Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Most Important Thing to Love

Hey guys!  Kelsey here!  I'm sooooo excited for the post today- my good friend Alexis has graciously agreed to share her journey with all of you.  Alexis is from Effingham, IL and is a Biological Sciences major with a double minor in Chemistry and Theatre/Dance at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  She is on track to graduate in 2016 and plans to go on to dental school.  She loves deadlifts, coffee, musical theater, and Harry Potter.   

I met Alexis about a year ago.  Watching her journey has been nothing short of inspiring.  I do want to call out that this is Alexis's journey using CrossFit as her starting point.  Your journey may start from running, walking, powerlifting, yoga, or even playing with your kids on the beach.  And that is all totally cool!  

Alexis- thanks.  You are beautiful inside and out.  I'm grateful to call you my friend.

I’m falling in love... No, not with a man.  Half of the time I’m still in the boys-are-gross camp.  What I’m falling in love with is myself, all thanks to whole-foods and fitness.  Now I know what you’re thinking, isn't twenty years of living a blessed and fun life enough to love yourself?  However, it wasn't enough for me, and it was not until I discovered CrossFit and all that comes with a healthier lifestyle that I truly began loving myself and appreciating my body.

Rewind to about a year ago, when I first stumbled into a CrossFit box for the first time with no prior fitness or nutrition regimen, a very poor body-image, and low self-esteem. I thought I was fat, unattractive, and had no appreciation for my body.  I vividly remember not even being able to run a half-mile in high school, but here I was committing to daily challenging workouts.

My mantra through many of those first workouts ran along the lines of “Don’t you want to be skinnier?”, “Remember what you looked like in a bikini last year.”, “Think of all the tiny girls you go to school with!” and so on.  Honestly, that was not a very fun or successful way to motivate myself to continue working out.  It definitely didn't improve my self-esteem.  Instead of celebrating my body and the many ways it was changing that I was blind to at the time, I was diminishing its worth by comparing it to others’ bodies.  I was taking its' value to be only what I saw in the mirror.

However, great changes were happening that I at first did not appreciate.  Pull-ups stopped being a thing that just the guys could do to something I could do as well.  Squats and deadlifts gave my naturally thick thighs a purpose when I realized these were movements I was not half-bad at.  It was in these things that I found my motivation to exercise and take care of myself.  I started caring less and less about what I looked like standing next to other people and more and more about the things my body could do.  And this was when I started loving myself.  

Because how cool was it that I could climb a fifteen foot rope and run a mile without stopping?  That was me doing those things and so much more.  

Me and my incredible body. 

 A body that through fitness, I finally could love.

I’m still on this journey of loving myself but I know I can accredit fitness and nutrition for what I think of as my biggest success of all: finally seeing my body as beautiful.  Once I started loving my body, I realized how truly beautiful it was.  

We live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with what the idea of beauty is and constantly.  We are racing out to access products to achieve that standard of beauty.  But that isn't real beauty.  I believe beauty is a very personal and individualized thing that manifests itself uniquely in every person.  

I can’t hold myself up to a standard of beauty, because no other individual is like me and has my body.  My idea of beauty probably looks very different than some of yours, but here is why I believe I am beautiful....

My body is beautiful because it is strong, it can handle heavy weights, do handstands, pullups, one-legged squats, and so many other awesome things. My body is beautiful because it can rock a pair of jeans, because fitness and nutrition have give my body beautiful curves that I can show-off with pride. My body is beautiful because it has muscle, can carry me through any tough task, and because it never quits on me. 

My body is beautiful because I finally love it. 


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Most Dangerous Food You're Probably Eating

Ok, sorry if I'm being dramatic.  Nothing irritates me more that fear mongering in the health and fitness industry.  It is dangerous, irresponsible, and the tactic that spun me into vegetarianism leaving me sick, tired, and metabolically damaged after 3 years.

Let's be honest here.  There are foods that we should be eating every day, foods that we should mostly avoid, and foods that can really only be rationalized on a very special occasion.  And of course, we all have our own personal poisons that we should never touch.

But there is one food, in my opinion, that brings no value to anyone.  Ever.  So I'm going to break my own rules on this one.  

Spoiler alert... it's not Gluten.  Although I think that's plenty nasty,  I still think this food is worse.  PS- have you seen the Gluten Free Duck video??  Hilarious. Don't be that Duck.

This food is highly processed, can have a devastating impact on your hormonal system, is very difficult to source, and is claimed to be a health food.  Now we can say this about a lot of foods,but what makes it so dangerous is that it's in everything.  Seriously- it's everywhere.  It's probably creeping up behind you right now.... (made you look).  

Are you ready?


What?  But soy is so good for you.  That's what Tofu is made out of.  I'm obsessed with Soy milk!  And what the heck would I put on my Chinese food?  

Sorry to be the one to break the news, but this former super food is quickly falling from grace.  Let's look at the evidence against it:

  • According to Chris Kresser, studies have linked soy to malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, immune system breakdowns, low sperm counts, and even heart disease and cancer.
  • Soy isoflavones (estrogen), while said to be healthy for women, can actually prevent ovulation and cause cancer cells to develop.
  • Soy is highly processed. Modern processing methods make soy from the waste of soybean oil.  So it's easy and cheap to make, meaning it makes a great filler. 
  • Soy in baby formula is linked to early puberty, an increased risk of infertility, and cancer later in life in females.  For males, an increased risk for a delay or retardation of the development of sex organs.  A study from New Zealand found that the hormones in soy baby formula is equivalent to 5 birth control pills per day.  And guess what- 30%-40% of all babies in the US drink formula with soy in it. 
  • It is estimated that 90% of all soy sold in the US is genetically modified and Round-Up ready, increasing chemical run off around the world.  Soybeans can also be farmed using monocropping, which is a contributor to soil erosion and the loss of biodiversity.
  • Soy is an anti-nutrient, meaning it keeps the body from absorbing nutrients. It specifically depletes Vitamins B12 and Vitamin D.

So how did soy become America's new favorite health food?  Well, remember that it's cheap to make.  So the food industry has a big incentive to get it added to as many products as possible....  38 billion reasons to be exact.  

The food industry has also used the long lifespan of Asians countries and their consumption of soy as proof that the stuff is healthy.  But truthfully, traditional Asian cultures ate fermented soy, which decreased many of the toxic properties.  Additionally, soy only accounted for less than 1.5% of daily calories.  

So contrary to popular belief, soy is just not that good for you.  But so what?  Neither are Oreo's, pizza, or soda.  Well, I can tell you definitively when I am eating any of those.  And furthermore, I can tell you definitively that I'm eating a soy burger or Tofurky.  But what happens if you don't know that you're consuming soy?

The biggest danger of soy is that it's added to 70% of processed food products (remember- cheap).  It's commonly found in canned tuna, soup, protein powders, pizza, bread, bread crumbs, imitation crab meat, bacon bits, chewing gum, cosmetics and even CHOCOLATE.  Soy is also an additive in over the counter and prescription drugs and vitamins.  

And soy isn't always called soy.  Common names for soy as an ingredient can include:
  • Artificial flavoring
  • Natural flavoring 
  • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
  • Textured plant protein
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Vegetable oil
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Lecithin
  • Vegetable Broth
  • Vegetable Gum
  • Vegetable Starch

Is an occasional small amount of soy going to cause significant health problems?  Unless you have an allergy, probably not.  Where we run into problems is repeated amounts of soy masquerading as health food and safe fillers. 

So what to do?

Eat fresh meat, fish, veggies, and fruit.  When you do have to venture into the processed section of the grocery store for your olive oil, nuts, and coconut milk, read the labels.  Get the unflavored version of everything you can.

Do the best you can with what you have!  If you keep it whole and minimally processed, you'll not just avoid the soy, but most of the other nasty fillers as well.

Is this all news to you, or have you been avoiding soy all along?  Share your experience in the comments!



Thursday, July 10, 2014

What's Wrong with Processed Sports Drinks (and Recipe for a Real Food Alternative!)

As we're approaching the height of the summer heat and humidity, over-exertion and dehydration tend to appear.  If you have performance goals, work outside, or have kids that are constantly on the go, maintaining that intensity without the risk of injury or overheating can be tricky.

For this, the food industry tells us that sports drinks are they way to keep ourselves hydrated and safe.

But wait a minute, is there something wrong with Gatorade, Powerade, or any of the other sports drinks that promise superior nutrition conveniently out of a vending machine?  According this this Deadspin article, a lot (<-- Warning, it's a great article, but there is some swearing).  It calls to question the entire notion of dehydration, electrolytes, and cramping.  

I don't think that replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrates (salt and sugar, by the way) is a bad thing.  In fact, feeding your body some glucose (sugar) immediately following physical exertion can help your body start to repair damaged tissues.  The only caveat here is if you have fat loss goals, it could be detrimental to your goals.  But more on that another time.    

What I'm more concerned about is the ingredient list.  Let's break down common ingredients found on one of these labels:

Water- This is good.  Drink enough of this in general.

Sugar-  Pretty straight forward.  This is what will help you replenish your glucose stores, as mentioned above.

Dextrose- This is the name given to sugar produced from corn.  Reading between the lines here- High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Despite the marketing efforts by the Corn Industry, there are plenty of reasons why you do not want to ingest this.

Citric Acid- For the purposes of manufacturing a sports drink, it is fermented sugar to use as a flavoring agent.

Natural Flavor-  This is a gnarly one.  A search on the inter-webs will send you down a rabbit hole that this can be a chemical that resembles perfume, MSG, Aspartame, or even bugs.  The official FDA definition is published in the Code of Federal Regulations (21CFR101.22).  Basically the label "Natural Food" means the flavoring can be derived, distilled, or extracted from either plants or animal matter directly or via roasting, heating or fermenting.  There is no direction on the quality of the source of the flavoring- factory farmed cows and genetically modified soy beans are fair game.  Point being that this a very vague food label that is not highly regulated.

Sodium Citrate-  This is a common food additive for flavor and preservatives, but in it's most basic form, it's salt.

Monopotassium Phosphate- This is water soluble salt, and a source of phosphorus and potassium.  My thought would be that this is where the electrolytes in sports drinks come from.

Modified Food Starch-  This is an ingredient that will aid in attaining the desired texture or gel of the food.  The nutritional value of this food is a wash, but you should note that unless otherwise stated on the labeling this can be made from corn or wheat from varying quality sources.  So if you have an allergy to gluten or are trying to avoid GMO sources, avoiding Modified Food Starch would be a good first step.

Glycerol ester of Rosin-  This is another ingredient that aids in mix and texture.  It's pretty common in fruit juices to keep oils and water from separating.  Officially there are no heath risks associated with this and it is the "best and most natural option for achieving stability in beverages," however it is advised that pregnant women consult their doctors prior to consuming beverages with Glycerol Ester of Rosin (ummm... what?).

In a nutshell, manufactured sports drinks are chocked full of artificial, man-made, unclear, borderline panic inducing ingredients.  

So what to do?

Well, first of all, good ol' fashion water will probably suffice most of the time.  If you're concerned about electrolyte loss, you can add a pinch of salt.  Only after incredibly intense workouts or spending time laboring in the heat and sun should the need for an electrolyte and glucose hit be necessary.

If you do feel you need a sports drink.... Enter the glorious coconut.  Coconut products have taken the US by storm over the past several years, from milk, to flakes, to oil, and for our purposes today... coconut water.

Think of coconut water as nature's own miracle sports drink.  It has all the essentials without the man made ingredients, such as good sugars, sodium, potassium (more than 4 bananas per serving), and electrolytes.  As a bonus, it has dietary fiber, enzymes, vitamin C, and amino acids.

Now, for those of you who have tasted coconut water, you might cringe at the thought of using it.  No doubt- it is an acquired taste.  So how do we make one of nature's most optimal foods better suited for consumption?

Do what the food industry does- add sugar!  But in our case, we're going to add a natural source of sugar (and other vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers).  In other words, we're going to add fruit.

Wholly Made Sports Drink


1 Cup Coconut Water
1 Cup Water/Ice
1/4 Cup Strawberries and Pineapple (Mango, Bananas, or any tropic fruit work great)
Blender or Muddle Tool

1. Muddle or blend the fruit fruit.  I prefer to muddle only enough to get some of the juices out, because I like the chunks of fruit during or after a workout.  If you don't think you'll like the fruit as chunky, then just pop it in the blender to get it to your desired consistency.

2.  Add that fruit, coconut water, and water/ice to your shaker (you can mess with the coconut/water/ice ratio depending on how palatable you find the coconut water).

If you're going to be enjoying this immediately, then you probably don't need ice.  If you're going to take this with you to the gym or the soccer field, adding some ice will help keep it cool until consumed.

3. Shake it up!

4.  Leave it in the shaker and take it with you.  Or pour and enjoy immediately.

A few notes on this:
  -  You can make it ahead of time, but it will only keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days before it starts to get questionable.
  -  You'll find this is slightly less convenient than a manufactured sports drink.  But in my opinion, it's well worth it.
  -  Experiment with this!  Have fun, test and learn on yourself, and let me know what you think!