My new dietary (life) approach

My new dietary (life) approach

My husband has started a blog about my foray into a plant-based diet and how it has affected him. It’s a funny outlook from someone who has been raised to feel that meat is the ultimate food. With my new dietary outlook, he has also taken an interest in different nutrition plans. He came home yesterday laughing about the Paleo Zone diet. You know, just like how our caveman ancestors balanced their macronutrient intake to be a perfect 30/30/40 ratio in the Paleolithic era. Of course, being a Crossfitter and having lots of Crossfitter friends who are doing either Paleo or Paleo Zone, I didn’t think much of it. You know, Zone crossed with Paleo makes Paleo Zone. It was hilarious to me to see it from the eyes of my bag of bagels for lunch husband.

I took Ama to the doctor yesterday for her routine check-up. The doctor asked about food, and I said she eats well but that I supplement with DHA and Vitamin D just to be sure. He noted that as long as she eats lots of leafy greens and nuts, she should be fine for even calcium, iron, calories and healthy fats. He had just read a study where “vegan” kids only required B12 supplementation, and were found to be much healthier than their “non-vegan” counterparts… with larger head circumferences. He reiterated what a vegan was several times. I told him I was on a plant-based diet so I knew the term. I don’t use it though. I am not a vegan. It’s too strong a term for me. It’s a term that invited scrutiny of everything you are eating and everything you are not eating.

I started swinging toward a plant-based diet after sitting in on a session at the Canfitpro Vancouver conference. It was a lecture promoting raw food veganism and I left inspired to give it a go. Not because the presenter, Scott Josephson, was well informed and infectiously passionate about eating raw food. Which he was. He left an important message with me: that it isn’t about diving into a new lifestyle to fit the mold even if that mold doesn’t fit you, it’s about making a healthier you.

He pointed out that you don’t have to eat only raw foods, and that you don’t have to eat only vegan foods. You can just eat more of these foods. And in eating less of these foods, you make a huge impact on the lives of animals, the environment and yourself. I didn’t have to stop eating honey sourced from the interior. I didn’t have to stop wearing silk or throw out all the stuff in my kitchen that had animal derivatives. In fact, he suggested going in slowly. It’s about making positive lifestyle changes that work for you, feeling their wonderful effects, and naturally doing more.

I have started sprouting, dehydrator cooking, making my own coconut yogurt and mostly eliminated animal products in favour of vegetable foods. I feel good. Food digests well, I never feel overly full but always satisfied. I feel like I am making a positive contribution to the world of food choices. Without buying expensive organic grass fed beef, I can buy a lot more non-GMO organic vegetables.

But the take home, is that that’s what feels good to me. It’s all about what feels good to you. Label or no label.

Sense of Self

Sense of Self

I admit it. Sometimes I feel guilty. Amelita is in swimming lessons. She does ballet. We paint and read and do puzzles together at home… most days. I have friends that cart their baby/toddler/child from activity to activity. A seemingly endless stream of fun and learning. I am not that mom. And Ama is not that kid. I drag Ama around from the gym to work to the grocery store and back to work. They have a rule at the Strong Start program that kids can only attend three times a week. Three times a week! I’m lucky to attend three times a month. So yeah, it does make me feel a twinge of guilt when I see Facebook picture after twitter feed of a flurry of child-centric activity. A twinge of maybe I should drop everything and put myself aside. A twinge of wondering if I have been selfish in my fitness/motherhood pursuit. Maybe you can’t have it all.

Then I realize that I am the best thing that I could give my daughter. That my lifestyle is what is best for her.

I think that’s an important piece to parenting. I know countless parents who have eschewed everything they loved in sacrifice for their children. I know passionate pianists that have become passionate parents of pianists. And I can’t understand why they wouldn’t demonstrate and model their passion instead of attempt to wrestle their children into it. I know people that have given up all forms of physical activity to shuttle their kids around to their physical activities.

Ama joins in on my Crossfit classes, runs with me in the stroller and jumps on me as I stretch. I love seeing her doing burpees or pull-ups or teaching me a running drill. Best of all, since these are things that I know and am passionate about, I get to teach her. Too often we contract out learning opportunities because we take our skills and interests for granted.

Ama spends more time running in the stroller than most kids. Hands down. But it’s not time wasted. We sing, talk and tell stories (it helps the mileage click off faster for me too). And when I am not running, she’s not I the stroller. She walks to the store, to the park, up the mountain. Kids love to copy and they need mentors for that. Who could be a better mentor than a happy mommy doing what she loves?

OF course, there has to be a sense of balance. I feel at my optimal happiness when everything has a space in my life. When my house is clean enough, we have enough nutritious food in the fridge, enough playdates in the calendar and enough muscles both our bodies.

Women’s running in Canada

Women's Running in Canada

Krista Duchene is in many ways your typical busy mom of 3. Typical, in that she does all the stuff someone with a 6, 4 and 1 year-old typically does. Untypical, because she is also at the top of the Canadian marathon scene. While most of us struggle to get dinner on the table, keep the kids happy, and get out for a 5k, Krista manages a grueling training regime on top of it all. She also works as a dietician.

Canada has a poor record for supporting marathon runners at Krista’s level. The IAAF marathon standard is 2:37, but Canada’s standard is a much tougher 2:29:55. Duchene ran 2:32:06 in Rotterdam and appealed to Athletics Canada for a two minute grace period. They denied her. Of course, going to the Olympics doesn’t provide athletes with direct financial incentives, but it does open sponsorship doors and gives athletes experience on the world stage. In most events there is what is called a “rising star” exemption for athletes that come near the standard. Since marathon runners often come from shorter distance events; however, it does not apply. No woman in Canada has ever made our Olympic standard. Ever. It seems to me that’s a good reason to look at how we’re doing things.

The men’s Olympic marathon is only recently getting better. This year we filled all three spots on the team. Dylan Wykes was selected after running the same marathon that Duchene ran in, 7 days before the end of the qualifying period. We have not sent a man to the Olympic marathon for 12 years. It’s no wonder that on now do we send 3 strong runners in, on the cusp of breaking Jerome Draydon’s long standing Canadian record.

Compare the life of a working mother of 3 grinding out hard training on her own with that of the great Paula Radcliffe who has a nanny and a stay at home husband. And it’s still hard. It’s no wonder we can’t make our own seemingly unachievable standard. The difference in earnings for an average NHL player and an average pro marathoner is atrocious. For them, that doesn’t bode well to having a normal life, or a family. For us, that doesn’t bode well to having marathon runners go to the Olympics… particularly females.

Some finger that lack of good coaches and good female role models in the marathon in Canada. Fair enough. Though wouldn’t having some females representing the marathon at the Olympics have really sparked it up?

Crossfit Moms

Crossfit Moms

I tried the stroller class thing. The session was mostly walking or walking intensity effort with exercises woven in. I tried the stroller bootcamp thing. Better, but as Goldie Locks, I would have hit my second too small chair. As a runner, I am certainly not the epitome of well rounded fitness but do like to finish my workout feeling like I have really “worked out.” Not saying there is no a real need for low intensity postpartum exercise classes, but there is also a need for the high intensity type. To each their own I say.

I joined a friend at Crossfit Moms last year. I had reached the end of my doctor recommended personal trainer journey as my daughter was unable to go the gym with me and I could not afford babysitting on top of the training cost. Plus, I loved the idea of her coming along and engaging in the class. Which she loved too. Especially burpees. All kids love burpees.

It’s also great to have an awesome and supportive group of Crossfit Westside moms who also like to push their fitness, whatever that level might be. Some moms can rock the weights, some can out-kick in the runs, some have a broad base. It doesn’t matter though. We’re all there, after childbirth, as sleep deprived mothers, giving it what we got. Plus we can talk about engorgement and picky eaters and poop in class and get a warm reception. Our instructor, Tauyna, is also incredibly motivating. She herself is a rockstar Crossfit athlete, but transforms to a humble cheerleader coach, always pushing us encouragingly to where she knows we can go.

Over time I have really seen the progress. Functional movements marrying fitness and challenge is where I like to be.

As mentioned in previous blogs, I have a pretty severe set of physical restrictions that are hugely mitigated by fitness. Such as: two missing muscles (brachialis & anconeus) and radial nerve damage in one arm. This causes a comedic inability to control acceleration and deceleration in olympic lifting. I am sure I look like Mr Bean meets “my mom” lifting. I get over that though. Even though progress is too slow to see, you know it’s happening. And one of the best parts about Crossfit is that you can measure it. My elbow would at one point release on me every time I tried to do a chinup or pushup. Now I can crack out a few with no disengagement. Not bad.

It’s really not for every one though. Especially not the faint of heart or de-conditioned. DIzzy, red-faced ladies about to loose their breakfast decide this bowl of oatmeal is simply too hot for their tastes. Which is just why we need classes like Crossfit Moms. To each their own.

Chicked, chicking, chick.

This morning, I toed up toward the line of the 5k Resolution Run, leaving one row of runners between me and the start line. One row of male runners. As I judged whether I should press into the very front, I got some “don’t be getting in the way now” glances. Every runner knows this seeding game. At the 8k in Victoria, I played elbow leap frog with a guy sized and dressed like Rocky (who clearly won). As soon as the crowd opened, I never saw him again. This time, I stayed back… and as the gun went off, the pace didn’t, so I hopped into the grass and passed. 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd. 1st was a slender youth Japanese man in sleek kit. As I passed his head spun around at me in horror. This was not a guy to be chicked. Apparently my appearance caused some ferocious internal combustion type reaction. He took off effortlessly and instantaneously at a 5 minute-mile pace. To which I did not follow. No matter, the fear of woman was in his heart. He opened up the gap further and further. 100m, 200m, 400m. Every 50m, shoulder checking to make sure that I did not go with him. I couldn’t run that fast for 100m, forget 5,000m. As he got smaller and smaller in the distance, I could still see his now tiny head whip around from time to time. Was it something I said?

The Urban Dictionary defines “chicking” as “when a woman outperforms a man in a physical activity such as hiking, biking, or skiing, where a man should normally outperform a woman.” It’s common in running and cycling too. Pam Reed chicked every man in the prestigious Bad Water two years in a row (2002 & 2003). We running mamas all know the sweet silent mini-victory of the stroller-chick. I was once refused entry to a race with my stroller not for insurance issues, but to protect the fragile egos of men running for their PBs. The race director worried: How is one to feel about hitting their goal time – but being passed by a stroller, being pushed by a lady, in a skort? Oh the horror. At the end of one of my better races (with my daughter in tow), the man behind me exclaimed at the finish, “I just got beat. By a lady. Who just had a baby. Who was pushing that baby in a stroller.” He seemed genuinely as happy about my stroller-chicking as I did, even though he got chicked.

We know we shouldn’t be so competitive. But… It’s only really chicking if it bugs the guy you’re passing. Otherwise, it’s just a pass. And if it bugs him… Well… Maybe that’s the game?

What do you think? Is chicking an offensive term that perpetuates inequality in sport? Or a little harmless fun between genders competing on the same level? Do you even notice when you pass a guy in a race or when a woman passes you? How about if it’s your spouse?

Unusual tips to take the stress out of the holidays

Holiday Tips

The holiday season doesn’t have to be stressful; in fact, it shouldn’t. Follow these tips to find more enjoyment, and less stress, in your season.

1. Do your shopping and wrapping early. Make sure each gift is tagged and organized according to where and when the gift will be given. The earlier the better – but if you don’t have it done yet, aim to have it done for Friday.

2. Spend one day super cleaning your house and decorating, and another super undoing and cleaning. Make sure to schedule it in ink and have fun. The decoration day is easy to make festive. The take down day requires work… pizza and movie night to cap it off? Make space for new stuff?

3. Think easy and healthy entertaining. Whole grain crackers and hummus for an appetizer, a lightly dressed bagged spinach salad, a one dish meal with lean meat and veggies baked in the oven or slow cooker, and a healthy dessert do the trick just fine. Try not to cut corners by purchasing dessert. They are normally laden with heart destroying fat and sugar. A fruit crumble is so easy and you can cut the sugar way back and use a healthy oil. You can even make some ahead and freeze them.

4. Do not offer to bring something to every party. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy!

5. Don’t over indulge. The holidays cover a very large span of time and if you do, you will likely end up feeling heavy, sluggish and without the energy you need to enjoy them. There is no such thing as over-enjoying. A big piece of cake is no more tasty than a sliver, but it will make you feel terrible. No enjoyment there.

6. Make time for your fitness! Now is not normally the time for big goals but make at least one SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) to keep you going. You can probably find a Christmas or New Year’s Day 5k in your area. These events work well since running is often the easiest way to maintain your fitness when you have no time for the gym. Experienced runners can also focus in on their speed and keep their calorie burn and fitness up with shorter, faster, interval based workouts when they can’t do the big mileage.

7. Every outing doesn’t have to be food related. Make plans with friends and family to do a Christmas-light tour or go tobogganing. The fresh air, fun and exercise might make for long lasting memories and give you a chance to escape the holiday stresses.

Baby Doping

I for one can testify that women, OK I, possess inhuman strength postnatally. I ended up gaining 35 pounds and ending my pregnancy putting shame to the term “runner” with my best waddley rendition of what I thought running looked like. I stopped at every port potty, gas station and tree to relieve my aching bladder and the rest of the time bounced around trying to ignore it’s crampy plight. The day Ama came was the first of our Sun Run training clinic. That would have been fine if I was participating, but I was coordinating. How could I miss the first run?

So when my water broke in the car on route, I knew it was going to be an interesting morning. After setting up, I slipped into the vacant stairwell to phone and ask the on-call obstetrician if he thought it would be OK that I go for a run. An old crankity fellow, his answer was as disbelieving as it was direct. “No. No, I don’t think it would be OK.” I went into the delivery room in taxed spandex and a pair of now-one-size-too-small New Balance 890s.

Post-baby I felt like I was dragging a tent trailer everywhere I went. But I kept going. I had a great running group who motivated me and supported me through all those breast-feeding walks and blanket shuffles. Plus, I always had to catch up. So as my fitness came back, it just kept climbing. I ran the Sun Run 3 months postpartum and made the top 100 list. I made attempts at training all summer, never surpassing the 3 hour mark for a long run and only on one occasion surpassing two hours. In 2006 I was in a serious accident that left me on a train of injury after injury. Maybe the imposed low mileage helped keep the injuries at bay. I ran a sub-90 half, and to my surprise, and the surprise of my coach at the time, a 3:09 full. The last 3/4’s was painful – but I kept some sort of pace up.

Many athletes have experienced similar situations. Colleen De Reuck set the world record in the 10-mile postpartum. Magdalena Lewy Boulet dropped her 10k time from 32:40 to 31:28, her half from 1:15 to 1:11 and her full from 2:30 to 2:26 post-baby. Catriona Matthew, a Scottish golfer, won the British Scottish Women’s Only 10 weeks after delivering. Kara Goucher PR’d and came 5th in the Boston five-months postpartum. Shayne Culpepper dropped her 1,500m from 4:08 to 4:05, her 3,000m from 9:17 to 8:54 and her 5k from 15:31 to 15:01 after having a baby. Sara Vaughn took her mile time from 4:58 to 4:11. Derartu Tulu dropped her 5k from 14:50 to 14:44, her 10k from 31:08 to 30:17 and her marathon from 2:30 to 2:23 after child birth. Ingrid Kristiansen won the Houston marathon 5 months after delivery. Of course, famously, Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in the Olympic 5,000m 14 months postpartum.

Of course, there are other unfavourable examples. Paula Radcliffe may have won the NYC marathon nine months after having a baby, but she hasn’t come within her twice bettered world record since child birth.

In fact, there is even a rumour that was humoured during the 1984 International Olympic Committee meeting about Abortion Doping. Apparently there had been some talk of known Eastern European athletes getting pregnant and timing abortions at three months gestation and close to a major competition to gain the positive cardiovascular effects of pregnancy and subsequent performance increases. There is at least one official report of a Swiss doctor being involved. The whole abortion doping story may have evolved from forced abortions in Eastern European athletes that became pregnant due to fears about the birth outcomes of babies whose mothers were on steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Perhaps even the concern of babies born to mothers who exercised at a high level alone was enough to fuel fear about fetal outcome. Remember, this was a time when female exertion was still thought to be dangerous, forget the effects on a developing fetus. In fact, there were no women’s distance running events in the Olympics prior to the 1980s. However, the potential physiological boosts from pregnancy have been widely acknowledged and the theory that an athlete might “abortion dope” to gain a performance advantage is plausible.

Thank goodness there have been no rumours of the occurrence as of late. But it does shed a light on an interesting question, “Does having a baby make you weaker? Or stronger?”

Of course, there is a plethora of additional reasons beyond the physiological changes of pregnancy. Women may have a raised pain threshold and fearlessness after going through labour. They may find more balance in their life and ascribe less importance to the outcome of races. They may be happier. They may use their training time more efficiently. They may simply be tougher. We always consider relaxin’s* role in decreasing joint stability, but it may also increase mobility and tissue suppleness.

On the flip side though, if women are not taking care of themselves postnatally they put themselves at increased risk of musculoskeletal injury. If they do not take in enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients, they risk depleting their bones. The relaxin puts them at increased risk of soft tissue injury. Extreme fatigue and inattentiveness compounds these risks.

I personally belief that this superwoman lift in performance is a throw-back from when we had to keep up with the tribe. It just makes sense that women would get an edge to help them carry along the tribe’s newest and most critical members. So, postpartum mamas, what’s your take? Has anyone seen a major difference in their abilities postpartum for better or for worse?

*Relaxin is a hormone that is present in high levels prenatally that “relaxes” ligaments to allow the pelvis to expand and open up the birthing path. It continues to be present in the body until 6 months, and even up to a year postpartum. It has a global softening effect on all body tissues.

Mommy Tummy

mommy tummy

Despite being very into fitness and – at one point in my life, nearly obsessed with Pilates, I have never really loved my tummy. It has never been as cut as I wanted it or as flat. I have never had a six pack. Or a four. Or even a two. But since I became pregnant with Ama, I have seen a whole other side of my midsection. Sure it isn’t aesthetically perfect postpartum, but as I age, I have come to realize there is so much more to everything – even tummies – than good looks. My tummy grew and housed the most amazing create in this world. It went from fitting into size 2 pants to ballooning up to fit an entire fully developed human-being in nine months. Then, somehow, it shrank back down to (almost) it’s pre-baby size. It’s not just my tummy either. Every mommy’s tummy whether they had a c-section, twins, a premie, a boy, a girl… they all did it. And you hear people complaining about loosing the last few inches off a tummy that did all that? Or whining about stretch marks? Of course, it’s all about that wondrous tummy until the baby comes out of it. And then it’s “forget you” you deflated balloon of a thing. I say it’s time to pull out the bikinis and bra tops postpartum (OK maybe wait a few months until post involution) and love your tummy. It may not be the tummy you had before you had your baby, but who would want it to be? It’s been through a lot. I for one want my daughter growing up embracing all shapes, sizes and types of healthy tummies… especially the ones that were able to grow babies. You may find yourself envying a six pack once in a while, but really, what has that tummy done? Some sit-ups? Cover shoots? Big deal.

The last time I took my daughter to a museum, there was an exhibit on natives. She couldn’t help but draw the comparison between me and some braless Amazonian woman. I used to think the saggy boobs were from the bralessness. Turns out after wearing unforgiving sports bras my whole life and then having a baby… I now realize that it’s the baby, not the lack of breast support. Initially it gave me a good chuckle that she compared me to said archetype of forest dwelling lady, instead of say, Milla Jovovich. But as I thought about it, I really appreciated the comparison. Looking like a photoshopped super model isn’t possible – so why should it be desirable? Our bodies are made to move, be strong, be powerful. Mothers epitimize that – saggy bobbed super ladies living in the forest and chasing down prey with a baby tied to their back epitimize that. Looking like a mother is about the best compliment you could give. It’s what real strength looks like.

Paula Radcliffe – World Record Holder in the Marathon – and Super Mom

Paula Radcliffe - World Record Holder in the Marathon - and mom

Paula Radcliffe is not your typical mother. She is the fastest female marathon runner in world history. She is also mother to Isla and Raphael. Paula managed to make comebacks after both births with the help of a team of professionals. How does she manage to care for her children? Luckily, she has a team for that too. Headed by a stay-at-home-dad, they often call on nannies and extended family to pitch in. What advice does this superstar mom have for us regular moms? Just that. Build a team of support. Many of us juggle fitness, careers and family. You can’t do that on your own. “Take the support from the people around you, from your husband, from your partner, from your family so that you can get your time for your training. You talk about the sacrifices athletes make, I never really felt like I made a sacrifice for my career until I came away for a month without my kids. That was really hard, but at the same time, it was a huge motivation to make every second of the training count and make it worthwhile, being away.”