only part of the story: nutritional deficiencies

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I’ve had a really hard week, both physically and emotionally.  While I’ve had anemia caused by iron-deficiciency for over a year, it has never, ever, kicked my ass as thoroughly as it has this past week. And in reality, it snuck up on me. I knew I was feeling more tired; I knew I was having more problems keeping up to my life. But it very, very quickly spiralled into something I had never experienced–an unignorable feeling of exhaustion, of tiredness, and ultimately it has let me, for the better part of the last week, unable to function.

I would not be surprised if other nutritionally-based deficiencies were able to kick peoples’ asses the same way that my iron-deficiency kicked mine.  The problem with nutritional deficiencies, though, are that people automatically perceive that you are not eating properly. I have to be extremely clear here: I am in no way a vegetarian nutrition superstar, and I am NOT solely trying to defend myself. I know that I do not always make the best choices. But even if you see somebody’s nutritional choices for one hour, one day, or one weekend, you are not getting the whole story of what is going on in their overall life–or in their body.

Last Thursday, I hadn’t been feeling well–well, nor had I been as of Tuesday of last week, either. I was extremely tired, but for the most part was pushing through. Maybe I took a nap when I got home from work in the morning, and maybe I didn’t feel quite right, but I was functioning. It had happened before, and I assumed that eventually things would balance out as had happened before. I kept taking three iron supplement pills a day as I had been for the past six-plus weeks consecutively, and figured that I’d catch up on sleep over the next weekend, and that I was feeling run-down from spending the past weekend in the US with my coworkers.  I got home from work before 10:30 that morning after a typical 7:30-9 shift, took a nap for an hour, and felt okay. Not great, but okay. A couple hours later, though, I was feeling much worse and made the difficult choice to ask my boss if they were able to cover me for the afternoon.

And thank God I did, because by 6:20 on Thursday night, I experienced some intense dizziness while doing dishes, and for some reason wandered into the bathroom. Where I nearly passed out and pulled a towel rack out of the wall in the process. In a flurry of dizziness, I stumbled from the bathroom to my bed where I spent the next nearly five days.  I realize now that it is completely possible if I had pushed myself and gone to work when I wasn’t feeling right, I could have crashed at work.

I’ve slowly been recovering. Very slowly. I spent nearly five straight days in bed. Yesterday, I spent about eight hours simply sitting at my kitchen table on my laptop, and I was exhausted. I have never experienced tiredness like this, and the feeling of slowly coming back from a place where my body had become extremely depleted, of not only iron but potentially of blood. We’ve been in contact with my primary care doctor and my gynaecologist, both of whom I see tomorrow.  I am working really hard at timing the consumption of my iron supplements better with added vitamin C, like I have tried previously, I am working at increasing the iron in foods I am eating . . . I am trying.

My diet may not be stellar. But it is only part of the story. And it is seemingly the only part of the story that people seem to want to pay attention to.

Because it has a simple solution. Because I can make the choice to modify that part. Because it is easy to lay blame.

I have spent a year beating myself up over this thing. About how my hemoglobin keeps dropping despite the fact that I’m taking the pills that frequently make me feel sick, that I am trying to modify other choices I am making.  But the reality is, is if my body can’t keep up with the iron that it is losing, it is never going to be able to replace it regardless of how hard I try.

Regardless of how much I blame myself. How much I blame myself for not trying hard enough. How much I blame myself for not being more proactive in my medical care earlier. How much I blame myself for what has happened this past week.

Because it is easier to blame myself for everything, than it is to accept that I don’t have control over 50% of the problem. Because with any chronic disease, lack of control over the situation is half the emotional battle.

When you’re feeling physically exhausted, it is much easier to blame yourself and experience all the associated anger, guilt, frustration and sadness all that more deeply.

And it is much easier to lay that blame on yourself . . . when others are laying it on you too.  When they’re lecturing you about how wrong you’ve been in the choices you’ve been making for yourself. And when it’s coming at you from all sides: family, friends, coworkers–people who are trying to be well-meaning, but are the ones who are completely contributing physical, emotional and spiritual burnout unintentionally.

I am already blaming myself. I do not need another lecture or a reminder that maybe I’ve fucked up.

And neither does anybody else with symptomatic iron-deficiency, or any other sort of nutritional deficiency or medical condition–yet many of us experience it too frequently.

I’ve experienced too many full on lectures or related comments from well-meaning people this last week. People who I love deeply, who I know are just trying to help me be healthy.  But you know what? When my body is already feeling like shit, that means my mind is already feeling like shit: a lecture is not helping. What does help?

The support of my friends. I love all of the people in my world. But like most things, once the first couple days pass of being sick from whatever cause, people fade out. If you want to help, stick around–even if we are not too interesting laying in bed, we really do appreciate that you are taking the time to simply be there for us.

Being supportive doesn’t mean giving me a lecture on how to manage my health–you are not in my body, and you are not my doctor or dietitian. It can be as simple as talking to me about something completely unrelated to distract me from how I’m feeling, or shooting me a quick text. Or posting something goofy to my Facebook or tweeting at me. Or learning alongside me–it is so simple, but my friend Steve simply asked me “What foods in a vegetarian diet are rich in iron?”–not only was this in no way judging or condescending, it showed that he cared enough to want to learn more.

Support doesn’t have an agenda.  Neither does friendship or love.

 

Note: This post is not aimed at anybody in particular. Its more about the force of accumulation.

home-made energy gel!

After tweeting and receiving a lot of exclamation about home-made gel, I decided to forgo delaying this to be part of the race report as intended (plus, I don’t know what I was thinking because it doesn’t really fit in there anyway). Here y’all go!

I know you aren’t supposed to do anything new on race day, but screw it. I tried a gel in my last race [a 5K last fall–I gotta get more races into my life]. The gel was awesome, it kicked up the energy, and I highly enjoyed my first CarbBoom experience. Also, the gel was free, so I was all over that. After trying my first gel, it’s easy to see why so many athletes use them. However, they come with a hefty price tag [$1.50 per pouch], so I set out to make my own. After a bunch of googling of nutritional breakdowns of things, I loosely based it on this recipe from No Meat Athlete, but did some additional googling and this worked out okay for me:

  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp water (can be omitted, I added it before the lemon juice and it is extremely thin)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp raisins

It, obviously, worked out to just over a quarter of a cup.  Soak the raisins in a bit of water for as long as you are patient to (mine were in an hour and a half), but mine didn’t all blend completely, which is whatever. The NMA recipe calls for dates, but I don’t think those existed in my house. Also now my entire kitchen smells like raisins.

It doesn’t look super appetizing, but it tastes better than it looks. Also, it’s not full of artificial things, so that’s cool.

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Nutritionally, the issue is, it’s extremely high in sugar thanks to the syrup. I originally intended to use honey, which while higher in some vitamins, was much higher in sugar. Also the honey was granulated, thus the first batch of gel I attempted was gross. Plus I don’t actually like honey, but that’s beside the point. However, Maria pointed out that the point of gels is kind of the sugar. So hooray syrup? I’m also not expecting to down this all in just over two hours [the anticipated time it will take us to walk the 10K–fingers crossed for shorter].

Nutrition Facts 

Serving size: 90g

Total Fat 0.2g – 0% DV

Cholesterol 0mg – 0% DV

Sodium 242mg – 10% DV

Total Carbohydrates 58.0g -19% DV

Sugars 50.6g

Protein 0.2g

Calcium 6%   Vitamin C 4%    Iron 6%

Some rationale:

The majority of energy/carb gels are obviously simple carbohydrates for energy, salt to make up for what your body is losing through sweat, and potassium (the raisins contribute 70.1 mg!) which is used and therefore lost by your muscles during exercise. Obviously the more pure the carbs [this case, glucose in the form of maple syrup], the less work your body has to do to use the carbs [ATP holla!]. Some sites also said that maple syrup packed a more sustained energy source than others (but I can’t be bothered to research the validity of that information–I don’t start school till Wednesday, yo). Fat can slow down digestion and requires more energy to break down, so nutrition before and during exercise should be extremely low-fat or fat-free.

It tastes decent, and the lemon juice gives it a nice bit of a kick to take the edge off the maple syrup.

I’ll report on the actual use of it in the race report tomorrow!

Have you ever made homemade energy gel? What did you put in it, and how did it work?

review: visalus vi-shape nutrition shakes

Give or take, one meal is roughly 350-450 calories. This is of course, dependent on a variety of factors, such as how many calories your body needs for energy, whether you are trying to lose, gain or maintain weight, and whether you are eating three meals a day or five meals a day or three meals a day and two or three snacks.  Whatever way you slice it, if you are paying attention and making intentional choices, 350 calories, given that you are making the right choices, is a lot to play around with.

Sometimes, though, it is hard to continually make those intentional choices.  I know that.

My original position, which I maintain, is that nutrition should come from food first.  That said, if you know me, you know I do not have the best nutrition habits, and I’m usually among the first to admit that. It’s not that I sit around and eat copious amounts of sugar or salt or fat, and don’t exercise, because that’s totally not true, but I am not sure I’ve ever had a solid span of time where I hit the 7-10 fruits and vegetables guideline, or the 8 grain products, and I sure as heck don’t EVER get two servings of meats and alternatives [*picky vegetarian waves* I don’t like straight-up tofu, or eggs, so that basically leaves me with nut butter and nuts and seeds, which I need to work better at).  That said, my macronutrient values [carbohydrates, fats and proteins] are usually in pretty decent check, and if anything, low in fats and higher in carbohydrates when I am logging to be more in check with what I am putting into my body.  I’m also pretty bad for not eating until like, 11 am or later. This is something I am working hard to change, but when you cut all those hours out of your eating time and you’ve only got twelve and a half hours left before it’s bedtime, that becomes an issue.

So I’m open.

When my friend Sara posted on Facebook about a 90 day health challenge she was beginning, I was, of course, interested.  Sara has two young [and adorable!] kids, and has filled me in that she and her husband, Drew, are on a journey towards making those choices that will continue to positively impact their health.  Making the choice to incorporate Visalus nutrition supplements is one of those choices.  Sara is an independent Visalus distributor and spoke candidly of her experience trying it out, and offered to send me some samples, which arrived yesterday (I should mention here that Sara and Drew used to live here, but within the last year moved back to Ontario–and I want to steal them back! :]  They are absolutely incredible, passionate and beautiful people).

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On first glance, I was really impressed with the nutritional content and all the vitamins in the mix.  However, your total caloric intake for these shakes is totally impacted on your mix method.  Mix it with water, and you’re rocking 110 calories, 9 g [32% of the calories in Visalus] of carbs and 12 grams [44%] of protein and 2.5 g [4.8%] of fat–a perfect snack with less than one gram of sugar.  However, mix it with milk [I used 1%] and it’s basically a meal in a blender. The Sweet Cream shake mixed with 12 oz [1.5 cups or 325 mL] of milk (how I prepared it) adds up to 25g of carbs, 5g of fat and an amazing 26g of protein, totalling to 255 calories.  In my opinion, either way you look at it, it’s a pretty sound shake that’s ready to consume within a minute.

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Most importantly, though . . . how it tastes! Unlike other protein shakes I’ve tried, there is little whey aftertaste (especially if you’re going with something with Boost as opposed to whey isolate, there’s also that unpleasant aftertaste that could be likened to burning, not to mention that Boost doesn’t taste all that great).  It also blends out to be pretty smooth, which is definitely something I couldn’t say about other protein powders–combined on the taste and the texture, I couldn’t really choke them down unless I combined it with ice cream, which kind of defeats the intent of healthiness. And while the claims that it tastes like cake mix are not full on, they’re closer than I’d imagined–pretty good on less than a gram of sugar.  It turns out that my aunt has made me shakes with VIsalus before, plus pumpkin, and they are amazing, so if you choose to include some fruit to the mix, you can add to all the good going on vitamin- and nutrition-wise.

So while I have yet to decide if Visalus has a place in my life for the long-term, I definitely have opened my mind a bit, and have not discounted it–I definitely think it could be a good addition on days I am home a bit but also pressed for time to pack some calories and nutrition back into the day.  It’s full of good things and tastes good (and even more so when other goodness is added to it!) . . . what’s not to like?

Thanks for sharing the goodness, Sara!

Disclosure: I received samples of Vi-Shape Nutritional Shakes free of charge from Sara, who is an independent distributor for Visalus.  I was not required to review the product publicly, nor has this influenced my review of this product.

“we both have brains, we both have hearts” . . . thoughts on vegetarianism.

Awhile back I posted a video alluding to my vegetarianism on YouTube.  Krystie asked a few questions about it, which I’m finally going to answer — sorry for taking so long!

I would like to know the different types of foods you have to eat. Is it a lot different than being a carnivore? Do you like being a vegetarian, is it a lot of work searching for vegetarian food? Do you have to take vitamins b/c of being vegetarian, b/c you don’t get all your nutrients? What do you like about being vegetarian?

First, I’d like to say that nutritionally, I suck at being a vegetarian.  I started working on this during August and will definitely kick it up in September when school starts, travelling just threw me right off.  I’m also a very picky eater with food texture issues, and that doesn’t help at all.  Read: seriously, I’m twenty and I can’t eat yogurt with fruit chunks because it makes me gag.

I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, which means that while I don’t eat fish, poultry or red meat, I still do consume dairy and egg products.  Likewise, a lacto-vegetarian still consumes dairy products, but not eggs, and an ovo-vegetarian consumes eggs but not dairy.  A vegan consumes no animal products or by-products.  There is also the existence of semi-vegetarianism [red meat free diets], pescitarianism [fish is consumed but no poultry or red meat] and pollotarianism [poultry is consumed but no fish or red meat], however, I’m not a believer that these half-attempts are true forms of vegetarianism.  [Likewise, eating just poultry or fish kills more animals than eating just beef would, which from an animal-rights standpoint I think is stupid.]

So here are the answers that my nutrition textbook would approve of.  Variety is huge, and cutting out meat makes variety even more important.  Here’s the thing: I don’t eat beans except for green beans because they weird me out, the texture of tofu makes me gag, I don’t like eggs, I refrain from eating nuts when at school and can’t eat them at work, and I forget about the existence of seeds.  That’s the majority of the alternatives section of the meat and alternatives food group for Canada’s Food Guide.  So, mostly I increase my milk and alternatives servings [dairy is my favourite food group, totally.]  Usually, I have at least two cups of 1% milk a day and a serving or two of lower-fat cheese.

As for vegetarianism being a lot different than eating meat, it depends on the context.  Awhile back came the invention of fake meats — soy products that are packed with sodium and are meant to mock meat.  This ranges from veggie “burgers” to “chicken” nuggets, “bacon” to sandwich “meat”.  Some of which are terribly gross, some of which are good, all of which are FULL of sodium like I mentioned before–I have to mention it again just to make a point.  When you’re eating these sorts of things, you can basically eat like any carnivorous person in the Western world.  Except some of them are gross, they’ve got protein but aren’t all that good for you, and many argue “If you’re a vegetarian, why would you eat FAKE meat?”.  Okay I get it.  But I never said I didn’t LIKE meat, I just like animals being ALIVE and not being killed for our food when we’ve got so much other stuff to eat.

When I’m travelling, like I am right now, eating is much harder.  I travel primarily with meat-eaters, so while they can go grab a burger anywhere and be happy, most places don’t cater to vegetarians.  I don’t count fries as an acceptable meal, but sometimes they have to do.  Other times, like last night, I just didn’t eat and went to Wal-Mart and found some other [crap] to eat.  As for being at home, there’s a lot more control, so it’s not as hard.  I discovered this summer that I totally LOVE raspberries and blackberries, and think that these will be a school year staple along with granola-type cereals and yogurt when I’m eating on campus a time or three per day.

I do take vitamins when I remember.  I recently switched to One-A-Day Women’s vitamins to Centrum Performance because of the higher level of B-complex vitamins.  I definitely am a believer that nutrition should come from food, but I’ll admit it, I do tend to forget to eat when things get crazy, and I’m known to not eat until like two in the afternoon.  When you cut out seven hours of eating time from your day, it’s hard to pack it all in.  So, the time and place for vitamins definitely applies to my life — I’m young, I forget to eat, I try to work out regularly, and I’m a vegetarian.  The need for vitamins depends on your food intake, overall diet, and many other factors, so I made the choice to start taking vitamins again.

I like a lot of things about being a vegetarian.  For one, eight-billion animals are killed every year for human consumption.  I try to never force my beliefs about food on anybody, but knowing that WE have the power to change that and don’t kind of hurts.  So I’m doing my part.  When I’m trying to do the vegetarian thing right, I like that it DOES make more conscious about what I’m putting into my body, and that can’t be a bad thing at all.  I like that it makes people ask questions, make people curious — because maybe they’ll decide to give it a go at some point.  Maybe one day a week or maybe for the rest of their lives.  I like that vegetarians have a smaller footprint on the environment.  Not only are we not killing animals for food, but in processing those animals to be able to be eaten.  Take this for example, in order to make a one-pound steak, it takes nearly 9,500 litres of water.  I know we very much take water for granted in the Western world, but nearly ten-thousand litres of fresh water could do so much good for so many people [and animals!] that wasting that much for a pound of beef just blows my mind.  There’s a lot more I could say on the subject of ecological sustainability and vegetarianism, but I’ll save that for another time.

 

Thanks for the questions, Krystie!  If anybody else wants to know my thoughts further on anything above, or another topic altogether, drop me an e-mail or a comment.

Title quote from “Neither of Us Can See” by Incubus.