My decision to quit marathon running

Exercise is something that is considered healthy. Not only does it benefit us physically, but also mentally. It is a good tool to use for stress management and can also help people manage various types of psychological issues.  It’s that adrenaline produced by exercise that can bring out the competitive nature in exceptional athletes and motivate others to live a healthier lifestyle. Even people who joke to have an exercise addiction is something most consider to be admirable. The drive and determination it takes to train multiple hours a day for a certain sport is a quality that is both respected and envied. It can be hard to understand that even too much of a good thing can be negative. I’ve struggled for years with an exercise addiction, and it’s something that’s been terribly difficult to admit. There are multiple signs that have shown me the amount of exercise I was engaging in wasn’t healthy, and the steps I’ve been taking the past several months to put an end to it has definitely been more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

When I started running, it came from a healthy place. I was a freshman in high school who just wanted to be in better shape. The first running loop I created in my neighborhood was 2.5 miles. I remember liking the feeling when I was done, exhausted but proud of what I had accomplished. I liked the way my body felt, my muscles were tighter and being dehydrated made me feel lighter. My clothes began getting baggier and the compliments started coming in.

“You look great!”

“Have you lost weight? I’m so jealous!!”

“You’re such a fast runner!”

The praise motivated me to run harder and eat less. I liked feeling small and light. My mood started to become dependent on the endorphins from running- if I wasn’t able to run that day I would become depressed, irritable and angry. 2.5 miles turned into 5 miles. 5 miles turned into 10 miles.  Once I started my sophomore year of high school I was running 10 miles. Every. Single. Day. The compliments stopped and instead people were starting to worry. My doctor placed me on exercise restriction but that wouldn’t stop me. I would do anything to exercise- before school I would run up and down our stairs 100 times while my parents were still sleeping. I would come home from school and immediately go down to the basement to do aerobics. There were even Sunday mornings where I would find an empty room at our church to run laps in while my parents thought I was sitting in the service with my friends elsewhere. The need to exercise consumed me, and the amount of calories I was burning coupled with the amount I wasn’t eating was taking a toll on my body that I was in denial of. My self-worth was 100% based on how many miles I ran that day, how little I ate (or how long I could hold off eating entirely that day) and the number of ribs I could count that were protruding through my skin.

After being diagnosed with an eating disorder the middle of my sophomore year, I began the road to recovery the summer going into my junior year. I was eating again, but was not willing to stop running. It was the only thing I still felt like I had control over and the thought of giving that up terrified me. As I started to eat normally again and put on weight, my doctor was okay with me running as long as I kept my weight up. I continued to run 10 miles every day, only allowing myself a day off once every 3 weeks. I dreaded every minute of it, but I couldn’t let it go because it was the only thing that allowed me to eat. Although I looked healthy on the outside, I was still fighting a difficult battle with myself on the inside. I told myself that once I went to college I wouldn’t exercise as much because I would be too busy. I was convinced that going away to college would make everything better, but it actually made things worse.

By the middle of my freshman year at Purdue University, I was running a minimum of 11 miles every day, some days I would run 20-22 miles with some upperclassmen who were training for the Chicago marathon. 3 days a week I would run at least twice per day- whenever I had a chance between classes I would exercise. The cross country coach saw me run by the athletic complexes, and impressed with my pace, invited me to join the team. Again, I thought joining the team would give me more discipline to run only the amount my coach told me to. Nope. I became worried that the workouts were too short and would run extra on my own, sneaking in treadmill runs at the Co-Rec and running off-campus so I wouldn’t get caught. The stress on my body lead to multiple stress fractures and other injuries that would put me out of running for months at a time. I didn’t know how to cope with stress and emotions without being able to run, and every injury was a trigger for relapsing back into my eating disorder. I coped with binge drinking, blaming my thrown up dinner on the tequila shots I took that night.

During my last year of undergrad I was finally injury-free and impulsively decided to sign up for the Chicago marathon. A reason to run excessively without giving a cause for people to comment that I was running too much?! Sign me up! After completing the Chicago marathon at a respectable time of 3:29, I decided it was my first and last. Two years later I made another impulsive decision to run the Arizona marathon (only because the entry fee was only $15 more than the half-marathon- I thought, why not??). Running that marathon 7 minutes faster than my first, I had qualified for the Boston marathon twice and decided to go for it. I thought Boston would be my last, I had over-trained and was going into the race mentally and physically drained. However, the year I ran in Boston was the year of the bombings. The events of that day were difficult for me to process, so I coped with the emotions the only way I knew how- running. I ran my next marathon less than 6 months later with another PR, and then after finding out that I was pregnant, took a 2 year break. When Carli was just 14 months old, I ran the Chicago marathon again and then just 5 months later ran the Atlanta marathon. Having had a lot of success in Atlanta (I placed fourth overall female with a time of 3:16) I immediately signed up for my 7th marathon, which would take place in Columbus, IN in September, just 6 months later.

img_4315

Before running Boston, April 2013

 

Letting Go

I was able to surrender my eating disorder and body image issues to God years ago- but I’ve grasped onto my exercise addiction with excuses that allowed me to believe it was okay. It’s been easy to let myself thrive in the success I’ve had with marathon running, and I had big goals for myself when I started to train for my 7th marathon. I was going to run close to 3:10- I wanted to get faster and faster so that someday I could beat 3:00. I believed that this drive to be a faster runner was normal because all athletes are motivated to get better. I didn’t want to accept or consider that the success I wanted came at a price- not just the price of the relationships with the people closest to me, but also the price of my health. Even the price of staying in recovery from my eating disorder. Although I refuse to let myself fall into that place again, I’m realizing that training so intensely (the way I have been) can so easily open that door. I’m also learning that training for such long distances is a trigger, one that I’ve been in denial of.

There has been a transformation in my thoughts over the past several years that has allowed me to be at peace with food and my body. I didn’t allow that transformation to get in the way of my running, I wanted so badly to protect that because I was too scared to give it up. It was the one thing that my eating disorder had left to use against me, to stir up those feelings of inadequacy that food could no longer compress. I want my approach to running be similar to my approach to food- something that is healthy and well-balanced. I no longer want to use running as a form of punishment or source of self-worth. I don’t want it to be my only coping mechanism- something that I’m finding to be quite difficult but very rewarding all at the same time.

I no longer want to be defined as just being a hard-working, dedicated runner. I want people to know me as a good friend, a loving wife, a wonderful mother. Running still has a place, it always will. It’s just going to take a backseat to more important things in life.

I don’t plan on never racing again. In fact, I’m running a half-marathon with one of my best friends in early November. I have decided to resign from marathon running – I’m not sure if it’s going to be forever, but I know that right now I can no longer put so much focus on training for a 26.2 mile race. A lot of people who run marathons are able to do so without becoming so consumed by the training. I’m able to train this way for shorter distances, but it’s very hard for me to train for a marathon without running an excessive amount.

I decided to drop out of my 7th marathon just 8 weeks before I was due to race. Honestly, I’m just tired. I’m only 29, but my body feels like I’m 79 sometimes. It’s worn out and defeated. I enjoyed spending my summer running less and allowing myself to do other forms of exercise. I spent more time with friends and family. I slept in (as much as Carli would let me) and I feel refreshed. Although I felt a twinge of guilt yesterday morning when I looked at the clock and realized that I should be running mile 18 at that moment, I was at complete peace with my decision.

A few of my favorite things

I have a few essentials when it comes to stocking my kitchen. My grocery list varies week to week based on what I plan to cook, and I always buy a lot of fresh produce. Here are some things that I’ve grown to love over the years, that almost always make it into my grocery cart.

Love Crunch granola

IMG_3857

There is absolutely nothing healthy about this granola. Okay wait- it’s non-GMO- so that counts for something. I also like that I can read and understand all the ingredients it’s made of so I know exactly what is going into my body. This granola is loaded with dark chocolate chunks, peanuts and peanut butter. It’s sweetened with honey and a little bit of cane sugar. I love to add just a little bit of this to plain yogurt for a sweet snack- for me it’s kind of like a better alternative to a Reese’s peanut butter cup. This granola also comes in a Hawaiian flavor (dried pineapple, coconut and white chocolate) which does not disappoint.

La Croix

IMG_3861

I am a recovering diet coke addict. I love and appreciate the taste of plain water but sometimes I just need something carbonated. It was a tough switch to make at first but as long as my La Croix is ice-cold I love it. Mango and passion fruit are my favorites right now.

The Good Bean

IMG_3858

I always have at least 3-4 bags of these laying around. They come in so many flavors- bbq, lemongrass coconut, sea salt, cinnamon and Bombay spice just to name a few. I am obsessed with these dried chickpeas. I use them for everything- I eat them out of the bag as a snack, I add them to salads and the sweeter flavors I may add to yogurt. People always ask me where to buy these. You can find them in the health food section at most grocery stores. The weird thing is so far I’ve found the largest variety at Rite Aid- so whenever I’m getting a prescription filled I stock up. I’ve also found a lot of flavors at Sprouts and The Fresh Market.

 

Coffee and Tea

IMG_3856

Pumpkin spice season is here people. There is nothing that gets me more excited than pumpkin coffee. I love drinking Chai tea in the cooler months too. All I do is add a splash of coconut milk or almond milk to these hot beverages and they’re good to go.

Chips and Guac

IMG_3860

These chips were a find from Kroger and I love them. They are made with beans (more fiber and protein) yet still taste amazing. The lime flavor goes great with guacamole. I’m a sucker for homemade guacamole but if I’m in a hurry this stuff is second best. The best part- there are veggies in the guacamole! If you don’t like veggies but love guacamole, this may be a good way to sneak them in.

Crackers and hummus

IMG_3859

This is always a go-to snack for me, but sometimes I can make a lunch out of it if I add cheese slices or my dried chickpeas and some sort of fruit. I’m boring and usually just get the plain hummus- I really like Kroger’s simple truth brand. The crackers I buy are usually Blue Diamond Nut-Thins. They are made with just a few ingredients, namely almonds, brown rice and flaxseeds. They are gluten free and a good source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

Skinny Sticks

IMG_3822

 

I don’t eat them for my waistline, I eat them because they’re crunchy (can you tell I really like crunchy foods??) and they taste good. I keep a bag of these in the car to keep Carli occupied when we’re driving home from errands or the gym. I’ll do anything to keep her awake and avoid the dreaded late morning car nap- which is always a recipe for a miserable afternoon.

Halo Ice-cream

IMG_3862

 

A good friend of mine posted this picture on social media and I thought that there is no way this ice-cream can actually taste good. I’ve been burned badly by low-calorie ice-cream in the past (sorry Artic Freeze) and my motto has always been to just enjoy the real stuff in small quantities. But let’s be real, eating ice-cream in small quantities is hard. Really hard. I decided to try this stuff and was blown away with how good it actually was. And bonus- made with lots of all-natural organic ingredients! Blue Bell is still my favorite, but this comes in at a close second.

Let’s Put An End To This

IMG_3752

I was home visiting my parents over labor day weekend and fell across one of my old journals that I kept when I was 10 years old. I came across a page that had 3 goals written on it. To think that I was so fixated on changing the way I looked at such a young age makes me so sad. If you have any sort of influence in any little girl’s life right now, take just a moment to tell her today how beautiful she is. Praise her strengths and acknowledge what she excels at. Don’t criticize her weaknesses. Don’t pressure her into feeling she needs to look or act a different way to feel loved and accepted. Celebrate her uniqueness and own sense of style. Give her a chance to love who she is. Don’t let a day go by without telling her how special she is. Together we can stop the hurt and lies that are attacking these young girls. Let’s put an end to eating disorders.

A Good Day Starts with Breakfast

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day. It’s true! Breakfast provides the fuel your body needs to get you energized for the day. It provides your brain with the nutrients it needs to tackle tasks throughout the day, whether it be taking a test for school, making important decisions at work, or managing little ones at home. It’s important to start your day with a healthy breakfast- sorry folks doughnuts don’t count! Sugary breakfasts will rapidly increase your blood sugar but then you will crash and feel lethargic throughout the rest of the morning. Try getting some good fat, an ample amount of protein and some healthy carbs in your breakfast. Here are three of my favorite breakfast dishes that I have been eating quite a lot of this summer.

Oats with Greek yogurt and fruit

IMG_4728

I heat up 1/4 cup of oats and add about 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. I add a handful of blueberries and sprinkled some chia seeds and cinnamon on top. Sometimes I add different fruits depending on what is in season or what we have around the house. There is no added sugar to this breakfast but the fruit and cinnamon make it naturally sweet! This breakfast keeps me full throughout the morning AND gives me the energy I need for early long runs (I’m running my next marathon this fall and am getting to the peak of my training). I used to make my yogurt with granola instead of oats but have found that the oats to be a better alternative because they are more filling and do not have any added sugars.

Veggie omelet with avocado and berries 

IMG_4799 (2)

To make my omelets I use 1-2 whole eggs and mix with some egg whites to give it some more volume. If I use 1 egg I add 1/2 cup eggs whites, if I use 2 eggs I add 1/4 cup egg whites. First I saute a handful of spinach, chopped red and green peppers, onion and mushrooms. When the veggies are soft I remove them from the pan and add the eggs. Once the eggs start to form in the pan I add the veggies and fold the eggs into an omelet. I cook the omelet an additional 2-3 minutes and serve with avocado slices and berries. All of the fat and protein in this breakfast keeps me full for hours! If you are trying to lose weight this is a great breakfast idea. More healthy fats and protein and less processed and refined carbohydrates are what help set the stage for weight loss.

Smoothies

I'm not the only one who loves massive green smoothies!

I’m not the only one who loves massive green smoothies!

I make smoothies pretty much every Wednesday and Friday morning. I commute into Atlanta on these days and need a breakfast I can eat in the car. I have a smoothie base and mix it up based on what I feel like drinking that morning.

  • handful of spinach and/or kale
  • shredded carrots
  • scoop of greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • frozen fruit (my favorite combos include mangoes and peaches, mixed berries, strawberry and banana, blueberries and banana)
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed, hemp seeds or chia seeds

I will usually grab a KIND granola bar or an energy ball to eat with my smoothie. It’s always a breakfast I look forward to!

I hope everyone has a great start to the new school year!

 

This crazy life we live and how it’s affecting our health

Life can just be crazy sometimes. Okay let’s be real- it’s crazy ALL the time. We live in a world of unrealistic standards and expectations, and the demands we place on our bodies to meet them is exhausting us. The pressure is on to get the next pay raise or promotion, raise our kids to be the smartest and most talented, keep the house clean, drive our big kids to a million different activities, fill our little kid’s down time with never-ending Pinterest-inspired activities (because simple playing just isn’t good enough anymore) and finally… try get a good night’s sleep. And of course sleep is nearly impossible when all the things that need to be done are swirling around in our brains and just can’t be shut off. No wonder we’re tired! Sometimes I feel as if life is on fast forward and I just want to hit the pause button. But there’s no time for that! Right?!

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness that life brings, but a lot of the time we just don’t have a choice. The laundry needs to get done. We need to meet deadlines at work. The grass needs to be mowed. If you have big kids you may have to help with homework, drive them to practices and get them off to school in the morning. With all the stuff that builds up during the day, I think the word “relax” has left our vocabulary. A lot of the time I will find myself thinking- okay, just need to get x, y and z done. Then I can relax! Haha nice try. There is always something to do.

Stress just sucks. It’s draining, it’s bad for our health and it just makes us crazy. Stress can set the stage for inflammation which is a precursor for most chronic health conditions (such as heart disease and diabetes). From a nutrition standpoint, it can affect the way we digest our foods, worsen irritable bowel syndrome and can deplete our bodies of nutrients (see post on leaky gut syndrome). From a mind-body health perspective, it can worsen our moods and reduce the production of serotonin and dopamine (feel- good chemicals our body makes).

Managing stress is just as important as putting healthy foods in your body. Health is multi-dimensional and nutrition is just one aspect. You can eat a perfect diet but if your body is chronically stressed you are still going to have low energy levels, digestion issues and a multitude of other health issues if it isn’t addressed correctly.

Don't we all need a little more of this in our lives?!

Don’t we all need a little more of this in our lives?!

Here are some ways that I would recommend to more effectively manage stress:

  1. Say No.

You don’t have to live to please everyone. You also don’t have to commit to everything. Is your activities calendar looking a little crazy? Are you finding yourself missing out on things you enjoy or losing quality time with family and friends because you have too many commitments? If you’re a parent, this goes for your kids too. It’s great for kids to be involved in extracurriculars, but if you have four kids and they are each involved in 3 different sports plus music class and drama class, plus they have homework to get done every night…you get the idea. Do everyone a favor and put a limit to the craziness.

2. Realize that we live in a world of impossible standards and move on.

 I think the social media world has put so many new pressures and expectations on moms (and everyone else for that matter) that are nearly impossible to meet. This generation of moms is just downright mean! No matter what we do for our kids, we are doing something wrong and someone will call us out on it. Of course when it comes to safety that’s a completely different issue, but kids will survive if their baby food isn’t homemade and I’m sure their cancer risk will be just as high from walking outside and breathing the “fresh” air as it would from using a certain brand of sunscreen or bath soap. Let’s just all agree that we love our kids and that our love for them isn’t compromised just because we have a different opinion on bedtimes and the brand of milk we buy them.

3. Exercise.

Exercise produces endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that make you feel energized and happy. Exercise helps you sleep better which in turn gives you a more alert mind and enhances cognitive function. Enough said.

4. Put away the processed foods and reach for the good stuff.

Eating sugar-laden junk food may be easy to reach for when we are stressed out, but it actually makes the situation worse. Processed food promotes inflammation which creates more stress on our bodies. Don’t restrict calories either because that can increase cortisol levels (which are already high during stressful times) which can promote weight gain and fat storage. Fill your diet with healthy fats like avocado, fish oils, nuts and seeds along with nutrient dense fruits, veggies and lean proteins. You’ll have more energy and your body will be in healthier state to manage stress.

5. Sleep!!!

Not getting enough sleep can affect your mood, decisions about food (being sleep-deprived will make you more likely to grab something sugary), hormone balance, metabolism and activity levels. It can make you more irritable and make your stress levels even worse.

6. Get a good support system.

Sometimes you just need to vent. Or you just need a mediator to help you reason. Having a safe support system, whether this be friends, family or colleagues is crucial. They can provide a listening ear to help you sort through your feelings and may even help you make a tough decision or provide encouragement.

7. Allow for some flexibility.

Life never goes as planned. For us type-A planners, that’s a tough lesson to learn. I usually get through this by praying and understanding that no matter what, God is in control. You may do the same, or just create a more positive outlook around change. Look for the pros in every situation, not just the cons.

8. Get some ME time.

There is no shame in doing something for yourself every now and then. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re a career person or spend your time at home raising kids, you need personal relaxation time. I used to feel guilty when our families would come into town and offer to take care of Carli so I could get things done. Even…gasp!…leave the house by myself!! Now I’m all for it. Accept help graciously and shamelessly where and when you need it and get some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it.

9. Deep breathing.

Deep breathing increases oxygen supply to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to promote a state of calmness. Engaging in deep breathing techniques can help to relieve tension and can make you feel more relaxed. Find out how to correctly do breathing exercises here.

10. Manage your time- it’s okay to schedule in some relaxing time!

When we live in a world this busy, sometimes to keep our sanity everything has to be scheduled. Try to schedule in relaxing time for yourself. Try to find a time during the day when the whole family can be together to talk about the events of the day and just unwind. Dinner is usually a good time for this. This is important. Remember, if your schedule doesn’t allow for any sort of down time throughout the week you may want to consider cutting back on commitments.

Now take a deep breath…and have a nice relaxing rest of the summer!

Yes you CAN make a satisfying meal out of salads!

I LOVE eating salads. I’ve been eating them for lunch most days of the week as far back as I can remember. A lot may think that it’s hard to fill up on a salad or that it’s just rabbit food. Not my salads! They’re filling, full of healthy fat, protein and color. My salads have evolved quite a bit over the years and I never get tired of them. When I’m marathon training like I am now I try to get more carbohydrate in my lunches so I’ll usually add fruit (either to the salad or on the side) and eat more pasta salad. I also love homemade sweet potato fries, and I’ll eat these with my salad to add some additional carbohydrate. See my sweet potato fry recipe here.

Here are a few of my favorite salad recipes that are delicious and filling enough to get you through the afternoon without feeling the need to reach for that candy bar or bag of chips.

Strawberry Chicken and Avocado Salad

IMG_4773 (1)

For the salad:

  • Shredded chicken (Rotisserie chicken makes it easy and reduces prep time, or you can cook a chicken breast the night before, shred it and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to make your salad).
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • 1 tbsp walnuts (for a vegetarian option leave the chicken out and add more walnuts)
  • 1 oz feta cheese
  • handful of sliced strawberries
  • 2 cups salad greens (I use spring mix or spinach. The darker the greens the more nutrient dense your salad will be.)
  • sprinkle of chia seeds

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 tbsp golden balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil

Mix dressing ingredients together and pour over salad and toppings. I eat this a lot over the summertime. It pairs well with berry infused water. So refreshing!

Hummus bowl

IMG_4846 (2)

I have told friends that one of my favorite salad dressings is hummus. They thought it was weird and couldn’t quite picture how that would work. I promise you, it’s amazing. You don’t need a lot of hummus to cover the salad and it’s much healthier than ranch or 1000 island dressing.

For the salad:

  • 2 cups spinach
  • sliced red onion (as much as you like)
  • 5-6 grape tomatoes
  • shredded chicken
  • cucumber slices (not pictured in the above photo but I like to add these as well)

For the dressing

  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • lemon juice

First I wet the spinach and all the ingredients with a little bit of lemon juice. Then I mix in the hummus. Another favorite for a hot summer day, this salad is light yet filling. Tastes great with lemon infused water.

Taco Salad

IMG_4858

Not your traditional taco salad. No fried tortilla shell or massive amounts of cheese here! But I assure you it’s more flavorful and just as satisfying. I used to put my taco salad ingredients on top of shredded iceberg lettuce but lately I’ve started using spring mix greens. They add some better flavor and of course more nutrients because of their darker color.

Ingredients:

  • Meat- You can do whatever you want here. I vary this ingredient with ground grass-fed beef, shredded chicken, grilled shrimp or veggie burger crumbles (pictured here). Another vegetarian option would be to use black beans for your protein
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • shredded carrots
  • diced tomato
  • sauteed mushrooms, red bell pepper and green bell pepper

Place the cooked meat, avocado, shredded carrots and diced tomato on top of your greens. I like to saute a handful of mushrooms, red and green bell pepper together and add these on top. I don’t add dressing, instead I mash the avocado up to use as a dressing. If you want to add some guacamole to the salad you can to dress it up a little more. Salsa is a good dressing as well. I eat my taco salad with a few tortilla chips and lemon-lime infused water.

Bow tie pasta salad

IMG_4726

Some weeks I will make a big batch of pasta salad on the weekend and eat it throughout the week. It makes the prep work much easier, all I have to do is scoop my chilled pasta salad onto a bed of greens.

Ingredients (this makes about 5-8 servings):

  • 1 cup cooked bow tie pasta
  • 1 crown of broccoli, chopped
  • 1/3 red onion, chopped
  • 1 summer squash, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 1 bunch minced parsley
  • If desired, shredded chicken (about 1 cup)

Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Cook pasta and drain. Mix with the remaining ingredients. Mix together dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Eat alone or on top of spring mix greens. Pairs nicely with cucumber and mint infused water.

Another pasta salad recipe I love is an Italian chicken pasta salad recipe a friend shared with me. This is another one I like to make and store in the fridge for a quick and easy lunch. See it here.

I also have a lot more fun salad recipes on my Pinterest page.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaky gut- What is it and how can I fix it?

Gut health is essential. It can affect metabolism, energy levels, immunity and digestion and absorption of nutrients. Even if you have a perfect diet, your gut has to be able to absorb the nutrients to help them work properly, otherwise you aren’t getting the true benefit of eating them. What causes a gut to be in poor health, and what can you do to make sure your gut is in optimum health?

Leaky gut syndrome (or increase in intestinal permeability) is when the lining of the intestines do not work properly to prevent large molecules from passing through. Normally there is a tight junction within the intestinal walls to allow for transport of small molecules (amino acids, electrolytes, water) into the bloodstream to be used by the body. When this tight junction is compromised larger molecules that should be blocked, such as undigested food particles and toxins can enter the bloodstream- no fun! This causes a variety of symptoms including gas, bloating, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, autoimmune reactions and food allergies.

Leaky gut typically is a result of things that weaken digestive function. This includes chronic antibiotic use, the use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen), chronic stress, drinking alcohol, and eating refined foods. Eating foods with anti-nutrients such as phytates and lignin can also cause leaky gut to happen because our bodies aren’t able to break down these foods very well and may lead perforations (holes) in the intestines. Phytates are found in grains, brown rice and oats. Lectins are found largely in wheat, rice and soy.

There are specific tests to test for leaky gut that you may want to talk with your doctor about if you believe you may be suffering with this condition. The tests include: urine test, stool and digestive analysis, blood test for IgG and IgA antibodies, or a bacterial dysbiosis test.

The good new is, you can heal your leaky gut. Here are the steps that should be taken.

  1.  Remove foods from your diet that are impairing gut health. The foods that are hard to digest and may be causing damage to your gut include grains, legumes and processed foods. These should be avoided, at least for the duration of the healing process.
  2. Begin eating more foods that restore gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting good bacteria. These foods include
    • yogurt with active cultures- great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi- also great for replenishing beneficial gut bacteria
    • Coconut products- the medium chain fatty acids in coconut are easier to digest than other fats and can help to support the growth of good bacteria
    • Healthy fats- such as avocado, fatty fish, olives and healing bone broth can help to reduce inflammation that has occurred from your leaky gut
    • Sprouted grains- such as hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are great sources of fiber that can help support the growth of healthy bacteria
  3. Gut healing supplements are also beneficial. These include fish oil, probiotics and L-glutamine. Fish oil targets inflammations and reduces it. Probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. L-glutamine is the most beneficial as it is an anti-inflammatory essential amino acid that is responsible for the growth and repair of the intestinal lining.
  4. Manage stress more effectively. Stress promotes inflammation and increases healing time.

Here is what a sample day of eating looks like to heal a leaky gut:

Breakfast: Omelet made with omega-3 eggs. Berries. Coconut milk.

Lunch: Salad with chicken and avocado, olive oil and vinaigrette dressing. Fruit.

Snack: yogurt with chia seeds mixed in.

Dinner: salmon, sweet potato, broccoli.

Snack: smoothie made with banana, mango, kale, hemp seeds, coconut milk

Here’s to a happy and healthy gut!

Summer Grilling

Forget the hot dogs and hamburgers this Fourth of July, here are some much healthier (and more flavorful) grilled favorites of mine.

Grilled chicken sausage with mixed vegetables

IMG_4450

Ingredients:

  • Chicken sausage cut into bite-size pieces (I usually buy al fresco brand, they have a spinach and feta flavored sausage that’s really good. See here. Publix also carries their own brand of chicken sausage that is minimally processed and a good option as well.
  • Veggies: for this recipe I used 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 1 red bell pepper, 1 package of portabella mushrooms and 2 small red potatoes. Cut all veggies to size you desire (I quarter mine).
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix everything together and place in foil. Grill for 30-35 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked. Tastes great with a glass of red wine with mixed summer berries for dessert. Yum!

Hawaiian Chicken Kabobs

IMG_4594

Ingredients:

For the marinade

  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 tsp paprika

For the kabobs

  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces. For two people and a baby I used about 3/4 pound of chicken (we love leftovers…no-cook lunches!)
  • Veggies: 1 sliced zucchini, 1 sliced summer squash, 1 sliced red onion, 1 sliced green pepper, 1 sliced red pepper, 1 pack portabella mushrooms (I left these whole)

After mixing the marinade ingredients together, put in a ziplock baggie with the chicken and marinade for at least 2 hours. Soak wooden skewers for about 10 minutes in water and then place one of each ingredient (chicken and veggies) on each skewer. Repeat if you have room. Grill for about 20-25 minutes. I like to serve this meal with grilled sweet potato fries and fresh pineapple. To make my sweet potato fries I slice a fresh sweet potato into a fry-shape and season with about 1 tbsp of olive oil and just a touch of garlic salt and pepper. I grill these on foil alongside the skewers. Delicious!

Fish tacos with mango salsa

I love Mexican food and this dish is my favorite, hands down. I used tilapia for the example in this blog post, but I use mahi-mahi sometimes too. Grouper would also taste amazing, but I haven’t tried it with this recipe yet.

IMG_4793 (2)

Ingredients:

For the fish (2 servings)

  • tilapi or mahi-mahi filets
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (this is optional- only if you like to add a little kick to it)

For the salsa

  • 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced red onion
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the seasoning ingredients for the fish and let sit in marinade for 20-30 minutes. Grill fish for about 3 minutes per side. Mix all salsa ingredients together. I like to serve on small corn tortillas with a Mexican slaw mixture (Dole makes this and it has kale mixed in. See here. I’ve seen it at most grocery stores. Kroger also makes their own brand of this). I place the fish on top of the salad mixture and add the salsa on top of the fish. We like to eat our fish tacos with a couple tortilla chips and fresh guacamole. A margarita with fresh squeezed lime is the perfect addition to my favorite summer meal.

Enjoy!

 

This entry was posted in Recipes.

All About Organic- Is it Worth the Money?

Because I’m a dietitian, most people assume that I buy all organic foods. That’s actually not the case! I also get a lot of questions about whether or not it’s worth the extra money to buy organic and if organic food is healthier than its conventional counterparts.

First it’s good to understand what farming practices need to be adhered to before a food can be labeled organic. A food must have the following criteria to have the organic seal:

  • NO pesticides- All fruits and vegetables that are organic along with the feed provided to organic livestock must be grown without the use of GMO’s, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for at least the past 3 years.
  • NO antibiotics- If a sick animal is treated with antibiotics then its meat or milk cannot be sold as organic.
  • NO growth hormones

There are plenty of reasons why people decide to start buying organic food. Some do because they want to protect the environment. A world without pesticides is a much healthier environment to live in. Others do to help support organic farmers. The reasons I have for buying organic foods is because I like to know that the food I eat has been raised adhering to specific standards that organic farmers proudly have in place. A majority do because they believe organic food is healthier or because they want to avoid toxic pesticides. Switching to organic can be quite pricey- it is much more expensive than conventional foods, sometimes as much as 2x-3x the price. So is it even worth spending the extra money??

IMG_4364

Fruits and vegetables- Some fruits and vegetables have a thicker layer of residue than others, so it would be worth it to buy them organic to avoid exposure to these. The fruits and vegetables you can keep buying conventional are those with a thicker peel- these include bananas, avocados, melons, eggplant, pineapple, mangos, grapefruit, kiwi and mushrooms. The fruits and vegetables you may want to buy organic to avoid pesticides include apples, tomatoes, grapes, peaches, spinach, berries, nectarines, and potatoes.

Animal products- Even though many consumers may believe the opposite, just because an animal product is not organic does not mean it contains recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) or antibiotics. Antibiotic residues are not permitted in conventionally produced animal foods and rBGH is rarely found in milk supplied by large grocery stores. In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 cows are injected with rBGH. I recommend looking for grass fed animal products because it naturally increases the omega’3 fatty acids in the animal’s diet- plus it just tastes so much better! Grass-fed animal products tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids which is beneficial for our health. However, the amount of omega’3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef is nowhere near as significant as the amount found in fish- the difference being 100 mg vs 1000 mg per serving! The adequate intake recommendations (AI) for omega-3 fatty acids is 1.6 gm/day for men and 1.1 gm/day for women.

 

IMG_4370

Junk food- If you are considering switching over to organic foods but are unsure if it will fit into your grocery budget, consider skipping the organic junk food. Just because it’s labeled organic does not make it any healthier.

To make organic food more affordable, consider buying only the fruits and vegetables with a thicker layer of pesticide residue (mentioned above) organic and buy the rest conventional. Organic frozen fruits and vegetables are great as well, and tend to be a little bit cheaper! Look for sales and stock up. Farmers markets are great too, especially because your purchase will help to support your local organic farmers.

All of that being said, I don’t buy 100% organic. I stick with grass fed meat and omega-3 fortified eggs. I buy Carli organic milk, yogurt and cheese and try to feed her organic fruits and vegetables when I can afford it. Because she eats more pound for pound than Nick and I, I try to make her exposure to pesticides minimal. I really like to encourage parents to not get discouraged if they can’t afford (or even want to) feed their kids organic, because it’s definitely not the end of the world if you don’t! Here are some tips if you decide that an organic lifestyle is not for you:

  • Always remember that having a diet high in conventional fruits and vegetables is much healthier than a diet high in organic junk food. Organic or not, fruits and vegetables are high in the nutrients your body needs to fight of disease and stay healthy.
  • Try incorporating more omega-3’s into the diet with salmon, flaxseed (I love adding to smoothies and yogurt), and walnuts.
  • Look for grass-fed meat. It’s less expensive than organic.
  • Use these tips from the FDA to reduce or eliminate pesticide residue
    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fresh produce
    • Cut away damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating
    • Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm running tap water. Washing removes about 75-80% of pesticide residues.
    • Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife on the fruit or vegetable
    • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel
    • Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage
    • Trim the fat from meat and the fat and skin from poultry. Some pesticide residues are stored in the animal fat.

 

 

Banana Ice-cream

Summers in Georgia are HOT. There’s nothing I love more than cooling off with a bowl of ice-cream after being out in the hot sun. Unfortunately, most cool summer treats are loaded with added sugars- including frozen yogurt, a choice that seems as if it would be a healthy alternative to Popsicles or ice-cream. Luckily, I have discovered an alternative to ice-cream that not only tastes delicious, but it’s just as sweet and refreshing. Banana ice-cream is just as it sounds- it’s pure banana! I like to add peanut butter because it gives it some extra flavor and nutrients making this recipe a great summer snack.

IMG_4357 - Copy

It’s simple to make- all you need are a few very ripe bananas. Once they are starting to turn brown, slice them into small pieces and freeze for at least 2 hours. Place the frozen banana slices into a blender or food processor (I use my Nutra Ninja) and blend until it forms a purée. You may need to use a spoon to stir it to the right consistency. If you wish you can add a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. We tried adding honey flavored peanut butter and it was delicious! Hope you’re staying nice and cool this summer!

 

**For some reason the pictures posted in the last couple updates are sideways when viewed on a desktop computer but look normal on a tablet or phone. Not sure why this is, but I’m working on getting it fixed!**