My Macro Journey to Fitness – Part 2

Feed me, Julia!

But how?

Prescription Food

In the Fall of 2009, I started my program in Massage Therapy at The Swedish Institute. Along with foundational coursework like Anatomy & Physiology, I was given an education in Eastern medicine. In my introductory class, we discussed the 5 Element theory to diagnosing and treating imbalances in the body. It broke down the acupressure point meridians and the paired organs that represented diagnostic elements. Dysfunction in these paired organs manifested physically and emotionally in the body. Treatments included bodywork, acupuncture, herbs and nutrition. There were foods to avoid and foods to promote the function of these pairs depending on the diagnosis given. Each element itself was associated with certain tastes and manners of eating.

My mind was officially blown!

Food as a healing prescription instead of an anxiety inducing activity resonated with me. I wasn’t at the point yet where I even liked to eat. All I knew was that I had to eat.

Maybe those cravings for lamb burgers were more than just cravings!

I soon learned that eating disorders like my Anorexia stemmed from imbalances in the paired organ relationship of Stomach and Spleen. Makes sense, right? Food goes into the Stomach and then is transformed and assimilated as energy or Qi that gets stored in the Spleen. Depleting my body of nutrients meant I had very little stored energy. People with Stomach and Spleen deficiencies experience a loss of appetite, digestive issues, difficulty putting on muscle, general weakness and lack of tone in their limbs, metabolic imbalances and irregular menstrual cycles. The emotional/spiritual manifestation of their imbalance is anxiety, worry, excessive thinking, pensiveness, obsessiveness, remorse, regret, obsessions, and self-doubt.

Pretty much summed me up.

I bought and borrowed every book I could find on TCM (i.e. Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Eastern theory. One of my class exercises was to create a 3 Day menu for an element of our choice. You know which one I chose. I ended up implementing this menu in my own life. In the first few months of 2010, I started to see muscle definition and an increase in my strength. My program was a mostly strength based workout with my trainer 2x per week and 2 days of some kind of cardio endurance training on my own.

But by March, I found myself overcome with a strange new craving after my cardio workouts and it scared the crap out of me.

SUGAR!

Not your optimal post workout nutrition

Even though it was scary, this powerful urge for sweet made a lot of sense. Metabolically, I was depleting my energy reserves with the duration of my cardio activities. It was my brain telling my body you need the quickest form of energy available or you’ll crash. This energy is glucose. We derive glucose from consuming carbohydrates. The sugars in carbs are broken down to synthesize glucose which goes directly into the blood stream, also known as our “blood sugar.” From these same carbs, we also manufacture glycogen, a more complex sugar which is stored in our muscles and the liver. When blood sugar is depleted, a chemical messenger gets released that signals the glycogen stores to be broken down to glucose, which then gets sent into the blood stream to replenish our levels.

My, then, boyfriend was all too happy to entertain this new craving and together we indulged it. Maybe I felt safer to consume sweets in his presence because it took the edge off of the guilt I felt. Sugar in any form was something I avoided and restricted. It caused me to have anxiety and made me moody. My periods were more painful. And the worst result of all was an increase in my body fat percentage by the year’s end because I wasn’t careful with my portions.

This habit could not continue.

I clearly had to change the way I was working out on my own and what I was consuming afterward. I didn’t want all my hard work to be for nought.

The science of snacking, post workout

I looked into the chapters on nutrition in a few different Exercise Science textbooks. Many of them spoke about consuming a high glycemic index carb within a half hour to an hour of endurance workouts in order to replenish blood sugar levels and prevent the muscles from being targeted for glycogen breakdown. Muscles need that energy to repair themselves, not to keep you from fainting after your workout. Also recommended for muscle repair and recovery was a protein, preferably from the 8 essential aminos family and especially high lucein in nature, along with a source of Omega 3 fatty acid. The above macro-nutrients were recommended to be eaten within 90 mins post workout. If I could create a snack that encompassed all the macros I needed, I would not only be doing my body good, but would also be shutting the sugar cravings down for good.

Box Jumps – an advanced exercise in this High Intensity Interval Training routine

I discovered High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT while watching a documentary on obesity in the UK in 2011. I learned that 20 minutes of intense activity done in short intervals using 90% of my max energy level with even shorter rests in between accomplished more than any of my 90 min cardio benders.

This was a more efficient way of getting my cardio in no matter what my schedule was like. I started with beginner level intervals and within a year, made it to more advanced routines. I already had a good cardio base to work with and I was careful not to do movements where I felt my form was anything short of perfect.

MAJOR NOTE: HIIT is something to work up to. You cannot go from a sedentary lifestyle right into this kind of exercise. You need a strong cardio vascular system and a keen understanding of form before going “balls to the wall” – seek out a trainer that can get you there!

It may have taken almost 7 years, but I had finally found the fitness formula that worked best for me – a combination of strength training and HIIT along with proper nutrition to support my activity levels.

And an amazing thing happened. I started to like eating.

My Macro Go To’s

I make my own post workout snacks on the days where I was not running to work after training. I’m not anal about measuring out the exact proportions of high glycemic carb, protein and fat, but I more or less estimate a portion size that my body responds well to (i.e. no cramping, stitches or bloating after eating)

One of my favorite post workout snacks is a cup of full fat Greek yogurt, with 3 Medjool dates, a tsp of Greek honey and 2 tsps of tahini.

I also created a shake recipe that tastes a lot like lemon cake batter. I blend 1 cup of Kefir (a fermented milk drink similar to yogurt that is a great source of probiotic strains for your GI), 1 frozen banana, 10 blueberries, 1 tsp almond butter and 2 tsps ProOmega D-Xtra liquid from Nordic Naturals (a great source of Omega 3 fatty acid).

Lemon flavored source of Vitamin D3 and Omega 3 fatty acid

Lastly, when I’m in need of a snack on the go between clients, I prefer the  Go Macro macro-nutrient bar along with some kind of fruit. My favorite combo to date is the cashew butter macrobar “sweet rejuvenation” (pictured below) with a medium sized ripe apricot.

 

ADDITIONAL SOURCES and READING:

Journal of Applied Physiologyhttp://jap.physiology.org/content/89/5/1845.full

Muscle Glycogen Synthesis Before and After Exercisehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2011684

Haff, Gregory G and Triplett, Travis N. “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th Edition” (NSCA, USA)

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Psychosomatic Medicine

Acupuncture chart from Chinese medical text circa 1340s A.D.

There is nothing worse than going to a doctor with a host of symptoms and being told there is nothing wrong with you. Many people who appear on the program, Mystery Diagnosis, (my second Discovery Health obsession next to the The Food MD) have had this experience. I recall one particularly disturbing episode, where a young woman complaining of extreme gastrointestinal distress was prescribed an anti-depressant by one of the many doctors she sought answers from. Confused, she asked how these would help her to which the doctor responded that her condition was basically all in her head. When a physical illness or condition is caused by or aggravated by a mental factor it is termed psychosomatic. Essentially, that is how this young woman’s doctor viewed her illness. Many years later, she was properly diagnosed with severe endometriosis, a condition where the cells of the uterus grow in other places of the body causing cramping, severe bleeding and infertility to name a few. In her case, the cells had grown into and over parts of her GI tract. She had a full hysterectomy and a section of her large intestine removed in order to reclaim some quality of life. Take that, anti-depressants!

As you can glean from the above story, defining an illness as psychosomatic carries with it an intense social stigma here in the west, even though almost all physical illnesses have mental factors that determine their onset, presentation, maintenance, susceptibility to treatment and resolution. When doctors dismiss symptoms like in the case of this young woman, the rest of the world follows suit. The person who is suffering internally and externally is labeled “dramatic” or even worse, a liar. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine viewed the psychosomatic as the greatest key to diagnosing deeper illness and imbalance in the body. The strength of the nervous system and physical state of the individual (including their environment) is assessed in order to understand the degree in which an organ or a system is affected. Every symptom is taken into account and treated seriously, with the objective being to restore balance. Moreover, the eastern approach considers how interconnected the body and mind are.

The biggest physical bully is emotional stress, which can infiltrate suddenly or slowly, over a long period of time. Even from a western perspective, stress can be incredibly destructive, wreaking havoc on connective tissues, digestion, vascular integrity and the body’s restorative sleep cycles if not managed properly i.e. not just a script for anti-depressants. In Chinese medicine, if the nervous system of the individual is weak, the symptoms of illness will be more psychological. On a physical level, the organ most affected by the emotional stress will be the weakest/dysfunctional one. Whatever the natural emotions associated with this organ are, they will become stronger and more destructive to the nervous system overall. As the organ breaks down, it takes the system it is associated with along for the ride, leading ultimately to disease. If the emotional stress comes on suddenly, it will affect the Heart and the Lungs. If it is gradual and long term, it will take a toll on the Liver, Spleen and Kidneys. Even more specific is the type of emotional stress broken down into these 5 categories: tense/chronic, shock/sudden, sadness, rumination and fearful emotion. This gives an even more precise view of the affected organs/systems in the body, further honing the treatment approach.

Our young woman with endometriosis would have been assessed as having a strong nervous system in the beginning, as her symptoms were predominantly physical. By the time she had gone to see the doctor who prescribed the anti-depressants, she was exhibiting a combination of physical and mental symptoms. This would signify that her nervous system was deteriorating. If she had also gone to see an eastern doctor from the get go, much of her later suffering might have been alleviated, as the weakest organ, her large intestine would have been addressed immediately with herbs and acupuncture/bodywork. Since organs are partnered in the Chinese system of yin/yang (solid/hollow), the untreated large intestinal dysfunction would have affected her lungs. This woman developed an eczema like rash all over her trunk and extremities that would get worse every time she had a violent bout of diarrhea. The skin is considered the 3rd lung of the body in Chinese medicine. This symptom developed 5 years after her initial bout of gastrointestinal distress. After ten years, she began to bleed copiously during her period, which lasted over two weeks. Initial blood tests had already indicated she was mildly anemic, but this massive blood loss rendered her immobile. Ironically, during this time, her large intestine dysfunction seemed to dissipate; however, as soon as the period would end, the violent diarrhea would return. At this point in her illness, the Spleen had become involved. Responsible for creating Blood/Qi and keeping things upright and in their proper place, it’s no wonder that when she finally got her diagnosis 15 years in the making, this was the most affected organ. (Note: One could even argue that the Spleen could have been the weakest organ overall, but I won’t complicate things for the reader) The cells of the uterus growing out of control outside of their proper place is demonstrative of Spleen weakness. The uncontrollable bleeding led to a massive loss of Qi that just couldn’t be replaced by her depleted system. The only solution, at that point, was to remove the uterus and large intestine to prevent the out of control cell growth from migrating elsewhere. While organ removal can have detrimental affects on the Spleen, it proved more harmful to keep the stagnation in there than to remove it. If I were this young woman, I would seek out an acupuncturist to help me keep my nervous system strong and balance the loss of the organs that were surgically removed. They would be able to recommend herbs and dietary changes to support her treatment. After watching this episode, it made me all the more fired up about Integrating Eastern and Western medicine. If East met West from the beginning, she and others like her would have been spared a lifetime of suffering. We would all have a better understanding of our body-mind relationship and keep the stigmatic tongue wagging at bay.

SOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING:

http://www.dragonrises.edu/learning-opportunities/articles-books/

http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/

Anger Management

Even the most balanced person in the world, when triggered, can completely lose it. Anger is a strong, uncomfortable emotional response to something or someone that has provoked you. It is how we psychologically interpret an offense, wrongdoing or denial that is often met with a desire to retaliate. It is our immediate response to stop a threatening behavior or situation that many psychologists believe has a primal function to ensure survival. However, in excess, anger can have many physical and mental consequences. Think of a pressure cooker. You can only let the steam inside build up for so long before the whole thing explodes.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…a pressure cooker meltdown in action.

For the last few weeks I have been functioning in a fog of anger resulting from an unfortunate series of events outside of my control. All attempts to go with the flow are challenged on a daily basis as I try to weather this Category 5 Super Cell ravaging my life. With my blood already boiling in its channels, add the 90 plus degree weather and humidity here in NYC, and I feel like I am being cooked from the inside out/outside in. Therefore, it is no surprise that my digestion, skin and sleep have all gone awry. In Chinese medicine, emotions and physical illness are closely tied. Anger causes excess heat in the body, so my feeling of being cooked is spot on. The emotion itself is tied into the Wood element, whose governing organs are the Liver and Gall Bladder per Chinese 5 Element Theory. Physiological functions aside, these organs function to drive us forward in life, set goals and get things done. Despite my best efforts though, I have been feeling like all my attempts at forward movement and reasoning are met by impenetrable brick walls that hit back. The buildup of anger causes an imbalance of excess manifesting in digestive dysfunction, headaches (especially behind the eyes, as is the case with a migraine), muscle tension and tendonitis especially in the pathways of the organs (lateral leg, flanks of the torso, shoulders and neck). These are just some defining symptoms for these organs, but as we all know, when one thing is out of whack, other areas of the body will be affected.

All the elements in Chinese 5 Element Theory have a generational and controlling/controller relationship. This means that each element and its organs have the capacity to nurture and be nurtured by other elements. They also have the ability to pull energy back from other elements and vice-versa as a sort of system of checks and balances to keep everything harmonious. In the case of Wood, the Liver and Gallbladder are nurturers of Fire (there’s the HEAT again) which is comprised of the Heart, Pericardium (the bodyguard of your Heart), Triple Energizer (your Immune system and temperature regulator) and Small Intestine (the almighty discerning organ of what should stay and what should be eliminated both in your body and in your life). So you see, if there is an imbalance in Wood, some of that excess is going to visit the child. The best way to address this would be to make the nurturer of Wood stronger, in order to suck some of the energy out. That would be the Water element, comprised of Bladder and Kidney. These meridians run from the head down the spine into the back of the legs and then up the interior legs starting from the middle of the sole of your foot all the way up to your clavicle. It’s a good amount of somatic topography to cover and has a major role in all our life functions. What do you need most if faced with adversity? A good strong back bone and inner resilience. What do you need if there is a FIRE a-brewing internally? A whole lot of WATER.

The excess of anger in Wood has the potential of over controlling the Earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen. Appetite and digestion would be affected, as I am seeing in myself. What is typical is a feeling of fullness which translates to a lack of appetite and a total aversion to hot food. In my case, despite the excess heat in my system, all my body craves is spice. This, I learned recently, is a huge no-no because it will only serve to feed the overheated beast. When in doubt, food should be lightly cooked and no extreme of temperatures should be entering one’s mouth. There are many “cooling” foods that aren’t necessarily cold. If anything, they are more water rich, which quells the fire and also detoxifies. Some examples are lemon, orange, watermelon, celery, Daikon (Chinese radish), kelp, tomato, chrysanthemum tea and seaweed. The Metal element consisting of Lung and Large Intestine are the controllers of Wood and are greatly affected by the buildup of heat, which rises. My normally clear complexion has seen some eruptions and with the skin being the 3rd Lung of the body, it is clear how the heat is trying to escape. Hello, inflammation! Large Intestine, the great eliminator of waste in the body, can’t do such a great job under these circumstances. Bouts of constipation and poop with undigested bits demonstrate this. Hence, why it is important to adjust your diet. And apparently, some of the biggest builders of heat in the body aside from spice are caffeine, certain vitamin B supplements, sugar, alcohol and adrenaline (stress hormone produced in times of high alert, kind of like now).

So what do I do with all this HEAT? Aside from the adjustments to my diet, I sought out some bodywork to bring my nervous system down. Two hours of point work and muscle release specific to the organs involved in my excess heat and I finally felt a still point in the madness. A day later, I was boiling again over yet another uncontrollable situation. In my mind I tried to go back to the still feeling I had when my practitioner’s hands came off of my head, but it was hard. There were moments during our work together, where he had me breathe with a deep long “oooooo” sound which tied into the release of my Large Intestine. I channeled that sound, thought of a song that I could sing under my breath as I walked the streets of NY and much later, at work between clients that would settle me down. And, it kind of worked. Sort of ironic that therapeutic touch and music, my two loves in life, were exactly what smoothed my feathers out.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

“Between Heaven and Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine” by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. & Efrem Korngold, L.Ac. O.M.D (c) 1991 Ballantine/Wellspring

“Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies” by Leon Hammer, M.D. revised version (c) 2010 Eastland Press

http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/581/warming-and-cooling-characteristics-of-common-foods/

Massage for a Broken Heart

This too shall pass…

One out of every three clients I encountered this past month was in the midst of a break up. Although February is nationally recognized as a time to celebrate love, thanks in part to the mass market holiday that Valentine’s has become, it seems that more and more people choose to end their relationships during this time. Break ups apply to all kinds of human connections like friendships, romantic partners, marriages or family members and illicit the same range of emotions one would encounter within the grieving process. Rather than swimming in the vortex of loss alone, these clients sought out massage as comfort. How is it that heartbreak “hurts” so much? The physical reaction to emotional loss can be explained through medical science.

When emotional stress is experienced, especially loss, our brains signal the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands and certain proteins that constrict blood flow causing part of the heart to become temporarily enlarged and incapable of pumping well. The rest of the heart has to compensate by contracting more forcefully. The pain felt in one’s chest resembles that of a heart attack; however without the permanent damage associated with it. The heart is described as being temporarily stunned or rendered “helpless” which is an interesting choice of words given the sufferer’s mental state. This condition is known medically as stress cardiomyopathy (formerly takotsubo cardiomyopathy) but many doctors refer to it as Broken Heart Syndrome.

Pain is the brain’s primal way of responding to trouble. That trouble can be caused by stimuli both inside and outside of the physical body. Sensory receptors known as nociceptors register these stimuli and in milliseconds return the signal of pain. When we are in a state of emotional distress, the brain’s blood supply is altered, sending more blood to the area responsible for regulating physical pain. This excess flow has been found in people with depression making them more peaked to pain. The emotions felt during a break up enact this physiological response, registering an ache or hollow feeling often felt within the organs of our core; not just in the heart. The state of pain also kicks in the sympathetic nervous system to respond, known as our state of “fight or flight.” The hormones and proteins released inhibit appetite which can lead to anorexic behavior, keep us over alert which translates into insomnia or disrupted sleeping patterns, constricts blood vessels causing headaches, stops digestive juices from being released causing tummy troubles and for some, their overabundance can lead to panic attacks and adrenal fatigue.

Brain and pain rhyme for a reason, kids.

One of the main things massage can do is kick into gear the parasympathetic (i.e. “rest and digest”) response. This is why it is so effective in stress management. Massage counters a lot of the physiological affects of a broken heart by switching off the sympathetic release of hormones and proteins related to emotional stress. In addition, it counters any muscular and postural imbalances that could develop from protective patterns of movement or the general feeling of wanting to cocoon into oneself. It also prevents the isolation and loneliness that creeps in after the shock, denial, guilt, anger and bargaining stages of the grieving process pass because it allows for touch from another that is warm, therapeutic and outside of any emotional attachment or expectation. It is a safe place to let go of emotions and come back into the body.  Some of us put names on slips of paper in the freezer, bury all the things ever given as gifts, move out of the apartment whose walls are saturated with the memory of YOU and THEM, cut or dye hair in all kinds of ways to deal with a break up. But giving yourself the love you once had for another person, which in the case of my clients was in the form of therapeutic massage, will have the most beneficial overall effect for all parties involved. Acceptance is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to HURT as much.

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…