Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dueling Turtle Doves & Strong Women

Now that's a title: "Dueling Turtle Doves & Strong Women". Yes, I made that up myself. Here's what happened. I've been thinking about strong women all week. Women I know that, at young ages, have very mature, motivated attitudes and outlooks. And older strong women who are wise, patient and diligent. All week, I've had this on my mind as it relates to "the last 5 pounds" - or, rather, the 4 pounds that crept up on me over the course of a month of not getting on the scale and being hit or miss with physical activity. Strong women may let that get them down for a few minutes, or a day, but then they figure out all is not lost, get back on track, and within a week or so...viola! Off it comes! But my thinking was along the lines of the fact that there are so many women out there that can't make that succinct determination, and that 4 pounds becomes 8, which becomes 15, an so on. Before they know it, it's unmanageable. Men, on the other hand, or at least the one's I'm associated with, don't have that problem. Most men I know just commit, quit eating (not the right strategy) and viola! Off it comes. Besides the fact that men have a slightly easier time losing weight than women, they also don't have all the emotionally charged hormones that come with being a woman and dealing with excess weight, among other brain-infesting demons! Our hormones give us that emotion, as well as the resistance, at times, to weight loss.

And now, enter the Turtle Doves. This is the connection that spawned the blog. I walked my husband to his car this morning to help pack it up and load his bike so he could go off road biking with friends. There were two Turtle Doves perched about 20 yards apart - one in the parking garage and one by the pool - and they were dueling! I'd not been that close to two of them before, and never had I had the luxury of seeing, as well as hearing them call to each other. It took my breath away. And while my husband was absorbed in other things, even had he been paying attention to them, it wouldn't have affected him the same way. Being a woman gives us the ability to appreciate some truly simple, God-given things! So there's my crazy connection - the fact that I was so taken by those birds brought to mind the innate difference between men and women - our hormones and emotionally capacities and differences - and how this allows women to be strong in the same ways as men, yet in different ways than men.

So, back to strong women. My appreciation for them is equal to that of the Turtle Dove's coo - I'm constantly in awe. I see women's strength in three distinct areas: emotional, mental and physical - yes, physical, too. You can be the toughest, most organized and sensitive woman, but if you don't pay attention to your body, I do lose some respect for you. We were given a brain with which to do things, learn things and care for things emotionally, and which we are responsible to ensure it's maintenance and continued development. And we were given a body with which to do things, and which we are responsible to ensure it's maintenance and continued development. And on this body our bones and muscles must be kept strong and able through exercise and movement, as well our organs and other parts must be maintained through the foods we feed it. These seem like primal needs that should be intuitively fulfilled just because of the gift of life. But so many women I know neglect one or more of the things required to keep our "organism" functioning optimally. And it's the women who don't see the need or don't have the desire to maintain one or more of these things, that I have trouble respecting.

The women in my life currently are either all already strong (but of course, looking to be stronger) in all three areas I mentioned earlier, or they want to be strong, and are seeking the means or pathway. I'll admit, I've had a few ladies who I've "cut loose" because they were either toxic, or they just didn't respect themselves enough to try to make a change to move in the right direction. I struggled with the decision to move them to arms length for months, but once I did, it was weight I no longer carried, because if I consider you a friend, I feel a responsibility to you and to your goals as well. So, to all you ladies:

  • If you're not eating right, get to it! And use your head - no fads! If you don't know what to do, hire someone to show you!
  • If you're not exercising, get to it! Get outside and run, hit the gym, and if you don't know what to do, again hire someone to show you!
  • If you're not accomplishing your personal or professional goals, get to it! Write things down, make a list, confide in a friend for support, ditch the things in life that are blocking you from your goals...and if it's still happening...hire someone to help you!

And to all the strong women in my life, thank you for your ongoing and continued inspiration and support. Whether you know it or not, you're inspiring just by being who you are. At any moment of weakness I may have (e.g., that 4 pounds about a week ago), I simply think of one of you and all that you accomplish and it's that strength I draw on to push myself through. I think of my mom-friends that juggle husbands, kids, homes and activities! Talk about overload! I think of my professional friends that make quick, complicated decisions all day and function at levels equivalent to their male peers, all the while also keeping their home lives in order and working smoothly. And these women also take care of their bodies - whether marathoners, Pilate's-nuts, gym rats or my fellow Crossfitters - they leave nothing behind and love to sweat! I draw from the strength of all you! Thanks!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How Diversified Is Your Diet?

I love this word: diversity. Every time I hear "diversity", I think about newness, variety, no boredom, blah, blah, blah. It's a good word! So, speaking of diversity…not just what you eat, but why you would want diversity in your diet (or rather, why wouldn't you want it)…just how diversified do you think your diet is? And why would this be important?

First, let's define diversity. Diversity is defined as:

  1. the state of being diverse
  2. variety, multiformity
  3. the point of difference
  4. differing from one another; unlike
  5. composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities

    I prefer definition numbers 2 and 5 as it relates to our diets. "Variety, multiformity" and "Composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities".

    As usual, let me digress, but at least with a related point. Monthly, weekly, daily, my husband labors over ensuring our financial portfolio is well "diversified". He keeps me in the loop, which I appreciate, but he manages this process for our family. One day we were discussing it, and I commented on how the need for diversity is pertinent not just in our financial lives, but also our social lives, our diet, our intellectual well-being, and so on. For instance, as it relates to our social lives, I would hope we all surround ourselves with friends of diverse backgrounds, likes and interests, intellectual and emotional levels, and socioeconomic levels. Exposure to all of this makes each of us more whole...more "worldly" and aware...and less isolated. Or, from an exercise and physical activity standpoint, diversity keeps our minds engaged in the activity so that we don't get bored with the "same ol'", as well as keeps our bodies "shocked" by not settling into one mode of exercise. We benefit and progress from a variety of exercise styles, resistance levels and intensities as opposed to one sole mode, load and intensity (and of course, I whole-heartily subscribe to the Crossfit "mode" for exercise - more on that later in "How Diversified is Your Exercise Routine?).

    Back to food - the same concepts about diversity hold true with our diets. Variety is key in both combating boredom and in ensuring we are our healthiest. I think many people don't see variety as a health factor, but rather an option, a trivial choice or even a luxury. Simply put, however, you cannot eat the exact same food every single day and be as healthy as someone who consumes the same macronutrient profile (% protein, % carbs, % fat) and total calories, but with a variety of food types. And this is key in making healthy choices, influencing our family's choices, maintaining and interest in the wonders of whole foods and their value, and also in weight management.

    You know, I'm sure, that other countries...healthier countries... don't see food the way we do. The Chinese surround mealtimes with ancient rituals that envelope their social and spiritual beliefs. Many European countries still eat from the land and embrace the old style of family and "block" lunches and dinners - and yes, they often take time away from work to actually sit down and eat lunch- they're not known for eating at their desks over a computer. Now, I know America is different. Heavens, are we different! Everything is faster, more stressful, more metropolitan/urban, less rural...and also, let's face it: less healthy! I bring up these ways of eating to lead us into a thought process with respect to diversity in our diets. Perhaps by acknowledging that other countries do things a bit differently in this area, and are healthier, we could humble ourselves into discovering and embracing new ways of approaching our diet, meals and planning so as to improve the quality of both our overall nutrition, as well as also our family life and social lives.

    The scientific rationale for having diversity in your diet is, frankly, the easy part. In a nutshell, our bodies need a variety of nutrients in order to perform and function at optimum levels and to produce "robust health". Different vegetables and fruits provide different micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants) profiles. By getting a variety of fruits and vegetables in our diets, we fulfill a fuller spectrum of these micronutrients. Whole grains, nuts and seeds provide a myriad of natural nutrients, including B Vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium and healthy fats. Seafood, poultry, lean beef and pork, eggs and dairy also provide valuable complete sources of protein, healthy and essential fats, as well as other vital nutrients. It would be too lengthy to do this for a whole day’s worth of meals, but let's imagine a diet that day after day our breakfast consisted solely of one type of cereal, a splash of milk, an apple and a bit of yogurt. And I mean day after day...the exact same thing. Not only do we become apathetic about breakfast, but it becomes routine, robotic and there is no appreciation for the fact that what you're ingesting is not only keeping you alive, but supporting your ability to do all of the things you want to do that day. Imagine if it's a day you have a stressful meeting or a really fun activity planned - going into that event knowing that your body is optimally fueled should provide an added level of confidence (like high octane gas in your car versus regular unleaded). Unfortunately, McDonald's or Chik-fil-a drive through takes less mental energy, and here we sit. Bummer!

    I recently attended a continuing education seminar where a boring, nutrient deficient diet was described as a "beige diet". Great analogy! Here, the presenter used the color of the foods we consume, versus the my focus on a limited variety or the same foods, to paint a picture of a nutrient deficient diet. Think about it:

    • bread/bun (beige)
    • french fries (beige)
    • mac and cheese (beige-ish if it comes from one of those boxes)
    • chicken nuggets (beige)
    • pizza (beige-ish)

    Not only am I yawning, but gross! I'm sorry, but you can call me a bit of an elitist with food, the fact remains I couldn't gag down a chicken nugget or a fast food carton of french fries if I tried!

    Now, let me paint a different picture - a healthier picture:

    • strawberries (R)
    • oranges (O)
    • bananas (Y)
    • asparagus/green peppers (G)
    • blueberries (B)
    • grapes/beets (I, V)

    I'm trying to "paint the rainbow" (ROY G BIV) of colors we can find in our food, and to quickly help you recall what we all heard from Saturday morning cartoon commercial: eat a rainbow of flavors...oh no, that from Skittles, isn't it? Well, let’s adopt it and forget about the Skittles! But let's don't stop with the rainbow. There are so many other non-colorful foods that are just as nutritious: ...shrimp, corn, , milk, eggs...get the picture?

    Another experience I had related to variety or diversity happened a few months ago. I was coming home from the market with my “shopping cart” of groceries (I live in a high-rise condo, and toting multiple bags typically requires a cart), and I end up on the elevator with an acquaintance from one of my local gyms. She’s an incredibly fit older woman, who I’d had enough conversations with to know she struggled with her weight, as had I, and that her diet is where she’d struggled in the past. She was a fan of health food store fads: “cilantro speeds your metabolism”, or “juicing is the way to go” – oye! In fact, this is a woman who stated emphatically

    “If there was a pill I could take to provide me with enough nutrients, I’d take it. I hate food and hate having to think about it.”

    Once again..Bummer! I really felt sorry for her. I felt sorry that I see her slave away at the gym – over an hour a day walking (nope, not even jogging) on the t-mill, over an hour a day lifting weights - slowly – same routine – light weights – moderate reps. I know this blog is about nutrition, but come on…you’re not going to achieve your ideal physique or robust health with that exercise routine. My point is (though again loosely sewn to this story), I almost believe, and I have no data to back this up which is why I say “almost”, that the enjoyment of knowing what we’re nourishing our bodies with has some positive psychological, and therefore physiological, effect on our health. A great example is that strawberries are currently in season here in Florida. When I see those incredible, succulent red berries with their little “Plant City” stickers, my mouth not only waters, but I can almost feel my body craving the vitamin A, C, B6 and potassium. Or when my husband and I go out for a nice dinner, I invariably order a Kobe or Wagyu beef carpaccio or tartare, and once again, I can almost feel my body sucking up the protein, iron and B vitamins. My muscles scream “Holy Cannoli! Now THIS is nourishment!” Can’t you just envision them? Little plump hamstrings and lats singing: “box jumps and burpees and pull ups – oh my!” – bring it on! Maybe that’s just me, or maybe I have found and felt the physical and psychological connection between a high quality, diversified diet and robust health. Think about it…

      Sunday, March 1, 2009

      Donating to "the cause"

      RebelHealth Chick has been distracted lately. I've had too many issues swirling around in my head and haven't been able to complete a thought. This, however, is one that is heightened by both the healthcare crisis as well as the recent financial crisis. (Crisis, crisis, crisis...I wonder how many times a day that words creeps into our head from the news? Anyway...)

      Have you ever gotten slammed in the head by one of those "ah ha" moments? Well, I was driving home the other day, thinking about two friends who are walking in one of the breast cancer walks and it hit me - not totally or specifically about "the cause" of breast cancer, but somewhat. What hit me, specifically, took me back to a donation I had made last year for a friend's daughter who was jumping rope for the American Heart Association. I felt like a tidal wave of "donate for the cure..." causes came to mind, and frankly, I got angry. I started thinking about "the cure" for heart disease, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, ...and to a certain extent, for breast cancer. These first three diseases are truly classified as lifestyle-related diseases, and with many forms of breast cancer, lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and and obesity contribute directly to this disease as well. My anger came from the thought that we're donating money to cure diseases that are preventable. Why aren't we donating to "the prevention of" versus "the cure of" these diseases. It seems to me that if we took steps to prevent the disease, there would be no need to cure it. But perhaps that's too simple, or too logical. Or, get real, right? That's what politics and lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry are for!

      I went to the American Heart Association's (AHA) and Susan G. Komen's website to see if I could determine to what area (research, community education, treatment) donations actually go. A portion, approximately 30% (if I'm correct in my math -they make it difficult to decipher from the Annual Reports - and I welcome correction if I'm wrong) of the donations made to the AHA do go to community education and awareness. While this is admirable, heart disease is one of the conditions with so many risk factors related to lifestyle, I would have hoped the percentage of funds for prevention would have been equal to those for a cure or treatment. Heredity, age, sex/gender certainly may not be preventable or modifiable risks, but physical activity (exercise), a diet low in saturated fat and high in fresh fruits/vegetables/whole grains/lean protein, not smoking, maintaining a healthy BMI...all preventable. And I say "MAY not be preventable" in relation to the non-preventable/modifiable risks, because you are deemed to be at risk for heart disease if a first generation relative had a cardiovascular-related incident before a certain age, but what if their lifestyle contributed to the condition, and not heredity. Then, you may not be at risk if you don't make the same poor lifestyle choices. The same goes for lung cancer and high blood pressure - both diseases with preventable risk factors. And honestly, I didn't have the patience to dig through the Annual Report at the Susan G. Komen site.

      So, now, every time I see a "donate to cure (insert name of disease here)", I look at it so very differently. I don't want to donate to pay, or even be forced to pay through taxes (Medicare/Medicaid) or high healthcare premiums, for other people's poor lifestyle choices. I'm not sure, however, what the answer is. So many Americans make not just poor, but the absolute wrong choices related to smoking, drinking, diet, physical activity and stress management, and they arrogantly refuse to make the right choice - even though the length and quality of their life depends on it. And frankly, it's not just their life, it's their family's life, as it's their family members who will be caring for them in poor health as they age with the diseases they caused.

      We need to donate more toward the prevention of lifestyle-related disease, versus toward pharmacological and other medical treatment. I'm not saying not to donate to the cure at all, as so many people already suffer from these diseases, but to put more energy into prevention would reduce the incidence of the disease, thereby reducing the need for treatment/cure.

      As I commented (or more likely ranted) in an earlier blog about "scrutinizing", employ some objective, distanced, critical thinking the next time someone asks you to donate "for the cure" - make sure you think how many ways the cure for that disease may not be needed if preventative strategies were more aggressive.