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.


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.
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.




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.

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