Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Stretch Marks, Weight and Metabolism

Whew.  How's that for a lofty title? 

Stretch marks, weight and metabolism.  It seems everyone, these days, has something to say on these three hot topics.  Being a seventeen-year-old student, I am certainly no expert.  Still, I find that my favorite blogs are those that provide information in conjunction with stories of personal experiences, and thus, it is my hope that what I have to say here might be of interest to someone.

I have already posted the story of how I initially changed my diet (which you can find here), but of course, there is much more to health than that.  While I have never been overweight, many of my habits have been less than healthy. 

Until a little over a year ago, my family's diet was a small step up from the infamous, standard American diet (often affectionately nicknamed SAD).  We cooked at home, but many ingredients were already highly processed:  canned soups, processed cheese, sugary condiments, shortening, etc.  Corn was a vegetable, and baking loads of sugary treats was my hobby.  I knew that my diet was unhealthy, but I didn't know what was healthy, and I felt like I didn't have any options.

In the realm of physical exercise, I was likewise clueless.  I had never been big on sports, so when recess went away, so did my physical activity.  I knew that I should do something, but here, too, I felt trapped.  I wasn't allowed to just hop on a bike or take a walk on my own, and my sister whined and moaned whenever we went together.

School occupied most of my time, so I resolved to improve my diet and fitness over the summer.  I worked a few more vegetables into my diet and watched workout videos on YouTube, but the real catalyst was my appointment with a naturopathic doctor.

When I look back, it's astonishing to see how much has changed in just one year.  Now, I am the one responsible for constructing a grocery list, and each week we fill our cart with fresh, whole foods.  I practice yoga or pilates for an hour almost every day.  My mom has lost around 15 pounds, though she still snacks on cookies and visits the gym less than once a week.  All in all, it seems that my health must have improved dramatically, along with my improved habits.

Well, sort of.

In some really important ways, my health has improved.  Many of the digestive troubles that prompted me to begin this journey, in the first place, have been resolved.  As far as fitness goes, I have more muscle now than I have ever had before.

Other problems persist--moodiness, low energy, trouble sleeping and skin problems among them.  These problems, I understand, are at least partly due to a small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which I am working with my naturopath to resolve.

However, there's something else that makes me think that there is more to the story:  a little over a month ago, I noticed that I have been gaining weight.  Enough weight, in fact, that brand new stretch marks, red and angry, blossomed up around my upper legs. 

I'm not going to lie.  At first, I freaked out a little bit.  I don't keep a scale in my house, so it was easy to think that my jeans were tighter because they had shrunk in the wash.  My first clue that I was gaining weight was rosy-red stretch marks.  I blamed the weight gain on a lack of enthusiasm in my workouts, and traded in my hour of yoga for pilates and cardio exercises.

Several weeks later, I had less energy and even more stretch marks.  It wasn't fair, I thought.  How could I gain weight on cauliflower while my family members lost weight on cookies?

And then, I was struck with a thought:  if I was eating the least and exercising the most that I ever had, then I shouldn't also weigh the most that I ever had.  Something just wasn't adding up.

I read a couple of books that got me thinking about metabolism--Nourished Metabolism, by Elizabeth Walling, and Diet Recovery 2, by Matt Stone--and then wrote down everything that I ate for one day.  Without having realized it, in my difficulty following the specific-carbohydrate diet, I had only consumed around 1100 calories--one half of my recommended daily intake--that day.  No wonder my body was so confused!

Because I wasn't eating enough calories, in a proper balance of carbs, protein and fat, my body responded as it would to a famine.  It began to conserve and store energy, which resulted in weight gain and poor mood, energy and immune functions.  By anyone's standards, 1100 calories is not enough for an active teenager.  Even so, many diets, while perhaps not quite as restrictive, cause the same metabolic damage.

According to Walling and Stone, healing a metabolism isn't as difficult as I had originally supposed, either.  All a person has to do is eat, exercise when she feels like it, rest and relax. 

As I am at the beginning of this journey, I haven't much advice to bestow.  At this point, I am just relieved to learn that the progression towards health is such a forgiving process.

This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday 5/30/13 at Holistic Squid and Sunday School 6/2/13 at Butter Believer

Monday, May 20, 2013

Alternative Medicine: Naturopathy

With all of the seemingly obscure, alternative medicine-related terms floating around the blogosphere, I thought it might be useful to write a series of blog posts, each focusing on one facet of alternative medicine.  Some of the practices that I intend to spotlight are osteopathy, ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and chiropractic medicine, but today's topic is naturopathy. 

Naturopathy is holistic [1], meaning that it considers a patient as a whole, and not just as a sum of parts.  In addition, the patient's physical, psychological and social health are all taken into consideration [2]. 

Naturopathy is governed by six primary principles, which are as follows:

  • First do no harm.  Naturopaths do not administer treatments to suppress symptoms. They avoid unnecessary intervention, and work to minimize any negative side-effects of treatments.
  • Identify and treat the causes.  Symptoms are caused by diseases or by the body's attempts to heal itself.  Thus, the symptoms of a disease can best be removed by treating the cause of the disease.
  • Treat the whole person.  Health is not just a physical state, and diseases can be caused by a combination of mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social and other factors.
  • Healing power of nature.  Given the proper tools, the body has the capacity to heal itself.
  • Prevention.  Naturopathy focuses on maintaining health, not just on treating disease.  Heredity and risk factors for particular diseases are counter-acted by the adoption of habits for healthy living.
  • Doctor as teacher.  A  naturopathic doctor also focuses on teaching his or her patients, thereby promoting a sense of self-responsibility. [3]
So, what does a naturopath actually do? 

Naturopaths treat both chronic and acute diseases.  Some of the treatments prescribed or administered by naturopaths include nutritional counseling, herbal remedies, homeopathy, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy.  Naturopaths typically counsel each patient for an about an hour per visit, although an initial consultation could take as long as an hour and a half.  During the initial visit, the additional time is spent discussing the patient's family history, lifestyle, diet and environment.  The naturopath may also administer or order a laboratory test for the patient to take [4].

"Real" naturopathic doctors have earned a doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine, from an accredited school of naturopathy.  In the U.S., naturopathic doctors are only legally recognized and certified in fifteen states, plus the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands [4].  Depending on the state, naturopaths may not be allowed to treat patients with drugs, minor surgery or acupuncture.  In states that do not recognize naturopathic physicians, the term "naturopath" is not reserved for doctors who have completed naturopathic training.  For this reason, it is best to check a naturopath's qualifications before making an appointment [5].

For those interested in learning more about naturopathy, Oregon's Board of Naturopathic Medicine has published an in-depth description of the principles and practices of naturopathy here.  You can also read about my own experience with a naturopathic doctor here

Did I miss something?  Do you have a personal experience to share?  Tell me in the comments below!

This post is linked to Natural Living Monday 5/20/13 at Mama Rosemary, Family Table Tuesday 5/21/13 at The Polivka Family, Living Green Tuesday 5/21/13 at Green Idea Reviews and Like a Mustard Seed, and Party Wave Wednesday 5/22/13 at Holistic Squid

Friday, May 10, 2013

How to eat your veggies, and like it too!

There's one piece of advice that you'll hear from health gurus of all philosophies, whether they espouse Paleo, vegetarian, vegan, or traditional food diets:  Eat your veggies.  So, if it's so universally known that vegetables are the ultimate health food, then why isn't everyone loading up on the greens? 

Vegetables are difficult to make friends with, but is it any wonder why?  We lovingly craft the perfect pie crusts to frame fruits, vegetables' sticky-sweet cousins; we celebrate proteins with customized spice rubs; and we fry grains and other starches for optimal crunch.  These foods are easy to love, so we focus on loving them.  Steamed broccoli just isn't going to cut it.  In order to compete for room on our plates, vegetables just need a little more love.

How to love on veggies

1. Dress up your salads
Once equipped with a variety of simple and delicious salad dressing recipes, you might find yourself making--and enjoying--salads more often.  I know I do!  Here are a few ideas:
  • My brother loves a simple vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar and olive oil, but I prefer a dijon mustard vinaigrette.
  • Play around with different vinegars: lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, balsamic vinegar (have you ever heard of blueberry balsamic?  AMAZING)
  • Play around with different oils: olive oil, toasted sesame seed oil, pure orange oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and nut oils are all flavorful options.
  • Add other "goodies," like nuts, seeds or spices; Chef Amber Shea's spiced tahini vinaigrette is next on my list of things to try.
2. Dip them in something good
As I write this, I am munching on carrot sticks and a split-pea hummus modeled after the Sunshine Spread recipe from Oh She Glows.  I basically lived off of this recipe during Easter Break!  In order to make it SCD-compliant, I soak the split peas for about 12 hours in water and apple cider vinegar, then rinse and cook them for about an hour. In my new favorite variation, I add a couple of roasted red bell peppers, a few cracks of black pepper, and about twice as much tahini as called for in the original recipe.

3. Sautee with other "goodies"
Here are some of my favorite examples:
  • Chop up half a cabbage into long, skinny strips, and wilt it in a pan with onion, garlic and fresh or dried thyme.
  • Pan-fry green beans with chopped baby portabella mushrooms and pre-cooked chestnuts (which you can buy at Trader Joe's), until the beans are al dente.  The chestnuts add a pleasant, nutty sweetness.
  • I haven't tried it yet, but once I am done with the SCD diet, I will be making the Detoxinista's recipe for sweet potato noodles.
4. Roast it
This is my family's favorite way to eat carrots and sweet potatoes:  sprinkled with Italian herbs and roasted until the edges turn dark and candied.  I have also had pretty good luck with roasting other vegetables, such as eggplant and zucchini.

5. Give it a sauce
Nothing says "comfort food" quite like a rich sauce.
  • In the warmer seasons, I roast a spaghetti squash at least once a week.  We eat it with marinara sauce.  (Eden Foods sells jars of organic crushed tomatoes that make a pretty good sauce when properly seasoned.)
  • A good curry, too, warms me from the inside out.  If you find a good recipe or a jarred curry sauce that you're pleased with, it's great served over cauliflower "rice".

Got more ideas?  I'd love to hear them!  Comment below with your Pinterest name or email, and I will add you to my brand new Veggie Love board.

This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday 5/8/13 at Holistic Squid, Whole Food Fridays 5/10/13 at Allergy Free Alaska, Fresh Bites Friday 5/10/13 at Real Food Whole Health, Thank Your Body Thursday 5/9/13 at Thank Your Body, Sunday School 5/12/13 at Butter Believer, Family Table Tuesday 5/14/13 at The Polivka Family, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday 5/14/13 at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Tasty Traditions 5/15/13 at My Cultured Palate and Real Food Wednesday 5/15/13 at Kelly the Kitchen Kop