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What Does “Healthy” Mean?

I originally posted this over at the blog I recently started with my friend Pam, Fit Moms & Full Plates.  I wantd to cross post it here as well becasue I feel very strongly about this topic.

“This should be filed under rant. I know this won’t be a popular post and I’m OK with that.  I want to start out by saying that I am not perfect when it comes to food and nutritional choices. I have been known to enjoy a chicken sandwich and fries from the golden arches; I’m a fan of ice cream in abundance; my favorite meal in the world is New York System Hot Wieners (a Rhode Island thing—think disgustingly processed hot dog smothered in a greasy meat sauce, onions, mustard, and celery salt). I say all of that and also say that I consider myself a relatively healthy individual. I am a true believer in the idea of all things in moderation (OK, so maybe a ¼ block of Comte cheese with a crusty loaf and a ½ bottle of Cabernet on the occasional Friday or Saturday night isn’t moderation)…but when does moderation cease to actually be moderation? Sure today I may have only had a ¼ block of that yummy cheese, but if it is done once a month, once a week…for let’s say from the age of 21 for the next 30-years is that REALLY moderation? A whole lot of littles can quickly add up to one big lot over time.

What has recently been bothering me is a realization that a good number of people might not really have a sense of what is good and what is bad—thinking that they are making the right choices, when in fact they are being duped (me included from time to time).   Marketing companies are labeling food products with words such a “natural” or “whole”; shakes are advertized as being good options for a “meal replacement” to lose weight (why would you want to replace a meal of REAL food with something to drink?). Even some of the most recognizable diet companies are adding to the guise of things being good for you simply because a serving “only costs me 7 points!”—meanwhile the recipe someone concocted to get to the magic number 7is comprised of regular white pasta, 2 cans of cream of condensed soup, and a whole block of—wait for it—fat free cream cheese! If you ask me, fettuccini alfredo will never be a healthy dish, even if it does only cost me 7-points per serving. Clearly people are missing the fact that at the very least whole wheat pasta should be used (better yet—no pasta at all!), that cream of anything soup is bad for you, (forget the fact that it is laden with preservatives), and just because something is fat free doesn’t make it good for you.

It wasn’t that long ago that I too fell into the trap of thinking that if the label says it is healthy, and good for you it must be true.  I rarely read the ingredients labels for products that I always thought were beneficial to my family’s wellbeing.  Take for example yogurt—I’m not sure why the idea that there was organic cane juices in my fruit on the bottom Greek yogurt surprised me—I mean shouldn’t it just be yogurt and some berries?  I now see the importance of reading all the ingredients on the package—which is hopefully less than five (though, I tend to give a pass when there are 6 herbs listed in addition to the other 4 actual ingredients).  I have since made it a priority to make myself (and my husband) aware and educate us on what we put in our bodies to fuel it.  The way I’ve been looking at it recently is in terms of gasoline.  Sure my car can run on the 87-octane fuel that is assuredly cheaper, but I can get much better gas mileage and performance on the higher octane fuel for a few extra cents per gallon.  Same goes for food and fueling your body.  Can we live on low calorie cream-filled cake treats, snack crackers that are whole wheat but may contain traces of a GMO, or boxed and canned fat free prepared food?  Sure—but there is a price our bodies will eventually pay for it.

The idea of all things in moderation has been weighing on me heavily after having my two children.  As I have mentioned before, both of my children were products of infertility treatments.  While it was discovered that I indeed had one blocked fallopian tube, my reproductive endocrinologist hesitated to say that was definitively what caused my infertility (as it continued even after opening the tube).  The fact of the matter still remained that I was not ovulating for any good reason.  All my blood work and hormone levels came back OK—I just didn’t ovulate.  In the end, after having the two children I was left with a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.”  How in the world is “unexplained” any kind of a diagnosis?  Oddly enough, there were two other women and a man at work who sat in adjacent offices to mine who were also going through infertility treatments and we all jokingly agreed that “there was something in the water.”  But what if that were in fact true to some extent?  What if it was nothing in the water so to speak, but in our food supply?

Most of our fruits and veggies growing up as kids were treated with pesticides and I can remember many times grabbing the apple before my mom had a chance to wash it.  More recently, many crops are genetically modified.  Our meats and dairy sources at some point In our lives have been given artificial hormones and antibiotics; and most food on the shelves in markets are filled with ingredient lists a mile long with words that are difficult to pronounce.  What if my occasional or “in moderation” healthy treats over time have simply built up a toxic level of garbage in my body that it’s prevented me from having normal fertility?  If that is plausible (which it is, check out what Robb Wolf has discussed on Paleo eating and fertility), then could my daughter be susceptible to the same fate if she is given the same garbage food in “moderation?”  Sure can!

Instead of shopping for “fat free” or “low calorie” foods, which are highly processed and sadly, also cheaper, maybe focus  on shifting the money from many processed snacks to a couple true healthy snacks—a big bag of organic apples and a jar of almond butter?  Instead of making the dinner with 2 cans of cream of condensed soup, figure out a way to get the same creaminess from ingredients that are in fact natural and not highly processed and refined.  Something that we have recently considered in our family is local farming.  Our produce bill is GIGANTIC because personally, we have opted to purchase organic in most cases.  This year we joined our local CSA—their produce is cheaper, fresher, and still organic.  Many local farmers are indeed practicing organic farming but simply cannot afford to pay the governmental entities the registration fees to become “certified.”  Not only are you helping your family by eating better produce, but you are also helping your local farmers in the process.

I fully recognize that eating truly healthy can be expensive and eating perfect with 100% organic and grass-fed/pasture-raised can be downright wallet emptying.  I am by no means passing judgment if you cannot afford to pay the prices that can go along with that kind of a lifestyle decision (because there are weeks where we can’t afford it ourselves).  What I am saying is that we, as a country, should do a better job at educating ourselves and our children on what is truly healthy and demand that those products, which can be out of financial reach for many, become cheaper.  I really believe that if enough people recognize that we are being fooled by false advertising and begin to boycott some of the products; it can send a message to our government.  Instead of subsidizing large corporate entities to produce genetically modified organisms they should subsidize the small farmers; we will get a better food source for all to access.  Please, be aware of what you are eating—read labels.  Try and stick with five ingredients or less.  Don’t buy something that contains an ingredient that you cannot pronounce.  If it has a shelf life that is longer than the life cycle of a gold fish—it’s probably not good for you.  If you don’t do it for yourselves, do it for our children.  Kids learn by example and they emulate what they see other do.  We have the ability to help change the thinking and health of a generation.”

1-Month Old and My Legs Are Itchy!

Being the mom of two kiddos is just a little bit of work—especially when you are nursing your newborn and trying to potty train your 2-year old!  Between only a little sleep at night (still on the every 2 hour cycle with nursing) and non-stop running around chasing a high energy toddler while constantly nagging her to go sit on the potty, I have REALLY itchy legs that are dying to go on a run!  I should be waiting until my 6-week post partum appointment before heading out for any kind of a run, but in all honesty, physically I feel great in terms of recovery.  The thought of being out of running for 10-weeks is maddening to me.  I was hopeful that this weekend was going to be decent so that I could test my legs and fitness on a short, non-stress run of 2-3 miles.  However, as per my luck, we received 8-inches of snow.  While that would not normally deter me from going for a run, my lack of fitness and also the amount of gear I’d put on for a 2 or 3 mile shake out really just isn’t appealing.

Now that Baby Bro is 1-month old today, I am starting to reflect on my time as a running preggo.  I am beyond grateful that I was able to run for as long as I did.  When I found out I was (finally) pregnant again, I can’t lie about my concern for what that meant to my running.  Since I started running after the birth of Lil One, it had become so much a part of me.  I was nervous that I would be sitting on the sidelines for 9-months.  Thankfully, I had a supportive husband who recognized my need to not only maintain my running as long as possible, but also a supportive and understanding OB (who was also a runner).  After seeking out the advice of  some ladies who blogs that I follow who have had experience running during pregnancy, TMB and Heather, I came up with my own plan for running throughout my pregnancy.

My first trimester definitely saw a decrease in my mileage thanks to a combination of coming off both a marathon and half marathon.  Throw in a trip to HUMID Aruba (though I did run one morning while on vacation), and general 1st trimester tiredness and you can probably understand why my mileage was so low.  But by the time July and the 2nd trimester rolled around I was feeling much more energetic and ready to get my run on.  My average weekday run was in the 3-4 mile range with a “long run” on the weekend.  I’m not sure why I joke about “long” runs because they were in preparation for a ½ marathon in August.

My BFF, Beanie, was coming to town with her husband so that they could both run their first ½ marathons at the inaugural Providence Rock n’ Roll ½ Marathon.  I had signed up for it before I was pregnant and decided that I wasn’t about to bag it, so instead of gunning for a PR as I had initially anticipated, I planned on running alongside Beanie in support.  I will admit that it was hard to give up on a PR dream and to run at a slower pace than what I was accustomed.  However, it was something that I was OK with doing because this race was about two things for me—1) to say I ran a half marathon pregnant, and 2) the most important reason, to be there and support my best friend!  We shared so many wonderful memories and experiences together, a half marathon (PG with her godson as a side note) would be added to those memories.  As it turned out, there was a monsoon that day which made for less than ideal race conditions.  Shoes weighed you down; puddles became dangerous because you didn’t know if they were a few inches deep or hid a giant pothole!  We ran side by side the whole race, except for the break where I told Beanie to go on—the preggo bladder couldn’t hold much more at the 10K mark on the course and a pit stop was needed.  I caught up with Beanie just in time for the race photographer to take an awesome photo of us—looking pretty fab and fierce, making it work in the rain if I do say so myself.

That ½ was supposed to be the last of my races during my pregnancy and I was supposed to start slowing down.  I realized that I still had more in me and I needed to keep running.  After another discussion with my OB, I was cleared to continue running into my 3rd trimester as long as I was being smart—I needed to listen to my body and not push through things I normally would push through.  If my breathing felt hard, I needed to slow down or stop.  If I had a cramp I needed to stop and stretch (not to be confused with a contraction which would have stopped my running altogether for the rest of the pregnancy).  Not pushing was a hard lesson to learn, especially when I felt like I had so much in me.  Seeing my running buddies go for long runs in preparation for the Chicago Marathon was hard.  Having my husband, who I usually pass easily, pass me as I completed an 8-mile run while he was finishing up a 12-mi marathon training run was down right demoralizing.  I admit it—I cried.  I yelled.  I pouted.  I felt SORRY for myself.  The competitive person within me couldn’t be silenced—I didn’t listen to her and push on, but I did listen to her and her words hurt. 

My running buddy Scary knows my competitive spirit and told me that if a) The Hubs was on board, and b) that my OB was on board, she would run the Amica ½ Marathon with me in Newport, RI—I’d be 28-weeks pregnant.  I was beyond grateful to her—she was willing to essentially throw away a race just so that I had someone to run with.  Scary is a certified personal trainer so she was the perfect person to run with me—she knew what to watch for and how to help me if I started to get uncomfortable.  The only thing that made that offer even better was the fact that my other best running buddy, K. also offered to run with me.  To have my two running-BFF’s out there supporting me was a gift that I will forever be thankful for!

Everything was on track for me in terms of training for the ½ marathon, and then the Chicago Marathon happened the week prior…and the pregnant marathoner.  To say that I was not nervous or concerned about the reception that I would receive the next week as I chugged along with my big giant pregnant belly would be a lie.  I was afraid that people would think I was careless or that I was doing it to be like the PG marathoner.  In reality, I had been signed up and training for this ½ well before the PG marathoner, and I had received medical clearance, and I was running with a trainer.  But when you are on the race course people don’t know that or understand that and it was a perception with which I would have to deal.  Come race day, the nervousness over what others would think went away as I realized I was with RUNNERS!  Runners support each other and encourage each other—even when you are total strangers.  I have pushed others on and been pushed by others during races because that’s what runners do.  As I ran along the course, both men and women cheered me and my Posse on—I was PROUD to be running while 28-weeks pregnant.  As the finish line approached, I saw The Hubs, Lil One, and my in-laws cheering for me and it was the final boost I needed to cross the line.  I was proud of myself and for going out there and doing what I knew I cold do—safely!  I didn’t push the pace; I ran what I felt I could run; I walked up a steep hill and stopped at water stops and for multiple potty breaks.  I finished; I beat my previous PG ½ marathon time; and I was proud of my accomplishment.  It was more of a mental accomplishment than a physical one for me—I beat myself.  I told the voice in my head that had been telling me I was weak the entire time I was running while pregnant to take a hike.  That day I was victorious!

After that race, I started to taper my runs back.  Long weekend runs started to be dropped, and my times for my mid-week runs started to slip, as did my mileage.  The month of November saw a 20-mile decrease for the month, and by December, I stopped running.

My last run was at about 35-weeks.  It coincided when we started renovations for our basement, where we keep the treadmill.  But it also was time for me to stop—I was getting home from work really late due to trying to wrap things up before I went out on maternity leave.  As a result of more time at work, I had less time at home with my daughter, and with the quickly approaching holidays I had more and more to-dos being added to my list before Baby Bro made his arrival.  Sure I didn’t run until I gave birth, but I ran as long as I could.  I remained true to myself and my need for running, but I also remained healthy, still gaining almost 30-pounds during my pregnancy. 

In looking back, I have realized that I’m pretty bada$$–there are people out there who don’t exercise at all, never mind, run 3 ½-marathons while pregnant.  Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean that you need to be immobile.  You have to be smart and listen to your body.  Most importantly, you need to listen  to your OB or midwife!!!!  If I had talked to my OB and she told me no way you BET I would have sucked it up and not run!!!  While maintaining m fitness level and running ability was important to me, the health and wellbeing of my unborn baby was MOST important.  I never would have doe something knowingly or willingly putting that baby in harms way.  That being said, if your medical staff and significant other is on board, then by all means, know that you can still be a bada$$ while pregnant.  I am so excited to share these experiences with Baby Bro when he gets older and can appreciate them!

In the meantime, I can’t wait to get back out there and start to run with my ERP (Elite Running Posse) ladies soon!!  Race season is approaching and I have me some pavement to pound!

Please note that I am NOT a medical professional and I do NOT advocate my training or running plan for others.  Please consult a medical professional before starting any exercise program—whether pregnant or not pregnant.  While this may have worked for me, it may not work for all people and you should be monitored according to your personal health history and circumstances.

Beauty and Strength

This morning when I read G’s past two blog posts it really hit home for me.  She talked about self-doubt and what can be our own poor self-image.  How many times have you downplayed someone’s compliment of you?  Or how many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror before going out somewhere and said “good enough” because you KNOW that you can’t possibly look better because you are fat, bloated, ugly, NOT WORTHY…I can step up and easily tell you that I am guilty of that on a daily basis. 

I gave birth 16-days ago.  I gained a total of 28-healthy-pounds and of that I have 11-pounds to lose in order to get to my pre-pregnancy weight.  Those 11-pounds are already weighing on me (no pun intended).  The little voice in my head is beating myself up for not being at pre-preggo weight; it is yelling at me for having a flabby belly. 

G’s blog post today challenged us to:

Post a photo of yourself on your blog that makes you feel beautiful, or epic, or Galactically Bada**.  Or all of the above is OK too. 

I thought long and hard about this.  I am so critical of myself that I can find something wrong in most photos:  my hair looked bad, you can see a roll of flab, my smile was terrible, my lazy eye was REALLY lazy, I looked fat…

However, when I really thought about it, I came up with two photos that made me feel beautiful, that made me feel strong, that made me feel complete–they are photos taken of me during both of my pregnancies.  When I think about how I am upset with myself for not being back to pre-pregnancy status 16-days post partum, I stop and look at my son and daughter.  The body that I scold and berate grew two children and nourished them after birth.  When I look at these photos and then look into the faces of my children, I ask myself how I can say I am ugly or weak when I think that they are the most beautiful children in the world?  I am a part of them and they are a part of me. 

Amy Ro Photography (www.amyrophotography.com)

Amy Ro Photography (www.amyrophotography.com)

I am beautiful and I am strong and when I forget or doubt that, I need to simply look at my children and those doubts will be erased.

Exactly As It Should Be

When The Hubs and I decided to start to try for our second baby we knew that more than likely we’d end up back at the reproductive endocrinologist (RE)—actually, I should say I knew we’d end up back there. I just had a feeling that things wouldn’t be as easy as everyone said. If I had a dollar for every comment made to me about how “it will be SO easy for you next time now that the pipes are working” I’d be retired right now.

At our first appointment back at the RE, I didn’t have high hopes. Our doctor, whom we loved with our first go around, didn’t even seem like the same doctor. She told us we’d do everything the same as the last time, only, the treatment she prescribed was totally different. They also had two files on me, and called me by the wrong patient name—not exactly instilling a huge amount of confidence in either of us. We did however decide to stick with it and the practice. I just needed to trust that other than the patient name mix up, they did know what they were doing; they got us pregnant the first time, this time they’d get us pregnant again.

After the same barrage of tests as with my daughter, and after 2 failed IUIs, I had decided I was emotionally taxed and I couldn’t handle what infertility was doing to me and my family anymore. Running was the only thing that I had that helped keep me relatively sane and not freak out on The Hubs or Lil One thanks to the medication they put you on to get your body to respond to the treatments. I was in the midst of marathon training and my long runs were perfect for me to tune the rest of the world out (even though I ran with my running buddies). Speed work and intervals after work on the treadmill helped to push out the mid-week aggression. But, once it came down to the 3rd IUI (intrauterine insemination), I decided that if try #3 didn’t work, we’d take a break and sort out what our next steps were. In all likelihood, our next step was to be nothing. I had a beautiful, healthy daughter maybe that was enough. After many times crying alone, I decided that sure it wasn’t my vision of what my “family” would look like, but maybe that is what was meant to be. I was “lucky” enough that one of my best running-mates, Scary, also suffered through some infertility issues herself so she was very sympathetic to my ordeal and was able to provide me with great insight while we’d go out for training runs (I was training for National Marathon and she was training for Boston).

Enter Marathon Monday (aka Boston Marathon Day). I was to head up to Newton and Chestnut Hill and meet Scary around the base of Heartbreak Hill. The plan was that I was going to jump in and run with her up to Boston College to support her, and attempt to kick her butt a little if she needed it. Turns out plan were about to change. That morning, when I peed on the little OPK stick (ovulation preditctor kit-think pregnancy test only it detects ovulation hormones instead of pregnancy hormones) it came back positive—that would mean a trip to the RE for an IUI. Really??!! I had never spectated at the Boston Marathon before, let alone help a dear friend towards the finish, and today of all days was when the stupid OPK decided to work for me? I was beyond upset. I broke down in hysterics because I had to go for a procedure that I knew wasn’t going to work, and in the process, potentially miss Scary, and if I did manage to see her, not be able to run with her up HBH as planned…and I couldn’t even let her know in advance!!

The IUI went as well as could be expected, and we even had enough time to get to Newton, but running with Scary was out of the question. There we stood me, The Hubs, and Lil One, cheering on runners as we watched the crowd for Scary…if I couldn’t run with her I at least needed for her to know I was there. As I saw her approach, I started jumping up and down screaming my head off. She looked at me, looked down at the flip flops on my feet, hesitated for a second or two with a look of confusion on her face. I hugged her, told her I was proud of her, and told her—“I’ll fill you in later—GO GO GO!” And with that, I sent Scary off to conquer HBH on her own. She had looked amazingly strong for that point in the marathon so I had confidence she could do it on her own.

As it turns out, things happen for a reason. I wasn’t supposed to run HBH with Scary—she KILLED it on her own, and finished Boston in a fantastic time on her own without my assistance. She was running in her dad’s memory for the Dana Farber Cancer team and while she was physically alone, she was running with her dad up that hill and I would have been a 3rd wheel—that was her time with her dad. And for me, as it turns out I think I needed that breakdown that day; I needed to be at one of my lowest points because it was that IUI—what was more than likely my final attempt, which worked. I found out 2-weeks later, the day after I ran a ½ marathon PR, that I was indeed pregnant. For me, Marathon Monday was about a journey more than 26.2 miles long. It was an emotional journey, one that would be with me forever in the face of my son. It’s something I hope to share with him some day—maybe when he is running the Boston Marathon himself…or the Olympic Marathon trials (Scary and I joked that if I had had a boy, I’d have to name him Ryan Hall since Ryan Hall ran Boston that day ha ha). Running would now be a bond that I shared with my son. I can’t wait to run with him!

What’s your thought—do things happen for a reason?  In hindsight have you felt like you needed to be at your lowest in order to have seen the good come out of a situation?  How has running helped your mindset during a difficult ordeal?

Lessons Learned Along the Way

I didn’t consider myself a “runner” for quite some time.  Before I got pregnant with my oldest, Lil One, I would run jog 3-ish miles three to four times a week and toss in the occasional 5k race.  My PR for the 5k prior to Lil One was somewhere in the 31-minute range—and that was pushing hard for me.  But I never considered myself “a runner.”

I decided after the birth of Lil One that I needed a goal, a goal that I alone had control over.  Coming off of about 3-years of infertility where I had zero control, I desperately needed an outlet—an outlet for all of that pent up need to control things.  I needed an outlet to push all of my inner anger towards the past 3 years.  Yes, I had a beautiful healthy little girl, but it still didn’t happen in the time frame, or the manner that I had planned on.  My goal was to become “a runner” and focuse on a half marathon.  The thought of 13.1-mi was daunting and downright frightening to me if I am being perfectly honest.  Here I was, the girl who quit track in high school because they wanted me to try being a hurdler; the girl who was running hard and almost puking after a 5k with a finish time of 31-minutes…I was going to train for 13.1 miles?  Coincidently, an acquaintance started a training group for a ½ marathon.  I decided to join figuring that I at least had someone to hold me accountable—one thing I hate the most in life is failing at something, especially failing at something publically.

With my husband’s support, we bought a treadmill for the basement as our anniversary gift that year.  I’d go down to the basement after Lil One was in bed, and do my training run.  I eventually found some decent speed I didn’t know I had and next thing I knew, I had met my goal of a ½ marathon, alongside my acquaintance friend in a time of 1:57:25.  Never in a million years did I think I’d sub-2 hour my first half marathon. 

From there, I really started to enjoy running.  I started to meet up with Scary (our nickname for my friend in our running group).  Scary was training for her first full marathon and I was planning on another ½ marathon.  Every week, as we’d add another mile to Scary’s training, Scary would drop another thought into my head that I should switch my ½ registration to the full marathon.  If I was already up to 18-miles why on earth would I settle for a ½ when I was clearly training for a full?  

 I realized after thinking about it, I was willing to settle for another ½ distance because I was afraid of failure at the full distance.  But I also realized that that had been what was holding me back my entire life in athletics—fear of failure.  So many things came easy to me that when I faced a real challenge, or a situation where I wouldn’t be the best, I found an excuse as to why I couldn’t or wouldn’t participate.  I was a mom now—what kind of an example would I be to my daughter if I chose the easy way out?  I wanted my daughter to grow up as a strong, confidant woman who was willing to face challenges head on but unless she had a role model that showed her how, she wouldn’t become that.  Nothing worth while in life ever comes easy—my daughter was proof of that to me.  Running, in a way, was no different.  If running a marathon were easy, everyone would do it.  It’s supposed to be hard; it’s supposed to scare you.  It’s a distance to be respected, but it was a distance that I decided I would conquer, no matter how ugly.

So, on a brisk November morning in 2010, I set out to run 26.2 miles through the streets of Philadelphia.  And 26.1 miles later, as I approached the finish line, I saw my best friend’s giant Jackie-O sunglasses, and heard my husband yelling “Go Momma!” as he held our daughter—it was the last push I needed to carry me over that finish line.  It was that moment as I crossed the finish line, in 4:27:54, which I finally called myself “a runner.”  In reality, I think you are a runner the moment you decide you are one.  Whether you run 3-miles, 26.2 miles, or even an ultra, if you say that you are a runner—you are.  I know that now and I want to make sure that my kids know that as they grow up. 

I want my kids to know the following:  Do not limit yourself; do not label yourself because you are so much more.  Believe in yourself and your abilities; realize that nothing comes easy; savor every moment of your journey because you learn so much about who you are in those moments of challenge and doubt.  Most importantly, love yourself no matter what the outcome—as long as you have given 100% the result doesn’t matter.