My Macro Journey to Fitness – Part 1

Redefining my relationship with food was one of the hardest challenges I overcame in my recovery from Anorexia. It’s been a decade plus journey with plenty of weak moments and falling off of the wagon. In an effort to hold myself accountable and practice what I preach, to both my clients and loved ones, I’d like to tell you a bit about the role nutrition played in getting me to where I am today.

The Miseducation of Julia Fragias…

The body is a wonderfully efficient machine.

Starve and abuse it, but in a continuous loop of feedback mechanisms, the brain catches wind of what you’re doing and tweaks every cell in the body to maintain your existence. When I started to eat again, my brain clearly didn’t trust me. It adjusted my metabolism to a lower rate in order to make sure the calories I put into my body wouldn’t disappear.

It took a while to earn that trust back.

The image you see above from 2007 is a softer, fuller girl almost 2 years into recovery from Anorexia. I didn’t know how to exercise properly. I didn’t know how to like food, much less understand now-common concepts like macronutrients. I was instructed by my then counselor not to restrict food and was assured my metabolism would normalize. Eventually.

But, of course, I was still afraid to eat.

I categorized foods into “safe” and “off limits.” How did I decide what made them safe? They were low in fat or fat free. Vegetables or fruit were safe, as long as they didn’t bloat me. Liquids were safer than solids. It also helped if they were low in calories per serving. I ate my “safe foods” repetitively and copiously.

My criteria for safe were so far off the mark that they actually contributed to my rapid weight gain. As my body continued to expand, I had to fight the urge to restrict my eating. I wanted someone to give me a magic menu or list of foods that I could eat without anxiety.

I wanted safety, but I needed education.

Through therapy, I was getting served a whole lot of how to eat through mindfulness, which was helpful – chew your food well, eat slowly, savor the flavors, be grateful for the nourishment – but nobody was telling me what to eat.

How could I begin to structure balanced meals that would fuel my body efficiently?

Count your macros…

My self education was to obsessively watch fitness channels on Youtube. This was when I first came across the term macronutrient. The body builders and fitness professionals I was taking notes from all shared the same advice – count your macros. It’s a catchy word, especially when repeated like a mantra, but what exactly are they?

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats: compounds we derive the most energy from and that make up the bulk of our diets as humans. Our cells need these nutrients to grow and develop properly.

Finally, I had something specific to focus on. I concentrated on the ratios of these compounds that the fitness community recommended were optimal for fitness and good health. I constructed a daily diet that consisted of ready made and home made protein powder based shakes, protein bars, bags of nuts, bananas for my pre-workout, and cans of water packed tuna for dinner.

Finally, I had a new “safe” list!

Problem was, it was even more restricted than my previous one.

My workouts were cardio endurance based only and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes to the point of utter exhaustion. There are a number of reasons why this is not the fitness route you want to go down, but I will get into that in my next post. I dropped about ten pounds, but I was constipated, had started to develop eczema patches all over my body and odd outbreaks of hives, had terrible insomnia and brain fog. As if that weren’t all bad enough, I put on virtually no muscle tone.

At the end of 2007, my annual blood test indicated I was deficient in many vitamins and borderline anemic. Essentially, I was malnourished. My doctor didn’t help matters either by telling me I needed to lose a few pounds. He came to this conclusion based on a chart of height and weight ranges of which I was at the high end of normal. FYI – this chart also said I was a normal weight when I had full blown anorexia. Scary, truly.

Here’s an example of a Height to Weight Chart, like the one my doctor used to determine I needed to lose weight. These things are AWFUL!

I left the doctor’s office terrified.

I abandoned my diet and let my body’s cravings guide my food choices. This was recommended by a therapist who believed the body intuitively knows what it needs. She was also trying to prevent my patterns of restriction and categorizing food. I remember meeting up with an old friend, who had struggled with childhood obesity and was now super fit. I asked him how he learned to eat properly. He laughed at me and said, “Julia. NO ONE eats properly. It’s how you exercise that counts.”

Working with a trainer, he put on lean muscle that raised his metabolism and allowed his body to burn off more calories at rest.

And he noticed something interesting.

The fitter he became, the less he craved the fried pork chops, plantain chips and soda of his youth. Remember what I said about the wonderful efficiency of the body? As his body grew healthier and stronger, so did his food choices.

He strongly urged me to contact his trainer. After I got over myself (my bad experience with personal trainers was documented in my post A Body Is A Terrible Thing To Waste) I set up my first session in August of 2008.

I started on the strength-training program the trainer designed for me. It was around the 6 week mark that I started to feel something I never expected to feel again. Hunger.

I was hungry all the time.

To actually feel my stomach rumbling and experience the weakness of NOT attending to that hunger was frightening to me, but also a huge step forward. Hunger was a sensation I had psychologically dulled for years with my disordered eating habits. So, for the first time since my recovery began, I ate when I was actually hungry.

This. Was. A. Game changer.

I was most ravenous within an hour of my workouts. I found myself craving meat, which was shocking because I had been a vegetarian for 7 years and the thought of animal protein in my mouth used to nauseate me. This hunger and these new cravings were my body’s call to action.

FEED ME, JULIA!!!

But how?

Stay tuned for Part 2…

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Advertisements

Juicing for life?

I remember watching the 2010 documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”  with a friend and was completely floored at the way in which the film’s narrator and creator, Joe Cross was able to reverse some pretty serious health issues solely through juicing. The juice fast he undertook (in somewhat dramatic fashion, since he did this while traveling the U.S. with a mini juicer and generator) lasted for 60 days and consisted of a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables. He called his fast a REBOOT because his body could no longer run efficiently, being bogged down by all the toxins accumulated from years of a high fat, red meat laden diet, lack of exercise and large amounts of steroidal medications administered to him for an auto-immune condition he was suffering from. He absolutely consulted doctors and medical professionals before beginning this fast and was monitored throughout the process until its end. What the film demonstrated was how important nutrition is to overall health and well being. It also proposed how committing to such a program can turn into a habit your body will fall into rhythm with and actually crave.

This was not my first encounter with juicing. Back in early 2005, I met a woman who successfully beat breast cancer with the help of homeopathic remedies and juicing. At the time, I was in the early stages of recovery from anorexia and she presented a way in which I could cleanse and nurture my body without that feeling of fullness that so wreaked havoc with my head. I bought myself a generic brand juicing machine that same day and began extracting the contents of anything green and fruity I could get my hands on. The first thing I noticed was how good my skin looked, but once my therapist caught wind I was subsisting on juice alone, she put a stop to it. I could only juice if it was a supplement to a meal. Since I was still afraid of fullness, my mind said that was just way too much to ask of my insides, so I put the juicer away and forgot about it.

Now in a much healthier state of being, there is nothing wrong with supplementing my balanced diet with a little juice. In fact, many registered dieticians agree that if you are otherwise healthy, it is a great way to get your recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. There are, however, people who cannot undergo a juice fast, which is why it is so important to consult with a physician if you are planning a REBOOT style program. Diabetics, people with nutritional deficiencies and those with kidney disease are some of whom could respond adversely to an all juice diet. Also, people undergoing chemotherapy are cautioned against it while in treatment. With respect to weight loss, it is safe to replace one meal a day, let’s say breakfast,with freshly extracted juice, so long as the rest of the diet is balanced. The boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is a better source of energy than sugar and caffeine.

One week ago, I decided to say “good morning” to my body with freshly extracted juice. My parents had a juicer they had never touched and I wanted to finally put it to good use. Call it an experiment of sorts, but I wanted to see how my body would react to having this raw liquid be the first thing to hit my stomach. Normally, I drink a lot of water upon waking and have a coffee. On DAY 1, I pulverized celery, Gala apples, carrots and a little sprig of parsley into a 12 oz glass of energy. Immediately, I felt my taste buds coming to life; they literally tingled after ingesting the juice. During my workout a half hour later, I found that I needed very little rest between sets. My trainer joked, “What are you on today?” The power of the juice, my friend. I went through the rest of my day eating as I normally would, but for some reason, I felt that I could taste things a lot more acutely than before. Salt was saltier; sweet was sweeter – it was kind of amazing, actually.

Day 2 was a totally different story. I added beets to the mix. The entire rest of the day I was nauseated and overheated. My face was flushed and I wanted to lay down. Upon waking on Day 3, I realized that I was now constipated. I made beet, ginger and carrot juice that morning. As I proceeded with my day, I felt a tightness in my gut as if there was a gas bubble that was stuck there. Still nauseated and having those odd hot flashes, I decided to eat very lightly thinking that maybe I was coming down with something. Day 4 came and went without any elimination of my gastrointestinal tract and a whole lot of discomfort. I made apple and carrot sans beets and ginger since I had run out of them. Upon waking on Day 5, the tummy troubles were somewhat over. Things were now running smoothly again, but I still had a lingering feeling of tightness in my GI tract that made me uncomfortable. I decided to research juicing recipes to have some variety in my extractions and this was when I came across the reason for all the issues I had been experiencing with my morning juice regimen. Just like prescription medications, certain vegetables and fruit juices in their raw form have…. SIDE EFFECTS.

Before I get into the specifics, let me just note that fatigue, nausea, tummy troubles and constipation are all normal when undergoing a juice fast, partly because it is a shock to the system to ingest juice solely. The lack of fiber from ingesting raw juice can make you constipated, while also causing you gas because of all the minerals and enzymes reacting in the gut. What I did was use juice as a first meal of the day followed by balanced meals containing protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. I did not eat anything with my juice and waited at least 30 minutes to an hour before eating afterwards.

Here are the possible “negative” side effects of some popular juicing produce in their raw form. Keep in mind that they all have vast nutritional benefits, but for some of us, like yours truly, there can be an unpleasant sensitivity. Read on…

BEETS

Turning poop and urine a reddish color is a normal side effect that those who may not know, may get freaked out by. In rare cases, it can tighten the vocal chords, making it hard to speak. Usually this will happen when ingesting plain beet juice. Also, ingesting plain beet juice can facilitate the creation of kidney stones if you already have a pre-disposition towards them. Beet juice is also known to cause fluctuations in body temperature (hot flashes, anyone?), nausea and some degree of gastrointestinal distress 🙂 It naturally drops blood pressure, so if you are already on the low side some fainting spells may befall you.

GINGER

Mild side effects include heartburn, diarrhea and upset stomach. Some women report having heavier periods after ingesting ginger because ginger can interfere with blood clotting. Anyone taking medication to slow blood clotting like Warfarin otherwise known as Coumadin, Plavix or regular over the counter aspirin and ibuprofen could risk serious interactions. Ginger also dramatically decreases blood sugar, so diabetics and hypoglycemic folk need to be careful. Lastly, ginger is also known to interact with medications for blood pressure and heart disease. Powerful stuff, that ginger.

CELERY

Large amounts of this green could make the uterus contract and cause miscarriage in pregnant women; therefore it should be avoided during pregnancy and nursing. It is also known to cause drowsiness, since it sedates the central nervous system. This is not especially good if you are taking sedatives or planning to have surgery that requires anesthesia. It is recommended to avoid ingesting celery 2 weeks prior to a surgery. It can also increase sensitivity to sunlight, making sunburn, blistering and rashes likely if one is exposed to the sun. Finally, since celery is a natural diuretic (i.e. reduces fluid retention) it taxes the kidneys, our natural fluid filters. If your kidneys are compromised or diseased, celery should be avoided.

CUCUMBERS

So long as its not Chinese Cucumber, your standard English, Mediteranean or pickling varieties have only one annoying possible side effect – flatulence. This is due to a compound that can provoke indigestion in some people.

SOURCES:

Natural Medicine’s Comprehensive Professional Database (c) Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009

http://voices.yahoo.com/identifying-beet-juice-side-effects-juicing-7742716.html

A big plate of Sleep

Many health and nutritional experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I beg to differ. Let me draw your attention to the period of time that precedes that meal. A time that should be spent in a state of deep restfulness. Doing without this form of nutrition will set your body up for certain demise. Sleep is the meal that should never be skipped.

Our appetite for sleep is programmed into a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which is the regulating center for the various biological drives that keep our bodies functioning. When we are infants, the part responsible for sleep and wakefulness is out of control. Think of how many babies sleep all day and are up all night or those that have short bouts of sleep spread out over an entire day. The reason for this insane sleep schedule is the immaturity of the internal clock that sets daily functions to the rhythm of 24 hours. Human beings have it, as do plants, animals, fungi and certain bacteria. Dubbed our Circadian Rhythm, sleep and wakefulness is dependent on exposure to light and dark. The first few months of life are pivotal in establishing this internal rhythm, but some babies take as long as a year to sleep a solid 8 hour night. Once the rhythm is established, your body will function on a 24 hour cycle. When in the presence of darkness, our brain’s pineal gland, which is light sensitive, produces a hormone melatonin that helps to make us sleepy. Desire for sleep is strongest during the darkest hours between midnight and 6 a.m. and to a lesser extent in the mid-afternoon. In American culture, this is the 2-4 p.m. slump when most people grab themselves a coffee and/or some kind of energy boosting snack. In Europe and Latin America, this would be your afternoon nap-time otherwise called the “siesta.”

National Nap-time is the right idea! (Image of the first ever Sleeping Championship in Madrid, Spain 2010)

Sleep itself is a highly involved process consisting of 4 stages that each have a physiological affect on the body and brain. The first three stages are part of what is called Non-REM or quiet sleep, a state where thinking and most physiological activities slow down, but movement can still occur, and a person often shifts position while sinking into deeper stages of sleep. Unless something disturbs the process, people will pass through these 3 stages of sleep smoothly. The fourth stage of sleep is called REM or dreaming sleep, a state where the brain is very active, but the body is paralyzed. Normal sleep cycles alternate between quiet and dreaming, with most deep sleep occurring in the first half of the night. During the second half of the night, dreaming sleep gets much longer and alternates with the second stage of quiet sleep. More on these stages now…

During the first stage of sleep, dubbed drowsiness, your brain no longer receives visual stimuli from your shut eyes, body temperature begins to drop, muscles relax, and eyes often move slowly from side to side. Although you may start to lose awareness of your surroundings, you can very easily be awakened. In the second stage of sleep, known as light sleep eyes remain still and breathing and heart rate are much slower. The brain starts to show irregular electrical patterns of slow waves and short bursts of activity. The brain can also respond to outside stimuli, like someone whispering your name, which scientists believe could be a built in vigilance system to ready you for awakening if necessary. Half of a good night’s sleep is spent in this stage. Once you enter the third stage of sleep, known as deep sleep, your body undergoes some important cellular changes. Blood flow to the brain decreases and it stops responding to outside stimuli, making it difficult to wake up the sleeper. Breathing becomes regular, blood pressure falls and the heart slows to 30% of its waking rate. The pituitary gland releases growth hormone at the beginning of this stage which stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. Proteins in the blood that activate your immune system also increase, helping build the body’s defenses against illness and infection. Interesting side note here: People in young adulthood have many stretches of deep sleep, while those over 65 have none.

Enter now the fourth stage of sleep or dreaming sleep where the eyes dart back and forth rapidly behind your closed lids ( this is where the acronym REM comes from standing for “rapid eye movement”) and the brain races with thoughts and “dreams. Your body temperature and blood pressure rise, and your heart rate and breathing speed up to daytime levels. What is interesting is that the sympathetic nervous system, our fight-or-flight response, is twice as active as when we are awake. Despite all this activity, the body hardly moves, except for intermittent twitches. The rest of the muscles not needed for breathing or eye movement are essentially paralyzed. A normal night’s slumber consists of 3 to 5 approximately 90 minute periods of REM, but as we age they get shorter. Many scientists feel this is the time when the mind restores itself, which is important for cognition and memory. Early research into the role of REM sleep in-utero indicated that the rapid firing of nerve cells during this period was important for the growth and development of nerves. Subsequent studies on adult humans found that REM sleep deprivation led to poor performance on a variety of recall tests or logical tasks. In addition, memory loss occurred when sleep was deprived on the same night or two nights after the material had been learned and especially when subjects had been selectively deprived of one of the first two or last two REM episodes of the night. In other studies, REM cycles were found to increase after complex material had been studied, indicating that the brain uses this time to sort and process information into its memory banks. Other scientists suggest that REM sleep functions to dispose of unwanted memories through a mechanism called reverse learning. Reverse learning operates during this period of sleep to prevent the brain from being overloaded with massive amounts of information stored during wakefulness. A fine explanation for the insane dreams one may have, but testing this is pretty difficult, so it’s just a theory.

If your sleep is going to be interrupted, you do not want it to be during your stage 3 and stage 4 cycles. Overtime, deprivation of these levels of restorative sleep will take a toll on your outward appearance and your internal health, mentally and physically. Dermatologists have noted that collagen production increases during sleep, strengthening the bond between your exterior and deeper skin layers and allowing for the water retention necessary for suppleness. Also, growth hormone gets released in deep sleep, as mentioned earlier, which builds and repairs tissue. Without it, water evaporates from the skin leading to a dry, sallow complexion and the appearance of fine lines. Keep it up and skin could react with rashes and eczema. Lack of deep sleep increases the amount of inflammatory proteins in the blood and decreases immune system response. The more deprived you are, the more likely it will be that your body will react to pathogens and itself. The increased inflammatory proteins can lead to such conditions as heart disease and overall, research has indicated that people who get less than 6 hours of rest a night tend to have a higher mortality rate than those getting the recommended 7-8 hours. If you are a person who weight trains or exercises a lot, the lack of deep sleep does not allow for muscles to repair themselves and grow properly. This negates the affects of the workout and leaves them prone to injury. Outside memory loss, deprivation of REM sleep can lead to a diminished awareness of one’s surroundings, a severely reduced response time and an inability to perform tasks that are highly involved, such as driving or operating machinery. Far beyond drinking and drug use, lack of sleep is responsible for most of the accidents that occur on America’s roadways.

 

If you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, some of the obvious culprits could be stress, use of electronic equipment before bed, drinking too much caffeine and eating a big meal or going to bed hungry. Those have easy solutions, relatively speaking. You can get a massage, meditate or do some yoga to relax your body and bring your mind down from its stressful state. Have your coffee earlier in the day and cut down on the amount. No eating of large meals or snacks within 2 hours of going to bed, so you have ample time to digest. Shut the computer and the television and get them away from the area dedicated for sleepy time. Plunge yourself into darkness (remember that melatonin) and relative warmth, and sleep should come to you. However, there are some not so obvious culprits for disturbance of sleep. Check these out:

  • Taking a B vitamin supplement before bed – The B’s are super important for stimulating the nervous system, so popping supplements before bed can lead to fidgeting and constant awakening because the brain is way too “ON” to enter deep sleep.
  • Having a few drinks in your system – While it might get you to sleep faster, alcohol impedes the natural cycling of sleep stages, plunging you into what feels like deep sleep right away, but wearing off in the second half of the night when your REM cycles start kicking in. Since you never get to REM, you wake up more often than not feeling groggy, achy and depending on how much you drank, possibly still drunk.
  • Taking Prescription medications – Consider that sleep disturbance is a common side affect of some high blood pressure pills, birth control pills, steroids (including asthma inhalers), diet pills, antidepressants and cough and cold medications.
  • Smoking – Nicotine is a stimulant like caffeine so depending on how much you smoke and for how long, sleep can be dramatically reduced.
  • Working out at night – Some work schedules do not allow for morning or midday exercise, so many people will go to the gym after work. Exercise raises epinephrine levels in the blood, which makes us more alert and overall body temperature. These 2 factors can prevent sleep.
  • Hormonal changes – Long before menopause has kicked in, many women find they wake up in the night numerous times. This is due to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Some younger women suffer from erratic sleep patterns before or during their menstrual cycles due to imbalances of these hormones.
  • Sleeping in on the weekends – It’s good for the circadian rhythm to awaken and go to sleep around the same times each day, but many of us tend to stay up later and sleep in more on days off. This throws off your internal clock, making it harder to fall asleep and awaken when faced with your normal schedule. Doctors suggest to sleep no longer than an hour more than you normally would in order to maintain the cycle.

Lastly, if you are chronically deprived of sleep despite your best efforts you should really think about visiting a doctor and/or finding a sleep clinic in your area to better assess and diagnose your problem. Now, go get a heaping helping of rest please!