Is it the Gluten?

My Mom is awesome, a little crazy, but awesome. She does more research on health matters than anyone I know… including myself. So last night when I got a text message asking if I had white spots on my nails, I sort of knew where it was going.

I should give you a little background to this situation.

I have an 11 year old brother who has Type 1 Diabetes and a 21 year old sister who has just had half her thyroid removed and is going through trying to find a happy balance for her hormones. My brother was diagnosed at 2 and this was really the start of my Mom’s trip to research-ville. I have never ever seen someone read so many books on nutrition, hormones, exercise and mental health, EVER.

Recently she started with a nutritionist who has a book about hormone health. She started reading a few more books about hormones and how diet affects them, and that is when she texted me about my nails.

So the question: Do you have white spots on your nails?white-spot-on-fingernail

My nails are painted right now so I couldn’t look, but now that I was thinking about it, no, right now I don’t have any white spots. Come to think of it, I used to have those all the time. I would probably have 2-3 white spots on my nails at all times and I never thought anything of it. I haven’t had them in about a year though… weird.

Before she could expand further on this I did a quick google search. Go ahead, google “white spots on nails”. I’ll wait.

Back? I bet you came up with a bunch of articles telling you that it’s because the nail bed was damaged. That’s a possibility. But buried amongst those articles of lazy doctors saying “it’s nothing” are articles that say it’s caused by Zinc Deficiency. Interesting…

My Mom texted back a bit later about the zinc deficiency, but added something that was definitely not among the top articles on google. The fact that zinc deficiency is a common sign of gluten intolerance because it cannot be absorbed by the damaged intestine. If you look up zinc deficiency you will find some fun side effects, but the worst one is thyroid damage. I managed to avoid this completely by accident by going gluten-free because I generally feel better on a gluten-free diet.

After that little tidbit I started scrounging around the internet for more weird symptoms of gluten intolerance. If it affects one hormone, there are bound to be other things that it is affecting. At the same time I started doing an inventory of the things that used to be issues but aren’t anymore. This is the list of things I came up with.  I’m not saying ALL of these are a direct cause of giving up gluten, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority are.

  • Fatigue – I still get tired a lot, but I used to be tired all the time. Surprisingly, over Christmas while I was eating small amounts of gluten, all of a sudden I wanted to sleep 18 hours a day. I haven’t done that in a long time. 3 days gluten-free and I am getting my energy back… interesting.
  • General pain – this is a weird one. I think some people might call this fibromyalgia, but all I know is that when I eat gluten the places on my body that carry fat, they hurt. Not like an ache or injury, the skin and muscle are just sensitive. This is particularly noticeable on the side of my thighs because I brush against things and it hurts… not bump, nothing that should hurt, just pressure and I’m in pain. Start cleaning up my diet and the pain subsides. Right now I still have some sensitivity, but I’m guessing in a week or two it will go away.
  • Stomach pains – this is not an upset stomach. This feels like sharp, stabby pains. This is definitely gluten because it always happens within an hour or 2 of eating a little more gluten than I should.
  • White spots on nails – like I said, they are completely gone now. I haven’t had them in over a year.
  • Healthy hair – there is a definite line between where my hair is healthy and where it is dry. This might be from dying it, or exposure to the environment… or it might be about a year and a half worth of growth while I have been limiting gluten.
  • Illness – I used to get sick a lot. If someone was sick around me, I was done. Now I rarely get sick, and if I do it is mild.

Yes these could have different reasons (other than the stomach pains), but I am slowly accepting that gluten might have been a bigger problem than I thought it was. For a long time I have been brushing it off as no big deal… but maybe it is.

I know the whole gluten thing seems a bit like a fad, but if you have some generalized health issues and you don’t know the cause, try doing some research on it… you never know.

Oh and another thing… apparently if you go gluten-free they cannot test you for gluten intolerance. You have to continue eating gluten to get tested. So I can’t find out for sure because I’m not willing to do that to my body, but if you are currently still eating gluten, don’t stop just yet. Talk to your doctor and get tested. Or do what I did and just cut it from your diet and see if you suddenly feel way better.

 

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Lessons learned from my first fitness competition

Ok as promised, I am doing a post on the more emotional side of the competition experience. I hinted yesterday that I had a couple realizations and I want any of you thinking about competing to understand the ups and downs of the competition. I was going to go into a certain level of detail, but I think it will be better if I just give you a list type dealio…

Things that were awesome:

  • Meeting a tonne of amazing, like-minded people

    Some of the wonderful girls I met

  • “Getting my feet wet” so to speak
  • Knocking this off my life long to-do list (this is something I’ve had in the back of my mind since I was 16)
  • Realizing how much will power I really have
  • Realizing I am really motivated by goals and not just general ideas or wants
  • Mini-dance parties back stage

    Dance parties help calm last minute nerves

  • Eating chocolate and drinking wine in a tiny bikini
  • Having a photo shoot – this was an absolute blast and the few shots I’ve seen I absolutely love, it was playful and enjoyable!

    I love this shot! Healthy Vision Photography did an amazing job!

  • Being in the best shape of my life – by far!
  • Getting to understand just how lucky I am to have my wonderful boyfriend, he was more supportive and helpful than anyone has a right to expect and I cannot possibly thank him enough for all his help and love throughout this process.

    I took this photo for my wonderful boyfriend

  • This is the most important one – well and truly loving the way I look. If you have read The Whole Story you know that I have had a relatively rocky relationship with my body and food in general. I was really worried about going on such a strict diet because I have a tendency to obsess and go way into the realm of crazy. But I didn’t! Yay! I kind of cried a little the morning after the competition when I realized how long I have spent not liking my body and realizing that from day 1 of this process (not just at the end) I have truly loved my body for what it was able to do, how it looked, and what I was doing for it.

Things that were not so awesome:

  • During peak week these things were really not fun:
    • Cutting out fats which made me feel legitimately stupid
    • Cutting out carbs which made me feel sluggish
    • Cutting calories which made me tired
    • Cutting water – just because it sucks
    • Trying to give it my all in workouts when I was experiencing all of the above
  • Being judged solely on my appearance – I realize that this is the WHOLE point of this competition, but I can honestly tell you this hadn’t occurred to me before it was actually happening. It blind-sided me. Please if you are going to do a competition, prepare yourself for this! If is hard to hear that you aren’t good enough based only on your looks even when you volunteer for it.
  • Wearing heels and arching my back all day… my quads were burning from the posing!

    See that arch? It is hard!

  • The rebound from food and water depletion above. I had some really salty foods and a lot of water the next day. It was not even that large a quantity (I mean it was a lot compared to the diet, but not an insane amount) and I actually ended up throwing up! I am 100% convinced this was from the sodium and water imbalances in my system! If I do another competition I will try to remember that and add sodium back in a little slower.

So obviously there are a lot more pros than cons, but that being judged one really threw me for a loop! So please be prepared for that.

On a different note, tonight I made black bean brownies a la Chocolate Covered Katie with the modification of using butter instead of oil, maple syrup as the sweetener and topping it with dark chocolate, white chocolate chips and a sprinkling of coconut. They were delicious AND healthy – gluten-free (if you use GF oats or you can sub for a different GF flour), egg-free, milk-free, and nut-free. Awesome right? They were such a nice texture and a great level of sweetness. Of course the Haagen Dazs I topped it with was less healthy, but shhhhhhh!

I also made monkfish for dinner which is something I will post about tomorrow because I feel like not enough people now what or how amazing monkfish is!

Last thing – I did my first workout after the competition and it was super simple, but awesome! I think I’m going to drop the workouts to 3-4 times per week for the next little while and I will post what I did tomorrow along with the fish stuff k?

Love you guys!

Some shout outs to other awesome blogging fit-chicks:

Check out Jennifer Mota’s blog about her first competition experience at UFE Halloween mayhem too!

Along with Primal Competitor who actually placed 3rd, because she rocks, in her first ever bikini competition with the NPC and is moving up to the regional level… woot woot!

And just for good measure, also check out Lisa at Figure 911 who is far more experienced but no less amazing and has her last competition of the season coming up… good luck girl!

Macronutrients… what?

 After a successful fast yesterday and a 5 pound drop between Monday morning and Tuesday morning (that will be mostly water weight with maybe .5 lbs of fat) I am back on plan and feeling pretty motivated. I had decided to cut my carb intake for the next 2 days and do a carb refeed on the 3rd, then cycle my carbs like this for 2 weeks while maintaining my calories at a relatively high level. All this sounding complicated yet? As I’m thinking about doing this it occurred to me that all of this information will be useless to most people because most people barely understand what macronutrients are and what their purpose is in the body.The example I usually use with people is that of building a house: Protein = bricks, carbohydrates = the workers, fats = mortar (most of the time, but I’ll get into that later). This forum gives a pretty good explanation.

Carbohydrates

Your body’s preference is to use carbohydrate for energy (the workers). Carbs provide 4 calories per gram and are converted into energy easily by your body. There are fast acting carbs (sugars and fruits) and slow acting carbs (Whole grains, vegetables, roots and nuts) and these can both be used depending on the type of energy your body needs. Before a run you can eat a piece of fruit for immediate energy and have a sweet potato for long lasting energy. A measure of how fast a carb is absorbed is the glycemic index with can be looked up for all sorts of foods here.

Carbs also create an insulin response based on the glycemic index as well as the glycemic load (the total amount of carbs). Insulin has a large impact on how your body burns fat and processes carbs and fats, but is a very complex topic that is best addressed on its own. If you want to learn more go here.

Protein

Proteins are made up of different amino acids which play different roles in your body. Protein is present in many vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes in small amounts, but larger amounts and complete proteins (with all amino acids present) can be found in meat, eggs and dairy products. Our body is better able to use protein from animal sources but a healthy diet can be created with care using only plant sources (I’ll emphasize that this is HARD TO DO!)

Proteins are used to build muscle and lean tissue in your body, repair organs and can be used for energy, but that is not the bodies preference and it requires more conversions that carbs and can be hard on the liver and kidneys if this is the only source of energy. Proteins also provide 4 calories per gram.

Fats

There are different types of fats, mainly; saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. There are also cholesterols and trans fats which have a pretty bad rap. Fats unlike protein and carbs provide 9 calories per gram and are therefore more energy dense. Fats are the main source of fuel for your brain and very low fat diets will decrease mental acuity and make you feel “foggy”. Certain vitamins are also only soluble in fat and foods are generally processed more effectively in the presence of fat. Fat promotes satiety (feelings of fullness) and adds flavour to your food.

There is a lot of talk about “good fats’ v. “bad fats” and in general people would classify saturated, trans and cholesterol in the bad camp and poly and mono-unsaturated fats in the good camps with omega 3’s and CLA being the starts of the show. CLA and Omega 3’s are also present in saturated fats (fats from animals or coconuts and some other plants) if they are good quality (i.e. pasture raised meats).

So that your house of macronutrients with protein as the building blocks for your lean tissues, carbs providing the energy to keep going and rebuilding as things are broken down and fats holding it together by allowing things to be processed and when necessary providing the energy if carbs aren’t available.

 So what do you do with this information now?A good place to start a diet is

  • Protein – at least .7 grams of protein per pound of body weight and higher if you are training (I typically eat 1 gram per pound of body weight)
  • Fats – at least .4 grams per pound of lean body weight (think of what you should weigh here and use that as a guide if you are overweight) and no more than 1 gram per pound 
  • Carbohydrates – Carbs basically make up the remaining calories (calories are a whole different part of the equation which I’ll cover another time)… if you are trying to gain weight then add carbs, if you are trying to lose weight, decrease carbs with a minimum of 1 g per pound of bodyweight in the long term if you are active, lower than that and you’ll have some nasty side effects like grouchiness and bad breath, not to mention possible liver and kidney damage if you are replacing it with saturated fats.

All of these amounts can be manipulated in the short term and all of these are based on averages. So if you don’t get enough protein one day then just eat more the next… it’s ok to do that! A good place to read more is Bodybuilding.com in this forum which also discusses calories and how to determine an appropriate calorie range.

You might have heard a lot of talk about percentages and ratios of carbs: protein: fats but I like to work in grams because when you change your calories, your macro requirements don’t actually change. But if you are staying in the same calorie range then percentages work fine (i.e. the Zone diet is 40:40:30).

So what the heck am I doing?

Well I weigh 140 lbs right now (yes I am posting my weight online) and about 115 lbs of that is lean mass (not fat). So by the calculations above I should be at:

 Protein – 1 gram * 140 lbs = 140 gram/day (at least)

  • Fats – .4 grams * 115 lbs = 46 grams/day min – 115 grams/day max.
  • Carbs – 1 grams * 140 lbs = 140 grams/day (this is the normal minimum given for people who are exercising, but can be lower without damaging muscle as discussed here, though he doesn’t list his sources, his information is reasonable accurate)

However… I am cycling my carbs right now… I do 2 days low carb (between 60-80 grams) and 1 day high carbs (more than 250 grams). Here is what my low carb vs high carb day percentages are:

Low Carb

High Carb-refeed

Remember I talked about averages? Well (250+60+80)/3 days = 130 grams/day which is just shy of my minimum and at my minimum if I calculate at my ideal bodyweight of 130 lbs. This method keeps my body guessing and forces it to use my own body fat for fuel on the low carb days and then on the high carb day I “refeed” my muscles and replenish their glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate energy) so that I don’t start using my muscle protein for energy. It’s an interesting system and requires some food tracking and dedication, but I am excited to see how it works 🙂 I’ll keep you posted. If anyone has questions about macronutrients let me know!

The quest for delicious gluten free bread

Gluten intolerances have recently come to the forefront of society’s collective psyche, and a lot of companies have kindly responded by making gluten-free products. A lot of people are going gluten-free regardless of whether they are gluten intolerant or not, thinking that this is the new miracle diet and they will magically lose weight by doing this (can you tell by my language use that this is not what will happen?). This phenomenon was probably helped a lot by Oprah’s shining endorsement of gluten-free diets.

Let me explain, going gluten-free without using gluten-free substitutions will probably aid in weight loss because most foods that are bad for you contain gluten (think breads, pastries, cakes etc.), so you eliminate those and your diet will probably improve a lot. However, with the popularity of gluten-free diets there are now plenty of gluten-free substitutes for all those treats. Gluten free treats are still TREATS! They are still bad for you and a lot of them are worse because gluten-free flours tend to be more calorie dense than wheat flour.

Ok, so now we know that going gluten-free will not miraculously make you drop those last 10 pounds. Gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease  are a real problem for many people, going on a clean diet will naturally eliminate a lot of the gluten in your diet, but one thing that is still a pretty big staple in even a fit person’s life is nutritionally sound bread. It’s convenient for breakfasts and lunches, and a good quick way to prepare some healthy eats. But have you ever tried gluten-free bread? Yuck! Most of them are super dry with little to no flavour, and what’s worse is that they are these tiny slices and pack almost twice the calories of regular bread!

I have been avoiding gluten for a little under a year (not entirely) and have notices a dramatic decline in the amount of times I get sick and have tummy issues. When I do cave and eat gluten for more than one meal I have horrible stomach pains and frequently notice a cold a few days later. Until yesterday I just avoided eating bread unless I had to because the idea of gluten-free bread was so unappetizing, but my lovely mother went to the Pusateri’s around the corner from my house and picked up this: So far the best gluten free bread I have tried.

While the slices are still smaller than regular bread it’s only 120 calories for 2 slices and wonder of all wonders… it actually tastes good! Now I am not going to tell you it tastes like regular bread, because it doesn’t, but it does actually have a nice flavour, is moist and holds together well. Well done Yoshi’s Sweets! I will definitely be trying some different flavours in the near future. I think the breakfast loaf (see the link to their website above… Yoshi’s Sweet’s) will be next of the list.