The surprising results of my exercise program

I have been working out 3-4 times per week for several months and have had some surprising results from it. I have attempted this in the past and failed miserably, but this time it is sticking and I like it. I have a couple of markers for this success that I will share with you at the end of this article, but let’s get to the nitty gritty for now.

Result #1 – My diet changed with very little effort from me

tempI really like lifting weights. It’s a lot of fun to feel my muscles get leaner and stronger. I found that when I ate a crappy diet on a day when I was going to the gym to lift that I couldn’t lift as much or as smoothly. I also noticed that when I grudgingly did my 20 minutes of cardio it was a whole lot harder. Simple carbohydrates like white flour based foods – pasta, bread, breading, Krispy Kremes, etc. – resulted in what I calculated with my bad math skills to be about a 20% decrease in strength and energy. Seriously people – don’t take that number as hard science! I noticed that when I ate cleanly (veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs like whole grains) I could lift 50 lbs doing lat pulldowns, but when I ate junky I could only pull 40 lbs.

That gets frustrating really quickly and I was seeing the correlation between diet and energy in ways I couldn’t deny. Soon I found I was making better food choices. Eating well and cooking for myself instead of going out to eat, eating more vegetables and fruits than simple carbohydrates. I started avoiding white foods like white rice, white breads, and potatoes. Now I am lifting even more and doing it with better form.

This translates to life outside of the gym too. I have more energy, my thought processes are more efficient, and concentration and memory are better too. There is a bit of a downside that I must admit too. I do love sugary treats. When I indulge in an occasional treat I feel pretty gross. My heart races, my anxiety level increases, my thoughts get scattered, and I feel overwhelmed by life. These are all things I used to feel on a daily basis but they became normal to me. Now the normalcy of this sick process is gone and I see the mental chaos for what it is. Blinders off! I can’t unsee it now.

A friend of mine recently said you can’t exercise away a bad diet. She is right in a way – you eat like garbage and exercise but it won’t cancel it out. But she is also wrong in a way – I think I am exercising away a bad diet!

Result #2 – Frozen shoulder gone!

I have had adhesive capulitis (commonly called frozen shoulder) in my left shoulder for years. It hurt to move it toward my body, over my head, or behind my back. It got severe enough that I couldn’t put my clothes on without some seriously contortionist moves. I had tried everything I could think of to resolve the problem: acupuncture, Reiki, massage, etc.

Dumbbell-Front-RaiseOnce I started lifting weights I began to do lateral raises, front raises and reverse flyes for my shoulders. I know that’s gym-speak, but what you need to know is that those exercises work the different parts of the deltoid muscles, those big muscles that attach your arms to your shoulders. I started with very light weights – 3 lbs. About 3 weeks after starting at the gym I realized I was able to put my clothes on and take them off like a normal person! The first time I whipped a shirt off and lifted both arms over my head I danced around the house in excitement! dumbbell front raise 2

With just a little bit of exercise my frozen shoulder began to thaw. It wasn’t passive therapy I needed, but active therapy. I soon noticed that with other exercises my creaky knees were getting less creaky. I was able to go up and down the stairs more easily, my back hurt less.

Cat’s Ten Tips for Gym Success

I know everyone is different about motivation. I am a long-term couch potato who hates to move and am a creature of convenience. I have friends who thrive on movement and actually run marathons for fun. (Fun?!) I have a long history of joining gyms and failing miserably, guiltily paying the gym membership without going for months on end. Here’s why I believe it is working this time.

  1. I have a partner in crime. 
    She motivates me, I motivate her. Sometimes it’s motivation by way of not wanting to let each other down. Last night after my workout I felt great. In my fit of endorphins (and yes, there really is an exercise high) I confessed that I hadn’t wanted to go but did because I told her I’d be there. She grinned said the same thing happened with her. Whatever gets you there, eh?
  2. I can see the gym from the road on my daily route home. 
    I pull up to the last major intersection before my house and there it is on my right waving and looking at me, daring me to pass by. I rarely ignore the dare. I pull in and work out. But if I had to go out of my way to get there, as I did with the last gym, it would never happen. Bonus: since it is literally 5 minutes from my house I don’t have to shower there. Always hated that.
  3. I keep my workout clothes in the car. 
    I got myself a gym bag I like and I keep it packed and ready to go – shorts, top, sports bra, shoes, socks, headphones, lock, water bottle, etc. I keep a sweatshirt hoodie in there too. If I’m sweaty and it’s cold out this keeps me from getting sick.
  4. Real people work out there. 
    It’s an all women’s gym and people there look like me in varying stages of getting fit. The staff is awesome too. Very friendly and helpful. No judgy-ness.
  5. I found an activity I love. 
    I am fond of saying I like to lift heavy things. Actually, that’s an understatement. I love to lift weights. I don’t know why. I did that for the first few weeks and then a friend who is a trainer clucked at me until I started doing some cardio. Nothing mammoth – just 20-30 minutes on a treadmill. I hated it at first, then realized I could do it and it was kind of fun.
  6. I track my progress.
    That tells me that I’m actually making progress. That motivates me to keep going. “Look! I went from 50lb on the lat pulldown to 75! Awesome!” (And yes, I really have progressed that far in the last 3 months and I’ve done it safely.)
  7. My secret to cardio: watch an ampy TV show or movie.
    I take my iPad, get on the treadmill, and link up to Hulu. (I’m not up to the elliptical trainers yet….someday.) I watch Bones, Castle, or (my favorite) Grimm. The Olympics have been working pretty well this week too. One day I forgot my iPad. I had to settle for music on my phone. I chose classic rock, so I sweated to the oldies: Rolling Stones, The Who, Three Dog Night. Almost as good as Grimm. Some days I choose music over video, listening to Nirvana, Guns and Roses, Janis Joplin, or whatever else iTunes radio throws at me.
  8. I check in with a personal trainer from time to time
    I can’t afford it all the time, but every month or so I work with a trainer about my progress, safe workouts, etc. We talk about new routines, what’s working and what’s not. I find it very helpful.
  9. I know my limits. 
    My "post-military-presses" face.

    My “post-military-presses” face.

    I can’t get work done at home. Just can’t do it. I can’t write, study, and I certainly am not going to exercise when I have such a lovely comfortable couch and a cat who likes laps. I have to be out and about to get anything done. Exercise is no exception. If I had a Nautilus, a treadmill, or a stationary bike it would be a clothes catcher.

  10. I have a goal.
    OK, no I don’t. I just wanted to put in 10 tips. It’s such a nice round number! But I know a lot of people who have a reason they want to go – like they want to run a marathon, hike in the Himalayas, etc. I just want to remain active as long as possible and I was feeling my body get less and less able to do really simple things like go up the stairs in the morning or sit in a chair without my back aching. I’m too young to be old.

So that’s it. Surprising results for really very little work! See you at the gym?

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Filed under Brain Health, Exercise, Mental and emotional health, Pain Management, Processed foods, Self-care

iMom

Remind yourself to take your herbs - set an alarm on your phoneAs an oriental medicine provider I often prescribe herbs and supplements for my clients to help them continue the good work we do together when I give them acupuncture and/or Reiki. Ideally herbs and supplements should be consumed in a manner that keeps a therapeutic dose in the body in order to keep the good changes rolling. Clients often tell me that they get busy in the middle of the day and find they are unintentionally skipping the 2nd dose in the middle of the day. I generally smile indulgently and tell them well, that happens to a lot of people and to split the middle dose between morning and night and take them that way.

Now time for a little confession: not only do I forget the middle doses of my own herbs and supplements, I often forget to take them the entire day! You would think that an intelligent woman such as myself would thing to set up some kind of timer to jog my memory, but I only started doing that four days ago. As a matter of fact, I started using my smart phone alerts to remind me to do all kinds of things: wake up in the morning, take my herbs, do stretches periodically, take more herbs in the middle of the day and again at night, and even to go to bed at a timely hour. Since I started doing this I find that I am taking much better care of myself and am actually getting enough sleep for a change. 

I’m referring to this new use of my smart phone as my “iMom.” She is the electronic mom I need right when I need her! It just took a couple of minutes to set up the alerts. It’s just the push I need to remind myself that I am my number one relationship and that if I can’t care for myself I can’t care for anyone else either.

If you are like me and can’t remember to do self-care of whatever kind, I encourage you to set up your own “iMom!”

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Crazy idea

Yesterday was my birthday. (Thank you, I appreciate that.) Now I have to confess that I have spent most of my birthdays feeling vaguely disgruntled and a little resentful because the day didn’t go like I wanted it to, because I didn’t get the food I was craving, and/or because the world didn’t read my mind. This has been going on for decades. Yesterday I decided to do something different. I decided to serve other people all day and do it deliberately to celebrate My Big Day. I bought someone else’s coffee, I overtipped my waiter at lunch, I treated several clients, I gave money to homeless people, and I made dinner for my Lovely One.

And it was a great day. No resentment, no discontent.

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Ain’t life sweet?

The Sweet Life

I often ask my patients if they have any particular food cravings. Most of the people I’ve asked tell me they crave sweets. What’s that all about? Is it an evil plot to make you gain weight? Actually, no. Biologically, it’s just how we were designed to roll.

The Biology

Sugar is a very basic form of energy. Our bodies live off of this fuel source. Yet, too much sugar in the blood stream is toxic, so we as a species have also gotten very good at converting excess sugar in the blood stream into fat, another excellent energy source that is used when food is scarce. These things were once vital for survival and rarely would you find a fat aboriginal being of any kind. However, as we as humans stopped beating each other to death for food and started working together, we were able to form town and an urban lifestyle. Relative peace over time has led to trade agreements and the ability to exchange goods or money for the food we need to eat which is now grown and gathered by someone else. Prosperity, which is also rather pleasant, has reduced our need to struggle for food and allows most of us to get food relatively easily.

And this brings us to a couple of problems:

  1. In America we are rarely lacking in food. Without trying particularly hard I can think of 12 restaurants and two grocery stores within a 5 minutes drive of my house. A quick Google search on “fast food restaurants in Austin Texas” yields 536 different restaurants. Yelp has reviews for more than 2500 eateries and 415 grocery stores. That’s a lot of food.
  2. The huge bulk of all that food is processed and full of high fructose corn syrup, a bunch of sugary chemicals ending in -ose, and a dazzling array of toxic materials used as artificial sweeteners. If you are trying to get healthy you may get advice from your health care provider (not me, mind you, but others) may suggest you eat low-fat alternatives to your favorite foods. Fat is what makes flavor stick to your tongue. When you take out or reduce the fat in a food it gets pretty boring, so manufacturers use high quantities sugars and sugar derivatives hidden by their chemical names to please your taste buds and prompt you to buy the product again.
  3. Excess sugar in your blood stream is toxic. If you don’t burn it up with activity, you store it as fat. You can blame simple carbohydrates if you want to (white bread, mashed potatoes, white rice, corn products, donuts, etc.), but they convert to sugar very quickly in the blood stream, so it still comes down to excess sugar in the blood.

And so, America is fat. And the predominant reason is excess sugar.

The Spirit

The pundits say, “Just make better choices.” But that’s about as effective as “Just say no.” But that’s a band-aid fix and isn’t particularly effective especially when there’s a reason other than lack of will-power that is pushing those cravings. Ok, so there are a lot of biological reasons someone might crave sugar. But ponder this one. Perhaps the reason we crave sugar in the first place is because of a deficiency in our spirits.

In Chinese Medicine there are five major organ systems in the body: Liver, Heart, Spleen/Stomach (the digestive system), Lung, and Kidney. A quick overview of the digestive system in both Chinese and Western medicine looks like this.

  1. Your digestive organs prompt a hunger pang. You eat.
  2. The food you ingest passes to the stomach where it is ground into a liquid that then moves to the small intestine.
  3. The small intestine soaks up the nutrients out of the liquid and passes on anything that it can’t use to other organs in your body for processing. Your liver takes a look at anything that is soaked up from the small intestine and makes sure it’s safe. If it’s not it is filtered out. If it is it is moved the blood stream for distribution.
  4. The stuff that isn’t absorbed in the small intestine is passed to the large intestine for further processing and elimination.

Joy in LifeChinese medicine take the process a step further than just the physical body. The energy of the Spleen and Stomach take anything you ingest and process it. This includes the energy of the friends and co-workers you hang out with, the television you watch, the movies you go to, the conversations you have. These too are taken in and processed. The system tries to filter out the crud and only keep the good stuff, but just like in the physical world, toxins can get through to the energetic an emotional system. Things that might seem sweet can turn out to be poison.

So that brings us to crux of the matter. What if the physical sweet cravings are echoes of the emotional and spiritual need for sweetness in our lives? What if we are substituting processed sugars in an attempt to fill the void for the true sweetness of life? Can you find other ways to bring sweetness and joy into your life?

I challenge you today to find ways to make your life sweet and joyful. Don’t depend on others to do it: nurture yourself, take time to give yourself something that makes you joyful, give love to your own soul. Indulge in all of that sweetness you want – it’s calorie free.

 

Resources:

Twenty Way to Add Sweetness to Life

The Sweetness of Life: Joy as a Practice

Evolution’s Sweet Tooth

Kids’ Sugar Cravings Might Be Biological

Aspartame Poisoning

 

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Filed under Mental and emotional health, Nutrition, Processed foods, Stress, Uncategorized

Quick Fix For Stress

To do lists and stressIt’s Monday morning. The alarm sounds and you roll out of bed. You hit the floor with your to-do list running in your head. The momentum of your day carries you forward through one task, one stressor after another. Before you know it, it’s time for bed. Go to sleep. Wake up to the alarm on Tuesday morning. Repeat. 

That’s how the vast majority of us live: checking off things on our to-do lists with little time to actually be. And yet it is crucial to our well-being and thus the well-being of those who depend on us that we take time out to just be. 

Take a look at the link and see how just a few minutes of stillness in your day can change your life and the life of your family.

Meditation Health Benefits: What the Practice Does to Your Body

If you don’t know how to quiet your mind, to relax your body, and reduce your stress I can help you. I offer acupuncture, acupressure, and Reiki to help you balance your body, making it easier for you to find your inner stillness. I offer simple to apply meditation techniques to get you started and will show you how to fit it into your day without adding one more “to-do” to that list. 

Click here to book your appointment online or call 512-619-5549 to schedule with me. 

 

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Filed under Acupuncture, Brain Health, Mental and emotional health, Pain Management, PTSD, Stress, Trauma

Acupuncture works!

Great article on acupuncture and how well it works.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/11/health/health-acupuncture

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Filed under Acupuncture, Pain Management

Why our grandparents weren’t gluten intolerant

Austin Texas, where I live, is famous for allergies. We joke in a not-so-funny manner that if you don’t have allergies when you arrive, you will once you’ve been here for a couple of years. Seems like Austinites are allergic to everything. Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the gluten allergy or gluten intolerance is the “flavor of the week,” outpacing even the mold and cedar allergies in the list of top complaints. This has bothered me. My grandparents were farmers, grew wheat, and ate bread with every meal. Why didn’t they have a problem with grains?

It’s not a bad question, actually. Grains have been the ‘staff of life’ for a very long time. There is better than decent evidence to support the belief that people have been eating grains since the Middle Paleolithic age some 100,000 years ago. Literate ancient cultures across the world have consumed grains and yet no one can find hieroglyphics or written text suggesting Celiac’s disease, gluten intolerance, or “Wheat Belly.” In Chinese Medicine the digestive system is referred to as “The Sea of Grain and Water.” So when did grains become the bad guy?

If you take a high-speed tour through agricultural history you will note that human-kind has been messing with the genetics of plants and animals for a very long time. Even though there is a lot of talk about GMO’s, it is not a new concept or practice. The ancient peoples of Meso-america selectively bred strains of grass into corn over the span of thousands of years. The hundreds of breeds of dogs you see on the Westminster Dog Shows were selectively bred from wolves over huge spans of time as well. Seems we are always trying to find a better way to produce the things we want. Wheat and other glutinous grains (rye, barley, spelt, couscous, and bulgar for instance), have been modified by selective breeding and more recently by more direct genetic modifications such as gene splicing.

As a matter of fact, we are in the thick of an agricultural revolution with which our genes cannot keep pace. We are hominids, descendants of tree-dwelling primates. For the bulk of our history on earth we have not been a primarily grain eating species. True, our ancestors probably did eat grains, they just didn’t eat them as extensively as we do now. The top modern-day food crops are overwhelmingly grains: corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats, rye and sorghum. These grains make up over half of the food energy in the world and half of the protein consumed. That’s an awful lot of grain feeding an awful lot of people. And that’s why there has been an awful lot of genetic modification. Genetic modification makes it more disease-resistant, more pest-resistant, faster growing and higher yield. This great for the producers, but is it good for us?

Not so much. The problem isn’t the grain itself. The problem is what has been done to the grain coupled with our increasing dependence on it to the exclusion of other and more nutritious sources of food. Basically, if our grandparents ate like we do today, they might be gluten intolerant too.

So what is gluten? And what does gluten intolerance look like?

www.calhounacupuncture.com - glutinous foods

Glutinous foods

Gluten is a protein complex made up of gliadin and glutelin. Gluten is found in many grains, most breads and cereals, and an astonishing number of foods. Chicken breasts you find in places like Chik-Fil-A, for instance, are not solid pieces of chicken breast, but bits of chicken that are “glued” together with a glutinous substance which makes it look like the real thing. Ditto for chicken nuggets. You’re not safe by avoiding meat either, as many vegan and vegetarian foods are also heavily dependent upon glutens – wheat roast, tempeh, and most of the meat substitute products contain it. And those “natural flavors” you listed on packaged foods? A lot of those are glutinous. There are even a lot of herbal supplements that are prepared with gluten containing flours. The upshot of all this is you probably consume far more grain and gluten on a daily basis than you realize.

Systemic responses to this gluten overload (and that’s probably a better term than gluten intolerance) vary, but some of the more common responses are:

  • Respiratory problems
    These include runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, itching eyes, and even snoring.
     
  • Digestive difficulties
    Bloating and stomach pains, excess gas, and diarrhea are common complaints. Gluten overload can irritate the stomach lining and even cause an inflammatory response in the small intestine that can damage the small villi that absorb your food. Celiac’s disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system reacts to gliadin (a component of the gluten protein complex) causes an extreme amount of pain in the body.
  • And even more…
    Gluten reactions has even been linked to depression, fatigue, insomnia, foggy mind, lethargy after eating, certain GI cancers, and ADHD. An astonishing 80% of your immune system is in your digestive system, so it’s not surprising that gluten has also been implicated in a number of autoimmune disorders besides Celiac’s.

Should you totally give it up? Maybe. Maybe not. If you have symptoms like those above that are impacting your life or if you’ve been diagnosed with or have signs of Celiac’s Disease then it would be worth your while to feel better. There is certainly a strong argument for avoiding GMO’s no matter what the immediate symptoms.

Gluten, however, proves to be a very hard thing to give up. It has addictive properties because it mimics the effects of opiods. Even the smell of glutinous foods triggers the internal happy chemicals. (That’s why savvy realtors who are trying to sell a house will sometimes have cookies or bread baking when they show a home.) Conversely, when you try to give it up, your body goes into a withdrawal-like craving when you are without it for a period of time.

Unless you have a severe dysfunction associated with glutens, it might be more advisable to simply cut down on them and see how you feel. As with anything healthy you do about your diet, you are probably going to have to prepare your own food rather than going out to eat. Try substituting rice, amaranth, buckwheat (which isn’t truly a wheat), millet, or quinoa for the more glutinous options. As with any diet change, be clear on why you are changing your eating.

Personally, I find that I have more energy, sleep better, have far less congestion and asthma-like symptoms, and digest my food better when I reduce the amount of highly processed grains I consume. I think my grandparents would approve.

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