Saturday, December 26, 2015

Does Being 'Too Healthy' Cause Health Problems?

This year I've hit some awesome highs with health and wellness, feeling what it's like to operate close to (or perhaps at?) optimal, and it rocks.

But not so quick.

Can't get cocky about it. 

Recently I had some hiccups in the progress, and a lot of time for more self-introspection, which also made me think more deeply about what I'll talk about in this post.


First, the latest with me.

I'm still on this rollercoaster solving gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and building a healthy gut that was pretty wrecked. This is something I've mentioned but not written about in as much detail yet. In brief: I've diagnosed and successfully killed off (some) candida, an H. Pylori infection, etc, and generally I am not walking around like a bloated gassy balloon wretched in lower abdominal pain on the daily. It's not all done though. We are working on the rest including testing more specifically for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and more investigation regarding the candida, which is a fungal infection, and whether its worked its way deeper into my tissues--we think this based on some symptoms. Furthermore we'll be entering the rebuilding phase to create a strong, robust GI tract. Meanwhile, additional diet tweaks and the right kind of eating for my situation have been integral to relief and recovery. However, ironically, often certain diet tweaks aren't optimal for hormonal health (for example, intermittent fasting = good for the GI tract, bad for hormonal status). It's quite the paradox.

Speaking of hormones. Starting in 2014, during my quest to regain health, I earned back a regular period and stellar hormonal status that I maintained even through marathon training, a BQ, and after. I regained this all naturally with damn hard work, a lot of love and TLC and holistic-style supplementation--coming off years of depletion, amenorrhea and poor interventions such as ongoing bouts with birth control before wising up and using the functional model.

But after so much progress my period packed up and left after this August. I know why. Looking back there was a shift. Not just the GI issues and diet, although, that was related. I allowed more stress back in my life, increased the training, and overall was not managing myself as well--getting too cocky that I was bulletproof--and slipping back to old ways like operating too much in a sympathetic state (aka flight or fight mode).

Had a "self-intervention," chilled out, (oh and got the flu = forced recovery) and, guess what, this December my period came back. All it took was some rest, recovery, and diet-wise increasing variety of carbs and even more nourishing fats. Carbs: things like white rice, long-fermented sourdough, and GF oatmeal. Fats: daily bone broth, and more of everything else.

But let me stop right there, save the back report for another post, and instead get to the point of this one:


Why does someone who's so healthy have health problems?  

Of the many health experts and professionals out there, especially those in the functional health space, you'll see that a vast number of them became experts after and/or while having their own health problems and solving them (or perhaps still working on them). These folks probably had an natural attraction to health to begin with, and their problems were either 1) their own fault, 2) out of their control, or 3) both. In the process of learning, educating themselves, playing detective, fixing issues (instead of treating symptoms), and getting real results, these folks realized what it's like to actually feel great.

Many of us run around thinking we feel great, but in reality we're operating sub-optimally--our definition of "great" is very skewed. We could be better. The health experts realized this in their own journeys and have dedicated their life to helping others feel great.

Tim Noakes for example. Mark Sisson. Or functional health practitioner Brie Wieselman, with whom I recently started collaborating--she too struggled with health which you can read about here. Or Dr. Michael Ruscio (my new man crush) who contracted an amoeba--as did Chris Kresser--both these guys fixed themselves with the functional approach. And there's Chris Kelly, Jimmy Moore, the list goes on. Sometimes the professional is already a well-respected expert but is still on the path to healing and solving his/her own issues such as Stephanie Ruper of the Paleo Women podcast who says she was amenorrheic for four years while writing her book, "Sexy By Nature." Stephanie had already established herself as a leading lady for women's health in the Paleosphere, giving women's health advice on her website, etc. She fixed herself using probably a lot of the same tools she learned and recommends to others. Does it matter that she was still partially broken while working as an expert on this stuff? Not in the least, probably made her a better expert i'd argue.

Bottom line, all these folks operate in the health space after having crashed themselves for whatever reason and so they really understand healing from the bottom up. Most importantly they know that healthy living--the way some would consider extreme--is key to feeling great and avoiding setbacks. If you know what it's like to have a disorder-ridden, dysfunctioning, shitty-feeling body and mind, you don't want a setback...

I am no different than this.

I was operating sub-optimally for years--actually doing quite well in that state, all things considered. Why was I sub-optimal? Certainly a lot of it was my own fault. From an eating disorder, to triathlon madness, to generally just carrying a lot of stress, I'm sure I created a good chunk of my health issues. I recognized it. I owned it. If you've been following me and this blog for a period of time you know that my dedication to health now is to overcome the "damage" done in my teens and 20s. I also won't rule out potential genetic components as well. Nature, nurture; it is what it is. I can't wake up with a clean slate and start over. That's ok! I accept that my hormones are sensitive and it's on me to promote an environment in which I can thrive--not only me but for my future family.

Speaking to what it's like to go from sub-optimal to optimal: my GI disorders for example. For nearly 10 years I was running around with these gut issues not understanding fully that they were severe problems and could be fixed! I can't even tell you how many times I've been plagued with embarrassing, painful gas; bloating to the point where I seriously wondered if I might be pregnant; and poop issues. Not to mention how the gut issues affected my mind. They often made me feel fat--when I wasn't at all--and irritable to the point of straight up bitchiness. I just thought all this was normal. Boy, was I wrong. You get some relief and you're, like "Holy shit! This is awesome! I want to feel like this always." And while it may seem like I'm still having all these problems, the reality is that it's just a long road to recovery given the long history, complete with hiccups and setbacks along the way. But the healthier and more in-tune I have become, the more I understand, the better I get, and the greater I feel. Why would I want anything else?

And don't get me wrong, I don't have unrealistic expectations that I need to feel the best ever every day for the rest of my life, eat perfectly every single day, or freak out if something is off. Nor am I turning this into another type of unhealthy obsession over achieving some level of unrealistic health. It's actually pure intentions for once. No eating disorder, no mental hangups--just the desire to learn and implement what that takes to feel great then turn it into a story and an education for others on how to do the same! Yup, part of the current journey is the growing passion toward this field of functional health and wellness. I the past couple years I've empowered myself with knowledge on how to heal from the inside out, who knows you may see a new angle for my career and scope of practice budding.

Bottom line: Being healthy is a no-brainer when you consider the alternative--feeling like shit. 


Does being too healthy cause health problems? 

Ohhh this is a good question.

Inherently, no. But hell yes, it can!

If the person's definition of health is skewed and not doing him or her any good, this could worsen and/or create problems, i.e. a vegan who's severely deficient in key nutrients and dysfunctioning; the obsessed runner who's scary thin and battling stress fractures left and right; the endurance athlete who goes too low carb while also doing crossfit style workouts on the side and HPA axis crashes. "But, vegan is clean!" "But, exercise is healthy." No, not in this context.

Or, too healthy can cause health problems if during the quest to be healthy one gets overly neurotic about every. little. thing. The stress state one can create over this quest for health is undeniably counterproductive and could worsen, prolong or create health problems--even the cleanest diet won't fix a person who's freaking out over every morsel of food, every germ, every sensation, every decision. When the quest to be healthy destroys your relationships and social life, when it keeps you up at night in worry, when you panic over food, anxiety over your condition(s); when you stop having fun, when you stop smiling, when there's no act of "playing" in your life, etc.... Dr. Ruscico talks about this a lot in how he treats patients--we need to care about health but not go off the deep end, so to speak. And I talked about this in my anorexia vs orthorexia post--i.e. healthy eating is good until it goes too far becoming a sick obsession. I've been down that road. Over it... I'm sure even the health experts have to watch themselves and not get trapped in a bubble of trying to be perfect, and thankfully I hear more of this being discussed in podcasts and written about in articles--living a life balance, seeking happiness, and having a healthy mindset is just as important if not more than what your blood test or whatever test results show!!!

So then you implement healthy practices to avoid health problems:

Part of my journey to optimal health and healing is learning to not be neurotic about things---because I know I can be that person looking at my history :). I still have to work at managing my stress, my tendencies to want to over-obsess and get neurotic, and I have to work to consciously turning on the parasympathetic (aka rest and digest mode) more often so it becomes habit and feels normal. I have to work at being present and mindful. I've taught myself to not look at my life as being too busy; I've let go of relentless and mindless multitasking; I've worked on just being lazy and doing little things that simply make me happy and smile. This often requires another level of self-discipline, for example avoiding overtraining even though all I wanna do is just run run run, going on that walk when I know its needed. Or avoiding letting a jam-packed schedule, traffic, long lines, etc, send me off into a state of anxiety and panic. Just stop and smell the flowers, really! See how it feels. Scary at first, and then scary good...

Achieving this mindset requires, of all things, another level of self-awareness. Meaning you have to know what it feels like when you're in an elevated sympathetic (stress) state vs. a more mellow parasympathetic (chill made) state. HRV is good for this. Many of us think we're chill but really, we're not--we're stressed. When we measure HRV we may be in for a shocker. Reality hits. I've heard Dave Asprey discuss this and I've even seen my fiance go through the process. "Whoa, I thought I was fine but the numbers clearly say otherwise." All it takes is a little tool like HRV to recognize the difference. But then you have to do something about it! Understand the feelings and what real stress feels like, and make changes as needed, if needed.

And at the end of the day if you don't want to be all biohacker about it, just know that you need to keep it real and loosen up. Your quest to be healthy doesn't have to be all uptight. And if you derail from healthy norms for a day or even a week it's ok! Just get back on track no drama.


Can you create food intolerances?

This is another one I hear a lot. Let's assume someone gets the bug up their butt to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle, and let's assume this person is pretty healthy to begin with--no history like mine or the others mentioned. Say they give up gluten, dairy, sugar, grains and whatnot to adopt more of a paleo-ish clean diet. Not low carb or high carb per se, just a clean diet. Will this person cause food sensitivities and/or intolerances by eating more healthy? For example, if they give up gluten and dairy then go back to eating those things will they suffer the consequences?

I do think that clean eating and healthy living does make you more sensitive to the lower quality food and drinks for a couple reasons:

1) You become more intuitive and realize how quality food and healthy living actually makes you feel awesome!!! Even if you're not necessarily intolerant, clean eating makes you feel superhuman.

2) Or maybe you were intolerant and didn't realize it until you quit the trigger foods and drinks. You were operating at a 5, now you're feeling like a 10. Our food today--gluten, dairy, sugar and whatnot--is not what it once was and it often makes us ill, have allergies, etc. So you go off it, you get healthier. Then you slip up and go back to old ways for days in a row and find yourself wheezing, bloated and with brain fog. Well, this basically is showing you had detoxed from the "poison" and going back on it triggered those same sensitives you once thought were normal. Then the light bulb goes on. You were always intolerant, just never realized it. It doesn't mean you can't occasionally "cheat"--it's usually a dose thing. Just know your limit. Barring a full-on disease like celiac or nut allergy, a little moderation is fine.


Can healthful intentions backfire on health and hormones?

This is a rabbit hole. In fact, very soon I will be recording a podcast on the dangers of low-carb/keto eating for athletes and women, as well as things like falling victim to the female athlete triad (males included), because it's important to address: yes you can screw shit up with the wrong approach to diet and exercise. It's actually really easy to do. Too easy. Don't do it. We'll save this talk for another day.


Bottom Line

We all have our shit.

Generally, it seems like the health experts/pros--at least the ones I follow--are much more willing to openly talk about and discuss their issues, and what they've learned, in hopes they can help, inspire, and educate others on building better health and optimal living. Power to the folks who are brave enough to open up and empower us to be proactive. Even more power to them when they admit mistakes, sensitive stuff, and such. You all inspire me to do the same.... It's always going to be an ongoing quest, the best we can do is share information and foster a supportive environment.

Just remember: Have that set of checks and balances in place to avoid letting healthy intentions backfire.

Till next time....

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Recommitting to Balance

I subscribe to Chris Kresser's email newsletter which says a lot about what I think of him and what he has to say because a) I disdain unnecessary emails, b) email subscriptions and most newsletters are generally just crap or sales pitches, c) I have enough other emails coming in daily that warrant my attention, d) it took me forever to unsubscribe from all the stuff I got signed up for (unwillingly) over the years from entering races and whatnot; these days I have that shit well-managed and I want to keep it that way. I refuse to spend an hour a week just deleting junk.

But Chris is one of a few who I'll let in. And below is a good example of why. I've copied and pasted his recent newsletter into this post, and what he said here is exactly what I was mentioning about slipping up recently with some of my stuff (stress). It's good to see that other experts do the same thing and are mature enough to call themselves out in a public manner like he did, especially when he's the one teaching people to avoid the very things he caught himself doing. All class.

For me, in addition to slowly but unintentionally allowing a bit more stressful living back in my life and that go-go-go attitude, I also recently realized I have been slipping up with my approach to training. I am getting way too addicted to exercise/training/racing again in an unhealthy way. Even though my intensity of exercise has drastically improved and I'm not faking it by secretly working out really hard (promise!), I still am mentally and physically obsessed to my workouts and losing sight of what is best for me. Not just for me but for John, our future, etc. Furthermore, I am losing sight of the very clear-cut goals John and I set together, as a team, for the events we have planned together. Our goals? Well, let's put it this way, we're not trying to get on any podiums. We just want to have fun, be adventurous, keep it loose and maintain balance. Maybe that's an oxymoron--ultra training and balance--or maybe not? Maybe we're on to something?

It's time to set some boundaries and get back to balance. I can dish that to my athletes and on the podcast, but I have to be honest, when it comes to my own self, it's easier said than done. When it comes to training and having a race/event on tap I tend to be an "all or nothing person." Shocking, I know. It's like an alcoholic who either has no beers or all the beers--there's no in between. For me, it's usually that I either train for a race with an absurd amount of focus, or I don't--I haven't mastered the in between. I got close with the marathon this year.

It's good to be committed, disciplined and focused, but that can go too far in my opinion, especially if you're a Type A'er like me who easily gets obsessed. A guy like David Goggins might disagree with me and say "go that extra distance" and that we all should find a way to go the extra mile(s), get uncomfortable, push the extremes, and be an "I can" not an "I can't" person. I get that, and I agree we need to get uncomfortable and not feed ourselves the "I can't" bullshit. David may be that guy who works out at any given opportunity putting in immense hours and volume. He may push his body to set world records like doing 4,030 pullups in 24 hours. He has his reasons for his approach of going all in, every day, year-round. I can do that too, if I wanted, but is that what I need? No. Individualization, folks. I can still get uncomfortable--in a healthy way--with my approach, and I plan to do that.

Now it'll be: Can I find that ability to casually train and not go overboard? Like Chris says below, it's just a matter of recommitting to the principles you value....


"Hi everyone,

When most of us think of addiction, we typically think of substances like alcohol, heroin, or tobacco.

But a more inclusive definition of addition, according to author Tony Schwartz, is 'the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.'

If we use this definition, it’s fair to say that nearly all of us are addicted to the Internet.

I’m no exception. In fact, when I became aware several years ago of how my compulsive behavior around the internet was affecting my productivity, health, and relationships, I set up some practices that would limit my exposure. I discussed these in two podcasts here and here.

These strategies included turning off notifications on my phone and mobile devices, only checking email 2-3 times a day, and focusing on my most important daily tasks before engaging with email/social media/meetings. Overall they've worked well and I've been able to stay on track and minimize distraction.

But over the last few months, I’ve started slipping. I’ve been checking email regularly throughout the day, looking at social media accounts more regularly, pulling my phone out of my pocket way more often, and spending a lot more time randomly browsing the web.

All of this started during the launch of my new clinician training program. I told myself that I had to be more connected during this time, so I could be available for any pressing issues that came up. While there may have been some truth to that, I think the Internet addict in me was also looking for any excuse to take over the reins.

Since I’ve fallen off the wagon, so to speak, I’ve noticed a decline in my overall health and well-being, and a definite drop in productivity. I’ve also found it more difficult to focus on the research and writing that is so important to my work.

But the worst part—and the effect that makes me feel more upset than anything else—is how these changes have affected the time I spend with my 4-year old daughter, Sylvie.

I’ve always been the person that cringes when I see a Mom or Dad pushing their kid on the swings and obsessively checking their phone the entire time. I haven’t gone that far, but I do notice that I’m looking at my phone a lot more than I ever did before when I’m with Sylvie, and I see how negatively this impacts the quality of my connection with her during these interactions.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with Internet addiction is that, unlike booze, drugs, or gambling, it's socially acceptable—and in some ways, even encouraged.

In fact, it seems like every day a new technology is introduced that promises to make us “more connected”: we can now check our email, social media, and the web at any time, from any place.

But is this really a good thing? It seems to me that the net effect of these technologies has been less connection, not more. Instead of simply being present in each moment and feeling connected with the people around us, our attention is increasingly elsewhere.

I worry about the effects of this. It’s yet another way that our modern lifestyle differs dramatically from the environment we evolved in, but it’s one that is rarely discussed or addressed.

With this in mind, I am recommitting to the principles I discussed in the two podcasts above. More specifically, I’m going to limit checking email and social media to 3 times a day, and avoid using my phone at all when I have dedicated play time with Sylvie.

If this is also an issue for you, what can you commit to? What steps will you take? Let me know on my Facebook page."