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March 26, 2019

What You Can Change – Part Three

The first two parts of this series address sleep. That’s just one piece to the puzzle. This next part will be about diet. Please remember I am not a nutritionist or dietician and you should seek out one if you want specific advice on your diet.

Elimination Diets

Again, to be done properly you should always consult your physician or dietician before trying this. You may want to consider an elimination diet because it’s possible to have different intolerances to foods that you are unaware of. Food is not supposed to make us so tired that you fall asleep at work, food is not supposed to make us feel bloated, food is not supposed to make us feel irritable, food is supposed to feed your body and give you energy. Elimination diets are designed to see what specifically may be a trigger for your body. Just because you don’t have a food allergy does not mean that you can eat any food and not have any side effects. Taking out major food triggers like dairy and gluten and then other foods so that you can stay “clean” for several weeks to refresh your system and then add in foods to see how your body reacts is a really good way to determine food sensitivities. You may even have sensitivity to certain kinds of herbs or meats or vegetables so this can be beneficial to see what kinds of foods you will respond best with.

When you do elimination diets it’s important not to test too many things at once. If you test 3 possible trigger foods at once there is no way to see what the actual trigger is. So take things slowly and be consistent with the foods that you know you respond best with.  

The final piece to this is to make sure you are mindful. Keep a journal, have someone you spend a lot of time with aware of what you’re trying in case they notice something you may not. For example, when I did my elimination diet I tried peanut butter and it made me incredibly irritable and my partner pointed this out after I snapped at him for putting cucumbers on my salad. When I repeated this test a couple of weeks later the same result happened where I felt my irritability and anxiety spike. The response to the trigger may not be what you expect so just be open minded. Things like decrease in energy, drowsiness, skin reactions, stomach pain, nausea, anxiety, joint pain, headaches etc. can all be symptoms to the foods or symptoms of other things going on in your life so also feel free to repeat certain foods and see if the same response happens.

Finally, remember that your trigger foods may not be other people’s trigger foods. This makes cooking in a household very challenging. It’s okay to not eat the same foods even if you are eating together.

Hydration

Drink water. All day. If you don’t have access to clean water go for other options to try and stay hydrated. Milk is a good source of hydration. If you can’t drink milk try whole foods like fruit, vegetables, and even meat can help keep you stay hydrated. Other beverages like juice or sports drinks can provide hydration and are a better option than caffeinated drinks that may actually further dehydrate you.

The standard rule about urination frequency and color of urination should not be used if you drink caffeinated drinks. Caffeine inhibits the release of ADH, a hormone in the kidneys, which blocks the reabsorption of water and increases the amount of fluid converted to urine. This means your urine will appear clear and you will urinate more frequently. Therefore, if your urine is clear and you urinate frequently, but you have been drinking caffeine you might actually just be peeing out all of your hydration. So be sure to drink water with your caffeine and continue to find sources of hydration throughout the day.

Anecdotal Evidence

Just because a diet worked for you does not mean it will work for a friend. Just because elimination of one food helped reduce your symptoms does not mean it will reduce your spouse’s. Please don’t assume one protocol will cover everyone. There are lots of overlap with different trends and diet restrictions. There is no one right way.

That documentary that you saw on Netflix does not mean you should go vegan because it worked for someone else. If you watch a documentary where a person struggles with an autoimmunity and decides to go keto and then magically gets better this does not mean you should be on a keto diet. First of all, these diets are hard to do well. Second of all, the information that you watch in a documentary is not always sound. A lot of this information is portrayed in a way to make you want to believe the narrator and scientists in the films. This is why you should still seek the advice of a professional even if you do decide to try one of these diets. The professional can be the one to make sure that you’re making a good decision for your health and that you’re making appropriate decisions that won’t lead you down a path of undernourishment. Veganism and keto diets are not necessarily bad, but they can be if you don’t do them properly, as are most diets.

Feed Your Body Better Than How You Feed Your Dog

When most people buy dog food they make sure it’s all organic, with no preservatives added. They make sure their dog doesn’t eat things that might make it sick. If it is having stomach issues or loose stools you might make it some rice and plain chicken. Our dogs, or at least my family dogs, eat very well. I hear a lot of people emphasize and brag about how their dogs eat all organic dog foods. Which is great, I want my dogs to live as long as possible so I’m glad we make good decisions with their food.

But then why the hell do we make bad decisions for our food? If your dog eats organic food then why do you eat processed? Do you not care how long you live? We don’t feed dogs certain foods because they might get sick or have diarrhea. But, if you have irritable bowel syndrome and you know that certain foods flare it up, why do you continue to eat those foods? Foods that make you tired, give you muscle pain, make you feel bloated, increase your anxiety, make you nauseous, increase your psoriasis, etc. may taste good, but it’s not good for you. This situation should be no different than your dog sitting on the floor and begging for the chocolate that’s on the table. Obviously, or I guess hopefully, pet owners are smart enough to not give their pets chocolate even if they beg for it. So why do you give yourself the pasta or pizza or dairy or tomatoes or fill in the blank that make you feel shitty? This brings in a totally different topic about self-control that I don’t really want to get in to, and I know I struggle with these decisions, but you can limit the amount of exposure to temptation and build a community of people to help you make the best decisions for yourself and your gut and in general your health.

Ask a Professional

Not all nutritionists and registered dieticians are created equal so do research. Different states have different guidelines on who can legally call themselves a nutritionist and that’s important to have. In fact, here’s a link where you can find out more information about that because it’s pretty important to understand what you are getting when you start looking for providers.

Furthermore, the highest amount of education does not always equate the best provider. Some of the most intelligent people I know don’t even have bachelor’s degrees. This is why it’s important to research your provider and be picky when deciding who you want to work with. Just because you went to one appointment with a nutritionist does not mean that you have to stick with that nutritionist or give up with nutritionists all together if you felt like the appointment didn’t go well. There are lot of people out there who study the biochemistry and diseases that you may have so keep looking if at first you can’t find someone you feel is not a good match.

Supplements

I want this in the same section as ask a professional because it makes sense to also consult a professional about which supplements to take before you spend $100 investing in products that may not even be that good of quality or what you need. First of all, supplements are not well regulated by the FDA, but hopefully that will change in the future. A good professional will have done research on the products and brands before recommending a supplement to you. Second of all, there are tons of vitamins and supplements that you could possibly take and if you just take whatever you might not be targeting the right things, you might be feeding an underlying cause or issue, and you might just pee out all of those really expensive supplements.

If you insist on taking a vitamin then consider starting with a multivitamin. Based off of how farming and the production of food it makes sense that the foods we eat in the 21st century contain less nutrients than they did even as short as 100 years ago. You may not be getting all of the nourishment you need from your foods anymore and this can be a reason why vitamins and supplements are super important.

Ask the Whys

I apologize in advance because I said a while back that you shouldn’t listen to anecdotal evidence and I’m about to give anecdotal evidence. It’s not so much to prove a point, but rather to illustrate one, which is why I feel okay giving it. Before I was first diagnosed with Lyme disease and other infections, the doctors of course ran normal blood panels and identified that my iron was slightly below normal. They told me I was slightly anemic and that could explain some of the fatigue I was feeling and that I should begin to supplement with iron. I was also a female with a short ovulation cycle and it’s not uncommon, especially as a freshman in college, to have less iron in my diet. I would say that with the information the doctor had it was probably sound advice. However, it was actually really bad advice this one time. The doctor didn’t look in to other tests because that’s time consuming and costs money and best guess was that was what was really happening. So I started taking an iron supplement. Four months later and I was diagnosed with Babesiosis, a parasite that infects red blood cells and literally feeds off of the iron in the RBC. That would explain a lot of what was happening with me and would mean that by taking iron supplements I’m potentially providing more food for the infection.

I still have a ton of respect for the physician that gave me this advice. I do not blame the doctor for making that decision. It was a good decision for most people. But, I know this is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to functional medicine. There are other indicators that can point to actual anemia that weren’t present that if the physician would have identified it would have indicated it probably wasn’t simply anemia. However, western medicine doesn’t always teach ask the whys, it teaches be efficient and get the person in and out and 9 times out of 10 it’s probably just anemia (I don’t know if it’s 9 times out of 10 that may just be an exaggeration, but hopefully you get the idea).

If you’re someone with a history of chronic illness and with autoimmunities etc. then it’s a good idea to find a provider who will dive deeper in to what is really happening and find a provider who will ask the whys.

Eating with Kids

I do not have kids. This is not something I have experienced, but I’ve seen it and it’s one of the biggest hurdles I face with personal training and care coordinator clients. It’s really hard to make sound decisions about what you eat when your kid is having chicken nuggets and only eats 2 and there are 4 left and you don’t want to waste it etc. I know that when I was little my mom would sometimes even forgo ordering food at a restaurant or just get a side salad because she would just finish whatever we didn’t eat. That to me just defines heroism. Sacrificing potentially your own well-being to accommodate your children. But, it’s also really frustrating.

Sometimes, you may not be able to make other decisions and you might just eat the leftover pizza that your kid wanted last night. That has to be okay. Sometimes you will make bad dietary decisions, don’t beat yourself up about it, but also don’t just be complacent that from now on you’ll just make bad decisions because you have a family or kids.

Here’s some of the advice I give my people:

Don’t feel obligated to finish their food. Sometimes even the 4 chicken nuggets are worth putting in the fridge to be reheated later.

Try and stick to real foods at meals – meat, vegetables, good carb sources like rice or whole grains. Kids are picky so this might be hard, but in general it’s a decent rule to try and follow.

If you take your kid to the grocery store with you try sticking to the outside of the store. This is a really basic rule you’ve probably hear before, but you can try and stick to it especially when you have the kids with you so that you reduce the temptation and the begging for that sugary box of cereal with very little nutritional value.

Buy foods for you. This may not always be an option, but if you are in a position where you can afford good foods then buy foods that will be good for you and maybe just for you. You buy the cereal for your kid and the box of cookies that your husband likes, it’s okay to buy yourself something that you enjoy that will bring you nutritional value.

I’d like to finish this long winded post with something I’ve been working on personally. Be mindful. Food is meant to provide energy and nutrients for your body. This is what literally keeps you functioning well. Food cravings and the mental hurdle of choosing good food over the really delicious pizza is really, really hard. Especially when those foods are associated with something important. When I picture going to the movies, something I love doing, I can’t picture that experience without popcorn and a coke. When I picture pizza I picture a nice night in with friends or family where we all get to spend time together, watch a movie, play some board games, etc. I try and make good decisions every day. Sometimes I fail. I used to beat myself up about those decisions, but that’s creating a really bad relationship with food. Just be mindful about what will make you feel the best and remember that to enjoy the moments and experiences you should probably be giving your body the best possible resources and fuel sources as well.

March 5, 2019

What You Can Change – Part Two

Change your light bulbs, go to bed earlier, do myofunctional therapy exercises every day, buy a fan, buy a humidifier, and voila! Sleep fixed.

But, it’s not that simple. You have to work until 8 pm, drive 30 minutes home, cook dinner, eat, shower, get ready for tomorrow, and then it’s 11 pm and you still haven’t taken any time for yourself so you sit down and watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix and then exhausted you crawl in to bed and then you’re wide awake. And that’s just one scenario. Maybe you work night shifts just to pay the bills. Or you’re a nurse working the night shift at the hospital. Or you’re a grad student juggling clinicals and homework. Maybe you literally don’t have the money to buy red lights, a fan, and a humidifier. Maybe you don’t have enough money or resources to see a myofunctional therapist. Maybe you have 4 kids. Maybe you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Making these “simple” changes sound easy when you just say them, but actually having the resources and ability to make the changes is a totally different story.

Circumstance is not a choice.

Where you’re born, how you develop, the shape of your jaw, doing what you need to pay the bills, etc. are things you can’t choose and things you can’t necessarily change. You do what you need to. Sometimes these changes to our sleep are just not possible or rather not a priority and that’s okay, but understand that you may be unsuccessful with your goals of weight loss or having more energy if you’re unable or unwilling to change your priorities.

Here are some things that you can try if all of the changes from last week’s article seem impossible:

Nap

Naps are free. They’re small windows of time to allow your brain to recharge and potentially help you refocus and wake up feeling better. While this may not always be the case, it can be a positive addition if you find other areas of your sleep too difficult to change. However, napping is not a way to supplement sleep, rather a way to try and help with your symptoms that may be due to lack of sleep.

Mind Dump

There are many different ways to refer to this, but basically you just write down all of your thoughts before you go to bed. Plan out your day, write down the conversation you’re having in your head, write down all of the things you have to study, whatever is keeping you up write it down and then leave it. This is a simple way for you not to be cycling through things over and over in your head. Anxiety and restlessness are common with Invisible Illness so finding ways to cope and help reduce those symptoms can help you fall asleep faster.

Breathing Exercises

Try this simple exercise taken from the Buteyko Method. Lay on your right side, close your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Then you will take a breath in and out (all through the nose) and then pinch your nose. This will force you to hold your breath. Do this until it starts to feel slightly uncomfortable and again breathe through your nose, but this time you want a smaller inhalation than before. This can be very challenging and you don’t want to be gasping for air so be mindful of how long you hold your breath. Repeat this several times. For more details about this watch this video here. I say lay on your right side to start with because that will be a little easier to begin with than your left.

Stop Sleeping on your Belly

Try sleeping on your side. You can add pillows between your knees to support your hips and knees. You can try sleeping with your knees elevated while on your back. Find a comfortable position that doesn’t compress your lungs and extend your spine.

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate and this may not be for everyone, but it is a way for you to unwind at the end of the day. Go for a walk. Sit in quiet. Clear your mind. Try breathing and just focusing on your body, starting with your toes and your fingers and work slowly up your arms and legs paying attention to how they feel.

Walk

Take even just 10 minutes and go for a walk during the day, preferably outside or in the closest thing you can find to nature (i.e. park if you live in a city). This can help center your mind and get it to relax.

Make a Choice

Some things are non-negotiable: your work, your family, your sanity…your health. You may not be ready to make certain sacrifices in order to improve your sleep quality. Decide what’s most important to you and make the necessary adjustments.

February 26, 2019

What You Can Change – Part One

So, two weeks ago I posted an article about making changes if you have an autoimmunity or an invisible illness. If you haven’t read it yet check it out here.

Maybe you’re ready to change, but where do you start? Over the next several weeks I will be releasing different things that you can start changing. Even small habit/lifestyle changes can make big impacts in your daily living. Below is our first topic to target:

Sleep Hygiene

Screen Time

Exposure to screens can disrupt the hormones that help regulate our sleep cycles. Melatonin, a major hormone responsible for preparing the body for sleep, is suppressed when exposed to screens. Consider limiting phones, tv, tablets, etc. before bed in order to improve sleep time and sleepiness at night. Even 30 minutes can make an impact, but 1-2 hours is more ideal.

Blue-Violet Light  

This is part of the reason that screens suppress melatonin. Maybe you can’t totally give up screens before bed. So what do you do? You can turn on night mode or the color/nighttime mode in order to reduce exposure to the blue-violet light. This turns on a reddish-orange tint that can help prepare your body for sleep.

Red Lights

This is the opposite of blue-violet light. White light contains all colors of light, including blue light. If you switch out one or two light bulbs to use at night that are pure red light it can do wonders for helping you feel sleepy before bed. They’re super cheap on Amazon and it’s a really easy adjustment. All you have to do is flip a switch before bed and let the light do the work.  

Room Temperature

We sleep better when the room is cold. Your body starts to recover if your body temperature drops. If you’re hot, your body won’t rest. Your body also won’t rest if you’re too cold. The goal would be to sleep with the air between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wake up sweating at night that’s not good. So unless you have a medical condition that causes night sweats think about making this adjustment to get more restful sleep.

Light Exposure

I just spent 2 weeks in the Arctic Circle, in February, and it was very dark. This can have an affect on my hormones that influence my sleep (melatonin and cortisol being the two big players). Consider light alarm clocks or black out curtains in these situations. Our mood isn’t the only thing affected by light. You can also use eye masks while you sleep to block out light from street lamps or other lights that may disrupt your sleep.

White Noise

Fans, air humidifier, white noise machines, anything that can create a dull noise can allow you to block out any sounds that may keep you awake – a noisy roommate, a snoring partner, a dog barking, birds chirping, a garbage truck, etc. Fans and air humidifiers have other purposes as well (temperature and air quality). Another way to block out annoying sounds are a simple purchase of ear plugs! These can be uncomfortable or fall out though, but it is a simple adjustment and small storage.

Air Quality

I live in California. Sunny and beautiful and mostly clean air, except when we have fires. This year we had some of the most destructive fires in the history of the state. The smoke drifted hundreds of miles and clogged the entire Bay. This made breathing extremely difficult. Thankfully we had an air purifier and an air humidifier to help with this. Our world is polluted. So, especially if you live somewhere with poor air quality, consider investing in something that helps not only your sleep quality, but the overall quality of your health.

Head position

When was the last time you evaluated your pillow?The shape of our neck should dictate the shape of our pillows. Firm, soft, and everything in between should depend on what’s comfortable. I actually switch based off of the stress I’ve had that specific week. Stress, airway, and head posture can all be related (see more below) and that can affect how your neck feels and looks and thus the pillow that will help your body relax.

Airway

  1. Airway: This is a really lengthy topic. There are lots of ways that your airway may be limited. If your airway has any limitations (nasal, oral, etc.) then it will affect how much air you can inhale, how much air you can exhale, the strain you need in order to breathe, neck and head posture, etc. Believe it or not, forward head posture may not only be from staring at a screen. Forward head posture can actually be related to the development and structure of your airway. If you have a limited airway then it will affect how your breathe when you sleep and an avalanche of other factors that affect your biochemistry, hormonal function, and quality of sleep. This may not be something you can change though, but it is something worth being evaluated. If you wake up feeling tired and not rested even when you sleep 8+ hours a night you should probably see a sleep specialist who understands the airway. Other people to consider finding are oral maxillofacial surgeons, ENT’s, airway focused dentists, myofunctional therapists, and airway focused physical therapists.
  2. Sleep apnea: Directly related to airway. When you have sleep apnea you literally stop breathing and your body jolts you awake to resume breathing. This puts stress on your cardiovascular system and your central nervous system. Addressing this is very important for sleep quality. If you wake up tired every morning you may want to dive deeper in to this. Even mild sleep apnea can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. If you wake up multiple times throughout the night due to a stressful event like not breathing it can put a lot of stress on the system that the body doesn’t recover from. Something to consider as well is that simply addressing sleep apnea with a CPAP machine may not be enough. Check out this research paper. You might need to address the actual airway itself to breathe better instead of forcing air in to your ribcage. CPAP machines help you feel more rested, but it’s just masking the symptoms, it’s still not solving the issue of your limited airway.
  3. Nasal breathing: This again is related to the structure of your airway. If you have a deviated septum, a narrow nasal cavity, a blocked nasal cavity, etc. this can lead to mouth breathing. Mouth breathing can lead to dehydration, change in blood pH, change in heart rate, and can expose you to more infections/allergies that make you sick and can actually continue this loop of difficulty in breathing.
  4. Snoring: this is a sign of sleep apnea and lack of nasal breathing. If you snore consider seeing a sleep specialist to be further evaluated. This may tell you a lot about the structure of your airway and if you need to see a specialist about possible interventions (myofunctional therapy, orthodontistry, or oral maxillofacial surgery).

Meditation and Breathing

This may directly impact how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of sleep that you get. Getting your body ready for bed also means shutting your mind off from the day. When you are stressed out at work or because of the kids or because of the argument you got in to with your friend your mind and nervous system is a stressed, or it’s ready to fight state. This does not equate rest. This will make it harder to fall asleep even if you’re tired. You may not be able to fall asleep and you just lay in bed tossing and turning with your mind racing. Breathing and meditation are two ways to help your system relax and start the process of preparing to rest. If you’re interested in what specific breathing exercises to look in to I have several resources you may be interested in so leave a comment below and we can talk further.

Timing

Sleep duration and the time that you go to sleep seem really obvious and yet it’s one of the biggest things that people don’t change. Most people need more than the amount of sleep that he or she gets. So 6 hours of sleep really isn’t enough. Especially when you add in the fact that the sleep is interrupted and the quality is poor because she is breathing through her mouth and she had been staring at a screen for over 8 hours today at work and then 2 more hours once home. Even if you claim to be a night owl you do have the ability to change certain habits and go to bed at an earlier time. Think about going to bed earlier so you can actually get an appropriate amount of sleep. 8 hours of interrupted sleep are better than 5 hours of interrupted sleep so even if you can’t change anything else about your sleep you can at least give yourself more time to try and recover.

Keep an eye out for next week’s post in order to see what you can’t change about sleep. If you want specific advice on where you can improve your sleep hygiene let’s talk.

Also check out these resources on sleep:

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Lucy Hendrick’s has a really good article

Lance Goyke has a really good article

February 18, 2019

The Front Line

How many times a year do you see your doctor? Maybe once for your physical or to renew medication. Sometimes more if you get sick. Maybe frequently because you have some type of illness. Maybe not even once a year. And when you do see your doctor, how comfortable do you feel around him or her? Do you confide in them about your work stresses, or the thing your kid said to you the night before? Do you talk to them about your relationship or tell them about the amazing dinner you had last night? You may, but most likely not.

Now how many times a week do people come in and work with their personal trainers? Probably at least once a week, maybe even four or five times a week. As a coach, I interact with my clients sometimes daily. We send messages back and forth, we see each other frequently, and I learn a lot about every single one. I know what foods they like and dislike, I know about their jobs, and their relationships, how many kids they have, their insecurities, the name of their dog. I have very strong relationships with all of my clients and I’m sure most personal trainers do as well.

This isn’t my way of saying that personal trainers are better than physicians because we know more about our clients than doctors do about their patients. That’s not true at all. What I am saying though, is that it’s our job to recognize when something is wrong. Here’s my anecdote to illustrate this point:

I’ve been seeing a client for a couple of months now. He has very high levels of stress. He’s a very sweet guy, very kind, works hard on his exercises he does independently, and his main goal is to gain some mobility. We’ve done some stretches and breathing (I had him do an entire session of just breathing and he gained over 15 degrees of shoulder flexion), but our most recent session he opened up a little bit further. I began to ask him questions about how he’s sleeping and he told me not very well. He said he’s stressed at work. Okay, that’s pretty normal for Silicon Valley. But, I asked some more questions. “How much sleep did you get last night?” he said he had about 9 hours. That’s a decent amount of sleep, so why isn’t he sleeping well? I inquired further and found out not only has he not felt rested after sleeping, but he doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. He’s been feeling incredibly depressed and doesn’t have the strength to get up in the morning. My heart sank. Here’s this awesome, happy, nice guy who can barely get up in the morning. From what it sounded like he also has not sought help or guidance for this yet. He hadn’t told his doctor because he doesn’t think he needs to make an appointment for this issue. Yet, his depression is so crippling that he is barely functioning. So what is my responsibility as his personal trainer? I’m not equipped to take him through a screening, or counsel him, I’m not a licensed therapist. But, he’s confided in me. I’m his first point of contact with this issue in his medical care team. He’s been working with an acupuncturist and a massage therapist, but his reason for treatment is stress, not depression. There’s a very good chance I’m the first person to receive this information just because I see him enough and I happened to ask the right questions.

So what did I do? I told him I was here to help him and to listen. I told him that everyone at our clinic cares about him and we are there to help improve his standard of living. And finally, I referred him. It’s not my job to treat depression, I am not trained on how to handle depression, but it is my job to recognize when there is a problem and to refer appropriately.
Which brings me full circle to the title of this article. Personal trainers are generally the first point of contact for people; we are on the front line of healthcare. This is something Brendon Rearick taught me. We generally have the most time with people throughout a year of sessions. We may not treat disease or do rehab, but we have the most reps with clients/patients. So while it’s not our jobs to do medical procedures or treat and diagnose, it is our job to recognize and refer accordingly for the best interest of our clients. We are part of their medical care. The services we supply are to improve performance and health for every type of client, whether you play professional basketball, or you’re a 65 year old woman who wants to walk up the stairs without holding on to the railing, my primary purpose in your life is to improve your life. So if I ignore or overlook things like depression or other medical issues, I’m failing at my job. Recognize, identify, and refer – it’s in your job description.

February 10, 2019

What Does a Plane Crash and an Autoimmunity Have in Common?

Before I started writing this article I was speaking with a friend and I asked him the same question that I titled the article with: “what does a plane crash and an autoimmunity have in common?” He bluntly answered: you can die from both. Which is 100% accurate. You can die from both. So even if that’s not the point of this article it’s still relevant.

When a plane crashes it doesn’t happen because of one large system failure. This is called the Swiss Cheese Model. This model states that there are many layers of defense between dangerous hazards and catastrophe. However, these layers of defense have flaws, or holes (picture slices of swiss cheese), that if aligned properly, an accident will occur.

Swiss Cheese Model: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_cheese_model

Aviation has regular check ups and policies to make sure there are no major malfunctions (large equipment failure, dangerous weather, pilot sleep schedules, etc.). However, sometimes error still happens, and when these mistakes lineup, a plane crashes. This one article explains a recent crash very well using this model.

An autoimmunity is the same way. You don’t just contract an infection and then magically have multiple sclerosis. You don’t just have a genetic mutation found with ALS and then turn 40 and begin to lose muscle strength. There is a progression, a list of systems that intertwine, and when enough little things line up your body’s system of checks and balances fail and your body begins to attack itself.

Plane crashes are rare because the chances of all of the little things happening at once are rare, but humans have lots of errors regularly. We may not sleep enough, we might be too stressed at work, we might have sleep apnea, we might have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus back when we were 12, we might have a genetic marker for a certain disease — all of these things by themselves can be controlled with our bodies line of defenses. But, when you add up multiple different stressors or “errors” it might just be enough to break the system.

So how do we know when the plane is going to crash? We don’t. That’s why we do regular maintenance. What happens when we don’t do regular maintenance though? We don’t check to make sure the system and parts are functioning properly. It’s the same with our bodies. How do we make sure that we don’t crash? We do regular check ups with our doctors, we try to sleep 8 hours, we eat the right foods, there are many steps we can take to make sure that we don’t crash.

But, what if we crash anyways? Human bodies are much more sensitive and unpredictable than regular machinery. Airplanes use 20 million lines of code to function plus equipment and humans that needs to work correctly in order to be successful…humans have 420 billion possible sequences of DNA plus proper system function, developmental function, and we’re surrounded by billions of other microorganisms that also play a role in how we function. That’s a lot of room for error. So the chance of something going wrong is much greater for us. And it’s becoming more and more prevalent. We live in a world where people stay up past midnight, look at their phones and screens irradiating blue light, eat the easy food like chips or pizza, drink soda, sit in our houses on our couches or sit in our chairs inside buildings at work. People ignore regular check ups with physicians, refuse to take medications or change their lifestyles to stay healthy, but when we finally do crash that’s when they want to make a change. By then we’ve already crashed and we’re just left to pick up the pieces.

Now, I’m not saying that autoimmunities are preventable if you just take care of your system. We are still unpredictable. Planes still malfunction after check ups and sometimes our bodies do as well. But, by maintaining our systems we do reduce the chances that a failure will occur.

This is why it’s important to take care of yourself. This is why it’s important to get 8 hours of sleep, eat foods that are good for us, drink water, go for regular check ups, stay active, get exercise, do things to eliminate as many errors as possible. We can’t always prevent disease, we can’t always prevent stress, we can’t always choose how we develop, etc. but we can choose other things. So think to yourself before you order that pizza, how will this make me feel? Is this going to be good for me tomorrow? What choices am I making today in order to make myself better when I’m older?

You need to make healthy choices and change your lifestyle if you want to get better. Your system of checks and balances are not going to prevent you from getting sick, they’re there to warn you. So if you’re chronically tired, get stomach aches, in pain, etc. your body is alerting you of some dysfunction. We don’t have the ability to change and fix everything ourselves, we need medicine sometimes, but sometimes you can control certain factors as well. So I’ll ask you this, which is the tagline of this website, how much are you willing to change in order to get better?

Furthermore, if you’re reading this and you have already crashed, think about what you’re doing to try and maintain your system. It doesn’t make much sense to do maintenance on a plane after it crashes, but we aren’t actually planes. Even after you crash making sure to take precautions to check in with your physician, make good choices for diet and hydration, get enough sleep, take away the extra stressors in your life and try and manage you crash. If you need help building yourself up after your crash let’s talk.

February 4, 2019

Why I Won’t “Double Down”

It’s common knowledge that you don’t just tell someone with depression to “just get over it,” “get out of bed,” or “you can choose not to feel sad, it’s just mind over matter.” So why would you tell someone with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to do more, double down, and it’s all in their head?

 

My world is centered around not having a flare up. I’m so set in my ways because if I do have a flare up I’m useless for an indeterminable amount of time. My last flare up was in July and it took me until this past month, 6 months later, to finally feel almost back to normal.

 

In order to understand how important this is you need to understand what a flare up is. I will do my best to try and illustrate what it’s like.

 

My last flare up was on a Tuesday after July 4th weekend in 2018. I remember because most of my clients that I train were gone on vacation and I had finished the day early. I had been the most active I had been in over 5 years. I was eating the cleanest that I had in my entire life. My cognitive function and energy were at an all time high. Because I had finished my day early I began to start a workout. I was feeling a little tired and assumed it just had to do with something I had eaten for lunch and that if I were to do some exercise I would feel better. So I got to work. Within minutes I knew that had been a mistake. I had shooting pain that radiated from my spine down in to my legs and feet. I had a pins and needles feeling shooting up my spine and in to my head. My hands started to shake like I had tremors and my body felt so tired and weak that it felt like gravity had doubled and moving my body under that intense amount of weight was almost impossible. I went home early and didn’t make it past the living room. I dropped my backpack and laid down on the ground where I would remain for the next 4 hours before crawling up to the couch. I didn’t eat that night and went to bed. I also could barely speak. The energy required to open my mouth and to actually create words was too much. So I just laid there. Mind racing, but body drained. I did the bare minimum for the rest of the week.

 

By the following Saturday I was feeling better and thought I could go push myself and repair a flat tire that I had on my bike. So I walked my bike less than a mile to a bike repair station and worked on patching my tire. This was the worst decision I could have made. The physical and probably some mental stress was enough to drag me further down this pit of a flare up. Without finishing I laid down on the ground, shaking from tremors, my heart rate had spiked to 180, and I called for help. Somehow I walked home where I collapsed again. Covered in oil and dirt from the bike repair I tried getting in the shower. My very amazing boyfriend had to help me as I sat on the floor of our shower, unable to lift my arms to wash my hair, unable to stand without support.

 

This is how it was the next following weeks. I woke every morning with pain down my legs and that feeling of intense gravity. It would take me over an hour after waking up to actually get the energy to get out of bed. Some people stay in bed on their phones or are too tired to get out of bed and that’s not what this was. This was wide awake, but no energy to get my phone or to move or to speak. It’s like your brain is fully functioning but your body is in full paralysis and all you can feel is intense pain. I was nauseous daily, I could barely hold conversations, coaching was exhausting, and I did nothing other than work and sleep. Over time with rest it gets better and I’m sure if you’re reading this and you have some kind of invisible illness you can understand what this was like. If you don’t experience this for yourself though or see someone go through this then you have no way of really understanding this.

 

I am absolutely terrified of having another flare up. I’m terrified to feel this way again. I’m terrified to have the thoughts that I’d rather be dead than experience this again. I’m fully aware of how this fear makes me very close minded and very rigid about certain aspects of my life. Until I feel comfortable enough that I am in no way at risk for a flare up I will not push myself beyond what I feel is safe. I can push myself enough to grow, but not enough to collapse. This is a skill I’ve worked on for 5 years. A skill I developed while trying to play a division 1 sport with this illness. I have a fairly good understanding of what will cause a flare up at this point and I am not willing to risk that to get in an extra set or do that high intensity workout.

 

This does not mean that I don’t want to do that extra set though. This does not mean that I don’t wish I could go run sprint repeats. This does not mean that I wouldn’t love to eat pizza and stay up past 9:30 pm. But my desire to do these things does not outweigh the fear I have of relapsing again. It’s hard though. To tell myself not to do more. To tell myself not to eat that. To feel disappointed with the amount I can lift or to lose confidence with the way I feel about my body because I can’t do workouts I want to do. If you challenge someone on something that he or she is already self-conscious about you’re only making him or her feel worse. When people tell me that my illness is all mental it really sucks and there are days that even I question it. “One more set won’t kill you,” “it’s not a big deal to stay up and finish the movie,” “it’s mind over matter, the pain you feel is all in your head.” But then I start getting symptoms again and I’m immediately pulled back in because I can start to feel my body slipping and the memory of how much pain I go through makes me stop dead in my tracks.

 

So stop telling people to push themselves in this situation. People with real diagnoses and autoimmunities have real conditions that are exacerbated by doing that extra push. Don’t do more damage to an already dysfunctional system. There will be a time hopefully where I can push myself and where other people in my situation can as well and when that day comes I’ll be more than happy to do that extra set, but until then I won’t be doubling down.

 

January 28, 2019

Stop Trying to Reduce Your Inflammation

When you take a shower the room fills up with steam. If you don’t take the precaution of turning on the fan then the humidity can lead to issues like mold.

Let’s say you don’t turn on the fan. Instead, you clean the mold once it builds up and then you cycle through it all over again. Clean the mold, mold builds up, clean the mold, mold builds up. It’s a never ending cycle. So, if you have the option, doesn’t it make more sense to just turn the fan on and prevent the buildup of mold in the first place?

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is your immune system’s response to some kind of stress. I really dislike that word because it’s so ambiguous, but ambiguity is okay right now. Inflammation is a normal and healthy response, with the exception of autoimmunities. If your immune system isn’t attacking itself, your body wants to have inflammation in order to heal. So when you look at people who have tons of inflammation and are stressed out, their body is trying to heal itself. Maybe it’s lack of sleep, poor diet, work stress, family stress, sedentary lifestyle, dehydration, whatever it may be, the point of the inflammation is to heal your body because you’re actually just damaging it. So when you take pills and herbs and do detox cleanses to reduce the inflammation you’re actually targeting the wrong thing.

Stop trying to reduce your inflammation.

Reduce the cause of your inflammation. This is super important in shaping our scope and the way we live. Maybe some of the supplements or diets or whatever work on reducing inflammation because they are targeting the source of the inflammation. This is a really important distinction to make. The reason it’s so important is because if we wait to do “cleanses” when we’re really inflamed we just constantly go back and forth between chronic stress and overload then do a “cleanse” and feel better and repeat the cycle. Your body is telling you to slow down, to make changes, that’s what the overload of inflammation is telling you… it’s telling you that you need to change.  If we target the source of the inflammation we can actually make long lasting changes. This is where we see the long term health and behavior changes that are important for feeling good.

Cover your bases.

If you have symptoms of chronic inflammation make sure you consult a doctor as well. You can make lifestyle changes and fix sleep hygiene and diet etc., but if you have an underlying infection or condition like SIBO that goes untreated then your body will not reduce any inflammation. In fact that inflammation is the body’s way of signaling that there is a bigger issue that still needs to be addressed.

How can people with autoimmunities use this mindset?

When you have an autoimmunity sometimes you do need to target the inflammation with immunosuppressant drugs. For a simple explanation, the body has lost the ability to regulate the immune response and now it has unmanageable and harmful inflammation. So how can you help these people? You can still try and target other sources of inflammation. If you’re suffering from an autoimmunity or frankly any kind of infection then reducing other sources of inflammation is a great way to let overall stress on your body be reduced and hopefully some normal function can return. We know inflammation and stress can be a trigger for flare ups so make sure you’re fixing the source of the inflammation in order to keep the symptoms and hopefully some of the flare ups at bay.

So, if you haven’t picked up on this by now I’m not really talking about mold in the beginning. I’m talking about inflammation. Instead of cycling through detoxes and juice cleanses to eliminate toxins and reduce inflammation etc. why don’t you just eliminate as much as the source as possible?

Stop trying to heal your inflammation. Heal your body so it doesn’t need so much inflammation. Turn on your fan. 

 

January 24, 2019

It’s Not Okay

The Symptom of Chronic Diseases that No One Talks About

**please note that when I use the words “chronic disease” I am describing autoimmunities and other diseases that cause people long term health problems that are relatively unknown or untreatable**

 

Joint pain, muscle pain, numbness, fatigue, swelling of the joints, headaches, loss of appetite, etc. People with chronic disease have symptom lists longer than a page. It’s never ending and it’s things people struggle with on a day to day basis. The thing about chronic disease is that there’s typically no rhyme or reason behind any of it. Yes, there’s a correlation between stress and flare ups (and I strongly believe stress is the entire reason behind most of them and that’s what causes the system to break down, but nothing has been proven yet). The piece that most people forget to talk about is the mental health aspect.

 

Picture this: a 23-year-old, new graduate is trying to begin her life as an adult and has finally gained her independence to start fulltime in the workforce, live on her own, make a living, prove herself and her worth to the world, but she is rapidly losing her vision. This is not hypothetical, this is the reality of one of my very dear friends. During her senior year of college she found out that she has juvenile open angular glaucoma that for some reason made her develop such high pressure around both of her ocular nerves that they have began to die. Over a year later of trying surgery, medications, painful eye drops, lifestyle changes, diet changes, everything in the book and she’s officially blind in one of her eyes and soon to be in the other. She’s 23. This is unrepairable.

 

Now, I’m not telling her story for people to feel bad for her or to start awareness about glaucoma, but there is a very important lesson with this story and it’s one I can relate to as well. I spoke with her recently on the phone and she, understandably, is having a very hard time not only accepting her reality, but adjusting to her new lifestyle. Life is hard enough when you’re 23, trying to find a job, trying to make a living, be an adult for the first time, and be independent, but now add losing your vision to that list. There goes all of her independence, goals for a career (she can obviously still have one, but it will be different than she has planned and imagined her entire life up until now). She can’t drive, she often bumps into things, she can’t even run outside because she falls and this is a girl who ran 12 seasons of track and cross country in college (try telling an avid runner that he or she can’t run anymore and see what it does to his or her mentality). Eventually, she’ll probably be able to do some of these things again, she can still have a normal life, she’ll be able to live and work almost independently, but making that adjustment is really, really challenging. Which brings me to my main point of the article; sometimes chronic diseases are accompanied with some incredible self-loathing. Right now she hates what her body is doing to her. She feels limited, her life feels like a mess and words can’t describe the disappointment, fear, and stress she is going through.

 

She’s totally entitled to feel this way. I know because what I go through isn’t nearly as devastating and there are days I absolutely hate my body. I work in the fitness industry, but I can’t workout. I haven’t been able to workout in over a month as I’m writing this and I absolutely hate it. I hate how I feel, I hate how I look, I’m embarrassed and ashamed and want to hide in my house all day. My body is tired all of the time and it feels like I’m just wasting my life lying on a couch or in bed because I physically cannot move. And even when I haven’t done anything to cause the flare up like exercise or not follow my diet, or not get enough sleep, I still get sick. Yes, feeling this way can feed the negative energy, but sometimes this is part of the process. Holding in the negativity and pretending to be positive all of the time is even more negative. No one can be perfect and optimistic about dismal outlooks all of the time. Sometimes it’s good to feel angry or sad even if it’s about yourself as long as it’s not long term. It’s part of the process.

 

So here’s my advice: be angry, be upset, feel bad yourself, and then move on. Find a professional to talk to. Find a support group. Ask for support from friends and family. Tell people you aren’t okay. You’re allowed to have moments of weakness! Be frustrated. But, allow yourself to process everything and move forward with your life anyways. Take care of yourself to the best of your ability. Given all of your resources do whatever is in your power of control to make your life good and ask for help to keep improving. Even though a chronic illness seems to take away your life it doesn’t, if anything it makes you more empathetic and a beacon of positivity and strength for other people that are going through the same things. People who are mentally tough didn’t get there by staying strong in hard situations, they break down, regroup, and grow from the adversity in their lives.

 

And for people reading this who have family, friends, and loved ones in these situations please stop telling them that they’ll be okay. We know we’ll be okay. Sometimes the only thing we need is someone to confirm how shitty our lives are right now and just listen to us complain. With that being said, sometimes we need some hand holding and positivity as well. There’s no protocol on how to accept life-altering diseases and everyone will be different. Do what you can and ask from them what they need from you. It’s also okay for you to be angry. Chronic illness affects more than just the person who is sick so make sure you seek help and guidance from behavioral health specialists as well and family support groups as well.

 

An update on my friend for those of you still reading: she’s one of the strongest people I know and after our conversation, some moments of getting angry at her body/people in her life who tell her she’s going to be okay, she regrouped and is doing the best she can right now. Hang tight nugget. Keep living your best life.

 

*January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month*
Wear green to show your support and help spread awareness.

 

Check out these resources below to learn more or donate to the cause:

https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts

https://getinvolved.glaucoma.org/donate