’ve been eating for the past two months, specifically, is rather extreme… it’s completely designed for me to grow as a CrossFitter and not for much else. In the future, in life, when eating more for enjoyment, I will probably stop consuming raw coconut oil by the spoonful and just use it to cook delicious parts of cow. But ANYWAY… I decided to get a lipid panel to find out how my nutrition was affecting my insides. Externally, I’ve felt great. I’ve had more energy than I ever had (and reduced my caffeine consumption to 25% of what I used to have). I’ve recovered much faster and been getting stronger and have been putting on weight. Internally, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just clogging my arteries.

So… (drumroll please) my doctor messaged me this morning. My HDL (good cholesterol) is through the roof and my LDL (bad cholesterol) is well within the acceptable range. My HDL was so high that the note says :”verified by repeated testing, sent to Quest labs for verification”)… so I guess I puzzled them a bit. The doctor told me to keep doing what I’m doing; I chose not to mention that I’ve been on the steak-and-bacon-diet.

I don’t want to give nutritional recommendations to anyone. I’m positive that it’s a very personalized thing. I know fantastic athletes and just-plain-healthy individuals that are paleo, paleo-zone, vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous, or on the Nabisco eating plan. I just know that, at least for now, I’ve found what works for me. After having so many small but obnoxious health problems, I was relieved to hear the doctor use the term “healthy”… So, for you all, I encourage a bit of self-experimentation. And a bit of bacon.

Stay healthy!

Of Scars and Healing

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

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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.