Monday, October 20, 2014

Supplement Update

In preparing to discuss supplements, I scrolled back through the blogs I have written previously to make sure I don't repeat myself. I already posted (back in 2012) two blogs specifically focused on the supplements I take. However, neither of those was exhaustive, meaning I didn't actually list every single pill that I pop.

And I believe people like popping pills.

I'll be the first to admit, I enjoy pill-popping.

Not the physical act of swallowing a pill; I actually have to force myself to do that part. I mean, I like the IDEA of downing a capsule to create (seemingly by magic) a desired effect. Every time I hear about a new supplement that does something extraordinary for the body, mind, or soul, my ears perk right up. I've tried PLENTY of those "weight loss" supplements, like green coffee bean (did nothing as far as I could see) and green tea extract (no noticeable benefits). Based on my research and personal experience, I do NOT recommend any type of pill or product designed to promote weight loss. I believe the dangers associated with many of these products FAR outweigh any possible benefit.

My husband is like my dealer when it comes to supplements. He is often the one who first reads about a new vitamin, mineral, or compound that seems to be exhibiting miraculous results and then goes about finding and trying the newest pills or powders. I take some of what he brings home, but not everything.

Here's a list of my current supplements:

Vitamin D (most of us are deficient and it is very unlikely you're getting enough from food/sun)
Vitamin E (make sure yours is NATURAL as studies show this helps prevent breast cancer)
Vitamin B complex (Important for nerve health. Take it if you are stressed out or have PMS.)
Qunol (for heart health and also for the gums)
Blue Ice Fermented cod liver oil (Natural source of Vitamin A and D, plus Omega 3's)
Move Free (made by Schiff for joint health)
Magnesium Citrate (for muscles and better sleep; helps with relaxation!)
Turmeric (a powerful antioxidant proven to prevent cancer)

At various times in my life I've taken additional supplements such as SAM-E (for joint health and mood) as well as a women's multivitamin.

I cannot guarantee that any of these supplements are doing what they purport, with the exception of the magnesium citrate which has a definite effect on my muscles. I am experiencing MUCH less cramping now that I'm using the correct form of magnesium. As for the rest of the bunch, I can only hope that I'm preventing various forms of cancer and receiving all the nutrients my body desperately needs. Overall, I'd say that my moods are fairly stable these days, but that is probably due more to my diet (no sugar!) than my supplements.

And my joints seems to be holding up under a heavy load of dance-based aerobics. Can I say for sure this is because I take Move Free? Or does my diet play a bigger role? Or is it mostly genetic? Who really knows? I plan to continue supplementing as I don't think any of my pills are harmful and it's quite possible they're helpful.

If you're considering adding any supplements to your daily regimen, I recommend you consult your doctor first. You can get tested to see whether or not you're deficient before you begin. It's possible your doctor will recommend something specific for your particular situation. My GYN recommended Vitamin D, as I'm sure she does for all her patients. It is generally considered beneficial for everyone these days.

If you've discovered a supplement that has made a difference to your own health, please share your findings with us!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Above and Beyond the Basics

Yesterday I blogged about daily self-care. The stuff you need to do each day to stay healthy. Not just physically, but holistically.

Today I want to go a step further: what are the things you need to do (maybe not each and every day, but frequently) to live a full, healthy, vibrant, and rewarding life?

Ready? Yes? Here comes another list!

1) Nurture someone else. I'm putting this at the top of my list because I think I tend to be just a wee tad bit selfish. Until I had children, I was pretty much insufferable. These days I'm sure I'm still obnoxiously annoying, but at least I've learned that I don't always come first. Caring for others, whether those others are your own children, your foster children, your students, your neighbors, your aging parents, your pets, the homeless, or your community as a whole, will help to stretch and open your heart, develop compassion, and help you understand exactly how we are all connected. It can be a lonely world out there with those connections.

2) Challenge yourself. I strongly believe this is what life is all about. Try something new, something you enjoy but do not excel at (yet!), something outside your wheelhouse. For about 25 years, I studied, performed, choreographed and taught modern dance but at the age of 45, I began working on my first novel. It sucked, for sure, but then I chucked that one on the trash heap and wrote another. I now have 3 novels in a series of murder mysteries; the first (titled Blind Angel) will be published soon. I plan to begin writing the fourth this November during National Novel Writing Month. What have you always wanted to try? Skydiving? Caving? Ice carving? Crochet? Get started now.

3) Push yourself physically. There is an athlete inside you. Don't shake your head no! No matter how long you've been ignoring that side of yourself, that athlete is still in there, lying dormant, just waiting for you to awaken your true potential. We are physical creatures and we have been given these amazing bodies to use for a short amount of time. Don't waste your physicality! Explore the huge potential of your body: try lifting heavier weights, or running faster up a hill, or training for a marathon, or swimming a mile, or climbing a mountain. Without a doubt, no matter who you are, you can become stronger, faster, more agile, more flexible, or longer lasting. (I couldn't figure out how to say having more endurance!)

4) Get creative. Innovation can take a billion different forms. You can express your creative side by rearranging your furniture. Or baking and decorating a cake. You don't have to win an award or sell your work to be successful as an artist. You just need to allow that side of your nature to come out and play. Everyone owns a camera these days, since everyone carries a phone. Try taking photographs and posting them on your Facebook page. Or write a poem. One of my Facebook friends has been hand-dying old sheets and clothing, then weaving the strips into beautiful rugs. Explore and have fun without putting any pressure on yourself to produce anything perfect. Keep in mind that the process is more important than the product.

5) Dream. I think this one goes hand in hand with creativity. I encourage you to spend some time being idle. Hammocks are great for this, but you can also day dream while you're walking your dog or swimming laps or climbing a mountain. Instead of focusing your energy on the tasks you have to accomplish or your next big project at work, let your mind wander. Let new ideas pop into your brain and explore the possibilities. When you get a good one, write it down. You might also want to keep a journal by your bed and track your nighttime dreams. Sometimes the images imbedded in our dreams reveal subconscious desires or solutions to problems we've been trying to solve.

These are just a few more of the activities I hope we can all make time for in our busy lives. Some of these might involve getting out of your comfort zone, but that is a great thing! Take a risk and see what happens. You might just end up happier than you've ever been before.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Daily Self-Care Checklist

I've been thinking about creating a self-care checklist for a while now. Just for my own self. Not to be selfish, but I honestly think I need one. Of course there are some things I never forget to do. But there are many basic components of maintaining good health that I DO forget. Some of them frequently.

So I thought it might be helpful to make a list of the things I consider most important. The list, of course, is just the first step. As you might have already discovered for yourself, making a list of things to do is only helpful if you 1) consult the list and 2) actually DO the things on the list. For me, it seems to be very easy to skip over both of these crucial next steps.

Nevertheless, since the list has to come before the horse, here it goes:

1) Floss and brush teeth.

I was considering leaving this off the list because this is something I never forget or skip. It doesn't matter how drunk, tired, grumpy, or distracted I might be, my tooth-care regimen is firmly cemented in my routine. Maybe this is the result of having a dentist for a father? Something to think about: your teeth reside in your head, extremely close to your brain. Neglecting any trouble in your mouth, especially an infection, can be a recipe for disaster. Even death. Your mouth health is a reflection of your total health.

2) Drink water. 3-4 liters per day, depending on how much you exercise and sweat. Aim for more, not less.

If you are active or athletic in the least, drinking plenty of water will mean the difference between feeling decent and feeling terrible. Dehydration affects every single system of your body, from your brain to your digestion to your muscles, including your heart. Why make life miserable for yourself? You will feel better in every way when you're well hydrated. You will have fewer aches and pains in both your joints and your muscles. Don't tell me you don't like water! Quit whining and just drink it!

3) Plan healthy meals and snacks AHEAD of time. Know what you're going to eat each day.

Notice I didn't say "eat" healthy meals and snacks. This is because if we do not plan ahead, we might not have healthy food available. We might find ourselves hungry and, God forbid, in front of a fast food restaurant. Make it a daily habit to check your fridge, freezer, and cabinets. Know when you are running low on any basic staples. Keep a grocery list handy so you can add to it numerous times per day. Cooking from scratch, using fresh, wholesome, unprocessed ingredients is best. But when you don't have time for that, at least plan ahead and have something healthy you can grab while on the go. (Because we all have different definitions of exactly what constitutes a "healthy" meal, I'm not going into those details today. I have written numerous blogposts on the subject, in case you're dying to hear more on that.)

4) Take your supplements.

Maybe you don't take vitamins. Maybe you believe in getting all your nutrients from the foods you eat. This is a great goal, except for the fact that it may not be possible. If you grow all your own food, in rich organic soil, supplemented with loads of compost, and you raise all your own animals purely on pasture, and you spend most of your waking hours outside in the sunshine and fresh air, well then maybe, just maybe, you have a shot at this. Most of us do not even come close. Due to the depleted soils in which most of our food is now grown, we are probably deficient in many of the minerals we need. If you avoid the sun, or slather yourself with SPF 500, there's a very good chance you are deficient in Vitamin D. And in the winter, unless you live near the equator, there is no way to get enough Vitamin D through sun exposure. Bottom line: take your supplements daily as an insurance policy.

5) Get enough sleep. 7-8 hours minimum.

Because we are all unique individuals, the exact amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. You might be able to get away with seven hours per night and feel great. But some people really need eight, nine, or even ten hours. Young people who are still growing need more sleep. Pregnant or lactating women need more than normal. As we age, sleep can become more and more challenging. Yet it is absolutely vital to our health. If you are having trouble sleeping through the night, or getting enough sleep overall, you can use naps to help catch up. An entire blog (or book!) could easily be devoted to sleep hygiene and many have been, so read up on the subject if you need help.

6) Walk. Every day.

The more walking, and the less sitting, you do during the day, the better. Moving around, puttering, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, anything ambulatory counts. If you are standing still, say cooking or folding laundry, this is still better than sitting. The more you get up and move, the more likely you are to stay healthy and fit. We were designed for perpetual motion. Our bodies are meant to be walking all day long, hunting and gathering. You can't fight your genetic code. So get up and move.

7) Get outside. Every day.

On the inside, we are animals. And animals, like babies, are always happier outdoors. (If you have a crying baby, just try taking it outside. Go ahead. I'll wait.) Looking at landscapes of green leaves and grass is healing and calming for our nervous systems. We were not designed to live our lives inside an office or a cubicle. If you are forced to spend hours on end indoors, make sure you get outside when possible. Eat your lunch on a park bench. Jog with a friend after work instead of hitting the gym. Get some sunshine on your face to boost your Vitamin D while you're at it!

8) Massage, foam roll, and stretch your muscles.

I'm guessing this might be the first entry where you're thinking do what? Perhaps you don't care for your body in this way on a daily basis. Maybe you think massage is a luxury, something someone else has to do to you, something expensive and unnecessary. Maybe you think stretching is for those yoga weirdos who like to contort themselves into painful positions for fun. I'm here to tell you that it's time to rethink your attitude! Because if you are active, giving your muscles a daily massage and stretch session (mine lasts at least 30 minutes daily, sometimes up to an hour) will make every part of your body feel and function much better. If you have tightness, tension, pain, reduced range of motion, cramping or muscle spasms, your body is crying out for this type of attention. Listen to it!

9) Breathe.

Okay. This one is pretty basic. Of course we are all breathing all the time. If you're reading this blog, you're breathing. But my guess is, you're probably doing the absolute minimum when it comes to breathing. Most of us use about a third of our lung capacity most of the time. So what I'm asking you to do, on a daily basis, is practice deepening the breath. Yes, this is more of that weirdo yoga stuff. But taking in more oxygen with each breath will do wonders for your health, and not just physically. Nothing will change your mood faster than taking a deep breath. Take a bunch of them right now and see what happens. Then use this technique the next time someone pisses you off.

10) Smile. Even better, laugh.

Last but not least, putting a smile on your face makes everything better. This is important for you, but also an awesome gift for all the people around you. If you are not feeling it, then fake it till you make it. Sure, pretending to be happy is not quite as good as actual joy, but even the physical act of drawing the corners of your mouth up can make you feel better. Truly. If you need some inspiration, watch your favorite comedians performing stand-up routines on youtube. Or the Comedy Channel. Or borrow some funny movies from the library. It doesn't really matter where you find humor, just make sure you find it. Every day.

That's my daily checklist. Some of these items will happen automatically. But some of them might be a challenge. If you work full-time, plus commute, you might have to squeeze some things in. Or get up a little earlier. If you add something new to your routine and it changes your life, let me know!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Banish This Phrase:

"What do I feel like eating?"

Do you ever fall into this trap? Maybe you fall into it so frequently, you didn't even realize it was a trap?

The key words are "feel like." You could also substitute the word "craving." Which is even worse.

How many times have you pondered what you might be craving, only to come up with steamed kale? (Well, I have to admit that I might occasionally crave healthy green veggies or a salad, but I'm guessing this is not very normal.) I'll bet any time you entertain the idea of fulfilling a "craving," you are not likely to consume something healthy.

Let's say it's dinnertime. You just got home from _____ (fill in the blank) and you're hungry. Your blood sugar is low. (This is a terrible state in which to make any decision, so you are already in a bad spot.) The worst thing in the world that you could say to yourself at this point is: "What do I FEEL LIKE eating?"

Why? Because you are most likely to want something that will instantly reverse your state of low blood sugar. And that means carbs. High carbs. Quick carbs. These are the foods we typically crave: pasta, pizza, bread, bagels, chips, muffins, cookies, cakes, candy, desserts of every kind. And once you begin to stuff those tater tots into your face, do you think you're going to stop with one single serving as listed on the package? I highly doubt it.

Let's rewind.

Imagine you come home from ____ and instead of plumbing the depths of your taste buds for the perfect sensation, you say to yourself: "What do I NEED to eat?"

Do you get the difference? Because it's huge. It's a major shift of attitude from tantalizing your taste buds to honoring your body.

Did you work out during the day? Did you lift heavy weights? Did you run several miles? Did you go to bootcamp? If so, you need extra protein to repair the muscle tissue you used in order to build strength. You need plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You may be able to handle a higher load of carbs like sweet potatoes or fruit.

Or did you sit at a desk for eight hours and then drive home in your car? Then you're not going to need as many calories to support that amount of activity. If you don't want to gain weight, you should probably eat lightly and stay away from those high carb foods.

One more time, let's rewind the tape.

This time, you arrive home with a plan. You have already prepped your ingredients. Your chopped veggies and defrosted shrimp are waiting for you in a tupperware container in your fridge. You just have to throw them in a pan and your stir-fried shrimp and broccoli is ready in mere minutes. Or your chopped salad topped with grilled chicken. Or your pot roast. Or your homemade soup which you just need to warm up. (I'm making Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Soup today. This recipe is posted on my blog. Use the search feature to find it!)

Planning ahead is your very best defense against cravings. And that hideous state of low blood sugar where you are bound to make the worst dietary decisions. Remember to consider what your body actually NEEDS, instead of succumbing to the lure of what you might think you want. I guarantee you will be happier in the long run after you eat something good for your body than you will be after giving in to a craving for junk food. Try it and see!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Balance Salad Manifesto

"You had me at hello."

The word "manifesto" always reminds me of the movie Jerry Maguire. I'm sure you've seen it. Great movie. If you missed it, you can find it at the library.

I've been thinking a lot about balance lately. Which is, of course, the overarching theme of this blog.

I've always hated the word "moderation." I think probably because my mother always touted moderation as the cure for all ills. Ugh. Moderation is so boring. So predictable. So middle-of-the-road. I'm not saying that moderation is a bad choice. It's probably a good choice, most of the time, but it doesn't get me excited.

I prefer the concept of balance.

And I believe our health and well-being depend on balance.

But balance may not be particularly sexy, either. I remember once in a yoga class, we were discussing balance. And I mentioned how I'm a big fan. Another student, who was way sexier than me, said she liked when things in her life got out of balance, because this was when she discovered things. Really? Well, I'm guessing she probably discovered things like hangovers, tooth decay, headaches, obesity, and sexually transmitted diseases. But I could be biased.

Because I am a big fan of balance. (Did I mention that?)

Balance is built right into our bodily systems. I'm sure you learned in biology class about the body's propensity for seeking equilibrium. For example, we tend to return to a particular weight. Our bodies have a set-point and although it's possible to change this, it takes considerable time and effort. Unfortunately, it seems easier to raise that set-point than to lower it. I'm sure this is nature's way of trying to help us survive. (Thanks, Mother Nature!)

If we seek health, I believe balance is the path which will get us there.

In terms of diet, we need to balance our macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) so we get enough of each. Can we survive on a diet that is out of balance? Yes. The human body is extremely adaptable. But I'm guessing you're reading this blog because you want to do better than just survive. I'm guessing you want to thrive. If this is the case, you might want to adjust the balance of protein, carbs, and fats to favor higher protein (and higher quality protein) as well as higher good fats and maybe reduce the carbs. If you are already balancing your diet according to Zone proportions (30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs) then you are in the right ballpark. However, holistic authorities on women's health issues suggest upping the protein as we hit the menopausal years. If you are experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms, you might want to aim for closer to 40% protein and 30% carbs.

In addition, where diet is concerned, there are many more balancing acts we need to perform. We need to balance our vitamins. If you take a lot of Vitamin C, this depletes your levels of all the B vitamins. If you take too much of any one particular vitamin, the others will become out of balance.  The same is true for minerals.

Other areas where balance is crucial include exercise, sleep, rest, relaxation, socializing, play, time in nature, laughter, meditation, and solitude. Too much time spent working out and too little rest will result in overtraining, illness, injuries, and even depression. But too much sleep is not the answer! Too much sitting is bad. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (The Shining reference.)

Bottom line: we need balance.

Take a look at your own life. Where are the places, activities, emphases which are out of balance? What are you missing? Do you crave more solitude? More time in nature? More sleep? More green veggies? (I kid you not, after a vacation of eating out day after day, I desperately crave green veggies!!) Decide what you're missing and see if you can carve out some time this month for more of what you need. Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Miracle Mineral (for sleep and muscle cramps)

Stop what you're doing right now and go to your medicine cabinet. Or your kitchen cabinet. Get out your magnesium supplement and read what KIND of magnesium you've been taking. Does your brand contain "magnesium OXIDE"?

It probably does, because most grocery store brands use magnesium oxide. Including the brand we had been buying (in massive amounts, of course) from Costco.

However, this is NOT the type of magnesium which is most easily absorbed by our bodies. In fact, for most of us downing large capsules filled with magnesium oxide, we are unfortunately receiving NONE of the benefits of this very important mineral.

Our muscles use magnesium in order to relax and release from a contracted state. If you have been experiencing chronic muscular tension, cramping, spasms, and pain (including back pain!) you may be deficient in magnesium. This is very common, as the soil in which we grow vegetables these days is most likely depleted of magnesium. And taking just any magnesium supplement will not do the trick.

I know this firsthand because I've been taking those giant green pills I purchased from Costco! And yet, despite drinking at least three liters of water daily, I have still been cramping up. My feet, my calves, my hamstrings have all been chronically tense. I've started to discover the particular searing, burning pain of plantar fascitis in one foot. And for several mornings in a row, getting out of bed became interesting due to massive spasms in my low back. (Yes, I'm a mess.)

Then my husband (brilliant man that he is) began looking into his sleep problems. And lo and behold, what did he discover? One of the keys to restful sleep is MAGNESIUM! And not just any old magnesium. The trick is to find a supplement which contains magnesium CITRATE. Our bodies can most easily absorb magnesium in this form.

So he ordered magnesium citrate from Pure Encapsulations online.

We have both been taking our new magnesium capsules for about 48 hours now. My husband is taking 600 mg. per day total, while I'm taking 300 mg. We both take it in the morning and the evening, before bed. In this short amount of time, we have noticed significant changes in our muscular tension and levels of pain. We slept better than usual last night. And upon waking this morning, I rolled over and got out of bed with absolutely no twinges in my low back. The tightness in my hamstrings has disappeared as well.

I realize this sounds too good to be true. But I have read about the wonderful benefits of magnesium for years. I wondered why I wasn't experiencing any of those benefits when I was already religiously downing this mineral! If you are in the same boat, suffering from sleep problems and excess muscular tension, you might consider upgrading your supplements.

Let me know if you find any difference when you switch things up.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No More Dara Torres

For the past four years or possibly even more, there has been a photograph of Dara Torres on my fridge. Dara Torres in a bikini. I believe the photo was taken during her last Olympic games, or possibly during her training which led up to those games. I know she was over forty and she was definitely fabulous. She was the epitome of everything I was striving for: strong, fit, gorgeous, talented, a winner.

But as menopause drew closer and closer, I felt my body careening off course. Instead of approaching the perfection of Dara, I was headed off into the ditch. I was gaining weight despite constant exercising. I was tired, bloated, and discouraged.

Starting in January of 2014, I made some changes.

I started off the year with a month of Whole 30. This dietary challenge forced me to confront my sugar addiction. The first time I tried to get off all sugars and all sweeteners, I couldn't last a full month. But this time was different. I was at least ten pounds overweight and extremely unhappy about it. I was very motivated. So I quit not only sugar, but alcohol, grains, legumes, additives, preservatives, all processed foods. And by the end of the 30 days, I had cured my addiction. I was no longer craving sweet treats at the end of each day.

And I'm happy to say, the cure stuck. Nine months later, I am still sugar-free. (With the exception of the occasional scoop of Four Bean Salad!) For the most part, I don't crave anything sweet, and when I do, I can just eat a small amount of fruit. I never bake treats, not even Paleo approved desserts. I know if I have that stuff around, I'll just scarf it up. Instead, I snack on pistachios, plantain chips, grapes or cherries, and the rare, tiny square of very dark chocolate. Although I might have an occasional glass of wine or a beer, my nightly beverage is a mug of decaf green tea.

I haven't stepped on the scale in months and I have no plan to. I have arrived at a place where I feel confident and happy in my body. I like the way I look now. I may not be perfect. I'm no Dara Torres. But I no longer strive to become something I'm not. I'm a little more curvy, not quite as cut, but this is me.

So I took Dara down. She no longer stares at me from my refrigerator door, mocking me with a bikini body I'll never achieve. Because I have something even better now. I have made peace with my own body. My real, flesh-and-bone body. (Maybe a bit more flesh than bone, but that's okay.) I wish the same for all of you.