Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Amenorrhea That Big of a Problem? Helping Those Silently Suffering

I had an email from a super nice Endurance Planet fan the other day that promoted this post. He was wondering if amenorrhea is really that big of a deal. He's noticed how I've been talking about it more these days, in particular this new episode on hypothalamic amenorrhea that just dropped, and also more candid discussions over at lifepostcollective.com, but from what he sees in the endurance scene, it doesn't seem like that big of a problem, especially, as he mentioned, "More often than not there is an overwhelming number of athletes who are too heavy [over-fat]."

~~~

I'm so glad he brought this up!

There's no doubt that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, even endurance athletes. And sadly, we're seeing an epidemic of a population that is over-fat, which certainly spills into the athletic community. Over-fat athletes are a real issue, and participating in sport alone isn't the "cure" for a healthier body composition (this is an issue we often discuss with Dr. Phil Maffetone on EP and have covered extensively in past episodes). So I'm totally on board with the need to help this population as well.

At the same time, though, there's another population of athletes who are silently suffering from hormonal dysfunction and hypothalamic amenorrhea, but you have NO IDEA because outwardly there are no obvious physical signs necessarily -- even body composition isn't enough to tell whether a female is menstruating are not (a woman can be a "normal" bodyweight but still have amenorrhea for other reasons, like too much stress). At the end of the day, hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), the female athlete triad and/or RED-S syndrome are incredibly common issues in female athletes, in particular endurance athletes and any sport that values leanness, but we often let it go under the radar because it's a touchy subject that's often still "taboo" to talk about it.

"In women who participate in sports that emphasize aesthetics or leanness, such as ballet or running, the prevalence of secondary amenorrhea can be as high as 69%, compared with 2% to 5% in the general population" (1). 

Compared with the over-fat epidemic, having amenorrhea can be kept a secret and often women are ashamed, embarrassed and/or are scared to talk about it--as a result, many of us may have no idea that she is suffering inside. I was that woman for years. I was terrified to talk about my missed periods for fear I'd lose all respect and credibility; for fear that I'd be seen as an alien; for fear that I'd be labeled as tarnished and inadequate; for fear that is was unacceptable to even say the word "period" in public. Actually, there was a point where I built enough confidence to try and talk about it on this VERY blog! I wanted to be real. I wanted to talk about it--talking it out always makes me feel better. So I hit publish and the backlash started. I got NASTY hate comments on the post and people telling me things like, "What kind of role model are you is you don't even get a period?!"

I was too weak and scared at the time to stand up and fight it. So I deleted the post. This was likely 2008-09 ish.

Back then, I knew enough to know this wasn't healthy or normal (although, fairly unaware of long-term consequences*), so out of concern I talked to my doctor (a conventional PCP). Other than that only a few close family members and friends knew. As far as getting help from my doctor at the time? Honestly, she was a nice woman but she did nothing to truly help me; conventional medicine did absolutely nothing to truly me regain a healthy period--other doing a provera challenge, then telling me to go on birth control, eat more, exercise less and gain weight. Really? We know that eating more and exercising less (i.e. energy balance) and appropriate bodyweight are indeed ways to heal and regain menstruation, but this information was told to me in a very matter-of-fact way that didn't register with me whatsoever. It basically felt like they were saying, "Go eat some fatty burgers and ice cream, stop working out, retire to the couch and get fat." To which I wanted to say, "Fuck you." They had no idea who I was, they had no idea how my brain ticked, they had no idea I was a dedicated athlete who "had" to maintain fitness and my physique to perform in my sport. The Western doctors made me angry, so I gave up on seeking help from them. What I needed was an education and someone who could relate to me and be sympathetic. I didn't have that person. I felt alone.

Female hormonal imbalance and amenorrhea are about more than just "eat more - exercise less - gain weight." It's a sensitive psychological issue and must be handled with love, care, and sympathy for the female suffering. This is why I like the, "Relative Energy Deficit in Sport" (RED-S) Syndrome, which ties in the psychology of it, and also makes note that males can suffer form this as well!

"Psychological consequences can either precede RED-S or be the result of RED-S. The clinical phenomenon is not a 'triad' of three entities of energy availability, menstrual function, health and athletic performance" (2).

In other words, it's complex. It doesn't have to fit the tight definition of the female athlete triad to apply--it can be more, it can be less, it can manifest in different ways, but at the end of the day it's a problem when hormonal dysfunction occurs in athletes. Thankfully, there is a way to get the body back in balance and restore function, and to do so you have to address the mental and physical.

That's the beauty of HA, the recovery rate is undeniably high. After feeling like Western medicine failed me, I made a huge effort to self-educate to learn more for myself about amenorrhea; if I had to go it alone so be it. But then the catalyst for me was finding the right mentors in 2013-14 who talked to ME, listened to ME, and who weren't just reading out of a textbook on what "should" be done. I took the proper steps to heal and recover. Yea, I had to change a lot but the payoff was worth it. Low and behold I got my period back and it STUCK (took some time to normalize), and I was happy and comfortable with the process. I was still happy with food choices, exercise habits, and my body. Mentally I got cozy with everything and accepted my new ways. It required a mindshift and some soul searching, but it wasn't that scary after all!

I WANT TO HELP

I'm still angry that conventional medicine doesn't offer an education and proper tools to heal, so now that I know better I want to help! I've gained the confidence to speak up over the years, and I want to be a voice for many women who are silently suffering, confused, or perhaps don't even realize the depths of what amenorrhea really implies. I want to be someone they can turn to for help, with zero judgement just love. I want to inspire women how to regain normal functioning or simply treat their bodies better, with more compassion and love.

I am not medical doctor so there are certainly things I can and can't do to help women with their health, but as Nico and I discussed in this podcast, oftentimes you just need to find someone who can relate to you and the situation, and that'll be the ticket to success in regaining menstruation. As such, I love spending my days working directly with women on how to regain their menstrual cycle. And guess what, we don't talk too much about eating more and exercising less. They usually know those things so we touch base on them to make sure it's being executed smartly and without a lot of stress involved. From there, honestly the conversations are about so much deeper than food and exercise talk. These are living, breathing, feeling women who just need someone to bet here for them, listen and be the voice of reason so that they can get out of their own head. Sometimes there are harsh truths, like telling a girl, "Yea, maybe you have to give up training and racing for a while just to fully relax, but it doesn't have to be forever!!! You can of course get back to it, I did and kept a period (BQ 2015)!" It's better when that comes from me, a woman who's been there and gets it.

Anyway, a few closing thoughts:

1. Don't judge a book by its cover--there's a good chance you have NO IDEA what's going on inside.
2. Amenorrhea is as much psychological as it is a physical issue.
3. We need to be sympathetic to all sensitive health issues, not judge and offer support--whether it's helping someone who's over-fat or someone with amenorrhea.

~~~

Resources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24620037

*I talk about some potential long-term consequences and much more on HA in athletes in particular over at lifepostcollective.com, where I recently launched a new women's health video series. Check it out for free with code "lpc4me" at sign up.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Journey to Body Positivity & Why I Quit Modeling

Hey-o! I'm still around, just quietly doing my thing, and enjoying more private time away from the scene. Between the podcast, my new inner-circle community Life Post Collective, and my clients, that's all the public time I need these days. But alas, I still like to share what I have going on because this is something I feel incredibly passionate about and a message I want to make more mainstream in light of all the unhealthy crap I see out there these days. Body positivity and bits and pieces of my journey that I haven't talked about ever before (i.e. the reality of my modeling days) are the name of the game... I tried to keep it short, but that didn't happen.

***

Embracing A Changing Body

It's been just over a year since I opened up publicly about my past eating disorder struggles, you can read that blog post here, and I have to say it's been one of the best years of my life since. Even though I didn't still have an "active" ED it was still having a lingering effect on me. No more though! I never thought I'd be so FREE from those inner demons and relaxed about all things food- and body-related. I'm all about intuitive eating in a way that works for me (not overthinking food choices, not getting wrapped up in diet dogma), and meanwhile embracing changes that are happening with my body, which I talked about more in this post. The short version of those changes: I no longer have a crazy skinny 12-year-old-boy-like frame (those were not child-bearing hips lol), and I finally have a butt, hips and some curves. (Hell, I even have some love handles that were never there before, more cellulite on my rear, bigger thighs -- all the things our society wants you to get rid off.) All this is not shocking considering I don't exercise like a maniac anymore and instead my goals have shifted to balancing hormones and health while maintaining a smart amount of exercise. Ladies, we need to have some body fat to function well, and they say the "threshold" is around 14% BF but I think that even 16-18% BF may not even be enough for some of us!

I'm sure most of you would not even notice much of a change in my body if you saw me up close, but I feel it, the scale confirms it (yes, I'm comfortable weighing myself), and I especially noticed it in how some clothes were getting too tight. So since that last post last, I chose to make an investment in me and buy some new clothes (bigger, that is) rather than turn this into a struggle where I risked getting down on myself trying to fit into clothes that were too small and made me look horrible. Some girls save their "skinny jeans" but I donated mine -- and some other clothing items -- gone for good. Truthfully, shopping for bigger sizes was something I resisted doing at first, for financial reasons and from a body-image perspective it was tough to get comfortable with this process. I did feel myself wanting to stress and freak out even though the logical side of me (and John) have long confirmed that this was a healthy, smart transformation and GOOD changes for me. John likes my body even more now -- and I find this to be the case with a lot of men when their women get a bit more curvy ;) At the end of the day I have embraced my changing body and have let the shopping be a fun process. No negativity allowed.

From a fertility perspective, my body has slowly become an even safer place for eventual baby-making. In fact, reading No Period Now What helped me understand that increasing my BMI was probably a good idea. The BMI I was at in recent years wasn't bad per se -- it was normal and thankfully allowed for normal menstruation and hormone functioning -- but it was still on the low end of normal. Considering my history of an ED and hypothalamic amenorrhea, plus how sensitive I still am to potential weight loss, hard exercise and/or energy deficits, the smartest thing I can do is have a little extra body fat and a super healthy high-normal BMI. It's not just about me, but also our future family.

Lastly, let me just say to all you girls out there: "Filling out" and/or gaining some weight is not automatically a bad shameful thing especially if you're doing the right things for your body. Let me tell you, it can be very empowering in fact! Fuck what society says we should be like, and just be true to you. Don't kill yourself (mentally, psychically) trying to fit in size 1, 3 or 5 if you're meant to be a size 8, 10 or 12! Meanwhile, don't buy into these women posting their near-naked selfies on social media of their overly lean and ripped bodies and how "happy" they claim to be or whatever "motivating" lines they spew out. That is not normal and does not equal health and happiness my friends! Sadly, I do understand how it goes, it's very easy for us women to get wrapped up in that world, obsess over body image, and strive for a sick level of fitness and diet that takes it too far. Trust me, run away and run away fast if you see yourself going down this path. I was there (as a model), and I got the fuck out as you'll learn below.

***

My Modeling Story & Why I Quit

There were many things back in the day that still caused my subtle/not-so-subtle ED behaviors and body-image issues to stick around for so long. I went to great, exhaustive extents to control my body size and shape even when I didn't consciously realize I was doing so (it had just become a reflex after so many years). A huge reason I was stuck on all this was wanting so badly to appear perfect to the rest of the world out there (of course, an underlying theme of insecurity there!). It didn't help that I became a relatively public person via sport, my work (coaching, podcast host) and FITNESS MODELING.

Modeling for me started innocently enough. It's not something I pursued; it found me. A friend recommended me to Zoot, I modeled for their Spring clothing line one year, and things just happened from there. Honestly, modeling was really fun for a while, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. I especially loved that I wasn't an authentic athlete who was fitness modeling. It was cool to be a real triathlete who had this opportunity to be in photoshoots that represented our sport, and it even boosted my business, podcast and reputation. In this sense, modeling would be alluring to nearly anyone, right? So, I have good memories, met some cool people, and so on. I also can see why I was great at it and why photographers always liked me -- I was still super skinny, authentically athletic, toned, and most of all a work-a-holic who was willing and eager do anything to get the perfect shot. Oh, and I was ok with getting paid next to nothing (or usually just getting paid in gear instead of dollars, not so great long-term).

But modeling turned out to be very very bad for someone like me at that time in my life, and not so innocent after all. I still had a lot of personal shit to work out and the timing wasn't ideal. I started obsessing over all the things that I had no business obsessing over anymore -- let's just sum it up as body image stuff -- while allowing ED behaviors to sneak in more regularly. Modeling brought back and reinforced those unhealthy patterns to maintain a certain body type -- since now people were actually looking and probably judging me and wanting me to stay a certain size! Being a model made me work even harder to hold onto a lean muscular frame (and not in a healthy way) to try and prove I was "worthy."

Sadly, all the while, I didn't feel perfect whatsoever. I was super critical, and nit-picked over how my body could be "better," leaner, more ripped, etc. I questioned if I was pretty and sexy, and if my form in sport-specific shots was good enough. I was quick to point out a million flaws, and quite frankly felt chubby and ugly in many of the pictures I saw of myself. I compared myself to the other girls and that would get me down on myself. Ironically, I actually felt fairly comfortable once I was in front of the camera, but for the remainder of the time my mind was on negative overdrive and lots of self-bashing with very little self-love.

Let me just say as an aside: The sport of triathlon itself was great for me in many ways -- I built a better relationship with food, more self-confidence, got physically stronger, and felt like I could unleash the inner tomboy that was innate in me and not have to be all girly. Triathlon helped me to not give a fuck on many levels and just be authentically me. And, yes, my relationship with triathlon wasn't perfect, there were flaws and many mistakes I made, but it certainly had more positive themes than modeling did. Modeling was causing me to regress instead of progress.

Not to mention, modeling was fatiguing work! It'd be full days -- often multiple days -- on location, on my feet, running around (or biking, or swimming, or lifting or all of the above), looking "perfect." All the while, I was under-eating on shoots because I usually wasn't cool with the food that was available to us, or just wanting to eat less for fear of getting all bloated or looking "too big."

I would come home and crash for a day or two after I did modeling gigs. Oh but wait, I was still training for triathlon, in grad school at a certain point, working my real job(s), and all that other life stuff. Gah. Plus I did not know how to say "NO" in my 20s so I just kept getting more opportunities and more work piling up.

I knew it was a lot and wearing me down quite a bit, but people were now identifying me as a fitness model, so I dare not give up on it, right? It secretly felt special to have this title of model and that I was the "perfect" package of athlete - model - coach - podcast host. I had to hold on to the lean fit body people saw and dare not let it slip away. And performance-wise, I wanted to get better and better to keep my reputation as a top-age grouper!

***

Some years went by, and modeling had become a regular thing in my life. I ended up signing with a sports modeling agency up in LA and almost went "big time," lol. But instead, it reached a boiling point that led to abruptly end of my modeling "career," by choice. At first, it was really exciting to feel like I was an official fitness model and that an agency in LA wanted me. But that excitement was short-lived and then I started realizing the reality of what I was doing, the nature of these people, and how this was not a good environment for me. Sitting in that LA agency off Sunset felt gross. All these girls trying SO hard to be perfect, and I was now one of them. And even though it was sports modeling, it was still all about makeup, unrealistically lean bodies, perfect skin, perfect done-up hair, perfect measurements, and just not feeling authentic. These girls, in my opinion, didn't accurately represent the amazing buff and hardcore bodies of real female athletes who come in all shapes and sizes complete with imperfections. Maybe some of these girls were athletes, I don't really know, but to me they just looked too skinny, too pretty, too cookie-cutter, and too ready for a beauty pageant. This was a wakeup call. I didn't want to be one of them, yet I was. Seeing them made me realize the bad patterns I had allowed in my own life. Most of all, seeing them made me realize it's just not realistic for all bodies to fit these standards, and I started realizing that deep down I was trying too hard to maintain a body type that wasn't realistic! But that's what it takes in this industry. And it does not help when you start having others (agents, etc.) scrutinizing your looks and body, picking out your flaws and whatnot, and/or putting you in a lineup and picking out the "best" girl(s) while discarding the rest. Ugh! It's a mindfuck and will wreck your body confidence if you can't take it (which I'll admit, I couldn't take it at the time -- I wasn't strong enough).

Plus, the agency people were about as douchey as you could imagine, and they clearly didn't really care about anyone but themselves, though they'd certainly never admit that. I never got a good read from any of them.

Despite all that, I figured I'd give it a chance (how dare I throw away this opportunity, right?) an it'd hopefully work out for the better. I went to a few casting calls, but wasn't getting gigs, and it was becoming more stressful, especially now commuting to LA regularly with no guarantee of getting the gig and essentially a lot of time and gas being wasted.

There is one story that sticks out in my head as one of those days that I'll never forget. It was a turning pint, and it highlighted that something had to change because I was becoming someone I didn't even recognize and someone I didn't want to be.

I got a last-minute entry to the San Diego Half-Marathon and since I was so into racing still, it didn't matter if it was planned out in my season or not -- the more I could race, the better (back then). And a half-marathon? To the old me, that was cake walk. I drove down and stayed with friends, planning to park in a "special spot" by the zoo in downtown SD the next morning. Randomly, I got an email Friday night saying I had a casting call up in LA tomorrow -- the same day as the HM. I was a little nervous about getting to the casting call on time but figured I could swing it. I'd just run fast, drive back to OC, then would have my parents drive me to the casting call so I could get ready during the drive up to LA. By the way, SD to LA is a bitch of a drive even on weekends. 

So Saturday morning comes and I drive to the planned parking place but suddenly realize if I parked there I'd be locked in, like all day, due to the marathon route and street closures. FUCK! I started panicking. I didn't know what to do! It was too late to find parking where I could bail right after the HM. So for whatever reason, I made the call to bail on the race and get out of there asap in order to not miss the casting call, and looking back I think that was because 1) I was getting sucked into the idea that I *could* make a lot of money if I got the modeling job, and 2) I was afraid of the agency and what would happen if I was a no-show. Lame.

I was getting ready to drive away and head north, but it was getting too late and street closures were starting to happen. It looked like I was about to get trapped or maybe I was already stuck?! I was now starting to have a full-blown anxiety attack in my car while trying to "escape" downtown San Diego. I was in the worst possible state of mind you can imagine and literally could not relax whatsoever. My blood was boiling, I was crying, screaming, and driving like a maniac trying to get out. Not good, and not safe for that matter! But I just didn't know how to relax and regain control back then, and I had no idea where this level of anxiety even came from so I certainly didn't know how to stop it. Fucking mess.

While I was in my car that day, I had an out-of-body moment where I was able to step outside myself, and take a look at this girl who was freaking out in her car. I couldn't believe who was I turning into. "Is this really me?" It wasn't pretty. It was scary. And it especially wasn't fun anymore. I thought I had it together -- I had overcome an ED by this point, I was a phenomenal athlete, and I was a model, etc., etc., but was I really doing ok? Hell no. I was just pushing myself too hard. And if I lost some level of control, like I did on this day, I would too easily lose it. That's not healthy! Something had to change.

So I am sure deep down I was also crying because how pathetic this all was. I was disappointed in myself, how I was reacting to this situation, and, ironically, how I felt trapped (I'm not talking about the street closures if you know what I mean). I knew this wasn't me. I'm not the person who gets crazy uncontrollable anxiety attacks, it's just not who I am! Who was this person?! Where was this coming from?? 

Somehow, I got it together, got out, and made it to the casting call that day, with the help of my parents who were sooo patient and helpful in the process. Guess what: I did not get the job and I hated every moment at that casting call. In fact, I hated that day. But I needed it to happen. That was the last casting call I ever attended. 

I was done with the stupid agency. And *almost* done with modeling completely -- I had one foot out the door.

***

That day, I hit a low point and it's not fun to share this story (it's embarrassing quite frankly!), but there was a silver lining, there always is. It led me to an epiphany: Fix my shit, quit this modeling business, and start taking care of me! I didn't do it all at once, but I got the ball rolling, and eventually I had it in me to phase out modeling for good and build more body positivity. In the process, I discovered self-love and how to relax, both of which had been non-existent. I had to start from scratch, and it is possible to do this and make changes no matter where you are in life.

These days, I never experience anxiety or panic attacks like that and am able to manage my stress much better. It made me understand that ANXIETY WILL TAKE OVER WHETHER YOU WANT IT TO OR NOT when you're too skinny, undernourished, overworked, frazzled and constantly in a fight-or-flight state, and it becomes nearly impossible to control that shit. But fix the underlying problems, and you fix your anxiety issues.

Of course, to this day, I haven't eliminated stress completely, but who has?! All I know is that I can keep my stress from spiraling out of control, I can relax and I am not so hard on myself.

People praise and reinforce these women who have unrealistically lean and muscular bodies, and I hate to say for a while that feels good to get that praise. But the sacrifices you have to make are just too extreme and not sustainable. We have to stop reinforcing the wrong message. And I even question "strong is the new skinny" because a lot of these "strong" bodies are a product of being undernourished, over-stressed, and too lean. Not to mention, being super skinny with low body fat and well-defined muscles is NOT the ticket to happiness and finding your best self. I've gone through it all, from losing a ton of weight to getting incredibly fit to now gaining a healthy amount of weight and becoming more average. I'll say first hand, the extremes and drive for perfection will take over and rule your life to a point where it's not fun and you're neither happy nor healthy, but you feel stuck because you're put yourself out there as this certain body type so you feel the need to hold onto it, and if you don't people will say you let yourself go. It's unfortunate, but find the courage to break away and do what's right for you. I never would have guessed that moderation and "average" would be the ticket to happiness and real confidence. But it is! These love handles and cellulite? They're not so bad, so I'll keep it this way, thank you.

Hey, and by the way, no matter what, NO REGRETS.



Monday, August 29, 2016

Womanly

So remember in my last post how I said I was in my follicular phase (first half of the menstrual cycle) when I did the MAF Test? Well, let's just say those were good times and I'm starting to really understand how much the luteal phase (second half of the cycle) can really suck. I've had normal menstruation for two years now (maybe more? gotta check), but I feel like I'm learning more and more every day--learning more about the female body in general and learning about how MY body fits into everything. In the process, I've let go of trying to hold myself at a certain weight and certain standards, and am just finding where my body naturally wants to be, i.e. my set point, regardless of what I think that should be or what the scale says. It's taken some getting used to--mentally and physically--to accept be more womanly but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm dialing it in and taking mental notes on all the signs and symptoms my body gives me--good, bad or in between.

Turns out having a normal cycle and all the hormones to go along is obviously an amazing beautiful thing, but it really makes Stacy Sim's mantra hold true: WOMEN ARE NOT SMALL MEN.

After two years of normal menses the issues that come with a regular cycle are nothing new to me, but here's the difference: My autoimmune condition this year led to some further realizations that I still was tending to push myself too hard, and sometimes I'd ignore what my body was saying to some degree in order to instead get in my workout, finish a work project, or whatever demanding and often stressful thing it was. Plus I do believe in those 2 years, it's taken time to get "more normal" meaning that my cycle lengths were a bit all over the place for a while (now they're generally averaging 28 days minus some outliers that were more likely due to travel this year), and I can imagine the initial cycles after years of hypothalamic amenorrhea were probably anovulatory and I still had some hormonal imbalances/low hormones; overall my periods were rather "light." Nowadays, they are about as real as real can get. I feel more womanly than ever, in fact. Ha. So after recovering from the autoimmune ordeal--all symptoms still gone!--I am being kinder than ever to my body these days and doing my best to keep mind and body in sync. No bullshit faking it, my health and wellness come first, and let fitness fall into place from there. As such, I have pretty stable energy and moods and I haven't had a "crash" day in a while aka when I fall apart after pushing myself over the edge (that's another story, but I used to often push myself with work+training+life until I crashed). Patience is really being practiced!

On that note, I actually have new data that matches how I feel, with my hormones all booming this year, even better than last year. In late July I did another DUTCH hormone/adrenal stress test, plus the BioHealth full-month salivary hormonal panel with daily BBT monitoring from January. Progesterone and estrogen doing their thing at the high end of normal, ovulation taking place, DHEA and T looking fine and normal. There was one red-flag, high cortisol (ack!), but I'll get to that in a later post because I have a lot to say on the matter. For now, what a feeling coming from someone who had none of this for a decade. Btw, a PSA: don't rely on blood tests for your sex hormones if measuring these are of importance to you. A lot is "wrong" with testing hormones via blood and you're essentially losing out on valuable info--probably a post I should write to delve into more detail. The DUTCH, on the other hand, is where it's at, and you can even get this test through my services now if you want, just email me!

These are my acutal DUTCH results; urine samples taken July 29-30, 2016. I take zero hormonal supplements;
my approach to healthy hormones is all-natural. Things are looking much better, 
now I just have to work on that cortisol issue, dang (!),
but I already have my theories as to why it's problem and am planning solutions.

So that said, I got in a couple really great weeks of consistent exercise ("training") starting just after Day 1 of my cycle (when I did the MAF test) and was feeling so on top of the world and proud. But not getting greedy and going above and beyond by adding more than what I feel is healthy volume right now. Meanwhile, still keeping all my recovery things a priority like sauna, walking, ocean soaks, and bikram yoga! I've also stuck to pretty much no alcohol since coming off "the party phase" and that's been going well, helping me really feel things out without alcohol interfering (even 1 glass a night has an impact over time, IMO). On average, I'm drinking no more than 1 night a week (sometimes zero times a week), and those few times I've drank it's been just 1-2 glasses of red wine. Meanwhile, diet is on point including appropriate carbs and certainly not too low carb at all!

So a couple good weeks.

Then.... ovulation.... and it was gradually downhill from there. Ha.

Actually, that third week I, way in advance, planned it to be a "recovery" week to be proactive and make a conscious effort not to get greedy with volume and pushing too much too fast. I could have done more that week, I felt ok still, but held back thinking I'd keep things as 2 weeks on, 1 week off. However I'm getting second thoughts.

Week 4 hit and instead of being fresh and fired up, I was still blah, in fact worse. Why? It happened to be my (very) high-hormone luteal phase right before my period. PMS is real. And PMS doesn't just stand for bitchy, there's so much more that PMS entails, and for me it's feeling sluggish and gross and over it. I still worked out but had to be kind given the circumstances.

So, that all said, I think I'll stick to a 3-week on, 1-week off schedule from here on, with my recovery "off" week being that 4th week going into my period i.e. the premenstrual phase in the later half of the luteal phase. I highly advise that women who have normal menstruation consider something similar and/or at the very least be kind to yourself and don't get too frustrated on that 4th week if things are looking and feeling crappy. If you have to race, that's one thing, we can often dig into our toolbox to overcome and still perform, but generally why fight nature during this time?! We're just simply not going to be able to tap into our peak performance levels.

Don't let your period shy you away from training, this is when you're likely at your peak performance potential!

But you know when we are at our peak? We women are actually our best on Day 1 when we start our period (menses), and that whole week or two of the follicular phase before ovulation (generally Days 1-14) is the time to get at it. Even though we are bleeding for several days, this is actually when we're most like dudes being that our sex hormones are lower and our performance potential is at its best. So if you are going to have your period when you race, consider it a GOOD thing! And if you have cramps upon and after you start, you're better off getting out there anyway to take advantage of this timeframe, and cramps usually can be mitigated with exercise too (I know this is the case for me--I feel so much better exercising than laying around when I get cramps those first couple days; and I also don't take any drugs/pain-relief meds for cramping so I can say that exercise is a great all-natural pain relief). I alluded to all this in my honeymoon backpacking post and podcast edition--where I felt shitty before I started and like a new woman who could build an empire after I started.

~~~

All this got me to thinking to old times, i.e. me in 2003-'13 when I was mostly depleted of hormones for those 10 years and hadn't put in the real effort yet to truly regain my health. Back then, in that state, I was A WOMAN WHO WAS LIKE A SMALL MAN. Back then I didn't deal with any sex hormone fluctuations or menstrual cycle issues. My sex hormones--progesterone, estrogens, LH, FSH, DHEA, prolactin, etc--were bottomed out and I didn't deal with any womanly issues outside of being more emotional than most men, ha.

On one hand, I hate to even say this, that made training and racing easier. I never had to worry about hormones or my cycle getting in the way of performance or what was on tap on the triathlon schedule. I didn't even have curvy hips or boobs to deal with, and I can even recall joking that my body was like a 12-year-old boy's. It's true, though, I was probably much like a dude on the inside. Argue that this was great for endurance sport performance (for a while, it was), but was it a great way to live and good for me? Hell no. Way too many negative side effects and risks, and as the story goes, all that caught up eventually to where I was not well off even in my performances. Women can't live in a state of stress like that and expect to thrive, and even if it doesn't catch up to you now in the moment it can and very likely will in your future--whether that's infertility, osteoporosis or some other condition. So don't try this at home, gals. And if you're in a position where you currently feel "less than womanly" so to speak, it's in your best interest to action to put an end to it. I hate even writing that the state of my body made training/racing "easier" because it was just so unhealthy and I would never recommend this strategy to any woman. We can still operate just fine and achieve our peak performances with a healthy cycle, healthy hormones and a bit o' curve on the body. Go read Roar by Stacy Sims for some how-to inspiration.

Granted, at that top level I know many female athletes are making health sacrifices for the sake of elite performance. They are looking lean and mean and many are without a cycle, but that's choice and hopefully they only let it be temporary. Chrissie Wellington comes to mind as a good example; she turned it around and now has a healthy baby. She still looks pretty dang fit too--it's not like you have to let yourself go lol ;)

Speaking of weight, hips, curves and boobs. Starting in 2015, I actually started to "fill in" getting a bit more hippy and whatnot. At first it scared me and trigged some old ED thoughts, I could feel part of me wanting to put a stop to it, and for a while in 2015 I reached a lower weight again for a few months and--wouldn't ya know--I had period issues. (So sensitive!) But then I said "F that" and I embraced my body, embraced the changes and embraced healthy womanhood. I think for so long I expected and needed to be at a certain weight (just an arbitrary number I came up with), but in fact that weight was probably not the healthiest for me nor my natural weight, and I was lacking basic energy availability* to thus operate like a healthy woman. So fuck the weight on the scale. How about just letting your body find it's set point, and getting comfortable with whatever that weight ends up being? It took me a while to gain acceptance of my "new weight" but I think I'm there. In fact, I love how I've filled in. The other night I had a rare moment looking in the mirror where I was 100% happy and in love with what I saw--the added curves, extra muscle, and event the extra bit of body fat. All of it.

I'm not sure what my body fat percentage is, but I'm certain it's increased by at least 5% or more (it was still low at 15.7% in 2014, the last time I measured). Body fat below 17% is just red-flag territory, and 14% or below is straight-up dangerous, and while these ranges may (to some) look "hot" in pictures and on social media, and/or portray the message that you're fitter, work harder, and more of a badass than your "softer" counterparts, I think that's just bullshit and a dumb way to assess things. I hate that social media has made it practically a contest on who can be the leanest and have the most muscles and veins popping out. In fact, tangent, but this is one reason I stopped fitness modeling--it was not healthy for me, and I was quite frankly disgusted with things I started seeing the more deep I got into it--that world has issues that I didn't need in my life. I think there can be healthy fitness models, so I am not entirely bashing it, but anyway....

Back to sport and leanness: I know power-to-weight ratio is a real thing and that the leaner endurance athletes generally perform better, but this reaches a point of diminishing returns (especially for your health and often your performance). Not to mention I think if you're at your natural healthy weight (i.e. find your set point regardless of what you want it to be or what the scale says) you can still do some major damage in racing--you'll have the extra lean body mass to carry you there, and the right amount of body fat--not too much not too little--to be healthy, high-performing and still looking ripped. To be honest I think I look much better than my very skinny self did. And I just feel much better this way too, even mentally I feel stronger and more empowered; meanwhile, the skinnier me was always weaker (mentally speaking) and lacking confidence.

~~~

Anyway, this last month has been very eye-opening and exciting. It's nice to by in better sync with the body. I still have a longs way to go! But at least I'm not getting pissed off or frustrated with myself, nor trying to "punish" myself with harder workouts and restrictive behaviors.

Meanwhile, lately I've been spending so much of my free time immersed in the research again, digging into the science on females, and female athletes in particular. Even though I've figured out a lot for myself, I want to keep learning, and I realize I can't guide others just based on my n=1 life experience. So the more knowledge I can attain, from reliable sources aka science not just random person on internet, the more of an expert I'll become to help this population of ladies who needs guidance! Last year I felt like it was all about researching eating disorders, and this year it's all about female health and hormones, the menstrual cycle, issues with female athletes, nutrition and dietary needs, and especially menstrual dysregulation in female athletes plus scientifically proven ways to recover the menses. I'm finding out the answers for myself instead of trusting anyone else at this point. And I can't get enough of all the good info I'm uncovering.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Starting From Scratch

This was a good experience. I not only wanted to test a bit of the physical but also the mental today, i.e. the new me.

On the agenda was a MAF Test! I'm not starting to train for anything in particular at all, but I've been wanting to get back to a running/workout routine and with my data-oriented n=1 brain, I feel it's only appropriate to measure my current baseline and then see what I can do with it. This is also something I want to keep very public so people can follow along with me. I've had a couple weeks back at some running, and by this I mean ~3 runs a week of ~3-4 miles with walking to control effort. Last weekend was a "big day" of 7 slow miles. Crosstraining too (bikram yoga, SUP, surf, walking).

I was actually really excited to get the baseline data with where I'm at. When I started true MAF training last time I already had a pretty good fitness base right out of the gates so I had decent MAF results right away (mile pace in the high 7's / low 8's). But now? My endurance conditioning is complete crap, I'm really not exaggerating. I don't remember the last time I felt this out of sport-specific shape. BUT I don't mind whatsoever, in fact that's what makes this so fun. The past is the past. This is now. I'm starting from scratch and get to see how I progress following the MAF Method the way it's supposed to be done. I'm starting from scratch like so many people who take on MAF for the first time and are humbled by what they see. Well, I guess in my case I knew my numbers were going to be a far cry from the old me, and I was fully prepared, excited and ready to face reality....

John was out of town so that made it really easy to have an incredibly mellow and healthy Friday night with the test planned for Saturday morning. Was in bed and asleep by 9:30 p.m. Whenever I feel this awesome I tend to wake up early and am ready to charge, so I was up by 5 a.m. Hung out for a while, did a little work, had ~4 oz cold brew and a Primal Kitchens Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; didn't feel the need/desire to eat any more than that, nor did I want to run fasted. I'm in the first part of my cycle (follicular phase), which is when I tend to feel my best so at least that was working in my favor (if it had been pre-menstruation, no way, I'm junk).

Got the the track and started my warmup at 7:15 a.m. From there, here's what went down:

Test Date08-06-16
19:50
29:58
39:59
49:53
510:01
Average Pace9:57
Average HR150 (each mile)
Peak HR156
Test Time49:46
Test miles5
Warmup Laps2
WU Time21:38
Average Pace10:47
Average HR137


Actually, better than I expected! Remember: This is the present, not the past.

It was overcast and cooler than it's been lately, but still really humid so I was sweating like a boss by about halfway in. I drank a total of 16 oz water, most of it post-test (wasn't thirsty during and didn't have any during). I weighed pre and post (for test purposes!) and only lost 1 pound, so not even a full 1% loss of body mass. Speaking of weight, I am a teeny bit heavier right now than my past weights and I don't care because I'm very healthy and happy, but I'm sure the little extra weight factors in. I am not looking to lose weight at all for the record.

Interestingly this is about 20 seconds slower than my Boston pace this year, so I guess my fitness is still about the same from then despite having done nothing lately? As Maffetone says, your marathon pace ideally is about 10-20 seconds faster than MAF pace (15 seconds faster on average). So this lines up. With the health things I've overcome & beat this year, shutting down training even before Boston took place, then of course recently "letting loose" and partying, I guess I'm impressed? Who knows, I'm not reading into it. I was thinking this test was going to be easily 10:30-11:00+ miles AND painful due to lack of miles in my legs, neither of which were the case. So that's a win in my book. That's also why I love MAF, even with low mileage coming into this, running 7 miles didn't feel overly aggressive and was super gentle and comfortable.

On that 4th mile being faster: I think it was because I was playing around with technique--I adopted more of a forward lean and it was clicking. By mile 5 though, I think the lack of overall fitness especially muscular strength/endurance was starting to set in, and my body was starting to say, "we're wrapping up for the day." Ha.

The peak HR was high, but anytime it crept to 153-156 I'd catch it right away and appropriately walk/jog until it was 147-150 again--wouldn't take long, just seconds, for it to drop. Overall, it was very easy to control HR at 150 and a higher HR was never sustained; each split was a 150 average. And yes I am 31, but 150 is a nicer number than 149 to follow ;)

The best was afterwards when the track coach stopped me to ask a million questions on what the heck I was doing. He could tell I was in the zone, but really, who runs 7 "slow" miles on the track at a steady rate? (Meanwhile the weekend crew doing crazy sprints and all the tracky workouts.) So I explained, and I think he was impressed. Hehe.

The only issue--next time I need to plan a better playlist going into it instead of jacking around with my phone to find good tunes ;)

Fun times!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

On Indulgences, Overcoming, Food Philosophy and When Sugar May Be Your Friend

You may get the idea that I live like a totally anal health freak, but let me be real: I'm not nor do I want to be a perfect angel all the time. Yes, I love the feeling of hard work and making my body feel as close to optimal as possible--in health and fitness--and it will always be a top priority to keep the body in a good state of well-being, but there comes the time to let your hair down and just let loose. As a Type A perfectionist who formerly battled and eating disorder (ED) and had the female athlete triad, these days I don't obsess over being perfect, eating perfectly nor living perfectly all the time. I'm no stranger to self-discipline, I can suck it up when I want. These days I can channel self-discipline with a healthy mindset that's fully free of underlying ED/body image issues (just look at the strict autoimmune healing/AIP protocol I had myself on earlier this year--it was all about health even in the face of temporary restrictions). There's a time and place to buckle down and a time and a place to relaxxxx. I'm a firm believer we don't need to live by stringent rules 365 days a year unless the condition is so severe that there is no wiggle room--I'm grateful nothing in my life is that bad and I don't take that for granted one bit! If you're year-round living with too much discipline and restriction that's a recipe for disaster... I know because I've been there. I've broken free. And in this blog I'm not afraid to share the indulgences I've had as of late to prove that I'm keeping it real, and coming out ok, including an update I added almost a month after this initial post.

Rum drink with pineapple juice on our wedding day. Guilt-free. No worries. All smiles.
Homemade wedding cake in the making.
Let me back up a bit. Recently I had a bit of a debate, if you will, with Dr. Phil Maffetone on Endurance Planet (near the end of this episode) that led me to think more deeply about the topic at hand. On that show I disagreed with The Man, The Godfather of heart rate training, and The One who's made it his life mission to foster healthy athletes. Gah! Ballsy. I disagreed with him on how far you can go with the occasional indulgence; he basically says "never" and I say "when the occasion calls, why not? Enjoy." Don't get me wrong, I worship Phil and EVERYTHING he's done, he does, he says and preaches; I take all his wisdom to heart and I use and reference his work all the time and always will. But we haven't very different life experiences; maybe that's what makes us such a good match on the podcast because generally our philosophies align but we have our own unique spin on things. By this I mean, Phil is a man who's never suffered from an ED or eating issue (Ok, maybe he's a bit orthorexic but he doesn't stress over it and is at peace with his ways). Meanwhile I'm a 31-year-old woman who's had a very different past. My late teens and the bulk of my 20s were plagued with some form of an eating disorder and/or disordered eating along with body image issues that began even before I did my first triathlon. Phil may understand, but I'm not sure he can relate. That's ok! Thus, it only seems natural that we don't agree on every single thing right?! I think that's fair enough.

It makes me want to be the voice for women (or men) who are in my boat too--plenty of us--and who want to strive for healthy, but not let it become an unhealthy obsession.

So for me, where I'm at, I think there is value to indulging on occasion, even if "on paper" what I'm indulging in is unhealthy. I will risk having a little too much sugar, cocktail or wine, getting "gluten-ized" or even having something really bad like deep-fried food or a ridiculously unhealthy but tasty dessert. I'm not orthorexic about it. I'm discovering the art of moderation. We all know by now that I would never make these things the norm, would never cook at home this way, and I can never see myself going off the deep-end letting a one-time unhealthy indulgence open the door for unhealthy habits take over. No way Jose, it feels WAY too good to eat well and live well... try it sometime, it's nice ;)

Plus: my definition of "on occasion" does not mean every weekend, nor even a dedicated cheat day per week (that is BS if you ask me, sorry Tim Ferriss)... on occasion means "rarely" in my book. I also believe that you have to earn the ability to indulge--if your health is still lacking, if you're recovering from something, or if you're trying to break bad habits and develop new healthier habits, it may not be the time to give into indulgences just yet.

That said, I fall in the Dr. Grace Liu camp on my philosophy here: I believe we should build good-enough health and a robust gut so we CAN handle any food, gluten or whatever, without a disaster. These foods don't need to become staples, but imagine a life where you have no food sensitivities, and you generally eat healthy but you equally aren't worried about what a food may or may not do to your gut in a given situation. Mmmm, I like that world. I've been ready to see if I'm there. Thankfully the stars aligned to figure it out....

~~~

So that's why I want to share a "dirty little secret" of what went down in the Caribbean this June, i.e. the week we spent on St. John USVI for our wedding. Actually, technically, the fun started the weekend before our wedding at my bridal shower, but that's between my girls and I..... I went into the St. John trip in such a good place mentally and physically--relaxed, happy with my body doing so well (AI symptoms gone), and feeling an overall sense of peace, contentment and accomplishment. Putting aside the excitement toward marriage for a sec (I'm so mushy-gushy lately, I know!), on a personal level I've been feeling so good about all the progress I've had in recent times--last year finally putting an end to any residual ED demons, this year overcoming autoimmunity, and overall having a better relationship with my body and exercise. Heck, even the hard work to regain thriving hormonal health and fertility. I was ready to celebrate and play!

Granted, I've worked my booty off to get where I'm at health-wise, so I didn't go into the trip purposely trying to fuck things up and fish for a setback. But I also was willing to see what would happen if I just lived and acted with not one fear or worry about food or whatever. On the same token, I wasn't going to let any of the wedding details stress me out, and oh boy there were opportunities to get stressed out, like when the flowers were late (they literally came the day of the wedding), the hair and makeup girl bailed, traffic jams when we had last-minute prep to do, and such. But those instances didn't bother me a bit. Even when there was no organic food at the St. John grocery store... No sweat. Zero stress. I mean it. Our family liked this Tawnee. I liked her too ;)

And if shit did hit the fan in form of an autoimmune flare up or gut setback or whatever? I'd learn my lesson moving forward. I was willing to chance it.

The only "rule" I set was to be a bit more conservative before the wedding, not drink too much and whatnot, because I wanted to feel and be 100 percent on my wedding day! Understood. But even that said, at our rehearsal dinner--two nights before the big day--I ended having rum drinks at dinner, and also dug into the key lime pie and bread pudding that was served. So much for being conservative. No problem though, no repercussions. The day before the wedding I laid off the booze and bad food and went zip-lining instead--typical bride behavior right?! ;)

Then after the wedding, or I should say right after the ceremony (lol), it was like, "Bring it on.... Let's partyyyyyy."

And we did. Starting with a champagne toast on Trunk Bay where we wed.

Cheers!

What ensued was epic. I really haven't let loose like that since college, and even back then at SDSU I was still haunted with my ED, but I'm confident that chapter has ended for good. So the St. John experience was one of a kind in my book.

Have your cake and EAT it too.
#feedme
From Saturday post-wedding to Wednesday when we left, we ate a stupid amount of wedding cake (there was tons--three big tiers and only 13 people). Now, there was some debate on our cake: On one hand, YES, it was homemade with "healthier" clean ingredients and actually we used this Paleo cake mix as the base, but did that make it a health food? Not in my opinion! Betty quality, sure, but not healthy. At the end of the day it was a mix of SUGAR, eggs, flour(s), oil, and our own sinfully good butter cream that we made with pure powdered SUGAR, butter and vanilla. Those ingredients, my friends, equate to CAKE no matter how you slice it! I dare you to go make a batch with this mix and tell me it's not delicious. Why? Sugar! (And also all the fatty goodness from eggs and coconut oil that keep it oh-so moist.) In my book, it's not a health food if the sugar content makes a up a vast majority of calories. Sugar is sugar even in "paleo cakes," and that by definition is an indulgence--to be enjoyed on occasion. Plus I enjoyed our DIY wedding vibes, and I truly wanted to make the wedding cake--with decent ingredients--and have it be a hit, not just hire someone else to make a boring cake with crappy "enriched white flour." #success

Wedding reception view and sunset. 

Meanwhile, we invested our pennies (or should I say, Benjamins, plenty of them) into hiring an incredible private chef for the reception who served us a meal we'll never forget including an assortment of other decadent desserts to accompany the cake, so there you go. Apps, divine food, cake, desserts, fruity rum drinks.... that was my wedding night, folks!

Home of the best painkiller on St. John.
Among the other indulgences that week, oh gosh. How about the "painkillers," no, not a pill like you're thinking, but rather a sinfully delicious cocktail consisting of coconut cream, pineapple juice, rum, and nutmeg. Hey that's "healthy" with the coconut cream aka good fats, right? Pssshhhh. Again: SUGAR! In this case sugar + booze. Bad news for the body, but man, they were tasty and probably enough calories to make each drink a full meal. Ha. We loved 'em.

What else? I had a mini love affair with coconut rum and conch fritters not necessarily together (and the fritters, yes, these were the real deep-fried version). I had too much coffee and certainly ate my share of carbs at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, there was enough good healthy food to keep it in somewhat decent balance: Tons of fresh-caught fish and seafood (ceviche!), veggies, salads, yuca mash and so on at restaurants--did I mention, CEVICHE (WITH CHIPS)!!!--and healthy breakfasts that we made at home every morning. I also brought a stash of healthy snacks like my beloved Primal Kitchen Dark Chocolate Almond bars, Epic bars, Dang coconut chips (sugar free), and whatnot.... oh and plenty of activated charcoal capsules and milk thistle to try and offset the damage. Ha. Nice try right?

Plenty of good eats.... but keep scrolling....

Not yet, although this fresh lobster was bomb...
There it is... Conch fritters from the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands, FTW!
As they say, sorry not sorry.

I actually don't feel like I was being a total glutton, the way I picture lazy inactive people on cruises who do nothing but eat and drink all day. Au contraire. We were active non-stop the whole trip, not exercising but DOING stuff, so when we sat down to eat (or drink) I was hungry, ready for food, and as such never the whole trip did I feel like I gorged myself to a state of discomfort. That's why vacations are the best: From the moment we woke up to the moment we went to sleep we were doing something, often on our feet exploring, then refueling the machine when it was time. As such, my weight stayed steady and my gut not overly stressed. Weight fluctuations according to the scale? No idea. And no shits given. All that matters was that my tummy felt fine and my dress fit nicely ;)

A week of this, and shockingly my body didn't blow up on me. There was no hint of a setback--gut issue or AI flare. Digestion and "morning business" were fine; in the past usually these would be my red flags if things were bad inside. Yea, I got hungover--although not as bad as if I drink fermented alcohols like wine and beer--and by the end could feel the general effects piling up. A lifestyle rich in sugar and cocktails will make you feel shitty and run down pretty quickly. But oddly in my case I was still feeling refreshed, and not guilty. Like, "Yea, I'm hungover, but it's worth it. My mind (and body) needed a bit of indulgence and island time, especially coming off the tough times and self-imposed discipline of earlier this year."

~~~

When we came home I thought I'd be ready to hang up my party shoes, but apparently I wasn't quite ready yet. There were a couple weekends post-wedding in which we continued the celebration with friends, and I continued to indulge in some bad behaviors.

I'm not ignorant to the fact that this behavior would eventually catch up to me, even if I was feeling OK in the moment still. My AI healing earlier this year cleared up my detox pathways, repaired my gut, boosted my methylation, and recharged areas that were depleted so I've been way more resilient since--hence the successful indulgences--but that can definitely all get depleted and messed up again. I get it. I didn't lose control of my ongoing well-being.

Finally, though, I hit my party threshold, and as soon as we hit the HST for our backpacking honeymoon a few weeks after the wedding I was ready to put the crazy nights behind me and get back to my clean, healthy, good-living ways. Out there on the trail was when we said goodbye to the booze and started going to bed before it was dark. From one extreme to the other. Or maybe it's just a good example of balance. Go play on an island; go "bathe" in the forest; then go home and live that healthy lifestyle. Repeat as necessary for your overall happiness. It goes beyond that for me too: I've discovered a new me, someone who's not terrified to eat a little gluten, let go of regular exercise, or live off non-perishable dehydrated meals for nearly a week. It's all ok on occasion! (And man when I got home I was like, "I want ALL the organic vegetables, greens, avocados and fresh protein I can get!!!!!" Makes you appreciate Whole Foods and healthy cooking.)

Looking back, I'm so damn grateful that I was in a position to indulge, let loose and be a bit rebellious for our wedding week, I'd rather just go for it than feel like I'm living in a box. Who knows, maybe I did do a little damage to my health by "going for it," honestly I don't know, it doesn't feel like I did, but I'll soon find out on upcoming health tests that I'm doing (hormones, gut/stool, blood, etc). And I'll be sure to share. I find that fascinating that to this day all the AI shit that plagued me in January-March is non-existent still. It seems almost too good to be true. I think the main thing to point out is that in all the crazy behavior and happenings, never once did I feel stressed. I was cool and keen. That speaks volumes. Had I been freaking out inside over what I was doing, and worrying like the old me would have, the outcome may very well have been different.

I've also been wondering lately: Had I been "pushing it" in the form of exercise/training stress instead of partying in the Caribbean, would I have gotten a setback from that? Hmmm.

UPDATE (8/22/16):

After about four weeks of normalcy, i.e. seamlessly back to my routine of healthy eating, healthy living and quality exercising, my body was firing on all cylinders again and in such a good rhythm. Not that I feel nor function perfectly 24/7, I have my days even when I'm "doing it right," but I can tell the healthy habits directly allow for a consistently more quality me, inside and out, which is not earth-shattering news.

We did have one little *casual* post-wedding celebration back at home with friends and family just recently and I did partake in the goodies again, i.e. cakes and desserts. This time all desserts were catered and not homemade gluten-free paleo mixes, haha. All good. While the sugar overload and late night made me feel like crap the next morning, it wasn't that bad being that this is not something I do daily so I could handle the stress of it and "recover" quickly. And quite frankly, to further drill in the theme of this post, I'd rather enjoy an incredibly memorable evening surrounded by loved ones, slice off some cake with my honey for all to witness, and just live a little rather than shy away into a life of isolation allowing fears, worries and what if's to dominate. I've fallen victim to that isolated life back in the day; my incessant worries lead me to obsessively control every little variable and every little morsel that went into my body, and it quite frankly that is a miserable way to live. I lost touch with my friends and avoided social connections, or if I did partake in an outing I was awkward and stressed out internally due to the underlying fears I'd feel about anything that did not align with my idea of "safe" food/drink/situations. I'd even be afraid long before a social outing out began, for like days heading into it fearing what I'd face out there! I thank the universe every day for having successfully broken from that way of living.

If you head to my Insta account, you'll see a little video I posted with John and I doing the cake-cutting ceremony at this little party we hosted, you can see with your own eyes that there was pure happiness, gratitude and no worries over ingredients in that moment.

The point is: HEALTH IS MORE THAN A PERFECT DIET.

~~~

Take-Aways

Tying this back with the Phil thing. I can totally get why he has no desire to act, behave and indulge like I've just described above. He's found his groove, he sticks to it, he's happy and 100 percent content. His mindstate is something to be admired, folks. He'll enjoy a glass of wine, but he doesn't need to go above and beyond, and that's ok for him. He'll bring an abundance of healthy foods when he travels. It works for him. No baggage (except lugging around the extra food lol). I know some other dudes who are like this too. All good, and I respect it and admire it. I like having my own healthy food back-ups when I travel too...

Phil and I have a lot of similarities, why we're so close, but I come from a difference place mentally and a different life experience. For me, and with my history: I need the balance, I need to be able to stray from "perfect eating and living" every now and then, and just go with the flow. I don't plan to go to extremes like I did in the Caribbean regularly, but if we go out and I have a little gluten or too many calories and skip my workout the next day it's not the end of the world. I know a lot of other women who need this too but are too afraid to try. I want to change that because I think the fear is doing us more harm than good.

Sooo, a lot...

First, if you have a health condition that requires a special diet or special treatment or you're trying to break from sugar addition or repair the body from carb intolerance and metabolic problems, this may not apply to you...

But for all those who are unhealthfully obsessed with your food intake, body image and exercise/training (and/or those actually suffering from or healing from an ED, female athlete triad, etc), finding a way to let go of some of the incessant need to control and seek better balance and inner peace should be the priority. The stress is doing you no good. If that means indulging to get there, so be it. When you're able to live and eat stress free and worry free it is a beautiful thing. 

I'm not condoning a high-sugar diet, but I think lately we've overly vilified sugar and carbs as the root of all evil. They can be in some cases for some bodies, but we can't generalize it like that. I think there is a time and place to have our carbs (and sugar!), whether refueling from exercise or an occasional treat. Insulin even has a positive purpose in the body. Just don't let it spiral out of control into an addiction, which we know is very real as it relates to sugar/carbs.

Or if it's FAT you still fear it's time to come to terms with it and make changes. I still see women and men--some of whom have disordered eating or EDs--who are sugar/carb addicted and fear dietary fat, opting for low-fat, no-fat or diet foods that are lower in calories and laced with sugar, anti-nutrients or artificial sweeteners. Fat should be the foundation of our diets. Take it from one former fat-phob: it's not scary to embrace healthy fats especially when you reap the benefits. 
I don't normally eat Shepherd's Pie, but when I do
I make sure it's dehydrated from a bag (just add
hot water!), has random bacon bites, and ingredients I
normally wouldn't condone. #traillife #secondsplease

We need to end this fear over one macronutrient or the other; when we literally banish carbs or fat or whatever you think is "poison" it often leads to problems. It's just not necessary for most of us. (Now there are exceptions--I think ketosis can serve as an incredibly effective treatment for cancer or diabetes, etc.) 

Or, maybe it's just more calories in general you need. Too many athletes are running around in a chronically depleted and under-fueled state, their poor bodies stressed from the shock tons of exercise and subsequent lack of nourishment. Performance only sticks around for so long, and health is on a downward spiral--thyroid, adrenals, hormones, etc. Fuel the machine, and it will repay you with better performance and health.

For the girl suffering from amenorrhea, those extra calories even in the form of sugar, carbs and/or fat will do you well. Trust me here, I wouldn't lead you down an unhealthy path.


So if you are in a place where you know it's been too long since you've indulged, you're overly controlling every detail of intake and expenditure, and/or you know in your heart of hearts you need a more relaxed approach, just let it happen. It doesn't mean you'll develop diabetes, metabolic issues or grow love-handles over night. Nor will you lose all your fitness and muscles. In fact, I argue that this relaxed behavior and approach to life can IMPROVE health and fitness if you're currently a chronically stressed out person (like I was) or chronically restricting something.

Find your balance, then come full circle with a healthy routine and intuitive approach. Everyone's formula will be slightly different. But we can all learn our unique lessons from our actions.... if you regained a component of health that was missing by doing these "naughty" things then that speaks volumes--you needed it!

Meanwhile, did I have any other repercussions? Hm, perhaps I impaired my fat-burning with all the carbs and sugar I had, but BUT because my body is so familiar with being a fat burner (in a healthy way, not a too-low-carb way) and because my diet at home is pretty darn clean, it didn't take long before I was feeling back to myself. I don't need to be a fat-burner to a keto level, just enough to feel healthy and in charge of my metabolism--not let it control me i.e. sugar cravings and energy crashes. Also, I still had a lot of dietary fat in the Caribbean so that's good at offsetting the carb-bombs, and meanwhile I was not over-eating--which I think is one of the worst things we can do for our health, that is, chronically overeat.

~~~

Lastly, exercise. I've been enjoying some downtime. It's been ~ 5 months since I "let go" of training and almost 4 months since the Boston Marathon. In that time I've done ZERO structured training outside of several weeks of maintenance runs in spring to ensure I would be ok to run 26.2 in Boston and not implode. I've exercised since, I still move frequently, and of course we did the HST trail, but structured training in a way that requires mental engagement and planning? None of that. At all.

So after 5 months, that included some reallyyyy good times and truly letting go and losing fitness (oh, it's ugly folks) I have the itch again. It just hit me recently, and it isn't something I'm forcing. I feel like doing something "real" again with my body and fitness, having a routine and setting some new goals. I have ideas.... I like my ideas.... I just got a new Garmin. More to come.... and don't worry I won't do anything stupid ;)

Go ahead, find your balance. Find peace. Find happiness. Let your hair down. Enjoy life.