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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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!

 

 

The Human Rights of Health

Dr. Matthias Rath is a German born physician and researcher/developer of nutritional therapies and Cellular Medicine. The institute he heads up conducts basic research and clinical studies to scientifically document the health benefits of micronutrients in fighting a multitude of diseases. Micronutrients are minerals, trace elements and vitamins required by living organisms to sustain physiological functions on a daily basis, but which cannot be made by the organism. Applying this scientific knowledge in the fight against diseases, he and his research team have identified the following common health conditions as being primarily caused by chronic deficiencies of micronutrients:

  • Arteriosclerosis (the cause of coronary heart disease and stroke)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Failure
  • Irregular Heart Beat
  • Diabetic circulatory problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Many forms of cancer
  • Immune deficiencies as a precondition for a variety of infectious diseases, including AIDS

Dr. Rath is also an outspoken advocate for patient rights and for free access to natural healthcare worldwide. His advocacy continues to be instrumental in preventing a global ban on natural health therapies on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, who would like nothing better than to block the public’s knowledge of alternative therapies which would steal from their billion dollar money pot.

Dr. Rath’s area of cancer research is especially intriguing to me, being that my father has chosen to cease chemo now and start building his system back up in more “natural” ways. The basis of chemotherapy and radiation treatment is the destruction of all rapidly dividing cells, which is not limited to just the cancer cells. As the treatments do not discriminate between healthy and abnormal (cancer) cells, they damage cells in healthy organs  that have a high renewal rate  and are frequently dividing, such as the cells of bone marrow, skin, the intestinal lining and many other organs. Patients end up suffering from anemia and a further weakened immune system, making the elimination of cancer cells all that more difficult. In cases where the cancer cells have built a resistance to the drugs, the damage of healthy tissue really puts the patient at a bigger disadvantage in their fight. Intestinal bleeding triggered by these therapies impairs the absorption of nutrients  and contributes to diminishing  the body’s natural ability to fight cancer. There is also a risk of damage to the genetic machinery of the cells, the DNA, which could lead to the development of new cancers. This is how cancer does its dirty work.

Cancer develops when cells in one part of an organ in the body escape growth control. Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in a systematic way. While we are still growing, normal cells divide much more frequently. Upon reaching adulthood, the cells in most organs of the body divide only to replace dysfunctional or dying cells and to repair injuries. In the case of cancer cells, the genetic program that regulates the cell growth cycle becomes interrupted, causing the cells to become immortal and to constantly divide. Cancer cell growth never stops. Growing cells expand in a tissue by digesting the surrounding  collagen and connective tissue barrier with specific enzymes, the most prominent are matrix metalloproteinases or MMPs. This cell growth results in the formation of a tumor mass. The same process of collagen digestion is used by cancer cells to spread to other organs (metastasis). Uncontrolled collagen dissolving accompanies other pathologies, such as chronic inflammation (arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis), infections (destruction of connective tissue  facilitates spread of microbial agents) and in many other conditions. To stop cancer metastasis, the activity of MMPs must be inhibited. Here’s where Dr. Rath and his team of researchers at his Institute identified a specific combination of nutrients that can inhibit the activity of MMPs and stop the spread of cancer cells. This nutrient combination, includes vitamin C, the amino acids L-lysine and L-proline , a green tea extract known as Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), and other micronutrients which work together to achieve this goal. Their extensive research conducted on more than two dozen cancer cell types have shown that this  nutrient combination is effective in controlling cancer in multiple ways: stopping its growth, spread, formation of new blood vessels in tumors (angiogenesis) and inducing natural cancer cell death (apoptosis).

Unlike chemotherapy toxins, radiation and various pharmaceutical drugs, nutrients are safe even in higher doses. Moreover, they are needed by all cells in the body, immune system cells, thereby supporting the entire body’s ability to fight cancer. There have been numerous studies conducted on this nutrient therapy’s efficacy that are available via Dr. Rath’s site and/or a simple search of scholarly papers and medical journals via Google.

Having experienced first hand numerous medical professionals advising on treatment options for my father, I am keenly aware what a business Cancer is to the pharmaceutical industry. These medications, even with some insurance companies covering 80% of the cost, are still incredibly expensive. Even more so in my father’s case, where it was more of a preventative measure, yet still administered bi-weekly. Having the right to choose what is best for HIS health was integral to his recovery process. The refusal of chemical treatment gave him back his voice, which had been silenced by all those professional opinions and fears. Dr. Rath is one medical professional who is listening.

SOURCES

Free Read of Dr. Rath’s research on nutritional Cancer Therapy: http://www.victory-over-cancer.org/

http://www4.dr-rath-foundation.org

More info on finding a Nutritional Therapist and holistic approaches: http://nutritionaltherapy.com/ntp-referral-list/

Psychological Stress and Cancer

Pathology is one of the required courses within the Massage Therapy Program at The Swedish Institute. Among the many conditions broken down for the soon to be therapist and then related back to massage is Cancer. Within our notes and lectures, there is a working list of “irritants” that can create the level of genetic damage needed to allow cells to grow out of control and change their state. The usual suspects are present: smoking, alcoholism, environmental pollutants, genetic factors, viruses like HPV/AIDS and free radicals to name a few. The usefulness of massage to the cancer patient is in helping them to better deal with the side effects of chemo/radiation therapies, reduce the anxiety surrounding having this illness and boost the energetic force of the body. Reflexology and Acupressure massage like Shiatsu are the recommended types of bodywork to address the weakened systems of the body and specific organs without “spreading” the cancer around. These techniques also sufficiently relax the patient, thus stimulating their parasympathetic nervous response (rest and digest) which then gives them an appetite to ingest nutrients necessary to boost their immune system. The other useful arena for massage is in stress reduction and energetic support for the caretakers and family members of those who have the disease.

As cancer has now struck close to home, I have been doing a lot more research on alternative and natural therapies for the condition. In my search, I came across an article detailing the story of a German oncologist in the 1970’s by the name of Dr. Hamer who felt so strongly that there was a connection between psychological stress and the formation of Cancer, that he conducted over 40,000 case studies using MRI’s to prove his theory. What he saw were lesions created in the brain from the stress/trauma that he felt sent signals to corresponding body cells that caused the formation of tumors and the destruction of healthy tissue. He noted that if the source of the psychological stress could be alleviated or the individual be given strategies to better cope with psychologically traumatic events, then the stress on the body would be reduced significantly if not eradicated. When combined with conventional treatment for cancer, he felt that patients had a better chance of fighting the disease into permanent remission. Although there was a lot of controversy surrounding  his theory, years later there is a lot to be said for the effects of stress on the immune system.

What is so amazing about bodywork is that it is an extremely effective method of stress reduction that is both easily accessible and affordable. As Ben Franklin’s idiom states, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Receiving regular massage promotes that state of balance our health thrives in known as homeostasis. With so much going on in the world around us so outside of our control, the best thing we can do for ourselves is dedicate the time to lay still and hopefully, let go.

SOURCES:

http://www.cancer-prevention.net/