The strongest woman I know

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Everything I want to be when I’m 80

Before my grandma’s funeral, I struggled to write a eulogy. I had a Word doc open on my computer. It had words and thoughts jumbled together, but it just wasn’t working. There was no flow. No story.

My grandma was the strongest woman I know. When I was setting up a 401k, the advisor asked me how long I expect to live. To gague, he about my family history.

“My grandma is going to live forever and it’s going to make her so mad,” I told him, “I want to be like her, so let’s plan for the longest option.”

Until the day I got the call that Grandma had died, I really believed it was possible she’d live past the century mark. She was the strongest woman I know. She was a woman of unwavering faith. She did all the work she needed to do here on Earth and while I’ll miss her terribly, I’m so happy she’s getting her rest.

Grandma left her small town and moved to Minneapolis after her high school graduation, which I always found incredibly brave. She wanted to go to college to study English, but she didn’t know she had to apply and make financial arrangements with the university, so she got a job at Woolworth’s instead. She made it work. She always made it work.

That job at Woolworth’s reunited her with Grandpa. Together, they had 16 kids. And raised them all to be good human beings. They had 30+ grandchildren and showed up for all of us, too.

She’d bring a handful of kids out to her house on the lake for a long weekend or a week at a time. There, she had a shed full of outdoor toys like inner tubes and water guns. Inside were puzzles, books, and cookies.

Grandma loved playing Crapette, a French card game. There were always a couple of decks on her dining table. Also, a couple bowls of pennies. Grandma and Grandpa each had a bowl and they’d put a penny in the other’s bowl when they lost.

When I was younger, Grandma would give me hints or remind me to “look around” when we played Crapette, but two years ago, she told me, “you’re too old for me to let you win now.”

After that, she got competitive. The last time I played her, she creamed me, then had me count the cards left in my hand, saying she was curious. I suspect she wanted to know exactly how big her victory was.

I also learned that Grandma had a whole life outside of being my Grandma. It was often difficult to call her. When she’d call me back hours or days later, she’d say, “I missed your call. I was out running around.”

Of course she was!

Last summer, she had a heart attack. I was worried about her until my parents sent me a picture of her hours later out picking up sticks in her backyard.

Of course she was!

She asked my cousin and me to make sure there was tuna casserole at her funeral. She was sick of her friends dying and eating the same meals over and over. She wanted something different. When Jessica showed up with potato chips and cans of tuna, explaining that Grandma requested this, the church ladies responded, “of course your Grandma did.”

Grandma has been one of my tour guides through life. I don’t know what it’s going to be like not to be able to call her for reassurance or when I need my ego checked in a Crappette crushing.

I’m glad she’s back with Grandpa and I’m grateful for the time I had with her. I also know that we’ll all be OK because she gave us one another.

Here’s the obit. I’ll count “During the winter, she could be found zooming down the hill on her red sled” among the most effective sentences I’ve ever written.

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Follow your yay!

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There’s some serious YAY happening here. Bubbles!

I started college as a psychology major. Like everyone else calling themselves a psychology major, I wanted to help people. But the summer after my freshman year, I started to feel anxious about psychology. I wasn’t sure I liked it as much as I thought I would. I struggled through my third psychology class and lacked motivation to try harder.

I entered sophomore year with a goal to try some journalism classes along with my psychology classes. Immediately, I liked journalism. It was challenging, but I was motivated to the do the work. I loved creating something every week. You could say I felt the yay.

“The yay” is what I call the feeling that makes me want to tell everyone I know about the exciting thing I’m doing. It’s the thing that makes me want to get it just right – even if it means spending long hours on it because those long hours don’t feel like work.

In recent years, I’ve learned that I need to follow the yay. If something leaves me feeling energized, I need to find a way to get more of that into my life. For example, my New York apartment had easy access to Central Park, and Hudson River Park. I found myself struggling with each step through the park. But running by water made the steps feel lighter, so I stopped turning right when I stepped off my stoop and went left to the river instead.

Earlier this year, my work team embarked on a long-term project. The first two months were all logistics. I’m a content strategist, and I love the content part. I love crafting a piece. I love putting fingers to keys and watching the words come together. I don’t even hate revising it after a stakeholder or colleague takes a crap all over my original. In my experience, two brains almost always make a piece stronger. (Four or more brains ALWAYS makes it worse. Much worse.) I love measuring the success of my work and revising it if I can make it perform better.

I don’t love the strategy part of my job. This is things like deciding the best order to put the pages in, putting together the flow for a user to reset their password or seemingly endless debates about why it should say “sign in” vs. “log in.” (There’s no right or wrong answer. Just make a decision and let’s move on!)

I like my usual mix of content writing and strategizing. But with a big project like this, we had months of all detailed logistics, planning and ugh! I was miserable at my job those months. I wasn’t doing any of the writing that makes me excited to go to work. The hours at work were dragging on.

Then we reached the part of the project when I got to start writing. Not completely, but when it shifted that direction, and I immediately felt the yay again. I remembered why I like my job. I started seeing my co-workers as people who are a joy to be around, which means I was a more pleasant colleague. I stopped coming home and searching for a different job. Even though the writing is a lot of work, it doesn’t feel like a struggle the way the planning did. I could knock out pages of content in an afternoon.

This is important information for me when making life decisions. Follow the yay. It’ll lead me where I need to be.

How’s YOUR social life?

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Best friends take selfies

“How’s your social life?” my naturopath asked me at my annual exam.

This is one of the reasons I love seeing a naturopath. She asks me about everything. My diet, my social life, my work, everything. It’s no secret that all these things play into a person’s health.

I had just told her that I’m in grad school and therefore more stressed and strapped for time than usual. I admitted to her that I’ve declined invitations more than I’d like lately.

“It’s really important to maintain friendships,” she said. “And usually they’re the first thing we cast aside when we’re busy. It’s especially important to keep that bond with our girlfriends.”

I nodded. I’m always eager to get the good patient award when I go for a checkup, but I also meant it. I have really great friends. On The Mindy Project, Mindy was criticized for calling a bunch of people her “best friend.” Best means best, you can only have one best. Mindy responds, “best friends are a tier.”

I’ve also been known to use the term “best friend” liberally. And I feel no shame in admitting that.

Last night I was reading the latest issue of Health, where it had an article called 4 People Every Woman Needs in Her Circle. So with that, I present some awards to my tier of best friends.

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Team uniform

The #RideOrDie

Kelly, Tara, Quyn, and Richie

This is the team that makes living with generalized anxiety disorder a lot more manageable.

The Toughie

Coley gives me tough love in the kindest way possible, and I love her for it.

The Jokester

Navani and James. If you have an opportunity to hang out with them, you should definitely take it. Except get your own. They’re mine.

The Polar Opposite

Courtney. She keeps me young. When I go to bed at 10, she’s just getting ready to go out.

 

Our incredibly reactive bodies

If discussions about weight trigger you, don’t read this. “Text Me When You Get Home” is  a good read. Try that instead.

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2006

Body fat increases during the adult years, particularly visceral fat. It’s a gradual process and easy not to notice because often weight stays constant as fat overtakes muscle. It’s not all bad. The extra fat provides reserve energy. It helps us recover after an illness or surgery and keeps us warm in cold weather and cushions falls. It’s also where we store a reserve of vitamins and minerals.

I read this in one of my nutrition books and found myself nodding along. It’s true. One day I was a slim 20-something. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the scale at the doctor’s office wondering how I’d put on 25 pounds since my high school graduation without noticing.

It creeps up on us. Just like a coffee habit, amIright? It starts with the occasional latte run. Then it becomes a cup every morning. Then two. Then one afternoon you open your eyes and see a latte sitting on your desk. When did this happen that I started drinking coffee all day?

Same with my weight gain. Even though I’ve only lived in a house with a scale for the last year and a half, I actually do know how I put on that weight. When I graduated from high school, I was around 115 pounds. That’s the low end of a normal BMI for my height, but to me it looked too thin. Through my 20s, I maintained a weight I was happy with – in the region of 125.

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Suddenly these pants fit again! (no children were kicked in the gut in the taking of this photo)

When I moved to Seattle from New York and took a work from home job, I started gaining weight. I was working out 3-4 mornings per week plus some fun active weekend activities like hiking and paddleboarding. The morning workouts left me hungry. I’d usually eat a small breakfast (like a banana) before my workout, then eat a bigger breakfast (oatmeal or eggs) when I got home. I’d usually want lunch around 11. There were always snacks nearby. That’s when I started buying pants a size up.

One thing I’m realizing, though, is that this can also act in the reverse. On a nice day in March, I decided to go for a run outside. I took off the 2.5 kilometers to the lake. Usually I’d do this, meet a friend for a walk around the lake then run home. Or I’d stop, look at the lake, then make the reverse trip for about 5K. This day, though, I didn’t feel ready to head home, so I took the nearly 5K lap around the lake before heading home for a total of 9.7K! Granted I walked up most of the hills on the way home, but still. I didn’t know I could run that far. In part because most of my winter running is done on a treadmill and I get dreadfully bored around 2K. Sometimes I’ll tough it out to 5K. Max!

I was amazed that my body had gradually adapted without me even noticing.

I’ve also been weight training for the last two years or so, which made a difference. The scale told me my weight went up, but those pants that I’d relegated to the back of the closet suddenly buttoned up comfortably again. It also helps that I now work away from home, at a company with a good salad bar available for lunch. I feel stronger and healthier than ever.

I like the small changes approach to preventing obesity. Small lifestyle changes can reduce weight gain and are also easier to fit into our lives.

Creating a 200-calorie deficit per day can improve metabolic rate and doesn’t increase hunger1, which means you might not even notice until those extra pounds gradually roll off. Some simple swaps include trading an apple pie dessert for some apple sauce.  For a 150-pound person, a 30-minute walk can burn 105 calories.2

3,500 calories make up a pound of fat, so a combination of diet swaps and increased physical activity that adds up to a 500-calorie deficit can lead to losing a pound per week.  But remember, nothing has to be all or nothing. Starting by reducing 100 calories per day is totally respectable and will improve health.

As one trainer once told me, “it’s not going to get any easier next year, so you might as well start now.”

  1. Hills AP, Byrne NM, Lindstrom R, Hill JO. Small Changes’ to Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors for Weight Management. Obes Facts 2013;6:228-238
  2. Zied E. Losing 10 Pounds: Small Changes In Diet Can Mean Big Health Benefits. Envir Nutr. 2002;1. http://link.galegroup.com.une.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/A83677808/ITOF?u=bidd97564&sid=ITOF&xid=c97949c1. Accessed 12 May 2018.

Chocolate detox

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No makeup, post-gym, so extra red. This was the day I started my chocolate cleanse. 

My weakness is sweets. I love them. It’s hard for me to keep walking when plate of cookies appears at work. Even if someone brings in mass-produced, preservative-filled scones, do I eat one? Yes! Sometimes after lunch, I’ll make my way down to the café for a cookie.

I just celebrated a birthday and my friends and co-workers who know me so well brought me chocolate bars. Did I eat a couple of squares and tuck the rest away for another day? Ha! If you think I did that, you don’t know me at all.

Problem is that my skin reacted. Big time. I don’t remember the last time it’s looked so broken out and unhappy.

And I know better. I just wrote a paper about how milk chocolate and low-fat dairy are two of the worse things to eat for a youthful, vibrant complexion. Here’s a passage:

In a study where acne sufferers were put on a low-glycemic load diet, the degree of acne was lessened after 12 weeks.2

Frequent consumption of a high glycemic load diet has been linked to acne. Research has shown a strong link between acne and dairy consumption, particularly nonfat milk.2, Consumption of whole milk and cheese did not show correlation with prevalence of acne.11,14 The hormones in milk are thought to elevate insulin levels, which stimulate the synthesis of androgen hormones. Those hormones increase oil production on the skin, which leads to acne. Chocolate also has a high glycemic load and has also been linked to an increase in acne.10

 

After writing that paper, I stopped with the non-fat milk. I don’t drink a lot of milk anyway, usually just a couple tablespoons in my coffee each morning, so I made the switch to whole. I also cut back on lattes to once a week, if that. It’s helped.

After my birthday, I wanted to see what would happen if I cut out chocolate. Would all my skin problems be solved? I decided to put myself on a two-week chocolate detox. No chocolate-chip cookies. No hot chocolate. Definitely no Lemon Hemp Clusters from Theo Chocolate (OMG, you guys, they’re amazing!)

I can generally do something really hard, if I know it’s just for a short while. For example, the first thing I do when I get on the treadmill is put it on countdown. I don’t want to see how many minutes I’ve already been running. I want to see that I only have 20 minutes left. I can run for 20 more minutes. I can’t just run indefinitely. I’m doing the same for this chocolate detox. I can avoid chocolate for 2 weeks. I can’t say I’ll never eat chocolate again.

I’m on day 3 and my skin is already healing.

 

References (if anyone’s interested)

2. Keri J, Rosenblatt A. The Role of Diet in Acne and Rosacea. J Clin Aesthetic Derm. 2008;1(3):22–26

10. Foolad N, Saric S, Burney W and Sivamani RK. The role of nutrition in dermatology. Austin J Dermatol. 2017; 4(1): 1072.

11. Burris J, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. Acne: The role of medical nutrition therapy. J of the Acad of Nutr and Diet. 2013;113(3):416-430. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.016.

14. Larosa CL, Quach K, Koons K, Kunselman A, Zhu J, Thiboutot D, Zaenglein A. Consumption of dairy in teenagers with and without acne. J of the Am Acad of Dermatol.

Are fasting diets effective?

I’m a student in a Master of Science in Applied Nutrition program. That means I’m not qualified to give health advice and shouldn’t take health advice from me (yet!). But I’m willing to look at the science if you have a question. Here’s one question I was asked recently.

What do you think about fasting diets?

“How about Thursday? I’m fasting today,” is something I’ve been hearing lately. I’m not talking about fasting for religious reasons or because bad luck scheduling led to a fasting blood test in the late afternoon (always schedule those for first thing in the morning!).

Alternate-day fasting is said to speed weight loss and decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease. As it sounds, participants fast one day then eat whatever they want the “feast day.” Some modify the plan to consume 20-25 percent of their daily energy expenditure calories on the fasting day. Others restrict calories two days per week and eat normally five days a week. This is known as intermittent fasting.

Fasting has been shown to be effective in losing weight quickly, but it comes with a problem of elevated hunger, which has been shown to be difficult to maintain long-term.3

One study found that metabolically healthy obese adults did not show significant weight loss when following an alternate-day fasting diet versus following a controlled calorie restriction diet. No significant differences in blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, or diabetes markers were noted. 1

However, the HDL “good” cholesterol levels in the alternative fasting group were improved after the six-month diet period. But, when the group was tested again following a six-month maintenance period, no significant differences were seen. LDL “bad” cholesterol levels were similar to the control group’s after the six-month diet period, but the alternative fasting group had significantly higher LDL levels after 12 months.1

The study dropout rate was also highest for the alternate-day fasting group. The alternate-day fasting group also ate more than prescribed on fast days and less than prescribed on feast days. People in the control group generally met their calorie goals. This indicates that alternate-day fasting is not sustainable long-term and is no more effective than traditional calorie cutting for weight loss and improving health.1

Another study showed that when combined with an exercise program, alternate-day fasters had significant changes in weight loss and lipid indicators of coronary artery disease risk when compared to those who only fasted, only exercised, or neither. Also interesting, only two participants dropped out of the diet-exercise combination group whereas nine dropped out of the diet-only group.2

One study suggested further research on what macronutrients to consume on fasting days. The hypothesis is that eating protein on restriction days might help reduce feelings of hunger and help with diet retention.3

So should you try fasting? I wouldn’t suggest it, but I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it either. The science points to no real harm in trying, so if you want to try it and see if it works for you, go nuts.

 

  1. Wise J. Alternate day fasting is no better for weight loss than conventional diets, study finds. BMJ : British Medical Journal (Online). 2017;357. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/1894679817?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.1136/bmj.j2120.
  2. Bhutani S, Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, Varady KA. Alternate day fasting and endurance exercise combine to reduce body weight and favorably alter plasma lipids in obese humans. Obesity. 2013;21(7):1370-1379. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/1674733807?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.1002/oby.20353.
  3. Johnstone A. Fasting for weight loss: An effective strategy or latest dieting trend? Int J Obes. 2015;39(5):727-733. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/1678572360?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.1038/ijo.2014.214.

 

Health lessons from the spa

Ahead of my birthday and amid final paper stress, I decided it was time to treat myself to a massage and facial. I dressed in black yoga pants – the ones I never wear because they attract my white cat’s fur – and headed out for a relaxing morning at Habitude (go there. They’re great!).

My healthy treat came with a side order of shame that I’m spinning into motivation. I like acing what I do. Like when the cardiologist said, “why are you here?” Unfortunately, my massage therapist and esthetician didn’t say that.

Massage therapist: You have extremely tight hips and tight shoulders. You sit too much. You should do yoga. It’s true. I’ve been sacrificing workouts lately in favor of completing school assignments. As a compromise, I’ve been trying to put my work desk in standing position more often. A study found that people who stood 6 hours a day burned .15 more calories per minute than those who sat. My goal is more to stretch out than to burn more calories. When I stand, I wiggle around more, bumping one hip out to the side to stretch a bit or balancing on one foot. All I have is anecdotal evidence that it helps my hips, but apparently not enough. Maybe I’ll try some morning yoga before work. Unfortunately, science says my standing desk might be hurting my back since I often wear heels to work. There’s always something.

As for my shoulders, that’s something my trainers have told me time and time again. Two trainers and one shoulder injury ago, I was instructed to buy a therapy ball (or a racquetball works fine, too) to roll out my tight shoulders against a wall. I also love laying on a foam roller like Amanda shows here, but I need to do that more often to compensate for the hours I spend working in front of a computer.

Then was the facial. Haven’t gotten one of those in years and was looking forward to it. The esthetician pointed at my chin, “this third shows your lifestyle,” she said. Pointing at the middle third of my face: “this third shows your genetics.” And finally, my forehead: “this is your stress.”

She told me I had problems in all three areas. Grrrreat. Plus, she told me I was dehydrated.

It’s true, my skin hasn’t been especially not happy in the last two weeks. For eight weeks, I’d been focusing on eating a cleaner diet and my skin looked clearer as a result. But in the two weeks since that focus on clean eating ended, I’ve been consumed alcohol, chocolate, pizza, and burgers (in moderation!). I’ve loved every bite and sip, but the processed, high-glycemic foods show on my face. Plus, I love to pull the covers up to my chin when I sleep. I’m sure that’s causing some breakouts in that region.

So I have some things to work on to ace my next spa day test.

Pushing back — hard!

By nature, I’m a people pleaser. I’ve always been quick to compromise. Or cave. My mom would tell you that I was born a mediator. Basically, I let others dim my shine.

I set a goal this year to stand up for myself more. No more, “sure, we can try it your way.” No more just grumbling about an injustice, but then going along with it. Over the past week, I had three opportunities to push back and I nailed it each time!

I sent an edited document to a colleague who wrote back, “I’d like to reject all the changes you proposed.” I wrote back telling him no, that’s not an option. I explained why I edited his piece and told him he was welcome to take another look and what needed to happen for it to get published.

My gym ran a contest with no terms and conditions. Then they disqualified me for not meeting the requirements that they made up on the fly. Did I sit quietly in the corner? No! I called the manager and explained to him that he has to follow Washington state law.

And finally, I was told to sign a contract granting an irrevocable use of my work for no pay. The license agreement also stated that the recipient could make derivatives of it, and that I’d be responsible should any legal challenges arise. Absolutely not, my friends!

Trackers tracking trackables

I track my workout time, type, intensity. I track what and how much I’m eating. At the end of the day I get a nice little report that shows I’m above the tolerable upper limits for vitamin A while the bar for iron and vitamin D is barely visible. I track my steps and am disappointed at the end of the day at how low the number is. I swear one of these days I’m going to quit my desk job and become a mail lady (with a walking route!).

Last week, as I was entering my food, trying to find the closest match and making edits because I didn’t include cream cheese when I made that recipe, I realized how stressful it was. It’s stressful to go over my calories because I had a muffin at work. And it’s stressful that no matter how many black beans, dark chocolate squares and spinach-steak salads I eat, I can’t seem to get enough iron. Ever!

My cardiologist told me to make sure I cool down enough after cardio exercise, meaning bringing my heart rate to around 120 before hopping off the treadmill. My trainer also told me to get a watch to make sure I take the proper 60-second break between sets. So, I started looking at all the newest, coolest trackers. They track heart rate, sleep, iron levels, hopes, and dreams! They buzz when you don’t get up enough.

Then I decided no! I don’t need more things telling me what to do or what not to do. I’m pretty good at that already. And to fill in any gaps, I have a boss, trainer, and cat who don’t have any hesitation to tell me when I am not doing enough. I know instinctively if I’ve cooled down enough at the end of a workout because I know what that feels like. I know that I feel light-headed when my protein is depleted. I don’t need a fancy bar graph to tell me how I slept last night. I was there. I know.

Dream day

IMG_2195I’ve had a rough week. After a whirlwind trip last week, I came home to a challenging assignment for class, a huge project kicked off at work, and I generally have too much on my to-do list. Two evenings in a row, I was crying at my computer while working on that challenging assignment.

But I really knew it was bad when I forgot about a training session I had scheduled at the gym. That’s my breaking point: When I forget something on my schedule. I’m usually really good at that.

Then, Nick was rubbing my shoulders while I was working at my desk. He could feel the knots and tension. He told me I should take a break and go get a massage. “I don’t have time,” I sobbed. Being unreasonable was sign 2 for me that I was overloaded.

He urged me again to take a break, reasoning that when you continue on in times like this, you just make it worse because you make careless mistakes. I told him I was just going to work until 8:30, then I’d be done for the night. I even set an alarm.

At 8:30, I closed my book and went upstairs. Lying in bed, I opened Health magazine, where they often have guests share their idea of a perfect day.  It doesn’t even have to be reasonable. It could start with breakfast in Napa, include a show in New York, and conclude with sunset snorkeling in Sydney.

I started thinking about my perfect day. It wouldn’t be as extravagant as teleporting around the world.

It would start with sleeping in until I woke up naturally, then getting up and having coffee and maybe a croissant outside by a pool, lake or ocean. Then I’d read for a bit. Doesn’t even matter what. When I got around to it, I’d do something physical: a hike, paddleboarding, or an outdoor yoga class.  I’d eat lunch that someone else made for me. And have dessert, too, because it’s my dream day.

In the evening, I’d like to do something with my favorites. Let’s rent the ice arena just for us and all go ice skating and then go out for drinks.

Then I’ll go home and snuggle up with Nick because that’s when I feel my most relaxed.