Tuesday, December 4, 2018

It Is Never Just About the Weight

Weight gain is so much more than just eating too much and not moving enough. For many people weight gain is a symptom, just like headaches or acne are symptoms of potential dehydration, lactose intolerance or hormone imbalance.

Unfortunately in our thin obsessed society, weight gain is demonized and the people who gain it are labeled as lazy or gluttonous or both. Yet, then why is the weight loss/diet industry a $63 billion industry? People can't be that lazy if they are willing to spend $63 billion of their hard earned money to be thin. There are numerous companies that promise if you eat this way, move that way, drink this chalky drink or swallow a magic pill that the weight will just melt away. And it will....for a while. But likely, as many of us know, who have tried the food, exercise, magic pill, fad diet, it comes back. It almost always comes back if we are just addressing the weight as the problem.

The weight is not often the root problem. The weight is often the symptom of a root problem not being addressed.

The ACE's study at Kaiser Permanente in California started as a weight loss study. The doctors leading the study thought they would be able to understand why their participates were overweight or obese and have continually yoyo dieted their entire lives in attempt to lose the weight, yet inevitably gained it back and then some. The initial point of the study was to treat the weight, but what the study ultimately found was that for a majority of the participants, weight was a symptom or even a sense of protection. Try as they might the doctors could not treat just the weight. Many participants initially had success on their limited calorie diets and regular exercise routines, some even losing significant amount of weight, but then something would happen and the participants would drop out of the study, never to return, some would "slip" and binge eat, other's couldn't explain it even though they were following the plan, they were gaining or not fluctuating. This flabbergasted the doctors leading the study.

What started as a weight loss study addressing the weight gain as the symptom turned into what is the well known now as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, which identified that 75% of people who struggle with weight have had at least 1 ACE on the questionnaire developed during of the study. And that the more ACEs someone has, the more likely they are to be overweight and struggle with weight related illnesses. And anyone with 4 or more ACEs will likely have a whole host of health related concerns. With each ACE a person has, they have an increased likelihood for diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart attack, depression, etc.

Learning about ACEs and the study is really quite fascinating and once you learn about it is very hard to look at overweight and obese people with anything other than compassion. Weight is a symptom of suffering, of pain, of issues on a deeper level than that person may not care to share with anyone, perhaps, let alone themselves. Weight can act as an armor of sorts, a protection from connection, or intimacy, it can act as a physical barrier, it can physiologically be a sense of comfort to the hurting heart inside.

Even Weight Watchers, the leading weight loss company in the US, has adopted a new model recently. They are no longer focusing on numbers and calories. They have added community, mindfulness and psychological support to their programming, even changing the name to "WW". If a major weight loss corporation can see that we can't just treat the weight then hopefully we can begin to see, as a society, that it is never just about the weight.

For many people food is comfort. That's why we crave "comfort food" when we feel homesick or lonely, or tired, or it is just a Tuesday night after a stressful work day. Food can, for many, fill an emotional need. Turning to food for comfort does not make a person weak or gluttonous, if anything we are trained from a very young age to use food as comfort. Often children are offered a treat when they fall and get a boo boo. Food treats are given as reward too, for a job well done or getting a good grade. Food is central at a funeral and a wedding. We bring food to people who are grieving or eat mindlessly while we zone out in front of the TV. Food is central to everything we do. And we also associate a lot of foods with emotional times in our lives. It makes sense then, that we learn and default to patterns of food comfort as adults.

If we do not learn different coping mechanisms or don't address the emotions head-on (which is tough stuff!) we default to "I have a booboo" (physical or emotional) I need ice cream, candy, a treat to make it all go away and feel better. Which it does! That's the amazingly cool thing about our anatomy when it comes to our dopamine receptors. Next time you are feeling down or stressed and you turn to a treat for comfort, notice how your body responds. It will likely feel tight and tense to begin with, then you will decide you need a treat; there is the decision process, which is exciting and fun, and occupies your mind; then you get to enjoy your treat, which is glorious and delicious and relaxing; then you feel that rush of dopamine pleasure rush through your brain and body; reveling in the dopamine glow, you forget (at least for a while) what caused you to seek out the treat in the first place. Boom, the treat has done exactly what you sought it out to do in the first place. Comfort.

So the next time you feel yourself gaining weight or your pants don't fit anymore don't beat yourself  up and call yourself lazy or bad for eating all the donuts, ask yourself, what is going on here? What is going on on a deeper level? Check in with your emotional state. Are you taking care of your emotional needs? Have you been triggered? Do you need to journal or talk to someone? A great trick before you eat the treat is to put a hand on your heart and a hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath, exhale, and ask yourself, is my heart hungry for this treat? Wait for the answer. Then ask, is my stomach hungry for this treat? Wait for the answer. Not that the answer will make you eat or not eat the treat, the act of pausing and checking in with your needs, potentially emotional, physical or both, is the goal.

(To take the ACEs questionnaire go here. And to learn more about ACEs I would highly recommend two books, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. (one of the leading doctors in the ACEs study) and The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Being Vegan Means to Me and What I Have Learned so Far

I am going on 2 months of a plant based diet, free of gluten, dairy and animal products (well except eggs). I am feeling amazing! I think this is really fascinating given the last time I went vegan for 3 weeks I was miserable. Several things factored into my misery last time, I believe, 1) I had no motivation other than my IIN Health Coaching curriculum suggesting we try different ways of eating throughout the year-long course 2) It was January in Maine (who doesn't crave meat and cheese and bread in the winter!? I know I certainly do.) 3) I didn't educate myself. I figured, I know about food. I know how to cook. I know how to eat vegan. But, actually I didn't. I needed to approach shopping, cooking and eating differently. And I needed to learn how to cook differently. 4) I removed a key macronutrient from my diet and didn't replace it with anything.

There are 3 macronutrients we all need to survive. Protein, fats and carbohydrates. Depending on the diet you follow and/or your dietary goals, you play around with the percentages of your macros. For a paleo or keto diet you would have protein and fats at really high percentages 60-80% and carbs super low. If you are on a plant based diet you will likely have a lower protein percentage of 10-20%. The key though is, we all need all macros. Remember in the 90s when carbs were vilified and people completely cut out all carbohydrates. Remember the bread rage? We all need some carbs, and just so we are all on the same page, vegetables are in that carbohydrate category. Actually, no one wants to completely cut out carbs, because vegetables are an essential part of any diet. Unfortunately, when most people think carbs, they think simple, refined carbs, like bread, bagels, crackers, pasta, etc. Vegetables are complex carbs and offer fiber, water and vitamins and minerals. Don't vilify carbs. Last time I tried a vegan diet, I just removed protein from my diet and upped my fat and vegetable carb intake. It worked for a while until I was ravenous and had dreams of dancing eggs multiple nights in a row. What I have learned is you can't just remove a macronutrient from your diet and not replace it. You can't just poof protein out of your diet and hope for the best, you will fail. Just like poofing all carbs or all fat, your body rejects this way of eating, and you turn into a hangry beast. 

I didn't, and still don't want to eat a ton of soy products. I know there is evidence, especially circulating in the vegan world, that soy products are in fact, good for you. I don't know, evidence is great, but I am going to trust my gut on this one. While I have introduced some soy products into my life, they are not every day and are in very small amounts. And I still consciously buy products that don't have too much soy in them. (I need to go on a little side bar here, I can't with crap-filled, chemicalized, highly processed vegan foods. They are not healthier just because they are lacking animal products. I still firmly believe that we need to eat as close to how the food comes from the Earth. All the hydrogenated oils and highly processed "healthy" vegan foods are not good for anyone. I don't care how clean-vegan you are. Your body does not assimilate processed foods. I can't. And I won't. And you should seriously reconsider. The end.) With that being said, now that I have introduced some soy products as a form of protein I am feeling much better than with no protein at all. Vegainase makes a soy-free blend, which is awesome. Loving the hell out of that! I have even found 2 vegan cheeses, both of which are limited ingredients and very clean. 1 with soy and coconut, called Chao (side note, this cheese is the best! It actually tastes like real cheese, minus a faint coconut after taste) and Myiokos cashew cheese. I wouldn't exactly eat it on it's own, but it melts perfectly. This weekend I will attempting to make my own vegan cheese, which I am SO excited about! I found this recipeI'll let you know how it turns out.

I had to learn how to cook vegan food. I know this sounds silly. I am a well versed cook. I feel very confident in the kitchen. I rarely follow recipes, I use them more for inspiration, always tweaking as I go. The thing is, that didn't work for me with vegan meals. I couldn't just omit the animal products and gluten, and try a substitute. I actually had to do research. I had to follow recipes. 2 years ago that undertaking felt daunting. This time, I am feeling inspired. I want to expand my ability to cook. I want to learn new recipes. I want to understand how to make something creamy without any diary (cashews people, cashews are the best!). I joined the 22 Day Vegan Challenge suggested my James Aspey, more for recipe inspiration than anything. I ignored a lot of what was going on in the group, because I didn't need that support in the way they offer it, but I did find the recipes that were shared by the mentors and fellow participants super helpful. Oh She Glows, It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, Veggies Don't Bite, Simple Vegan Blog and the Food Monster app are all great resources I have found along the way. Trust me when I say you need resources if your are attempting a vegan lifestyle. I felt extremely confident that I knew what I was doing and realized that I didn't know as much as I needed too.

I love beans and beans love me. Not everyone can eat beans. Don't know? Eat some and see how your body responds. Also certain blood types digest beans better (As and Bs). If you are an O blood type, being vegan may be really, really hard for you. With that being said I don't think veganism is for everyone. I certainly will never be "that" vegan who advocates that everyone should give up all animal products. Yes, I think we could all cut down considerably on our animal product consumption, for our own health, for the animals and for environmental well being. But everyone is different. Every body is different. I think if you are going to try going vegan you need to know your self and your body well. You also have to continually check in with your intention and motivation towards eating a vegan diet.

Eggs. Yup, I said eggs. Die hard vegans would yell at me for still eating eggs. Sure, some could say I am not techinically a vegan becasue I am still eating eggs. First of all, I am not eating eggs every day. Not even every other. I eat them when I want them, which is a few times a week, and not even every week. The eggs I get are from a beautiful farm down the road. The chickens are free range, happy chickens, fed a great soy-free diet. I feel good about my eggs and my consumption of them. So curse me if you must, call me not a real vegan, but for right now that is what is working for me. Which brings me to another thought; strict, cold tofurkey veganism is a major shift for some, especially if you are not replacing your animal protein with plant based protein. So, in my opinion, if you need to gradually work towards veganism, because it is important to you, then slowly get there. Cut out things as you go. Listen to your body.

I have never been one for layering my foods. Unless it is a lasagna, I would make what I make and eat it. I would never add dressing and seeds and nuts, EVOO, and tahini, or peanut butter, etc. What I have learned this time around is layering your foods is important to feel satisfied, and also to get complete proteins. So for example, if I had sautéed greens in the morning with a half an avocado, traditionally that would be it, with some eggs perhaps, but now it is the greens, with a whole avocado, drizzled with tahini, sprinkled on hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and drizzled with more olive oil. Think about when you make oatmeal, don't just make oatmeal, but add coconut oil and peanut butter, while you are cooking it, then add nuts, seeds, non-dairy milk, fruit, etc. Leaving out the essential fats and protein combination leaves you with a high carb meal, which your body digest quickly, leaving you hungry a couple hours later. Haven't you ever been hungry 2 hours later after eating oats? You are missing the layering of fats and protein. Try it out!

Something interesting has happened over the last two months. I cannot stand the smell of meat. It is disgusting! It actually makes me gag. It smells like burning flesh. A has not jumped on my vegan bandwagon, although he will happily enjoy a vegan meal with me. He is still eating meat, which he cooks. Ugh, I can't. I roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving, it was disgusting. Having to unwrap it and dress it, and smell it cooking. I was seriously grossed out. It smelled kind of ok when it was out of the oven all golden roasty. I even ate a small piece, but spit it out. The texture, the taste, ugh. I was actually grossed out. It is not like I planned for this to happen. It just happened. It actually happened with bacon, BACON, to start. A made bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed dates. I had to go stand outside. I was so grossed out by the bacon and the blue cheese. OMG, what is happening to me!!? I can't speak for anyone else, but man, this was not a shift I saw coming. I have ZERO interest in eating any meat. The smell is so offensive to me, why would I want to put that in my mouth?

Cheese though, well it's cheese. Cheese is my weakness. Minus blue cheese, nope all set. That shit nasty. (Oh my god, who am I??!) Cheese is my crack. Actually they have done studies on cheese and it is actually addictive. It hits the same dopamine receptors in the brain as some drugs and sugar does. Who knew? Anyway, cheese has been harder for me. I had 1 piece of cheese the other day and man was it delicious, but I didn't need or want more, and I haven't had any since. Well except, we went out to a Mexican restaurant the other night and I really wanted a cheese enchilada, so I got one. Bad idea! I was so gassy and uncomfortable all night long. So totally wasn't worth it. That was the end of my cheese dreams. If you are lactose intolerant you know the cheese pain. It's never worth it.

While not even a factor on this journey of veganism, I feel like I have lost some weight. My pants are fitting better, not so pinchy. I don't own a scale, so I don't know exactly how much, nor, do I care. That is not the goal for me. The goal has always been to feel good. To feel better than where I was. And that has been the case. The nagging back/sciatica pain is entirely gone, meaning I'm less inflamed. And I can workout everyday, squats, weights and all, and I feel amazing. It is really nice to be back at a mobility and fitness level I have always been at, but has been lessened over the last year due to nagging inflammatory back pain. That is how I got started on this vegan journey this time. That has always been my motivation, to feel really good and to get rid of that damn sciatica. It has been gone since week 2 of this vegan thing, so why mess with a good thing?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How Back Pain led to Dairy Free and now Veganism

For over the last year I have had this aching, sometimes debilitating, but mostly just irritating sciatica. I have tried diet changes along with many other modalities such as body work, restorative yoga, Yamuna, aerial yoga, inversions, and nothing seemed to help for long. I even bought a sacro-belt and new orthotics for my shoes, which again helped, temporarily. Always a person who loves to workout, this nagging back issue has effected my ability to workout. Squats were out, lunges, nope, any form of weight lifting, ack. I have had this constant pain and started to succumb to the potential reality that sciatica would effect me for the rest of my life. In truth, I have had some sort of hip/back/sciatic/psoas issue since my teens, but never for very long and never as debilitating as over the last year. If I stood or sat too long it would get aggravated. If I lifted heavy things without my sacro-belt, it would get aggravated. If I worked in the garden too much, bending over pulling weeds it would aggravate it. Pretty much everything I did aggravated it. I mean I was able to go about my life teaching my group fitness class, exercising mostly, but avoiding all squatting motions, I even bartended this summer and did ok. But after my 3 back-to back-shifts though, and with a farmers' market booth in between, I was hurting pretty bad Saturday mornings.

Then one day I heard something about how bad dairy really is for inflammation. I mean, of course, I know that. But over the years, dairy has slowly creeped back into my diet. All lactose free or fermented dairy, so I thought I was doing well. I didn't eat much, but as the late nights after my bartending shift accumulated and I was awake and hungry when I got home, a quick quesadilla or grilled cheese would hit the spot. At the time it didn't feel like much, but in hindsight, it was a lot more dairy than I thought.

And then I spoke with a friend who recently cut out dairy and she said it literally made her sciatica go away in days! Really?! I couldn't believe that something as simple as cutting out dairy would make back pain go away.  But always curious about the body and willing to experiment with dietary changes effecting the way I feel, one day I said, 'yup that's it, no more dairy.' I mean I know I shouldn't eat dairy. I know it is inflammatory. I know I am lactose intolerant. I know, I know...but the implementing is always the hard part. So one day, I just stopped eating dairy.

Now it has been about a month and half since I cut out dairy. And literally, I kid you not, 4 days after I cut it out cold turkey, my sciatica was gone. GONE! Not like kinda gone, but gone gone. I felt better, less lethargic, my bowels were better, but all I cared about was that nagging back pain that has irritated me for over almost a year was gone! So eventually I had to try my dreaded squats. I took it easy the first time. Nothing. No pain. No radiating irritation down my leg and up my back. Nothing. Gardening was a breeze. Even last night I took my first Brazilian dance class in a long time. It is a lot of hip action. I was nervous because after the class, as we were cooling down I could feel my back tighten up and get the sensation I used to get before the whole thing would lock up and I would be in pain for the next few days. Today, I feel great! I am sore from not using back, lower ab and hip muscles I haven't used in a while, but it is not like last year when I took this class, where I was out of commission the next day due to the pain.

So dairy free = pain free! At least for me. I kid you not! I didn't believe it either. Give it a try, if you are curious.

This whole body experiment and nutrition is a slippery slope I tell ya (in a good way) 😉, so I have been eating meat, but not much, actually, actively less since I have cut out dairy. Then I asked myself 2 weeks ago, why? Why are you eating meat? I have actively been reducing my meat consumption. I have never been a huge meat eater. I don't digest it well and I feel all over slowed/bogged down when I eat too much meat. Granted, I am only ever eating local, organic and/or grass-fed or pasture raised meat (ideally all of the above). So I have considered myself a conscious meat eater. But somewhere in the back of my mind, veganism has been swirling around. If you recall I gave veganism a try back in 2015, which you can read here and here. It. Was. Hard. I have never craved eggs so much in my life. But this time it feels different. I am already gluten free (Always! Going on 8 years now!) and now completely dairy free and continually reducing my meat consumption, so how far off is being a vegan?

I listened to @yoga_girl 's podcast recently with her guest speaker James Aspey on veganism and something clicked. I think maybe because I was toying with the idea already, I was more receptive. And it wasn't the horror stories James talked about in the meat and diary industry that did it. I've always disliked that freak-out tactic of veganism, but 2 things stuck with me; the way he and Rachel approached it was not forceful and both talked about veganism from a place of love, compassion and education. James didn't even shame Rachel, when she admittedly called her self a hypocrite because she too, has let dairy creep into her life. And who are we to determine which animals we eat. In some countries they eat dogs. I could never even consider eating my beloved dogs and yet I consider myself an animal lover. And pigs are just as smart and personable as dogs. So why do we eat them? And the dairy industry is just as awful as a slaughter house. I am not trying to convince anyone, because I believe everyone's journey is different and happens in its own way towards your goal of feeling your best. So listen for yourself.

I am not one of those crazy vegans, forcibly telling people that you should know about all the horrible things that happen in the meat and dairy industries. I know scare tactics and forceful advocacy wouldn't work on me. So I would never do that to anyone else. For me, this is a personal journey, that started with removing dairy from my diet. Then realizing meat just didn't sit well with me, physically and consciously. Also, because I struggled so hard the first time around with veganism, I was kind of curious to see how I would do a second time. With that being said, I am still eating eggs. I feel without eggs I am doomed to fail and also I feel ok with my choice, because I am getting my eggs from my neighbor and I know they are free range and happy chickens. But to each her own. We all need to be conscious in our bodies and also conscious beings in the world. We make choices every day and I am currently choosing to do what feels best for me, my body, my mind, my soul and my health.