Monday, February 21, 2011

Self Care & the Mother

I read a lot online.  I spend some time on Facebook, some time on online parenting forums, other times just browsing random places.  My online community is much like my "in real life" community, primarily women &  mothers, many of whom have young children.  There are several topics of conversation that seem to surface within this community: discipline, frustration, mental health, physical wellness, nutrition & body image being some of the more common discussions.

I wanted to focus specifically on the last four topics.  Mental health, physical wellness, nutrition and body image. I think that they are all tied to one another.  Our image of our self effects our mental heath, our physical health, and how we eat.  Our mental health effects our physical health, the way we eat and our body image.  You get the idea, each has an impact on the other.

Body Image seems to be the area in which women realize, "I need to change something".  Post baby body.  Perhaps in caring for our familes, we've neglected to care for ourselves.  As a result, we've stopped exercising regularly, and have either begun to be careless with eating or have been making poor nutritional choices in favour of convenience.  Sometimes the poor nutritional choices are a result of addictionstress, or depression.  The result often being poor self image.  I've seen many women at this point, deciding it's time to lose weight.  Time for some self care.

I was at this point three years ago, after I had our third baby.  I weighed 190 lbs, and felt very uncomfortable in my body.   Time to lose some weight, and the journey of self care began.  I started with the Weight Watchers diet, quite likely the most common calorie restriction diet.  At this point, I had already realized that fat is GOOD!  So, I didn't purposefully restrict fat or protein.  I lost 20 lbs with ease.

January 2008 - 190 lbs

I continued eating a Traditional Foods diet for the following year and a half.  My hair grew long, life became unbearably busy.  I began practicing yoga very casually in the fall of 2008, attending a mom & kids class.   I also tried to keep active by attending fitness classes and working out.  While, there was a degree of self care going on - the hair continued to grow long, I wasn't reading for fun (and my memory, and ability to converse with intellegence was diminished) and I was still not comfortable in my body.  

I thought that I was pretty healthy at this point.  Until, I saw a photograph of myself, and realized that although I was active, this was not the body I wanted: 
June (really!  in a touque!!) 2009 175 lbs 

The body I wanted was strong, lean (I don't mean skinny when I say this) and full of energy.  It was at this point that I discovered the Primal Blueprint, thanks to a good friend who had been eating this way for about six months and was feeling (and looking) great!!  At first, I thought the Primal Blueprint was really weird, and slightly confusing.  I didn't really like the reference to "Grok" and the idea of eating & living like an archetypal image of the caveman made me feel uncomfortable.  But, the more I read, the more I wanted to learn.  Eventually, I was convinced and I started eating & exercising primally.  I lost weight quickly and with ease, and was down to 150lbs within 2 months.  

I've been eating and exercising primally since then (with one break between December and February of 2009/2010), and have maintained my weight with ease while also gaining a fair amount of muscle.   My exercise routine is simply body weight work (yoga) combined with a lot of walking (low level cardio) and the occasional sprint (sometimes hill sprints, sometimes on the treadmill, other times a rowing machine or stationary bike).  

My point isn't LOOK AT ME!! LOOK AT ME!! In fact, I'm not even going to post a photo of what I look like now.  Its about the journey.  I think we often get "stuck"  in certain behaviour patterns.  We eat what we've always eaten (even if its not good for us), we move how we've always moved (even if its not good for us), or we stop moving all together, we stop cutting our hair, we let our feet get cracked and dry, we stop reading for pleasure (although, we may read a parenting book now and then), we seek out community online and stop connecting with our real life friends or perhaps we stop seeking real life friends all together,  we stop going out, we spend our time caring for others and stop caring for ourselves.  I could make a very long list of ways in which mothers begin to lose the ability to care for themselves.  Perhaps not everyone can relate to all of these ways in which we stop caring for ourselves, but I imagine most mothers have experienced one or two of these.  

I can relate to most of them.  I also found myself in a cycle of depression, which I've later discovered to be Bipolar Disorder.    Many of the ways in which I stopped caring for myself were related to depression.  But, I also believe that lack of self care, particularly for myself, can be a trigger for a depressive state.  

Eating well, moving your body, connecting with your friends, are all vital in maintaining contentment. This is not to say that depression can be "cured" by doing these things - depression is complex and often requires medication and therapy in order to move toward healing.  I'm arguing that self care is also crucial in maintaining wellness both mentally & physically.   Wellness is essential when healing from depression. 

My journey toward self care began with eating primally.  Then I made a decision a year ago to commit to getting my hair cut coloured every 8 weeks.  This was a small change and perhaps a bit superficial but this change has made a significant impact upon how I feel about myself.  It's also allowed me to pamper myself on a regular basis. 

I've made other changes too.  I've committed to a regular yoga & meditation practice, which includes signing up for a year long yoga teacher training course.  I've begun to buy books and read for pleasure, I've also begun to do logic puzzles in at attempt to actively challenge my often under used left brain. (Primal Blueprint Law # 10).  I have started taking supplements, something I never thought I'd do.  But, our modern diet - no matter how much we try -  is lacking many of the minerals and vitamins we need.  I've chosen to supplement with vitamin d , magnesium, B12, and Fish Oil.  

I'm experimenting with other ways of self care, but I think these types of things can be individual.  Be that finding a hobby you enjoy, pampering yourself regularly, committing to spending face time with your friends, finding and meeting new friends, playing a sport you enjoy or exploring new music.  

In the end, I'm always trying to be mindful of all 10 Primal Blueprint Laws.  I think these are a recipe for wellness and self care.  How you interpret them is up to you but, the point that should be made is that we need to approach wellness & contentment with a whole body approach.  Our body image is intrinsically tied to our diet, which is tied to our mental health & physical well being.  All of these factors work together & sometimes they even work against each other.  As mothers, we need to place importance upon self care and the path toward doing so is unique for everybody.  

So, whenever I read on forums about women starting their journey into self care I get very excited.  When I read "I've had enough, its time to lose weight" - I always want to jump in and introduce them to yoga or the Primal Blueprint.  I try to be very encouraging.  I think weight loss is a wonderful goal, it allows us to feel comfortable in our bodies.  But, I think changing the way we eat MUST only be the tip of the iceberg.  We must also see how doing this changes us physically and how beginning to move our bodies can enhance that.  Then, we need to look very closely at how proper nutrition can effect all of this and examine how this makes us feel.  

I also want to say that fad dieting, calorie restriction, over exercising to the point of injury (errr.... 30 day shred, c25k??) are not paths to self care.  It is my experience that true self care must be holistic and mindful.  I believe it's important to analyze what you are doing from the perspective of  how it is effecting your entire body.  Emotionally, physically, and spiritually.   What is your goal?  Is it longevity, vitality & contentment?  Or is it only to look good in a bathing suit?  

Take some time to figure out a path to wellness that nourishes YOU and then DO it. You deserve it!! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are you functionally fit?

I hear this buzz word a lot in fitness circles, functional fitness.  What does it mean to be functionally fit?  For me, its about having a fitness level that will allow me to move freely through the myriad of situations daily life throws at me.  I can run & play with my kids easily & with energy.  I can lift heavy boxes, move furniture, and do yard work without worrying about injury or straining.  Essentially, my fitness level allows me to work & play with a relative sense of ease.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of long distance running.  I'm also not a fan of lifting weights for the same reasons, its not necessary and the risk of injury outweighs (no pun intended) the benefit.  That is not to say that I do not regularly partake in lifting heavy things.  The heaviest thing I lift is about 145 lbs..  My body.  I'm a huge fan of body weight work, particularly in the form of yoga.

My story of weight lifting reads much like my story of running.  Many attempts and many failures at continuing with a consistent program.  The absurdity of it all hit me as I was lifting weights on a hydraulic machine at the gym, a machine that counted my reps for me and adjusted the weight load with a push of a button.  That's not functional in any way!  To be honest, it seemed downright soulless.  There was no mind/body connection with my movement, it was simply a precisely targeted exercise done while mindlessly listening to music on my ipod.

Yoga, on the other hand is about a connection with my body.  The time spent in yoga practice each week are truly about me, about my body and about creating a genuine understanding and awareness of how my body moves & works.  Now, thats functional!

Add to this, I am stronger than I've ever been.  I have defined shoulder & bicep muscles, I can do a push up or 10 (but I much prefer chaturanga) , I can even do a chin up (oh no, not a dead hang - but if I give a little leap, I'm up there and I can lower myself with control!), I can hold a plank position for 90 seconds, I can easily squat below parallel (but I much prefer utkatasana) and if I really try hard, I can even do a dive bomber (but I much prefer dolphin dips).   The other day, I completely surprised myself by holding an arm balance for more than two seconds!

I'm functionally fit.  And its never meant that I've had to count reps mindlessly while lifting cold, hard plates at the gym.   I've been able to achieve this by doing exercise that is truly enjoyable.  Of course, I've had moments where I was silently swearing at my yoga teacher while trying to hold a long pose, but the feeling of connection was even stronger at that moment as my body spoke very loudly and clearly to me (as did my mind, which I've come to learn is considerably weaker than my body in those situations).

We all have different paths to fitness, but I'd encourage you to seek one that allows you to achieve a level of fitness that will enable you to move through your days with ease, grace, mindfulness & agility!  Be that through yoga, the Primal Blueprint Fitness Program, body weight work, Crossfit, or whatever you enjoy.  The point is to keep lifting heavy things, keep moving your body, and stop using those darn soulless weight machines at the gym!

Because, you never know when you'll need to rely on your body to do some hard work...

This fall snowstorm yesterday gave me the opportunity to lift lots of heavy, wet snow.  It took an hour of shoveling to finish this big job.  I was thankful for my strong shoulders, and quadraceps! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Running, it's not all its cracked up to be.

My running career began in grade six, I have very distinct memories of running cross country races with the school team.  The sound of my shoes on the grass, the strong rhythmic beat of my heart, the sound of my breath echoing in my head, the smell of fall in the air... my brain's constant dialogue "when will this end? when will this end? its almost over, I think I see the end,  I hate this".  While, I enjoyed being part of a team and often enjoyed the natural settings we ran in, the actual running was torture.  I could never convince myself that running was fun.

Fast forward to high school.  I opted to take phys ed classes over the other choices of home economics, art, or physics.  In fact, my grade 12 gym grade was what tipped my average higher allowing me to go to the University of my choice.  One of the yearly requirements for our class was the 800m run around the track.  Our high school gym track was in a hot, dusty field behind the school.  All I truly remember of these runs is the nausea.

Over the years I have tried to implement distance running as part of my workout routine.  Like many, I mistakenly thought that being able to run long distances was an indicator of good health, cardiovascular endurance and would inevitably allow me to shed those unwanted pounds I had gained during University and into my child bearing years.  

My attempts at running often began in earnest as I tied on a new pair of running shoes and attempted a jog around the block.  Most recently, I attempted the very popular C25K podcast program.   I think I did week 1, day 1.  But, alas it was never to be.  I am not a runner.  Shin splints, nausea, boredom, and my own mind's inability to push through the pain of a 20 minute run kept me from ever truly becoming a "runner".

My last attempt at a C25K was right before discovering Marks Daily Apple and the Primal Blueprint.  After reading Mark's posts on Chronic Cardio,  I realized that in order to have good cardio vascular health & endurance, lose weight, and build strength I did NOT need to pursue any sort of distance running.  What a relief!

I've often wondered to myself how so many people could have it wrong?  Especially those who struggle through their runs, or who are not naturally born to run.  Why do they pursue this torturous exercise? (I do believe that some people are naturally adept at running, and truly do love to run, more later)

I think conventional wisdom has us duped again. Running has gained popularity for the very same reasons I thought I should be running.  It is seen as the ultimate cardiovascular exercise and a great way to lose weight!

But, what about the long term?  In my last post I spoke about WHY I eat the way I do, parent & live the way I do and why I exercise the way I do.  For me, its about longevity.  Its about preserving my body in a sustainable way so that I am as agile, fit & strong in my 60's as I am now, perhaps even stronger.  I, for one, do not want to be dealing with osteoarthritis (caused by the repetitive impact of running), joint pain & tendinitis, runners knee, and plantar fasciitis as I age.  I also do not want to be relegated to a regimen of anti inflammatory medication & physio therapy.  Prevention is a key factor for me when longevity is taken into consideration. 

So, why would I pursue an activity that I dislike in the name of good health especially taking the risk factors of injury and inflammation into consideration?  That seems highly illogical.  I can receive the same fat burning effects without the risk of injury or inflammation by choosing to walk a short hike, or walk my kids to school daily, or even spend a few hours housecleaning.  Furthermore,  I can receive the same, if not BETTER cardiovascular effects from doing 10 minutes of low impact hill sprints.

Maybe you are thinking I'm on to something here?  Keep reading.

Instead of running, I ensure that I log approximately 3 hours of low level cardiovascular exercise into each week.  To do this, I try to walk as much as possible, do household chores with a bit of speed, go hiking, bike riding, practice Vinyasa yoga, or play with my children.

Every 10 days - 2 weeks I try do some hill sprinting.  In the winter I opt to do sprints on a stationary bicycle instead.  It takes no longer than 10 minutes, is lots of fun, is challenging, and really gets the blood pumping.  Add to this the many many benefits of sprinting such as promotion of fat loss, and building lean mass.  Sprinting is a great way to break through those weight loss plateaus.  To me, sprinting is the ideal replacement for long distance running.

Not convinced?  For those of you who truly consider yourselves natural runners (I know you are out there, I live with one of you!), consider running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.  This post is not meant to discourage those who truly do enjoy running and can do so with with minimal risk of injury.  This post is meant to assure those of us who truly dislike distance running, who think they HAVE to run in order to be fit, lose weight, and have good cardiovascular health that there are other, safer, easier paths to fitness.  This post for those who intend to complete a C25K program but can't seem to get past week 1.  It is for those of us sitting on the couch holding our running shoes, contemplating that 15 minute jog around the block but just cannot seem to get the motivation to head out the door.    Go for a walk around the block with your kids instead!  Better yet, head to the park and play on the monkey bars.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What are we in this for anyway?

Okay, Okay - If you've followed my blogging pursuits before you'll know that I've started and stopped several blogs along the way.  To be honest, I have no idea what the future will hold for this blog.  I will say, that if you do hang out and enjoy what I write, please comment and join my discussions.  I'm happy to keep writing as long as I know there is an audience!

This is more than a parenting blog, this is more than a food blog, more than an exercise blog - it might actually be a philosophy blog to be honest.  I think an awful lot about nutrition, movement, parenting, & ethics (mostly from an ecological perspective).  I tend to erupt much like a volcano whenever someone seems slightly interested in a topic I am currently researching.  I often wonder if I frighten a few away in the process, as I bombard them with so much information.  And my dear sweet partner Steve, has put up with more than enough of my thoughts on nutrition and exercise.  It might be better for all that I write this stuff down, and allow those interested to seek it out on their own.

I also have random thoughts on topics like the purpose of honey, or the motivation behind seeking a healthier lifestyle.   I've been thinking a lot about why we seek to eat better or to exercise more.  I will admit, these thoughts have also extended into why I parent the way I do or why I strive to leave a minimal footprint on this planet.  For me, its all about longevity.  I want to live a long long time, but I also want to be vital and strong as I age.  I want my children to learn and grow and perhaps even continue elements of my own life philosophy as they have children and their children have children, a bit of a legacy one might say.  I want the earth to be a healthy place for future generations to live as well.

This is why I try to eat real food.  This is why I chose exercise with low risk of injury or inflammation, but also in a way that is effective and fun! This is why I try to live in the moment with my children and model healthy eating and an active lifestyle.  My children may not always follow suit, and thats okay.  They are still seeing what I value and they will chose their own path, hopefully having been given all the tools to make good choices along the way.  This is why I recycle, walk as much as I can, and support organic grocers and local farmers.

I am not sure what form this blog will take.   Here are a few of my ideas:

1. I am thinking that often I may just post a snapshot of Primal Living.    If you are unfamiliar with the Primal Blueprint, check out Marks Daily Apple.  Much of my lifestyle is based upon the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws.
2. Rants
3. Recipes I like
4. The latest topic I am reading about
5. Links & internet reading I find interesting
6. Personal stories
7. Reader submitted content.
8. Interviews with or guest posts from health & nutrition experts

(I feel like I need to have 10 items in this list, this will be good for me to leave it at 8)

Does your exercise regime promote longevity?  What about your diet?  Or, is it an immediate solution to a short term situation like the need to lose weight or achieve a personal goal?  What about your lifestyle?

These are topics I will explore as I ask myself these same questions.

I am continually adjusting and changing and accepting as I grow older, wiser, fitter, stronger and healthier.  I do tend to be slightly dogmatic and though I am willing to listen, I do think that I am onto something that is "right".  So, I'm not going to be convinced to run a c25k (although, I did dream I ran a 5 k run with ease last night), nor am I going to be convinced to eat a vegan diet or lift weights that are not part of my physical body. If you do those things, don't click away.  I encourage you to read and participate.

I think overall this blog will interest the real foodies, the exercise enthusiasts, those who follow a Paleo/Primal lifestyle, those who parent using attachment parenting philosophy, those interested in yoga & body weight movement, and those who are interested in reducing their footprint on our planet.

I've posted this video on other blogs I've written and  in forums I frequent.  I post it a lot.  I think it contains some valuable information that is accessible from all perspectives on healthy living.