Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Monsanto Mess Part 2: What Exactly Does GMO Mean and Why is it Bad?

I'm going to try to make this as simple as I can, while also providing links for those nerdy nerds out there like me who want to dig a little deeper.

For those of you who have Netflix streaming, I highly recommend you head over there and watch "The Future of Food" right now. A lot of the information I'm passing on here is contained in that film, plus it has lots of fancy little graphics and such to go along with the more tedious explanations. However, I know you'd miss my witty comments and sassy photos so....I'm going to slog through this assuming you'll be sticking around

What is GMO exactly?

GMO stands for "Genetically Modified Organism". It means the genes of one species are introduced into the genes of another species through human intervention.
Read here for the fancier version as I'll be skipping words like splicing, recombinant, etc (Don't be sad! Just click on the link if you're into that kind of talk)

Panda Cat brought to you by Selective Breeding!

There are a frightening number of people out there ("out there" meaning the internet) who claim to be pro-GMO, argue for GMO and have no goddamn clue what they're talking about. Shocking right? I know. What a lot of them are arguing for is selective breeding. Selective breeding is simply breeding 2 plants or 2 animals or 2 people with desirable characteristics to increase the likelihood of the expression of these characteristics. I'm sure you're all aware of selective breeding. While this particular version of human intervention in nature is less destructive than GM, there are still repercussions to sticking our dirty little fingers all up in Mother Nature's business. Have a wheat intolerance anyone? You probably do and just don't know it, but that's a story for another blog post. (insert your personal fave impending doom music here. I usually go for the Jaws theme)

The Mayan calendar in a wheat field....oooohhhh, very ominous!

How does Monsanto Genetically Engineer our Food and Why?

So glad you asked! This is the fun complicated part. The why part has a simple answer and a complex-conspiracy theory type answer that I will not expound on very much today.

The simple answer is this: In the 1970s Monsanto developed an herbicide called Roundup. They then went on to genetically modify seeds for various crops so they were "Roundup ready", meaning they were immune to the Roundup. Roundup kills all plants, except for those that have been genetically altered to withstand it. Naturally, this was a killer combination (see what I did there? So many levels...) to sell to farmers. Additionally, to farmers, this meant a lot less work in the fields = more money and more time.

On a side note, "super weeds" have now developed which are resistant to Roundup, but we'll get into that drama later.

The super weeds...coming for our blood.

The complicated answer is this: Monsanto is trying to take over our food supply. By "our", I don't just mean the United States's food supply, I mean the entire world. No really you guys, they are. It is creepy as hell and sounds like the plot to some terrible movie or a really famous book. Yes, I did just send you to a Christian blog site for that.

Now onto the fun part of exactly how and with what Monsanto is genetically modifying our food. Try not to nod off, this is serious shit and there will be no distracting pictures to detract from how serious this is for a few paragraphs.

Cells are tough little fellas. When they're healthy and feeling good, they don't want to change or be invaded. So, what are 2 things that are able to invade and affect healthy cells? Bacteria and viruses of course! Monsanto scientists discovered a soil bacteria that was resistant to Roundup herbicide. They cut out the section of DNA sequence responsible for this characteristic and mixed it with E Coli that has gaps in its sequence. When the 2 are mixed, they combine to create a Roundup resistant E Coli mutant. Fun stuff am I right?? In order to insert this awesomeness into the cell, there are 3 possible methods:

1. They use bacteria which create tumors in plants to ferry the DNA sequence into the cell's nucleus. (Does this just sound like cancer to anyone other than me?)
2. An electric stream is used to create holes in the cell's walls so they become vulnerable to foreign DNA.
3. A "gene gun" blasts gold particles covered with the engineered DNA into the cells.

Are you still with me? Don't make me slap your desk with my ruler! I know your next question is: But Nicole, how do they know it worked? On the edge of your seat now all of a sudden I bet...

The inserted DNA sequence needs a promoter to turn on the desired characteristic. The promoter they use is derived from the cauliflower mosaic virus. In the final step to ensure the process was successful, they attach an antibiotic marker, which is a gene that is resistant to a specific antibiotic, so they can test to see if the inserted DNA is being expressed. Do you see the issue here? "A gene that is resistant to a specific antibiotic" is present in something that we are then consuming. I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Nevermind the fact that we have all kinds of bad stuff involved in this process (E Coli, various bacteria, virus....) and there have been conflicting studies regarding the stability of these cells.

Cauliflower...not to be confused with the cauliflower mosaic virus

Why is GM Bad for us?

Look, if the process alone doesn't freak you out, I don't know what to say...except maybe check out these studies/articles on the many potential health ramifications of consuming GM food:

Other issues with GM Food:

1. The threat to biodiversity: with the crazy increase of GM seeds, all patented by Monsanto, being planted all over the world with no controls to keep the seeds from contaminating indigenous species, we're looking at a globalization of plants essentially. Biodiversity is the key to survival and Monsanto is methodically destroying it.

2. Lack of understanding of long term health effects: GM food was fast tracked through Bush Sr.'s administration with its emphasis on deregulation. No special testing was required ever prior to GM food being introduced to the general food supply. The concept by which this happened is called substantial equivalence. How effed is that??? They're changing the DNA of plant cells and no one thought maybe this needed to be tested or checked out? Nope.

3. Patenting of Life: Monsanto has patents on all kinds of "life" at this point. This is the reason they are winning and will continue to win court cases against farmers whose fields were contaminated by Monsanto seeds. This also begs the question of where does the line get drawn? Will animals eventually be patented? Oh then there's the whole test tube meat thing. PETA approved! Don't get me started on how terrible that is-more corporate control over our food supply. Think beyond the saving animals thing here guys.

On second thought, if this is the route we're going I think I might be able to get behind it.

4. Development of Roundup resistant Super weeds: Just like those NYC DDT resistant bed bugs, this was inevitable right? These weeds necessitate the use of stronger pesticides that have been linked to all kinds of really serious health issues such as cancer, genetic mutation (X-Men is not the likely outcome here unfortunately) and disruptions of the body's hormone messaging system, which sounds innocuous but, I assure you, is a shitshow.

5. Farmers are being duped into becoming Monsanto dependent. Farmers are, understandably, drawn to the apparent luxury of planting, spraying Roundup and calling it a day. However, once their fields have been planted with Monsanto patented seeds that's it. They're dependent on Monsanto who requires farmers to buy new seeds every season. If they're caught reusing, they're blacklisted. If they try to replant using conventional seeds, odds are they'll be contaminated with Monsanto's and they'll be sued for illegal use of a patented product. More on this later as it's a sad sad issue for the state of farming all over the if farming wasn't a tough enough career.


There's so much more, but that's all I can take for now. Don't you kind of feel like someone sucked your soul out of your body? Is it just me? By the way, the United States does not currently require GM food to be labeled, which is nuts. Most processed foods contain GM ingredients. USDA Organic labels do mean there are no GMOs, so at least you know you're safe there. However, this is happening now. If you're at all moved by what you've learned by reading this, please take some action. We deserve to know if we're ingesting this garbage.

Motivational Kitten, send us off:

Good news! Motivational kitten has been genetically modified to glow in the dark using DNA from jellyfish!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Monsanto Mess Part 1: The Company

We've been hearing a ton about Monsanto over the past several months. While I've kept up with the most recent developments due to the importance I place on what I eat and where it comes from, I'm definitely lacking in historical information regarding Monsanto and the bigger picture in general. Today I find myself with some time and decided to do some research because we should ALL be informed about who is doing what to our food and what kind of background they have. If you're not angry yet (and I do know a lot of you are) then you ought to be when you finish reading this little multi-part-stay-tuned-for-more set of blog posts on who these jerks are and what they're doing. My hope with this blog is to ignite some passion in everyone about healthy eating and, as always, to inform people about why what they're putting in their body matters...a lot. Monsanto is doing things that will most likely effect many people's health in the long term and I don't mean in a good way.

Who is Monsanto?

A quick read on Wikipedia reveals a long list of awesomely terrible stuff that Monsanto has had their hands in over the years. I mean, seriously, it's like an Onion article-I can't even believe this list is real. They are pretty much the devil, as far as I'm concerned, in that nearly every single thing they have been involved with has been deemed really bad for either a) people b) the environment or c) both.


The company began in 1901 producing and providing artificial sweetener (saccharin) to Coca-Cola. OK, I mean, I think artificial sweetener is terrible shit that totally screws with our bodies when consumed and eats our teeth enamel, but not the end of the world, I suppose, compared to this other stuff:

-Sulfuric Acid: OK, plenty of useful stuff needs sulfuric acid
-Polystyrene aka Styrofoam: No known microorganism has yet been shown to biodegrade polystyrene, and it is often abundant as a form of pollution in the outdoor environment
-2,4,5-T: used to defoliate broad-leafed plants & was phased out in the 1970s due to toxicity concerns
-Agent Orange
(Pretty sure we all know how those went)
-Aspartame: another bullshit artificial sweetener that has been deemed "safe" despite some medical studies showing otherwise
-Bovine Somatotropin: an artificial growth hormone used in milk production that has been banned in the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan
-PCBs: I'm sure you recall that these were present in things like old ACs. They have been banned in the US since the late 70s. PCBs have a half life of 8 to 10 years so they hang around in the environment for a long long time.
-Operated Mound Laboratories during the Manhattan Project aka the development of the first nuclear weapon

Now, in all fairness, this was prior to a lot of awareness regarding the potential for the long lasting damage these things could do. I'm sure there are other companies out there whose laundry list of products they once manufactured in the first half of the 20th century would look, to modern eyes, like they were trying to destroy the planet and everyone/thing on it. Right? Maybe? However, my concern is this: here we have a company with a history of manufacturing things without fully understanding or caring to understand the long term repercussions. That's what I take away from this era of Monsanto and that's what freaks me out when thinking about the fact that this company is now focused on "improving agriculture" (their words).

In the 1970s Monsanto turned their focus to optoelectrics (LEDs and digital faces for clocks,watches etc).

Monsanto genetically modifies a plant cell and by the late 80s is starting to field test genetically modified crops.

1990s-early 2000s
Monsanto gradually switches its focus from chemical based manufacturing to biotechnology. Their main products are currently genetically modified seeds for corn, alfalfa, soy, cotton, canola, sugarbeats & wheat and herbicides. Additionally the also offer a variety of genetically modified vegetable seeds.

Which brings us to more current times:

Interestingly enough, the current biotech focused incarnation of Monsanto specifically tries to separate itself from its prior identity as a chemical manufacturer. From the Monsanto website, the first few sentences of the Company History page are the following:

"Monsanto is a relatively new company. While we share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901, the Monsanto of today is focused on agriculture and supporting farmers around the world in their mission to produce more while conserving more." (More on the irony of "supporting farmers" later.)

While technically the Monsanto of today IS legally a separate entity, they still share the same name, the same corporate offices and many of the same executives and employees. Huh. Yeah, sounds totally separate to me! While I'm sure this is somehow beneficial to them in all kinds of scandalous tax and court case loopholing ways, that's not my focus at the moment, but it does give you an idea of what kind of a company we're dealing with.

Let's just get down to it for real though. I'm pretty sure the priorities of this entire corporate entity can be summed up nicely by this quote from Phil Angell the Director of Corporate Communications at Monsanto in 1998:

"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA's job."

Well fair enough, but to just wash your hands of any and all responsibility to the repercussions of what you're putting out into the market makes you a giant asshole in my book. While I'm sure Monsanto's feelings are not hurt by my opinion, as they are far too busy rolling around in their money pits filled with dollars at the expense of OUR health, I'm pretty sure everyone out there in the world who doesn't work for Monsanto should be pissed. Really pissed. And the only way to show you're really pissed in a meaningful way to a company who only gives a shit about money is to stop buying from brands that use GMO ingredients and tell them why. Scroll down here for a list. I know there's been one going around facebook as well, though I believe the header is "Companies owned by Monsanto", that's misleading in that they aren't owned by them, but use ingredients that are bought from growers of Monsanto GMO crops. By the way, according to that linked site, 91% of soy, 88% of cotton and 75% or corn grown in the US is genetically modified.

Next entry I'll talk about some studies showing the health issues associated with GMO foods, what GMO means exactly and why it's being allowed here yet being fought tooth and nail over in Europe. Here's a big hint (click to enlarge):

Now let's end this with kittens shall we?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tough 2 weeks but a Victory Over Skinny Jeans!

Life gets in the way sometimes right? Well, I've yet to take my new updated photos (tomorrow AM I'll add them to this post) so it's hard for me to tell where I'm at. I still feel good which is miraculous considering how crappy I usually feel when sedentary. I hurt my hip which put me out of Crossfit for almost 2 weeks. Frustrating, but the timing couldn't have been better as I've been working a million hours a day, everyday, since that happened. Working for me (as for most people these days) entails sitting on my butt at my computer or sitting on my butt painting and drawing for hours on end. The only time I've actually gotten up to move around is to walk the dog or make it to a soccer game. Yikes. There's good news here though! Usually when I have a few weeks like this I very noticeably gain a little. A week or 2 back at the gym/normal life and it goes away, but during crazy work periods my skinny jeans certainly don't fit. This time, for the first time ever, despite my lack of moving around, I look exactly the same as I did a few weeks ago as far as I can tell. No weight gain. In fact, I tried on my super skinny jeans a few days ago...lo and behold I pulled them on with no wriggling.

Let's talk a bit more about those super skinny jeans shall we? Back in 2006 I went on a shopping spree after a long haul of a lot of extra work and, therefore, "extra" money. I was also working out like a crazy person at this point, so, I go to H&M and I buy these jeans. I could barely put them 0n in the dressing room but did that thing where you think to yourself, Oh! I'll totally fit into these if I keep working out like this! Or, they'll stretch out after wearing them a few times! Long story short, I didn't and they didn't. I would say maybe 4 months out of the year I manage to squeeze into these puppies. Usually in the spring and summer when I'm training for races and it's too hot to wear jeans anyway. Even then, it's within an inch of my life and I refuse seats at bars all across America because they are so uncomfortable to sit down in. They're like a modern day corset, seriously. At this point, I can't even believe I've kept them. I haven't subjected myself to their torture for at least a year because it's just plain ridiculous. The other day while cleaning out my closet I found those devil jeans and walked over to the trash. Before tossing them I decided to try them on one last time and you know what? Not only did I pull them on effortlessly but I could totally sit down in them almost comfortably. Comfortably enough that if I wore them out and about, I wouldn't be the awkward weirdo looming over everyone sitting down and denying offers of seats left and right.

I know almost every single lovely lady out there can relate to this story of sweet victory over the skinny jeans. It's a never ending battle and I think eating paleo is the equivalent of having the excalibur sword. (No, I've never played Dungeons and Dragons just a lot of Final Fantasy back in the day)

Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Justin Fitzpatrick

Next week I have some good stuff in store for you. Tales of physical ailments potentially caused by diet or maybe a story discouraging you to make food a reward for hard work or perhaps I'll just share some poetry. FYI, Sylvia Plath is my fave so put your super sad suicidal hats on!

Angeles National Forest '09

On a side note, I've been lamenting the lack of nature in my life since moving back to New York. I've been getting outside a lot despite the crazy weather but walking around Brooklyn, while interesting in it's own way, is by no means as inspiring and cleansing as a 4 hour hike in Angeles National Forest. Thursday night I was talking to Mike about how much I missed nature. Friday afternoon I came home from Crossfit, looked out my kitchen window (it's not something I do very often unless someone is hysterically screaming or smashing something) and in the yard behind my building there was an enormous hawk eating a rat. It was amazing and I couldn't help but feel like it was a little gift. So, thanks to that hawk for not only cheering me up but also for knocking down the rat population!

For the record, here is a good reason why you shouldn't feed or encourage squirrels in any way. Creepy right?

Friday, January 21, 2011

3 weeks and counting

It's officially been 3 weeks and I am way into this. I am enjoying cooking and food shopping and arguing with people online who say things like "if you were really eating like our ancestors, you'd be eating raw meat", or "you will die without grains!" Seriously, I am the self punishment queen of reading inane post article comments. (follow that link at your own risk, Yahoo is chalk full of hateful, ignorant commenters to get you all riled up) It is very rare that an informed, educated human being makes a comment that actually leads me question the information I've gotten and the things I believe, which is unfortunate as I am all for differing points of view. That is how you learn.

More importantly, let me get more specific with my update. I feel great. My skin looks better than it has in forever. I haven't had problems with pimples in years now, but it just looks healthier to me. My eyes look brighter as well. I would often go the entire day thinking I look kind of tired. I've been chalking that up to getting a little older but apparently not so. My tummy is flatter and when I wake up in the morning I feel like getting out of bed rather than laying around...even when it's still dark outside. I should also add that I've completely stopped using an alarm and allow myself to wake up naturally. My motivation is definitely up overall.

Pretty crazy right? I'm still puzzling over that profile shot. That's a pretty noticeable difference!

My plan for the next 3 weeks is to eliminate yogurt and honey entirely. This is going to be difficult as yogurt is my morning blanky essentially, but it's also the only thing I put honey on. That'll get rid of almost all of the sugar left in my current diet.

Not Without a Few Drawbacks

During this epic journey spanning an unfathomable amount of time-3 whole weeks, I've done a lot of thinking about the name of this particular method of eating (Paleo or Primal) and the ethical impact (well, specific to my particular set of ethics and on the whole, a lot of yours as well, I'm sure) of eating, frankly, a lot of meat. I actually wrote what amounted to a 5 page blog post about how I feel being an animal loving, environmentally conscious human on this diet. Some of it was funny, but man, it was kind of too long. I'm aware of the limits of people's online attention span and I'm pretty sure if it were someone else's blog, I would've taken one look at the length and been like, hmmmm, I think I'd rather spend that time reading Stephen King's "The Stand" thanks. I'll include passages from my ridiculous monologue here and there over the next several posts, essentially tricking you into reading the whole damn thing eventually. Very sneaky, I know.

The Word Paleo: A Bit of a Curse at Times

Regarding the name of the diet, "Paleo" (this also applies to Primal), I'd like to take a moment to say that this word, along with the quick explanation of the root theory behind this way of eating, gets this diet dragged through the mud by all kinds of people. The "authorities" on this diet, for lack of a better word, have never ever claimed that we are eating exactly like our ancestors 20 million years ago. In general, I've found that the people who are vocal proponents for paleo/primal eating are pretty damn smart. They understand that we're not literally eating like our ancestors but rather we are taking the basic principles behind their diet & lifestyle and applying them to our modern life. Not unlike Orgy bastardizing New Order's "Blue Monday" back in the late 90s, we can only do our best to interpret the past with what we have in the present. I'm assuming none of you out there took the name/quick description literally, but just in case I have an odd stranger or 2 lurking out there, please know that the paleo community is aware it's not eating like actual cavemen. We're just inspired by them.

Vegan Guilt

Much like the agnostic ex-Catholic bears the guilt of a tiny Jesus in their heart, a former vegan bears the tears of the animals they've consumed.

What? too dramatic?

I am way into this lady's illustrations: Cecilia Levy's Blog

OK fine. The bigger trick here, how does an animal and environment loving girl, who also cares significantly about her personal health, reconcile eating a paleo diet? I'm still struggling with this a bit but I'm doing what I can to make sure I am purchasing my food in the most conscientious way possible. I buy wild caught fish from sustainable stock (SUPER important!!!) when available and I just found a truly wonderful meat supplier in New York state that delivers to NYC. All of their meat is raised within 50 miles, humanely, organically and has a much much lower environmental impact than your typically raised meat products. I highly recommend checking them out and I'd like to thank one of the members of CFSBK for giving the heads up on this place-my apologies for not remembering exactly who it was. The name of the company is Fleischer's and the man behind it used to be vegan which warms my heart.
Grain Not So Fun Fact #2

What's that you say??? You want another not so fun fact on why grains are not good because the first one just didn't do it for you?? Oh, alright...but pay close attention as this one is going to be a bit more complicated than the last one.

Grains contain proteins called lectins. Lectins in some grains are more harmful than others, but they are all problematic. Lectins are not broken down in our body's normal digestive process, leaving large intact proteins in our guts. They attach to receptors (essentially by "tricking" them), are transported intact through our intestinal lining and, in doing so, cause damage to the lining. In response to the lectins escaping out of the intestines, our bodies react to them as if they are invaders and produce antibodies to attack and kill them. (high school science fun fact reminder: antibodies are specific to the invader they are fighting hence why we are given vaccines containing tiny amounts of dangerous viruses, so our bodies produce antibodies specific to that particular virus) Unfortunately, the lectins tend to look a lot like other useful proteins in our bodies that are supposed to be there, causing our bodies to essentially attack these proteins we need in addition to the lectins. End result? A variety of autoimmune disorders. Also, because of the damage to the intestinal lining, other things are able to pass through into your body leading to a variety of food allergies (again, specific antibodies are developed that attack say, for simplicities sake, nuts) and exposure to chemicals that would normally remain in your digestive system.

Alright, did you follow all that? Take a moment to thank Robb Wolf if you did because that was basically the cliff notes version of part of his book...which you should read.

This has nothing to do with anything. I'm running out "motivational kittens" that are specific to what I'm writing about, so please just enjoy these kittens in socks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2 Week Update!

Two weeks in and things are looking good. I know you're probably here to check out a new set of photos of me in a sports bra and short shorts but you're just going to have to wait a few more days. The plan is a weekly set of photos but I skipped last Tuesday. Why you ask? Well, mostly because I looked like I was 6 months pregnant. That may be a good look in high schools these days (I'm hoping MTV's 16 and Pregnant** will fix this problem...fingers crossed) but not for me. I seriously felt like someone had shoved a balloon into my guts. Naturally, I decided to hold off on the photos until I was more of a svelte little mink.
***You like how I dropped that in here? I just learned about this show on my flight to LA over the weekend. Flying is pretty much how I learn about most shows.

Photo cred: rwkphotos on Flickr

In the interest of full disclosure, I have eaten paleo in the past. When I was getting ready for my half ironman, I ate like this for 45 days or so, but with more cheating. I learned that when you severely limit your carb intake, your body eventually switches to fat burning mode (ketosis: there is definitely some controversy here about whether or not this is healthy for extended periods of time. I eat sweet potatoes once a week, which is an acceptable paleo practice, rather than completely carb starve my body) that is great for sustaining longer bouts exercise. Eating like this was the first time I lost weight in years. When I first started going to the gym and getting in shape I lost weight of course. Well, technically the number stayed about the same, but I was much more compact due to replacing fat with muscle. After that first year, I plateaued. No big deal. More often than not, if I'm working out regularly, I'm happy with the way I look. I got over the unrealistic (and unhealthy) wish of being super skinny years ago. So, my three issues with eating this way the first time around were:

1. The first place I lost fat, much to the disappointment of Mike, was my chest. Suddenly I really identified with the lament of the animated character in this commercial. Ahhhh genetics, the oh so inconsiderate determinate of where our body holds our fat and where it lets it go first (more on this in a future post).

2. I was totally bloated a lot of the time and did not fuss with my diet enough to fix this issue.

3. The first few weeks I was cranky, tired and constantly hungry. After 3 weeks this went away, but man, I was not fun to be around in the beginning. It was basically sugar/carb withdrawal and let me tell you, it sucks, but it's worth sticking it out. Luckily, this time I did not go through that period at all.

4. Bonus Issue! Inner former vegan sometimes looked at my plate and saw something like this:

Crocheting genius care of Croshame

This time around, so far, my only issue as mentioned earlier ,was the bloating, which seems like too mild a word to describe the distended belly I had the first 10 days. I would eat just a few bites and within 20 minutes I looked 6 months pregnant. The thing with eating this way is that you really have to pay attention and tweak what you're consuming to make it work the best for you. My way of fixing this issue was to simply take 3 fiber capsules daily. Within a few days I was fine. Isn't that fascinating? I know, I should just end this now as this post has clearly culminated.

But I'm not going to. I'm not letting you all off the hook without teaching you something interesting about why grains are bad. So pay attention!

Consuming, and especially over consuming, sugar and grains messes with your body's ability to quickly and accurately communicate to your brain that you're full. I'm simplifying this as it's complicated, but you can confidently walk away knowing that this is true. This leads to overeating in many people and eating the proper amount of food is essential to prolonging your body's ability to operate properly & efficiently. Overeating taxes your body in all kinds of ways that go even deeper than just the obvious issue of gaining weight. On the flipside (because I'm into being fair and balanced, you know, like Fox News) there are people out there who criticize following a paleo diet as they say it can lead to undereating...spell check tells me this is not a word but whatever. I can see how this might happen. I have found myself feeling the need to eat significantly less frequently in the past 2 weeks. My recommendation for those with this concern is to keep a food log for a week or 2 on a site such as Fitday. No need to obsess, but I think it's important to be honestly aware of how many calories you're consuming and if you're regularly lacking in any essential vitamins and nutrients. Actually, screw it, I recommend using Fitday for a few weeks to anyone. It's free and it's pretty interesting, just try not to get too nuts about it.

I leave you today with a word of advice (sorry Angelenos,this is more for my friends stuck in winter wonderland purgatory) bundle yourselves up and get outside regularly for a walk or a run. I've been making a big effort to get outside everyday and walk at least a mile despite the freezing temperatures and the winter blues have yet to hit. Miraculous considering my last 3 winters were spent being able to don a tank top and head out for a run mid January in LA. Motivational winter kittens!

Kitten photo genius care of David Waterman on Flickr

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back to Business: Paleo/Primal Eating

As many of you have pointed out over the past several (yeah, officially several) months, I have not posted a new blog entry! I know I know. Not only have I been slacking on this, but I've also been slacking on my fitness as well. Post half ironman, I found myself with a serious case of laziness due to lack of a specific goal, distracted by moving back to New York City, getting reacquainted with my former home etc. etc. Also, whether it was due to overtraining, overdoing it on race day or a lack of proper recovery & stretching in my routine, I found myself with all kinds of aches and pains everywhere. I seriously felt like an old lady...only I didn't get to hang out with super cute hairy donkeys like this lady:

As of late, things have been looking up. I found my new crossfit home and in just a few weeks of training there, a lot of the pains I'd been experiencing are calming the hell down finally. Not to mention the fact that this place is chalk full of rad people and trainers, which is also a big motivator in getting my butt back in gear. Yes, even I fall off the wagon occasionally. This is what happens when we (we being ALL of us) don't set goals for ourselves and all of a sudden everything else seems more important. Working out starts to feel like a pointless time suck. So, put that in your bag and carry it to the gym or whatever.

Eating Like Our Ancestors

I'm not usually one for New Year's Resolutions of any sort. I'm especially not one for fitness New Year's resolutions. In my opinion, a healthy diet and exercise should be part of your life and not something you decide to try out starting January 1. However, starting a few days ago (yes, a few days ago like January 1st...sigh) I've committed to eating paleo for the next 60 days along with many other lovely people at Crossfit South Brooklyn.

What the Hell is Paleo?

Paleo is a way of eating that makes the inner former vegan in me cry. Basically, you subsist on meat (preferably organic, grass fed/wild caught), eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and certain oils. That's it. The idea is to cut out all grains, sugar, dairy, processed foods & alcohol (the biggest OMG for me) and to keep your carb consumption to a minimum. This is the basic premise behind the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and ate for like a trillion years. Please don't ask me how exactly long...I don't feel like looking it up this second. Agriculture is still a fairly new change in the way we eat when you look at our timeline. There are more and more people everyday who are being diagnosed with celiacs disease (severe allergy to gluten) and autoimmune disorders that can be directly linked to grains which have a detrimental effect on our bodies when consumed.

Listen, before you get all upset at me for saying grains are not good for you, please go here and here and for the love of god please read this book, which is absolutely blowing my mind. These people will do an infinitely better job at explaining all of this than I will. I already knew and understood the general concept behind all of this business, but there's so much to it I don't even know where to begin. Ask Mike, he is totally tired of me talking about it already. Regardless, I understand the resistance. Everyone is different. Everyone's body deals with things differently. For instance, there are people who can eat an entire pizza at Carmine's & walk away perfectly fine, while I am punished with a cheese baby in my guts making me incredibly uncomfortable for 2 weeks if I even take 4 bites. Most of the time though, I thank my body's inability to easily process most dairy products, leading to the evil cheese baby, because it keeps me away from pizza (and ice cream and milk and whipped cream and etc). That stuff really does not do much good for your body. And this is what came up on the first page of Google image search for "cheese baby"...of course:


So I'm posting my Before pictures (god help me, you guys better show your appreciation for this by clicking on the links I've included up there and diligently informing yourselves as a thank you)

In other news, I appear remarkably happier than most people in before photos.

Anyhow, I'll be eating this way, with some minor cheats to keep my sanity, for the next 60 days and will be updating you on the progress via my lovely blog with pictures (!!!). Also, every update, I'll share 1 or 2 fun facts about grains and what exactly makes them less of the "building block" they are generally made out to be. So, whether or not you like it (I saw you not clicking on those links up there) you will be forced to learn something about it.

In general, the quick things to take away from this are things I've addressed in one way or another via various other entries in this blog: processed foods are bad, you should buy whole foods, organic/grass fed/wild caught as much as possible and you should inform yourself about how your body processes your food and what it needs to function most efficiently. I'll leave you with motivational photos of what I bought at Whole Foods today:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Barb's Half Ironman Race Report!

This is going to be even longer winded than my last race report. I am totally glowing right now. For having only spent 11 weeks training, I am absolutely, completely elated with how the race went. I had some dark moments on the run, but that was to be expected.

Friday the 30th (day before the race)

Mike and I got up at 5AM. I wanted to leave around 5:45 but of course I was bumping around the apartment like a total zombie. I made a list the night before of everything I needed to bring and decided I would wait until the morning to get it all together. All in all, not a good idea...I know, I was shocked as well. Unfortunately I have no photos of myself bumbling around looking for things while Mike stood there anxiously looking at the time saying, "Can I help you somehow?", but I probably looked something like this:

Anyway, it was getting on to 6:15 and I got all intense about eating. I knew we'd be in the car for about 8 hours so I wanted to make sure I ate a proper breakfast. Today would be super important as far as nutrition was concerned and I had a lot of obstacles that were going to make it difficult, so I insisted on eating a bunch of yogurt and nuts before leaving. We left about 45 minutes later than planned, but with 9 hours until the race briefing I wasn't too worried.

About 40 minutes into the drive I realized I left my pump at home and had a total meltdown for a minute or 2. OK, no big deal. We'll just stop at the bike shop that's doing race support and buy a new one. Meltdown #1=over. I had plenty of time before the briefing to get the pump, make it through packet pick up and deal with all the usual pre race nonsense. It was hot and sunny. As usual, I stood out in the general triathlon crowd. I always think it's interesting that so many people dress in their bike or run clothes the day before the race to go to packet pick up and race briefings. I was walking around in a purple dress and knee high black boots with compression socks on underneath. Hipster undercover athlete. I guess that's been my deal for a long time now anyhow, but the athlete side is winning out as I get older. Still, I don't see myself ever going to packet pick up in bike shorts :). Beyond that, it was awesome to see so many women at a race. Barb's Race is the only all female half ironman race in the country which is part of the reason why I did it. It is also on the same day and course as the full Vineman Ironman so I was excited to be racing alongside people doing a full ironman. It was all around very inspiring.

I wanted to drive over the run course before we headed to our hotel which was 25 miles away. It's a damn good thing we did because it changed my plan for the following day. If I had taken pictures, the run course would have looked a lot like this:

It was far hillier than any course I have ever run in my life. At first, I was like, "OH, this is kind of like the run in Central Park", and Mike was like, "Are you sure about that?" In other words, he was in awe of how goddamn hilly it was and I was trying to stuff down the nerves by turning it into something less than it was. The best way to deal with situations like this is to acknowledge the monster is a monster and respect it. After a few more minutes of driving, the hills kept coming (seriously, it was unbelievable) and I decided I needed to really hold back on the bike and adjust my expected finish time from between 6:30-6:45 to between 6:45-7 hours. I was going to finish this thing regardless of how daunting this run was looking. I closed my eyes and pictured myself running up and over hill after hill...that's how I fell asleep around 10:30PM. For those interested, I ate a seaweed salad, bananas, a lara bar, shrimp and avocado roll and a bunch of water for dinner. I spent a lot of time getting all my crap set out so I would be ready to go the next morning. This is what it takes to get through a half ironman:

And this is what would keep me comfy on the bike for 3-4 hours:

Seriously, funny name but it really worked fantastically. A big shout out to the makers of Hoo Ha Ride Glide. Riding a bike for anything over 2 hours can do some serious damage to your lady parts if you're not careful. This shit is necessary after a certain point. In other news, look how tired I am! Jeez.

Mike and I stayed at Applewood Inn for the weekend and it was really great. A bit more money than I wanted to spend, but the room was quiet, clean and cozy and the breakfast was amazing. It's a bit pricy during high season in wine country on the weekends but during the week and off season it's more reasonable. Plus, for those triathletes doing Vineman and Barb's Race, it's only a mile away from swim start which is key.

Saturday the 31st (race day)

I've made a lot of sacrifices getting ready for this race. Not the least of which has been a complete lack of social life for the past few months. This is just part of training for the next level up. Unfortunately it just so happens to coincide with my leaving Los Angeles. I've felt a real disassociation from a lot of my friends both in New York and here in LA getting ready for races. It's a lonely business when no one (except for Tara!!! God, I'm so HAPPY I had you to ride bikes with!!!) in your social circle is into something that consumes a significant amount of your time. When I get back to New York I'm joining a tri club because it's just too hard to keep doing this without a support system. Anyway, this was heavily on my mind as I got my things together to head to swim start. I had to make it all worth it or I'd be really disappointed in myself. Which is exactly when meltdown #2 happened. I went to pump up my tires and I couldn't get the bike pump to work properly. I freaked out for a minute and then Mike calmly pointed out that bike support would be at swim start to deal with any last minute issues. Done and done. They took care of my tires in a jiffy. I barely had time to get my wetsuit on and down to start the race by the time I made it through the bathroom line.

No time to get freaked out at all. Mike took a few pictures I walked down to the water (which was warm and calm) and swam out to the other side of the river.
Then all of a sudden it started. I was caught completely off guard chatting to some girl next to me.

1.2 mile swim

I started swimming and waited for the usual heart rate craziness/mild panic to set in...and waited...and waited. Meanwhile, I was swimming past people and the panic never happened. My stroke felt smooth, my breathing was steady and my heart rate was completely normal. I got kicked a bunch but instead of getting worked up and losing control of my breathing, I got pissed and swam past the people who were kicking me. When did I become a decent swimmer? Amazing. It continued like this the whole time. Eventually I was passing a lot of people who had begun the race in the wave before mine. Don't get me wrong, I didn't win or anything, but I had a real swim breakthrough this race. I didn't want it to end. I felt like I could have swam another mile no problem. I came out of the water and decided to let the wetsuit strippers help me. That was hilarious. Next time I might skip that. (39:50)

Transition 1

Where are the wobbly sea legs? Not here! I jogged to my bike easily. My legs felt great. And yet I managed to spend nearly 10 minutes in transition. What was I doing? Putting on make up? Doing my hair? I ate a bunch & drank a lot....I guess that took 10 minutes? Who knows. All I know is that my legs felt fine and I was stoked to get on my bike.

56 Mile Bike

The next 3-4 hours would be spent on my questionable steed who I've taken to calling the "Silver Bullet" in my head in hopes of improving our relationship. Unfortunately I think she knows that next season I'll be purchasing a replacement and she'll be relegated to a beater.

I took this ride really easy knowing what the run course ahead held. The bike course was super fun, hilly and winding through the vineyards. It was shady and the weather stayed cool for most of the ride. Nothing much to report here. I stopped twice at aid stations-once for a few minutes and the second time only for about 1 minute to grab a water and stretch my legs out before Chalk Hill. Chalk Hill was not the monster everyone made it out to be. When I reached the top, I was ready for more...a little disappointing but I guess that means I did my training right. I easily passed at least 7 or 8 people going up that hill. I didn't get out of my saddle and I didn't even come close to hitting lactate threshold.

Overall, I was also really good about nutrition on the bike. I ate and drank a lot and it made all the difference. When I got off the bike I felt pretty fresh, which was great considering the run I had ahead but a small part of me was a little disappointed and wished I had pushed the pace more. 3:34 (just under 16mph average)

Transition 2 AKA the great mistake

I, again, took almost 10 minutes in transition here. I felt great and this was throwing me off. Seriously! This race is twice as long as any race I've ever done and yet I felt better than I have in my Olympic distance races. Very confusing. I am owing it to my diligent nutrition on the bike.

The great mistake...I decided to double up on my socks for my run to try to prevent blisters and hot spots from popping up. I find that, consistently, I get blisters on all my 8+ mile runs and I knew that doubling up my socks would help prevent them. I tied my sneakers and the right one felt a little too tight, but, alas, I did not stop to redo it. Man would I be regretting that around mile 9.

Half Marathon

For the record, I have never run more than 11.5 miles ever. After getting off a bike, I have never run more than 6 miles and I have never EVER run after a bike ride of more than 30 miles. But I felt really good and confident despite the mini Alps I had to conquer ahead of me. The run started off really well. My plan was to stop at every other aid station (there are aid stations approximately every mile) until I absolutely had to start stopping at all of them. I stuck to my plan for 7 miles and then started to feel thirsty. I was running all the hills except for one really steep one. I walked up it quickly (as fast as a lot of people were running it). I was passing quite a few people for the first several miles. Around mile 7.5, I started slowing down but kept running. At mile 8.7 I hit the first turnaround and walked for a bit. I ran for another 1/2 mile and then my foot completely cramped up. Oh shoelace, why did I not retie you? I had a few minutes where I actually though I might have a stress fracture. I could barely put weight on my foot and then my calves started cramping up. Total body shutdown...well, that's an exaggeration, but at that point in a race you're prone to drama. I started feeling really sorry for myself. Lame. I walked for awhile. At that point, it seemed like the entire course was somehow uphill. I hit another aid station and asked how far to the second (and last) turnaround and they said 1/2 a mile. So I started running again. I built myself back up and got excited that I had less than 3 miles to go. I could run less than 3 miles. I kept going and going for what felt like forever. I started hitting bigger and bigger hills...where the hell was the turnaround??? Finally I made it to another aid station and was told by one of the volunteers that I had run an extra mile. WTF??? I almost started crying. So, instead of 13 miles it looked like I would be running 15 miles. This may not sound like a big deal, but at that moment, with the way I was feeling physically, I could not even imagine how I was ever going to make it. That really got me down for awhile and I limped away like a sad wounded puppy. I walked for a lot longer than I would have had I not run the extra mile out of the way feeling sorry for myself. And then with 2 miles left I started running again and ran most of the remaining distance. The last mile I picked up the pace enough that bystanders watching were saying "Great pace 1502!" which made me feel better and I ran to the finish line. 2:17 (that's subtracting the time I took on the 2 extra miles)

Above-here I am thinking, Holy crap, please give me some water.
Below-Oh look! There's Mike! Hi!!!

Total time: 6:53:24 directly in the middle of my goal finish time


Yes!!! I had the biggest, most genuine smile on my face for about 5 minutes after crossing that line and then my legs started feeling absolutely crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself physically. I didn't want to sit or stand or lie was nuts. I've never felt anything like it before. I got some food that I forced down because I knew needed to eat even though I wasn't hungry and watched some of the other racers finish. A lot of people have asked me if I've cried when finishing a race. The answer is no, I'm too tired to cry usually. But I have definitely teared up watching other people finish races. Seriously, watch some coverage of Ironman Kona in October and if you don't get emotional watching people cross the finish line then you're officially a robot.

I was more tired than I can ever remember being by the time we got back to the hotel. I slept for a really long time. I'm still tired, but I'm also REALLY proud of myself and I can't wait to do another one. For the record, my foot just stopped hurting today from tying that lace too tight. I won't be making that mistake again.

A huge thank you to Mike (of course) for being supportive and patient during all of this, Tara for being my super rad bike buddy (click on her name to follow her on Tumblr getting ready for SF--->LA charity bike ride!), my Daily Mile friends for their words of encouragement and inspiring workouts, Crossfit Pasadena for instilling new levels of pain threshold in me and all of my friends who took a moment to wish me luck or ask how my training was going.