Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Story- Part 1 (Ignite)

I am a Holistic Health Coach.

(Whew.  There it is.  It feels good to say it.)  Like- not a practicing Holistic Health Coach.  But this is one of those "I think, therefore I am" situations.

As I'm sure you're aware from this blog or other interactions with me, I have a passion for health and wellness.  My personal journey to wellness has been an extraordinary one, to say the least.  I've learned so much about myself, my body, and my relationships.  I've seen the transformative powers of food and have come to believe that what you put into your body for nourishment is far more influential on your health than any workout, medicine, or supplement out there.  As a result of this, I've started down a new path in my journey.  I'm stepping out in faith that what I know and what I've learned has value to others.  I'm taking classes, working on business development, and lining up seminars.  And in January 2014, I will be ready to rock the world of Health and Wellness.

So below is the first of a multi-part series of my personal health journey.  Today I'm talking about where I've been, next will be how I manage my health today, and the final part will detail what exactly a Holistic Health Coach does and my thoughts on what health should look like (don't worry, it won't be a sales pitch).

I believe the first step to understanding where someone is going it to understand where they have been.  Not many people know my journey.

I have Multiple Sclerosis.  I've spent a large part of the past 5 years hiding it from my friends and family.  I always have been, and still am, very uncomfortable with this diagnosis.

For those of you who don't know, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system.  Symptoms include (but are not limited to) numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, loss of balance, loss of cognitive function, and loss of motor skills.  This last one, loss of motor skills, was the one that struck fear into my heart.  By no means am I nor have I ever been an Olympic level athlete, but I can tell you that I've spent a good portion of my life active or playing organized sports.  The idea of not being able to move scared me to my very core.

Oh, and hey, the other chilling factor of this diagnosis?  The medical community knows no cure.  There are disease managing drugs, but no known medical way to reverse the progression of the disease.

I spent the first two years taking 8 shots per week.  As you can imagine, that got old quick.  So I upgraded my prescription to a brand new oral drug called Gileyna (hot off the FDA presses).  But something didn't sit right with me.  Namely, the list of complications associated with the drug.  Below is a list of side effects according to WedMD (remember- this drug will not cure the disease, only manage it):

Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Abnormal Liver Function Tests
Abnormally Low Blood Pressure
Atrioventricular Heart Block
Blurred Vision
Chest Pain
Decrease in Air Exhaled by Lungs
Decreased Number of Lymphocytes in the Blood
Decreased White Blood Cells
Feeling Weak
Hair Loss
Head Pain
Herpes Simplex Infection
High Amount of Triglyceride in the Blood
High Blood Pressure
Inflammation of the Lining of the Stomach and Intestines
Low Energy
Macular Edema
Malignant Lymphoma
Migraine Headache
Pain in the Eye
Progressive Disease in the White Brain Matter
Sinus Irritation and Congestion
Slow Heartbeat
The Flu
Throwing Up
Trouble Breathing
Weight Loss

I'm sorry, but, what?  No.  Just, no.  'Progresssive Disease in the White Brain Matter,' 'Decreased White Blood Cells,' and 'Atrioventricular Heart Block.'  No.  For a medication that will not cure and possibly not even stop the progression of the disease, this was not an acceptable level of risk for me.  Oh yeah, and pre-insurance, the cost of this medication was $40,000 per year (no wonder we all feel overwhelmed and hopeless when it comes to our own health).

So I owned it.  Several months earlier, I was introduced to Paleo and a guy named Robb Wolf by my trainer at the time, Kevin Randall.  What peaked my interest in the diet was the fact that there is some significant evidence linking modern diets to not just MS, but autoimmune issues in general.  By modern diet, I'm referring to high carb, low fat, low protein, with the inclusion of processed foods, industrial seed oils, and most notably- GLUTEN.  Not sure you believe me?  That's completely understandable- but you can check out resources herehere, here, here, here, or here, or do your own Googling.

The remainder of my health journey is a series of test and learn events.  I can tell you, after two years of self experimentation, there is a sweet spot of nutrition, movement, stress, and sleep that keeps me off that cliff.  I have a propensity towards having a very inflamed system and pushing that system means my symptoms start to move back in.  In short- when I eat highly inflammatory foods, get poor sleep, have loads of stress, and train too hard (ie-live a Standard American lifestyle).  And I believe this to be a fact:  I am not sick because I have MS, I have MS because I am sick.  

So I know that I've rambled long enough on this one, and probably the only person still reading is my mom (heyyyyy Mom).  So this is Part 1.  That's where I came from.  The next part will be my formula for health- what I eat, how I move, and how I manage the stress of everyday life. 

And  a side note- if you have a comment or question, please leave it in the comments below!  I love feedback, and I love dialogue over this stuff even more.  


Friday, October 25, 2013

An Anniversary Gift to my Husband

Today is my 5 year wedding anniversary.  In an effort to save money for our real gift to each other (our trip to Australia in a few weeks), we decided to not spend a whole lot of money on each other today.  So what do you get a guy that already has everything (XBox, future plans to travel the world, and an amazing wife)?  Well, if it were up to me, I would shout it from the rooftop how much I love him and how glad I am to be married to him.  But since our neighborhood consists of elderly women who can't hear and shift workers, I figured that would not be as appreciated as I would hope.  So I'm using the next best thing to a rooftop that I have access to.  Below is a collection of what I think we've learned as a couple over the past 5 years.  Some are funny, some are serious, but all are 100% genuine.  I'm even more in love with this man than 5 years ago today.  I don't know how it could get any better, but I'm excited to find out....

Marriage starts with a butterfly in your stomach.  That "I sure I hope that when I cry, it doesn't ruin this mega expensive airbrush makeup for pictures" kind of butterfly.  But that butterfly turns to giggles when your pastor says something quirky and you catch the reaction on your soon to be brother-in-law's face.  And for some reason, the rest of ceremony just seems hilarious (which, by the way, make for great wedding pictures).

After that blissful ceremony, there is a party on the dancefloor and a need to hug everyone at your reception.  And the first dance....  when you forget everyone is watching and you follow your husband's lead because right in that moment, you would follow him to the ends of the earth.  And when he tells you you're beautiful, you know he means it.

Marriage is about taking an adventure.

Exploring faraway cities and foreign lands.

Or even the city closest to home.

Marriage is being a teacher and student all at once.  It's possible to warn the other person not to run over the lawn mower cord (because all you can afford as newlyweds is a cheap electric one), but do it three times yourself.  It's being willing to repeat yourself because the other person was not interested in learning how to use the TV remote until it suited them.

Marriage is learning to be a psychiatrist.  When your other half loses someone they love, you learn to be a listener and shoulder to cry on.  But when they've had a terrible day because traffic was bad, they spilled coffee on their white shirt, and their computer crashed causing them to lose 8 hours of work, it's ok to remind them the world is not coming to an end because there is no ice cream in the house.  

Marriage is about learning to compromise.  The kind of compromise that results from a kitchen without enough counter space, a one car garage, or Halloween costumes.  Or figuring out that Monday nights are for WWE, but Tuesday nights are for NCIS.  And of course everyone watches Walking Dead on Sundays.

Marriage is about becoming cultured and appreciating (or at least tolerating) the other person's likes.  Breaking Benjamin really is a good band.  The Chicago Bears are a better team than the St. Louis Rams.  A black accent wall in the bedroom is a good idea.  But it is never ok to sneak liver into meatballs in the name of health and longevity.

Marriage is about starting a family (even an unconventional one) and learning to parent as a team.  One parent sets a rule (no dogs in the bed) and five years later the rule takes on a life of its own (2 people, 2 dogs, and 2 cats in the bed almost every night).

Marriage is being career support, from playing housekeeper and dog sitter when the other one studies and travels to being a sounding board when a better opportunity is on the horizon.  It's becoming the default Chief Technology Officer, lead editor, default problem solver, and taste tester of a start up nutrition coaching business.    

Marriage is about becoming a caregiver when your other half can't take care of themselves.  It might be bringing them a glass of water when that's all they can keep down.  It might be adding ice to the bathwater because that overhead squat got a little too heavy a little too quickly.  Or it might be going with them to countless doctor visits, holding them when the diagnosis of an incurable autoimmune condition comes in, and sticking them with a 2 inch needle once a week because they can't stomach doing it themselves.

Marriage is about learning how to forgive.  Because when you become so vulnerable to someone, they will have the ability to hurt you (and you will have the ability to hurt them) in ways you never thought imaginable.  So when they unknowingly break your heart, there is a tender part of you that will beg you to forgive them.  I beg you. Forgive them.

People always say "marriage is hard" like it's a badge of honor that they know this.  I'll be honest, marriage is hard.  But that's what makes it so great.  If you want a stronger body, you have to have bear weight and resistance, but too much will break you.  So you need rest and recovery, but too much of that will make you weak.

Because when we're married, we could take the easy way out and avoid conflict, avoid uncomfortable moments and discussion, and create a false reality where everything is just perfect.  But then we would dwell in a house of cards.  One strong wind and it's over.

I am so blessed to have a man who is willing to fight for me when I've lost the will to do so for him.  I have a husband who loves me so dearly he will admit when he's wrong and when he's sorry.  I have someone who I can laugh with, cry with, and dare to dream of a future with.  And my prayer is that when he looks at me, he sees an equal partner.  So my wish today is that one day I'll be able to look back at these musing, smile fondly, because after so many more years of marriage I'll know so much more.

Joel- I love you.  I adore you.  I'm grateful to have you.  Happy Anniversary and here's to a lifetime more of memories.    

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stuffed Miniature Pumpkins and the Evolution of Cooking

Cooking is a therapeutic activity for me.  After a long and stressful day, I look forward to cooking a nourishing meal for my family.  There is something about taking whole food and turning it into a complete meal.  Often times, I'll catch myself smiling while adding spices or sauteing some meat and veggies.  Cooking is not only the best way to control your food quality and macronutrient content, it is also one of the best ways to connect with what is on your fork.

I haven't always felt this way about cooking.  It is undeniable that there is an evolution to cooking.  My personal journey started with adding ingredients to boxed meals such as broccoli to Hamburger Helper or dry soup mixes.  And to me, that was considered homemade.  Occasionally I would play with super complicated recipes out of The Joy of Cooking, spend all day creating something, and after an exhausting day, swear it off for good.  But for the most part, the cooking I did was made from something prefabricated elsewhere.

But necessity truly is the mother of invention.  When I realized that I had a pretty serious Gluten intolerance, gone were the days of trusting boxed food.  Gluten is hidden in so many things from the obvious offenders such as pasta and bread, to soup and dressing mixes, to canned soups and stocks, to spice mixtures.  Wheat is cheap and flavorless, which means it is a perfect ingredient to increase the yield for food items.  This took most of the prepackaged food items off the table for me.  So this forced me into another stage in the evolution of cooking.  Rather than rely on food scientists to premix and flavor foods for me, I started using cookbooks and exploring spices and flavors to create meals.  I even started making my own soup stock, mixing post workout whey drinks, and brewing Kombucha.

And not so long ago I hit another major milestone in my food evolution.  I entered the era of recipe creation.  I'm not a creative person by nature, but when I've been immersed in something for awhile the wheels start turning.  My goal was to start learning how to take complementary flavors and create delicious meals.  A few weeks ago, I made a chili (from a cookbook) that used cloves.  The clove gave the chili a hard and sweet, almost smoky, flavor that I was fascinated by.  At the same time, a volunteer miniature pumpkin plant in our garden was supplying us with what we would normally use as Halloween decorations.  The wheels were spinning pretty fast and furious at this point.  So I went for it and created the recipe below.  And not to brag, but it is pretty darn tasty!


1 lb ground beef or ground lamb (I used beef because we didn't have any lamb but I think this would be delicious with lamb.  I know some people like to use ground turkey, but I don't recommend this because I think ground turkey is dry and tasteless.)
6 miniature pumpkins- grocery stores have tons of them in stock right now for really cheap
1 bunch of kale
1 tablespoon 100% pure maple syrup
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 teaspoons cinnamon, split
1/2 teaspoon of cloves (it is easy to go overboard on this, so be careful)
salt and pepper to taste


Preheat your oven to 350.

1.  Cut the tops off the miniature pumpkins and spoon just the seeds out (make sure to leave the flesh on the sides of the pumpkins).

2.  Mix 2 teaspoons of the cinnamon and the maple syrup in a separate dish.  Brush the mixture evenly into the pumpkins.

3.  Put the tops of the pumpkins back on and place them in an oven safe dish.  Bake the pumpkins for 35-45 minutes.

4.  While the pumpkins are baking, saute your onions.  When the onions are translucent, add the ground beef or lamb, garlic, cloves, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.  Cook until meat is brown.

5.  While the meat is browning and the pumpkins are pumkining, rinse your kale and pull the kale leaves from the spines of the kale (I really don't know what the technical term is for any of this...  this is just what sounds good to me).  Add the kale to the meat once it is brown.  Mix the kale and turn the burner on low (you'll want to keep this warm, but not keep it cooking).

6.  Once the pumpkins are soft to the touch, pull them out of the oven and let them cool.  Scrape the flesh off the sides into a bowl.  (Note-The flesh should be very soft and easy to scrape.  If the flesh is hard, then you should put the pumpkins back in the oven until they are soft.)

7.  Mix the pumpkin flesh in with meat.  Stir all of it together and then spoon the mixture back into the pumpkins.  

8.  Enjoy!!

I think this pairs well with a simple spinach salad.  The one pictured below is simply spinach, chopped fresh button mushrooms, a pomegranate, with an olive oil/red wine vinegar dressing.  

Have fun with this recipe.  And let me know what you think!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

CrossFit Doesn't Give People Rhabdo (People Give People Rhabdo)

  In case you missed it, the Huffington Post ran a nice little article about CrossFit’s "dirty little secret" of higher than normal rates of Rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis (aka Rhabdo) is a disorder that breaks down muscle fibers and releases them into the bloodstream. It can lead to kidney damage and can be caused by excessive physical demands placed on the body. It’s not pretty, it’s not funny, and when it occurs it’s pretty darn serious.
  This article has been circulating all over the inter-webs, with people picking corners quicker than a political debate. Those opposed to CrossFit are enjoying the argument that it’s too extreme and more people end up injured than improved. Avid CrossFitters are defending the CrossFit Empire as being a top notch physical fitness program and making claims of CrossFit Haters. And while I tend to fall into the "CrossFit is King" side of the fence, I need to remind myself and ask my fellow CrossFitters to pause. Not all that glitters is gold. While CrossFit has improved my life and the lives of many others, there are some chinks in the armor of the CrossFit business model that open it up to the accusations above. CrossFit may not cause Rhabdo, but irresponsible and inexperienced coaches can.

In Defense of CrossFit:

  I’m coming up on my one year anniversary with CrossFit and what a ride it’s been. First of all, there is no denying that CrossFit programming builds strong people. I've personally seen an average of a 50% increase in all the major Power and Olympic Lifts. Not to mention, have I told you I can do a pull up? Not just one, several. This is huge because 7 year old girls have better upper body pull strength than I do (no lie- my niece would annihilate me in a pull-up contest). But I've never been a gymnast. So to have gone through a program where I can now do pull-ups, handstand push-ups, and pistols (one legged squats) speaks volumes for that program. And my results are not uncommon. CrossFit develops and enhances skills across multiple modalities.

   CrossFit also tends to win accolades with people in the Natural Movement camp. The constant variation of the programming reduces the propensity for overuse injuries, while sports such as running or baseball lend themselves to these types of injuries. Not that any of the movements associated with those sports are particularly bad, it’s just that the frequency and duration can be problematic (and the same can be said of people who spend their days in desk chairs).

  And let’s face it, CrossFit is just plain fun. CrossFit Boxes (aka Gyms, for my non CrossFit friends) do a great job of building community. Not only is going to classes like working out with 10-15 of your best friends, you can bet that those like-minded people will take on additional challenges and start to band together to make the world a better place.

CrossFit’s Achilles’ Heel:

  CrossFit HQ does a lot of things right. They can market and advertise general fitness into a sport, they can help revive a floundering apparel brand that hasn't seen major play time since the 90s, and they are at the center of the “Strong Women=Hot Women” movement.

  But when it comes to managing and ensuring their affiliates are adhering to basic safety standards, CrossFit HQ exercises little control or oversight:
  • Low Barrier to Entry: Do you have $3,000, your L1 Certification, and time to fill out an application? If so, you are on your way to owning your very own CrossFit affiliate. That's it. There is no pre-requisite on education, time spent coaching, or a check to make sure you even know how to tie your shoe.
  • Coaching Certification: All CrossFit coaches must get their Level 1 Certificate to be able to coach CrossFit Classes. These classes are instructed by CrossFit HQ approved trainers, so the delivery message is consistent from one class to another. But in a two day certification class, can you truly teach a fitness coach all they need to know to be a safe and effective instructor? Maybe, but doubtful. Good CrossFit Boxes will take the time to train and develop their coaches before allowing them to facilitate their own classes. But it is not a requirement.
  • Continuing Education: Of all my beefs with the CrossFit business model, this is probably the biggest one. Certainly no one can ever know everything they need to know about programming, human movement, progressions, recovery, and injury prevention after 48 hours of training. Good coaches will be hungry for this knowledge and will take the time to learn from peers, mentors, athletes, books, magazines, periodicals, additional certifications, etc. Good affiliate owners will make this a requirement. But not all coaches are good coaches and not all affiliate owners are good owners. And from the perspective of CrossFit HQ, it is perfectly acceptable to take one weekend course and coach for the rest of your life (with the exception of a re-test every 5 years).
  As I stated before, the theory of CrossFit is stellar. If you want to be an overall beast, CrossFit programming is a good place to start. But what happens when someone new to fitness walks into an inexperienced or meat head CrossFit Box? Well, the Huffington Post gets to generate more page views.
Be the Solution:
 CrossFit HQ prides itself on its decentralized, Libertarian structure. One of its’ best attributes is that it is accessible to all people. Take the CrossFit Open, for example. The CrossFit Open can best be described as the play-offs to get to the CrossFit games. But do you need to be a part of a major league sports team, signed by an agent, or have multi-million dollar contracts? Nope. All you need is access to a computer with a web cam or a CrossFit Box with an available L1 to judge. So any person, anywhere in the world, has the ability to compete for the title of Fittest on Earth. And that is Just Plain Awesome.
  But for a decentralized, Libertarian system to work, you need the key component of citizen watch groups. Not government oversight committees. Well educated, motivated, engaged citizens. And that is what CrossFitters need to be in this scenario. We do not need to automatically defend CrossFit when claims of malpractice arise. Irresponsibility happens, but when it does it should not be swept under the rug. It should be exposed and corrected. But luckily, because of the CrossFit model we (the CrossFit citizens) can influence these situations directly.
What to Do?
 Your CrossFit Coach (or any other fitness advisor) is not personally responsible for your health. Neither is your doctor, physical therapist, nutritionist, or government representative for that matter. They are merely consultants in your health at best. The onus is on you to figure out what works for your body, your limitations, and how to achieve optimal health and performance. Below are just some of my thoughts on how to do this:
  1. The internet is accessible to everyone reading this post, so use it. Concerned about CrossFit and Rhabdo? Googling that phrase exactly returns 72,000 results, all of them with varying viewpoints, I’m sure. Read them and start to form your own opinions.
  2. Learn to become a healthy skeptic. Not everything is a conspiracy theory, but any time someone makes a recommendation for your health, you should approach it as an opportunity to test and learn.
  3. Listen to your body. Your body will not tell you something feels good when it doesn't. Let's say you're thinking about starting two workouts per day. How does your body feel currently when doing one per day? How is your nutrition? How is your sleep? How are your stress levels? Ask. Listen. Learn.
  4. Start to filter things through the "Test of Reasonableness." Are you walking into a CrossFit Box that does not have some sort of On Ramp or Starter classes? Are the coaches willing to correct your form in the middle of a workout, even if it impacts your finish time? Will they call a “No Rep” on a max effort lift if form is incorrect? Personally, the lack of the above would make me very uneasy. It would not make sense through the lense of an elite gym. If you are new to CrossFit (or any other workout program) and feel uneasy or something does not seem reasonable, run far and fast.
  5. Does your coach take continuing education into their own hands? So if CrossFit HQ does not mandate this, could your coach still take the time to study and learn on their own? Absolutely. Ask the question (and clarify if needed). If the answer is that they continuously study online, work with experienced mentors, and read every book they can get their hands on, it’s a good sign. If the answer is that they took their L1 6 months ago and that's good enough, you have yet another opportunity to practice your running for the day.
You are the consumer. You are not paying someone a membership fee because you like them, or their gym looks cool, or they are really swoll. You are paying a consultant to help you get better at (insert your goal here). So vote with your dollars. Do not patronize a meat head or someone looking to make a quick buck. There are phenomenal coaches and gyms out there. Take advantage of the free market fitness system that CrossFit is creating. Just leave your inner Sheep at home...