#VeganBloodTest Results+ Dangers of supplementation!

vegan blood test

I recently stumbled into an opportunity to take a blood test…and I got the results! This is as exciting for me as hopefully I can make it sound for you! And…medical test results seems to be the only type of evidence that is valid in “meat-eater” court. So, the jury is in….and the verdict is, ummm, interesting. 

feeling-so-special-veganFirst, how did I accidentally get a blood test?

Without going into too many private details, I made an appointment at a women’s health clinic for a routine-ish OB-GYN check-up. I’ve never had a OB-GYN appointment before (hence ‘routine-ish’), and to answer some personal questions I had about my reproduction as well as screen for STI/STDs I had my blood drawn. Since they were already drawing my blood, I decided to ask them to expand the blood test to include a full metabolic panel and I specifically asked for B12 levels as well, mentioning that I was a vegan and was concerned about this vitamin in particular. If you are familiar with the high carb vegan community on YouTube you know that B12 and supplementation is a hot topic! (I am too familiar, translation: I have no life.)

I definitely hadn’t prepared to have a blood test that day which is both good and bad. I’ve detailed before how much I despise shady scientific and medical practices, one of which is not disclosing all the information. So, in being consistent with my message- full transparency! The “good” is that the blood test results are a true snapshot of my health. I didn’t change anything beforehand to try to manipulate my blood levels because I had no advance warning to prepare. The “bad” is that since I didn’t know about the test, I did not fast beforehand which is recommended by healthcare providers to ensure accurate results, specifically for triglyceride, cholesterol, and glucose levels. So I apologize that my results may not be 100% because by 3pm of my test, I had breakfast at 10am and lunch at around 1pm. But, not fasting beforehand doesn’t transform terrible results into good results…in specific cases it does make a difference, but in general if all your levels are looking good then you are most likely in good shape!

rabbit food

Now getting to the results! I actually got  detailed voicemail message from my doctor and she specifically mentioned certain things to note that aren’t readily apparent from the paper results.

The long story short is that everything is normal! Woohoo 🙂 Except for one thing! Can you guess what that might be??? Hint: Everyone asks you about it when they find out you are vegan…Actually, that might not be too helpful! To narrow it down a little, my calcium, iron and protein levels were all in good shape!

Yup, it’s B12…but it’s not what you think!

My B12 levels were actually way too high. Like astronomically, off-the-charts high. My provider said they were almost twice what they should be, normal is between 211-911. I was 1,618 pg/mL. Oops. I was extremely relieved to not be deficient, and it’s no mystery to me how this occurred. I’ve mentioned in my “What I Eat Wednesday” posts that I supplement (responsibly, or so I thought) with a sub-lingual, vegan B12 every morning.

b12

Specifically this exact one from Nature’s Bounty, which is the cheapest vegan B12 that I can buy from my local Safeway. I had assumed since this was a sub-lingual versus a shot, and since it is cyanocobalamin which is not as easily assimilated in your body as the better form, methylcobalamin (out of my price range), it would not be a risk to take one per day (as recommended). My thoughts were that besides not being as easily absorbed by my body, and being a water soluble vitamin, if I did accidentally and improbably take too much, I would excrete it. Unfortunately, B12 is stored in your body and not excreted as readily as vitamin C (for example). Fortunately, ridiculously high levels like I currently have have not been found to be harmful or toxic. Phew! But before you ask, I have stopped taking my B12!

I have one more surprising result for you all…

Potassium! My levels are actually low, which is ironic considering that I spent the months of April-June experimenting with a “Rawtill4” high carb vegan lifestyle that advocates eating 20-30 bananas a day! And yes, I was actually consuming 10-12 banana smoothies for breakfast and sometimes lunch! Another reason this was unexpected is because I consume copious amounts of sweet potatoes everyday…usually two pounds worth and sweet potatoes are a richer source of potassium than bananas!

love hate banana

It’s not as clear to me why I have low potassium as it is that I have high B12. But I have some theories…

For starters, I used to be extremely bulimic, I spent about three years hardcore throwing up maybe 15 times a day, almost everyday. The cessation of my purging wasn’t terribly long ago, and so it could be that my body is just trying to recoup. When you throw up a lot you cause your electrolytes to become unbalanced due to all the fluid loss, the same happens with excessive sweating or diarrhea. When I was going to the student health center at Oregon State University for help, I had my potassium levels checked and they were low then. I was given a prescription for potassium chloride (which I did not take because I thought they might have calories and I didn’t care enough to get better, I wanted to die not take something to improve my health).

Even though I am healthy now (and have the blood test results to prove it!) I still might have a hard time keeping my body’s potassium in proper balance because of all the running that I do. While I am not a heavy sweater, highly active people still lose more electrolytes that normal and so this might explain why I have a hard time keeping up my body’s needs through diet especially because right now because I am not ingesting any performance drinks or gels during my current phase of training. I don’t like to make that a regular habit anyway! My chloride was also a little low, but potassium and chloride work together in the body, that’s why I was prescribed a potassium-chloride supplement..so if one is low it makes sense the other might be too…just like calcium requires Vitamin D! It’s always a better solution to get your vitamins and minerals from whole food, plant sources, not through supplementation! Supplements isolate specific nutrients that can create toxic buildup or imbalances within the body at worst, and at best are just a waste of money if you aren’t consuming other nutrients to allow for proper absorption of the supplement. For more on how this reductionist scientific thinking creates harmful medical practices and flawed scientific study designs, I suggest reading T. Colin Campbell’s book Whole. But before I get off on too much of a tangent…

Here are the important bits! My results thus far, I’ve been a vegan for 2 years solid:

2015-01-02 10.31.33

2015-01-02 10.32.08

Here’s to entering the new year happy  and healthy! May your resolutions be made responsibly (of course I’ll be doing a post about that)!

I’ll leave you with this fun video about rice and beans 🙂 Happy 2015!

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New Year, New Me (academically)!

how life is supposed to beMy life update: I graduated from college! I’ve earned the right to update my short bio widget on the sidebar to say “Currently, I hold a 2:53:30 marathon PR and a Bachelor’s of Science in Community Health Education.”

Fall term 2014 ended on December 12th and it’s officially noted on my transcript (unofficial screenshot below) that I was awarded my degree the next day from Portland State University, specifically the college of Urban & Public Affairs. I even went out with a bang, and made the Dean’s list for my final term…I used to be an over-achiever! (I was my high school salutatorian and graduated in 3 years.) But still, my first 2 years in college weren’t stellar, I believe I received two ‘F’s and too many ‘D’s and ‘C’s to count before I transferred to PSU from Oregon State University.

Incredibly, it’s been exactly four years since I began college. I was admitted to OSU for the Winter term starting January in 2011, and now I have finished in December 2014. But guess what I am starting next? There’s no rest for the weary, and I was officially accepted into the Graduate School of Education’s Graduate Certificate in Addictions Counseling program at PSU last week…school starts like it never ended, the first day of Winter term 2015 is January 5th.

degree

To be clear, it’s not a Master’s program, but I am applying for the Grad School of Ed.’s Master’s in Counseling program with the hopes of beginning in Fall 2015. I will have to choose a specific track, and currently I am leaning towards Marriage, Couple and Family counseling to become a licensed LMFT. I will be able to complete both the grad certificate and the Master’s degree at the same time, and it’s designed to take three years.

Where will I be in three years? What do I want to be doing? I don’t know. Four years ago I had just moved to Oregon and when I reflect upon all the things that happened between then and now, there’s no way I could have predicted where I am now and all that brought me here. It’s true, but worth saying again: Life is unpredictable. I have also heard, and find this to be true: People are very bad at knowing what they want.

things will work out quoteI believe both. In the past 4 years I’ve come close to suicide and been depressed; lived in hovels and homes and moved multiple times; met amateur drug dealers, a homeless teen mom, and the most wonderful family who saved me; attended counseling, group therapy, and saw a psychiatrist without my parent’s knowledge; tried drugs, got blackout drunk too many times, and ended up with alcohol poisoning in the ER with a hefty fine and a court summons from that ill-fated night; almost moved to Hawaii; almost lost my marbles and went insane…at least that’s how it felt. I over drafted my first bank account, I had my first credit card debt turned over to collectors…I made too many bad decisions. I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow, good things happened too. I went to India for a month, I moved to Portland, I met people who cared about me and my running. I made better choices, I learned a lot. And now I’ve graduated, I’m running 80+ miles a week on a healthy, whole foods vegan diet chasing the qualifying time to the 2016 Olympic marathon trials. I’m going to grad school!

Am I a good person? Or a bad person? I don’t know. Have I been “successful”? That depends…

There will be new experiences, opportunities and obstacles in 2015. I don’t know what will happen, but I can handle anything. So bring it on. Below is my personal statement essay that I needed to include in my application to the addictions counseling program: (I’m verbose…and the 500 word limit was a challenge!)

sinner-pastGraduate Certificate in Addictions Counseling: Personal Statement

I lived through addiction and managed to climb out of the dark hole alive and in one piece. Now I have a moral imperative to help others avoid the same suffering. From adolescence, I would read autobiographical accounts of addiction and mental health journeys of others. I understood that every individual’s circumstances surrounding their addiction was different, and I needed to read them all. In my late teens, I suffered from an eating disorder. I was addicted to food: I isolated and daily activities became impossible. I became a person I hated: a liar, a thief, depressed, angry, guilty, and suicidal. I sought counseling and treatment for my problems, and now that I am recovered I know I need to help others avoid the crippling grip of addiction.

My early exploration of human experiences via literature and my history with food led me to study health. I will receive a BS in Community Health Education by the end of Fall term 2014 from Portland State University. My health education and personal recovery journey have taught me of the important connection between the mind and body in health. Physical and mental/emotional health are inextricably intertwined, but I have education in only one side of the coin. I know that true health cannot be achieved without understanding of both. I want to help others achieve total well-being. To fulfill this goal, I need to learn about the other side of the coin, mental health.

My life’s purpose has evolved as I’ve sought to be of service to others. During my disorder, my dominant feelings were of guilt and worthlessness. I believed that I was a waste of space and so my desire to refute those feelings through service to others bloomed. I wanted to be useful. I volunteered with Portland’s New Generations Rotary Club, at Oregon State University, and at a low-income childcare center in Corvallis. Recently I interned at Friends of the Children, a life changing mentoring organization serving children which was founded by Duncan Campbell, whose childhood was characterized by alcoholic parents. Duncan’s childhood motivated him to help at-risk children with experiences similar to his own. Like Duncan, my experiences have left me with no choice but to help others avoid the same pain and misery that I know addictions can bring.never-be-afraid-to-fall-apart-rae-smith

I would be an effective addictions counselor because of my personal experience and my health education background, to better understand the physiological components of addiction that accompany the mental and emotional aspects. I know I can relate and inspire sufferers to overcome their addictions. Mirroring my philosophy about physical health, I believe in self-empowerment. Self-work is imperative to total well-being of the mind and body. It’s a lifelong process, not an end. I will be there for anyone who has made the decision to get help. It is my calling to help others get better and get healthy.

A New Year, A New Me? 

Every day is a new day and I am an accumulation of all of them! Stay tuned for a post about my blood test results! You will be in for a surprise… 😦 or 🙂 ???

Body problems at every size: My altercation with a dress…

me vs hm dress

A few days ago, I had a moment with a dress. Every now and then, I like to go thrift shopping for new clothes, and in this instance I wanted something nice to wear for a pretty important job interview. I saw this dress, the used version of the H&M green sheath (picture of the exact dress above) and immediately pounced! It would be perfect with my black tights and a nice jacket or cardigan. It was also exactly my size! I know from previous shopping experience that I usually wear a 32 or 34 at H&M. When you find something awesome in your size at a thrift store, it often feels meant to be. I went to go try it on, and let’s just say, things did not go well 😦

I hate trying on clothes. Usually, very specific circumstances are required for things to go well: I must not have eaten immediately beforehand, I must not be bloated, I must not feel ‘fat’ that day, etc. These are weird concerns, given that if I buy any clothes at all, they will need to fit after I eat meals and under all other conditions. (Also, ‘fat’ is not a feeling!) Anyway, I pulled the dress on and zipped it up, and for a moment…it fit! Yippee! Then I started to frown. It fit if I stood perfectly still and straight, tensed up my stomach muscles, and pulled the hem down firmly with my hands by my sides. But as soon as I started to move, I noticed there was way too much fabric where my boobs should be, the shoulders were too big for my stick arms, and my stomach strained unappealingly against the seam across the middle. Above (right) is my artistic and accurate portrayal of me in the dress ( I wish I would have taken a picture to validate my drawing). I also wrote some additional comments concerning how I view my appearance. Which, as you might glean, is not favorably….pro anaknow that I am not fat. But as soon as I realized the dress was not going to work out, particularly because of my midsection aka “gut”, that was the first thing to pop into my head. “I’m fat.” Followed by other nonsensical conclusions like: I’m ugly, I need to lose weight, I’m disgusting, this is why I don’t deserve nice clothes….etc. I found the above quote very disturbing, but accurate. I love my body when I am running, I love what it can do for me and I am so grateful to have big thighs and calves to power me up hills and through marathons! But for the rest of the day, I am not so kind to myself. I eat because I have to. (Duh.) I’ve experienced the shitty-ness of an eating disorder and know that I never want to do that again. But I don’t treat myself, because as a woman, you are not “supposed” to. Have you ever seen a candid picture of a woman eating and thought it looked okay?

My daily wardrobe consists of a sweatshirt or other large shirt, sports bra, and leggings. I don’t wear formfitting clothes because I can’t stand having fabric straining across my flesh. I don’t have a curvy hourglass, feminine shape so I hide my body so that I and others don’t see what it really look like. I feel like I don’t look how I should as a woman….and so I am not allowed to try to be pretty. Does that make any sense? (No, I know.) But I do know that I am not the only one who feels bad about how they look for reasons that don’t make any sense! If only that made me feel better!

thin-ideal

The Thin Ideal: 

“The concept of the idyllically slim female body. The common perception of this ideal is that of a slender, feminine physique with a small waist and little body fat. The size of the thin ideal is decreasing while the rate of female obesity is simultaneously increasing, making this iconic body difficult to maintain. This creates a gap between the actual appearance of an average woman’s body and it’s expected appearance which, depending on the extent to which the ideal is internalized, may have serious physiological effects.” (Wikipedia)

I wish I were enlightened enough to not buy into the concept of the thin ideal, and to not be affected by socially defined ideas of attractiveness. Logically, I know that body weight and size does not define whether I am smart or funny or happy but I cannot stop the negative, self-deprecating feelings that bubble up when I see a pretty (and thin) woman walking down the street, or posing in an ad…or when I try on a dress that’s too small. (Perversely enough, if the dress were too big I would have been proud of myself!)

Strwbrry-Shrtcke-550x314But maybe it’s not all my fault. The idea that my body is not good enough unless I am thin enough (while still maintaining a feminine figure) has been subconsciously ingrained in me since before I even knew what eating disorders or body dysmorphia were. I was playing with Barbies before I realized how freakish they were…girly childhood icons like Bratz dolls and Strawberry Shortcake seem to be modeled based on lollipops. Disney princesses, even my favorites like Pocahontas and Mulan (the daring, adventurous ones!) have long flowing hair and waists you could span with your hands. No wonder many young girls today think they are too fat…and grow up to be women who dislike their appearance. Negative body image becomes so internalized as to not even be questioned. Assumptions like “I’m ugly” suddenly hold hands with “I’m fat”.

None of it is true. It’s a number. The number on the scale doesn’t tell me that I have powerful muscles from running hard. It just tells me a number, relative to an elephant I am light, compared to a squirrel I am heavy. But somehow I let that number tell me whether I am a good or bad person, happy or sad, pretty or not. WTF? I am a smart girl, but how can I be so controlled by the “other” (society) who I feel is always watching and judging me? I wish I had answers or explanations, but the closest I can offer to you would be this:

Girls learn how to feel about their appearance from playing with dolls, watching pretty actresses, observing their mothers/female role models. Going on a first diet is almost a rite of passage along with puberty, or forced upon children (even babies) by concerned, but mostly misinformed doctors (doctors know nothing about nutrition). In adulthood woman struggle to fit in ridiculous clothes and feel bad when they can’t. They go on their millionth diet and despair when they fail. By this time, the novelty of being a woman has worn off…

The diet industry chugs along, the pharmaceutical industry, the surgical/medical industry (plastic surgery and gastric bypass), cosmetics, clothes….all of it siphons women’s energy. Imagine how much more powerful we could be if we didn’t waste half our thoughts and half our money despairing about how we look?

I don’t mean to generalize, and I wish I were as emancipated as the women out there who are free from this trap. I just think that a lot of women out there can relate to my experience, just one of a million times when I didn’t feel good enough. This just illustrates that even if you are skinny, you can still hate your body. I am skinny but not magically happy and successful. I still don’t fit into the dress that I am supposed to.

As a side note, below is a new Weight Watchers commercial that I absolutely HATE. I hate this commercial so much. It’s completely capitalizing on the New Year’s diet phenomenon by snuggling in close to you with it’s relatability while simultaneously undermining your confidence in yourself. It’s telling you “it’s okay to eat to soothe yourself, it’s okay to keep eating junk, we know you can’t stop yourself so don’t even try…” The consumer takes that message in, and Weight Watchers (or whatever diet) takes your money. I even hate that I am linking it in my post, but I want your opinion as well…am I being too harsh about this “lighthearted” ad? I know it’s supposed to be funny, but I don’t think there’s anything funny about the way the consumer’s feelings are being used. Let me know your thoughts ❤ You don’t need a diet, you are unique and fully capable of being your best self! Let real people help you, not a commercial or corporate entity.

An unsavory history: my relationship with food

Unhealthy-Relationships-teaches you

It is really hard to be a female in this society and have a normal relationship of food. Normal isn’t even the right word because I am not sure that a “normal” relationship with food exists among anyone…how can it in our current food environment? I can’t say for sure, but I think most people have some degree of disorder when it comes to eating. I recently wrote a post about calorie counting vs. eating whole foods, in which I detailed how I have tried to train myself to view food in terms of the nutrients it contains and not the calories. I also use my love of running to motivate myself to make better choices. But therein lies another struggle, athletic achievement and diet, the two are inextricable.

There are societal pressures to be thin, as well as athletic pressure to be healthy. I’m going to speak from my perspective and experience as a young female and an endurance runner…trying to find the balance has been a really hard journey for me, and it is still not over.

anorexic 3Over the last several years I’ve been obsessed with nutrition. I’ve read almost everything I could find concerning weight loss, calories, different diets, eating disorders, and achieving optimal health. My crash course in diets began with my spiral into eating disorders when I was 15. At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school my training for XC was ramping up, and unbeknownst to me I wasn’t eating enough to keep up with the energy my body used. I realized I had lost weight when I had to weigh myself for PE class (a cruel practice), and after that moment, I was consumed with trying to eat less and run more. Compounding that, my high school coach would make fun of girls on the team for their bad eating habits or excess weight. It may have been in jest, but I wanted to be the best runner I could and so I took all his remarks seriously, though none were ever aimed at me.

What followed were years of stress. On the pictures to the left (above) I am a senior in high school, 17. To the left (below) is the transformation I underwent when I first became anorexic. I went from normal skinny during the fall XC season to scary skinny in the spring track season. I remember feeling terrified of what I was doing to myself, I hated the way I looked. I compared myself to a reptile because my spine looked like the spiky back of a lizard and my skin was dry and scaly. But I also couldn’t stop restricting my food. I needed to see my bones or I believed I was gaining weight. I developed a bad tendency of measuring my arms with my hands…and to this day I still do it.
anorexic 4

Physically, I was always cold. I was stiff, even though I ran for miles everyday, including my weekly long run of 20 miles once a week, I could barely climb the stairs at my school. I couldn’t think clearly, even though I maintained straight A’s during this time. I began to get dizzy, have insane heart arrhythmias, and I was always depressed. I didn’t feel like I had any emotions, I can’t remember feeling much at all except for scared and obsessed.

I hid food, I spit it out when no one was looking, I threw my lunches away and skipped breakfast. I was compulsive about running and needed to exercise every day. Occasionally I felt guilty about how scared my mom was, but her tactics to get me to eat only steeled my resolve to eat less, as long as I wasn’t dead my dad believed I was fine. During this whole ordeal, I ran two marathons, one when I was 16 and then when I was 17…I must be really strong because it’s a miracle I didn’t die, both times I probably weighed about 80lbs (naturally I settle around 100lbs.)

Somehow I started eating more, and then I dealt with a whole different monster, bulimia 😦 I spent my first year alone in college locked in my tiny apartment, eating and throwing up, over and over again. My body was fighting me for food after years of being starved. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to eat. If I wasn’t binging, I was trying not to eat.  I never told my family, if anyone asked, I made up fictional meals that I had cooked for myself.

The point of my story is that I want people to know how my experience with food has influenced the way I see it now. This is why I am so AGAINST dieting, processed food, calorie counting, etc. This is why I despise the pressure I feel to stay skinny. As someone who has never had an overweight problem, there are a lot of things I am sure I will never be able to understand. But now when I post about what I eat in a day or about my views on a whole food diet, you have some context. I lament that I am still really obsessive. I’m picky and strict about what I consume. There might be remnants of ED behavior influencing my habits, but I am also Type A, and I only want to eat what I feel will give me the right fuel to run fast. I’ll never be nonchalant about my diet, but I have come so far compared to where I once was. Being skinny is no longer my most fervent wish. More than anything now, I want to make the Olympic trials in 2016. If I can do that, I’ll set my sights on the Olympics in 2020. I’m ready to reach the highest heights and the only thing that can stand in my way is me.

My struggles have taught me thastrong skinnyt you do run better when you are skinny, to a point. And then you crash. Runners are skinny because they run, and if they’re smart they eat the right nutrients and enough energy to sustain their workouts.

I’ve come to understand that I will never be an amazing marathon runner if I am only eating to stay skinny. In the picture below (sorry, MarathonFoto) I am not dieting, I am not worried about being thin. I care about having enough energy to feel strong and kick ass for 26.2 miles. The sad thing is, I wasted several years trying to whittle myself away to nothing, for what? I have the capacity to be a much more amazing person now. As long as I eat right and exercise, I’ll be fine.

 

Food does not equal calories! Putting calories in their place

In the battle to be healthy and maintain a weight conducive to good health (not aesthetics), food is not the enemy. Your basic biological drive to seek out nutrients for survival, a.k.a. hunger is not the enemy! The real enemy in disguise are fast food chains, junk food companies, and…the FDA (I should just rename my blog “I hate the FDA” because I rant about them so much!)

When most people attempt to lose weight, they turn to counting calories. After all, calories are facts. They are quantitative and easy to keep track of thus, the number is in your control. Well, I’m sorry to tell ycount chemicalsou this, but the number you think you know is wrong. A calorie is not a calorie and your body is not a machine. Eating less calories than you expend on a diet consisting of packaged foods is nearly impossible.

2 Reasons why you can’t count calories correctly:

  1. Calorie counts on food labels are incorrect. Under FDA regulations, packaged foods (even diet foods) can be as much as 20% off! The FDA allows this amount of “wiggle room” to account for variations in portions. Food companies mostly operate on the honor system because the FDA lacks sufficient manpower to ensure the accuracy of nutrition labels on all the food products available.* 20% wrong doesn’t seem like much, but in a day or a week, it can really add up…along with the excess sodium, chemicals, and preservatives.
  2. Calorie counts for whole foods are imprecise! Yes, even for whole foods! Whole foods don’t come standard, they vary in weight and nutritional content. Also,the caloric content of foods listed in databases that people rely on are based on a formula that is 100+ years old.** When caloric contents of natural foods were computed, there wasn’t any factoring in of how much of the food is actually absorbed by your body. Components of whole fruits and vegetables, like fiber decreases the absorption of calories by your body, especially when eaten raw. Also, when raw, fibrous foods are eaten, your body has to expend more energy in digestion to break these foods down. Conversely, when you denature or process foods in any way, such as cooking, chopping, blending, or juicing, you make more calories available to be absorbed. You have essentially predigested your food, and thus your body doesn’t have to work as hard to obtain the nutrients, expending less energy. (This is not necessarily a bad thing! Except in terms of counting calories.) So the amount of calories contained in whole foods is pretty variable! Though the volume of fruits and vegetables make it really hard to eat too much of them!

 

The practice of counting calories and eating packaged foods also instills some pretty bad habits. When someone eats from a package, they are more inclined to finish the package. That person may not want to leave just a little bit left, or may feel entitled to eat it all because they are still “safe” in terms of the amount of calories they have allotted him or herself. This teaches you to override your natural feelings of fullness, and eat for a number instead. Most packaged foods are designed to be eaten on the go, and thus promote mindless eating and further takes you out of touch with your natural hunger.

Calorie counting is also stressful! The stress hormone cortisol leads to weight gain around the stomach and also spikes your appetite! When someone is trying to dutifully account for every last calorie, it makes it impossible to appreciate the food for what it is and what it could do for you. It also teaches the person to view themselves as either “good” or “bad”. This creates a slippery slope toward the cycle of restricting and overeating, which characterizes yo-yo dieting.

In reality, a calorie is a number that means nothing. It does not tell you how healthy or unhealthy a food is. It’s a waste of your time and energy that could be better used elsewhere to try to count them. They’re not even accurate anyway!

Packaged food vs. Whole food:
pro bar health food

This is a pretty good example of how whole food vs. packaged foods can create an unhealthy situation. A Pro Bar meal replacement bar is a really good idea for ultra endurance events (think 100 mile runs or 10 hour bike rides), it’s also a good idea for 8 hour plane flights, but it is a really bad idea for everybody else!

These meal bars are marketed as a healthier alternative to replace meals for people on the go. Undoubtedly, their natural ingredients are much healthier than a fast food meal. But the problem comes when people are so blinded by the “health halo” that they don’t realize how energy dense this little bar really is. One bar is 85g, that’s tiny! It’s about the equivalent of one extra small (less than 6″) banana. But it contains 360 calories! The problem is that people eat these packaged foods thinking they are “healthy”. In reality, this bar will not leave you with any feelings of fullness you would have otherwise gotten had you eat 360 calories of fresh, whole plant foods packed with water and fiber as well as the vitamins and minerals that the ProBar claims to contain as a selling point. (I might also add that the calorie equivalent of this bar is 3.5 bananas, which would be cheaper than one ProBar!)
2014-11-16 09.27.53

Eating whole foods in as close to natural as possible makes it much easier to create a situation of good health where you don’t have to count calories to check your weight, you feel full, and you give your body the nutrients it needs in the correct proportions. Since it has gotten a lot colder, and the fruits available have whittled down to the basics (I can’t really afford out of season fruits, and by eating what’s cheap I also eat seasonally!) I have been eating a lot of oatmeal and apples. But this is what I mean by real food:

Whole food oatmeal:

  • 1/2 cup oats, dry (150 cal.)
  • 1 large apple (115 cal.)
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds (14g) (68 cal.)
  • 1/2 cup frozen cherries (50 cal.)
  • water, cinnamon, fresh ginger (~0 cal.)

I also ate 3 tangerines before my oatmeal (170 cal.) this brings my total calories to 553 calories for my breakfast. Is that a lot or a little? The answer is that it is completely subjective. To a female dieter trying to restrict their calories to a tiny amount, they might have already “blown it” by consuming that many calories so early in the day… When I look at this breakfast I see: vitamins and fiber from the fruit. Oats have fiber, protein, and complex carbs to help my muscles recover from a run. Chia seeds are a source of Omega 3 fats and are filling as well as satiating because they bulk up my oats. Cinnamon is great for regulating blood sugar. Cherries are amazing for antioxidants, they are anti-inflammatory, and can speed up muscle recovery in endurance athletes. Ginger is also nature’s medicine, great for overall health including indigestion, GI distress, nausea, and inflammation. These are only the known benefits of these foods…scientists haven’t identified all the compounds inherent in fruits and vegetables, and they definitely don’t understand the symbiotic processes that occur when someone consumes a whole food.

I see this bowl of whole foods, not as a bowl of calories, but as a breakfast that will fill me up, taste amazing, and allow me to recover from my morning run optimally so that I can run again tomorrow. My main goal in life is not to see how few calories I can eat in a day, my goal is to push my body to the limit in terms of miles run and speed sustained.

The main message is to eat whole, fresh foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, and some nuts and seeds. Our reductionist scientific understanding of things has enabled people to view food as nothing but calories and macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins). The reality is that no one really knows all the magic contained in fruits and vegetables that allows them to unleash their nutrition on our metabolism (all the chemical reactions that take place in the body). The best bet for better health is to stop eating for a number (that’s arbitrary anyway) and eat whole plant foods till you are full!

Sources:

*Jeff Rossen, Robert Powell, NBC News: Today Show Rossen Reports: Can you believe diet frozen dessert labels?” Aug. 20, 2012.

**Sass, Cynthia, Health News & Views Why Calorie Counts are Wrong: 6 Diet Myths, Busted” Feb. 7, 2013.

 

What’s a girl to do? Skinny or Strong?

Source: Fit & Glamorous blog "You're a Real Woman & Why Strong Is NOT the New Skinny"  Jan. 23, 2014.

Source: Fit & Glamorous blog “You’re a Real Woman & Why Strong Is NOT the New Skinny” Jan. 23, 2014.

Is strong the new skinny? Can’t I be skinny and strong? Is skinny bad? How about when skinny becomes an obsession…how do you deal with the pressure as an athlete?

These are questions I’ve always had reeling in my head. I can only speak generally, and from personal experience: women in American society have an unbelievable amount of pressure placed on their looks. No matter how much the media tries to raise awareness about unrealistic body expectations, no matter how much we women think we know about media literacy, we still fall prey to the trap. The skinny obsession is a dangerous hole to fall down, it doesn’t matter who you are. However, when you are a female athlete, the trap becomes even more complex. You must be skinny, but also fit and strong.

You must be cut and lean at all times. That’s how fit, healthy athletes are supposed to look. That leaves female athletes in a quandary, for example:

#1: Different sports require different types of bodies.  A gymnast and a marathon runner will not look alike because their sports demand different uses of their bodies.

#2: BUT, both gymnastics and running (and so many other female sports) place pressure on athletes to be thin.

Instead of the typical anorexic thought: “I will take up as little space as possible, make myself frail and small like a bird,”etc., you have “I need to be lighter to fly higher or run faster.”

This type of thinking wreaks havoc on female athletes. It doesn’t help that good looking female athletes get more endorsements, more air time, more celebrity-type status than non-traditionally “beautiful” female athletes, or “fat” females in general. I deal with those opposing forces, staying fit + strong while still trying to be thin, everyday. Coming from the place of having an eating disorder, the need to be thin and hungry used to be constant. Having a full stomach after a meal is still a feeling that I makes me uncomfortable. Society has conditioned me to associate fullness with gluttony, guilt and shame. But running has always saved me, and it doesn’t let me down, even now.

Tomorrow morning I anticipate having a pretty tough workout, being able to kick ass is more important to me right now than being thin. So I eat. I ate a big dinner of healthy, whole vegan veggies and steamed potatoes (seriously, about 600 calories of sweet potatoes!). They are going to give me the energy and stamina that I will be grateful for tomorrow as I run.

Comic by Molly Alice Hoy; Source: HuffPost Women "Body Type Comic by Molly Alice Hoy Reminds Us That We're All Awesome" May 16, 2013

Comic by Molly Alice Hoy; Source: HuffPost Women “Body Type Comic by Molly Alice Hoy Reminds Us That We’re All Awesome” May 16, 2013

Society can try to tell me whatever it wants, but I am more than just a paper doll. I am a strong female athlete. I have goals to achieve, I have dreams to chase. I don’t have time or unfocused energy to waste on wanting to be thin or conform anymore. I am STRONG and I just happen to be skinny. End of story. 

If you are out there, kicking ass and achieving your goals…don’t worry about what you look like. Worry about what you can do ❤

Sick vs. Healthy vs. Running

anorexic marathon

Yes, this is me Spring 2010. My second Guam Marathon. I finished in 3:28:55.

If you are a female or an athlete, or really anyone in society today, you know that weight talk is inescapable. My realization that diet and weight were linked to performance occurred in late 2008, when I was a Sophomore in high school. I can literally remember the exact moment when I became aware that by eating less and running more, I could lose weight. In health class we had to weigh ourselves at the beginning of the year, and by this time I had  been training for the fall XC season since mid-summer. I packed my own lunches, and never purposefully skimped on portions of anything, although I was dabbling in vegetarianism without informing my parents. I stepped on the scale without worry, because I knew that I looked fine and felt fine, but I was shocked to discover that my weight was a little under 100lbs. I heard a girl whisper behind me, you didn’t even weight 100lbs?! Everything clicked in that moment and from then on my relationship with food and body image would never be the same.

Six years later, I’ve read every shred of literature and watched every film about eating disorders that I ever came across. Countless stories of those with eating disorders and we all seem to start out the same way, on accident. But some people seem to get trapped more insidiously than others. Why? In my case it has to do with my Type A controlling, perfectionist mentality as well as my depression, and feelings of lack of control I had in high school. But that’s not exactly the point of this story. My point is that the same Type A personality traits that allowed my anorexia to grip me tightly also drive me to excel in my running.

I spent most of my high school running career running while sick. In my starved mind I believed that my peculiar combination of running and starving was unique, but today I realize how wrong I was as this scenario among runners, especially females is more common than not, to some degree or another. I read other women’s stories about their struggles, some are elite athletes and some are  regular Janes. I pass some terribly skinny women in races, and I recognize the sinews that stick out unnaturally with each stride. My heart goes out to every person I see like that. I know that they are in a dark place and that they want to stop desperately, they want to stop running and start eating but something deep inside won’t let them. I was there.

I want to tell everyone out there, starving yourself to a “runner’s” body will never result in success. In the short-term you may get lighter and faster, but that quickly fades away when your heart begins erratically beating and you feel like passing out with each step. Months in, or years in, the effects of starving are unsustainable. There is no success to be had down that rabbit hole.

From left to right: healthy to unhealthy as the year went on. Fall XC (right), Spring track (middle), end of Senior year (right).

From left to right: healthy to unhealthy as the years went by. Fall XC (left), Spring track (middle), end of Senior year (right).