One Woman’s Story Behind Her Eating Disorder

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.          –Muriel Rukeyser.

Stories are powerful. They bring people together and tear them apart. They empower the meek and comfort the lonely. Our stories need to be told. I want to create a space for stories to be told. A space that allows us to be vulnerable and seen. Today, I want to share a friend’s experience with an eating disorder.

eating-disorder

My friend told me she wishes to be anonymous. When I was talking to her about this project, I blurted—“You should share your story. Claim it.” She explained that she already had. In college, she did a presentation on eating disorders and told her story to her class.  She explained to me that she had already claimed her story and moved past it. She wanted to stay past it. For me, that was the most powerful part of her whole story.

Here’s her story. I hope it empowers you to tell your own story….

For me disordered eating describes any attitudes or beliefs toward food intake or calorie expenditure that creates cycles of negative psychological, physical, or emotional turmoil. I suffered in a recurring battle with an eating disorder with varying intensity for around five years from late high school into college.

Like all major problems in life it started as a small seemingly harmless pattern which progressed to take control over my life. Like many women I had an abnormal body image for many years of my young adult life. I believe this stemmed from my perfectionist nature which was encouraged through both academics and sports, popular culture and the tight fitted, revealing nature of women’s fashion, and a strong internal sense of low self-esteem. I held a firm belief that categorized foods as good or “healthy” and bad or “unhealthy”, and possibly most importantly I had a severe lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress. On the surface I coped with life with a smile, always positive, always high achieving. Underneath I battled with myself in a vicious cycle of self-restriction and self-discipline in a push to control my world when I felt the terror of impending negative emotions (loneliness, fear of failure, sadness). Compulsively counting calories, planning meals, measuring my body size and weight calmed and focused my mind away from these sensations. I used this as a constant distraction to occupy my thoughts. As much as I thought I was in control during these times, these thoughts truly controlled me as I was ultimately completely unable to stop these intrusive thoughts and be fully present in the world.

I used food as an emotional tool to create a physiological high (sweets, “comfort” foods, over eating) which both helped me escape negative emotions but was simultaneously the creation of a new type of distress. After engaging in this style of emotional modification I became fixated on remedying this failure and forbidding myself from ever engaging in this type of pattern again. This return to restriction and self-control became the next part of the high as it was recovering from this state of regret and self-hatred for having allowed myself to enjoy foods that, as I saw it then, I could not be trusted to consume. Years of being unaware of this pattern and unable to determine the source of the issue left me hopeless and helplessly powerless against the inescapable lure, repulsion, and constant presence of food. Social events were fraught with anxiety and hours of planning how much I could eat prior, what I would eat there, how long I would need to exercise for afterwards, etc. When I began to become nervous about an upcoming exam,  nearly immediately my mind shifted to disordered eating planning and rumination on the past weeks meals, workouts, and failures. It was a faulty coping mechanism to distract my mind away from stressful situations that I had developed no other strategies to handle. Looking back on the time, energy, and stress I created for myself during these years my heart breaks for the young women, young men, anyone who has ever felt powerless – a slave in their own minds to the unavoidable presence of food.

If this resonates with you, please share below.

And if you have symptoms of disordered eating, please seek help: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline

We want to see you live your best life without food controlling your every move.

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Should I get a doula?

Should I get a doula?

Having a baby is so exciting, but it can also be daunting. There are so many questions to answer- What should we name the baby? Where should I give birth? Cloth or disposable diapers? Should I get an epidural? 

Should I get a doula?

This question is becoming more prevalent as doulas become increasingly popular- and for a good reason too. Having a doula has SO many benefits. This time around, I brought on an expert guest to explain.  Lisa Witkoski is a birth doula, living and working in Hellertown, PA. Please enjoy her post below. You can find her on facebook- https://www.facebook.com/lisabirthdoula/

 

When people hear the word “doula,” several stereotypes come to mind. Some people confuse the term with “midwives.” Others think a doula is a hippie-loving woman who believes all modern medicine is bad and wants everyone to give birth in the woods. Ha! In reality, a birth doula is a non-judgmental advocate who provides physical, emotional, and educational support to a mother before, during, and after childbirth. A doula will meet with the mother weeks before she gives birth to discuss her questions and fears, and together they will create a birth plan. Of course, things do not always go according to the birth plan, but this document acts as a guide so that the mother can have as empowering a birth as possible.

Sadly, I have heard countless stories from women who felt they did not have a say in what was going on while they were in labor. Some reported feeling stupid asking questions, feeling forced into making decisions, or feeling like they did not have options. One thing I always say to my clients is that they have the right to informed consent, not just consent. As human beings, we have the right to ask questions about what is happening with our bodies! No woman should feel negatively pressured from a medical professional during birth. God knows there is already quite a bit of “pressure” going on at that time, if you know what I mean!  A good doula will help the mother feel empowered enough to trust in her body while asking questions if she is unsure about something. In addition to providing education and advocacy, doulas are also well-versed in pain-relief and relaxation techniques to help moms stay focused and comfortable during birth. Some women want to labor without pain medication, and doulas can help tremendously with this by utilizing their knowledge of positioning, massage, and breathing techniques.

Ultimately, doulas want a safe, healthy birth for Mom and baby, one that Mom can look back on and feel proud of! Doulas do not replace the role of doctor or midwife; rather, they act as a well-informed labor companion who focuses on Mom, while the doctor or midwife handles getting the baby out.  In a sense, birth doulas are the coach to help get you through your delivery! Various studies show having a doula can reduce the risk of having a cesarean by 28 percent (Hodnett et al., 2012) to 56 percent (Kozhimannil et al., 2016) for full-term births. This is incredible when you think about it. And yet, think about how much better your average work day would be if you had someone massaging your feet, calming your fears, giving you information before problems occur, answering your questions, and cheering you on every step of the way! A doula helps a mom be her best self during childbirth. Women are extraordinary creatures capable of SO MUCH- and we often forget that!

In addition to helping moms, doulas often help husbands and partners feel more at ease. The role of a doula is not to replace the mother’s partner, but rather to complement him/her. Men in particular are notorious for wanting to “fix” things when there is a problem, rather than listening and validating. (Come on, you know it’s true!) Moreover, many dads-to-be feel helpless during childbirth because they want to immediately fix the pain and discomfort; doulas can actually help empower dads to actively participate and provide support during the birthing process in their own way, depending on their comfort level, so that everybody wins!

Once a mother gives birth, a doula will stay just long enough to help the new family get settled in, as this is precious bonding time for Mom and baby. At this time, the doula can assist with basic breastfeeding, answer any last minute questions, and assure the new parents that they can do this! A birth doula will follow up with the mom over the next two weeks for a postpartum visit. Most new moms do not get checked themselves by a doctor until at least six weeks after giving birth, but postpartum issues and breastfeeding struggles can happen way before that appointment! A doula can help spot these issues sooner and provide support and resources as needed, in addition to answering questions a mother may have about newborn care.

Without a doubt, doulas can play a vital role in the birthing process. Long ago, women would gather during birth to help the mother-to-be deliver her baby. Somewhere along the line, this tradition faded away. Rest assured, birth doulas are bringing it back! You see, as with many other struggles in life, there is a difference between pain and suffering. A mother can feel pain and still feel supported, validated, and cared for. Studies have shown when an individual is in pain and feels unsupported and unheard, he or she actually feels the physical pain more intensely! Having a birth doula by your side during labor is a guarantee you will never feel unsupported. It is the goal, and the upmost honor, of a doula to make every woman feel not only heard, but empowered as she brings a new life into the world.

The Magic Pill for Cramps

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Cramps suck. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They are a normal part of the menstrual cycle, but when they’re severe, they can be debilitating.

Cramps occur in the menstrual cycle when the chemical, prostaglandin is produced. Women with dysmenorrhea, the medical term for pain with menstruation, have higher levels of prostaglandins than women who experience light cramping.

There are many causes of severe menstrual cramping, so if your cramps get in the way of your everyday activities, be sure to consult your gynecologist.

Physicians will commonly recommend over the counter NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprophen (brand- Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (brand- Aleve or Naprosyn). These will reduce inflammation and pain to help combat the pain from cramping.

Physicians may also prescribe birth control to temper your hormones to control the cramping.

Tested and true, these recommendations can be helpful for many women.  But if you’ve tried these and have not had success or just want a more natural remedy, this post is for you.

I recently read ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

In this book, Stacey Sims, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist, explores how to exercise and eat as a woman. She explains that many of the nutrition and exercise recommendations we hear are geared toward men. Dr. Sims also done extensive research on managing cramping

To reduce the intensity and duration of menstrual cramping, Sims suggests amping up the vitamins in your diet.

In the fourth week of your menstrual cycle (the week before your period), Sims recommends taking the following supplements each day:

Fish oil

Low lose aspirin

Zinc

Vitamin A

Magnesium

These supplements help reduce the number of prostaglandins in your system, effectively reducing the impact they can have. Read: Less painful cramps!

You can also get these vitamins (besides the low dose aspirin) through increasing certain foods in your diet the week before your period:

Zinc:

In order from highest to lowest levels:

Cooked oysters, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, cocoa, pork, chicken, chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans, mushrooms

Vitamin A:

Liver, King mackerel, salmon, tuna, goose liver pate, goat cheese, butter, cheddar cheese, hard-boiled egg, trout, sweet potatoes, winter squash, kale, collards, turnip greens, carrots, swiss chard, spinach, romaine lettuce, mango, cantaloupe, grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, tangerine, nectarine, guava fruit

Amounts of Vitamin A vary greatly in these foods. Liver, cooked sweet potato, cooked winter squash and cooked kale have from over 100% of your daily need to just under 100%. You would need to consume mass quantities of the fruits listed above to meet or exceed daily needs.

Magnesium:

Dark chocolate, avocados, almonds, cashews, and brazil nuts, chickpeas, soybeans, spinach, swiss chard, kale, turnip greens, seeds, brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats, fish, whole milk, bananas

The effect of these foods on menstrual cycle have not been studied extensively, but anecdotally, I have found this to be greatly effective.

There have been some studies on similar dietary changes, such as a low fat, high fiber diet. This study showed that a low-fat, high-fiber diet (specifically, vegetarian) can significantly reduce estrogen levels,1 which effectively reduced menstrual cramping. The researchers surmised that this may have partially been due to the reduction in dairy in the diet.

The effects of fish oil and B1 have also been studied in reducing menstrual cramping. Both were found to be effective in reducing severity and frequency of cramping.

Zinc has also been studied and found to be effective for reducing menstrual cramping if taken 4 days prior to the start of your period.

The bottom line is, if you suffer from severe menstrual cramping, there are natural remedies out there. Talk to your Physician and give one or all of these a try. Make sure to keep a symptom diary, so you can see which one(s) work for you!

 

Resources:

  1. https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/zinc.php
  2. https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-magnesium.php
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-vitamin-a#section1
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10674588
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25363189

Finding Your Fit

If you scan a gym, you’ll likely see a division. On one end, rows and rows of cardio machines: ellipticals, steppers, treadmills, stationary bikes, and the occasional rowing machine. Endlessly moving machines lined with an array of bodies, mostly women, huffing, sweating…relentlessly chasing that never-ending goal of thin.

On the other end, you’ll find weight racks stacked high and arranged sequentially, starting with the puniest and ending with the buffest. Lines of machines…smith, hamstring curl, leg press, chest press, leg extension…

A machine for every muscle, soaked with sweat; then hopefully wiped down. Bodies, mostly male, speckled with the occasional female: grunt, huff, exhale…each noise reverberates in the noisy gym, an endless chorus—“I lift things up I put them down.”

Granted, there are many other ways to workout, but when facing a new year or thinking of optimizing physical health, my mind has always gone to the gym…

In college, I toiled away in the gym in the off-season for soccer and eventually as my primary exercise. Like most females, I spent a majority of my time on the treadmill. At one point I was logging 6 miles on the treadmill every day, trying to beat my previous time. This of course, as most repetitive things do, led to pain: another stress fracture in my tibia, beckoning a “some things never change,” remark from my ex-college coach.

Injuries are common in athletes as well as weekend warriors. They affect male and females alike, but there are some injuries that seem to happen time and time again to females.

Stress fractures, knee ligament injuries, and ankle sprains are all injuries that are common in females, despite activity level. These injuries are more common in women due to the increased laxity in our ligaments compared to men, our typically wider set pelvis, and lower muscle mass.

The good news is that these injuries can typically be prevented. Knowing your body and being in tune with it is the first step. Pain is a signal to your brain that something needs to change. It is not a sign of weakness. You’re either going too fast too soon, using poor form, overdoing it, or there is an imbalance of muscle length and strength in your body.

In order to prevent injury, having a balanced exercise program is the best place to start.

As a Physical Therapist, I am asked all the time, what I do to keep myself fit and healthy? Most people are surprised when I rattle off my laundry list of activities that keep me moving: pilates, yoga, running, soccer, weightlifting, hiking, and the occasional trip to the rock-climbing gym.

My intention is not to brag or use myself as a perfect example, but to show that, as with everything in life, balance is key:

I run to clear my mind and keep my lungs and heart healthy, I do yoga to keep my muscles lithe and to work on my balance, I lift and do body weight exercises to stay strong and injury free with running, and play soccer because one of the best ways to work out is to do something you love.

This is MY fit. It’s different for everyone. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and what works for you may not work for me. You need to find what works best for your body. You need to find YOUR fit.

Finding your fit will make you happier and healthier, but to find that fit, you need to find a balance. Doing so will help you stay on track and avoid injury. Making a schedule and sticking to it can help you stay focused and keep yourself accountable, but ultimately, your body will tell you what you need.

The Fit Equation:

Flexibility + strength + endurance + stability = a fit, healthy you!

Ideally, your workout program should include at least one activity from each of the following categories—

Flexibility: challenge the length of your muscles

  • Stretching
  • Yoga

Strength: challenge the power of your muscles

  • Weightlifting
  • Body weight exercises—squats, lunges, push-ups…
  • Pilates
  • Plyometric exercises—repeated rapid jumping and rebounding
  • HIIT (high intensity interval training)

Endurance: challenge your lungs, heart, and how long your muscles are able to work

Stability: challenge your balance and core strength

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Balance exercises
  • Core exercises

If you’re beginning a new workout program, pick one activity from each category and perform it once a week. Starting slow and listening to your body is key. If you already have a workout routine, make sure it includes one activity from each of the fit categories.

What are you waiting for?

Go find your fit!

Harness Your Feminine Powers

Harness Your Feminine Powers

Every month it happens. Aunt Flow comes to visit. It’s THAT time of the month. You’re on the rag. It’s Shark Week. It’s the red wedding. The euphemisms are endless. No matter what you call it, you can’t run from it. Every month, unless you’re pregnant, you get your period.

Your period is the beginning of your menstrual cycle.  This cycle is ongoing and is driven by your hormones—the body’s “chemical messengers.” Understanding your menstrual cycle and how it affects your mood, energy level, libido, and athletic performance can be paramount in living your happiest, healthiest life.

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Your cycle is approximately 28 days or 4 weeks. It occurs in three phases: follicular, ovulatory and luteal. The first half of the cycle is known as the follicular phase and the second half of the cycle is considered the luteal phase. Each day, your hormones fluctuate, triggering different processes in your body. Let’s break it down by week.

Week 1: Menstruation

You get your period. At the start of your period, the follicle stimulating hormone rises, telling your body to start preparing an egg. The other hormones involved in this process are stagnant at this time.

You may feel fatigued at first because estrogen and progesterone levels are low.

Week 2

After your period ends, estrogen starts to increase. This can lead to a spike in energy.

Week 3: Ovulation

Rising estrogen levels stimulate the luteinizing hormone. Increased estrogen leads to ovulation and increased progesterone.

This typically occurs at day 14 of your cycle.

Week 4: PMS

In the absence of fertilization, estrogen and progesterone drop. This is when all things unpleasant occur—cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, lethargy, headaches, acne flare-ups, diarrhea, constipation, depressed mood, anxiety, insomnia…The drop in hormones leads to menstruation, which starts the cycle all over.

With each spike and drop in hormones, your energy levels and moods change. If you’ve ever felt that your ability to workout waxes and wanes, you’re right. And your hormones are responsible for it.

HormoneCycle

Knowing your menstrual cycle and how your body responds to it can allow you to control your exercise routine, rather than allowing your moods and energy levels to control you.

The first week of your menstrual cycle can be trying for those who suffer from cramps, pain, and discomfort in the lower abdominal area. The last thing most women want to do is workout, but recent studies have shown that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle is the best time to make strength gains.

Research at Umea University in Sweden suggests that training concentrated in the first two weeks of the cycle has more of an effect on muscular strength, power, and muscle mass.

59 women participated in a four-month leg resistance training program. One group completed a leg strengthening program 5 times per week during the first 2 weeks of their cycle. The other half completed the same training program during the second half of their menstrual cycle. The results showed that the group who completed the program during the first 2 weeks of their menstrual cycle saw a larger effect than the group who underwent the same training program for the latter two weeks of the menstrual cycle. There was no noticeable difference for women taking birth control pills and those who did not.

This is the time to embrace your workouts and really push yourself.

Your go to workouts are high intensity interval training (HIIT), interval running, high intensity sports, and weight lifting.

 

After ovulation starts and you enter week three, your body is a stew of hormones, which can cause you to feel sluggish. Your go to exercise is…

drum roll, please…

Anything that keeps you moving. Pick moderate, less stressful workouts that you enjoy: trail runs, long walks, flat bike rides, easy swims, or yoga. You should be able to hold a conversation while completing these workouts.

Research has shown that during the luteal phase (weeks 3-4), a woman’s body has difficulty with temperature regulation. Women need to be cautious performing prolonged exercise in hot conditions. This deficit in temperature regulation can make it more difficult to run long distances, hike long distances, and work out for long periods of time because of increased strain on the cardiovascular system.

Plan ahead for drops in motivation. It’s totally normal if you find it harder to motivate yourself and reach your fitness goals during this time. So, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you fall off the horse, get back on. Chances are, you’ll feel more motivated as your menstrual cycle continues.

If you don’t track your cycle, start now. The more in tune you are with your body, the better you will feel and train. Tracking your cycle is the key to harnessing your woman powers.

Roar!

katy_perry_roar

Reference:
https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12959622
file:///C:/Users/nvenz/Downloads/LeBrun%201995%20..Menstrual%20..phase..athletic%20Med%20Sci%20Sport%20Excerc.pdf

Knock, knock…who’s there?

Knock, knock…who’s there?

The Weekend! Happy Friday!

 

Here’s your Friday Quickie…

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” 

When we’re kids, we exercise all the time. We just don’t realize it.

We play…

Tag, soccer, basketball, capture the flag, swinging on the swings…you name it. As we get older, priorities take over and we start to see exercise as a chore, something else on our to do list.

My challenge to you this weekend is to play. Do something you enjoy that gets you moving. Think back to what you loved to do as a kid and get out there and do it.

And if you can’t think of anything, I have some ideas for you below…

play soccer

play tag

run through the sprinkler

hula hoop

hopscotch

dance!

play basketball

throw a baseball with a friend

ride bicycles

jump rope

jump on a trampoline

swim

 

What do you like to do for fun that gets you moving?

 

How Those Extra Pounds Could Put Your Unborn Baby at Risk

How Those Extra Pounds Could Put Your Unborn Baby at Risk

Pregnant women go to great lengths to protect their unborn child. They stave off alcohol, take folic acid supplements, and limit intake of certain foods.

A recent study shows that women should be doing even more to prevent harming their unborn child—shedding unnecessary pounds. This study shows that women who are overweight and obese put their unborn child at risk for congenital heart disease, neural tube defects, and spina bifida.

The study looked at more than a million pregnant women over the course of 14 years. Researchers used Body Mass Index (BMI) to categorize mothers into underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. BMI is the ratio between a person’s weight and height. For the mothers in the study, being underweight was defined as having a BMI of less than 18.5. Normal weight ranged from BMI 18.5 to 24, while overweight ranged from BMI 25 to 29. Obesity among the mothers was categorized as either class I, a BMI of 30 to 34, class II, a BMI of 35 to 39, or class III, a BMI of 40 or higher.

Researchers found that babies of normal-weight mothers had a 3.4% risk of a major congenital malformation. By comparison, the proportion of major birth defects among the children of overweight mothers was 3.5%. Among the babies of mothers in obesity class I, the rate was 3.8%; in obesity class II, 4.2%; and obesity class III, 4.7%.

At first glance, a 0.1 to 1.3 percentage increase does not seem like that much. But, ask yourself this: how much risk are you willing to take with the health of your baby?

 

“Getting to a healthy weight has so many benefits, for both mothers and babies, including decreasing risks of diabetes and hypertension for moms, as well as decreasing risks for preterm birth,” explains Dr. Siobhan M. Dolan, a medical adviser to March of Dimes who was not involved in the study.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend that women who are underweight should gain 28 to 40 pounds, women with normal weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds, women who are overweight should gain 15 to 25, and women who are obese, 11 to 20 pounds.

Tips such as “eating for two” during pregnancy are actually myths. Dr. Stacy Ehrenberg of the University Hospital of Cleveland recommends that pregnant women only increase their calorie intake by 330- the amount in a typical cup of yogurt. She also encourages pregnant women to increase water intake and eat balanced meals with plenty of fruits and veggies.

Pregnant women are also encouraged to exercise for 30 minutes per day even if they did not exercise prior to pregnancy. Not only will you decrease the risks of birth defects, but you can actually make your child smarter and leaner in the long run. Children of women who exercised during pregnancy also had less body fat, higher scores on general intelligence tests, and improved physical coordination, and better oral language skills.

If you are a woman who is thinking of becoming pregnant, now is the time to start thinking seriously about your health.  And if you are a woman who is already pregnant, it’s not too late to start. Even women who have never worked out can start during pregnancy. Just make sure to consult your OB-GYN for medical clearance and your Physical Therapist if you are unsure where to start.

 

Additional information:

Determine your BMI:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

 

Reference:
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/14/health/overweight-pregnancy-birth-defects/index.html
APTA Section on Women’s Health
Photo credit:
https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/stages-pregnancy