Talking to a friend recently they were very surprised that I don't snack between meals. Really? No snacks? Personally, I'm satisfied in between meals and use those times to hit my water goals because I don't like to drink a lot of water right before, during or right after a meal. Here's my first foray into video, I talk about why we are driven to snack between meals and what we can do about it.
Being in the nutrition field or any health-related field can be all consuming. Health is part of everything we do, it is our life. But it’s easy to get caught up in all the things that are wrong or could be better - our diet, our meditation practice, our exercise, or stretching, vitamin protocol, yoga practise, time away from glowing screens. The list is endless.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my body wants to be healthy. It is completely natural and innately inbuilt into us to be healthy and heal our body. So when things aren't perfect now, I give myself more grace.
EPA + DHA
Let’s all agree that humans need Omega 3’s for optimal health, they are essential fatty acids that the body itself can’t make. We need them for brain health, inflammation response, and cardiovascular health. But everywhere you look now there are fish oil Omega 3 supplements; at supermarkets, at drugstores, on the internet. Countless brands are touting and selling these capsules and liquids. No wonder that it is a billion dollar industry.
The problem with fish oil
The problem with fish oil is that Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated which means they are the most fragile. They are easily damaged by heat, light and processing. A study completed in New Zealand showed that “almost all” of the fish oil supplements that were available on the NZ market were tested and showed they were highly oxidised. They also found that levels of EPA and DHA (the two key Omega 3 fatty acids) were markedly lower than stated on the label. If you think this won’t affect you because the product you have is considered high quality, think again. The researchers found that “best-before date, cost, country of origin and exclusivity were all poor markers of supplement quality”.
In the past few years I have consumed many bottles of Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil & Butter oil blend, but this was for the fat-soluble vitamins not so much EPA and DHA. I recently tested really well for adding some essential fatty acids to my life so decided to jump into the deep end with fish oil. I went with a product that came highly recommended to me, Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil - 1000mg EPA + DHA. The fish used is guaranteed sustainable and the processing used ensures that the product is not contaminated with heavy metals. It is also free of GMO additives.
Whichever EPA & DHA supplement you go with, just remember to do some research and go with a trusted source because the risk of those capsules containing a rancid oxidised polyunsaturated fat which could be more damaging than good is very high. Or play it safe and stick to whole food sources of these key fatty acids like eating sardines and wild salmon a few times a week.
Update November 2018: How do we know if the fish oil you are taking has gone rancid during processing or in the capsule? The easiest way is to crack the capsule in your mouth between your teeth and taste the oil. It should taste like fish and not fish thats gone bad. These days I crack the capsule in my mouth every time I take one and have it with food. Why? Digestion begins in the mouth so I want to mix the oil with the enzymes in my saliva and make sure I’m really getting the most out of the supplement I’ve spent good money on. I take it with food so my stomach is already acidic enough to digest food which kicks off the digestion cascade and makes sure I’m releasing bile to digest these essential fats.
Do I get fish burps from this process? I’ll answer this question because it’s a common complaint from taking fish oil supplements. No, I don’t burp up fish smell. One thing is I taste the supplement and it doesn’t smell or taste any stronger than eating a piece of salmon. If you are plagued with fish burps make sure you are breaking the capsule in your mouth for optimal digestion, if it tastes bad then don’t take it because it’s probably gone off despite what the best before date says.
On that note let me mention the fermented cod liver oil I used to take. Everyone who’s taken it knows it doesn’t smell or taste anywhere near delicious, in fact when I started taking it I would gag. Now that I know what I know, I won’t take it again. You can’t ferment an oil, which seems so obvious to me now but back when I first started taking it fermented was such a buzz word and the product was so highly recommended it clouded my judgement and it seems like the judgment of many other people. Polyunsaturated oils go rancid within hours of being exposed to heat, light and air. If you’ve ever smelled or tasted the unflavoured product then you know the word that comes to mind is rancid.
Fear not, there are great cod liver oil options out there that are not fermented! Check out this post from Cheeseslave to find out more. Side note: I started reading her blog when I first discovered the book Nourishing Traditions nearly 10 years ago.
How to get a picture liked on Instagram? Show a hand holding a bottle of supplements. If you haven’t noticed, then you haven't been paying attention. Everyone seems obsessed. What’s the latest fix-all? Or what’s the latest brand with a big social media budget?
Magic potions for a quick fix.
I think our obsession with supplements stems from our quick-fix culture. Yes, I have been guilty of this too! The dream is that we don’t have to fix our lifestyle, eating habits, mindset but could just pop a pill or mix a powder into our coffee and get on with our day.
Before you spend your hard earned money and order the latest pill, drink, detox ask yourself if you actually have a problem that may get fixed by this product. Were you already actively seeking out a solution to an issue you have? Or did this product find you and very indirectly told you that you may have an issue that it can fix?
It's raining pills and powders
Before you purchase - check that there isn't an equal product that you could buy for a lot less because it doesn't have the huge marketing budget. But I do suggest steering well clear of bargain basement cheap supermarket brands that probably don't even contain what it says on the label. Before you buy it, do some reading. Does this product only promise to work if you take it daily for years? Are you willing to commit to the cost of that? Is it worth the cost? Maybe you could spend that same money on grass-fed organic pasture raised meats or local organic produce or eggs that you couldn't afford before and see bigger results in your health.
Listen to your body
So, you bought the thing? Cool, cool. Consume it, but pay attention. Is it doing what it said it would? Are you seeing or feeling marked changes? Do you have any evidence that it’s doing something? Don’t keep buying it out of habit when it maybe isn't doing anything for you. Also maybe it worked for your sister, coworker, second cousin. That doesn't mean that it’s going to work for you. We are all bio-individual with different needs. If someone else praises the product for moving mountains but you saw no changes then it’s simple, don’t buy it again.
Stress Stress Stress
So everywhere I look these days the big talk is stress in regards to adrenal burn out and chronic illness. But What can contribute to stress? When I mention it to most people the response is “I’m not stressed”. The natural preconception about stress is that the person is sitting at their desk overwhelmed by worry or under a heavy workload. Stress can definitely be those things but it is also so much more.
Common triggers for stress on the body
Refined sugars and a high glycemic diet are a major factor for most people
Coffee, alcohol, energy drinks
Rushed mornings, commute
Sickness, allergies, disease, food sensitivities
Environmental toxins, mould
The key here is chronic stress which produces a chronic output of cortisol, day in day out. Humans were meant to handle high stress for a short period of time and be relaxed in between. In our modern lives, we now live with moderate stress all of the time, and it is this constant that depletes the adrenals.
Another important note on emotional stress and dwelling on negative emotions. When I’m sad I think sad thoughts. When I’m anxious I continue to worry about random things that will never happen or are totally out of my control when I’m angry I replay the anger in my thoughts. Some of us tend to prolong these emotions longer than what is necessary. I think it’s ok to feel those emotions, it’s totally healthy. But when we drag them out for longer than is necessary, it’s like scratching at a cut and not letting it heal. This kind of mindset is extremely detrimental to the stress load on our body. Negative, overwhelming feelings and emotions are a hard habit to kick for people like me but it’s imperative that we let them go as soon as possible. The first step is acknowledging the thought pattern. Meditation really helps here, mental exercises like visualization, repeating mantras or something like the emotional freedom technique I think are a must for anyone who experiences negative emotions on loop in their head.
Greens Greens Greens
I’ve been taking this green powdered drink on and off for probably 5 years. I recently got another bottle and remember why I love it and go back to it over and over. It really helps with digestion and energy. It's a great booster for days I'm lacking on green vegetables, especially in the winter months when there are fewer greens available or they have to be trucked in from far away so may not be as nutritionally dense as when they were first harvested.
It contains powdered greens, sea vegetables, probiotics and digestive enzymes. What it doesn’t have are fillers that many other powdered greens companies add like fruit, grains or seeds. There’s nothing wrong with those things but when I am paying for a quality product I don’t want it diluted, I want a potent combination of greens, superfoods and nothing extra.
Alkalising, Energising, Nutrient Dense
I really love this product so I always end up going back to it since I trust the quality. I just mix it in shaker bottle of water and drink up.
Taste is important too!
A note on taste, when I gave it to my sister she said it tastes like dirt but I love this earthy drink. If you're not accustomed to vegetable only juices or not-sweet smoothies I suggest blending it with water into a smoothie with cucumber, peeled lemon chunks and half an apple, preferably granny smith. Add any other additional greens if you want. To the ingredients listed, I have added spinach, lettuce, parsley and cilantro to the mix, depending what I have had on hand. This blend is great if you don’t like the taste of greens on their own.
I think the body reacts strongly to taste. If you are gulping something down, gagging on a taste you don't find agreeable then your body probably won't do a great job digesting the food or drink. Find a way to make eating and drinking greens work for your tastes. Start small with half a teaspoon in plenty of water and work your way up. It's surprising how quickly you might start to love the taste.
The serving mentioned on the bottle is quite large, I usually have a big heaped teaspoon of powder in a big glass of water or a shaker bottle.
When to drink it?
Regarding timing, I don’t drink it close to any caffeinated beverages because it can inhibit the absorption of iron from the sea vegetables and I always need extra iron. Personally I think this drink is great any time of the day as long as you take it! Sure it might be optimal on an empty stomach first thing in the morning but if that doesn't fit your day then why bother? I used to take it first thing in the morning but these days I have it right before lunch or dinner or between meals with lots of water.
I’m reading the totally not new book “Adrenal Fatigue - The 21st Century Stress Syndrome”. I love that the first and most important part of healing is lifestyle changes. Everyone wants to take that magic supplement or pill to fix whatever is making them unwell. Unfortunately, lifestyle, mindset, and attitude play a much more important part in our health. They are not as easy as popping a pill, they take daily work. We can’t undo a bad lifestyle or a negative mindset with just ashwagandha or rhodiola or what another new adaptogen, vitamin or mineral is in the spotlight.
What exactly is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is the down-regulation of your adrenal gland, and the main symptoms are fatigue, inability to handle stress and a weakened immune system. There are many other symptoms I’m not going to list. I’ve had first-hand experience with these symptoms, from being hospitalized for a lung infection in my 20’s then training excessively and running multiple long distance running events (marathons and ultra-marathons) over years and taking asthma medication with corticosteroids daily. These are all detailed in the book as being possible triggers for adrenal fatigue. The feelings of sleeping for 9 or 10 hours and still waking up exhausted, trivial negative events triggering tears and hopelessness, catching any cold going around.
Chronic stress and cortisol.
The effect of stress is cumulative. For example; a hard training session, a processed sugary donut for breakfast, making a mistake at work and beating ourselves up about it, feeling bloated leaving us unhappy with how we look that day all add up to the stress load for the day. Add to that being stuck in traffic, long queues at the supermarket, staying up late to finish watching a show on Netflix. All of this snowballs into a heavy load of stress, even though conventionally none of those issues on their own would raise any alarms. Then say as I got sick and couldn't recover, had an asthma attack and had to be hospitalized. This event could have been the straw that broke the camel's back or one of many others stresses to come.
The book has made me realize that even though I experienced physical events that could have triggered the burn out of my adrenal glands, what is also most likely is my own thought process and mindset can greatly contribute to the syndrome. Negative self-talk, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, not being good enough are just as harmful as over training or a bad diet. I remember dreading to go in to work on many days, feeling overwhelmed, hopeless that I couldn't leave, unhappy.
Adrenal Fatigue - is there a way out?
It’s not easy to reverse years of negative thinking, but it can be done. Unfortunately, I can’t tout a success story about how I fixed my anxiety and adrenal fatigue by thinking positively, this is still a work in progress. Reading the book has made me more aware of how big the role of attitude and mindset has on our overall health, not just adrenal. I related to many of the emotions covered like regret, hopelessness, dread, negative self-talk.
Where do I start?
The first step is always acknowledging what I need to work on and I feel like the book helped me identify that. Now I need to isolate when I’m being negative or thinking negatively about myself. What are my most common negative thoughts? Then I can replace these with new more positive thought patterns. Or if I find myself in a negative situation then I need to reframe my view to be more positive. Stop thinking about what others opinions are of me, and do what I want to do. It also pays to practice gratitude, remind myself daily how much I have to be thankful for. The key here is practice and consistency. All of the solutions need to be worked on daily, it’s not going to be a one and done, or a quick fix. But now that I have re-focused on how important this is for my health, I’m going to give this a lot more attention.
I ran my first marathon in my early 20’s without much training. I wasn’t training in much of a structured way, I just ran for fitness. I decided to enter the Auckland Half marathon, but after entering in training I ran a 20km distance. My thought process was if I can run that in a training run on a weekend by myself, it wasn't going to be much of a challenge to do a half marathon. So I did what any sane runner would do, I changed to a full marathon. I had fun while doing it, and after forgetting the pain of the event I quickly signed up for another full marathon happening in 6 months time.
Run Run Run
After this second marathon, I signed up for another marathon and then a 60km trail ultramarathon. This led to a string of other marathons, other ultramarathons, and one half-marathon. I worked up to an 85km trail ultra and dreamed of one day doing a 100-mile race (160km). From the outside, this all seemed normal since everyone is told that more exercise is better. But I was slowly running myself ragged.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat with my heart racing. I’d walk to the bus in the middle of the night thinking it was time to head to work. I used the running high to keep me going. I’d walk to work for an hour and then run home straight after work. I couldn't understand why I had an insatiable hunger for peanut butter, polishing off jars at my desk at the office.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see overtraining manifesting itself. Luckily I didn't end up injured, any niggles I had were seen to by my mum who works as a sports massage therapist. The classic signs of cortisol and adrenaline peaking at incorrect times, like the middle of the night. The hunger for high-calorie foods. Constant tiredness. I was either running or recovering. For many runners, this could be normal but my adrenals couldn't handle it anymore.
The climax was running a marathon, then the next day tripping running to catch the bus to work. I hurt my knee pretty badly, it swelled to a huge ball and I still have the scar to show where the chunk of skin got eaten by the pavement. I couldn't run but had a 60km mountain run in a month or so. I recovered from the knee injury in time for the race but hadn't done much prep. Then the day before flying to the destination mountain race I got a gastro bug, had diarrhoea and couldn't eat anything. I decided to run the race and see how I felt. Surprisingly during the entirety of the 60km race, I didn't poop my pants. But afterwards, I was up all night on the toilet and still couldn't eat anything. In a way, my body was fed up and telling me, no more!
I broke up with running.
Reading the signs I called a hiatus on running, which was a great decision for me at the time. Since then I have run a couple of half marathons but nothing longer, I now love rock climbing and lifting weights at the gym. I still have the propensity to extreme exercising. If I could exercise hard every day or even twice a day I probably would. My boyfriend said recently, stop punishing yourself in the gym. I never thought of it that way but maybe I am, for some reason, those words really stuck with me.
Even knowing my capacity for stress on my body may be lower than other people, and exercise is stress, I still try to push it. The results are usually my body run down or sick with a cold or gastro bug. I’m finally reading Dr. Wilson’s book on adrenal health to find better ways to support myself and that will need an entirely separate post. For now, I just need to remind myself that taking more rest days is totally necessary and I have to stay conscious of my stress levels lest I keep depleting my body.
When we think about health, what comes to mind? Eating vegetables, exercise, meditation, sleep. But research from a Harvard University study running for nearly 80 years makes an argument for the importance of relationships. Their words are that loneliness kills. This doesn't mean that taking care of your body is not important. Avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol, physical activity, stress management and maintaining a healthy weight are all indicators for health. But having healthy relationships is in the same category. We schedule our yoga sessions and trips to the gym. We go to farmers markets and cook healthy whole foods. How often do we think about and intentionally work to improve our relationships? The study found that those who maintained healthy relationships were happier and lived longer.
It’s easy to get caught up in the motions of every day and despite being around people still, be isolated. When we are with family and friends, are we truly present or distractedly checking our phones? Do we invite meaningful conversation with our partner and close friends? Sometimes it feels that our most intimate conversations happen at the start of a relationship and then tapers off to a kind of maintenance level. Family, friends, community all build strong social support and leave you with people you can really count on. This will directly impact happiness and satisfaction throughout life.
Maybe your relationships are more complicated and you need outside help? Repairing these or letting go may be the answer. Don’t let unresolved issues get swept under the rug and fester for years. Seek out counselling, therapy or talk to a trusted person. It can be scary to tackle relationship problems head-on, so find support. And on the other hand what if one day we realize that by taking the focus of relationships we just don’t have any people? It can be hard as an adult to make friends. After being stuck in an anti-social rut for a long time, look into things like meetup.com, volunteering, a course. Ask your existing people or person if they can set you up with a friend. If you are invited to something, actually consider attending. You never know where that one unicorn of a friend may be lurking. On a side note, meeting people at bars or nightclubs may not be the most productive option. It’s loud and people are a few drinks deep, which may seem like a positive - hello Dutch courage. But the chances of you meeting someone who you genuinely have something in common with are slim.
Let’s put relationships in the self-care basket, like drinking a green juice, taking a bath or doing a yoga class. When we are with the people we love, really be there. Focus on quality. Put the phone away. Invite a conversation by being vulnerable and sharing something going on in your life, good or bad with someone you care about. Send an email or call a friend you haven't seen in awhile, and take it beyond “hi, how are you”. And a special reminder for introvert me, you have to sometimes leave the house to actually interact with humans!
Sometimes the biggest challenge is doing less. My instructor in yoga teacher training said this to me years ago and it still resonates. We are always struggling, running out of time, doing more. The years I spent training for and running marathons and ultramarathons were exactly this. Trying to fit everything in. Running, strength training, adequate sleep, yoga, stretching, meals, all in between a full-time job and a social life.
My day was so jammed that if anything ran late the anxiety was instant. I’m sure this is nothing compared to being a single parent or caring for a sick family member or a multitude of other scenarios after all this life was of my own choosing. But I can only speak from my own experience. Some people could handle this exact same level of stress and more with no problems. But I was waking up in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat. Sheets so wet I had to lie on a towel to be comfortable enough to try and return to sleep. I would wake up having dreamed my alarm had gone off, get dressed with urgency and head to the bus stop to go to work before seeing the time was 3 am. I see now in retrospect how the stress hormone cortisol was definitely running the game.
After I decided to take a break from running I was still keeping active. This included more time for yoga but it was always the hardest class. Power yoga instead of gentle hatha. 90 minutes instead of 60. Modifying any pose to be easier was a weakness. If I wasn't sore the next day I didn't try hard enough.
Then I witnessed a completely alternate perspective in yoga teacher training. Many restorative poses where every limb and head was supported by blankets. Nothing was being pulled or worked, it was utter bliss. Setting up was time-consuming but rewarding to be on the floor with the wood fire stove burning in the corner and my body entirely supported. Coming out of the poses re-generated instead of completely spent. We discussed the increased need for this style of yoga as the pace of life was being put on fast forward for many people.
Yoga isn't necessarily the only answer. Finding something that works for us as individuals are key. It may be meditation, quiet time spent reading, tai chi, a gentle walk, cooking a un-rushed meal, a bath. Trends like Danish concept of hygge and time for self-care are undoubtedly so popular because we have realized the value in slowing down the pace of life. Instead of working hard, let’s work easy.
I look back at my times of high stress as a learning experience. I was testing out my boundaries. Now when I see similar patterns in my sleep, thoughts, demeanour I take the time to reflect and address what is going on. Remember that in an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. If we are run completely ragged how much help can we provide others? I have some “me” time, listen to a positive uplifting podcast or music, gentle exercise where the only goal is easy movement. If we practise this kindness to ourselves we might find more focus, more perspective, more gratitude in other aspects of our lives.