The Truth About the First Trimester

At the time I'm writing this post, I have just passed the 12 weeks of pregnancy mark. POP THE CHAMPAGNE (Errr...sparkling water?). I have had 2 prenatal appointments, the first trimester screening (everything looks perfect), have seen my baby's heartbeat (three times! It's magical), and have done the blood work to determine any chromosomal issues, gene mutations, etc., as well as the gender (Pssst: it's a girl!). I've also endured a couple months of intense morning sickness (which should, more appropriately, be renamed to "all day flu-like sickness"), and food aversions, among every other first-trimester symptom (they've filed in like clockwork during their designated week). As a nutrition professional and dietetics (clinical nutrition) student, this is a kiss-of-death to my everyday existence.

I've wanted to write a post about my experience to both dispel some pregnancy myths, as well as shed light on the realities that don't get enough attention.

So what are these first trimester symptoms I speak of? Let's go down the list: huge boobs, nausea, pimples (that glowing skin? It's caused by Sebum, which is the end result of an increased level of androgen hormones-- thank you anatomy class for that one), food aversions, fatigue (literally can't lift a 5 pound weight), headaches, body aches, peeing every 2-3 hours (including throughout the night), digestive problems... It's a very confusing and frustrating experience indeed, especially because it's all out of your control. 

I've felt guilty that 3 months in, I DON'T LOVE being pregnant. Don't get me wrong! I'm incredibly thankful for the gift of being able to bring life into this world, and when Baby K arrives, I'm sure the few months of hell will be worth it. That said, this post is a little less rose-tinted; a little rawer. I wanted to capture the experience in earnest before the symptoms fade and Oxytocin completely grabs hold of my heartstrings (and memory).

Maybe you haven't had children yet and this post will help you better understand what to expect. Maybe you've had kids and this post will offer something of a kindred, relatable connection to your own experience(s).

Whatever your situation, and wherever you're at in life-- I want to be completely honest with you about what I've experienced in my first trimester, what I've learned, and how I've coped with it.

I'll spare you the exhaustive scientific explanations, and summarize some things I've found useful, and that you might as well if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or curious about what a typical pregnancy is like.

1). Contrary to What Many People Say/Think, You Don't Get to "Just Eat Whatever You Want"

If you are experiencing or have experienced extreme first-trimester nausea and food aversions, then you can relate to what it feels like to literally grasp at straws to find foods you can tolerate. Sometimes literally nothing sounds good. I've woken up some mornings with stabbing hunger and nausea at the same time. So unlike the "flu," which morning sickness is so often compared to, you need to eat frequently during your first trimester despite nothing sounding good.

Our bodies become hyper-intuitive when we're pregnant and usually do a pretty good job of telling us exactly what they can handle and how much-- when we listen. 

The times I've gotten physically sick have involved eating foods I can't tolerate right now (high in sugar or fat), too much of anything in one sitting (I can only handle very small portions, and have to eat really slow), or eating when I'm not physically hungry. I can't eat anything spicy, buttery, saucy...really anything that tastes delicious. My "tolerable" list seems to change daily/weekly, too, so what sounded good yesterday won't necessarily sound good today or tomorrow. I'm like a freaking juggler on a monocycle in the circus. 

Everyone is different, but I've found that the best solution for me is listening to my body, eating very plain and easy to digest food, and breaking meals up into several small snacks throughout the day.  My Nutritionist brain is always yelling "PROTEIN, HEALTHY FATS, VEGGIES," but my first-trimester senses/hormones are much louder, screaming "RITZ CRACKERS, SOUP, PLAIN HUMMUS, CHEDDAR CHEESE." That's a typical day.

Which brings me to...

2). You should NOT be eating more or putting on lots of weight during your first trimester. Your body doesn't need it. 

In fact, many moms I've talked to have told me they LOST weight in their first trimester due to food aversions and morning sickness.

I put on a few pounds the first 2 weeks of pregnancy from my boobs growing an entire cup size, and fluid retention (which happens), but after morning sickness and food aversions kicked in, I slid slowly below my wedding weight. I haven't dieted/tried to lose weight. PREGNANCY IS NOT THE TIME TO DIET. But learning to adapt to my body's needs RIGHT NOW, as opposed to trying to force certain foods because of my Nutritionist brain, is allowing my body to grow at the rate it needs to. Make no mistake, I am storing fat in the necessary places, my boobs continue to grow, and I am definitely retaining more fluids-- but I am also losing muscle mass (your body gets the nutrients it needs from stored fat and muscle tissue to provide nutrients to your growing embryo/fetus when you aren't able to get them from the foods you eat). All this is to say that our bodies will do what they need to do-- they are equipped to-- with very little help/intervention from us in the early months of pregnancy. The key is just getting calories in, via whatever means you can tolerate, and not more calories than you typically consume, especially if your physical activity decreases due to nausea and fatigue.

We don't start needing extra calories until our second trimester, and even then, only about 300 calories additional per-day. This equates to an extra ounce of protein at each meal (which satisfies your increased protein needs) and an ounce of cheese (dairy!)-- that's not very much. During our third trimester, we need an extra 400-500 calories-per-day. That's equivalent to a hearty bowl of chili.

Variety is key. Studies have shown that pregnant women who consume a variety of mostly whole, unprocessed foods, including vegetables, nuts, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and animal protein, are less likely to have children with food allergies. What you eat during pregnancy matters, which is why it's important to think about what you're putting in your body. 

3). Finding ways to sneak in essential vitamins and minerals wherever possible is a necessity.

My normal diet consists of a variety of mostly whole, organic foods, lots of protein, and healthy fats. My first-trimester diet has been a travesty to the world of Nutrition Science.

Biscuits, bread, potatoes, soups, pickles and pickled anything, sharp cheddar cheese, saltines and Ritz crackers, pita and hummus. I've craved Asian noodles, too-- pho and ramen. 

My diet has severely lacked the variety and nutritional value it needs, so I had to get creative to sneak things in where I can.

To sneak in fiber and vitamins/minerals I was lacking in the first weeks of pregnancy (and trust me-- Constipation that occurs starting in the first trimester means you NEED to get fiber in your diet to help move things along; it's very uncomfortable when you don't), I started buying fortified low-sugar oatmeal and Cream of Wheat, which are packed with many of the vitamins and minerals pregnant women need more of to support their growing fetus.  I also throw in Chia seeds to get more fiber into breakfast.

Buying instant packs of oatmeal and Cream of Wheat also help me better control my portions. This is key because, in previous weeks, I would give in to the intense hunger I felt at certain times of the day, eating too fast and subsequently too much and end up getting sick. Sticking to single portions also forces me to eat more frequently throughout the day (since my diet is mostly carbohydrate right now) which in turn keeps my blood sugar more stable/balanced and nausea at bay. 

4). Staying Hydrated is Really Important and Also Really Hard

One of the weirdest experiences for me has been an aversion to water. I am usually a very good water drinker and carry a liter Camelback with me everywhere I go. But once food aversions kicked in, water aversion did as well. I can literally taste the minerals in it-- it's absurd! 

When water is virtually the only thing you can drink, but you don't want it, staying hydrating becomes a major challenge. To combat my aversion, I've had to force sips in throughout the day. I also incorporate flavored waters or add fruit or mint to water at home. But the trick is ensuring I don't add too much sugar. I made the mistake of drinking a lemonade one afternoon because it sounded delicious (lemons! You should see my fruit bin in the fridge-- can't get enough of them), but the combo of lemon AND tons of added sugar made me violently ill.

I'm hoping that as morning sickness and food aversions fade away in the second trimester, water consumption will become easy again, but for now, I'm suffering through forced hydration to keep Baby K's ecosystem healthy. 

5). Combatting Fatigue is Sometimes a Necessity

I've heard so much on podcasts and read in parenting books about sleeping as much as you can during pregnancy...but what do you do when it's not possible?

I don't have a 9-5 day job, so I totally empathize with expecting moms who have to force themselves to stay awake for meetings/calls/etc. that are out of their control throughout the day despite extreme fatigue.

However, with a full-time school load that includes a night class, a 6-hour lecture and lab day, and hours of studying, there are days when I have to force myself through the unbearable fatigue as well and let me tell you, it ain't easy.

You are allowed 100 mg/day of caffeine during pregnancy (you'll read different advice in many publications, but this is the current standard amongst the Nutrition Science community). This equates to a cup of regular caffeinated coffee. Just one cup. If coffee is something you can tolerate (congrats!), and one cup just doesn't cut it, try switching to decaf and then you can have 2 cups.

In my first trimester, coffee is just about the last thing on the planet that sounds good, so I haven't had a single cup in 3 months. However, to make it through really tough fatigue days, I have consumed 1/2 can of caffeinated diet soda or energy water (never more than 1/2). The fizziness of these drinks is usually really calming to my belly and allows me to get some caffeine in without suffering the digestive upset.  These are drinks I generally avoid when not pregnant, but extreme fatigue is INSANE. Desperate measures are needed when you simply have to get through the day and your dietary options are already so severely limited.

Another trick is exercise. Late afternoon has been the most difficult for me, so I usually take my dog for a walk at this time or do a workout tape or class (depending on how I feel), which is like an instant energy booster.  

So while sleep is really important during pregnancy, incorporating a little caffeine or physical activity can help you battle through the fatigue when you need to.

When you can sleep though, do it. I am merely giving advice for when it isn't an option.

6). Take a Prenatal Vitamin that Contains Folate and DHA.

If you are trying to get pregnant, you should already be taking a prenatal vitamin. But if pregnancy happens quickly and you didn't start beforehand (raises hand-- hubby and I were literally a one-shot wonder. My womb was made for baby making, apparently), you need to start taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as you find out you are pregnant.

Our bodies require an increased intake of certain vitamins and minerals-- such as iron, folate, and B vitamins-- during pregnancy, and it is really difficult to get the amount we need from the food we eat, even if our diet consists of a wide variety of meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, etc.

Taking a prenatal vitamin is even more important for women with dietary restrictions, health issues, or pregnancy complications. This includes women who:

  • Are vegetarians or vegans 
  • Are lactose intolerant or have other food intolerances
  • Smoke or abuse other substances
  • Have a blood disorder
  • Suffer from a chronic disease
  • Are having twins or multiples

Folate
I recommend taking a prenatal vitamin that has folate, not folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9. Folate, on the other hand, is found naturally in foods like liver, spinach, lentils and garbanzo beans. 

Most folic acid is not easily converted to the active form of vitamin B-9. It needs to be converted in our liver or other tissues. This process can be slow and inefficient and can lead to a build-up of unmetabolized folic acid in our bloodstream.  Studies have shown that high levels of unmetabolized folic acid are associated with increased cancer risk.

I have been taking The Honest Company's Multi Complete Prenatal Once Daily, which contains folate, plus 2 DHA complete daily. (To be honest, some days I can't keep them down when I get sick-- so if you skip a day or have a similar issue-- don't freak out! Your baby will be fine. I've also heard gummies work better for some women who can't stand the aftertaste of the horse pill-like vitamins).

DHA
DHA is a form of Omega 3 fatty acid that is incredibly important for healthy fetal brain and eye development. Pregnant women require at least 300 mg per day, and since it is recommended that we limit fish intake to twice-per-week (specifically, fish high in Omega-3 fatty acid, like salmon) to avoid exposure to too much mercury, a supplement is necessary to ensure adequate intake of this essential nutrient (these we must get from the food we eat because our body can't synthesize them).

Vitamin D
Which goes hand in hand with Calcium. As our Calcium needs increase during pregnancy, so must Vitamin D. We need Vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is why you'll often find many dairy products fortified with Vitamin D. Unless you're an early riser who can take advantage of those less harmful early morning rays, your best sources of Vitamin D are fortified dairy/dairy alternatives (such as almond milk) and/or a supplement. Most prenatal vitamins include Vitamin D.

Other B Vitamins
Some B vitamins come only from animal sources, which is why Vitamin B supplementation is especially important for vegetarians and vegans-- you will simply not get the amount of B Vitamins your body needs from food. 
Riboflavin (B2) helps us maintain energy, good eyesight, and skin. Thiamin (B1) also promotes energy and helps regulate our nervous system (This you can get from fortified cereals, whole grains, pasta, nuts, and legumes, in addition to certain animal products). Vitamin B6 supports red blood cell formation and can also help reduce morning sickness (oats and bananas have really helped me-- especially in the morning when nausea is at its peak).  Niacin (B3) promotes healthy skin, nerves, and digestion.

Vitamin B12 is something most of us are familiar with. It is involved in the metabolism of EVERY cell in the human body, and a vital part of DNA synthesis. It may also help prevent neural tube defects in a fetus. Supplementation is highly recommended, especially for vegetarians/vegans (this one you can only get from animal foods).

There are many reasons a person might choose to not eat animal products; however, I would urge you to consider at least eating eggs and dairy products while pregnant. It is so important for the healthy development of a baby to consume enough of the vital nutrients we need...which leads me to...

7). It IS Possible to Stay Healthy and Balanced

And I repeat, a lot of people will tell you that when you're pregnant you "can eat whatever you want. You're eating for two!"

For one thing, at no point are you actually eating for two. At your most pregnant stage, you are eating for 1.15. It is true that food cravings can be intense-- I haven't experienced these yet (I don't count "tolerable" foods as cravings). And while I don't agree with denying yourself the things your body wants, I also don't agree with indulging in them all the time.

Why?

Because I'm not that way in my normal life. I LIKE being healthy. It makes me feel good. And if it makes me feel good, that probably means it will be good for my baby, too. I personally wish to eat as many healthy foods as possible to ensure my baby is as healthy as possible. That is one aspect of my Nutrition-brain I can't turn off.

One of my biggest takeaways from pregnancy thus-far is that EVERYONE has an opinion. Literally. Everyone. But NO ONE knows your pregnancy like you do. Just because your mom or aunt or friend tell you something doesn't mean you have to do it.

I'm sure I'll hear a million bits of advice, and a lot more "oh let your hair down! You can eat what you want when you're pregnant!" (when someone says this after I just puked up 4 olives an hour before...you can understand why these words bother me right now).  I have the same feeling about this while pregnant as I do when not-- my choices have nothing to do with anyone else, and are in no way a judgment of others' choices. If I choose to give in to my cravings 1/4 of the time just like I do when I'm not pregnant, I am not saying every woman should be doing that. It's just my choice.

It is recommended that healthy women gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.  I know women who only gained 20 and others who gained much more, all with the same outcome of delivering healthy babies. Weight gain will vary depending on the person, so I don't think anyone should use the scale as a determination of their health. I think it's possible to maintain steady and appropriate weight gain for your body, while still eating healthy and exercising moderately. I think our bodies are hardwired to do what they need to do and to store fat where they need to store it (MY BOOBS THO-- and with no help from diet). You don't need to do that much extra work.  Humans have been popping out kids for 200K+ years!

The first trimester has been really tough physically and emotionally, but I keep remembering that seeing the face of my little girl and holding her against my chest will make all of this worth it. Only 6 1/2 months to go!

All About a Low FODMAP Diet

For people who experience dietary issues or distress after eating certain foods, depending on the severity, it can be an incredibly uncomfortable--even debilitating-- experience that interferes with day-to-day activities.

There is a strong link between certain foods and digestive disorders, and a low-FODMAP diet has proven successful in minimizing chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, such as recurrent bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation for sufferers. Some studies even suggest a low FODMAP diet can help with other chronic health conditions, too.

So What are FODMAPS?

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

Fermentable - broken down by bacteria in the large intestine
Oligosaccharides - “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means "sugar." These molecules are made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
Disaccharides - “di” means two. This is a double sugar molecule
Monosaccharides - “mono” means single. This is a single sugar molecule
Polyols - sugar alcohols

These saccharides and polyols are short-chain carbohydrates that, if digested poorly, ferment in the lower part of the large intestine. This fermentation process draws in water and produces carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and/or methane gas that causes the intestine to stretch and expand.

This results in strong pain, bloating, visible abdominal distension and other related symptoms.

What are Common FODMAPS?

The most common FODMAPS are: 

Fructose: a sugar found in most fruits and veggies
Lactose: a sugar found in most dairy foods
Fructans: very similar to fructose and found in most veggies and grains
Galactans: found mostly in legumes
Polyols: Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. You'll mainly find them in artificial sweeteners and chewing gum.

When you read the labels of packaged foods, look out for ingredients like inulin, added natural flavors, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, etc. 

(If you read my last post about prebiotics and probiotics, you probably remember seeing the words 'inulin' and 'oligosaccharide.' For healthy individuals these are an important part of a healthy diet to maintain a balanced, healthy gut. This is why a low-FODMAP elimination diet is ONLY intended for individuals who experience one of the issues listed below). 

Who Should Try a Low-FODMAP Diet?

Those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder (FGID), Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), certain auto-immune conditions/diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, or eczema, Fibromyalgia, and frequent migraines might benefit from a low-FODMAP diet. 

Since this diet is very restrictive, it is designed to only be temporary and for those with conditions outlined above. 

At some point, foods need to be reintroduced. This part is key. 

The goal is that, by restricting all FODMAPs at once, the sufferer should see much greater and more consistent effects than simply restricting one FODMAP in isolation. With all FODMAPs out of your diet, it gives your gut bacteria a chance to correct any imbalances, and heal.

How a low-FODMAP diet works

For 3-8 weeks, you would limit or exclude all FODMAPs from your diet. This is known as the elimination phase. It generally will take at least 3 weeks for your body to adjust and 'reset.'

After the elimination phase, you begin to reintroduce each FODMAP type back into your diet. The reason for reintroducing one at a time is so you can identify which of the food types triggers the negative symptoms. For example, you would reintroduce Fructose in your diet for one week, and if no symptoms appear, then you would proceed to lactose for one week, and so on. 

Once your trigger FODMAPS are identified, you will know what you can and can't eat. 

As with any elimination diet, consult your doctor first before giving it a try.

Here's a list of the best low-FODMAP foods with serving sizes as a guide:

 

LowFodmapFoods.png

The Benefits of Removing Inflammation-Inducing Foods from Your Diet (and what to replace them with)

As a late bloomer, I avoided the dreaded teen acne that many of my peers agonized over. “Proactiv” and “benzoyl peroxide” were among the many zit-blasting buzz words at the time — but poor little me was still worried about whether or not my boobs would ever come in. To all the ladies who stood in front of their mirror chanting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust…” I feel you. I was there. One day they magically appeared out of nowhere shortly after starting college…but that’s a different topic for another day. Breakouts! They’re annoying, persistent and hard to combat. Ironically, breakouts didn’t start for me until my early Twenties. And in the years since, I have tried literally EVERYTHING to combat them. Birth Control pills, topical prescriptions, organic skincare products… The problem is — and I think I fall into a normal category of people who don’t always have bad skin, but are more prone to breakouts during times of stress/hormone imbalance/dietary aversion — many products treat the breakout but not the cause. Not to mention, they dry out your skin. To end the breakout cycle, you have to understand the source. And that takes a little more investigation, effort and commitment. When I changed my diet, I quickly saw positive results with skin pigmentation, developing a more natural “glow.” It was refreshing to look as healthy as I felt. But the breakouts didn’t stop. They’d disappear during “clean eating” weeks, in which I’d only consume whole foods, no dairy, alcohol, etc., but return as soon as anything outside of the “clean” category was reintroduced (usually during a “cheat” meal/weekend). It started to become apparent that the so-called “hormonal breakouts” I have suffered from for years are directly related to my diet. And this is the case for many adults who experience mild to severe breakouts. An elimination diet is a great holistic way to determine food aversions, though I think an allergy test is the best process of elimination one can explore. Additionally, incorporating more inflammation-reducing foods into your diet and cutting back and foods that cause inflammation is a natural approach to combatting adult acne/breakouts. But the benefits don’t stop there. So what foods cause inflammation? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s explore what these foods do to our body and how our body responds. Inflammatory foods trigger our body’s alarm system that an insidious presence has entered it. This inflammatory response has been linked to chronic conditions like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity. Low grade inflammation is a factor in most health issues. And if you suffer from a pain disorder, it is likely that inflammatory foods will aggravate the condition. Here are the top inflammation-causing foods that you should aim to reduce/eliminate (where possible) in your diet, and inflammation-reducing alternatives to replace them with (as always, I’m in the camp of “eat this, not that,” rather than omitting things outright): 1. Processed, packaged and prepared foods. Fast food is at the top of the list of inflammatory foods thanks to the harmful oils, sugar and artificial sweeteners, food additives, and a whole host of unnatural ingredients. Eat this instead: Snacks containing flax seeds, whole grains, protein, fiber and healthy fats — they’ll typically have a shorter shelf life but help elongate your blood sugar curve, keep you full longer, and also reduce your risk of chronic diseases. 2. Saturated Fats. But Burgers, pizza, candy, chips are so good…while we have just about absolved saturated fats of their connection to heart disease, several studies have connected saturated fats with triggering white adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation. This white tissue is the type of fat that stores energy, rather than burn energy (like brown fat cells do). As your fat cells get bigger with a higher intake of saturated fats, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation, according to a review in the journal Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy. Eat this instead: cauliflower crust pizza with goat cheese or cashew cheese (in place of cow milk cheese), olive oil in place of vegetable oil, baked sweet potato chips in place of potato chips, sugar-free fudge in place of candy (recipe for my coconut oil and protein freezer fudge will be posted soon!) 3. Meat (not wild-caught fish). I’m not suggesting that you go vegan or vegetarian here — although a plant-based diet tends to be much lower in inflammatory substances — but meat and poultry tend to cause inflammation. When purchasing grass-fed meat from a grocery store or butcher, get confirmation that the meat is hormone and antibiotic-free and is grass fed AND finished (in other words, the animal was fed grass throughout their entire life, not fattened up with grain at the end). Eat this instead: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines; nuts like almonds, peanuts and cashews; seeds like hemp and flax.  4. Fried foods (French fries, onion rings, potato chips, nachos, hamburgers, etc.). These items speak for themselves. Eat this instead: Baked Sweet Potato with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper — Pre-heat oven to 350. Line pan with baking sheet. Lay out Sweet potato (cut in desired shape — I like round), coat both sides with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper and bake for 12 1/2 minutes each side. So good! 5. White sugar and sweets, including soft drinks and sweetened juices. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells’ germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases. Eat this instead: Replace harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) with low GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. 6. Synthetic sweeteners (Nutrasweet, Splenda, saccharin, aspartame, AminoSweet, etc.) — Many studies have revealed that artificial sweeteners enhance the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome, by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat this instead: Stevia or fruit, such as dates, in place of sugar. Also, coconut sugar (lower GI index than table sugar) which contains iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, short chain fatty acids, and a fiber called inulin, which slows glucose absorption. 7. Iodized Salt. Not harmful on its own but sodium is naturally found alongside other valuable minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.Eat this instead: unrefined salt, such as celtic sea salt and himalayan salt, which naturally contain many minerals, not just sodium. 8. Food additives: colors, flavor enhancers, stabilizers, preservatives, etc. Some of the main culprits include sulfites, benzoates, and colors named FD&C #“X.” Unfortunately, many kid-friendly foods are loaded with these harmful, toxic ingredients. Eat this instead: Replace that morning cereal with a healthier option, such as gluten free oats (Bob’s Red Mill is a great option), millet, granola (Purely Elizabeth offers delicious flavors, all GMO and gluten free), or muesli (again, Purely Elizabeth’s is fantastic). If you’re into fun colors, check out my Instagram: @fitfabwellbychanel for colorful creations you can make with superfoods. You don’t need artificial colors to create pretty smoothie bowls even your kids will love. You just need colorful whole foods that are vitamin/nutrient-rich. Navitas Organics is a brand that offers great superfood options, in the form of powders, supplements and blends — all organic and natural. 9. Dairy products (yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, butter, cheese, etc.). This one is particularly important, and the reason you’ll notice that most of my recipes are dairy-free. I tend to cook vegan recipes, simply adding in animal protein when I want it. I’m lactose intolerant and notice the greatest skin/digestion improvements when I avoid dairy outright. While a moderate intake of greek yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healthy probiotics, most dairy contains inflammation-inducing saturated fats. 1 in 4 adults have difficulty digesting milk, whether it’s lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to its casein proteins. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines (which is why an allergy test is advisable, especially if you suffer from both digestive and skin problems). Eat this instead: nut cheese alternatives (cashews are a great cheese replacement), almond, hemp, and coconut dairy alternatives in the form of mylk, yogurt and ice cream. Also, ghee in place of butter. I can’t say enough about ghee! I have it in 2 flavors. It has a high smoke point, which means you can cook/fry with it and it won’t break down into free radicals like many other oils and butter. It won’t spoil quickly (some have lasted over 100 years!), it is lactose and casein-free, rich in vitamins A and E, and rich in medium chain fatty acids, which are absorbed directly by the liver and converted into energy. I talk a lot about the benefits of training your body to use fat, not just glucose, as an energy source…the benefits of ghee abound! 10. Wheat products. Many of the breads on the market can go from flour and yeast to baked bread in just a few hours. This shortening of the period of fermentation causes a decrease in the amount of starch and gluten the yeast typically pre-digests for us. Without the aid in digestion, it can be harder for our bodies to digest the bread’s gluten, causing inflammation in the lining of our intestines. Experts believe this could be one reason for the rise in gluten sensitivity among Americans. Another theory is that modern strains of wheat contain a super starch known as amylopectin A, which has been shown to have inflammatory effects. Eat this instead: A good alternative to wheat, if you’re craving bread, is Sourdough which is a fermented food that provides healthy probiotics — key in reducing inflammation! Also, choose grains or seeds like buckwheat, quinoa, or millet for your baking in place of wheat. 12. Alcohol. While some research has shown a drink a day can actually lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP), too much alcohol actually has the opposite effect. That’s because the process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic byproducts which can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s immune system. On the other hand, the flavonoids and antioxidants found in wine — as well as the probiotics in beer — might actually contribute an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a study published in the journal Toxicology. This supports the age-old quote “everything in moderation, including moderation.” Like what you're reading? Sign up for my newsletter so you never miss a beat on the latest happenings at Fit Fab Well by Chanel-->option to sign up at the top of the page.

As a late bloomer, I avoided the dreaded teen acne that many of my peers agonized over. “Proactiv” and “benzoyl peroxide” were among the many zit-blasting buzz words at the time — but poor little me was still worried about whether or not my boobs would ever come in. To all the ladies who stood in front of their mirror chanting “I must, I must, I must increase my bust…” I feel you. I was there.

One day they magically appeared out of nowhere shortly after starting college…but that’s a different topic for another day.

Breakouts! They’re annoying, persistent and hard to combat. Ironically, breakouts didn’t start for me until my early Twenties. And in the years since, I have tried literally EVERYTHING to combat them. Birth Control pills, topical prescriptions, organic skincare products…

The problem is — and I think I fall into a normal category of people who don’t always have bad skin, but are more prone to breakouts during times of stress/hormone imbalance/dietary aversion — many products treat the breakout but not the cause. Not to mention, they dry out your skin. To end the breakout cycle, you have to understand the source. And that takes a little more investigation, effort and commitment.

When I changed my diet, I quickly saw positive results with skin pigmentation, developing a more natural “glow.” It was refreshing to look as healthy as I felt. But the breakouts didn’t stop. They’d disappear during “clean eating” weeks, in which I’d only consume whole foods, no dairy, alcohol, etc., but return as soon as anything outside of the “clean” category was reintroduced (usually during a “cheat” meal/weekend).

It started to become apparent that the so-called “hormonal breakouts” I have suffered from for years are directly related to my diet. And this is the case for many adults who experience mild to severe breakouts.

An elimination diet is a great holistic way to determine food aversions, though I think an allergy test is the best process of elimination one can explore. Additionally, incorporating more inflammation-reducing foods into your diet and cutting back and foods that cause inflammation is a natural approach to combatting adult acne/breakouts. But the benefits don’t stop there.

So what foods cause inflammation? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s explore what these foods do to our body and how our body responds. Inflammatory foods trigger our body’s alarm system that an insidious presence has entered it. This inflammatory response has been linked to chronic conditions like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity. Low grade inflammation is a factor in most health issues. And if you suffer from a pain disorder, it is likely that inflammatory foods will aggravate the condition.

Here are the top inflammation-causing foods that you should aim to reduce/eliminate (where possible) in your diet, and inflammation-reducing alternatives to replace them with (as always, I’m in the camp of “eat this, not that,” rather than omitting things outright):

1. Processed, packaged and prepared foods. Fast food is at the top of the list of inflammatory foods thanks to the harmful oils, sugar and artificial sweeteners, food additives, and a whole host of unnatural ingredients. Eat this instead: Snacks containing flax seeds, whole grains, protein, fiber and healthy fats — they’ll typically have a shorter shelf life but help elongate your blood sugar curve, keep you full longer, and also reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

2. Saturated Fats. But Burgers, pizza, candy, chips are so good…while we have just about absolved saturated fats of their connection to heart disease, several studies have connected saturated fats with triggering white adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation. This white tissue is the type of fat that stores energy, rather than burn energy (like brown fat cells do). As your fat cells get bigger with a higher intake of saturated fats, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation, according to a review in the journal Expert Review of Cardiovascular TherapyEat this instead: cauliflower crust pizza with goat cheese or cashew cheese (in place of cow milk cheese), olive oil in place of vegetable oil, baked sweet potato chips in place of potato chips, sugar-free fudge in place of candy (recipe for my coconut oil and protein freezer fudge will be posted soon!)

3. Meat (not wild-caught fish). I’m not suggesting that you go vegan or vegetarian here — although a plant-based diet tends to be much lower in inflammatory substances — but meat and poultry tend to cause inflammation. When purchasing grass-fed meat from a grocery store or butcher, get confirmation that the meat is hormone and antibiotic-free and is grass fed AND finished (in other words, the animal was fed grass throughout their entire life, not fattened up with grain at the end). Eat this instead: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines; nuts like almonds, peanuts and cashews; seeds like hemp and flax. 

4. Fried foods (French fries, onion rings, potato chips, nachos, hamburgers, etc.). These items speak for themselves. Eat this instead: Baked Sweet Potato with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper — Pre-heat oven to 350. Line pan with baking sheet. Lay out Sweet potato (cut in desired shape — I like round), coat both sides with olive oil, himalayan salt and pepper and bake for 12 1/2 minutes each side. So good!

5. White sugar and sweets, including soft drinks and sweetened juices. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells’ germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases. Eat this instead: Replace harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) with low GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fiber.

6. Synthetic sweeteners (Nutrasweet, Splenda, saccharin, aspartame, AminoSweet, etc.) — Many studies have revealed that artificial sweeteners enhance the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome, by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat this instead: Stevia or fruit, such as dates, in place of sugar. Also, coconut sugar (lower GI index than table sugar) which contains iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, short chain fatty acids, and a fiber called inulin, which slows glucose absorption.

7. Iodized Salt. Not harmful on its own but sodium is naturally found alongside other valuable minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.Eat this instead: unrefined salt, such as celtic sea salt and himalayan salt, which naturally contain many minerals, not just sodium.

8. Food additives: colors, flavor enhancers, stabilizers, preservatives, etc. Some of the main culprits include sulfites, benzoates, and colors named FD&C #“X.” Unfortunately, many kid-friendly foods are loaded with these harmful, toxic ingredients. Eat this instead: Replace that morning cereal with a healthier option, such as gluten free oats (Bob’s Red Mill is a great option), millet, granola (Purely Elizabeth offers delicious flavors, all GMO and gluten free), or muesli (again, Purely Elizabeth’s is fantastic). If you’re into fun colors, check out my Instagram: @fitfabwellbychanel for colorful creations you can make with superfoods. You don’t need artificial colors to create pretty smoothie bowls even your kids will love. You just need colorful whole foods that are vitamin/nutrient-rich. Navitas Organics is a brand that offers great superfood options, in the form of powders, supplements and blends — all organic and natural.

9. Dairy products (yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, butter, cheese, etc.). This one is particularly important, and the reason you’ll notice that most of my recipes are dairy-free. I tend to cook vegan recipes, simply adding in animal protein when I want it. I’m lactose intolerant and notice the greatest skin/digestion improvements when I avoid dairy outright. While a moderate intake of greek yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healthy probiotics, most dairy contains inflammation-inducing saturated fats. 1 in 4 adults have difficulty digesting milk, whether it’s lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to its casein proteins. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines (which is why an allergy test is advisable, especially if you suffer from both digestive and skin problems). Eat this instead: nut cheese alternatives (cashews are a great cheese replacement), almond, hemp, and coconut dairy alternatives in the form of mylk, yogurt and ice cream. Also, ghee in place of butter. I can’t say enough about ghee! I have it in 2 flavors. It has a high smoke point, which means you can cook/fry with it and it won’t break down into free radicals like many other oils and butter. It won’t spoil quickly (some have lasted over 100 years!), it is lactose and casein-free, rich in vitamins A and E, and rich in medium chain fatty acids, which are absorbed directly by the liver and converted into energy. I talk a lot about the benefits of training your body to use fat, not just glucose, as an energy source…the benefits of ghee abound!

10. Wheat products. Many of the breads on the market can go from flour and yeast to baked bread in just a few hours. This shortening of the period of fermentation causes a decrease in the amount of starch and gluten the yeast typically pre-digests for us. Without the aid in digestion, it can be harder for our bodies to digest the bread’s gluten, causing inflammation in the lining of our intestines. Experts believe this could be one reason for the rise in gluten sensitivity among Americans. Another theory is that modern strains of wheat contain a super starch known as amylopectin A, which has been shown to have inflammatory effects. Eat this instead: A good alternative to wheat, if you’re craving bread, is Sourdough which is a fermented food that provides healthy probiotics — key in reducing inflammation! Also, choose grains or seeds like buckwheat, quinoa, or millet for your baking in place of wheat.

12. Alcohol. While some research has shown a drink a day can actually lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP), too much alcohol actually has the opposite effect. That’s because the process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic byproducts which can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s immune system. On the other hand, the flavonoids and antioxidants found in wine — as well as the probiotics in beer — might actually contribute an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a study published in the journal Toxicology. This supports the age-old quote “everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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Hot Topics: Nutrition Fads and Facts

There's a LOT of information floating around on the internet, in magazines, on the news...it's not only overwhelming at times, it can also be really annoying. One minute coconut oil is good for us, the next it's bad-- horrible-- and killing us. One minute eggs are good, then it's just the egg whites because the yolks contain cholesterol, and years later we discover cholesterol from food actually doesn't increase the amount of cholesterol in our blood. Next it's bread...die carbs!

And on and on...

There's a hilarious "Funny or Die" video that perfectly illustrates what I'm talking about:

This is Why Eating Healthy is Hard
 

From calorie counting, to grains to gluten to ketogenic...dispelling myth from truth can be really difficult when everyone has some "scientific proof" to support their theory. 

The only science we can truly trust, though, is that which has undergone rigorous testing using Scientific Method, after much research, and is accepted by the scientific community (the process usually takes time, as new theories/ideas are often built on/extensions of pre-existing). There are many methods that work for some people and not others, which is why we must be careful to not adopt ideas into our belief system simply because they've worked for someone else. 

In Science, we have to be able to apply a theory to a statistically significant test group that meet certain criteria (depending on the type of study being conducted) to determine it's validity. 

I've vetted many reliable resources to dispel a few myths below, as well as provide some solutions/answers to many of the current questions popping up around the social/inter webs. 

1). Calories in vs Calories Out (this is one of the more popular, long-standing topics)

The major problem with calorie counting is not that energy balance isn't a key component of weight management/balance. In fact, the principles of energy balance DO work. It's just that counting calories is fundamentally flawed, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the kCals listed on a food label is not exact-- it's an average. The same size apple can contain anywhere from 80 to 120 calories. a 6 oz. filet mignon can contain 320-500 calories, and a slice of sourdough bread can contain between 130-180 calories.  Manufacturers use one of five methods to estimate the calories in a food, and the FDA allows up a 20% inaccuracy rate. So something labeled "150 calories per serving" could actually be 130-180 calories (like sourdough bread).

Another consideration, is that we don't absorb all of the calories we consume. We only absorb about 68% of the calories from almonds, for example. Which brings me to the topic of fiber-- we actually absorb more calories from fiber-rich foods because fiber slows the process of digestion, making more of the nutrients from these foods available to be used by body (bioavailability). 

Food preparation is another factor that changes it's calorie load. Cooking food increases the calories available, which food labels don't always reflect. A raw egg has about 47 calories while a cooked egg has about 74. A raw potato has about 100 calories, while a baked potato has roughing 190. 

Chopping and blending food increases calories absorbed as well. 

Additional factors-- individuals absorb calories uniquely and variably (genes, epigenetics, body composition, sleep, hormones), and people aren't usually good at accurately eyeballing portion sizes (if you think we underestimate our portion sizes, you would be correct).

My solution to calorie counting is not only simple, it works. 

Hands are portable, so I teach clients how to use their hands to determine their portion sizes. this eliminates stress, confusion and math, and allows them to rely on visual cues to guide their choices. In time, the process becomes second nature.

2). To Grain or Not to Grain

Celiac disease has been on the rise over the last 60 years, which has given birth to a gluten-fearing sub-culture in our society (and manufacturers are paying attention $$$). Books like "Wheat Belly" have only added to the number of grain-free living Americans (now well into the millions), but is all the hoopla about grains correct? Should we really be eliminating them completely from our diets?

Let's look at the nutritional profile of whole grains-- they contain a wide-array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and they're a great source of fiber.

One of the reasons the grain debate became muddled so quickly is that people conflate “grains” with “carbs.” Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in a range of foods, including, vegetables, fruits, bread, pasta, potatoes, beans, desserts, soft drinks, and-- yes-- whole grains.

Refined grains have had their bran and germ (nutritional part of the plant) stripped away through milling. They contain carbohydrates and calories but hardly any of the nutrients found in whole grains. These processed grains are often really tasty, making them easy to consume, but are way less satiating-- a deadly combo that leads many people to overeat, setting them on a path toward weight gain and chronic disease.

A lot of "studies" have come out saying that grains cause inflammation, but this simply isn't true. Food sensitivities and allergies to food are what cause inflammation.

To be safe (since gluten sensitivity now exists in 10-20% of the US population), I generally recommend gluten-free whole grains. Such as quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, barley, maize, and oats. 

Eating these whole grains can help you maintain a healthy GI tract, balance your blood sugar, meet vitamin and mineral nutrient needs, and keep you satiated. When consumed in variety and as part of a well-balanced, whole food diet, who grains can help decrease the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. They also improve insulin sensitivity.

The consensus, then, is that the type of grains you eat matters, not whether or not you eat them. My suggestion is to ditch refined grains (eat sparingly) and invite a variety whole grains into your diet. 

3). The Ketogenic Diet

If you've been on social media at all in the last 12 months, you've probably noticed the rising trend of fat-infused coffee as a breakfast meal replacement, as well as the use of other high-fat buzz-words and holistic applications (coconut oil in your hair? as a lube?...I mean...)

The Ketogenic diet has been used in medicine for decades (though discovered centuries ago) as a treatment for epilepsy. We know that there is a link between diet and certain brain disorders, like epilepsy, and that fasting has been proven effective in treating such conditions. 

The reason ketosis can work in place of a true fasting diet, is that the body mimics a fasting state when in ketosis. In order to achieve true ketosis, one must consume a diet that's about 10-20% protein, 5% carbohydrate (which eliminates many vegetables, like carrots, too), and 75% fat. When blood glucose reaches severely low levels (glucose is the body's preferred nutrient-source for energy), our body will make ketone bodies through a process called ketogenesis, and use them for energy. After about 72 hours of fasting (as little as 36 hrs for physically active people) our body goes into ketosis. By cutting off our carbohydrate supply, but still taking in nutrients and energy in the form of fat, we get the same effects as starvation. 

I've employed a Ketogenic diet for short term resets and find it to be pretty effective-- SHORT TERM. But as a long term diet option, it can be pretty dangerous, as it is highly restrictive. Plus, consuming 75% of your food in the form of fat is NOT a balanced way to eat or live at all. I should note that my approach is really more of a low-carb reset than full-blown Ketogenic, which is really hard to achieve. After a long weekend or a few days of indulgence, I like to eat low-carb, high fat and protein, which usually gets me back on track much quicker than other diet methods (because I don't diet!)

Many people who attempt low-carb diets, such as Ketogenic, see quick and sizable weight loss. This isn't because low-carb is more effective. It's because glycogen stores in our body are relatively heavy. Water tags along with glycogen in a 3 parts h2o to 1 part glycogen ratio, so that quick weight loss from Ketogenic/low-carb is water weight, not fat pounds.

Quick weight gain once carbs are consumed again is the result of water, not the carbs. So if you weigh yourself the morning after eating a pizza-- don't fret over the alarming weight gain. It's temporary. Unless you're eating high carb meals like this frequently.

This is why I promote more fiber-rich carbohydrate sources-- fiber is a carbohydrate our body can't digest, and carries water with it through our GI tract, so it's a great way to keep water balance in check, with all the other amazing health benefits fiber provides.

Hopefully you found this post helpful in understanding a bit more about a few nutrition fads, and how to incorporate a more balanced approach into your life.

I'll go into greater detail on this topic in an e-book, to provide more of the science and easy ways to apply it-- TBD!

August is going to be a busy month of business/professional development and writing, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weighing in on Alcohol

Alcohol is a big, super fun part of our social engagements/lives. However, drinking in excess can lead to serious health issues, such as nutrient deficiency and weight gain. Watch and learn about my personal experience, and why it is important to enjoy alcohol in moderation.

 

To elaborate on the harmful effects of alcohol when consumed in excess--

A number of important functions, like protein synthesis, are inhibited. Even short term alcohol abuse can affect muscle repair and growth (if you want to see gains in the gym, this is especially important).

If you've experienced an epic hangover, you probably noticed that your sleep was pretty crappy. This is because our sleep patterns are impacted by alcohol, and this can have a negative effect on Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which plays an important role in muscle repair. Alcohol can decrease HGH secretion by as much as 70%!

Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic (like coffee and other caffeinated beverages). Which means it dehydrates you. If you think that cup of coffee in the morning is going to cure you...think again. Yep, you're just dehydrating yourself even more. Coffee is not a substitute for water.

Which brings me to...fluid balance. Fluid imbalance in muscles can hamper their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is our body's energy source (makes our muscles contract). Loss of ATP = decrease in physical endurance. To rehydrate we need both water and electrolytes.

Excessive drinking also impairs function of the hippocampus of our brain, which is vital to the foundation of memories.  If you can't form new memories, you can't learn and store new information.

The impact on nutrition is most notable-- alcohol has 7 kcals per-gram (carbohydrates have 4/g, protein has 4/g and fat has 9/g). The reason this is important is because that is all alcohol provides our body-- calories. But in the form of an energy we can't use. Alcohol can't be converted into glycogen, which is our body's main nutrient source of energy.

So what happens to alcohol?

It gets stored as fat. 

Not only is it devoid of macro and micronutrients, it also inhibits our body's ability to absorb these nutrients from food. Our liver treats alcohol as a toxin and prioritizes the absorption of it before anything else. So the more you drink, the less of what you've eaten will actually be utilized by your body for necessary functions, such as those noted above.

Does this mean you should cut out all alcohol from your life? Well, not exactly. I don't mean to be a buzz kill ;) In moderation, a drink here or there is fine. But drinking in excess on a regular basis has consequences. Arming yourself with knowledge about those consequences can help you live a healthier and more balanced life. Which is what I'm all about.

 

 

Why You Gain Weight Back After a Diet...(and how to break the Cycle)

The day after a long holiday weekend (this year the 4th was especially long, right?!) people quickly jump back in to "I've got to get back on track..."vibes. 

Juices cleanses, salads, deprivation...wash, rinse repeat.

Many people, whether they realize it or not, live in a perpetual state of diet mentality. Even if they aren't engaging in the actual behavior of a diet, they're thinking about it. "I ate a burger WITH the bun, that's bad." "My butt looks fat in these jeans...gross." They want to look and feel a certain way but sit somewhere between the realities of daily life, and achieving that goal.

What if I told you that our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for?  If you consider that our bodies are always working towards homeostasis and it's US who throw them out of wack via our choices, it begins to change the focus and conversation. 

According to research articles on Pub Med there is evidence to support the idea of a weight "set point"--the idea that our bodies are programmed to be a certain weight or to store a certain amount of fat and will “fight back” against any attempts to change this predetermined weight.  Genetic and biological adaptations are partly to blame, and are mostly beyond our control. 

While we might not be able to easily sustain goals that live outside of what is healthy or appropriate for us, there are things we CAN and SHOULD do to help our bodies change in a natural way-- possibly resetting what our "normal" range is (which is usually between 10-15 pounds-- yes! That much of a window!). This involves factors we can control, which I'll explain below.

How Does One Find, and Then Maintain, Their Body Weight Set Point?

1). Change Your Environment and Behaviors. Permanently lowering, and maintaining, your set point weight requires changing the habits and behaviors that lead you to overeat/consume more energy than your body needs. The shift in behavior needs to be sustainable to last, so willpower alone isn't enough. You need to reengineer your personal environment in ways that remove unhealthy/unhelpful triggers and cues.

For coaching, I start with food and feelings journaling so clients can start setting a daily habit and intention, plus get in touch with their emotional connection to food.  Understanding our "why" behind choices helps us connect with our bodies in a more intuitive and mindful way. From there, we move on to a daily smoothie once the journaling is successfully completed 90% of the time. The smoothie will generally kick start weight loss (note: fiber helps remove excess fluid and inflammation, so quick early weight loss is mostly fluid, but it sets the tone for ongoing commitment and success).

The process of developing healthy and consistent habits takes time, which is why environment and behavior changes are the most important piece of the puzzle. Jumping straight to weight loss removes the connection to our overall health and wellbeing.

2). Change the composition of your diet. Thanks to the internet and social media, we're inundated with information on what a healthy diet looks like. 

But here's the deal...

There's no secret formula for weight loss. It's just Science-- energy in versus energy out. What each person needs is unique to them, but the results will be the same-- taking in less energy than you expend will lead to weight loss. Carbs, fat, protein...it doesn't matter what you fill your plate with.

The composition of your food is the part that will determine whether or not how you're eating is balanced and healthy, and whether or not it's sustainable. 

In general, maintaining a lower set point range requires adequate protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and fat from mostly plant-based foods. People often think of bread and starchy foods when they think of carbs, but VEGETABLES ARE CARBS. Yes, all vegetables. Some have more, some have less, but you need a variety in your diet in order for it to be balanced. So counting vegetable carbs is not only a waste of time, it's also quite unhealthy in the long run. You can eat animal meat-- heck, I do!  Also fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna and trout contain not only health fats, but also are a good source of protein and water soluble B vitamins.  MOST of your food, though, should come from plants-- think vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, etc. 

3). Improve Your Gut Health. 
One of the key ways to keep your GI Tract healthy is by keeping your gut happy. Aim to eat a variety of cultured foods, probiotics and an adequate amount of fiber from fiber-rich foods (25-35 grams per-day is recommended).

What is fiber? Simply put, fiber is the part of plant foods we can't digest that moves along our digestive track, absorbing water along the way, and aids in healthy bowel movements. IT IS A CARBOHYDRATE. Which is why it's important to eat fiber-rich carbs in the form of plant foods. Whole Grains are one of the best sources of fiber. Fruits and vegetables, as well as seeds (such as chia and flax), contain them as well.  If you follow my Instagram account, you'll notice I front load a lot of my fiber intake for the day in the morning to ensure I get it in.

Fermented and cultured foods, such as Greek yogurt and sauerkraut, should become staples in your diet as well to help nourish the friendly bacteria in your gut. 

4). Exercise. The amount of physical activity you partake in plays a role in determining your body's set point.

Truth: If I didn't work out consistently MOST days, with a variety of activities (variety is key) my body would reside at the higher end of my body's set point range (and it has!)-- less activity means less energy intake requirements, which means lower metabolism.

I like keeping my metabolism super charged and healthy because it makes me feel good AND I get to eat more. In fact, by recompositioning my body slowly over the course of a year, my daily energy needs are roughly 50% more than they were when I was more sedentary.

This means that our metabolism isn't "fixed." We can improve it through our environment, food and exercise choices.

Great news, right?!

I promote body composition goals over weight goals for this reason. Because weight fluctuates day over day. It's also not a measure of overall health or body fat versus muscle mass.  Body composition, on the other hand, is one of the most accurate ways to gauge where you stand health-wise because it's measurable. And things that are measurable can improve over time.

It's generally not weight that people want to change, anyway. It's "toning up" or building muscle...which is tied to body recompositioning PLUS consistency with healthy food habits.

5). Change your body slowly.  If we see weight or body composition goals as some finish line, in which we'll receive a metaphorical trophy for become the skinniest, fittest, most beautiful version of ourselves, we're missing a very big point...that we, as humans, evolve, just as every other living thing does. Our bodies change over time. Science changes over time...the goal then, should be to evolve our lifestyle to coincide with our body's needs over time.

Slow and gradual weight loss can help you avoid the metabolic backlash that rapid weight loss can trigger. It also means that by the time you reach your goal, you have had much more time to master and internalize the healthy habits you’ll need to maintain the healthier you. 

The Power of Venturing Solo

6 years ago I did something that terrified me...

I travelled solo to Europe. At the time, I lived alone in Los Angeles, but traveling alone is something entirely different. Traveling alone--particularly in a country where people are culturally and linguistically different than you--forces you to face parts of yourself you don't necessarily want to (but should). Despite living alone, I kept my life filled with many friends and activities. However, when I'd return to my "sanctuary," I was forced to sit with the person I spent quite a bit of time, energy and planning to avoid... I had an adorable (but baaad) Yorkie, Ziggy. But a dog, it turns out, is not a replacement for human companionship.

I had a hard time being by myself. I often fell victim to bouts of extreme loneliness that found me getting stuck in my thoughts. I'd self-medicate with wine and writing, pretending I was Hemingway...but things were kind of a mess for him, weren't they?! They were for me, too.

To make matters worse, I was caught up on a guy who didn't want to be with me... I didn't even want to be with me, so why would someone else?

I didn't like myself very much and knew something had to change if I was ever going to...so I did the only thing that made sense...I bought a plane ticket to Paris, booked an Airbnb (which was pretty new at the time) and ventured on an Eat, Pray, Love sort of existential, self-exploratory trip. 

I wined and dined myself, visited all the museums, learned the metro system, met up with a dance friend who was working with a dance company in Germany, kissed Oscar Wilde's gravestone, then took a train to London to visit friends there for a few days before heading back home. My trip wasn't entirely solo, but I spent most of the time alone, surrounded by baguettes and a language I only vaguely understand (not conversationally).

Fast forward to 2017. I am married. My life is pretty full and I spend most nights with my husband beside me. Since leaving advertising a month ago, though, to complete nutrition certification (which I just did!) and Dietetics pre-recs, I spend most of my days alone.

As I build a new career and shape what my daily schedule and life outside of marriage will look like (because I firmly believe we need a purpose that's our own to remain complete, whole people with or without a companion), I am spending more time alone than I have in years and it's NOT easy. 

I'm not naturally that social, gregarious person who can network up a storm. I'm not the best at keeping in touch or reaching out first. I also don't like going to things alone. But as I build my new career, I have to. I went to one wellness event with a friend which was awesome, but also a crutch for me. I think it's important to keep our RL friendships separate from work. I created a separate social media account for my wellness pursuits for this reason. Sure there's a little crossover/promotion that needs to happen-- because when you're starting a business, your friends and family are not only your cheerleaders and major source of emotional support...they're also probably going to be your first customers/clients. 

That said, I don't think dragging friends along to wellness events is something good for them, me, or my business. So I'm going to them solo now; revisiting that uncomfortable, but necessary exploration of self, confronting my social insecurities and awkwardness, and talking to people....asking questions about how they started their businesses...asking for advice.

What I've found is that most people are really open, giving, and grateful, especially in the wellness space.

It was mentioned at the Love Beauty Wellness festival I attended yesterday that people rarely land on wellness as a career because they aspired to it. They land on wellness, usually, out of something painful, difficult, or eye opening. 

For me, it was a combination of all three: my history with an eating disorder, my father suffering from, and beating, pancreatic cancer, and the realization that I can change the outcome of my current and future self-- which includes my susceptibility to genetic health issues-- by taking care of myself, through ongoing knowledge and practice.

It seems so simple, right?! Self care...something that should be innate in all of us. Like breathing or going to the bathroom...but it's not. I think many people want to invite self care into their lives but don't know where to start. Or they think it requires a long list of rules and regulations. Or they don't want to give up certain vices that provide them happiness on some level.

People who go into wellness aren't exempt from self-judgement, insecurities and engaging in actions that contradict self care-- we're human. 

I think what separates us is a strong desire, not to be perfect, but to try to take better care of ourselves every day. We develop knowledge and tools that help us achieve this most of the time, and we want to share that with others; to show them that wellness, self-care-- self love, really-- is always available to us. And that we deserve it.

My 27 year old self didn't realize she was embarking on a journey that would serve as a catalyst for a much larger life journey and purpose...one that saw me leaving one job for another...and then another...and so on...learning from this person and that one...growing up a bit (and over crippling road blocks I created for myself)...meeting the man of my dreams who sees more in me than I often do...and finally realizing that what I love most of all is love, in all of its forms. Self care is one very large facet of that-- the better I am to myself, the more open and able I am to be good to others. That's how true love works.

Health and wellness is about so much more than what we put in our bodies. It's about how we treat ourselves. How we talk to and about ourselves. How we handle our fears and insecurities...understanding that we're not alone with them, even if we are.

I still get lonely sometimes. Most of my friends have day jobs, so it's not like I can go grab lunch or do a day hike during the week to break up the day. I'm sure in time, as I meet more people in the wellness space and develop friendships with similar entrepreneurs, that this will change. But I have to confront my fears and insecurities to get there. I have to stay the course and keep marketing my brand on social media, initiating more conversations with people than they're starting with me...this part is the most difficult. It's so easy to get caught in a web of thoughts...why would this person want to talk to me? And you know what, maybe they don't. Maybe I'm too pushy, aggressive...or any of the unfavorable adjectives I often place on myself...but I have to try...every day. I have to try to be kinder to myself. To love myself. To take care of myself. To challenge myself. 

My husband can't do that for me. My family can't do that for me. My friends and adorable (but still baaaad) Yorkie can't do that for me.

I have to do it for myself. So I flip the internal conversation...and make myself a smoothie with all of the healthy things in it...and step inside the simultaneously awkward, lovely and scary world of self acceptance...

And I eat...and I pray...and I love.