Sunday, August 2, 2015

Health is not the absence of sickness

I attended a semi-awkward family reunion this weekend.  Now most reunions are a little awkward.  When spending time with folks you usually only see once every year or so, it is guaranteed that you will answer the same question multiple times.  Usually, where do you live and what do you do?  Sometimes, are you married yet?  At my family reunions, this is exacerbated by the fact that my dad has 13 brothers and sisters - 5 full siblings, 5 step siblings and 3 half siblings - so there are usually people in attendance who I've either never met or haven't seen in 10 years.  So it isn't weird to meet someone new at a family reunion.

Lucky me, I get to introduce myself as the oldest daughter of Herbert and Theresa, who lives in Washington, DC and works as a registered dietitian nutritionist.

As soon as you tell someone that you are a dietitian, they immediately want to tell you all about their diet and ask you nutrition-related questions.

At my family reunion, the husband of my grandma's sister (I think), who I've never meet before, told me that he would be my "best customer" because he has a horrible diet.  He then proceeded to tell me that there is "nothing wrong with him."  When I suggested that he has good genes (to not get any illnesses despite having a horrible diet), he told me that he doesn't smoke nor drink.  When I asked about exercise, he told me that he doesn't exercise much because his knees hurt.  Then he showed me his varicose veins.

Two thoughts.

1. I am always a little unnerved when folks bear their skin to me, as if I were their primary care physician.  In addition to my great uncle-in-law, I also had a client show me all 14 of her tattoos.  Yikes!

2. Health is not just the absence of sickness.

I wish I had asked my great uncle-in-law how he defined "nothing is wrong with me."  I wish I had asked, "do you consider yourself healthy?" and "What does 'healthy' look like?"  Because, last time I checked, the definition of "nothing is wrong with me" does not include having sore joints (i.e. arthritis).

One of my goals in life is to help people to realize that health is not merely the absence of sickness; it is the feeling of vitality, it is the ability to move your body, it having a good quality of life where you can do all the activities that you love.

One of my other goals in life is to stop the progression of chronic disease before gross morphological changes occur within the body (e.g. cartilage wears away until bone grinds against bone) and, hopefully, reverse the damage so more folks can live healthier, happier, more productive and more enjoyable lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Starvation and the Appreciation of Food

I'm reading The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, a novel of war and survival written by Louise Murphy.  "In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest...."  The book opens with descriptions of the children's deep hunger and the mind games they play to deal with the endless ache of an empty belly.
"He has save his spit for over an hour.  She had told him to think of biting into a lemon to make the spit flow, but he couldn't remember lemons.  He thought of vinegar.  His spit spurted and he had extra juice at the end of the swallow.  A mouthful of spit swallowed slowly was almost like drinking soup.  Hot soup with potatoes mashed into it.  He felt his stomach contract and willed it to stop aching."
Reading during my lunch break, I started thinking about how much more I would appreciate my food if I knew it was the only meal I could eat all day.  I tried to visualize how much more delicious my kale and quinoa salad would taste if it was the first meal I'd had for several days.  Having never experienced starvation, the imagery gave me pause.   I suddenly had greater appreciate for my meal.

It's been 75 years since the great depression of the 1930s, presumably the last time Americans felt severe deprivation.  Certainly there are food insecure families in America today, evidenced by the large number of children eating free and reduced-price school lunches.  However, I wonder if the lost of deep appreciation for sustenance by the population as a whole is a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.  How much more slowly would we eat if we knew that supply was limited?  If we slowed down and really tasted our food, would the preservative-laced breads and inhumanly-raised meats still taste good to us?

Although many factors played a role in getting us where we are today, the weight of the nation, I believe that slowing down and taking the time to appreciate the food we eat may be one way to help us get out of it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Healthy requires mindfulness and planning

I did not plan my meals well today.  As a result, I felt more tired, more irritable, and less focused than normal.  Which just fed into the downward spiral of frustration and lack of efficiency.

The poor choices started with breakfast.  Instead of following my usual morning routine, I got out of bed and went straight to work, replying to business emails.  While I did make time to prepare a delicious breakfast -- leftover Sweet Potato Hash with Lamb Sausage (recipe to follow) with egg-over-easy on top and a banana on the side -- I was not present when I ate it so was unable to absorb all the nutrients and did not eat enough.  While some folks over-eat when they're stressed, I tend to under-eat.

As I walked to my 10am accountant meeting, I could feel the tummy rumbles start.  After two hours of financial concentration, I was ready to be done thinking and ready to start eating.  Both desires collided when I passed a Chipotle on my way home.  Cheap calories, but not the best lunch choice on a low-exercise afternoon.

Unfocused and feeling scatter-brained, I spent a lot of time trying to do work this afternoon only to get frustrated at QuickBooks and at myself.  If it weren't for a call from my boyfriend, K, I may have never taken a break to eat dinner and go to yoga / rock climb this evening.

Even dietitians have off days.  Why?  Eating healthy requires mindfulness and planning; sometimes I fail to to prepare.  Being healthy requires making a good choice over and over and over again.  There have been many times recently when I am too tired to choose the better option (which usually requires more thought, time, or money).

To help me plan for the rest of the week I am going to write down everything in my house that is edible and plan out some meals.  I am doing this right now at 11pm on a Monday night.


  • 1 Amy's frozen burrito
  • 1 Ezekiel whole grain sprouted tortilla
  • 1 loaf Ezekiel 4:9 bread
  • 1 bag Alexia hash browns
  • 1/2 bag frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 bag mixed berries (rasp, black, blue)
  • 1 quart homemade vegetable broth
  • Copious amounts of nuts (almond, walnut, sunflower, pumpkin)
  • 1 lb butter
  • 1 lb shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 lb shrimp

    • 1/2 carton of 2% milk
    • 2 bottles of Kefir (plain & peach flavors)
    • 1 cup homemade whipped cream
    • 1 cup steamed broccoli
    • 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
    • 8 cups homemade sauerkraut
    • Dozen eggs
    • 1/2 cup leftover Sardine Olive Tapenade
    • 1 cup lentil salad from SUNdeVich
    • Lentils from Trader Joe's
    • Arugula
    • Baby kale
    • 2 lbs carrots
    • 4 stalks of celery
    • 4 lemons
    • 1 cup black beans
    • 12 oz mushrooms (need to be cooked / eaten soon)
    • Sriracha
    • Mayonnaise
    • Mustard
    • Strawberry jam, 100% fruit
    • Copious dressings
    • Kalamata olives
    • Capers
    • Sun-dried tomatoes
    • Soy sauce
    • Bragg's liquid aminos
    • Brown rice vinegar
    • Fish sauce
    • 1 banana
    • 4 Cara Cara oranges
    • 2 tiny Empire apples
    • 1 lime
    • Ginger root
    • 1 yellow onion
    • 1 sweet potato (needs to be cooked / eaten)
    • Head of garlic
    • Chocolate covered almonds
    • Seaweed snacks
    • Peanut butter
    • Almond butter
    • 2 cans pinto beans
    • 1 can garbanzo beans
    • 1 can black beans
    • 1 can white kidney beans
    • Amy's Thai Coconut soup
    • Free range chicken and rice soup
    • 1 can tuna
    • 1 jar pizza sauce
    • 1 box Horizon mac and cheese
    • Copious amounts of dried lentils
    • 1 quarts broth (vegetable & chicken)
    • Jasmine rice
    • Quinoa
    • Wild rice
    • Nutritional yeast
    • BiPro 100% whey powder
    • Unsweetened, dried coconut
    • Raisins
    • Dried cranberries
    • Dates
    • Sesame seeds
    • Steel cut oats
    • Old-fashioned oats
    • Baking soda and powder
    • Flours (whole wheat, all-purpose, brown rice and buckwheat)
    • Sugars (white, brown)
    • Honey
    • Molassas
    • Nestle Quik
    • Unsweetened cocoa
    • Luxardo cherries + Peychaud's bitters
    • Ume plum vinegar
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Olive oil (extra virgin for salads, more processed version for cooking)
    • Sesame oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Copious boxes of tea (mostly green & herbal, some black)
    • Copious dried spices
    • Salt and pepper
    Meal ideas - breakfast
    Smoothie w/ protein powder, banana, frozen fruit, almond butter
    Egg-over-easy on top of sautéed kale (cooked w/garlic and onion) + Ezekiel toast w/peanut butter
    Eggs scrambled with kale + hash browns + fruit
    Oatmeal w/walnuts and dried fruit

    Meal ideas - lunch
    Amy's Thai Coconut soup + rice + shrimp
    Tuna fish sandwich on Ezekiel + arugula
    Arugula salad + pre-cooked lentils + walnuts + cranberries + homemade balsamic vinaigrette + sweet potato fries (cut into strips, coat with oil & salt, bake in oven)
    Frozen burrito + side salad
    Homemade burrito w/ leftover black beans, rice, cheese, Sriracha

    Meal ideas - snacks
    Smoothie w/ kale, ginger, lemon, celery, apple, protein powder
    Cereal w/milk
    Apple w/peanut butter
    Walnut Energy Truffles (recipe to follow)
    Homemade granola + yogurt

    Meal ideas - dinner
    Three bean soup w/onion, celery, carrot, beans (or lentils)
    Buy some kind of meat + make some kind of grain + eat leftover broccoli and lentil salad

    It seems like I may need to grocery shop for some additional dinner proteins, but I will probably be able to feed myself all meals prior using only ingredients in my house.  Woohoo!

    Monday, March 30, 2015

    Biking really fast

    This past Thursday I joined local cyclists for sprint night down at Hains Point.  It was a beautiful evening, nearly 70 degrees F.  After biking with legs, sleeves, jackets and gloves for so long it felt surreal to shed all the layers and go out only in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey.

    I wasn't the only one taking advantage of the weather.  Almost 50 people showed up to ride laps around the circular loop!  Included in the group were some of the most elite cyclists in the DC area, the 1s and 2s, which significantly turned up the heat of the ride.  Not only was the weather hot, but the ride was spicy, too!

    Having joined sprint night one time before, I had a general idea of what to expect.  K and I warm up for a couple of laps and then join the group.  The group rides at a moderate pace toward to the point, usually in a tight pack.  To conserve energy, I tuck in behind someone with broad shoulders and draft.  Once the group rounds the corner, the ride turns into a mad sprint down the back side, with riders leaving the pack to make their move with a long string of riders trailing them.  Police officers sometimes sit at the end of the sprint side, making sure we all come to a complete stop at stop signs (there are 3), so the middle section is mandatorily slow.

    When K brought me to sprint night two weeks ago, I was able to maintain contact the group by pushing my way toward the front during the "easy" sections and holding on as best I could through the "sprint" sections, usually ending up at the back of the pack.  I tried the same method last night but, despite my determination, legs pumping, lungs burning, eyes watering, I was incapable of keeping up with the group through the sprint or the easy sections.

    Why?  A strong SW wind made it difficult to move forward during the "easy" sections and the leaders sprinted faster than I am capable of going on the back stretch.

    The leaders of the group were 1s and 2s, which is short for Category 1 and Category 2 bikers.  Apparently, there are 5 categories of bike racing and 1 is the highest.  Even my friend C, an accomplished cyclist, had a difficult time keeping up.  On the last lap, he saw the leaders take off and asked himself "should I sprint?"  But when he looked at his speedometer, he was already riding at 34 mph!  So he stepped it up to 34.5 mph.

    If the front guys were biking at 35 mph, K imagines that I must have been going at least 30 mph.  OMG, no wonder I felt like I was going to die!

    Joining K for sprint night is such a novelty.  I am a novice female cyclist who, despite being in decent shape from climbing, running and yoga, lacks bike training.  Biking with the guys is like playing a game where I know that I cannot win.  While that may seem discouraging, I find it motivating and fun.  There is no pressure to succeed or win because no one expects that from me.  Without the external pressure or expectation to perform, I am allowed to push myself as hard (or  as little) as I want to, which usually means I push harder.  Since no one explains the rules, I am forced to figure out etiquette by paying attention to hand gestures, whistles, and pack formations.  This keeps me alert and engaged.  Indeed, the moment I get complacent on the bike, I fall out of formation, miss the sprint, and have to work extra hard to rejoin the group.

    I am one of maybe three women who join the guys and certainly the only woman crazy enough to try and keep up with the leaders. When not pushing my limits to keep up, I find myself smiling or laughing during these experiences because I find the scenario amusing.  On one hand, I feel like I am getting away with something, like sneaking into a bar before you turn 21.  On the other hand, I know that I know that I stick out like a sore thumb.  I'm sure the male cyclists, with their matching team jerseys, look at me in my unbranded biking clothes and wonder "who is this girl?" as they whiz past me at 35 mph.  But I don't care.  Like being at a concert, I can feel the energy of the group and it motivates me to bike faster.  With enough training, maybe someday I will be able to keep up.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    Can stress make me tired?

    I've been feeling tired lately.  This seems weird to me because I've been sleeping at least 7 hours a night, usually 8 or 9.

    Anytime I am not feeling 100%, I know that something in my life is "off."  It could be any number of factors, but the first thing I always suspect is my diet.  I worry that I am fatigued because my body is reacting to the foods I am eating in a negative way - either food sensitivities or too much inflammation in the body.  So, of course, the first plan I envision to "fix" my fatigue is to go on an elimination diet or an anti-inflammatory diet.

    You know what they say: if all you have a is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, haha. 

    However, when I told this to my boyfriend, K, he shook his head at me (in a compassionate way) and suggested that, perhaps, the reason I am tired is because, even thought I am sleeping enough, I am still working long hours and I am too hard on myself.  So I thought about what he said...

    • It's true that I was upset with myself last week when I failed to get out of bed at 7:30 each day, like I had planed (although I consistently rose by 8:30am, without alarm, each day) and because I didn't get as many items crossed of the "to do" list as I had hoped.
    • It's also true that I have been focusing on elimination and anti-inflammatory diets a lot lately.
      • My article on anti-inflammatory diets for rock climbers was published in the Sportrock Blog March 1, 2015.
      • I am halfway through Michelle Babb's book Anti-inflammatory Eating Made Easy: 75 Recipes and Nutrition Plan.
      • I am also studying to become a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT), a program which focuses on eliminating foods, determined by MRT blood test, that cause an inflammatory response in the patient.
    ...and perhaps he is right.

    I worked a staff shift at Sportrock tonight and had a blast.  I got to know co-workers, learned new behind-the-desk skills, I helped people, I sold a membership ($25 commission, yeah!) and I talked to some friends who came in to climb.  And I didn't feel tired once!  I even had enough energy when I clocked out at 9pm to go for a 5 mile run + stretching yoga + foam rolling!

    Thinking more about what energizes me, I suspect that, although I am more of an introvert than an extrovert, I do need human interaction and external validation to feel my best.  Despite the low hourly wage, I will continue to work at Sportrock for opportunity for social interaction and immediate gratification.  It takes months to build a business, but only hours to memorize the directions to the gym and how much each membership costs.

    I never considered how challenging it would be to go into private practice.  There are SO many tasks to complete when you are the only employee.  I play the role of founder, owner, CEO, CFO, secretary, insurance biller, bookkeeper, head of marketing and development, etc.  No wonder I am tired - I have to keep track of all of the details for all these positions and keep all the balls rolling in the right direction.  Phew, it's a mind workout for sure!

    I am grateful for the the loving support of my friends and family (especially K) who prevent me from becoming a work-a-holic by asking me to hang out (climb, lunch, etc) and reminding me to take time for myself, too.