I Call Bullsh*t: Fear Mongering and Pushing Perfectionism in Health Articles

I’ve spent a long time being a voracious consumer of health research. My interest began after my Celiac diagnosis and continued unabated for years. I (metaphorically, and with pun intended) gobbled up anything I could find on nutrition, disease prevention, and healthy living. But, as I found recently, the more I read, the more I became…scared sh*tless.

I didn’t even realize it until my health-panic reached critical mass a few weeks ago — but prior to this epiphany, I’ve spent untold amounts of time vigilantly avoiding everything that I’d read was harming me: canned food, tap water, non-stick pans, plastics, household cleaners (hence the article I wrote about it last spring/summer, when I realized that a lot of products are seriously no bueno), grilled meat, non-organic foods…the list goes on.

While all those habits are definitely good, I didn’t realize until recently that they’ve fed into a growing reservoir of “holy crap you guys everything is poison and I’m going to die an early and painful death because THE ENTIRE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND DOOM.”

 

DoomThen, a few weeks ago, the reservoir breached its banks. I was reading yet another article about the horrors of drinking water, even though this is a generally venerable habit: tap water is horrible for you, and bottled water is apparently no better. The proposed solution is to buy some sort of reverse osmosis uber-filter and install it in your sink, but since we live in a rented apartment and can’t exactly take apart the plumbing without getting into a heap o’ trouble with the property management office, the alleged “only solution” isn’t viable for non-homeowners like us.

Cue the panic: “Omigod. The bottled water is toxic. The tap water is toxic. I can’t install the filters they say will keep the water from being toxic. I DRINK A LOT OF WATER AND IT’S ALL TOXIC AND IS GOING TO KILL ME OMIGOD.”

Then, a few seconds later, just as I was about to weep and curl up in fetal position beneath my desk, I had another thought: “I do the best I can with the resources I have and the circumstances I’m in. Why do I feel so scared that I’m not doing enough? Why do I feel that despite all my effort, I’m totally doomed?”

A few more seconds later: “Wait a minute. This is bullshit.”

EpiphanyThen I took a brief tour through some of the articles I’d read in recent months, and you know what? According to pretty much everything I read, THE WORLD IS MADE OF TOXINS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO KILL YOU.

Here’s a small recap of all the things that are going to lead to you being sick, miserable, and probably dead: being tall, your bottled water, your tap water, your tea, your food, the air in your home, your air freshener, anything plastic, getting angry, taking vitamins, flying, insomnia, your antiperspirant, and, wait for it, pretty much everything you own.

Oh, and BTW: being stressed or anxious about the fact that everything is going to kill you is, in fact, also going to kill you. However, be forewarned that using modern medicine to treat your anxiety is going to kill you even more.

Now, I’m prone to freaking out about, well, everything — but these articles had the collective effect of making me nearly crap my pants in sheer panic. The fear-mongering, as I realized with my highly scientific (cough, cough — sarcasm — cough, cough) meta-analysis, actually looks pretty epic. “Scary,” “could kill you,” and “is killing you” are some of the most common themes that cropped up, over and over and over.

Now, there’s a definite difference between actual scientific studies saying that X (for example, height) is correlated with Y (in the case above, cancer) and the outright fear-mongering pieces that tell you to be afraid, very afraid, of everything. But even in those legitimate study results, I realized that no one ever brings up the fact that correlation doesn’t imply causation. Just because two things are linked, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. But no one ever says that when writing about studies linking X and Y, which then leads the reader to draw the conclusion that X actually causes Y. And let’s be honest: these studies usually correlate everyday things, like your height, with really scary, life-altering/ending sh*t like cancer. Which is terrifying.

Brandon — AKA The Rational One — has occasionally called me on my panic-induced BS, noting that our water is fluoridated (ergo, my fit of freak-out, which happened after I read some terrifying article about the dangers of fluoride in toothpaste, was really just an exercise in futility), and that the whole antiperspirant-breast cancer link has been resoundingly debunked. (Which is good, because my brief foray into all-natural deodorant sans antiperspirant led to me schvitzing right through my sweaters, thus yielding sweat stains the size of watermelons. I despised it.)

Deodorant without antiperspirantI also noticed that along with these prophecies of doom, there are ample recommendations on what you can do to prevent horrible health outcomes from befalling you. What’s the best way to prevent being killed by everything you own, touch, or ingest?

According to all the health literature I’ve read over the years, it’s simple: adopt this easy 80-step, time-sucking process to propel yourself into vibrant health!

  • Spend 20 minutes per day doing oil pulling. And no, it doesn’t matter if you usually barely have 2 minutes to spend brushing your teeth.
  • Make your own toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, lotion, and all personal care products, only using fresh spring water that you retrieved yourself and carried on your head in a fair-trade, non-GMO, certified organic clay jug.
  • Similarly, craft your own non-toxic stone ware out of fresh clay that was found in a sacred clay deposit after the rainy season in Sedona.
  • Cut gluten, dairy, meat, vegetables, sugar, fruit, grains, and beans out of your diet, because they’re all toxic. Subsisting on air is the way of the righteous.
  • If you do choose to consume food (because you don’t love Mother Earth), don’t buy almond or coconut milks from the store — they have carrageenan, which will kill you! Instead, make your own from scratch. Please note, though, that it must be infused with unicorn saliva, or else it will be unhealthy and still likely to kill you.
  • You must cook solely from scratch, using only organic produce that you foraged from your local forest/city park/vaguely terrifying remote wilderness populated only by militiamen and aspiring Unabombers/whatever.
  • Get at least one hour of exercise per day. And, as one of my track coaches used to say, if you’re not on the brink of barfing or passing out, you’re not working hard enough.
  • Meditate whenever you’re not actively oil pulling, foraging, exercising, cooking, making toothpaste using your artisanal mortar and pestle, or hunting down unicorn saliva.
  • Never allow yourself to experience stress. Always be filled with serenity, gratitude, happiness, and positivity. Horrific tragedy is no match for the power of positive thinking!!!1!
  • Make every effort to be the perfect parent. Not doing so will irrevocably screw up your kids for the rest of their lives. Having screwed up kids will stress you out, which will kill you.
  • Sleep at least 8-9 hours per night.

 

Unicorn SalivaBasically, it comes down to this: 1) at the end of the day, most people are just doing the best they can with what they have, and 2) scaring everyone into doing 80 kajillion more things to keep our lives from killing us probably isn’t going to help.

Yeah, I get that “scary” and “this everyday thing could kill you” make great click-bait – it appears that in the health world, fear seems to sell far more than sex ever could – but after my “this is bullsh*t” epiphany, I’ve become acutely aware, and exceedingly tired, of fear-mongering headlines and articles.

But look: we can’t all take the time to make a bajillion DIY products, 8-9 hours of sleep is sometimes outright impossible (shout-out to all those with newborns or, hey, any children under age 12), and there are plenty of times when people really do need anti-anxiety/depression medication. Ain’t no shame in any of it, folks. You play the cards you’re dealt.

So, in calling bullsh*t on a lot of the aforementioned fear mongering in a lot of health literature, I’ve decided that I’ll continue doing the best I can with what I have. Buying mostly organic, using glass food storage, and using non-toxic household products and cosmetics wherever possible? I’m on it.

However, I’ve decided to quit freaking out about drinking the bottled water at work (plastic bottles > lead pipes), the occasional serving of canned soup, my store-bought shampoo and body wash (Pantene and Dove 4-EVAH, yo), the absolutely necessary antiperspirant, my beloved almond milk, and the fact that it saps all my personal willpower and discipline just to make myself floss regularly. (To my dentist: Sorry, dude. But it really is onerous.)

After all, trying to add oil pulling, detoxing, and DIY almond milk-making to my schedule would make me totally lose it.

And that would probably kill me.

Friday Faves

HAPPY FRIDAY! This calls for a celebration, does it not? And what better way to celebrate the end of the workweek than with a list of some favorite things? (Ok, yes, I know that better ways to celebrate the end of the workweek generally involve happy hour, but it’s 0700 and I’m fighting off a cold. So, we shall focus on other things!) With no further ado, here are some Friday faves:

The fact that this is going to be a long weekend: Real talk,y’all: I basically live for the weekend. So when a long weekend comes along, guess who has two thumbs and is totally doing the Kermit the Frog happy dance? This girl!

 

 

Alba Botanica face cream: I’ve been on a long and arduous journey (ok, it wasn’t all that long or arduous in real life, but let’s pretend like it was) for good facial moisturizer that isn’t laden with freaky shizz like phtalates and parabens. Adding to the fun, a lot of natural products — including Aveda, which I used to love — contain wheat protein. No bueno!

It took a lot of searching around Amazon to find a gluten-, paraben- and phtalate-free facial moisturizer, but, just as I was starting to get frustrated…EUREKA! The good folks at Alba Botanica came through in a pinch! I ordered it up and have been using it vigiliantly since the day it arrived.

And I must say, this stuff is awesome. It moisturizes fabulously, smells amazing, and it doesn’t make my skin break out. This is a big deal, since my skin is a total hater and basically searches high and low for reasons to break out. (Hormones? Zit party! Hard workouts? Zit convention! Change of seasons? Zitapalooza!) So, this find is a serious keeper for yours truly.

 

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Verily Magazine: I’ve written before about how many women’s magazines, which claim to be all about empowering us, just wind up making us feel like total and utter crap.

The Photoshopping is ridiculous, and the content is often a) vapid, and b) largely about how to be both skinnier and better in the sack. This “Get thinner, have the perfect tush, and be a total sex kitten” message pushes the idea that there’s a huge gap between how you are and how you should be, and that how you are now is largely inadequate. It pisses me the hell off, and that’s putting it politely.

Enter Verily Magazine: a women’s magazine that focuses on “celebrating the best of who you are” — and that’s who you are now, not who you’ll be after undergoing one of those heinous Tracy Anderson metamorphosis things. (Have I mentioned that I really don’t like Tracy Anderson? Because sweet fancy Moses, y’all, I really don’t like her. This article, followed by this one, really sealed the deal. But I digress.)

Unlike other women’s mags, Verily never, ever airbrushes or Photoshops its models. Not only that, but it specifically chooses models who look like normal people, as opposed to the emaciated waifs you see on the runway. (Am I the only one who often feels compelled to throw food at bone-thin models as they strut down the catwalk? I’m pretty sure I’d get kicked out of a real fashion show because I’d just start throwing quinoa and asparagus at them while yelling “Eat! For the love of all that is holy, woman, EAT!”)

Adding to the awesomeness, Verily actually offers articles that are directed toward womens’ brains, not their lady-parts or their abs. There are no “How To Blow His Mind in Bed!” or “Get The Perfect Tummy in Two Weeks!” articles here, friends: instead, there are pieces on culture, lifestyle, and fashion — as well as awesome articles that focus on issues affecting women around the world, such as the rise of rape warfare in Egypt and the increasing prevalence of sex trafficking in the United States.

One of my friends here in DC interviewed the founders of Verily, and the awesome Huffington Post article that ensued can be read here. These ladies are the real deal!

 

New yoga books:  I wrote yesterday about my love of DIY, at-home yoga, and I just invested in two new books on the matter — sooooo, I might be bouncing in my chair in sheer anticipation of  getting my grubby little paws on copies of Yoga as Medicine and Insight Yoga. I’m incredibly, absurdly excited for both of these books!

I’m a big believer in using alternative medicine/holistic practices like yoga to help complement Western medicine, and I’m fascinated by the intersection of the two forms of healing. The idea that yoga can be used to complement the effects of modern medicine is awesome, so I’m chomping at the proverbial bit to dive into these books and absorb as much information as humanly possible. A total geek-out will totally ensue. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be hearing about it next week!

 

With that, some questions for you:

What was the highlight of your week?

Do you have plans for the weekend?

What are you most looking forward to over the weekend?

A Day Redeemed + Coffee Conflicts

Ok, y’all: yesterday was, quite simply, weird.

It started out badly: I hadn’t slept well, I was way behind on stuff around the house, and then things started going strangely awry in really annoying ways. For example, our shower curtain had reached its limits in terms of keeping water, y’know, in the shower — so in an unexpected twist to my morning, I was greeted by water all over the bathroom floor.

It’s a good thing I was way behind on laundry so I could use dirty towels to mop up the floor. Ew.

Then, since I was running late as a result of said unfortunate shower curtain incident, I was frantically applying facial moisturizer — at which point I somehow managed to slice my nose open with my fingernail. Try to put on makeup while stemming a bloody nose if you’re up for a morning challenge! Maneuver around the Kleenex! Apply pressure to the cut while applying concealer to the bags under your eyes!

However, after all that weirdness, my day quickly redeemed itself. We had cool, crisp weather here in DC yesterday, which I looooved — this is the time of year when we get a lot of cool, clear, and gloriously sunny days. And they’re amazeballs.

I decided to take advantage of it and go running in the afternoon, which wound up being the highlight of my day. I ran 3.5 miles (I know this is, like, a warm-up for most of you — but hey, we can’t all be distance runners :)) around the National Mall, and it was as perfect as a perfect run can be. This is the time of year when most of the tourists have gone home, so the path was wonderfully open. I took a few walking breaks since recent medical tests have kept me from consistently exercising, but I wound up feeling better than I thought I would. Between that and the perfect weather, it was an awesome run!

To say the least I’m glad I didn’t give in to the temptation to just give up and go back to bed after the way my morning started. Which I, um, might have seriously contemplated.

Anyways, on to the main news! What is that news, you ask?  I’m feeling conflicted about coffee (hence the title for this post). Given the name of this blog, it doesn’t take much to realize that I’m a big fan of coffee. Seize the Latte = this chick loves her some java. It’s not rocket surgery, amirite?

I didn’t like coffee when I was younger (I thought it smelled amazeballs when my dad brewed it each morning, but the taste made me get all cross-eyed), but that all changed when I went to college.

I was especially overextended and sleep deprived my sophomore year, and that was that bleary-eyed autumn when I went from chugging chai lattes and Diet Coke to hitting the hard stuff — better known as espresso.

 

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An accurate representation of my life in the BC (that’s Before Coffee) days

 

I still remember my first foray into coffee: in a haze of exhaustion, I went to the Starbucks on campus. “I need your help,” I said to the barista through a jaw-breaking yawn. “I don’t like coffee, but I need coffee. Can you make me something strong – something that’ll wake me up – but that doesn’t actually taste like coffee?”

Thirty seconds later, I was sipping a skim latte with almond syrup. Ten minutes after that, the most glorious caffeine buzz in the history of mankind kicked in. The rest is history.

Since then, I’ve become known for my love of – and, let’s be honest here, my dependence on – coffee. For example,  every roommate I’ve ever had has known that I only became a full-fledged human being once I’ve had my morning latte. Furthermore, my friends here in DC have decided that this little guy is my spirit animal.

 

haha

 

In recent years, though, I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not coffee and I are really BFFs. Sometimes coffee makes me feel energetic, upbeat, and optimistic. I want to run! I want to write a book! I can accomplish anything! I BELIEVE I CAN FLY! Other times, though, it makes me anxious, mopey, and jittery. My hands shake, I schvitz like I just went running in Saudi Arabia in July, and I’m a weepy, nervous wreck. I BELIEVE IN IMMINENT DOOM.

Adding to coffee’s propensity to mess with my mood, I have a long and illustrious history of tummy troubles – all of which are definitely aggravated by the acidity in coffee.

So, from time to time, I’ve tried to make the switch to just drinking green tea. Every time I do this, I feel better – less mopey, less anxious, not in a desperate search for more TUMS – and yet, I always go back to coffee. It’s like a bad relationship: it keeps sucking me back in, ploying me with promises that it’ll be different this time. “I love you, baby,” it says. “I promise I’ve changed. Things won’t be like they were before. Just give me another chance!”

And I listen. Every. Single. Time.

 

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A few years ago, I listened because I love it so much and simply didn’t want to give it up. When I tried to make the switch then, I was so irritable that, upon seeing some unsuspecting college student walk by with a Starbucks cup, I actually imagined stealing the coffee right out of her hands and running away while screaming like a banshee. (I obviously didn’t do this, and I was wigged out that it had even crossed my mind.)

In other cases, it’s been because I think that I’ve found a magical solution that will prevent the negative side effects I often experience. I’ll be fine! No tummy issues or anxiety for me, because I’ve figured out a work-around! It’ll be great! (Fact: this is never true, and apparently I’m delusional.)

Sometimes it’s because I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and then I wind up desperately tired and sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep turns me into a heinous, cranky, exhausted, and borderline psychotic beast. Coffee keeps me from becoming that beast. It’s best that I save myself and everyone around me from that fate. (See? Coffee drinking is in service to humanity.)

Most recently, though, I did it because I needed that extra jolt of energy in order to get through my morning workout. Green tea wasn’t cutting it, and I was draaaaaagggiiiiiiinnnnnng myself to the gym each morning. With the coffee, however, I was raring to go. I was amped! I was motivated! BRING THE PAIN!

 

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Last week, however, three separate articles crossed my path in one afternoon — all of which discuss coffee’s role in insulin resistance, depression, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances. Not one, not two, but <i>three</i> articles landing in front of me within one day? This seemed too coincidental to ignore. (You can read the articles, two of which are from Mind Body Green and one of which is from Dr. Mark Hyman’s website, here, here, and here.)

As I read, I realized that all this stuff really, truly, and undeniably is a problem for me.

Anxiety? Check.

Feeling “Wired and tired”? Check.

Inflammation? Check.

An unhappy GI tract? Check.

Hormone imbalances? Check, check, check, and more check.

And so, I decided to try — for, like, the 8 billionth time — to kick my coffee habit in favor of green tea. I’m exactly five days in, and I admit that I mightily miss my cup of java in the morning. I miss the smell, I miss the taste, and I really miss the caffeine buzz.

However, I keep reminding myself that my body needs this. My brain needs it, my stomach needs it, and my endocrine system needs it. The only thing keeping me from successfully making the switch is myself.

So, I’m going to do everything I can to get out of my own way with this. The allure of the hazelnut coffee (both in my freezer at home and in the cafeteria at work) is strong, but I must. Remain. Stronger.

With that in mind, tell me:

Have you ever tried to kick the coffee habit? Has anyone succeeded in letting go of caffeine entirely (and, um, if you did this, did you hate everything)? What have your experiences been with this? Do you have any suggestions on how to ease the transition?

A Weighty Matter

Good morning, everyone — and happy Friday!

First,an update on my test results: as it turns out, the bouncer isn’t doing his job of kicking out the cancer cells. (Bouncer, seriously. DO YOUR JOB.) The rogue elements are still there, but the good news is that it hasn’t progressed. It’s still early-stage and low-grade, so my doctors doubled my dose of progesterone in hopes that the extra hormones will do the trick. I’ll get another procedure done in January to see if it worked, so for now, my fingers are crossed that the extra bombardment of progesterone will get the job done.

I was, not surprisingly, really disappointed when I got the test results back. I’d so hoped that it’d be gone, but since it’s not, I want to do everything possible to help the meds do their job. I did a lot of thinking about this — and by “a lot of thinking,” I mean some serious ruminating. (I’m nothing if not a champion ruminator, y’all. Kinda like this guy, but with fewer canine tendencies and more pro-con lists.)

 

 

Since everything started going haywire last spring, I’ve been debating whether or not to go back on Weight Watchers. I originally joined Weight Watchers in January 2012, and I managed to lose over 20 pounds — so between WW and running I was in great shape.

And then this spring, I just…got tired of it. I’d been on it for over a year, and I felt like counting points and planning what I was going to eat a day in advance was getting really old. I also felt like I had a good handle on what I could and couldn’t eat in order to maintain my weight.

As it turns out, though, I was wrong. Wronger than Miley Cyrus’s unfortunate new habit of sticking her tongue out at every photographer within a 50-mile radius. Wronger than the resurgence of 80’s fashion trends. Wronger than texting while driving a car flying the Space Shuttle.

 

Like, I said: wrong. So, so wrong.

 

Between going off WW and a Breaking Bad marathon-induced hiatus from exercise (hey, at the time it seemed imperative that we get totally caught up on ALL THE EPISODES before the final season aired!), I gained all the weight back, plus more, in the span of one month. It’s not like I’d gone from eating celery to gorging on Doritos, either — I just reverted to my old habit of snacking on things like cashews, which I then did while watching hours of Breaking Bad with Brandon.

But still, I fell off the wagon. And thus: four weeks. Thirty pounds. Blamo.

It was shortly after this that things started to go so monstrously awry with my reproductive system, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my rapid weight gain was one of many factors that led to this mayhem. I have no way of knowing that for sure, and there were medication changes that had messed with my hormones too — so there were probably many factors involved and, thus, no way to isolate any one variable.

That said, though, the fact that the rogue elements aren’t gone reignited the “Do I go back on WW or not?” debate.

After thinking about it for a few days, the decision became clear: knowing that 1) endometrial cancer feeds on estrogen, and 2) fat cells produce estrogen like it’s going out of style, I need to restart WW, stat. I need to accept the fact that I’ll be planning out meals and counting points, because the Irish potato famine is embedded in my DNA and, as a result, every fat cell in my body is preparing for apocalyptic and imminent starvation by packing on pounds from every ounce of food I eat.

 

Clearly this is embedded in my genes, and my body responds accordingly.

 

I might not like having to pay attention to every bit of food that goes into my mouth, but if it can help my chances of kicking this gnarly business to the curb, then it’s worth it. After all, counting points for the rest of my life is a lot more manageable than having to get a hysterectomy.

Soooo, all that is to say that I’m back on the WW bandwagon — and I want to keep myself accountable more publicly this time.

Ergo (I’ve always loved that word), you’ll be hearing about this process from time to time. I’m not going to get all “this is everything I ate today” on you (because sweet baby Jesus that’d be boring), but I will make a few mentions of it just to make sure I stick with the program this time.

And, with all that said, now that I’m cleared to exercise again I’m off to the gym for my first sweat session in over a week. I hope everyone has a wonderful day (insert Friday-induced happy dance here) and a fabulous weekend!

 

Adventures in Juicing

Around the time when we put together our wedding registry a few years ago, I’d started reading all about the wonders of juicing. This was excellent timing: because wedding registries are an awesome way to stock your kitchen with amazing appliances, I seized the opportunity and put a juicer on our registry.

Granted, it went on along with approximately 8,000 other things. I was never into wedding planning, and I definitely hadn’t been dreaming of/imagining my wedding day since I was a little girl. I had, however, been planning/dreaming of my wedding registry since I started cooking. (Which was in high school. Which meant I’d been mentally compiling a registry full of kitchen appliances since I was 17. Which meant I might’ve gotten a little too excited about putting together our registry in real life.)

But I digress. Back to my grand designs for the juicer: I was totally going to use it every day! I was going to be a juicing goddess! It was going to be great!

Well. As it turns out, I’m lazy. Juicers make a mess, and they’re hard to clean. We used it exactly once – that is until this week, when I’ve suddenly morphed into the juicing fiend I always hoped I’d be. It’s a murricle!

I’ve been juicing up a storm and combining all manner of produce. As luck would have it, these comics showed up on the first few days of our adventures in juicing:

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I tend not to like juices that are super earthy or overly vegetable-y (I do, however, like making up words like vegetable-y), so I decided to nix combinations like beet-kale-cucumber right off the bat. Instead, I’ve been running experiments with fruit and veggie combinations. In the interest of playing it safe at first, I decided to start with a carrot-orange base, which I know I like. Thus far, I’ve tried the following concoctions:

Carrot-orange-mango

Carrot-orange-pineapple

Carrot-orange-apple

The assessments:

Carrot-orange-mango was a bit too heavy on the mango. It also was really pulpy, which I didn’t love. (A direct quote from my inner monologue: “Huh. It’s really pulpy. The juicer is supposed to make it be not pulpy. WHY IS IT SO PULPY?”)

Carrot-orange-pineapple was just a wee bit too sweet and too acidic for my taste. I love pineapple, but sometimes it makes my teeth hurt (no joke – I have to be judicious in my pineapple consumption, even though I love the stuff), so I decided to let this one go in the “close, but no cigar” column.

Carrot-orange-apple was a winner! It was just sweet enough without being overly sweet, and the apple added some extra depth of flavor (which turned out to be delicious). Here’s a slightly art deco-ish shot of the winning concoction:

 

Now, of course, I’m all about broadening my juicing horizons. However, that excludes horizons that could lead to juices that taste like snail burps — so I figure this calls for some crowd-sourcing.

With that in mind, do any of you good people make your own juices? What are your favorite combinations?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (Or, Why I’ve Been AWOL from the Blogosphere for Three Months)

So, as y’all may or may not have noticed, I’ve been on an extended hiatus from blogging lately. And by “extended,” I mean three months. Which, in the blogging world, is basically an eternity. (I don’t know if I even have readers anymore. Is anyone out there? Please come back?)

This wasn’t a hiatus that I’d expected or wanted to take; to the contrary, on the day of my last post, I had every intention of blogging merrily along. Life, however, had some other plans.

As you might recall, starting in late May I had some fairly serious, shall we say, lady-troubles. I wound up having a uterine polyp removed in early July, which solved the Flaming Lady-Troubles of Death problem – but as it turns out, the story didn’t end there.

On July 11, my OB/GYN called to give me the results of the pathology report on the polyp. Fact: when your doctor starts the conversation by saying “The results of your path report were really, really surprising,” you know that things are about to go in an unpleasant direction.

As it turned out, the polyp was playing hostess to a party-crashing group of cancer cells. Um, WTF?

The bad news: Multiple pathologists had confirmed the presence of cancer in the polyp.

The good news: The cancer cells were very early-stage, low-grade, and non-aggressive. In other words, it’s highly treatable.

 

You are stronger than you think.

 

Endometrial cancer usually shows up in post-menopausal women, so the normal course of treatment is a hysterectomy. Being 32 and still wanting to have children, however, is a game-changer.  In the interest of preserving my fertility, my OB/GYN and gynecologic oncologist opted for three months of high-dose hormone treatment, followed by another round of tests to see if the hormones had knocked out any remaining cancer cells.

The hormone treatment does the trick 80% of the time – so as you can imagine, my fingers are crossed that I’m part of that 80% and can thus hold off on yanking my baby-making bits (for now, at least, since it’ll all need to go once my child-bearing days have passed).

When I first got the news, though, I was in complete shock. I was at work when I got the call, and I very nearly vomited on my desk. My whole body shook like mad as I wrote down everything my doctor said. My handwriting looked like that of a six-year-old.

I mean, I’m young, I eat well, I exercise – how could my body just go rogue like that? (Side bar for a brief public service announcement: ladies and gents [if the dudes haven’t gotten grossed out and stopped reading, that is], if anything seems off or just generally out of whack with your body, go to the doctor. Get it checked. It’s never, ever a waste of time to make sure that nothing sinister is going on.)

My doctor, luckily, was and is incredibly compassionate. Over and over, she gently told me that I’d done nothing wrong, and that there was nothing I could’ve done differently to keep this from happening. It was a case of a hereditary genetic mutation gone awry and plain bad luck.

I started the hormone treatment that night – endometrial cancer feeds on estrogen, so I take uber-high doses of progesterone twice a day – and began to wrap my head around the fact that this really was happening.

 

Look forward with hope quote via Alanna Chasin (AKA the Dog Buddha)

 

The process of wrapping my head around the situation took a while, and the fact that it took me a long time to feel up to writing about this came as a bit of a surprise. Writing and exercise have always been my go-to forms of DIY therapy. Writing is my catharsis, my release, and my home. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

A bit part of why I didn’t write until now is the fact that I don’t want to be forever branded as a cancer patient. I was torn between wanting to let people know what’s going on and my deep desire not to be labeled as “Lillian, that chick who has cancer.”

Now, I also want to note that there’s no right or wrong way to deal with the Big C. There are people who take great comfort in being part of a community of current patients and survivors, and those communities are often wonderful sources of support. There are also a lot of people who find tremendous purpose, meaning, and hope through activism and other activities. More power to all these folks! Many of them are doing amazing and inspiring work, and they deserve a ton of credit for what they do.

For me, though, my visceral reaction was – and is – that I want to get through this, get better, and put it all behind me. I don’t want cancer to be the focal point of my life or my writing.

So, while the issue of the rogue elements in my baby-making parts will certainly show up here from time to time (especially since I have my next  round of tests coming up next week), it isn’t going to be the sole focus of this little slice of the blogosphere.  I continue to love – and will continue to write about – normal things like food and fitness, as well as generally inane things like celeb gossip, cosmetics, and flavored coffee. It’s all good.

And, most of all, it’s good to be back.

Going Green

Right after I got my preliminary diagnosis of premature ovarian failure, my doctor speculated that the problem might’ve been linked to my history of autoimmune disease. She admitted, though, that no one knows much about autoimmune disease, so I took it upon myself to get all edumakated on the subject. Now, I’m a researcher at heart — when I was in grad school, I used to love rolling up at the library as soon as it opened, travel mug full of java in hand, in order to dive head-first into Lexis-Nexis like Scrooge McDuck into his pile of money — and this situation was no different.

I’d always known that having Celiac predisposes me to other autoimmune conditions, but I figured going gluten-free was all I needed to do to prevent those other things from ever cropping up.

Well.

As it turns out, there’s a lot more at play than that. In The Autoimmune Epidemic, Donna Nakazawa notes that new diagnoses of autoimmune disease have skyrocketed in recent decades, and that one of the probable causes is the  population’s vastly increased exposure to environmental toxins. Such toxins can come from non-organic foods, household cleaners, industrial pollution, and even carpets and furniture.

Color me appalled, y’all.

At various points while reading The Autoimmune Epidemic, I sat on the couch (which, as I soon learned, is probably toxic as all get-out), brazenly slack-jawed and mouth-breathing, as I realized in horror that basically everything around me is poisonous. Noooooooooooo!

The root of this problem lies in chemical regulation: in the European Union, for example, substances must be proven safe for humans and the environment before they can be used in agriculture, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, food, household cleaners…basically, the list goes on for a while. In the U.S., by contrast, chemicals can be used in every imaginable context — and can only be taken out of those products if they’re proven to be harmful. However, it’s really, really hard to prove that something is harmful once it’s out in the general population. And therein, to quote my homie Shakespeare, lies the rub.

To quote the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the nation’s leading health and environmental research and advocacy organization,

EWG research into more than 2,000 common cleaning products lays bare the troubling consequences of the lack of federal oversight over the ingredients in cleaning supplies. Manufacturers can use nearly any substance they want, even those known to pose health or environmental hazards. And they can hide information about virtually all those ingredients from the eyes of consumers. The result is an unregulated industry and hundreds of potentially harmful cleaning products on store shelves. (Source)

Oh, hell no.

Brandon and I looked up our all-purpose cleaner, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and dish soap on the EWG’s consumer Guide to Healthy Cleaning, only to find that they’d all earned big, fat, stinkin’ F’s. Once again: oh, hell no.

We were so very mad when we saw this. Like, if steam could’ve been coming out my ears a la Looney Toons, it absolutely would’ve been (replete with the steam-engine whistle sound).

Failing the ability to totally wig out and send expletive-laden hate mail to the makers of all these products (because really, what would that do?), we decided to instead put our money where our mouths are: we tossed out all our old stuff and bought A-rated products.

Here’s a run down of what we used before vs. what we use now:

All Purpose Cleaner Seventh Generation Green Works

Dishwasher Detergent Seventh Generation Cascade

One of the things that irked me the most in finding out that, like, everything we own is hazardous is the fact that all the Green Works products we’d been using are practically brimming with really bad crap. Y’know, things like probable carcinogens, which I think we’d all like to avoid. I’d specifically bought Green Works because it’s marketed as a health-conscious, eco-friendly alternative to the more hardcore cleansers out there. But obviously, that marketing ploy turned out to be — how do I say this gently? — a steaming pile of BS.

Buyer beware, I know. But y’all, I looked at the ingredient lists. I compared labels. I didn’t just pick it up because a commercial told me it was a good idea. And yet, I got totally hosed.

Insert fit of rage here, my friends.

But wait, there’s more! In doing some further investigation, I found that all my cosmetics are just as laden with endocrine disrupting, banned-in-the-EU chemical compounds as our old cleaning products.

*Headdesk*

So, those cosmetics are next on my list of items to be replaced. Financially, though, it wouldn’t be feasible to toss all my makeup and start over from scratch — so for now, I plan to gradually replace my existing stash as I use up what’s left. As I start hunting for new cosmetics, hair products, body wash, and moisturizers, EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database will hopefully provide loads of guidance on what products are safe vs. which ones I need  to avoid.

All in all, although I’m peeved beyond words about the extent to which manufacturers have pulled the wool over my eyes — and a lot of peoples’ eyes, for that matter — I’m tremendously grateful to the EWG for doing so much research and using a rigorous methodology in order to determine what’s safe and what’s not. They’re a tremendous resource, and I wish I could bake a huge batch of cookies and send them out to all their offices. Failing that, I’ll just have to give them my eternal gratitude.

MIMM: One More Day

G’morning, y’all! I hope everyone had a lovely weekend — preferably one filled with R&R, laughter, and general shenanigans.

‘Round these parts, I’m counting down the days until my fibroid surgery. One more day, people! One more day, and then I’ll (knock on wood) hopefully be on the road to recovery. One more day, and I hopefully won’t have to rely on hardcore meds to keep the pain in check. One more day, and hopefully I’ll be able to go back to regular, normal life. It’ll be marvelous!

Before getting into the other marvelous things going on in honor of Healthy Diva Eats’ Marvelous in My Monday, I figure I should be honest about getting a little somethin’-somethin’ off my chest.

MiMM MIMM #56 With One Special Arrival

 

Among the various things that have been seriously craptastic about this experience is that between the hormones gone awry (side note: Provera is the devil!) and my forced exile from exercise, I’ve gained 30 pounds. My eating habits haven’t changed — but I almost wish they had, since that’d provide a straightforward explanation for this nonsense.

I know I shouldn’t be as upset by this as I am, what with all my fervor about positive body image — but in the interest of being honest here, it’s driving me mildly insane. I’ve never weighed this much in my life, and I can’t stand how I feel. In addition to the fact that I barely recognize my own body, the extra weight leaves me feeling slow, sluggish, out of shape, and totally uncoordinated.

 

 

I feel like I don’t understand my own body, simply because my body has never been like this before. I’ve always been active and athletic, and although I’ve never been particularly skinny, I’ve always felt healthy — and, in my opinion, being healthy is way more important than being skinny.

Now, though, I don’t feel even remotely healthy. All the extra weight and the forced inactivity makes me feel like my body is only capable of moving at a snail’s pace — if that snail happened to be navigating through a river of molasses. I’ve never been so sedentary in my life, and I feel like I’ve been gorging on Doritos and donuts, even though what I’ve really been eating is stuff like GF oatmeal, avocados, chicken breasts, and fruits and veggies galore. With apologies for the swearing (my Mom reads this blog, so I try to keep my language clean — but this is the only thing that sums up my feelings, soooo…apologies in advance, Mom!), this is what I feel like whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror:

 

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So, between the persistent, acute abdominal pain and the ridiculous weight gain, to say that I’m incredibly eager to get back to normal life would be a gargantuan understatement. As soon as my doctor says it’s safe to exercise again, I’m going to throw myself into the loving embrace of the elliptical and the kettlebell. (What’s that, you say? Ellipticals and kettlebells, much like other inanimate objects, don’t give good hugs? Well, crap.)

In the meantime, though, I’ve been doing everything I can to perk myself up. For a nerdy-yet-girly gal like myself, this has involved three things: tea, books, and cosmetics.

Because my favorite type of tea, Celestial Seasonings, contains soy lecthin (seriously, Celestial Seasonings, I lurve you guys to the moon and back — how could you do this?! Why you gotta play me like that?), I’ve had to switch to Yogi tea. I was able to find a reasonably similar replacement for my favorite herbal tea, (Celestial Seasonings’ Bengal Spice): Yogi Tea’s India Spice. With some honey and a bit of coconut creamer, this ish is pretty darn good.

 

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I also hit up the library this weekend for some entertainment reading. When my mind isn’t occupied by a bazillion other things, I tend to go for non-fiction or historical fiction books (nerd alert!) — but when the going gets tough, I go straight for the chick lit. Jennifer Weiner has long been one my favorite fiction authors, and our library branch had two of her more recent novels that I haven’t read yet. Entertainment ensues!

 

DSC01078

I also picked up some new bronzer; considering that I work in a windowless office and am naturally pale, I have the skin tone of a cadaver. To say the least, my skin needs some help in order to look like my veins aren’t filled with paste.

I also got some new nail polish, and I fully intend to go into tomorrow’s surgery with a fresh, bright pink pedicure. I specifically bought Essie polish because it’s free of some of the uber-heinous toxins — specifically formaldehyde, toulene, and dibutyl phthalate — commonly found in nail polish. (In the course of all my auto-immune research, I found that most cosmetics are filled with some seriously awful stuff. Formaldehyde, for example, is a known carcinogen, and dibutyl phthalate causes birth defects. And yet, it’s everywhere. No bueno!)

 

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So, although I don’t have any grandiose designs for keeping myself going amidst the medical shenanigans and loathsome weight gain, I do find that the small things really do help. Whether it’s behaving like a total goofball with Brandon, daily phone calls with my mom, emails from Susie, the smell of clean linens (I’ve been known to bury my face in clean towels as I pull them out of the dryer, just to get a whiff of their happy scent), a pedicure, or a funny movie, focusing on the things I enjoy — the people, experiences, and things that make me happy — gives me just enough of a lift to make all this insanity feel a bit more manageable.

Those little things, and the mood-boosting benefits they bring, are quite marvelous indeed.

What do you do to lift your mood when the going gets rough?

Do you love the smell of fresh linens? (Please tell me I’m not the only one who goes bonkers for stuff like this!)

Did you do anything special this weekend?

I Am My Own Lab Rat

Back in my undergrad days, we ran all our psychology experiments on lab rats.

Our lab rats were ugly bastards: ginormous, mangy, and sporting beady red eyes, they also had a tendency to bite. (However, one rat redeemed himself when he bit one of the meanest, almost-certainly-a-sociopath people I’ve ever met. I thought about slipping that rat an extra food pellet as a reward for a job well done, but then I realized that it might reinforce the biting behavior overall, not just the biting of probable sociopaths, and that this would be a very bad thing. But I digress.)

Anyways, although I’m neither mangy nor sporting red beady eyes (at least I hope I’m not), I’m going to be my own lab rat for the next few weeks.

 

 

You see, I’ve been feeling spectacularly unwell for the last couple of years: despite having gone gluten-free, I still often wind up with some fairly gnarly stomachaches. My joints often hurt. My soft tissue aches. I have that “Who, exactly, is responsible for filling my sinuses with concrete and then driving the truck over the length of my body?” feeling with fairly alarming regularity.

I suspect that part of this is stress and a lack of sleep — after all, I often feel a bit better during the weekends — but I’ve also long wondered if other food sensitivities might be lurking in the murky deep of my immunological system.

Then, because sometimes the stars align, while doing more research about autoimmune diseases I found a recently-published book by a doctor who, wouldn’t ya know, just happens to focus on autoimmune diseases.

The Immune System Recovery Plan, by Dr. Susan Blum, is one of the most scientifically sound books on autoimmune disease that I’ve encountered. Many people have theories about so-called miracle cures for autoimmune disorders, but a) they often tend not to be doctors or scientists, and b) as such, they tend not to back up their claims with actual, y’know, science. They instead tend to rely entirely on anecdotal evidence, which, while important and powerful in its own right, probably shouldn’t be the entire basis of a book about medicine.

 

 

Fast fact: while I was studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition last year, my all-time favorite class modules focused on functional medicine. Functional medicine is slightly different from conventional medicine in that conventional medicine focuses on treating the symptoms of any given condition, whereas functional medicine focuses on treating the causes of the condition itself.

Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Andrew Weil were two of my favorite IIN speakers because of their commitment to — and scientific understanding of — functional medicine. Dr. Hyman (seriously dude, call me if you ever need an intern!) perfectly explains the difference between functional and conventional medicine:

 

 

Anyways, Dr. Blum is the founder of the Blum Center for Health, where she practices full-time functional medicine. In her book, she uses both data-driven scientific evidence and anecdotal evidence — and I appreciate the combination of the two (after all, statistics can only do so much without a key illustration or two to drive them home).

In her book, Dr. Blum strongly recommends trying a 3-week allergen elimination diet to see if symptoms improve while one is living sans what she identifies as the big 4 allergens: gluten, dairy, soy, and corn.

I read this over the weekend, and decided to embark on that 3 week experiment myself. Then — because like I said earlier, sometimes the stars align — I was visiting MindBodyGreen, and I saw this article: 5 Signs a Hidden Food Sensitivity is Sabotaging Your Health. I have every single symptom, y’all. When I shared the link on Twitter, my comment just about sums it up:

 

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Story of my life, indeed. This only reinforced how much I need to try the 3-week elimination diet, even though it’s going to be a bit of a pain in the ol’ tuchus.

Why might it be a bit of a pain? Because virtually everything has soy or corn in it. Tea? Soy lecthin. Salad dressing? Soybean oil. Most GF products rely on corn starch and soybean oil, so despite having been strictly GF for over five years now, I could still be ingesting loads of other possible problem foods.

This means…I’m going to have to cook everything from scratch.

Y’all. I have no time for this. I’d need, like, an entire day off of work in order to cook allergen-free bread, soup, granola, etc. from scratch. (Now, if I were, say, a freelance writer and had all sorts of scheduling flexibility, then I’d be golden. Alas, I have no such luxury.)

So, I’m torn. Part of me really hopes that the 3 weeks of allergen-free eating go a long way towards helping me feel better, part of me is like….”Noooooooooo! Already pressed for time! Cannot handle any added responsibilities or tasks!”

 

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Soooo…we’ll see how this pans out. Here’s to scientific experiments!

Have you ever done an allergy elimination diet?

Do you have specific food sensitivities?

How do you find the time to cook things from scratch?