Myths About Feeling Pregnant

pregnant style

pregnant style

I’ve always heard stories that women feel a certain way when they become pregnant; that they “just know” that that is it. I realize everybody is different but I want to share how I’ve been feeling. Today, I’m about a month and a half into my first pregnancy and, for me, “just knowing” turned out to be a myth. Noting symptoms of pregnancy, even when you’ve just begun trying for one, was also much more complex than I had expected.

Myth #1: I did not “just feel” pregnant

Myth #2: The symptoms of pregnancy are obvious

In hindsight, my first clue that I was pregnant should have been my abdominals. I had been attending bar method classes regularly during the month of March. The workouts are super core-focused and I felt my abdomen tightening up starting from day one. By mid-month my stomach began to expand despite my consistent diet and these tough, regular core-focused workouts!

Then, I actually thought that my period was late a couple of weeks ago. At the time I was feeling bloated, and had the same type of slight mood swings that generally signal PMS for me. I skipped on drinking with some friends because I knew that alcohol makes me feel worse at the start of my period. I expected it at any moment…

But the bloated feeling continued and the period never started. The pressure began to change too; it went from just feeling like I may have gas to an outward pressure on my stomach.  At that point, I took an at-home pregnancy test and it came out positive. My husband and I took a few days to let it sink in before telling a close friends and family.

I also began telling my yoga teachers at this point. I did not know how to adjust to the pain in my stomach, and what feelings were good or bad. Right now I’m pretty comfortable with all of the adjustments and am continuing to deepen my practice. It’s fairly intuitive adjusting to the changes in my body so far, both in yoga and other aspects of my life. Mostly I’m very much looking forward to the next few years, more than ever before. I also now feel much closer to my husband and have been experiencing strong emotions from time to time, but they’ve been controllable thus far. I’m incredibly thankful for all of the support I have from the people in my life, the research I’ve been doing for this blog, and for the hard work I’ve put into making my lifestyle healthy and happy.

My Yoga Practice

agata crane pose

agata crane poseIt’s impossible to adequately describe the amazingness I feel when I can relax into an awkward pose, and the blood-pumping awareness of flow that boosts the feeling in every nook and cranny of my body. My practice escalated from a yoga session three times a month to three sessions a week in just over a year.  It’s become an irreplaceable part of my routine.

Yoga became a weekly workout when I committed to P90X, though that is my least favorite video from P90X because it’s off rhythm. Regardless, it made me feel increasingly strong and I began reading up on different routines, and even planning my own. I also bought a few deals for yoga classes in studios nearby, and the teachers greatly improved my practice and drew me in even further. I’m at the point where I miss the practice when I scale it down to just two sessions in a week, which only happens if I want to focus on a different type of exercise.

I’ve been so drawn in because yoga is not just an exercise routine. There are elements of focus, awareness, balance and meditation that go beyond physical challenge and enter the realm of spirituality. The positivity in my life is much greater because of the joy I regularly experience during the routines.

Thanks to the skills that are inevitably developed when practicing something so regularly, I’m increasingly enjoying my yoga practice. I’m constantly exploring various routines on my own and, also, there are a few teachers, Derek Beres in particular, who keep me on my toes in class by constantly switching up traditional poses to flow in peculiar and beautiful ways. So much work and focus goes into the yoga, and it feels empowering when it’s all over because I know that I’ve become stronger both in body and mind.

About the Mediterranean Diet

mediterranean diet

mediterranean dietI’ve always associated the Mediterranean Diet with olives, cucumbers, feta cheese and red wine. Overall, however, the diet also encompasses a surprisingly large proportion of grains and fats.

Most of the foods in the diet are vegetables and nuts, and many can be easily made at home. The diet is nearly exclusively plant-based, although it does include some fish and occasional meat. It also includes some saturated fats and sweets, which I’m sure the majority of people appreciate.

Personally however, I don’t feel well when I eat gluten, which has naturally minimized the grain in my diet, although I’m a big fan of dietary fat, balancing food ratios and minimizing processed food. It is important that every individual eat food that makes them feel energized throughout the day. The Mediterranean diet has become a model for healthy dieting according to recent research reports.

There is a mountain of data showing a host of positive health effects from eating a Mediterranean Diet. [1] One study shows that the diet reduced subjects’ cardiovascular disease, including minimizing the risk for stroke. [2] Another study demonstrates that it is great at reducing adverse symptoms of menopause for women. [3] In fact, this diet has been so well-researched and is considered so healthy by the scientific community that it was even used as the definition of a healthy diet to determine if study participants were eating healthy in an overall study linking lifestyle behaviors to mortality.[4]

All in all, the Mediterranean diet is really more of a lifestyle. It includes leisurely food preparation and dining as a family, as well as eating mindfully so that you appreciate the food and the company you keep. The lifestyle also includes regular exercise, which I’m sure has contributed to the positive image of the diet as well as the great results from recent research.

Overtraining Syndrome

tired-runnerThere is such a thing as exercising too much. While many people can’t bring themselves to work out, others can’t stop! Overtraining syndrome happens when people work out excessively, to the point that workouts leave them tired instead of energized. Other names for overtraining syndrome include burnout and shutdown mode.

Improper nutrition, a monotonous routine or simply the lack of a rest week can all result in injury or overtraining syndrome. It can manifest itself in the form of fatigue, negativity, consistently poor performance, sleep issues, a decrease in appetite, a weakened immune system or even in shifts away from a normal heart rate during regular workouts.[1][2][3]

Overtraining is not muscle soreness from a harder routine, nor is it a temporary swing in your strength or fitness level. It’s similar to a shutdown of your body, and it occurs if you don’t take proper care of yourself.[4]

The resolution is to take it easy and vary up your routine. Try new types of workouts, incorporate cross training and include rest weeks regularly. If the problem is nutrition-based, then you’ve probably been eating too many sugary or processed foods, which need to be minimized from the diet for anyone who wants to maintain high performance levels consistently.[5]

An excessive training regimen is hardly at the forefront of most Americans’ problems, but balancing exercise with appropriate rest and nutrition is key to staying active consistently. When you stop taking care of yourself you boost your chances of injury and you risk overtraining syndrome, which will only weaken you until it’s addressed. It does not give anybody an excuse to be a couch potato either, but it does mean that it’s great to take it easy every few days with some cardio or a nice walk, explore new types of exercise routines, and live a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.

couchpotato

Food Inc.: Movie Review

Food_incFood Inc. shows various scenes from across the food supply chain, demonstrating the need for corporations to reform. The movie concludes that consumer choices at the end of the supply chain are the only factor that will compel any positive changes.

Food Inc. opened my eyes to how much food production has changed in the past few decades. Not only have farm animals gone from growing in green pastures to filthy, packed stalls, but their lives have been shortened, and their handlers’ jobs have become increasingly dangerous. Additionally, grains like corn and soy are now genetically modified to grow more quickly, and are subsidized so that they can feed animals, humans and supply raw materials for oil refining and other industries.

The movie documents how fast food and chain restaurants became increasingly popular since the late 1950’s, which resulted in quickly escalating demand for uniform cuts of meat that would taste and look the same to consumers nationwide, even if they weren’t. It has been the primary motivator for me to avoid fast food because, in turn, this led to the industrialization of farming animals.

Animal farming industrialization includes scientific advances to stimulate growth hormones to assembly lines for processing. As a result, animal and worker health and safety are compromised, and mega-sized processing facilities also boost the likelihood of cross-contamination, which means that our health and safety is secondary as well.

The second and third parts of the movie are slightly less jaw dropping, but also affect us greatly. They reveal the monopoly that a single grain manufacturer has on seed distribution, and alleged intimidation tactics by food producers to enact legislation that benefits them. Food Inc. led me to investigate grains, especially corn, and also made me conscious of where the produce I buy is sourced from.

Food Inc. finalized my resolution to avidly avoid fast food restaurants – for my personal health and so that I don’t support the system that led to these food manufacturing behemoths. I also have a better understanding of why local farmers cannot compete against such corporations based on price, and why their products are probably worth paying more for – especially for meat and dairy products. It made me question food labels, like organic, and also led me to increasingly follow news about food safety recalls and regulations.

Desk stretches

woman_in_business_suit_doing_yoga

I’ve had a pseudo-joke email floating around with a few coworkers during the past few years about various desk stretches, which we call deskercises. Some include instructions that are ridiculous for the office and give us a good laugh. The majority, however, are practical tips to get your blood flowing and your mind clear in the time-frame of a reasonable work break.

Work-related stress can be one of the toughest forms of stress to deal with because so often it seems completely outside of our control. I love my job, yet find that at times the sheer amount of work to do becomes overwhelming, or that I’m focusing on it so much that I’ve become literally numb. I often get writers block at this point, and the only thing that helps is getting up, walking around and stretching.

http://www.shelterpub.com/_fitness/_desk_stretches/desk_stretches.pdf

This routine is two to three minutes. Combined with a bathroom break and a trip to the water cooler, a ten-minute break is all that I need to complete this and be back on track with the job at hand. Conversely, if I begin checking the news aimlessly or working on something entirely new, I lose track of my place in the assignment that I had frustrated me and ultimately spend much more time getting caught up on it later.

Sometimes just taking a five minute break to go to the bathroom and grab some water or tea is also enough to refresh my mind. Such five-minute breaks are indeed proven to improve overall worker efficiency in a relatively recent study. They also resulted in employee relaxation, especially reducing eyestrain.[1]

Though some may look silly, many desk stretches can be done relatively inconspicuously at your workstation. Besides, even if your boss wonders what you’re up to, you can explain that they’re a win-win strategy for your productivity and health!

Red Wine

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Red wine is my go-to alcoholic beverage these days because I’ve heard about many positive health effects despite it’s alcoholic content. Beer contains gluten and other alcoholic beverages are generally way too strong for me because my tolerance is virtually non-existent after a year of occasional drinking. But when I do choose a treat(link to post) I love to sip slowly and enjoy a nice cabernet, or even a sweeter port.

And it turns out that the hearsay about wine is generally spot on:

  • Drinking red wine regularly slows the development of Alzheimer’s disease[1]
  • Red wine inhibits testosterone excretion (which could be a good or bad thing)[2]
  • Dealcoholized red wine decreases blood pressure[3] and has heart protective benefits[4][5]
  • Red wine is bad to drink while pregnant as it inhibits the development of the fetus’s circulatory system and brain.[6][7]

In moderation, red wine’s health benefits may outweigh the fact that it’s a highly processed version of grapes, which are already high in sugar. Choose red wine that does not have sugar added, and many times you can also pick out a bottle from a winery that has environmentally sustainable business practices. Also, try drinking outdoors to take in the fresh air where the grapes were grown, it’ll enhance the taste and boost your enjoyment.

Debunking Myths about Supplements: Vitamins, minerals and herbs

supplements

The fact that I took supplements in the past is a tough pill to swallow because supplements can do us a lot of harm! I used to take a daily dietary supplement to make sure that I was getting all of the vitamins and minerals my body needs. I had picked an herbal, all natural supplement that was gluten free and felt great while taking it.

I don’t remember when or why I stopped taking the supplements, I know it was after more than half a year. However, I recently considered researching supplements to see if I should really be taking one. A lot of credible sources, including Tony Horton, the P90X trainer, recommend supplementing your diet, but I also have been trying to cut down on processed food and these pills are definitely highly processed.  Now I’m wary not only about the fact that they are processed but that they are barely regulated.

Myth #1: Supplements are completely safe, they can only help!

The FDA, which tests the safety of our food, does not analyze the contents of dietary supplements. At the end of the day, this lack of testing gives supplement manufacturers free reign on what to include in their products — who will check to make sure that the ingredients on the label are the actual contents? In fact, the FDA has a long list of potentially hazardous supplements with hidden ingredients that includes a disclaimer that the FDA cannot possibly be aware of all of the supplements that may contain harmful hidden ingredients.[1]

If you take other medications or drink alcohol, they may adversely interact with some supplements to hurt you. For example, a calcium supplement can interact with diuretics, among other things, to cause hypercalcemia[2] that has symptoms like nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, confusion or fatigue.[3] Additionally, overdosing on certain vitamins and minerals can also be harmful to your health.[4]

Myth #2: Supplement health claims are scientifically-backed

Health claims on supplement labels are not regulated. In fact, supplement manufacturers are not required to run studies to determine how effective their products are. They can contain powerful active ingredients, even natural ones, in doses that may do you more harm than good. There are even some known toxic herbs like aristolochia, yohimbe, bitter orange and chapparral that are included in some supplements on the market.[5][6]

There are scientific organizations that do test supplements, including consumerlab.com[7], which may be a good resource to finding an appropriate one. Your doctor should definitely approve the supplement too, just to make sure you have no health problems it could aggravate.

By eating all kinds of food groups, especially dark leafy greens, I have made sure that my diet is well-rounded and so I should also be getting all of the necessary nutrients from my food in its natural state. This would be hard if I introduced empty processed calories from processed foods. If you choose to not eat a well-rounded diet, then supplements may be necessary for you to get proper nutrients into your system.

Minimalist Shoes: Why and how to transition

minimalist

minimalist

I’ve finally bought a pair of minimalist shoes. I looked into it a few years ago when they first came out on the market because a friend who had knee problems swore her knees stopped bothering her when she transitioned over to a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, but they were expensive. Now, for about the same cost as a normal pair of shoes, I have my own pair, although I picked minimalist shoes that don’t separate my toes instead.

It seems that I had the right idea to transition with a relatively normal pair of minimalist shoes instead of switching directly to toe shoes. Minimalist shoes don’t support your foot and take some getting used to. The most common injuries are toe stress fractures while transitioning.[1]

I assume that sticking with more traditional minimalist shoes decreases the odds of toe injury. According to a salesperson at REI, the toes are more protected when kept together. They also said I should transition to minimalist shoes slowly to give my feet a chance to properly build up the muscles that haven’t been used due to the structural support of traditional shoes. My research confirms this[2], and goes further to show that your running style changes with minimalist shoes, so it makes sense to build them into your workouts instead of switching into them for a long-distance run right away.[3][4]

Overarching benefits to wearing minimalist shoes are readily apparent. A recent survey found that while 46.7% of runners that wear traditional shoes reported injuries, only about 13.7% of runners that wore minimalist shoes reported injuries. The type of injuries was also different.[5] On the whole, I suspect that such shoes diminish the odds of running injury because you can feel the ground with every step, which makes you more aware of your foot positioning and posture.  Such shoes also strengthen your foot muscles by removing artificial support structures, thus making your feet work to naturally balance you in motion. For the same reason I choose to do yoga barefoot.

As for how to run, a guy featured in the Oregonian summarized his takeaway from a class on how to run in minimalist shoes. “Stand up straight while leaning forward slightly, and to land with our feet directly underneath our hips on every step.” [6] He also tried (and described) several different models of minimalist shoes if you’re interested in reading about his experience. He also recommends wearing such shoes, and I’m looking forward to breaking in my new pair.

Gluten Free

gluten free

gluten free

The gluten-free diet is a hot, controversial topic these days. It works great for me, but I rarely substitute toward highly processed gluten-free alternatives that are increasingly prevalent in stores and restaurants. By eating gluten free I commit to a healthier lifestyle because it removes highly caloric, high in sodium foods, and most junk foods like bread, soy sauce and burgers from my radar when I’m deciding what to eat.

Recently Yahoo news and Live Science published “Most People Shouldn’t Eat Gluten-Free”, an article featuring two nutritionists who declared that if you don’t have celiac disease you’re not likely to benefit from a gluten-free diet. The dietician was also quoted as saying: “There’s nothing magical about eliminating gluten that results in weight loss,” Mangieri said. Any of us that eliminates or removes cookies and candies from our diets, and replaces them with fruits and vegetables is going to feel better.”[1]

I take issue with the title of the article publicizing a blanket statement that non-celiacs are not likely to benefit from this diet. Also, last I checked, many candies do not contain gluten, so I have no idea why that nutritionist even mentions them in the article. But However, she does have a point that foods that contain gluten are often highly processed and also contain excess sugar or sodium content. Also, most products made specifically “gluten-free” are just as processed and should be avoided. Just because a particular candy bar is gluten free does not mean it is healthy!

A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry just three months prior to this Yahoo article found that a gluten-free diet may lead to decreased risk factors for obesity.[2] The same study states that a gluten-free diet has already been proven to be beneficial for decreasing risk factors in numerous other diseases. And these studies did not limit other food intake for patients! Although such research does not yet prove that avoiding gluten does improve outcomes of people predisposed or suffering from such diseases[3], I could not find any studies that say that avoiding gluten is harmful to people.

Until I decided against eating gluten, cookies and breadbaskets were much more tempting. Gluten free also made me eat more foods that have a low glycemic load and thus reduced my hunger afterward. From taking a couple of “breaks” in avoiding gluten and continuing most other healthy habits, I have found that I feel a lot more energized and upbeat when avoiding gluten. Every body is different, but I have been happy to give up bread and cookies as a way to moderate portions without sacrificing satiety.