Fitness - Inside and Out, Illness and Conditions, Integrative Medicine

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…

 

 

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Illness and Conditions

Are You Aware of This Silent killer?

The year I entered high school, the New York Board of Education delayed our first day of school for two weeks in order to remove “harmful” asbestos. I recall the news coming as more of an extension to summer vacation than a health measure. I hadn’t a clue what the stuff was or why it was harmful; only that it was hidden from view and needed to be removed carefully. Fast forward to 9/11, when the collapse of the towers sent thousands of pounds of iridescent dust into the sky blanketing all of lower Manhattan for months. The pulverized building materials contained asbestos, amongst other things, and everyone who worked at Ground Zero inhaled the largest dose of it. Within 10 years, we started seeing many first responders come down with all sorts of respiratory illnesses, among which was a rare form of cancer called Mesothelioma. Victims and their families have been fighting with Insurance companies and government health agencies ever since to acknowledge that the cancer was directly caused by all those hours exposed to asbestos dust. The sad fact is they shouldn’t have to. All one has to do is take a look back in history to the early part of the 20th century to know what a “silent killer” this material was and still is.

Asbestos fibers poking out of this dry wall

 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been mined for over 4000 years. In ancient times, it was used to strengthen cooking pots and for creating fire retardant cloth. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, it was only being used in cloth manufacture. However, this soon changed when its key properties of fire proofing and tensile strength helped builders solve the problem of insulating homes on the cheap in densely populated cities like London. Its affordability eventually made it the go to material for many items related to the home. As noted in this article from the Guardian, “The use of asbestos became increasingly widespread towards the end of the 19th century, when its diverse applications included fire retardant coatings, concrete, bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, heat, fire, and acid resistant gaskets, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, fireproof drywall, flooring, roofing, lawn furniture, and drywall joint compound.” It’s literally in everything! It makes you wonder how many homes built in the US still contain asbestos. Per the U.S. Product Safety Commission site, it’s noted that homes built between 1930 and 1950 may contain asbestos in their insulation. It also adds that in older homes (I’ll take a gander and say homes built in the early 1900’s) the pipes may be coated with asbestos or lined with asbestos blanket. Either way you look at it, asbestos is everywhere, but it only poses a threat if you disturb it.

There is written evidence even from Roman times that asbestos had detrimental affects on the body. In the early 1900’s there were a large number of respiratory issues and early deaths of people who worked with the material in mining towns. Also factored into this death toll were the wives and family members of the workers, presumably due to the fact that they laundered the uniforms caked in asbestos dust. When autopsies were done, the lungs of these people showed lesions and scar tissue created by the asbestos fibers they inhaled. These fibers are comprised of microscopic angular crystals that get into the respiratory tract and literally cut up lung tissue. The resulting scarring or fibrosis and constant irritation to the lung tissue led to a chronic respiratory condition coined asbestosis as well as the development of Mesothelioma. Many investigations were conducted in the early 1900’s into the hazards of asbestos, but this did nothing to curb its mining and use. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that government legislation was set up to regulate its industry; first in the UK and then the US. Better ventilation was called for as well as acknowledging asbestosis as an occupational disease. This was also when mesothelioma was first noted in medical text (c.1931)

With all this evidence, it really confounds me that insurance companies and the government agencies responsible for allocating funding to victims of 9/11 are giving claimants such a hard time. It also confounds me why the US has not fully banned the use of asbestos, unlike Australia and the UK. According to the EPA’s website, asbestos use is not banned in the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution in commerce of the following products:

  • Cement corrugated sheet
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Clothing
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Cement shingle
  • Millboard
  • Cement pipe
  • Automatic transmission components
  • Clutch facings
  • Friction materials
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Brake blocks
  • Gaskets
  • Non-roofing coatings
  • Roof coatings

Um, wow.

This past week of April 1-7th was Asbestos Awareness Week. If you never knew what the stuff was before reading the above, I hope you can understand just what a danger it poses to our environment and obviously, to our health. It’s a bit of a morbid addendum, but asbestos related illnesses, like Mesothelioma, take sometimes decades to show up. As a result, there will be many more deaths related to the dust inhaled after the Towers collapsed in the years to come. These people shouldn’t have to fight for the care they clearly deserve. For more information, see the websites noted below. Then go outside and take a deep breath for every person who can’t do so thanks to asbestos.

 

Additional Information and Sources:

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance:  http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-cancer/what-is-asbestos.htm

The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection: http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/us-federal-bans-asbestos

Columbia University Research: http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/medicine/mesothelioma/mesothel.html

 

Illness and Conditions, Uncategorized

My Social Clock is Ticking

Depending on the society you live in and/or culture you identify in, there are certain expectations of accomplishment by the milestone ages of young adulthood. Much like the tell tale biological clock, the social clock ticks away throughout the lifespan signaling you to get your shit together with the rest of your age group. Career establishment, finding a life partner, starting a family, buying a home and so forth are markers set in a chronological order determined by society (hence it being a social clock). The biggest enforcers of this clock are within families i.e. your parents. They will assess you as you progress through young adulthood and give verbal reminders of where you “should” be by the age you are. They make fun comparisons to other people in your age group, usually friends and relatives who have accomplished what you have not. Society doesn’t do you any favors either, as the media drills what is appropriate for your chronological section of the population. Suddenly, the guy in the Lowes commercial kind of looks like you, as he sands down his deck and gets ready to grill some food for his family. The 20 something year old actress with her swollen baby bump stands next to the mid 30’s journalist with a smaller bump and they compare pregnancy symptoms and the helpfulness of their respective partners. You get the picture.

What happens when you haven’t satisfied all the “shoulds” for the age that you are? This is an existential exploration that some are perfectly okay with (i.e. they don’t care) and others derive extreme distress from. Here is where it gets personal.

I spent the bulk of my 20s in suspended animation. I don’t want to say it was time wasted; however, my eating disorder coupled with maladaptive cognitive distortions kept me from really establishing myself in the world as a career person, continuing my education or having a healthy romantic relationship. It wasn’t until my 30th year that I entered “the game.” I recovered, met and entered into what became a long term cohabitative relationship and went back to school to establish a more stable career. Now 35, I am at another transition point. The career is established, but my mind and body yearn for something more. I decided to go back to school again to make that happen. The relationship is no longer and the biological yearnings have kicked up their volume three-fold. I’m the healthiest physically I have ever been in my life, but emotionally I feel like I am in what psychologist Erikson described as the conflict of young adulthood – intimacy vs. isolation. His theory notes that a secure identity makes intimacy possible because you will be able to open your own self up to a permanent commitment to a partner, share in their interests and values as well as be faithful and develop love. If intimacy isn’t achieved, then isolation is the result, which for those who rejected intimacy or had insecure identity produces a sense of self-absorption or loneliness at the other extreme. You’re essentially in a state of searching for the ONE…beginning with YOU!

All those self-help books and talk shows do have a point when they stress being in a relationship with and loving yourself first before anyone else can love you. Attraction and passion come a lot more easily than compassion and love. American society is very attraction and passion driven. The latter two qualities are only possible if you have a secure sense of yourself. Starting from childhood, how your parents raised you will determine what sense of self you develop by early adulthood. Did they make you feel warm, supported and safe? Or were they nurturing in practical ways, but not very emotionally demonstrative of their love? Were they absentee due to work or their own life struggles, making you feel like you were last on the priority list? Although many people can still have a healthy self concept in some pretty gnarly childhood circumstances, the warm, supportive parenting style i.e. authoritative is going to set you up for success in the intimacy department.

Your parents might play a huge part in setting you up for success or failure, but taking responsibility for your own actions, thoughts and feeling is also important. Doing the work to build a secure sense of yourself. In exploring some of my existential issues, I find myself wishing I belonged in the “I don’t care” group who continue along their life path paying no mind at all to the social clock. The thing is, they have created their own social clock or as the English expression goes “they walk to the beat of their own drum.” Live for you; not for others’ expectations. I find that I haven’t been doing enough of the former and I’m not alone. And as if we need any more motivation, know that the buildup of stress hormones in the blood at this early age can cause your organs and body systems to fail sooner by the time you make it to a ripe old age. So, take a deep breath, let go of the distress and open your heart to loving you and creating a time line of goals that resonate with your needs and desires, separate from family, culture or society. The time is now…

 

 

Fitness - Inside and Out, Integrative Medicine

What’s my age again?

How old would you be, if you didn’t know how old you were?

There are some days where I feel about 100 years old. My body moves like it’s made of lead and all my senses are dulled. Thank god those days are few and far between. Most of the time, I marvel at the amount of physical work I am capable of; something my unhealthy 25 year old self would have fallen over just thinking about. There is  a lot to be said about the statement, “You’re as old as you feel” which ties into the question that opened this post. With proper exercise, nutrition and stress reduction and/or mediation coupled with good genetics, a person can certainly look and act a lot younger than their chronological age. Our functional age is based on how capable we are to carry out physical tasks in daily life and also encompasses psychological, environmental and physiological factors. This is especially important amongst the elderly population, where their ability to function at a younger level helps maintain their vitality.

Behold, Edna, a woman approaching 100 years old, who happily works with her trainers at the gym doing a medley of exercises in her adorable leopard print leggings. Energy, strength and personality exude from her tiny frame. Her mantra? “Don’t let yourself get weak.” We could all grab some inspiration from her, as excerpted below from a Women’s Health Article published in March 2014.

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/97-year-old-woman-doing-squats

Edna’s positive and motivated mental state counters the physiological reality of her age and its limitations. As we age, we lose muscle mass (sarcopoenia), bone density (osteopoenia) and collagen, which weakens our connective tissues. It takes more effort to do a lot of the activities of daily living in addition to the fun stuff like working out, chasing your grand-kids or climbing a trail.  The psychophysiological relationship is fascinating to me because it essentially shows that a good attitude, social interaction and familial/community support can override a lot of what would limit you physiologically. It can also do the opposite when the above three things are non-existent. Even as a young person, a negative attitude (I can’t do that) mixed with social isolation (Leave me alone) and no sense of community around you (I have no friends) can have drastic affects on how you function. Ask that person how old they feel and the answer probably will not match their chronological age; nor will it be for the better.

How old does this toddler feel if she’s conked out while standing?

So, take a moment to do a little metal inventory and ask yourself the opening question. What are the factors that made you answer the way you did? Are you doing too much? Too little? Have you not seen a friend or family member in a while because of a hectic schedule? Are you surrounded by energy vampires? This self searching will allow you to pinpoint what needs to change in this moment in order to feel more like the number you deserve to be. Life is already too short as it is. Make every year count!

Fitness - Inside and Out, Illness and Conditions

Metabolic Obesity: Redefining Fat

When many of us think of fat, we picture folds and rolls that jiggle. The fat that the health and beauty industries market toward is that which is under the skin, otherwise known as subcutaneous fat. It’s the same fat that puckers through weak connective tissue grids creating what we call cellulite. While this fat is concerning from both an aesthetic and health oriented perspective, there is a far more insidious kind of fat not always visible on the outside who is responsible for a host of diseases in the long term. This fat is not assessed by volume like those caliper pinching tools used to tell you your overall body fat %, but by location. This is your deeper fat reserve – your visceral fat.

The how to of measuring one kind of fat…caliper in action

Visceral fat (also known as brown fat or metabolic fat) gets its name because of where you find it – nestled deep in the abdominal cavity surrounding organs (i.e. viscera) like the liver, intestines, pancreas and kidneys. It’s there as an energy back up for your vital organs as well as to cushion and protect them. Your body is hardwired to maintain this fat, unless there is a deficit (i.e. starvation or intense exercise). In fact, even when not starving, this fat produces substances that affect insulin levels and communicate with the liver to influence blood fat content ensuring that the vital organs always get fed. In a famine, this fat will be the first to go before your body resorts to breaking down surface fat, muscles and organs for fuel. Now, imagine that you have more than what you need of this highly active fat? It pumps out pro-inflammatory cells into your blood stream, since it has a tight relationship with a major blood vessel to the liver and heart. These cells cause insulin resistance which is the precursor to Type II diabetes as well as promote the development of heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cancer of the bowel. Research even suggests that visceral fat increases production of the stress hormone, cortisol, and reduces levels of feel-good endorphins, leaving you feeling low on so many levels.

Being that it is so metabolically active, plentiful visceral fat is not the easiest to get rid of. This is also why people who have excess are now being termed metabolically obese regardless of whether they look lean or large. The tell tale sign of this excess in most people is the gut. While the gut is more prevalent in men who tend to have more fat stores in their belly region due to their hormones, menopausal women can also display this type of distention. Waist circumference will give you an inkling as to whether visceral fat is high; 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches and above for men. Another factor that affects visceral fat accumulation beyond gender and hormones is heredity/ethnic background. If people in your family tend to be apple shaped, meaning that more of their fat resides in the upper body, chances are your visceral fat is going to be higher. Following patterns amongst ethnic groups, it was found that excess visceral fat pops up in white men, African American women, Asian Indian and Japanese men and women most often. In addition, certain environmental factors play a role such as smoking and the consumption of compounds in food that mimic estrogen. Known as xenoestrogen or “foreign estrogen” they enter the body through the eating of plants and meats that have been exposed to or naturally contain these compounds and wreak havoc on hormonal levels which mess with visceral fat accumulation. However, many people suffer from metabolic obesity, as I noted earlier, without any outward sign of a large tummy. In fact, they might look pretty lean to the naked eye and register BMI’s that are in normal range.  The only way they find out their visceral fat is high is through an MRI or CT like scan, where the fat’s location can be clearly seen, as demonstrated in the below image. Of course, this is a costly test that is not always accessible or covered by insurance.

MRI Scan done in Britain of an outwardly thin person, who clearly has a large amount of visceral fat, as seen in the white regions of his abdomen (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1536556/Get-in-touch-with-your-inner-fat.html)

 

So now that your perception of fat is altered, what can you do to reduce excess visceral fat? A 2007 study indicated that High-Intesity exercise was most effective when done at least 4-5 hours a week. Another added bonus for some of the individuals taking part in this study, when combined with dietary tweaking, was an overall reduction of their subcutaneous fat % thus putting BMI levels in normal range. I can’t think of a better prescription than food and exercise. Of course, the best people to consult with for said script would be a nutritionist or registered dietician and a personal trainer. The former for an overhaul of your diet and eating habits and the latter for the right training regimen. My personal feeling with respect to trainers is to do your research and look for someone who has a strong background (cumulative experience and/or degree) in exercise physiology or kinesiology to construct a program of exercise that best suits your body, fitness level and individual goals. Physical therapists and doctors that specialize in sports medicine can be great sources for referrals of this kind.

 

Fitness - Inside and Out, Illness and Conditions, Integrative Medicine

Heavy Metals Will Rock You

…and not in the way that involves big hair and thrashing one’s body around. No, the heavy metal I’m referring to is that which basic chemistry defines as any metal or metalloid compound in the environment that is cause for concern. This concern is due to its adverse affects on human health and surrounding habitat and not so much on how “heavy” the compound actually is. These metals are EVERYWHERE but their toxic concentrations are the bi-product of human industrialization. For instance, vehicle emissions are the worst for releasing toxic metals into the air. Live near a highway or major metro area and your body is constantly filtering in contaminants including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, lead, antimony, vanadium, zinc, platinum, palladium and rhodium. Soil tests along many major roadways in the U.S. indicated that they still retain high levels of lead, despite the phase out of lead in gasoline almost 20 years ago. Fertilizers, paints, treated woods, lead-acid batteries and mining/factory wastes are other sources of contamination. Heavy metals can get in through the air, as noted before, as well as through the water, surface of the skin and the ingestion of plants that have been exposed to contaminated soil and/or water. Also note, the animals that feast on these plants also become a source of exposure to us humans who may dine on them at a later time.

This image shows how heavy metals get released into the Mississippi River courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey Circular

Now, let’s break down how heavy metals negatively affect human health. Certain metals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are found in living tissue and are essential to human life; however in high concentrations are toxic. Others, like the aforementioned cadmium, lead and mercury are toxic even in low concentrations. Once the metals are introduced into the body, it’s ultimately the liver’s job to filter out what is not necessary and store what it needs. These metals bind to cellular walls and the metabolically active regions within the cell that not only mess with  its structure, but also its function. Short term symptoms of toxicity depend on the individual metal and how much of it has built up in the body. Over the long term, many of these metals cause cells to turn cancerous, warp and destroy parts of the central and peripheral nervous system and also reduce and/or destroy red blood cells which affects our circulatory system.

Diagram of the various health anomalies that occur with short and long term exposure of heavy metals (courtesy of DATCS)

With some level of exposure being inevitable in our industrialized world, what can we do to mitigate the affects of heavy metals on our health? There is an FDA approved therapy known as chelation which assists the body in cleansing itself of heavy metal deposits. This therapy is administered by a doctor, who will give you a full evaluation and blood screening prior to beginning the treatment. After you have been assessed for levels of heavy metals, etc. you will be administered a binding agent or chelator intravenously along with vitamin C, B complex, Magnesium and specific homeopathics to support the detoxification. Seated in a chair, your session will be about 30-40 minutes. Perusing various sites that describe the treatment it ironically resembles chemotherapy with its grouping of comfortable recliners and patients seated hooked up to I.V.’s. The doctor will recommend a particular amount of sessions before your blood is reevaluated to indicate if more treatments are necessary. It must be noted that some of the chelators  used to bind to heavy metals have their own side effects that could be detrimental to health in the long term; however research is being done to find safer and more effective ones.

Before chelation becomes necessary, it is important to assess your environmental and occupational risks. Is your workplace exposing you to toxins? Obviously if you work in a factory or manufacturing plant as well as in a mine or refinery, you will be exposed if you do not follow safety guidelines, which include wearing protective clothing/gear and properly decontaminating through hygienic practices like skin washing. In your daily life, you can use a filtration system to filter your water of heavy metals and contaminants. There are tons on the market now and are very easily available. Read products labels of the cleansers and products you used daily in your home to see if they contain any heavy metals and protect yourself accordingly. Or even better, swap those cleansers for greener choices that are free of these toxins. Also, avoid getting mercury fillings in your teeth as the amalgam releases small amounts of mercury over time into your body. Find out what other filler alternatives are available (and they are) and choose a dentist who has experience in the safe removal of mercury fillings, so you can have them replaced without exposing yourself to further poisoning. And of course, if you live right on top of a factory, plant or major roadway, it might make you want to reconsider your address lest you never open your windows without the aid of an air filter at all times.

The next and probably most important thing is to assess your nutrition to make sure you are sufficient in calcium, iron and zinc. These three elements bind to lead and cadmium preventing its absorption. Note that I mentioned sufficiency and not excess, which would be toxic to the body. In addition, make sure if you are consuming fish oil, that is from mercury free critters of the sea. And the same goes for the consumption of fish. Know which ones have higher levels of mercury (examples: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, etc.)and limit yourself to no more than one serving per week, if that. Also Vitamin C and E bind to heavy metals and allow them to be flushed out of the system. Vitamin E consumption in studies with lab mice who had been exposed to heavy metals indicated a boost in anti-oxidant defenses and reduction of tissue damage. Taking it one step further, a combination of Vitamin E and C dosage was administered to workers who had significant levels of heavy metal toxicity. After 6 months, there was such a significant repair and boosting of anti-oxidant defenses that their scans compared to people who had never been exposed at all to such toxins. Other nutrients like Folate, Garlic, Cilantro and Selenium have also shown to reduce levels of heavy metals in the body as well as boost liver health. Go nutrition and the ancient Greeks who believed food to be thy medicine.

In conclusion, if you are curious or believe that you might be at risk for heavy metal toxicity, ask your doctor to order you a blood panel for heavy metals as well as a comprehensive blood count, which tests the health of your kidneys, liver and iron levels in your blood. Dependent on the findings you can make the lifestyle and nutritional modifications necessary to rock your life out for many years to come sans the influence of heavy metals!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Brujeria Before Breakfast

 

What future events do YOU see in there??

No afternoon Greek coffee date would be complete without someone’s aunt or grandmother offering to “read” your cup. When you’re super little and have no concept of the gravity of future you find a lump of coffee sludge being able to tell you things wildly entertaining. Fast forward to your teenage years and suddenly, you want that relative to answer all the burning questions of young adulthood like will I ever get a boyfriend or what college is going to accept me. About 4 years ago, I had a friend’s aunt read my cup during a particularly rough period in my life. Nothing of what she told me made much sense or more importantly, gave me comfort…in that moment. However, in hindsight, everything she pointed out to me has actually occurred. I just couldn’t digest it all in the frame of mind I was in.

This brings me to present times. Recently, a friend recruited me to visit what I am affectionately calling a bruja (Spanish for witch). This little Puertorican lady has been blessed with the gift of communicating with the spirit world i.e. a medium. Surrounded by infinite statues of saints and other worldly figures, she channels the messages your guardian angels and/or loved ones want to give you as well as answering any questions you may have beginning and ending with a prayer. Now, I understand not everyone in the secular world believes in the presence of spirit guides etc. but I always have. And when the going gets tough and I am in need of some perspective on matters internal, the bruja can be the perfect counsel.

Image of La Milagrosa – a powerful protector and miracle worker

While sitting in her little waiting area, cold and overly pensive, I reviewed the events of the past year. If that year could be given a theme, it would be “UPHEAVAL.”  The amount of situations and individuals that changed and/or disappeared from my little life overwhelmed me to the point where my sleep and nutrition suffered. It has only been in the last few months or so that I have felt settled and somewhat “safe” within my current environment. I wondered what would come through when the bruja started her distracted scribbling, a technique also known as automatic writing, which is used to open communication with the dead.

 

 

While in her trance like state, many things she uttered made sense to me. What made the biggest impression on me was her exclamation prior to me asking or uttering anything other than my full name to her. Yes, I do believe that some psychics are just intuitive people who are able to read the emotions, body language and mental state of the individual coming to them for advice. They assess and ask the right kinds of leading questions that allow them to be spot on about many aspects of your life; however, they don’t actually predict anything that you don’t already know. My bruja said some goosebump inducing things to me. Only later on in the reading, when her eyes cleared of their fixed, glazed over gaze did she give more of a grandmotherly, human perspective which I sensed did not come from any of my guardians beyond.

In Christianity, Judaism and Islam the Archangel/St. Gabriel delivers the messages.

I walked away a mixed bag of emotions. Later that same evening, I wrote out everything my ridiculously clear episodic memory recalled from our session. I hadn’t looked at her words until last night, when in one of my pensive moods. A few things stood out to me that I wanted to paraphrase here because they could help others live a little more open to what the universe has to offer.

Take care of your body – put nourishing things into it and keep it fit.

Take care in how you present your outward appearance.

Take care in what you say – your words are powerful and affect others profoundly.

The above three pieces of advice help the mind break its pattern of going to its little fearful place. Intuition won’t be clouded and the messages that need to come through will. My ultimate lesson is to trust and be true to myself. And I can think of no better person to channel that energy onto 🙂

 

 

Fitness - Inside and Out, Massage Techniques Explained

Gouri, 2013

It’s a New Year and with that come the flood of resolutions, made with good intention, to have a fresh start of things. What often tops these lists are changes in diet and exercise. Gym memberships notoriously surge in the beginning of the year, while kitchens are cleaned out of their sundry contents to be replaced with all kinds of leafy greens and organic snacks. After a few weeks, the novelty of the fresh start wears off and for many, old habits die hard.

One of my New Year’s day clients joked that massage should be at the top of his list for 2013. In fact, all the clients I saw on that day expressed wanting to begin their year on a relaxed note. Many of them had received these massages as gifts. The Greeks call this gouri, a gesture or gift of good luck typically given to family members and friends for the New Year. Honestly, it’s a brilliant commitment to oneself to reduce stress and bring balance to the body on a regular basis. Think of all the cumulative affects of a chaotic lifestyle, rife with packed schedules, inhaled meals and little sleep and the investment of one massage per month becomes feasible. This is what I tell clients when they cannot fathom the cost of such a “luxury.” If you can spend $80 to $100 on frothy coffee drinks per month, then you can afford one massage. 

It’s pretty and smells delicious, but doesn’t last very long.

I could post heaps of statistical data supporting the benefits of regular massage on health, immunity, mobility, recovery and performance, but I won’t. What I want readers to keep in mind is a word I mentioned above – commitment. Many of us have a problem honoring commitments made to ourselves; moreover, the list of resolutions we make at the beginning of each year to change this, that or the other is a bit of a joke when we have no intention of doing anything. Why even make a list at all? If you can commit to just one thing at the start of each month, I am positive you will enact more self change then tackling an entire list in just January. Here are a few to pick and choose from:

  • Commit to one massage a month.
  • Commit to one session of strength training per week.
  • Commit to five minutes of deep breathing and/or stretching before bed every night.
  • Commit to taking the stairs at some point during your day.
  • Commit to 20 minutes in the steam room at the gym.
  • Commit to juicing one morning per week.
  • Commit to making your day off count for you!
Fitness - Inside and Out, Illness and Conditions, Massage Techniques Explained

A Body is a Terrible Thing to Waste

All bones, no strength – Anorexia circa 2003

October 13th was the 8th anniversary of my recovery from Anorexia. Back on that date in 2004, I broke down on the floor of my bedroom in the middle of the night. I was staring into the demon bowels of the disease that had dictated my life for 3 years. It sucked the air from my lungs. I couldn’t live another day with its crushing pressure. It took me two weeks to leave the confines of a friend’s home (where I had escaped to cocoon myself from reality) and once I did emerge, I felt like I was in some kind of silent film. The world moved slowly, while I felt frenetic. I quit and distanced myself from everything in my life that I had allowed to enable the disease. I went into therapy. I ate a bowl of black eyed peas and rice, my first meal, with trepidation. My stomach; my intestines; my mind slowly came back to life. With belly distended, I proudly proclaimed on whatever social networks existed at that time that I was recovering. I was still very thin, but by the New Year 2005, my consistent eating led my body to “betray” me.

Performing in 2007, at my heaviest post recovery (Image copyright: Gary Winter)

The life preserving shut down of my metabolism was meant to make sure I wouldn’t starve again. I was afraid to eat, but I did anyway. I submitted my food journals to my therapist who approved and told me to eat more. “Variety” she stressed, but I was fixated on foods I felt safe with. I did gratuitous amounts of cardio at odd hours, so no one would stare at my body at the gym. They had known me when I was at my thinnest and I feared their assumption that I was letting myself go. My fears were realized when in the Spring of that year, a trainer approached me and offered to give me a fitness assessment. The masochist in me accepted and after running his various tests, proclaimed to me that I was borderline obese. Oh, the shame that washed over me. For years, that left me with such an acrid taste for personal trainers. He told me to cut out the “junk food” and come see him for sessions at the gym. I was living on tuna fish and pita breads, fueling my workouts with coffee and bee pollen smoothies. I never went back to that gym. In fact I stopped going to any gym. My weight and health habits fluctuated erratically between 2005 and 2008, until a good friend recommended his trainer. I got over myself and the shame I had felt in my previous experience and contacted him. He assessed me through a short circuit of activities and introduced the concept of strength training. He taught me how muscle mass and strength would benefit me in the long run, making my metabolism more efficient and letting my body reshape itself into it’s own “normal.”

All muscle, all strength!

The seed he planted germinated when I went back to school for massage. I was hit with Anatomy, Physiology, Neuro and Kinesiology. I never soaked up information with such appetite before. I couldn’t get enough. This knowledge enhanced my workouts and sessions with my trainer because I understood how my body was designed to function. Suddenly, Mr. “Borderline Obese” became the joke that I should have never taken seriously. (Side note here: I saw his picture and name on a real estate placard recently, which clearly shows us he did not have a glowing career in exercise physiology after all). I also returned to therapy with a more cognitive approach to help get to the root of my control issues and take them head on…much like throwing knees and elbows during pad drills. I channeled my emotions into my workouts and learned, often times the hard way, what an art BALANCE is. Now, as a massage therapist, it is so important to foster this healthy sense of bodily awareness within my clients, wherever possible and always when solicited.

So when I was contacted recently by a Fitness/Wellness website for a review of their services, I stepped up to the plate and joined. SlimKicker is a point based program kind of in the vein of Weight Watchers, except that it values activities and nutrition at various levels and creates challenges for its users to foster long term health habits. It also provides a calorie counter, fitness tracker and other resources. There is the community aspect too, as users can post inspirational feed on the homepage, join each other in challenges/groups and “friend” each other for support. The About Us section states that the site is all about learning proper nutrition, portion control, and acquiring important habits. In that vein, upon signing up I was asked for my weight and what my goal was – weight loss or strengthening/toning. Although I chose the fitness oriented option, the pop up that followed was more for weight loss, citing how many calories and percentages I needed to consume in order to achieve my goal. The amount it noted was no where near what I would need to fuel my body and my workouts. To drive this point home, I logged only my exercise habits; not my food intake. If I followed what the site suggested, I would essentially send my body into starvation mode.

It is important to note here that there is a disclaimer in their Terms and Conditions that states the site should not be used by anyone with any medical or nutritional conditions and that content is for informational purposes only, not meant to replace professional medical advice. Obviously no one with an eating disorder has any business on a site where everything is meticulously logged and counted, but many people without said issues can still have disordered eating habits and cycles of guilt they feel compelled to share via social network. The site’s inspirational feed is 80% laments at having eaten too much of something labeled “bad” either by the user themselves or the nutritional information offered to them by the website (Remember that disclaimer,guys?). Also, there are statements of pride over extra exercises and completed challenges; however these inspirational statements are edged with complaints about weight gain or lack of loss (again, that disclaimer). This is not the site’s fault. They want you to be positive, stay focused and band together for support. Our society is more to blame for fostering this widespread self loathing and depreciation. The hate and guilt are infectious and breed a vicious cycle that will continue so long as we choose to continue “sharing,” despite any health oriented social networks best efforts.

SlimKicker, if used properly, can function as a motivator for adopting a fitness regimen because it holds you accountable for your activities. Much like a TO DO list, if exercise is factored into a week and logged daily, it makes you all the more aware of the need to check it off your list. After doing so for so many times, it will hopefully become a natural part of your daily lifestyle. I’m still not a fan of food logging due to my past; however if you truly don’t know what you have eaten in a day, keeping a food diary can help you track unhealthy patterns like over eating and of course, under eating. My advice is to pay attention to your body’s individual needs and seek out a registered dietician and/or nutritionist if you find the process to be overwhelming.

Integrative Medicine, Massage Techniques Explained

Fertility Massage: You + Me = Baby

Loving that procreative vessel!
(Copyright Linnea Lenkus Studio)

Within the past few weeks, I found that the majority of my new female clients are trying to get pregnant. Most are going about it the natural way, but a few have begun fertility treatments after that route didn’t produce any result. Their ages range from as young as 25 all the way to 43. Some have had children before; others are trying for the first time. They span multiple nationalities and economic brackets, but despite their differences, these women do have one thing in common – STRESS. Their bodies are experiencing and storing the physical and emotional strain of wanting to get pregnant, which if you have read any of my previous posts, wreaks havoc on your muscles, tissues and overall health. When in STRESS mode, one of the best things you can do is get a massage, as it is extremely effective at managing and reducing the negative effects that stress hormones like cortisol have on the body. However, there is a less obvious reason why a woman wanting to get pregnant should be getting massaged and it’s Doctor recommended.

Standard massage turns on the “rest and digest” switch in the body, sending feel good hormones coursing through your system that bring down blood pressure, flush toxins and increase circulation to tense areas of the body you wouldn’t be able to reach yourself. This is the stress reduction factor. Naturally, with a more restful state promoted in the body and nourishing blood flooding to all regions above and below, the ability for one to conceive could be increased physiologically. However, what M.D.’s and case studies have found to really prepare the “womb” is a more direct approach. Currently, there are two forms of massage that deal with fertility issues and both address the uterus and surrounding abdominal muscles and organs, specifically.

The first form of fertility massage is Mayan Abdominal Therapy, a form of abdominal massage brought to North America and Europe by herbalist and respected authority on Mayan healing techniques, Dr. Rosita Arvigo. It is an external, non invasive manipulation that repositions internal organs that have shifted, thereby restricting the flow of blood, lymph fluid, nerves and chi. Its founding principle is that when a women’s uterus is out of “balance” so is she. Centuries of Central American midwives and healers have found this to be the number one impediment for conception. Dr. Arvigo’s technique is focused on the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. The work corrects a prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus and structurally realigns the spine from the thoracic to sacral regions. The practitioner will also prescribe herbal remedies to support the treatment and teach self-care methods that the client can practice at home. More information on session specifics and locating a practitioner near you can be found here: https://www.arvigotherapy.com/practitioners

The second method is called the Wurn Technique. This unique type of massage was developed more than 15 years ago at Clear Passage Therapies, a physical therapy network by a massage and physical therapist husband and wife team, Larry and Belinda Wurn. While treating an infertile woman for low-back and pelvic pain, the therapists discovered their client became pregnant, after seven years of unsuccessful attempts. This client had been diagnosed with two blocked fallopian tubes and had been sexually active the entire time. Intrigued, they tried the same technique on eight other infertile women. Half of them became pregnant following treatment. The therapy itself combines site specific abdominal massage with elements of physical therapy.  It addresses adhesions, spasms and mechanical factors that cause almost half of all female infertility. Most of their clients shared a history of inflammation, trauma and/or surgery of the structures involved in conception. The Wurn Technique is patent protected by the U.S. government and practiced all over the country. A 2004 case study that followed 22 women who had completed the treatment program, indicated 16 (73%)  became pregnant and carried to term.  On average, the women that were able to conceive had received between 20-25 hours worth of treatment before becoming pregnant. Ongoing studies are being conducted on the efficacy of the technique, but the results look promising.

Overall, conventional treatments for infertility are extremely expensive and oftentimes invasive, both physically and emotionally.  I have seen it first hand with my clients. It’s nice to know that there are forms of massage that are an affordable option for couples dealing with this frustrating and painful reality. They are slow, methodically deep and client centered with little to no side effects. It’s my belief that anything done to the body with love, promotes love. And if you are just a smidgen sentimental, the ultimate act of love between 2 people is the creation of a life.

The fruits of your labor…