The Power of Food

I love food. I haven’t really written about some of my experiences with my new eating habits yet, so this post will be focused on that.

Before I go any further, I should say that any of the opinions expressed are based on my experiences and that I believe that different foods, lifestyles, diet choices will effect each individual differently and I am in no way saying that there is one way to eat or live. Everyone has to do what makes them feel healthy.

You may remember that over the past year I’ve had GI issues, as well as living a pretty nutso lifestyle (especially during the school year), my diet habits were pretty average for a full-time student, part-time worker. They were far below average for an athlete. I knew this, but I didn’t really believe that putting more effort into my nutrition would really change all that much. It seemed like a lot of extra work to cook real meals, especially when I hardly had time to eat and when I did my appetite was lacking; replaced by nausea and pain. This in turn caused a lot of stress- because while knowing my diet was crappy, I couldn’t see how changing it was going to fix anything- which became a never ending loop.

I have to admit, I never used to believe that food had a major impact on things. I knew it was an important aspect of health (energy in = energy out, etc etc), but I didn’t attribute it as much to things like sleep, focus, skin health, fitness, mental clarity, and stress levels (to name a few).

Well, I know different now.

I’ve never had a “unhealthy” diet, always getting all the recommended servings in a day, usually a little over in dairy, veggies, and grains. The healthiest I’ve eaten (before now) ever was probably when I was living in NZ, for a couple reasons: 1. In general the culture there eats fresher, healthier foods (smaller portions, more fresh veggies/fruits, and lean proteins), and 2. I was broke and living off family hospitality majority of the time- and I am blessed with a family of great cooks.

I’d had people recommend trying cutting out certain things from my diet, to see if it made a difference. I’d try here and there, but if I didn’t see a change in a few days I’d write it off and continue back to my regular eating. In March of this year, the Naturopath I’d consulted for the GI issues (which seemed to come and go unpredictably, confusing doctors all over the place), suggested I try cutting out gluten, yeast, dairy, and sugars. I actually decided to seriously try it this time (I do sometimes listen to doctor’s suggestions). While I had a lot of people in my life ask a lot of questions, I had just as many show so much support and give great advice while making this a habit. The first few weeks were rough, my body had to go through withdrawal, I had to learn how to grocery shop (not sure I ever knew how in the first place) and I had to make a bigger effort when it came to meal prep and cooking.

What are some of the differences I’ve noticed?

  • Clearer skin
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • More energy
  • Better focus, clarity, and general enthusiasm about everything
  • Less anxiety and worry about little things
  • Better performance (riding, working out, general life)
  • Decreased mystery GI symptoms
  • Weight loss, and a leaner look

Can all those things only be attributed to diet? No, probably not. It’s a combination of things. Health is just that. It’s everything in your life put together to make a whole concept. It’s multidimensional, drawing from physical, mental/emotional, economical, and social aspects, and it is a dynamic process. It has to be, our bodies and minds need different things as our lives change. Doing one thing like changing your diet is a step towards a healthier lifestyle, but it can’t be the only step along the way. What I eat has had a huge impact on pretty much every aspect of my life, and it has worked along side all the other things I do to improve my health.

I’m very much a believer that our bodies tell us what we need, and that variety is important to overall health. A friend told me when I started to make changes to my eating habits to “eat as many (natural) colours as you can, and always mix it up”. How fun does that sound?! But she was right, the foods that are naturally colourful are usually the tastiest, and also usually pretty good for you. That being said, if you’re eating all of one colour/thing all the time– you probably won’t feel very good.

So, saying that, do I still eat “unhealthy” things sometimes? Um, yeah. But sometimes is the key phrase there. Do I stick to a strict diet plan (ie, no gluten, no dairy, etc etc)? Not really, I follow a paleo based idea but sometimes I have dairy, and sometimes I have gluten. I eat what makes me feel good. Majority of the time that is a array of fresh, organic foods- little starches, lean proteins, fresh vegetables, small amounts of fruits. Nothing processed, nothing high in sugar, no gluten, small amounts of dairy. One day last week, when I was in a particularly negative mood, an entire box of KD was eaten. Did I die? No. Did I regret it? No. Did my face break out? Yes. Did I feel bloated and tired? A little. Did I feel better anyway? Yep.

Dieting is a word that I don’t associate with this post. Dieting would imply I’m doing all this to lose weight. I’m not. The weight I have lost wasn’t the goal. Fad diets are well known for drawing people in, working briefly, but never lasting. Why? They aren’t adherent to real life. They come along with unrealistic ideas of body composition changes, and reaching a certain goal in a specific time frame. They’re almost impossible to stick to, and when people “cheat”, they cheat big because they feel deprived of all the “tasty” food- kind of a all-or-none thing (“I haven’t had this in so long, so I’m going to eat ALL the calories this weekend”).

Diet has to be a lifestyle choice, not a 4-6-week quick fix to get that body you’ve always been dreaming of. There is no quick way to achieve a healthy lifestyle, and there’s no magic wand to wave to make your body look like the body you idealize. It’s a life-long process, and everybody will react different to changes made throughout that process.

So, there’s some of my experience along my pathway to healthy living, and a little opinion thrown in there too. I hope something in there has given you something to think about. What have you tried to change about your lifestyle? Was it worth it? How do you view health and nutrition? How does food impact other parts of your life?

 

 

Lessons, Habits, Progress

Decided to take a study break to write a post. And now I have writers block. THANKS BRAIN.

We’re in the home stretch. Only two exams left this week- after a quite successful run of five.  Found out today that I got a 94% on the psychology paper I wrote on the power dynamics Eric Lamaze used to influence the series of events surrounding the disqualification of Tiffany Foster from the olympics and FEI’s hypersensitivity protocol. I also got a B on my A&P lab exam, and a B+ on my P&C practical. Both those written exams felt very good as well, so hoping for good results there.

Besides studying like crazy, I’ve been working as much as I can, as well as riding and working out. So basically the past month all aspects of my life have been colliding into one big happy fun time. There were a couple weeks in there where I managed to pick up around 4-5 shifts in the week, as well as got out to the barn 5 times (as well as other forms of exercise), and wrote 1-2 exams. There is a reason “time-management skills”  has it’s own section on my resume. I’m getting used to living out of my car and using gas stations for wardrobe changes. Between driving across the city for work and play, and out to the country for training, I don’t have a lot of time to spend at Ainslie St. The time that used to be taken up by classes is quickly being replaced by five billion other things. Speaking of which I should really figure out when my spring class starts.

As of today I’ve had three lessons with M&C, and they have all brought significant improvements (for both me and Willard). The first lesson was really fun. We focused on grid work, and it was clear the Willard missed jumping over things. I felt great in the tack, confident and focused. The second lesson was a bit different. I was less focused to begin with, but that quickly changed as the lesson progressed. In the beginning I was sluggish in the saddle, my back hurt and my knee was not enjoying much of anything. Then I realized how much I was falling into old bad habits (hip angle too closed, shoulders forward, leg back). Then I thought about all that work I put into that biomechanics project I did my first term, and between that and Charlene manually adjusting my position in the saddle, I quickly fixed my own biomechanics and had quite a productive lesson after that. Just took me a while to wake up that time apparently. But it was an enlightening lesson for me in many ways, one of those ways seeing how my education- all those technical things about the human body I’ve been studying all year- are truly helping me to progress as a rider. It’s helping me change my perspective on things like those pesky old bad habits I’ve been trying to banish for so long. I stumbled across a quote the other day that fits this situation.. “When bad habits are hard to break, try bending them”. A lot of it is about perception.

That lesson showed me that I am well on my way to gaining new perspective, and that maybe those habits won’t always hinder me- but instead help me to progress further.

Oh, and the horse was good too.

My lesson today was much more focused (from my view anyway). Since Willard is still pretty enthusiastic about the whole jumping idea (sound effects included). We did quite a bit of transition work, before and after jumps. While is is very keen to jump, he is listening much better than even a few weeks ago. Where he used to grab the bit and launch himself at jumps, he was waiting with me for deeper distances and actually rounding himself over the jumps (of course followed by a squeal and a buck after because apparently it feels really good to jump oxers lately). Today there was only some of that, moreso after the jumps opposed to before. Charlene thinks that one more week and this “spring freshness” should be out of his system. Can’t blame him really, jumping IS pretty fun.

The biggest difference I’m noticing in my riding so far this season is that I am also better at waiting in the tack. Previously I had a tendancy to see a distance, and wait for it, but let myself fall forward in anticipation- which would throw the horse off, and lead to a chip or a extra stride before the jump. Whether it be my common sense progressing, my improved over all fitness, or M&C’s strategies working (probably all three), it brings a lot more confidence into my ride. For both horse and rider.

So that’s riding covered. The only other sort of interesting news I have that is fitness related is that I’ve finally started making ground with my pesky quad injury. After a few months arguing with it (especially during running), with the help of my ATs awesome/horribly painfully effective thumbs and elbows, as well as well planned rehab exercises, it has progressed from quitting at 1 mile, then to 2 miles, and now last week we were up to 3 miles before it started feeling like WWIII was taking place in my left leg and glutes. That day I also did a 5 miler maintaining a 10:30min/mile pace! Personal best for this kid! My training has kind of shifted from being in the gym 5 days a week to being in the barn 5 days a week mixed with more running and more body weight/pilates style exercises. I’ve found that for now, with my schedule and what is most effective for my lifestyle at the moment, this is the program that works right now. I still try and do a heavy lifting day 1-2 times a week, because it really is effective for me as a rider. I’m really looking forward to this summer to expand my training more with new ideas that come up!

Between everything else, the mission to solve my GI problems is continuing. The naturopath I consulted in March originally suspected parasite, while the Gastroenterologist recently suggested it definitely was not a parasite, and although I don’t have too many of the symptoms, Crohn’s might be the case and would like to proceed with a colonoscopy to confirm, which I said I would consider after all the other tests came back. I did stool and saliva testing for the Naturopath, and more blood tests for the Gastroenterologist. The GI guy was correct on the parasites, as I saw the naturopath today and got my test results back. The tests also showed some inflammation in my small intestines, but that could correlate with the high levels of yeast, bacterial growth, and gluten build-up also present. So while I wait the next 2 months for my Gastroenterologist to get blood test results, the naturopath has put me on 3 different herbal supplements to rid my gut of the bad bacteria, yeast, and gluten- as well as recommended I try out a restricted diet. Restricted being the understatement of the year.

Long story short (seriously though, I got a 100-page reference package), I am to avoid all gluten, dairy, and sugar- limit my fruit intake and bump up my veggie intake. I’m not sure how my Starbuck’s addiction feels about this. However, while I initially panicked because, lets face it, that is a lot of things I can’t eat, I then realized that my diet lately has been shifting that direction anyway. It will definitely take a little more time and effort on my part to make the complete shift, but I have been looking at the “paleo” way of life for a while, and this restricted diet is not too far off that line of thinking. The past month or so, I have been feeling really good, and during that past month I’ve been eating less starchy/processed stuff. So maybe, hopefully, the naturopath is onto something with this. Either way, it’s a new adventure.. or maybe challenge is a better word! I hope to make time to record some of how it goes on here, so if you’re interested make sure you stay tuned!

I finish exams Wednesday, where I will get approximately a 12hr break before I start full-time at the Manitoba Major Soccer League as their program coordinator for the summer. It’s sure to be a crazy summer (per usual), while I keep around 10 hrs a week in shifts at the gym, plus full time at MMSL, riding, showing, spring courses, and everything else in between. Bring it on!