The Myth of Multi-Tasking: Laser Sights v Scattershot 

It’s kind of weird how something you hear that is seemingly unimportant sticks with you and actually becomes influential in your life. Many years ago, I was buying a printer-copier and the salesperson was asking me what I planned on doing with the machine: did I want to print text? photos? copying? faxing? And he told me that the more things the machine does, the fewer things it does well. This idea has stuck with me for literally fifteen years because it’s also true about us: the fewer things we are doing, the fewer things we are doing well.  While people like to brag about being able to multi-task, the reality is that people cannot multi-task.  We are just jumping back and forth from one task to another.  It looks like we are doing many things at once but what we are really doing is bouncing around.  The more we bounce around, the more chances there are to miss something, the less time we have to focus on each task and so there are fewer things we do well.

When I worked for the Boss From Hell, she insisted that everyone in the office multi-task.  I was used to bouncing from one task to another, most of which were scattered on my desk, but it really bothered our associate who much preferred to concentrate on one task, do it well and move on to the next task.  Another great truth I learned at that job: really smart people know we all work differently and let others work the ways that work best for them but insecure people micro-manage out of fear of losing control.  This is exactly what happened at the Job From Hell.  While multi-tasking isn’t my preferred work method, I am used to bouncing around.  Frankly, it comes with being a secretary- er, legal assistant:  I have to drop what I’m doing to answer the phone or the door and deal with whatever/ whoever just dropped into  our laps.  I also have to keep an eye on what I was doing at the time and what is next on my list.

While lawyers also have to do a little of this (emergency motions, client crises or a sudden call from someone you’ve been waiting for), most of that outside noise and interference has to get by me first.  (My boss’s callers think he’s the busiest guy on the planet because he’s always in a conference or on a courtcall!) What’s really going on is that he’s working on a project (someone’s demand or lawsuit) and doesn’t need the interruption.  While this is a good thing, in that it allows him to concentrate and do his best work and actually work faster, most callers don’t really understand that he’s in the middle of a project because we have all be taught that we “need to multi-task!”- He needs to take their call now!

The Associate at the Job From Hell hated being forced to multi-task.  He hated being interrupted when he was trying to concentrate and whenever he protested, the Boss would just screech at him about multi-tasking. He used to point out that multi-tasking is a myth, since the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. (Since he got his undergraduate degree in microbiology from UC Davis, I tend to agree with him!) I didn’t need much convincing, since I was already of the opinion that, like most machines, the more things we do at once, the fewer we do well.  I’ve seen evidence in my work when there are misspellings and wrong names/ words used in documents because someone interrupts me while I’m working.  This is why I am such a fiend about proof-reading! (I even hate finding errors in my blog posts!) Mistakes happen when we are distracted, and really that is what’s happening when we are bouncing from one task to another: we are being distracted by other tasks we are supposed to be working on.

This doesn’t mean that we should stick to doing one task at a time; most of us can handle a little bouncing around, especially if we’re parents.  I know I do a lot of it at home: putting something on the stove, letting the dog out, filling their water bowl, responding to a text, sorting through the mail, etc.  It’s a normal way of life! Women are usually stereotyped as being better at multi-tasking than men since in hunter-gatherer societies, women did the gathering, child-minding and house/ camp-keeping.  Men were out hunting.  One task for the men and many tasks for the women.  I don’t know how true that is since I’m guessing there’s more than just “one thing” when it comes to hunting, but this is what society has loaded us with.  It was the Boss From Hell’s justification for why the Associate wasn’t good at multi-tasking: he’s a guy!

This idea that we should and can be able to multi-task is a problem when it comes to losing weight and eating better, especially if we are new to it.  It is one more thing we are doing on top of everything else going on in our lives.  It should be easy.  The ‘experts and professionals’ keep telling us that it is easy.  I will tell you that it does get easier, especially if you have been doing it for a while.  It gets a bit like driving a car: the stuff you can do without thinking about (like keeping the car in the lane, slowing for a turn) gets shoved to the back of the brain while you focus on the important stuff, like the car in front of you cutting you off.  Once you know what you normally get at restaurants and supermarkets, you don’t have to struggle so much over which foods have sugar and what entrees are full of carbs or vegetable oils: you learn the brands and the foods that work best for you and it’s like staying in your lane. That way, you can stay focused on the harder stuff, like keeping your scheduled workouts when other things start crowding your schedule.

But like anything else, the more things you have clamoring for your attention, the less attention gets paid to those smaller details.  I have learned the hard way that when I am on the phone with friends while I’m shopping, I am more likely to come home with things I didn’t intend to buy and really don’t need.  How did it happen? “Oooh, is this new? what’s in it? chat chat chat (and it goes in the cart and in my bag and then I get home and) how did this get here? It’s not good for me!” It’s simple: I was distracted and wasn’t paying attention.  I was ‘multi-tasking.’ This is what happens when we get stressed either by something demanding our attention or when our schedules change unexpectedly: the things that were pretty routine and didn’t take a lot of time and attention suddenly get ‘lost in translation.’ We forget about them because they were so automatic before or they just get pushed out of the way: we miss a workout because something else is now in that timeslot and then our workout never makes it back on our schedule because it’s Friday and ‘that’s not a workout day.’  We were bouncing from one task to another and, because our focus is somewhere else, suddenly we realize we are out of our healthy routine- “how the heck did that happen? I know this! I had this! This should be a no-brainer by now!”

Before you start kicking yourself for screwing up, don’t even go there! Stop and think about everything you have on your plate right now, even the ‘no-brainer’ stuff, like picking up the kids from school; paying the bills; putting gas in the car; keeping and making appointments for the family, the pets, yourself; things like grocery/ shopping lists; getting the car serviced; and other little things, like birthdays, anniversaries, returning family/ friend phone calls.  Anything special going on like a wedding or graduation? It’s that time of year! Planning a vacation or long weekend? It’s that time of year too! And that’s not including everything you have going on at work! And on top of all of ‘normal life,’ you’re trying to eat better and keep your workouts.  “Let’s see: I can get in a workout after I get the tires rotated and picking up Mom and Dad’s anniversary gift on Tuesday and then I can get in another one on Saturday after I drop the dog at the groomers and before Jeffery’s soccer game that afternoon. Oh, yeah! I got to pick up the dog too!”  Welcome to the Real World! This is why so many people start out with great plans to eat better and get more activity and then fall flat on their faces.  It’s a lot to juggle and juggling is not only hard (you try keeping all those balls in the air!) but it takes a heck of a lot of determination (ha- you thought I was going to say ‘practice’ didn’t you!)

I’m saying determination this time because we are inevitably going to screw it up now and then.  When that happens, we can either give it up or we can keep it up: it’s our choice. But when we tell ourselves that we’re doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with us, that’s when we usually give up in confusion and frustration.  The only thing ‘wrong’ is that idea that we can keep adding task after task onto our lists and schedules and expect them all to fit in and if they don’t, it’s because we aren’t ‘good enough.’  Not true! There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 52 weeks in a year: we cannot fit in every task we want to do or even need to do, no matter how good we are at ‘multi-tasking.’  Those who are good at it learn to prioritize: what needs to get done now, what can be done later and what can be done when we have time (those are my categories anyway, for better or worse).  Sometimes we have to ask for help (can you pick up the dog so I can hit the gym?) or sometimes we have to let something go (looks like I’ll have to do skip that kombucha class I wanted to take). This is where I will challenge you to keep yourself a priority: you might not be one of the ‘things that need to get done now’ but do not put yourself as one of the ‘things to get done when I have time.’ When you are tempted to drop yourself off your list, remember: when you feel better and are healthier, you are a better parent, better spouse, better friend and better employee.  Short-changing yourself means you are short-changing everyone else in your life.  You may not have to learn to juggle your schedule, but a little bouncing might not hurt too much, and when the balls start dropping on you, take a deep breath and try again! You are worth the effort (and so is everyone else in your life!)

 

 

You Are More Than Just Your Body!

I was listening to yet another podcast today and some of the things the guest mentioned  really irritated me.  It’s a viewpoint that I hear now and then, and each time it really makes me what to stand up and shout at someone: it’s the idea that women are emotional over how their bodies look because they are most often judged by their appearance.  As I said, this point of view really lights my fuse because it’s a freaking stereotype! Of course, that does not mean that it isn’t true: a lot of women get very emotional over gaining weight and all people are often judged on their appearance.  This entire idea that women are generally ashamed and emotional over their appearance is one of the few things that makes me angry, and frankly, I am pretty slow to anger.

This whole stereotype confused me for a long time while I was growing up.  I have been told all my life that I am an atypical female. (In our gender-fluid modern culture, I should clarify that I was born and remain a heterosexual female.) Maybe because I was mostly raised by my dad, I have been told that I lack certain ‘female’ mannerisms (like primping and flirting); that I tend to shop like a man (I go to the store, buy what I came for and leave), and that I approach problems like a man (offer a solution rather than commiserating).  I’ve read a few essays on the way men and women communicate and think (my favorites are by Deborah Tannen) and I have come to the conclusion that I have a male-oriented outlook about a lot of things.  This means that when men get confused or irritated when their wives/ girlfriends cry “my butt is huge!,” I am just as confused and irritated as they are: “so, what am I supposed to do about it? You’re the one who keeps buying the chocolate cake/ pasta/ frappucinos.” I don’t mean to sound callous, because I have also looked in the mirror and said the same thing: “damn, my butt is ginormous!!” but usually it’s without the wail of “this happened to me against my will.”  When I acknowledge my butt/ thighs/ ankles/ whatever is fat/ huge/ not looking the way I would like it to look, it’s usually accompanied by irritation at myself, because I am the reason it doesn’t look the way I want.  I don’t want someone to tell me what isn’t true- that my butt is not ginormous when I can clearly see that it is- but a few good ideas about how to make it smaller might be appreciated!  Of course, this is not what most women want; they want to be reassured they are still worthy of being loved, because for some women, their self-worth is wrapped up in a small butt and other assorted body parts.

For most of my life, my own self-assessments regarding body size were also accompanied by feelings of helplessness, disappointment and more than a little confusion.  Why wasn’t I able to make the changes that I wanted to make?  In most cases, it’s simply because it was hard work, but even when I did do the work, I didn’t get the results I wanted (I’m still blaming those 11 daily servings of ‘healthy whole carbs aka grains’ the USDA advised me to eat but whatever…!) I mostly missed the whole emotional stigma of being seen as ugly or unattractive by the rest of society, most likely because I have been overweight almost all my life. The constant criticism grew to be just more background noise in a sea of noise constantly telling me how I didn’t measure up to what ‘society’ says women should be. I wasn’t ‘girlish enough’; I made guys feel inadequate by being smarter than they were; I was too independent.  Geez! How dare I base my feelings of self-worth on my independence, intelligence and judgment! I was lucky: these were the things that were valued in my family. My dad never said he was disappointed my sister and I weren’t boys: he took us camping, shooting and fishing just the same. Nor did he encourage us to be “girly.” He did encourage us to read, make our own choices and do what we believed is the right thing to do.  Most of the women in my family are strong, opinionated and independent, even my maternal grandmother, who was not one of my favorite people. The men in my family treat them as equals, and although there were some traditional roles that were respected, it was never about ‘the women not being equal.’ No one in my family was judged on what they looked like, whether it was genetic (shortness and glasses run in my family) or whether it was about their weight (we have all sizes): any judgments were made on their choices.  If you chose to party all night and blow off your midterms, you really screwed up and they would let you know it! Being overweight, wearing glasses, being 4’10”, losing your hair, or being tall and thin- it was just a fact of life! You are who you are!

So whenever I hear people complaining about how ugly they look, how overweight they are, how some body part doesn’t look the way it’s “supposed to look,” I get pretty irritated.  I believe it perpetuates the idea that we all need to fit into stereotypical roles and if we don’t fit, we get dinged for it.  Somehow, we screwed up and we should be ashamed of ourselves.  I think it’s a little funny that if we don’t feel ashamed for not fitting it, we should be ashamed of not being ashamed! More evidence of our ongoing shortcomings! I was reminded not too long ago that most people don’t like being made to feel different or be made fun of.  Kind of obvious, but when being different is your way of life, you tend to forget that others are sensitive to it.  In one way, it’s made me pretty stubborn and independent, and in some ways it’s made me callous and insensitive to others.  While I’m pretty sure ‘independent’ is good, I’m not so sure about the others.

We are ultimately a combination of our choices, our genetics and our environment.  We are born with certain dents, and we collect more either through our own decisions and those life dishes out.  I don’t know anyone who has turned out the way they thought they would when they were kids.  We can either cry over the bumps and lumps or we can keep going despite or because of them.  Yes, I have a ginormous butt and I can either cry about it, do something about it, or learn to live with it.  Right now, I am doing something about it, and while I am, I choose not to cry over it.  Not too long ago, I paused to look at my reflection at the gym before I got in the pool and I realized my saggy skin is really looking saggier than usual.  Periodically my mom asks me when am I going to talk to my doctor about it.  Usually my answer is “I don’t know.”  I still wear short sleeves and tank tops and shorts despite the saggy skin.  I worked hard for those wrinkles and I am not about to let someone else’s opinion deter me! (This is where ‘stubborn’ is good!)

I think we all need to meet somewhere in the middle ground: I can certainly work on being more sensitive and less stubborn, and I think those who are too concerned about their self-image can work on being a little more independent and self-reliant.  We can all benefit by being more concerned about others’ feelings and having more confidence in ourselves.  We are more than the physical body we see in the mirror, and the people who love us do so despite our failings, physical and otherwise.  None of us are perfect, physically, mentally or spiritually.  We can all stand some improvement.  It’s how we grow and remembering that our own bodies are as imperfect as everyone else’s might make us a little more caring and empathetic when someone else is feeling the sting of being different.

 

 

Quack-ology: One Man’s Duck is Another Man’s Visionary

Quite some time ago I heard a podcast about an off-label use for a medication that was having some results helping patients with autoimmune disorders. (I have since forgotten the name of the medication but the podcast was Phoenix Helix.)  Since my mom has problems with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, I did a little googling and passed the information on to her, letting her know that one article I found was by Dr. Joseph Mercola.  My mother texted me back: “Mercola is a quack” and that was the end of that conversation.

I have to chuckle a little remembering my mom’s blanket statement regarding Dr. Mercola, considering she was an ardent fan of a particular tv doctor who first debuted on Oprah, was enthusiastically endorsed by Ms. Winfrey and now has his own show and magazine. I’ve seen his show a few times and was not impressed, but I gave him a shot and made my own determination.

Honestly, at the time I passed his article on to my mom, I didn’t have a clue who Joseph Mercola was or what his reputation was like.  I was merely giving my mother some information I thought could help her out, and I figured she would do her own research.  Since then, I’ve read a little bit more about Dr. Mercola and am currently reading his latest book Fat for Fuel.  I’ve also recently read Dr. Josh Axe’s book Eat Dirt.  I mention both of these authors (out of several I’ve read recently) because when I google their names I usually get a website (or two) about “quacks.”  Who decides someone is a quack?  The general public?  Is there a government agency or consumer organization that make that determination? Would this be the same government/ consumer agencies that say sugar is not addictive and that eating 11 servings of grains daily is good for you?  Or the same general medical association that says fat causes heart disease (which was  based incidentally on a few flawed studies referenced by Dr. Ancel Keyes, the same doctor on the sugar industry payroll who stated ‘sugar is good for you’)?

I remember when Dr. Robert Atkins began promoting his low carb diet: the medical community and the diet industry quickly slapped him with the Quack label as well, but over the last few decades, that label has changed from Quack to Pioneer.  Now most diets promote a low/ lower carb approach to nutrition and weight loss.  My question to the nutrition community is “so when did he stop ‘quacking’?”  All humor and mud-slinging aside, this is usually the way it goes when someone makes a revolutionary leap in science and medicine: they are labeled as quacks, charlatans and incompetents.  There must be something flawed with their research or science.  Sometimes that is really the case, but if we don’t really examine their conclusions, we’ll never know.

The history of science is littered with those who had to endure all kinds of ridicule- and worse- before time and other brave souls proved them right.  Galileo was arrested, excommunicated and imprisoned for saying the Earth revolved around the sun.  How dare he go against 1000 years of ‘religious science’!  Ignaz Semmelweis and later Joseph Lister were also mocked for their whole ‘antiseptic’ approach to surgery, as if washing your hands before you perform surgery is a good idea! What a bunch of quacks! Looking back at some of the ideas that were previously held as Accepted Scientific Fact, we laugh at how silly ‘those people’ were: ideas that the Earth was flat and you could fall off the end; that rain fell through holes in the celestial sphere that held back the waters of heaven, and that the sun, moon and stars all rotated around our flat Earth on those spheres.  People even claimed that if it were quiet enough, you could hear the spheres moving: the ‘music of the spheres!’ And it wasn’t just the ancients that had these wild ideas: not too long ago, it was generally accepted as fact that if a person were subjected to speeds greater than 35 miles an hour, he would not survive; bathing every day would make him sick and that ‘night airs’ would give him fever and chills (aka malaria). But to ‘those people,’ the thought of ‘invisible bugs’ causing disease was equally laughable.  You might as well believe in unicorns!

The point I am trying to make is that science, medicine and nutrition are ever-evolving disciplines. We’ve heard all the quotes: “the first step towards knowledge is admitting ignorance”; “to assume we know everything is the height of arrogance,” etc.  All learning starts with a question, usually why or how, which means we are ignorant about something.  I remember hearing a story about Johannes Kepler (he was a Renaissance astronomer).  Watching the planets move through the sky, he was able to predict to position of all those he could see, except Mars.  Mars was always out of position and he struggled to understand what he was missing and then he realized: Mars moves in a ellipse, not a circle. It’s this admission that we don’t know and the struggle to find out why that grows our knowledge.  When we deny our own ignorance, we stop learning.

This is where the quacks come into play.  We’ve all heard the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: the con men who sold the emperor clothes made of cloth so fine and magical that stupid people could not see or feel it.  Of course, the emperor was too proud to say he couldn’t see it so he paraded through the town naked, while the whole town ooh’d and ahhh’d over the ‘magic clothes’ that they could not see either. At least until a precocious child said the obvious: the emperor’s got no clothes! Someone has to be brave enough to stand up and say, if not the obvious, then at least a new idea.  Not all the ideas are good ones but until we look at the ideas and the science behind them, we don’t know if they are legitimate steps forward or not.  If Galileo had kept his mouth shut when the Church threatened him with excommunication, then our universe would be a much different, much smaller place.  If all the scientists, doctors and inventors kept their mouths shut and their ideas to themselves rather than risk ridicule, we would never have made the advances that we have regarding the natural world, anatomy, science or physics.  Medical fundamentals such as the circulatory system, the function of the heart, germ and virus theory, genetics, and even basic hygiene all developed because some ‘quack’ came forward with a new idea.  If we have been able to see further than others, it’s because we have stood on the shoulders of giants, some of whom were labeled quacks (apologies to Isaac Newton).

We need to give new ideas the benefit of the doubt rather than either dismissing it completely as ‘quackery’ or accepting it whole-heartedly as legitimate.  Both are equally dangerous because even a genius can be wrong.  One of the newest ideas with an equal number of adherents and detractors is the fecal transplant for those with intestinal bacteria imbalance.  Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like: a poop transplant.  A donor whose intestinal bacteria is in balance donates some fecal matter (aka POOP) which is put into a capsule and YOU SWALLOW THEIR POOP! It’s supposed to implant the good bacteria in your intestines. Does it work? I don’t know.  Would I have this done to me? Oh, hell no!! Not unless I were knocking on Death’s door!! …and maybe not even then- ugh! But the fact remains that just because it’s a ‘crazy quacking idea’ doesn’t mean it’s not real science with real results.  It just means I’d have to be really really hurting before I would even try it.

Do Joseph Mercola and Josh Axe belong in the ranks with William Harvey and Ignaz Semmelweis? I don’t know, but who are we to say that they don’t? When we dismiss someone outright as being a quack without examining their hypothesis, we may be dismissing legitimate science, and just because someone is a ‘bonafide scientist’ does not mean they are always correct: Aristotle was one of the mainstream intelligentsia that believed Democritus (atomic theory) was a quack. Even Einstein was wrong about his ‘cosmological constant’ and Linus Pauling (two time solo recipient of the Nobel prize) was wrong about his ‘triple helix’ model. There are definitely quacks out there, just as there are definite pioneers. We need to keep an open mind before we slam the door on them.

 

 

Down and Dirty: How Clean Living Can Make You Sick

I recently finished Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be at the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure it by Josh Axe. (Yeah, that’s a long title!) While audio books aren’t my preferred format, I think this book is worth the effort. Dr. Axe makes a few interesting correlations between the relatively sudden rise in autoimmune diseases and other disorders, our sanitized society and our microbiome.  While he defines the terms ‘leaky gut,’ ‘microbiome’ and ‘microbiota’ in his book, I will give you the short version: our digestive tract is full of bacteria, both good and bad.  This symbiotic relationship is necessary to our own individual survival: we need this bacteria in our digestive tract to break down the food we eat.  Once it has been broken down by the bacteria, our body is able to absorb the nutrients through the lining in our intestines.  The integrity of our intestinal lining is dependent on the health of these bacteria (microbiota).  The microbiome is the environment these bacteria inhabit: essentially our digestive tract.  Leaky gut (Increased Intestinal Permeability) is what happens to our digestive tract when we don’t take good care of our microbiome: the integrity of the intestinal lining becomes compromised, allowing not only foods we’ve eaten to enter our bloodstream and body but also some of the toxins that should have been expelled.  Sometimes it’s not that the food particles which enter are bad for us: they are not as broken down as they should be, and that causes problems.  When foods we’ve eaten before without problems begin giving us problems, it’s usually because our microbiome has been compromised.

This is the reason that so many people have problems like Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Celiac Disease, among others.  The helpful bacteria in the gut has been compromised either by highly processed foods, toxins we’ve ingested (sometimes in the form of medication) and our squeaky clean sanitized society.  Not only are we failing to feed and care for our microbiota the way we should, we are actively attacking it with antibiotics, toxic foods, preservatives, chemicals and hand sanitizers.  While being clean is a good thing and no one is saying don’t wash your hands, there is such a thing as being toxically clean. Not everything needs to be disinfected and that disinfectant you just used to kill the benign bacteria on your counter or desk could be making you sick instead of keeping you healthy. Most of the bacteria in our environment is not harmful and some of it is actually beneficial and necessary to our survival. Being ‘clean and sanitary’ the way we think of it now is killing us through digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, malnutrition and possibly cancer.

The cure for this? Eat dirt. Really. If you were to swab your skin and look at it under a microscope, you would see thousands of bacteria.  Dr. Axe reports that we are probably more bacteria than human since we have them inside us and on us all the time.  We are walking bacteria colonies! The naturally occurring bacteria in our environment helps us to break down the foods that come from that environment.  When humans foraged for food, the bacterias on the foods like roots and berries became part of our microbiome.  Since most of them lived on the foods and broke them down to metabolize them, they continued to do the same thing in our intestines.  Therefore, when that farmer plucked an apple in his orchard and ate it after wiping it on his shirt, the bacteria on the apple skin became part of his microbiome and helped him digest the apple he just ate.  The bacteria take up residence and multiply in our intestines, so it becomes easier to digest the local foods.  When we kill those bacteria before they can get to our intestines, we are killing our ability to digest some of these foods.  This is why we sometimes get a little sick when we eat something we’ve never eaten before: the bacteria needed to digest it isn’t in our microbiome.

Humans- and other animals- have developed this way and it’s not a optional condition.  Without these bacteria, we will die, probably a horrible painful death.  We would be ravaged by disease and illness and be unable to derive any nutrients from anything we ate.  Our microbiome not only feeds us, it protects us from illness: our gut is our immune system’s first line of defense.  If our gut is sick, odds are we are sick too!

Some of you know that I work in the same building as my sister, who’s known the attorneys I now work with for many years. In fact, I heard about many of these people for years before I ever met them, and one of the secretaries was forced to retire because of her Crohn’s disease.  When I first met this poor woman at a social gathering a few years ago, I could not believe how thin and frail she looked.  When I came to work here, a little over a year ago, one of the things that really shocked me was how much hand sanitizer they had in the office.  Seriously, they have Costco size bottles every fifty feet and in every room in the building- NOT KIDDING! After reading Dr. Axe’s book, I think I may have an idea about what contributed to this poor woman’s Crohn’s disease. While I have hand sanitizer in my purse and on my desk (little 99 cent bottles), I don’t often use it.  I also have disinfectant wipes that I rarely use.  If I think I need them, I do (mainly to clean off sticky stuff), but there are a lot of people in this building who consistently smell like hand sanitizer.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m an unsanitary dirty slob (I come from a family of farmers so a little dirt is a way of life), and years ago, I listened to a report about ‘Super Viruses’ and how we were making them ourselves by overuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial everything.  Every time we take an antibiotic or use an antibacterial, we do not kill all the bugs: some are resistant, survive and then when they reproduce, all the new bugs have their parents’ resistance to antibiotics/ antibacterials.  This is how we end up with killer bacteria like MRSA (methilicillin-resistant staph aureus)  and VRSA (vancomycin-resistant staph aureus) just to name a couple.  These killer bacteria are resistant to most of the drugs used to treat the ‘normal’ staph infections, and if not treated correctly, they will kill you.  (No kidding: I’ve the MRSA and it’s not fun.) The doctor quoted in the report advised not taking an antibiotic every time we think we get a cold or flu, and when we wash our hands, regular soap and warm/ hot water is enough. This advice stuck with me and my sister and so while I do keep the antibacterial stuff around for times when I think it’s needed, most of the time I just use the soap and water.  I’ve never been a fan of gulping medications of any kind (the only reason I went to the doctor for the MRSA was because it was MRSA.) I get a cold, I’m miserable for about a week and I get over it.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I figure if we consistently hide from dirt and germs, when we do run across them, we have no resistance to them.  As a kid, I played in the sandbox, ran around barefoot and, according to my mom, was a big fan of making mud pies when I was a baby.  I’ve also had pets all my life and they sit on my lap, lick my face and hands, and sleep right next me. (If what Dr. Axe says is true, my pets and I have a lot of the same microbiota!)

Dr. Axe’s philosophy regarding bacteria and germs is fairly similar to my own: micro-exposure.  Basically, my philosophy has been to treat my immune system like a car and keep the battery charged and fuel lines in good shape by using it.  If your car just sits idle in the garage, your battery loses its charge and if it sits too long, the oil and gas start to lacquer.  The tires and fuel lines start to crack and lose flexibility.  In other words, your car falls apart and your immune system isn’t much different.  If your immune system gets triggered periodically by a cut, a cold or some mildly unpleasant stomach bug, it swings into action, takes care of it and then goes back to ‘stand-by.’  If your immune system doesn’t get triggered regularly, then it can overreact and start attacking everything, including your own body.  Or, if it’s constantly triggered because you eat foods you are sensitive to, then it can also start ignoring the triggers, the way you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock when you’re half asleep.  Later, when you wake up after oversleeping, you’re in real trouble! Getting small exposures to bacteria on a regular basis keeps everything functioning normally.  Your immune system knows what’s a real threat and what isn’t and you can pick up additional healthy bugs!

By contrast, not being exposed to different bacteria does not keep you any healthier, and in fact, can make you sick.  Dr. Axe mentions a comparison study done of Amish children and ‘mainstream’ children regarding allergies, food sensitivities and asthma. The Amish children, most living in rural areas surrounded by animals, pollen and dirt, were much healthier with fewer allergies, sensitivities and breathing problems, while the ‘mainstream’ children had higher rates of all these problems.  Dr. Axe’s theory is that being constantly exposed to a myriad of different bacteria kept the Amish children immune to these problems. Again, microexposures to bacteria were keeping their immune system and digestive tracts in good working order.

Obviously, we need to use a little common sense when it comes to bacteria.  Trying to kill off every bacterium and germ we come across is a bad idea, as well as being pretty unfeasible! But we still need to be sensible about things: if you’re in a public restroom, maybe using the hand sanitizer after washing isn’t a bad idea, and if you have a cut on your hand, you might want to use gloves when you’re out in the yard cleaning up the doggie doo.  Using the hand sanitizer after finishing lunch at your own house or your own desk might be a bit overkill, literally. Washing up is a good idea, but warm water instead of soap with triclosan or another antibacterial agent probably isn’t necessary every time.

Besides not killing our microbiota, Dr. Axe gives some advice on the ‘care and feeding of our microbiome.’  They are living organisms and they need an hospitable environment to live and reproduce (our intestines) as well as plenty of food (our food is their food).  Most of those unhealthy bugs also like the junk food we like, and when we eat more of it than we do the healthy foods, the bad bugs crowd out the good bugs. This is a problem for us, because the bad bacteria (ideally about 15% of our microbiome) can cause many of the digestive disorders mentioned above. When the bad bacteria take over our intestines, we lose the ability to digest certain foods, and these are usually the foods with higher nutrients, so even though we are eating the healthy vegetables, fruits and proteins, our intestines and our bodies never get the nutrients because the bugs in our guts that break those down for us aren’t there to break them down.  It’s like having a flashlight with dead batteries: no good batteries, no light and the flashlight is useless to you.  If you have no good bugs in your digestive tract, all that healthy food is useless to you.  Even just feeding the bad bugs more often than feeding the good bugs can cause a population shift favoring the bacteria that cause us problems.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Don’t be afraid to hug your dog or cat, even if they’re a little grungy from the yard.  Eat more local organic veggies.  One of the sayings in my family is “God made dirt so dirt don’t hurt.”  I really believe a little dirt isn’t a bad thing any more than getting a little sweaty is a bad thing: they both keep us healthy!

 

 

 

You Can’t Choose For Them But You Can Choose to Respect Their Choice

This is a topic that is close to my heart, because it stabs right through! I was watching a rerun on My 600 Life: it was a follow-up episode and the patient was doing fairly well, having lost about 200 lbs. The problem now was her 23 yr old daughter’s weight, which was around 300 lbs.  The patient (Charity) was desperate to keep her daughter (Charlie) “from going through what I went through” and was essentially hounding her to lose weight.  I have been that daughter.  For more years than I care to think about, I have listened endlessly to all kinds of threats, inducements, plain old bribes, suggestions subtle and not at all subtle about my weight.  I know the mother’s behavior stems from her love and desire to protect her daughter, but the girl is now an adult and the best way to show that love is to respect her daughter’s decisions, even if she thinks they are the wrong decisions.  It’s okay to disagree with her and be respectful about it, but constant criticism is only going to drive a wedge between them.  Think about it: let’s substitute ‘boyfriend/ girlfriend’ for ‘weight.’  How many of you have listened to a parent complain about the person you are dating/ involved with? How much fun was it seeing your parent when you had to listen to them talk badly about someone you love? How long was it before you limited your exposure to your parent and/ or tuned them out as soon as they started complaining about your boyfriend/ girlfriend?: “You wouldn’t have to do XYZ if Bobby had more ambition.” “If Jolene dressed a little better she’d probably get a better job.”

I am sure Charity thinks she is doing what moms are supposed to do and look out for their children. She no doubt thinks she’s ‘guiding’ Charlie, but Charlie has already told her that when she criticizes her weight or her eating habits, it hurts her feelings (frankly, that’s more than I could ever tell my mom!)  So, Charity does the ‘next best thing’: when they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, Charity tells him to tell Charlie she needs to lose weight! (One of those not-at-all-subtle suggestions!) What Charity does not realize is that she is not helping her daughter any more than the constant criticism and humiliation at the hands of others helped Charity to lose weight herself! As someone who has been in Charlie’s shoes, I can tell you that all Charity is doing is making Charlie feel more inadequate and more like a failure or disappointment.  There is the ‘constant qualifier’ to her self-esteem and worth as a person: ‘you’d be such a pretty girl if only you weighed less“; “you could do XYZ if you didn’t weigh so much“; etc.  In other words: “you’re just not good enough because you’re too fat.”  I am sure that this is not what Charity believes just as I am sure this is not the message she wants to send to her daughter, but this is the message she is sending her daughter when she criticizes her weight and her eating habits: you are screwing up!

People eat for a variety of reasons and two of the biggest are emotional solace and simple control.  We hear a lot about people ‘eating their emotions’ because they are either feeling something they don’t know how to deal with or they don’t want to deal with, so they distract themselves by eating something that makes them feel good, or they want to celebrate by making the good feelings last longer, so they eat something to reinforce those positive feelings.  The end result is usually obesity: ‘I can’t handle my emotions.’

Control is another reason: pretty much the ultimate control over your own body is what you eat.  Remember how little kids will refuse to eat?  They are exercising control over their situation in the only way they can.  This can end up as an eating disorder, usually anorexia.  Sadly, this is how my grandmother died: as her health deteriorated and there were fewer things she could on her own, she chose to eat less and less.  Despite being hospitalized and having the doctor (and others) flat out tell her that she would die if she didn’t eat, she refused to eat.  The flip side of self-starvation is obviously obesity: ‘I am in control of what I eat and I am choosing to eat!‘ The irony is that the more you choose to eat or not eat, the less control you have over your situation.  As my grandmother grew weaker, there were fewer and fewer things she could do, until she finally ended up in a hospital where she died.  The same is true for the super morbidly obese: the more they eat, the bigger they become, the less mobile they are, the less they can do until finally they are bedridden and dependent on someone else bringing them the food they still demand because their ability to eat as much as they want is still under their control as they learn to manipulate their enablers.

In a situation like Charlie’s, the more disapproval she senses from her mother, the more likely she is to eat her emotions: she feels bad that her mom is unhappy with her, and her mom makes her feel bad about herself, so she eats to feel better, and then feels guilty that she ate or that she ate the ‘wrong thing,’ so she eats something else to feel better.  I think for Charity growing up, she ate for control (I know I did): her childhood was chaotic and scary and eating was something she had control over, so she ate as much as she could to make herself feel safe and secure (it was kind of the same for me).  When everything is chaos and disorder, you control what you can, even if it’s just a bag of potato chips.  The point is that having used food for solace and control in her own life, Charity should realize that her nagging behavior is not supporting Charlie.  Unfortunately, like most of us, Charity is too close to the issue to be objective.

It’s hard to say what I would do in a similar situation: I’ve been morbidly obese like Charity (technically I still am) and I grew up being hounded over my weight like Charlie.  Obviously since my weight remained a problem, one thing I am absolutely sure of is that hounding someone is guaranteed not to succeed.  Constant nagging only alienates those involved and in most cases adds to the stress which triggers the ‘offending behavior,’ whether it’s smoking or eating (my mom hounded one of her boyfriends about smoking with the same results!) There’s that old expression: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You also can’t push him down the road you think he should be on.  All you can do is try to lead him, and leading by example works a whole lot better than bullying or humiliation.

When it comes to other family members, whatever they choose to eat is their own choice.  There are few things more personal than what you choose to put in your body.  My sister was vegetarian for many years and while it’s not my choice, it was hers and I respected that when we went out to eat.  My dad eats the Standard American Diet, and when he was recovering from an illness recently, I bought groceries for him.  It would have been easy for me to buy him what I think he should be eating (my mom would have) but I bought things he likes, although I did buy the healthiest versions of them that I could.  I could have filled his bags with organic produce and meats and left out the breads and processed foods he likes, but that’s what I choose to eat for myself. Having been the recipient of “healthy” groceries chosen by my mom, based on whatever “doc of the day” said was healthy, instead of being grateful, I was more hurt and annoyed than anything else.  I confess, when I shopped for him, I leaned a little more heavily on the fruits and vegetables he likes rather than the stuff in cans or boxes, but they were all things he enjoys.  His grocery bags looked way different than mine do and that’s the point: we all choose different things for ourselves.  You may not like what someone else chooses to eat: you might think it’s bad for them; that they are eating all wrong; that they need to ‘fix’ whatever in their diet, but the fact remains that it’s their life, their body, their food and their choice. We need to respect one another’s choices as we expect them to respect ours.

Do you know what has helped me the most in my weight loss? Other people respecting my food choices.  My mom disagreed with my choice to eat Paleo (at least until the “doc of the day” gave it his thumbs up) and just like before, I tuned it out. The rest of my family was kind of interested in it, or at least they faked it for my sake, and they encouraged me to make better choices by respecting my different way of eating.  Now if I eat something that ‘isn’t Paleo,’ they tease me about it but won’t tell me that not to eat it.  Being supportive doesn’t mean being critical; it means respecting someone else’s decision.  If Charity really wants to be supportive with Charlie, she can do it by inviting her to share her healthy meals, setting a good example and letting Charlie decide for herself.  After all, what is more encouraging that being around someone who is happy, healthy and is holding the door open for you to join her?

 

 

 

 

The Electricity is in the Air: EMF Pollution and Wireless Radiation Can Be Making You Sick

This is another one of those big hot button topics that is flooding the media.  (A bit of an irony there!) For those of you who don’t know, EMF means Electro Magnetic Frequency / Field and anything that generates electric current also generates an EMF, including living things.  The problem is that we living creatures are now being subjected to more electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation than ever.  Moreover, some of us are sensitive to them.

Some of you may have watched those paranormal investigation shows that are so popular now.  I confess, I’ve been a fan of ghosts and the paranormal since I was a kid, so I’ve seen some of the better shows where they examine ‘evidence’ with a skeptic’s eye, and also some of those shows where the investigator runs out of the room screaming in terror because “something touched my face!!!” (personally, I think the screaming experts are a lot more fun).  On those shows, the investigators usually show up with all their gadgets, which usually includes an EMF meter to detect changes in the electromagnetic field, which may mean the presence of a ghost (!!).  On one of those earlier shows (not sure if it’s still on), I learned what a Fear Cage is. While I knew what EMFs are, I didn’t realize until I started watching these shows what kinds of effects electrical fields can have on a person.  In this episode, the client called in the investigators because he was ‘feeling watched’ in his house, was anxious all the time, felt sick and had started seeing ‘apparitions.’  One of the first things these investigators did when beginning an investigation was examine the locations for anything that could be causing the allegedly paranormal phenomena (they call this ‘debunking’).  What they found was that the house, which was being renovated at the time, was essentially a Fear Cage, meaning there was so much exposed electrical wiring, also ungrounded, that the house was flooded with electrical energy.  It was off the charts on their EMF meters.  Prolonged exposure to high EMF can cause (among other things) headaches, nausea, anxiety, heart palpitations, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), paranoia and auditory and visual hallucinations.  The client had not mentioned having headaches until they told him about the high EMF.  Essentially, they told the client to have an electrician fix the EMF problems and if he was still having ‘paranormal’ problems, they’d come back and investigate.

This episode was almost 20 years ago when, unless you had the bad luck to live next to an electrical transformer or tower, pretty much the only people who paid any attention to EMF and weren’t physicists or an electricians were pretty much ghost hunters.  Once cell phones, wifi, Bluetooth devices and their towers and accessories became much more prevalent, more people started realizing that EMF could cause physical problems, and that some people are more sensitive to it than others.  This is a good thing if you are ghost hunter (you’re a human EMF detector!) but other than that, there’s not a lot of advantages.

I am one of those “human EMF detectors” and I realized it when I broke my wrist almost twenty years ago.  The doctor sent me for an X ray and I was sitting next to the machine with my wrist laying flat on the platform.  The tech (safely behind the shield) turned on the light putting my wrist squarely in the crosshairs.  When he turned on the machine, I blurted out: “wow, it tingles!” and he gave me a weird almost scared look and said “you can feel that?!”  “uhhh, yeah,” I replied, a little uncertain.  Was I not supposed to feel it? It was a tingly tickly sensation in my arm. Since then, I have noticed when I have my cell phone or other wireless device in my hand, I can tell when it is downloading or connecting (when the little wheel is going or not).  It’s the same tingly tickly sensation.  Beyond recognizing when an electronic device is on or not working, it really hasn’t caused too many problems other than occasional headaches, a little tinnitus and minor physical irritations when I am around a lot of electronics for extended periods of time. Standing in our electrical room at the office usually gives me a little anxiety and/ or headaches, but honestly, that could just be because I don’t know beans about fixing any of those things.

But I’m really not a techno-junky so unless it’s my phone, iPod or tablet, I don’t spend a lot of time around electronics once I leave the office, which does not have wifi. I have one television (not a smart variety), on the other side of the living room from me and my wifi device at home is mobile, so unless I’m actually using it, it’s not on. The same goes for my laptop. The Bluetooth device for my phone is probably what bothers me the most: it sits outside my ear and if I wear it for more than twenty minutes or so, my inner ear starts to feel weird and it takes a couple hours or so after removing it before my ear feels ‘normal’ again.  I usually wear a Fitbit, which is also Bluetooth, but apparently it’s not strong enough to bother me, and any of my wireless devices that I do leave on are usually a couple feet or more away from me.  I don’t keep my phone in my bedroom: I charge it on the other side of the house.  It’s not that I’m scared of EMF pollution-  it’s just what is convenient for me.

Most people don’t know if they are sensitive to EMF until it starts causing them problems. Paleo Magazine Radio has recently done two podcasts covering EMF and wireless radiation and some of the problems it causes: Jeremy Johnson (2/13/2017) and Alison Main (3/13/2017). For most people, the biggest issues with electronics are headaches, eye strain and sleep disturbances.  Most electronic screens emit blue light, which our brain interprets as sunlight. This is why most tips on sleeping better include turning off or putting away your computers, tvs, tablets and phones about an hour before going to bed.  Some also suggest blue light blocking glasses (the ones I’ve seen look like giant orange sunglasses) or using the blue screen blocker app/ function on your device.  My kindle fire has a blue screen function which essentially turns my screen varying degrees of yellow-orange.  (I don’t use it- the orange gives me a bigger headache than the blue light.)

Personally, I think this has the potential to become one of those ‘Chicken Little’ issues (“the sky is falling! the sky is falling!”) that gets people all worked up over something that is not an issue for them, like how it’s become ‘fashionable,’ as it were, to be gluten-free, whether you are gluten sensitive or not. I don’t want to belittle EMF sensitivity, because it can cause some real physical problems for those who suffer from it.  I am fairly lucky in this regard: I am not as sensitive as others are and I’m not surrounded by EMF/ wireless radiation as much as most people. Those who live and work surrounded by wireless technology and higher EMF emitters can become extremely ill if they are sensitive to it. Actually realizing that it’s the EMF which is making you sick is the biggest hurdle for most sufferers; it’s usually not obvious that it’s the wireless router in your house that’s causing you problems.

Both of PMR’s guests offer some good tips on how to deal with EMF pollution by minimizing your exposure.  Obviously, cell phones and other electronics aren’t going away and these days it’s way too hard to live without them, unless you happen to be Amish (in which case you aren’t reading this blog!) But if you walk around all day with your cell phone or head phones/ earbuds permanently attached, then yes, you could have symptoms and the EMF radiation could be causing them.  The same holds if you are glued to your computer screen or tablet for several hours a day, your wireless router is right next to your desk or your bed or you have a host of wireless devices on 24/7.  Turning off the electronics is the most obvious choice: if you don’t need it on, turn it off, or at least put it on Airplane Mode.  I turn off my wifi at home simply because it’s a mobile device and leaving it on drains the battery.  I could leave it hooked up to the charger 24/7 so I can leave it on all the time, but that’s just too much of a hassle for me, just like charging the phone in the bedroom is too much of a hassle (I don’t need to hear all the pings and dings every time I get a text or an email, but I do want to be able to hear the phone if it rings).

What is a little more insidious is that we now have wireless devices which emit this radiation that we might not thing about as being a “wireless” device, such as a plain old cordless phone for your landline (millenials: Google it); a smart scale; a smart tv; a smart refrigerator; a smart doorbell; or any other lamp, security system or device connected to having a smart home.  As I stated above, anything electrical emits an EMF field, but smart devices emit additional radiation which adds to the load and can cause problems if you are around them all the time. These also include things like a wireless keyboard and/ mouse, both of which I have on my desk right now.  Minimizing our exposure starts with simply opting for the old fashioned corded devices if possible.  If you have a landline, use a corded phone.  Switch to a wired keyboard and mouse (not bloody likely here with the infernal octopus still living under my desk right now!)  The same goes for head phones/ earbuds and earpieces (required in California if you are going to use your phone while driving). Most mobile devices like tablets, phones and iPods have an Airplane Mode, so you should use it if you don’t need to be connected. Both Jeremy Johnson and Alison Main insist that you don’t need to be surrounded by wireless radiation in order to stay connected and stay healthy: Mr. Johnson works in IT in San Francisco and Ms. Main is a freelance writer/ business owner.  Both minimize their EMF exposure and stay connected in a digital world. I am sure they are both way more connected than I am!

If you think you might be sensitive to EMF/ wireless radiation, Jeremy Johnson gave a TEDx talk on the topic and his website is https://www.emfanalysis.com/.  His website has info on the health effects, solutions as well as a link to his TEDx talk.  Alison Main is a freelance writer whose most recent article on this topic covers the hazards EMF and wireless radiation pose to children and pregnant women.  Her article “The Kids Are Not All Right” is in the February/ March issue of Paleo Magazine (https://alisonmain.me/tag/emf-safety/).  Both podcasts on PMR are available with the show notes on iTunes.

Regardless of whether you are sensitive to EMF or not, it’s just a good idea to unplug now and then.  One of the little perks about doing water aerobics at my gym is that I can’t ‘plug in’ while working out even if I wanted to As I’m in the pool, having actual human interaction with my classmates, I’ve noticed how many of the others at the gym are constantly connected to their phones whether wired or wireless.  As a child, I grew up spending at least one evening a week unplugged from tvs and technology and spent it with actual people (my extended family), and I think it taught me the value of real connections over virtual ones. Make a habit of making real connections on a regular basis: it keeps you grounded!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying Trouble? Supplements, Probiotics, and Protein Powders

These are topics that make the rounds periodically: “what supplements should I be taking? What do I look for in a probiotic? Are whey protein shakes better or should I get a plant based one?” The problem with these questions is that almost anyone you ask can’t answer them for you. The operative phrase in that sentence is “for you.” I’m not trying to be clever here because, unless that person is your doctor or nutritionist, you are the only one who knows what works best for you.  Products like supplements, protein powders and probiotics/ prebiotics are extremely personalized: they depend on what your body and what you are eating.  There are some health professionals who will say things like “everyone should be taking vitamin D/ B/ multivitamin, etc.” (I heard one say it again today!) While I think most people would benefit from those, especially if they are eating the Standard American Diet, the fact is there are some people who don’t need them or should not be taking them.   In general, I think most people would be okay taking a multivitamin but I also think taking supplements “because everyone needs them” can be harmful, especially if they are electrolytes or a fat soluble vitamin.  [Again, I am not a doctor; this is just my regular person opinion.]

Electrolytes are vitamins and minerals that conduct electricity in the body: they are necessary to make our muscles contract, our nerves function and pretty much every other biochemical reaction in our bodies work smoothly.  Examples of electrolytes are potassium, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium and phosphates.  I learned about electrolytes when I was in middle school because I used to get really really nasty leg cramps at night and it was usually because I was low on one of the above.  Most sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are designed to replace the electrolytes we lose through sweating.  The problems can come when our electrolytes get seriously out of whack, usually because- like me- we don’t eat/ drink the right things or because we are loading up on ‘healthy supplements.’ Just a small reminder: your heart is a muscle! and it is as liable as any other muscle in your body to be affected by an electrolyte imbalance!  Too much potassium or magnesium or vitamin D can cause the serious problems.  (Example: whenever I eat a lot of potassium rich foods like spinach or sweet potatoes, I get really nasty leg cramps.) I remember seeing one “True Stories of the ER” episode where the patient was a kid who’d drunk an entire bottle of antacid (a magnesium, sodium bicarbonate mix) and the doctors had to give an antagonist lest he have a heart attack.  [FYI: when prisoners are executed by lethal injection, it’s usually potassium chloride, which stops the heart.]

Vitamins are generally either fat soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in your body fat or water soluble.  Most of the vitamins we take, like B or C, are water soluble and anything our body doesn’t use is flushed out fairly quickly. (This is why your urine is bright yellow after you take B.) That makes it almost impossible to overdose on water soluble vitamins, but fat soluble vitamins build up in your body and you can overdose on those.  Fat soluble vitamins are D, A, K, and E.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of vitamins and minerals that can be stored or can cause problems if you take too many. Before you go out and load up on any supplements, please look at what you are already taking. If you have a nutritionist, meet with him/ her and ask their opinion.  If you want to talk to your doctor, have bloodwork done and ask him/ her if there are any vitamins or supplements they would recommend, and when you do that, please make sure their list of what you are already taking is current! I review this list with my doctor at least twice a year so she knows what I’m taking.  Just another FYI: if your doc gives you a new prescription (or even if refill a current one), PLEASE READ THE INFORMATIONAL PAMPHLET THAT COMES WITH IT. I know most pharmacies will put a sticker on them, but even with supplements, you need to read the pamphlet to 1) make sure you don’t have a drug interaction (which can be serious), and; 2) to make sure you aren’t wasting your time & money!  A close friend of mine was told by her doctor that her D3 levels were very low, so she should take vitamin D twice a day, which she did every morning on an empty stomach. After 3 months, she went back for a follow up and her levels had barely changed; she didn’t understand it until she read the instructions on the bottle: ‘take with food.’  It wasn’t being absorbed.

As for the other “biggies” like probiotics, prebiotics, and protein powders, it’s all about you: what are you eating? Most people want a protein powder because either they: a) don’t think they are getting enough protein; b) think protein is a ‘free food’ so they want a lot of it to lose weight; c) are trying to build muscle.  Protein will help you build muscle if you are actually working out and doing strength training.  If your goal is building muscle, hopefully you are working with a trainer who can advise you, because your diet, body type and strength training experience are a lot more important to your success (and not hurting yourself) than whether you are drinking a pea-based protein shake or a whey-based protein shake.  (If you need some guidance getting a trainer, check out Metabolic Radio.)

If you are looking at protein shakes because you think it’s a ‘free food,’ sorry but it’s not.  All foods have calories and if you eat/ drink too much of anything, it’s still too much.  Many people think that fat and carbs are stored as body fat but ‘protein builds muscle.’  It’s true: it builds muscle, but since protein can’t be stored as ‘protein,’ if you eat/ drink too much of it, surprise! your body turns it into glucose (a carb) through gluconeogenesis and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  End result: too much protein can make you fat just like carbs and fat. It can also make you sick; people who consistently get more than 35% of their calories from protein can suffer from protein toxicity, so protein is definitely NOT a free food.

Most people get protein powders because they think they are not getting enough protein.  While they can be good supplements to a healthy diet, you should focus on the ‘healthy diet’ part first.  If most of what you eat comes from a bag, box or a restaurant, focus on more whole foods. Even though they’re ‘healthy,’ protein powders are still processed, which means there can be some nutrients and other necessary factors that aren’t included in them. Most whole foods are nutritious not because they are high in protein, fiber or vitamin/ mineral XYZ, but because they usually have more than just the one thing in them.  Spinach for example is high in vitamins K, A , B2, B1, B6, C, E, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, potassium and is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, choline, and yes, protein! All of these things are in a serving of spinach, so you not only get a good dose of protein, you get the fiber, mineral and boatload of vitamins that come with it. This is why even the highest quality protein powders can’t beat eating whole foods. If you are eating a whole food diet and still think you aren’t getting enough protein, then yes, a quality protein shake can be a shortcut to give you more of what you want without eating a truckload of food.  If you are transitioning to a whole food/ healthier diet, then a protein shake can be great boost, but please bear in mind that ‘shortcuts’ also cut corners: while you may be getting more protein, you aren’t really doing yourself any favors missing out on the rest of the healthy nutrition that goes with the whole foods.

What’s often missing from protein powders (and meal replacement shakes/ bars) are the co-factors that help you metabolize the nutrients that are in them.  This is called bio-availability.  Example: calcium cannot be absorbed by your body without vitamin D and magnesium.  These bind to the calcium and ‘escort’ it into your cells, so if you are taking a calcium supplement without the D & magnesium either in the supplement or in your diet, your body is not absorbing the calcium and you aren’t getting much benefit from what you are taking.  This is why some powders/ shakes/ bars will say they have 20 grams of protein (or whatever) but it’s either in a form your body can’t absorb or because there aren’t the necessary co-factors that allow your body to use it. This is what happened with my friend and the vitamin D and is the biggest reason whole foods are better than just supplements.

Beyond the quality of the product, the choice of plant v whey/ animal protein pretty much depends on you: is vegetarian/ plant based important to you?  Do you have digestive problems with milk (whey is a milk product)? There are other options out there: egg, bone broth, collagens, hemp, etc.  Obviously you want to aim for quality, so check them out.  Read some reviews and see if any are endorsed by an organization you trust.  Organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) are important to me.  But again, it’s all about you and your preferences. Since almost all of them are expensive, try getting a sample packet if you can. I like Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein.  It’s chicken bone broth based, organic, non-GMO and ‘gut friendly.’  They also have a variety of flavors: so far I like the chocolate and banana creme the best.  As far as what you mix it with, again that’s up to you.  I’m not a big fan of coconut, so I opt for Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original or Vanilla (hey, I’m from California- home of Blue Diamond Almonds!) I usually drink it for breakfast especially since I’ve been skipping lunch lately.

As for probiotics and prebiotics, most of what I learned comes from Josh Axe’s book Eat Dirt. (A review is forthcoming!) Definitions first: probiotics are the bacteria themselves and prebiotics are food for the little bugs.  If you didn’t already know, our intestinal tracts are home to millions of bacteria which we need to survive.  These bacteria break down the foods we eat (they eat them too) which allows our intestines to absorb the nutrients.  Problems happen when we don’t feed our little ‘pets’ the right foods, or we feed the bad bacteria that’s also there instead of the good guys.  What happens when we starve the good guys or overfeed the bad guys is that the bad guys out-number the good guys and we literally feel it in our guts: foods are not being digested or we have serious digestive issues.  This is why we have problems like irritable bowel, constipation/ diarrhea, gas/ bloating, etc.- all the fun stuff! This can also happen when we take antibiotics: we kill whatever bug is making us sick but we also kill the bugs in our bowels which we need.  Because so many people have digestive issues, probiotics/ prebiotics are getting a lot of attention: it’s an ‘easy fix’ for most digestive problems, or at least it looks like one! The biggest issues with probiotics are: 1) the bugs in your pill are dead; 2) the bugs are alive but don’t make it to the bowel; 3) they’re the ‘wrong’ bugs; or 4) you don’t need them!

I know most people don’t like talking poop, but it’s a fact of life.  As a life-long pet-parent, I’m always checking on my pets: is everything going in okay and is it all coming out okay? Like pets, people’s digestion is usually the first indicator that something is wrong, and as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it! If you are not having digestive issues, ie you are eating healthy foods and everything is going down, staying down and coming out without any problems on a fairly regular (and frequent) basis (pun intended!), then don’t try fixing anything.  You don’t need it.  But if you are eating healthy and having issues, then probiotics and prebiotics may be options for you, but you need to eat living bugs and they need to make it to your bowels where they can take up residence.  Most of the time, the bugs that come in those little capsules are dead by the time you pick the box off the shelf or, if they are alive, the ‘protective’ capsule dissolves in the stomach and so do the bugs, so they don’t help you.  The other issue has to do with the type of bugs that are in the capsules: different bugs eat different things, so if you are having an issue with fiber for example, the bugs that you buy at the corner happy & healthy pharmacy may not be the ones that you need.  The best advice I’ve heard is to get a probiotic with as many different organisms as possible and look for something ‘enteric coated’ so it will survive your stomach acid.  Also important- once you get the good guys re-established in your bowels, you need to feed the little guys! Give them plenty of healthy whole foods to keep them thriving! Eat healthy whole foods with as little processing as possible and eat a variety of them.  When nutritionists say ‘eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies,’ they are not wrong- all the different whole foods feed all the different good bugs in your bowels.  The bad bugs have a tendency to like the junk food and so do we. This is why we as a nation have so many digestive trouble: our highly processed diet is feeding the wrong bacteria in our guts so they are overpowering & crowding out the good guys who keep everything running smoothly. Bottom line: if the good bugs are not thriving and happy, neither are you!

The most important thing to remember about supplements is that they are supplements, which means they are ‘in addition to’ what you are already eating/ drinking.  Gulping them down by the handful is not going to solve the underlying diet issues. Eat better, move more, get plenty of quality sleep and manage your stress: then ask yourself how you are feeling.  If you are still having issues, then start looking at some health professionals or some supplements- then you can start ‘adding on.’ Until then, don’t buy trouble because “everyone” says so!

 

 

Keeping Focus: We Fight for What We Value

This post had a rather odd inspiration; it was my sister’s dog.  For any of you who read my latest post about burnout, you know that my sister and her family have currently six dogs. They used to have seven.  The dog in question (Simon) started out as a foster from one of my sister’s friends who went riding at a local stable and the dog was a stray.  The stable owner wasn’t happy he was coming around and my sister’s friend lives in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, so she begged my sis to take him.  He looked to be a pitbull puppy mix and he was already very friendly and lovable.  Until you fed him around other dogs, at least.  That ended up being the problem.  Once he became an adult, when they fed him around other dogs or if there was even food around other dogs, Simon became very defensive of the food and he ended up hurting the other dogs, who weren’t aggressive at all. Despite being neutered and going through obedience training, he was a friendly adorable dog who snapped and bit other dogs when there was food around.  He didn’t snap at people- they were the providers of food- but other dogs were fair game, and since he was bigger than most of their other dogs, he caused a lot of turmoil.  They made a practice of feeding him separately, but in a busy household, things fall on the ground and if it looked like it might be something to eat, he defended it.  They had had Simon for over a year trying to find a way around this issue, but eventually, after the last fight, they decided to re-home him.  My sister was very upset but some of the older dogs were getting injured and his behavior wasn’t getting any better so they found a rescue group to take him and let them know that he needs to be an “only dog.”

In contrast, the last time I took my dog to the groomer, we were talking about overweight dogs (she had just finished a porky poodle mix) and she commented on how my little guy is so thin and fit.  I told her it’s because he’d rather have a toy than a treat. When I stayed at my sister’s house for all those days, her dogs ripped open and devoured his bag of kibble, destroyed a couple of his toys and rummaged through my suitcase and he didn’t protest one bit…. until the retriever stuck her head in my lap! Then, he let her know that was NOT allowed! It made me laugh a little at the time but once Simon was sent away, it started me thinking: we all fight for what we value.

I realized shortly after I brought him home that my dog, Remy, is very jealous of my attention: he pushes the cats away from me if he can and gets very upset if he can’t.  I figured that at the home I got him from, food and toys were plentiful, but individual attention was harder to come by, so as a result, Remy is less concerned about defending food (even ‘people food’ treats) with the cats (they just help themselves), and will even share most of his toys, but since I am the only person at the house, he will fight for my attention.  It’s what he values most, whereas for Simon, growing up as a stray, food is what has value to him.

As humans, we seem to over-think things.  We tend to rationalize our behavior.  If what we want is to be fit, lean and healthy, we should fight for that.  We should be defending our routine and habits that will help us be more lean, fit and healthy, but what most often happens is: “that pretzel bagel looks really really good, so…..I’m going to eat it and then I’ll work out harder tonight/ tomorrow/ this weekend.” Instead of putting our energy towards eating healthy foods and getting plenty of activity, we are fighting to eat the unhealthy junk food and to keep our couch potato lifestyle. We don’t think of it that way, of course, but maybe we should.  If we did, we probably wouldn’t do it.  No one looks at a bagel or a bag of chips or a slice of pizza and thinks, “by eating that, I’m fighting to stay overweight and unhappy!” Instead, we think (usually): “by not eating that, I’m denying myself a treat!” which makes us feel pretty miserable emotionally.

But is it really a treat? One of the post-its I had next to my recliner said “It’s NOT a treat if it HURTS you!”  It was my reminder to myself that eating things like garlic bread, pretzel bagels and pretty much everything else I ate at the time weren’t really treats because they were keeping me overweight, unhealthy and unhappy.  By eating them, I was actually hurting myself, especially since the grain products (like bagels, bread and pasta) aggravate my arthritis. Not only was I not losing weight by eating them, I was making my joints ache.  I realize now- two years later- that instead of emphasizing improved health and mobility, I was emphasizing the few minutes of pleasure from eating whatever ‘treat’ I wanted.  It wasn’t until later, when I had stopped eating the so-called treats and started feeling much better physically and emotionally, that I realized that feeling good was the real treat.  It made it a lot easier to say no to five minutes of “yummy!” in exchange for all-day, all-the-time “my knees don’t hurt.” I learned to value the feelings that came with losing weight, sleeping better and being able to walk without creaky old-woman knees.  Compared to those long term benefits, five minutes of a so-called treat didn’t stand a chance.

Of course, we sometimes forget that because we get used to feeling good and start taking it for granted.  It becomes ‘normal’ and often it isn’t until after a few too many deviations from our healthy routine that we remember: “oh yeah, that’s why I stopped eating those!”  It’s easy to be led astray since there is always a new flavor of something hitting the market and every season, fast food places are promoting something new. The more they can get you to eat, the more money they make, and the more unhealthy we become, the more money is made by the weight loss & fitness industry.  We are trapped in a vicious cycle.  Lately, there are also lot of health gurus out there making the argument that humans are opportunistic omnivores: we find food, we eat it, whatever it is.  It’s hard-wired into our brains, and, although I agree with their assessment of our biology, this is where I think our brains beat our biology!  All we need to do is change our focus and fight for what we value.  We need to remind ourselves of what is really valuable to us when we are tempted to ditch our healthy routines in favor of the five minute treat.

In theory it’s not that hard to do, and we all know how much harder it is when that lemon cheesecake is right in front of us, smelling and looking so good.  I am lucky: my dog is my reminder.  He gets ‘people food’ treats on a daily basis and it’s flip a coin whether he leaves them for the cats or not.  Dogs are also opportunistic omnivores (one reason Simon jumped on whatever food was around): food is a biological imperative but playing with a person or toy is not.  Several times a day, he opts for the latter over the former: he chooses what he values over his biological drive.  How much more intelligent are we than a dog? We need to remind ourselves as often as we can of what we really value.  We need to stop defending the opportunity to stay overweight and feel cruddy and start fighting to feel better and be leaner. [FYI: this post is brought to you by Simon the pitbull mix and too many Trader Joe’s pretzel bagels!]

Burnout: When We Get Singed

We all know this feeling: we have so much to do and are constantly jumping from project to project, whether at home, at the office, or for most of us, a combination of both.  We have all these projects at work going on, and then we leave work to take care of all the projects we have going on at home. It feels like we are always “on” and there is no time to recover or rest.  Being overworked, whether it’s necessary tasks or just “fun stuff,” it takes a toll on us and sooner or later, we crash.

Life is not about cramming in as much as you can just because you can, nor is it about being constantly overloaded with tasks, whether they are ‘fun’ or not.  This is something I have to keep telling myself on a pretty regular basis.  Just because I have ’empty days’ on my calendar doesn’t meant that I can cram in another ‘activity.’  Normally I make a habit of spending one day home with my pets (usually a weekend or a holiday).  Part of this is because I want to spend time with them (they are usually pretty fond of ‘lap time’) which means I need to be sitting down for a while, but part of this is so that I get a chance to rest and de-stress.

But, as so often happens, the best laid plans of mice and men……! Life makes its own plans and for better or worse, we usually get swept along.  This is pretty much where we just have to ‘sit down, shut up and hold on,’ as the saying goes.  My life has pretty much not been my own since about the middle of February (it is now May).  Part of it was silly me, scheduling things when I thought I was in control of my own life, and part of it was events out of my control.  In February, my sister’s in-laws had a death in the family and they had to fly out of state suddenly, so I got to pet & house-sit for a week.  Kind of inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as losing a family member, and it put a minor crimp in my plans: I lost a weekend but not a big deal.  A couple of weeks later, my sister and her family had booked an outing on the coast (prior to the death) and the friend who was supposed to house & pet-sit for the long weekend had something come up, so…. I got to do it again! Kind of inconvenient again, but it happens, and this time, I lost a a bigger weekend. [I take a vacation day the weekend after my birthday, and that was the weekend I lost that time.]  Then, my sister lost her father in law, and was out of state again for a few days: more house & pet-sitting.

You might be asking, what’s the big deal staying at your sister’s house?  My sister lives twenty minutes away from my job (on the other side) and I live an hour and a half from my job.  This means, I have to take my dog with me, which means a two hour drive to my sister’s to drop him off and then drive back to work.  The nice thing is it takes me 20 minutes to get to my sister’s after work while I’m there; the not so nice thing is they have 6 dogs of their own, 3 with health issues, of which 2 require medication twice daily and they all stay in the house. Then, going back to my home, I get to drive back to my sister’s, load up my dog and bag and drive two hours home.  Not much of a weekend left by the time I get there, especially since no one has been at my house since I left and there are things that I need to take care of.

That was pretty much my March and April; also going on those months, silly me had signed up for two different classes (both of which were non-refundable) so there were some days I missed on those classes, and then there was just work stress: we had a couple of ’emergencies’ that required my working late (more missed workouts) and then when I decided to try my ‘birthday weekend’ again, my dad ended up in Urgent Care due to a bad reaction to his new medication.  This ended up being 6 hours in Urgent Care, followed by driving him home (he lives an hour and half from me) and then I had to drive home myself,  since his trailer has no room for guests (got home at 1:30 a.m.) but I had to get my mom so we could bring his truck home the next day, so another three plus hours of driving.  That was my second ‘three day weekend’! Both weekends I had a total of one day off- the only good thing was that if I hadn’t taken 3 days, I’d’ve had NO days off.  And on top of all this, I’m trying to keep up with my classes, workouts, job and just life in general.  Saying I have been over-stressed is an understatement.

Since the last failed attempt at a three day weekend, my dad is doing much better (doc changed his meds back) and one of my classes ended.  I was considering signing up for another one (apparently I was still under the delusion that my life was my own) and had not made up my mind when I went to bed last Saturday night.  That night I dreamed that my sister, her family, my family and I were all living in one bed, which was already crowded and more and more people kept crowding in.  It was so crowded no one could move or get comfortable.  When I woke up Sunday morning, I realized that my subconscious had more sense than my waking brain: I’ve got too much going on in my life right now.  Time to slow things down a little.

We’ve all heard that stress sabotages your weight loss and health in general but most of us don’t realize the extent to which it jams us up.  Most of us think of the obvious: missing workouts and exercise.  That’s just the scratching the surface. If we’re lucky, we can reschedule a workout or two, but then there’s the mental and emotional exhaustion.  We’re just drained, walking around with our shoulders all tightly hunched up.  (I started using my Fitbit’s reminders to move as reminders to relax my shoulders!) Being so drained is bad: we’re too tired to make good food choices (“I don’t have time/ want to deal with this now! That’s close enough to healthy!”) or we give in to temptation (“I’ve been so stressed and this will be a nice treat!”)  The other thing is that our body is getting the ‘danger’ signal, so our cortisol is elevated.  This means that our body is hanging on to whatever fuel it can in case we need to run for our lives or prepare to wait out a prolonged famine.  Either way, we’re storing more than we’re burning, and since we aren’t making great food choices, we’re probably over eating, eating the wrong things or (like me!) doing both! None of those is good for health, fitness or weight loss! On top of all that bad eating and high cortisol, we are probably not getting enough sleep either and the sleep we are getting isn’t quality sleep.  We all know what it’s like lying in bed thinking of everything that’s going on and what are you going to do if XYZ doesn’t work out and blah blah blah- it’s two A.M. and I have to get up in four hours and I haven’t slept at all! Ironically, realizing you need to get up shortly just adds to the stress of the moment, so you are less likely to get any quality sleep!

Sleep is when your body and brain restore themselves.  It gives your body a chance to adjust the hormones and make its repairs and it gives your brain a chance to process what’s going on and recuperate from the day.  There is more to sleep than just ‘feeling rested’ when you get up the next day: the less sleep you have, both quality and quantity, the more stress your body feels.  Not sleeping equals more stress to the body.  Not only are you continuing to add to the stress but you are taking away the down-time your body needs to recover from the stress it’s already under. Think of it like the oil in your car: you need to change it, but you keep putting it off and in addition, you keep driving more and more.  Eventually, either the oil burns out and degrades to the point where it’s useless, and you have engine damage; it dries out (you have NO oil left!) and your engine overheats; or eventually you change it.  Ironically, most of take better care of our cars (which can be replaced) than we do our bodies (we get only ONE).

I know what happens when you live under constant stress: it happened to me almost three years ago.  I had become so overweight, so physically damaged from stress and poor health choices, I had to quit my job or die.  Not being dramatic here: the constant stress and all its accompanying ills left me barely able to function. My nerves were so frayed I was having anxiety attacks; I was eating junk because I was so physically exhausted, but sleep was nearly impossible due to the anxiety attacks and stress.  When I did sleep, it was more like passing out than anything close to restorative.

I wish I could say that burnout doesn’t happen to us or there is always a way to avoid it.  Sometimes, things just happen, and when they do, we can only do our best to maintain our healthy routine as much as possible.  While I was staying at my sister’s, although I did miss a few workout classes, I was able to still make healthy food choices and get some quality sleep.  My stress escalated with the prolonged disruption of my routine and it got harder and harder to keep to it. That’s called real life and it’s not an excuse to throw away healthy choices or habits: I owe it to myself to make the best choices I can in the situation presented to me.  Sometimes it means not doing something I would otherwise consider a healthy choice, like choosing to forgo another exercise class than cramming another one into my already hectic schedule.  Sometimes it means going home and going to bed rather than running another errand, or staying home to rest (or sleep) rather than going out with friends.  Sometimes it means that a treat I might otherwise allow myself is not really a treat, because it’s really just one more bad choice on top of other bad choices already eaten.  In other words, “leave the garlic bread alone because you’ve had too much bread and sugar already this week!” Sometimes, it also means that adding more exercise to a busy week is not healthy, especially if you are having pain in your joints.  I admit, I did keep my workout despite having pain in the joints with the hardware installed (pins & plates) even though it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I modified some of the harder exercises.  It made me feel a little more in control just keeping the appointment.

When burnout happens, we need to recognize that we are under stress and need to make recuperation a priority.  Even though it may not feel like the best use of our time, we need to take a step back, take a few deep breaths and decompress.  If that means turning off the phone, tv, computer, then we need to do it. If it means telling family members no, then as hard as it is, we need to do it.  We cannot help anyone else if we are not in good shape ourselves, mentally or physically.  Burnout is like a physical wound: we take care of an injury or a sprain, but we often let the less obvious wounds from stress fester and grow worse.  Burnout is as much an injury as a sprain or a cut: we need to give ourselves the opportunity to heal rather than letting the wound grow worse.