Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Swan Dive Down the Rabbit Hole of MTHFR Mutation Discovery and Treatments

It's a really common saying - not just in CrossFit, but in life - "Don't compare yourself to others." It's incredibly sound advice, given the vastly differing histories and context that go into each person's development. Comparing your training to someone else's will rarely leave you feeling more confident about your progress, in large part because it's easier to spot someone else's biggest successes and harder to perceive their struggles, their setbacks, and the other countless inputs that they brought to the table.

However, I'll submit that in certain ways, comparison has helped me to realize that something was not right. In the last six months, I noticed that I had CrossFitting friends ten, twenty years older than me, who were recovering much more quickly from workouts -- despite the fact that I was usually eating a recovery-friendly whole food gluten free diet that strategically stacked my starchy carbohydrates with protein just after workouts.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism last year. While very low carb diets have been tied to thyroid problems in women, I regularly consumed a moderate and activity-appropriate amount of carbohydrates. I couldn't help but wonder if there was more to the picture than just lousy workout recovery and hypothyroidism. My doctor began ordering several labs for me to try and get to the bottom of my condition.

Then, this spring, just before going over the umpteenth lab results set with my doctor, a lightbulb flickered on in my head. I asked my primary care physician, an integrative medicine MD, if she thought it was worth testing me for gene mutations on the allele for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (henceforth MTHFR). The allele critically important because it is the blueprint for MTHFR, an enzyme which adds methyl groups to molecules. The name for this enzyme's methyl group management is called methylation, and methylation is critically important to a panoply of physiological functions, to include: metabolism and energy recruitment, epigenetics (turning genes "on" and "off"), neurological function (in part because of MTHFR's impact on neurotransmitters like serotonin) and neurological development, and susceptibility (including stress-related susceptibility) to intestinal inflammation and permeability, to name just a few. As you might guess, since methylation is so critical to these functions, its impairment is tied to a similarly long list of diseases and conditions.

I had seen chatter about MTHFR on Twitter for the last couple of years, usually in relationship to autoimmune conditions and autism spectrum or other neurological conditions. It had dawned on me, though, that since my youngest daughter is on the autism spectrum, she could be a MTHFR mutation carrier (and as it turns out, MTHFR mutations are found much more frequently in autistic kids)...and therefore as her parent, I was likely the carrier of at least one MTHFR mutation, too.

As it turns out, I'm a type of mutation carrier called compound heterozygous. It signifies that I carry one copy each of two different mutations, also known as polymorphisms. My mutations - A1298C and C677T, can together cause more damage than the sum of their individual impacts. My lab report tells me that, "Individuals who are compound heterozygous for the C677T and A1298C alleles, which produces a C677T/A1298C genotype, have according to some studies 40-50% reduced MTHFR enzyme activity in vitro and a biochemcial profile similar to that seen among C677T homozygotes with increased homocysteine levels and decreased folate levels." In other words, having one of each of those mutations hampers my MTHFR enzyme activity about as much as those with two copies (homozygous) of the most significant MTHFR mutation, C677T.

This lab work suddenly helped so much lock into place. Many of my suspicions finally had basis in reality. No wonder my recoveries were not lining up with my CrossFitting friends'; my genes meant I could possibly be clearing lactic acid from my muscles at roughly half the normal rate. Beside that relatively mundane inconvenience, I now must work with my doctor to measure and address homocysteine levels in my blood and my risk for several MTHFR-mutation-associated diseases - not just by considering targeted supplementation, but also by using a multi-pronged approach that includes my microbiome/gut health, stress, sleep, cortisol levels, and other aspects foundational to my physical and mental heath. Although I doubt the journey through MTHFR mutation management will be linear, I'm looking forward to testing, retesting, and continued coordination with my health care providers to address my body's needs.

Do you have an MTHFR mutation? How did you begin to tackle your body's unique needs?


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Impromptu Interview on CrossFit, In My Dermatologist's Exam Room

This afternoon, I sat on the exam table at my regular skin cancer check, with my new dermatologist. 
She ran her fingertips over my arms and then arrived at the palm of my hands, startled.

"Oh, my! Why do you have such hard callouses on your hands?"

"I'm a weightlifter. I do CrossFit."
"Oh! I have heard of that! I attended a wedding over New Year's where the bride and groom and everyone at the reception were CrossFitters. That's how the bride and groom got together, in fact. What makes it different from any other workout?"

"Well, for me the main difference is the tightly knit community. If you are gone for even a couple of days you start to get messages from your CrossFit friends in your class saying, 'Hey, where are you?'"

"Class, like a time slot? You mean you show up at a specific time for a class? I thought it was just a free for all."

"Well, it might kinda get that way during open gym hours, but almost everybody regularly attends a designated class, like at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock. I have been working out with some of the same people for as long as two or three years in our morning class slot. It's been a very positive experience for me. When I began, I was heading toward 220 lb. and sedentary. I could not climb stairs without getting winded!" 

"You started CrossFit in THAT kind of shape?"

I laugh. 

"It's OK to question my sanity. But I started with baby versions of the stuff I do now and worked my way up over a year, two years."

"People at that wedding were talking to me about it, but I thought it wasn't for someone my age."

"Well, we just celebrated the birthday of our box's oldest lady athlete, who is 60, and our oldest male athlete is 64, if I'm not mistaken."

She paused a moment to appreciate that.

"Where do you go to CrossFit?"

"I go to a box up north by the courthouse. But now there are, like, 5 or 6 boxes just in our immediate area."

"What did you call it? A box? Why a box?"

"We call it a box because the space is mostly empty, and we bring out our weights and organize them when it's time to work out. We do stuff without weights, too, like pushups and pullups."

"What about burpees? I hate burpees. And mountain climbers."

I laugh.

"Well, I hate them, too. And I hate running. But I kind of think of those as the broccoli of my workout."

She laughs.

"Do you run a lot?"

"Not great distances. Usually a quarter or half mile at a time, then we do some other stuff, then we'll run another quarter or half mile."

She returned to the task of my skin exam in earnest, but soon apologized for not properly introducing herself to me as I was a new patient.

"And I have just one more question. Did anybody push you into doing CrossFit, encourage you to do it? Tell you do to it? Or did you decide to do it by yourself?"

"Well, I kind of came into it backwards. I was cleaning up my diet and while I was doing that research online, I kept running into people talking about CrossFit, and I thought to myself, 'Maybe this is exactly what I need to get myself back in shape.'"

"Well, I have to hand it to you, that is really something else."


The above conversation had earlier today has been replicated as best as my memory can serve while composed to still make sense to my readers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Would Women Want to Lift Heavy?

I posted this super-dazzling record-setting deadlift to a CrossFit friend's Facebook timeline. The lady doing the lift in the video - Ms. Kimberly Walford - deadlifted 562 lb. at 152 lb. body weight - just an enormous, almost inconceivable strength to body weight ratio.

My CrossFit friend and I both LOVE to deadlift, so it was a shared moment of geekery. One of her friends asked, in all sincerity, "Why would women want to lift 500 lb.?" I think she was not asking about the figure specifically, but trying to get at the heart of why any woman would pursue or achieve superlative strength.


I have been thinking about her earnest question for a day now. I LOVE the chance to think over these things and for a moment appreciated how an outsider to CrossFit/lifting culture might ask, "Why?" I think it's a GREAT question. I know my parents are sometimes baffled listening to my (CrossFitting/lifting) brother and me as we wax nerdy on lifting personal records or skill achievements.

That said, lifting weights doesn't have to be an endeavor of crazy superlatives. You don't have to strive to hit some deadlift record to appreciate the health and functional benefits that a basic level of strength training provides. Modest resistance training benefits are a huge reason why some people aging into their 70s, 80s, 90s can still be spry and get around as well as they did in their 50s and 60s, while other aging peers lose the ability to bend over, squat, kneel, etc.

Once somebody learns their way around a barbell, though, it's not uncommon for them to get bitten by the bug to improve beyond the basic strength and functional fitness benefits. It's kind of like the difference between having learned how to pull together a basic meal that keeps you going (bologna sandwich on whole grain bread with carrot sticks) that will fill you up, and then wanting to learn how to prepare a meal with finesse (caramelizing onions to top stuffed pork chops next to a side of braised asparagus)'s a difference between achieving functionality (the end is met in the weightlifting making daily life easier) and mastery (in which the pursuit of mastery is often a joy, too).

Why would somebody want to lift 500 lb.? A lifting record that big goes way beyond making grocery shopping, toddler-wrangling, piano-moving, and other basics of life easier. It's a fire-in-the-belly passion thing -- the same fire that drives some people to paint unspeakably beautiful works of art, or to break records for high jumping, or to master playing a piano other words, such achievements are not required for life, but watching someone pull it off is something of a work of art and peak physicality, just one more way that humans can far exceed limits not because they need to, but because they willed themselves to dazzling lengths. It's not just achieving mastery, *but also* the pursuit of mastery that humans experience as a pleasure in and of itself.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Constructing Real Plans To Avoid Excuses - Contingency Plan Edition

Welcome to 2015, folks.

I think it's completely normal to start the year with idealistic statements about how you will do better. You could set specific goals about your new daily routine, even.

How many of us have been there?

"I'm totally eating a salad every day for lunch."

"I'm going to work out 5 days a week."

"I'm going to drink 100 ounces of water each day." cetera. I've definitely been in that planning zone many times over the years. Everything sounds so synergistic and awesome and foolproof. How hard can that daily workout and salad be? Some of us (me included, at least 7 times in the last 3 years) join our local gym's nutrition challenges in a bid for added accountability.

Where the hitch comes in: not having plan B. Sometimes, also for not having plan C, D, and E.

85 lb. thrusters at the Thanksgiving WOD.
So, while managing food choices
on days like these still takes effort,
thanks to CrossFit's "holiday workout"
culture, there's almost always a way to
break a sweat, even on holidays.

The last 6 weeks of the year are pretty easy for me to spot some chances for hiccups. We have TWO family birthdays during December, and with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I have learned to compensate for these pretty well - sometimes "going for it" in certain rare "this is living" moments, and more often choosing alternatives or abstaining when the treats on offer are not quite so worthwhile. It's pretty easy to let roughly 4 weeks each with a single day of feasting opportunities bleed into 4 straight weeks of feasting.

Your resolution progress is less likely to die because of your salad habit or workout habit goals per se; your resolution progress is more likely to meet an untimely end because of not planning for habit-wrecking contingency moments.

Contingency moments. Those are the moments that manage to catch you in a whirlwind of hunger, fatigue, emotion, social niceties, and whatever else might pitch in to weaken your resolve.

This moment could look different for a lot of people. For me, it could be coming home after an emotionally intense Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting discussing my 5 year old daughter's needs at school. It could be getting 5 hours of bad sleep (many reasons why this might happen) instead of 8+ hours of quality sleep. It could be getting sidelined from a planned workout by a wonky shoulder that deserves to be rested.

For others, that contingency moment could come in the form of an adorable Girl Scout at one's doorstep selling cookies. (In my state, the cookie sales start in less than a month!) It could be a relative's birthday party. It could be school being cancelled because of weather - and a mom stuck home with kiddoes instead of making her midmorning gym run. It could be an unexpected day out or trip somewhere, and finding oneself confronted with delicious-looking local specialties.

There are contingency moments that you can  anticipate and plan - and contingency moments that will arise without warning.

The key to your success in making progress toward your eating and exercise goals is to be as prepared as possible for ALL contingencies.

I can hear the protests from the other side of the interwebz now.

"But how could I possibly be prepared for ALL contingencies? That's crazy talk! I'm not clairvoyant!"

The habit-wrecking moments will come whether you are prepared or not. Wouldn't you rather be somewhat ready for them when they do arrive? That way, if you find yourself with several weeks of contingency moments, you can face them confidently instead of losing ground on your new goals and habits.

First, talk yourself through the next 3 to 4 months of knowns. Once you've identified a "known contingency moment", you can develop workarounds and strategies to keep known contingencies from defeating your progress.

In my case, I know that the coming month will bring Girl Scouts through our neighborhoods and to the entryways of many local stores. Other sample "knowns":

  • Annual cultural chocolatefests. You know that Valentine's Day (February 14) and Easter (Sunday, April 5) are coming, and that means being surrounded in stores and during social occasions by chocortunities (aka opportunities to snarf down loads of chocolate).
    • Holiday Strategy: Know Treats Are Always There. Read Dallas and Melissa Hartwig's classic post, "Halloween Candy is Not Special." Remind yourself that you are a grown adult, and that most of the chocolate sold and served for these holidays is available year round.
    • Holiday Strategy: Limited Mindful Indulgence. Decide for yourself if there is any single seasonally-limited treat that really makes life worth living for these holidays. Many people could go a lifetime without a marshmallow peep or creme egg, but for others, the idea of sitting down with a single creme egg in a quiet, appreciative moment, may be enough. Only you can decide whether you would be served by this moment of indulgence long term.
    • Holiday Strategy: Request Supportive Gifts. Be deliberate and directly ask your main squeeze for a Valentine's treat or gift that doesn't wreck your progress. Instead of a giant box of chocolates, it could be a trip to the movies, a new jump rope or abmat, some high quality jerky, or some ultra high cacao content dark chocolate.
  • The Birthday Celebration. You know that you have X birthdays that will be celebrated with friends and family in that time frame.
    • Birthday Celebration Strategy: Healthier Options with Possible Mindful Indulgence. If you are helming one of these celebrations (that is, you are the parent of a child having a birthday), you can do a pretty sweet job of setting up a birthday party featuring reasonable choices. Deli meats, grapes, cheeses, veggie trays, and hummus with gluten free chips are all readily gobbled up by kid and adult partygoers alike, in my experience. Plan for yourself ahead of time whether and how much you would indulge in your kiddo's birthday cake, doing it with your long term goals factored into the analysis. I have done it many ways over the years (abstaining altogether or having just one piece of cake). Have an "escape hatch" plan for your remaining cake so that you don't have it calling your name in your kitchen for days afterwards. I have often sent leftover treats with my husband to work, as one example.
    • Birthday Celebration Strategy: Moderation or Abstention. If it is a birthday of someone a little less close, in many cases you can probably politely abstain from treats with little trouble. You could plan to prepare yourself by eating some healthy fats, protein, and veggies before attending the celebration.
  • The Field Trip. You know that your child has a field trip coming up that you'd love to chaperone, and that doing so will mean that your workout and healthy eating routine could be interrupted.
    • Field Trip Strategy: Plan a short at-home mini workout to do early in the morning before you leave to join your child's trip at school.
    • Field Trip Strategy: Plan your workout for that day on another day when you'd typically rest instead.
    • Field Trip Strategy: Depending on what the field trip logistics allow, think about packing your own lunch or snacks with sensible eating options like jerky, baby carrots, macadamia nuts, etc.
Above you've seen how to strategize for some known contingency moments. Now to think about somewhat known contingency moments. What do I mean by these? I mean moments whose timing you can't know until they happen, but whose likelihood of occurrence is high.

  • You know that odds are good, based on the last couple of school years, that your child(ren) will miss at least a few days of school owing to weather conditions. If you do not plan for this inevitability, when you are snowed in with nothing but leftover Valentine's chocolate and several unwatched seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, you could be setting yourself up for a setback.
    • Snow Day Strategy: Research Home Workouts. Search online for workouts that fit your home circumstances. Some people are equipped with complete home gyms, while at the other end of the spectrum others have their bodyweight only at their disposal. Workouts exist for all possibilities - for example, Dai Manuel's blog post featuring 92 bodyweight only workouts. The workouts do not have to be extreme or long - even if you are breaking a sweat for 10 or 15 minutes each day you are snowed in, that is a better way to stay on track than not working out at all!
    • Snow Day Strategy: Find a Friend. If you have fitness minded friends within a short distance (ideally walking distance if roads are impassible), invite them over on a snow day to do a workout with you. It's amazing how much more motivated you'll feel if someone else is "suffering" the same way...and you'll both feel way better afterwards, when the endorphins have kicked in. Alternatively, you and the same friend could both shovel each other's driveways for an all-too-practical "partner workout".
    • Snow Day Strategy: Keep your fridge and pantry well-stocked. Nonperishable options that will keep you from wrecking your food intake. Keep the fridge and freezer stocked with eggs, poultry, beef, and fish. In the pantry, emphasize high protein options like jerkies, packets of nut butters, and low-junk protein powders. Veggie-wise, canned vegetables and vegetable purees (think pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato) will come in handy to help make appetizing soups you can stir on the stove while watching the flakes fly outside.
Finally, there is the example of the contingency moment you can't possibly anticipate. The "unknown unknowns", if I want to verge on meta. You can't plan specifically for these moments but you can do your best to stay equipped. I'm not exactly advocating building a giant back yard underground bunker of whole foods, but it can help to give yourself a little bit of backup in places you are most likely to run into "unknown contingency moments".

  • Prepare yourself for unforeseen hanger and cravings. We are talking about that unpredictable moment you realize you would shake down strangers in the street if you thought they had brownies on their persons. Moments when your breakfast caught on fire or got accidentally eaten by your spouse and you're getting ready to go volunteer at your child's school for the entire morning.
    • Travel and Traffic Strategy: Stock Your Car. This is a pretty great time of year for car stockage because the cold weather means much lower chances of anything going badly in your glove compartment. Jerky, nuts, and other higher-protein options are great to include. If you think there's too much of a chance of you casually eating your emergency stash in non-emergency moments by keeping it near the driver's seat, you can always pack the snacks in a bag and throw the bag in your trunk.
    • Daily Life Cravings Management Strategy: Stock Your Purse or Laptop Bag. A Tanka bar or other whole food option in your purse or work bag might be the one thing that stands between you and that delicious-smelling fast food option on the way home, especially if you're trying to break old habits. The purse/computer bag standby is also great for meeting breaks at work, especially if you work in an office whose break room is always replete with doughnuts, candy, and/or pizza. Even a simple stash of something such as a can of tuna (with a pop-open tab) and an apple can work. When, for example, you've been unexpectedly trapped in an epic meeting for the last 3 hours, don't have time to hit your usual salad-selling locale, and will be stuck at your desk for the rest of the day, you'll thank yourself for carrying satisfying, whole-food-oriented options in your bag. Refueling with a mix of protein, carbs, and fat instead of simple carbohydrates will result in you feeling fuller and is likely to help you make it to lunchtime or dinnertime.
    • Sudden Travel Strategy: Pre-Scouting Menus and Stores. Your job could suddenly send you on travel, or you may find yourself suddenly traveling to see an ill relative, or sadly, for a funeral. As soon as you know your route and destination, it can be very helpful to have at least 2 nationwide chain restaurants in mind whose menus you know how to exploit for healthy eating - an example of one of these for me would be Chipotle. Track down locations along your route and near your destination. You can also investigate local grocery shopping options that may suit your needs, depending on how close they are to your accommodations and how many days you'll be away from home. Having these eating out and grocery shopping strategies in place can go a long way to keeping you from making poor, spontaneous food decisions that will wreck your digestion and your progress.
  • Prepare yourself for unforeseen workout interruptions. It could be an injury that keeps your main mode of working out off limits (such as the case of foot/ankle injuries and running), or that your location (gym, pool, etc.) closes for unforeseen reasons.
    • Injury Strategy: Learn About Workarounds. If you can't run, maybe you can swim. If you can't deadlift, maybe you can squat. Letting an injury rehab (and please, consult a professional about your injury concerns and proposed workarounds) does not mean you need to do absolutely nothing in the meantime. If you work out at CrossFit gym or under the eye of another kind of trainer, be sure to describe your movement issues and ask for help substituting movements in your workouts.
    • Workout Venue Closure Strategy: Learn Home Workouts. As discussed above in the "Snow Day" suggestions, home workouts can be tackled even with just bodyweight.
    • Workout Venue Closure Strategy: Seek Other Venues. Have some "plan B" venues in your head that you know you could try out. It might be the pool, or an inexpensive gym (think Planet Fitness) that helps you fill in the gap.
    • Sudden Travel Strategy: Travel Workouts. If you are gone for several days, you can make sure that your body still gets movement even while on the road. Your workouts can be the same as home workouts (including bodyweight workouts), or you might be lucky enough to take advantage of hotel gyms or other opportunities, such as visiting other CrossFit boxes as a drop-in. If you are dropping in at a box, be sure to make an effort to contact the box ahead of time, if at all possible, so that they know to expect you.
How are you planning ahead to manage those moments with habit-wrecking potential in 2015?


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Primal Kitchen Does Disney, Including Gluten Free Dairy Free Dining and a Trip to CrossFit MouseTrap

This past summer's trip to Disney World was my brother's idea, and at first I thought, can we really do this? I had major doubts. The Disney website has a lot of information readily available about the nature of their dietary accommodations. About 3 months ahead, my husband made reservations for our group at restaurants where (because of researching the Disney website) we knew there to be options for those with restrictions.

Thankfully, many of my friends have made the Disney trek, and one girl friend in particular had road-tested a lot of the dietary restrictions for herself when dining at Disney restaurants. It was her personal testimonies about these experiences that gave me a little boost of confidence in thinking, "OK, yeah, maybe we really can pull this off."

Then, it was suddenly DISNEY WEEK, and we went from theory to practice. This is where I want to give a huge one-woman teary eyed round of applause to the Disney parks staff for the grace and courtesy we encountered everywhere we went. Never once did I witness a roll of the eyes or any other similar reaction from staff. With the exception of 1 or 2 restaurant visits, the staff seating us already knew that we had a gluten and dairy restriction in our party (my 4 year old daughter). The restaurants that did not have the
gluten/dairy information at hand when we arrived for our reservation, for whatever reason, did not skip a beat and continued as though they had known it all along.

Here are the restaurants where we had a fantastic experience.
The Disney dining staff were unfailingly gracious with our family. In most cases, we were greeted for our reservation with a host or hostess explaining that the chef would be out in a moment to discuss options for our daughter. There were 2 times that our attempt to designate dietary restrictions online did not go all the way through the system, yet in those cases, the Disney staff did not skip a beat, and we met with the chef as in all the other restaurant experiences.

The breakfast buffet/character breakfasts were a really REALLY great experience. The chefs were friendly, compassionate, efficient, and best of all, knowledgeably presented lots and lots of options that were dairy and gluten free. I would say that those dealing with cases of celiac disease who are especially paranoid about cross contamination should ask the chefs whether it is possible to get some fruit or other options they serve to be brought separately to the table. In our case, there were often separate areas where the gluten free breakfast pastries were served, OR we were offered some prepackaged. Enjoy Life and Kinnickinnick brand foods were commonly available in lots of the restaurants. That said, my daughter was able to enjoy hearty breakfasts with lots of whole foods and protein available...and good thing, because breakfast was often one of our biggest food stops of the day. Best of all, the character breakfast experiences allowed the girls to meet many of the characters AND got us into the park early, so I would recommend them for all families of small children, but especially families with spectrum kiddos who might otherwise avoid long outdoor lines to meet characters or be frustrated with slow line waiting to enter the park in the morning.

FABULOUS entertainment
at Biergarten - a live band!

For non-breakfast meals, Cinderella's Royal Table, the Epcot Biergarten, and Sanaa went the extra mile with exceptionally delicious gluten free dairy free options. The Rainforest Cafe and Teppan Edo met our family's needs graciously, but the fare was of the "naked protein and veggies with salt and pepper", very stripped down type. You could enjoy a gluten free dairy free meal with loved ones at all these locations, but if you are looking for a little extra oomph, the Royal Table, Biergarten, and Sanaa would be the first places I'd direct you out of the restaurants we'd visited.

Like any parents (and any parents of a dietary restricted kid), we brought LOTS of nonperishable gluten free dairy free snacks with us into the park: Larabars, rice crackers, raisins, beef jerky, and toasted seaweed. I also had a stash of Quest bars for myself to keep my protein consistently adequate over the course of the week, which was useful considering that we walked several miles each day through Disney parks and were far more active in a "low level activity" sense.

I visited CrossFit MouseTrap with my brother one morning for a drop-in fee. It was a nice experience - a friendly and accommodating box that is a well-oiled machine in terms of dealing with visitors. On the morning we visited, they had a group warmup, a strength set, and a 20 minute workout of the day. I'd heartily recommend checking them out if you are a Disney traveler looking for a group workout. They have some great graphics on their shirts, too, and the inventor of WOD Counters coaches there, so be prepared with some souvenir money!


Have you successfully done Disney with one or more trip members with dietary restrictions? What tips do you have to share about your trip?


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Back to School Platespinning Merry-Go-Round

The summer activities pulled me under like a rip tide. Thanks to my brother, we took our family's first trip to Disney World. WOW, what a learning experience! I hope to share some of those experiences with readers who may be wondering if they can pull it off in terms of dietary restrictions. This summer we also had swim lessons, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and then...there were the glasses. My 4.5 year old daughter was diagnosed with convergence excess, and prescribed corrective lens glasses and vision therapy to address the Venn-diagram-style triple vision that she would see when looking at a book.

This brings me to a cogent point - if you're a parent tinkering with diet as a means to support your child's growth and development, AWESOME. I give you all the high fives I can muster and congratulate you on your efforts and the (possibly very long) journey you are on to help your child to be his or her best.

That said: avoid being myopic. Do not pursue diet at the expense of having your child evaluated for other issues. Do not pursue diet at the expense of not getting your child started with proven therapies.

Our family's ideal is keeping my autistic 4 year old's diet train going - a gluten free, casein free, dye free diet with personalized tweaks - but ALSO having her in a steady chuggachugging weekly routine of private and public services: speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy. As I briefly mentioned above, we are about to add vision therapy to that list, too.

Because, think of it this way: even if you have mastered "THE PERFECT DIET (c)" for your child...but have never evaluated them for vision issues, they could be optimally fueled but still walking around with Venn-diagram-style triple vision, which would impact many kids' learning. OR, you could be getting so much valuable therapy for your child, but your little one could be distracted in therapy sessions by stomach ache and brain fog because of dietary sensitivities that have not yet been addressed.

In our case, we are glad to use diet to keep her tummy happy and her brain fog at bay- while she wears her new glasses and makes significant gains in occupational therapy with her handwriting. It's exceptionally difficult to keep many plates spinning - diet, therapies, evaluations - but ultimately they all support each other and help her to work toward her best, day in, day out.

What are your goals for your family this school year? Are you using nutritional strategies to support your child's growth and development?


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday, a Love Letter to the CrossFit Coach

I recently stumbled across this picture taken of me in June 2011, about 3 months before I started doing CrossFit. I was probably sitting somewhere around 40%+ body fat.

I had two gorgeous daughters, but physically, life was not fun. I remember feeling winded from the slightest activities, like tall flights of stairs. Clothes never fit right, and dressing rooms were a nemesis. I simply wasn't comfortable in my own skin.

I had never been athletically gifted; even though I did swim team and soccer in high school and a year of water polo in college, I spend the vast quantity of my school athletics' game time on some sideline or bench somewhere. Even though I had the desire to play and the dedication to show up for practices, in the end, I didn't possess the innate interactive know-how of technical plays, or good reflexes on the field. Even in an individualized sport like swimming, I didn't possess the grace and power that propelled my betters through the water, so I was at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to getting extra help, because swim coaches wanted to focus on their teams' biggest points-winners. Coaches did not give me a whole lot of thought in those days, probably because I was not in any way integral to the win/lose destiny of my teams.

I was anxious about starting CrossFit, even that much more when I had contacted my local CrossFit box and decided to sign up for the ramp up course. Would my experience with CrossFit coaches be any different from my previous athletic/coaching experiences? By that point I was in the worst shape of my life, and I had serious doubts as to whether any fitness professional would look at me be able to see potential where before them stood a sedentary gal who weighed well over 200 lb. and at the time was spilling out of size 14 jeans.

I am happy, though, to say that in the nearly 3 years since then, I have been thrilled by what I've discovered in the CrossFit community's coaching. Because of that, I want to write a little love letter to my CrossFit coaches (and by extension CrossFit coaches everywhere!).


Dear CrossFit Coach,

Thank you. No. Really. THANK YOU.

The job you do is complex and grueling. I know this from watching you faithfully do it day in, day out, through almost three years of my CrossFit experience.

Thank you for not judging me harshly in the first session you ever had with me. Thank you for treating me with respect and patience, despite the awkward moments my body was not doing what my brain wanted it to do, because of lack of practice or sheer fatigue.

Thank you for not telling me to head for the hills every time I had an injury. Instead, you helped me to work around my sore spots and still get decent workouts while those spots rested. Thank you for being open to other scales or progressions or options that I brought up as possibilities during those times, too.

Thank you for never being skeptical that I would make it. Thank you that my willingness to show up and do the work was enough to get your coaching eyes on me day in, day out. Thank you that I didn't have to be the best in the room to get coaching attention.

Thank you for not pulling your hair out and cursing the heavens and then throwing rotten tomatoes at me whenever I did that thing with my form that you are always telling me to not do. Thank you for instead taking a phone video or giving me a new set of cues or correcting me using a fresh method to draw my attention to the mistake in a compassionate and constructive way.

Thank you for checking on my diet, my sleep, my mobility, and the other aspects of living that support a solid CrossFit experience. Thanks for messaging me when I was absent too long - because it brought me accountability but helped to know that I was missed, too.

Thank you for those moments you spoke positively about me to someone else, and I was allowed to overhear you. You might not realize it, but tiny moments like those can help an athlete sail through an otherwise bad day.

Thank you for celebrating with me. Thank you for high fiving me and playing motivating music, and for every encouraging message you wrote when I hit PRs, milestones, or tackled new skills. Thank you for birthday burpees. Thank you for understanding how much it means when you show that you're just as invested in our successes as we are.

Thank you for all the "off hours" unseen coaching work that you put in planning programming, preparing and maintaining the box, dealing with technical glitches, and organizing classes around each other. Many of these things are rarely thought about by athletes, and that means you are doing a fantastic job.

Thank you for every time you go the extra step to cultivate a family atmosphere at the box - one where we can tease each other, compete with each other, spar with each other, cheer each other, and BE THERE for each other. That makes you the family chieftain, as it were, and we are grateful for your leadership and friendship as you guide us on our CrossFit journeys.

THANK YOU for proving how awesome coaches can be!


PK and many other CrossFitting homies out there


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Boring Consistency Leading to My FIRST Dead Hang Pull Up

Soccer snacks, kicking it
Good people! What. Is. UP?! Over the last two weeks, the weather broke into deliriously uplifting springtime temperatures. I heard the collective sigh of my fellow midAtlantic parents, "Ahhhhhhhhhh!!" as the children regained school and activity routines.

Among our routines that kicked back off was spring soccer season. I love my 7 year old daughter's coach because he goes through the effort every season to ask parents to bring healthy snacks. While he does not get overly specific on what is not healthy, he encourages fruit and water as a starting point. YEAH! On average, his requests result in considerably less junky halftime and post-game snacks for our team. We brought last Saturday's snacks - grapes and sliced oranges. True story. I saw it on Pinterest.

The carpet was old anyway. NBD.

And oh, yes. Our basement kind of mini-flooded, just enough to dampen most of the carpet. Weeks of snow dumping followed by a week of almost continuous rain will do that when your sump pump suddenly quits for about 2 hours. Part of the thrills of living in a vintage home, and by vintage I mean: built in the late 1980s.

I found myself exceedingly grateful to be physically strong those few days we spent grunting and sweating 50 lb. rolls of carpet up our stairs. FUNCTIONAL. FITNESS. BABY. SCHWING!

I've been doing a bit of spring organizing, too. My baking supplies cabinet was totally overrun by various bags of open alternative flours. Let me ask you if this sounds familiar:

    Flour THIS!
  • Almond flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Cashew flour
  • Hazlenut flour
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Rice flour
  • Teff flour
  • All purpose gluten free flour
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate chips
  • Shredded unsweetened coconut

They were in complete rebellion. I finally picked up some inexpensive, tall sealable containers and mini chip clips and managed to contain most of them.

This is me, doing a
simple track stretch in an
empty speech therapist
reception area.
Other than little items like basement flooding and flour organizing, I have been boringly consistent.

What do I mean by "boringly consistent"? I mean, managing to take care of myself, even around my responsibilities.

Going to CrossFit. Refueling my body responsibly. Mobilizing. Sleeping. Going to hot yoga.

Keeping those little subroutines running in my software makes all the other big tasks in our lives - like lining up my 4 year old daughter's Individiualized Education Program (IEP) and getting her to preschool, speech therapy, and occupational therapy sessions - much more manageable. Put on your oxygen mask so you can put on your kiddos' oxygen masks.

Boringly consisten oven-baked
eggs with baby kale.

I have been in the Eat to Perform 90 day challenge since January, in part to regain ground lost during the holiday season and being snowed in for, oh, 234 weeks in a row. (True story.) You may recall that last fall I had a really good experience combining paleo parameters of the Whole Life Challenge with the carb timing parameters of Eat to Perform.

Boringly consistent post CrossFit
breakfast: leftover
chicken breast and leftover soft
baked sweet potato.
This time, for the official Eat to Perform online challenge, I had no Whole Life Challenge parameters, so I had a lot more leeway to dabble with grey area foods. I also discovered that those grey area foods - I'm talking about deli meat, premade rice pudding, etc. - while fulfilling my macros, were holding me back in terms of feeling my best. SHOCKER, RIGHT?! I also was not feeling magical on the numbers initially generated by the Eat to Perform intake calculator (whereas last fall when dabbling with the ETP timing principles only I naturally ate less in general).

Luckily, the ETP staff are super gracious and responsive. I used the ETP forum to ask specific questions about my intake levels related to my body fat, weight, age, gender, etc., and I received in turn customized advice.

Boringly consistent soft baked
sweet potato and leftover kebab beef.
Post-workout breakfast.
Also a speech therapist
parking lot breakfast.
I also decided to relegate grey area foods to more of an "emergency status" and return to the boringly consistent (there is that phrase again) active athlete's paleo template.

What does that look like? It means whole food meats, eggs, and fish. It means eating pumpkin and sweet potatoes and occasional white rice. It means more vegetables than you ever thought you could hold.

It means making tons and tons of food at a time so that when you are doing hairpin turnaround between early morning CrossFit and driving your 4 year old to speech therapy and school, you have those already made options ready to eat in the car while you wait for the speech therapy session to finish.

Boringly consistent emergency
speech therapist
parking lot breakfast.
No junk deli meat
and canned pumpkin. means that if the best post-workout option you have that morning is no junk ham and canned pumpkin, instead of getting all perfectionistic and beating yourself up about making a meal on a whole pack of deli meat, you go to town getting in your breakfast and move on with your day. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, people.

In general, I am back in the happy momentum I enjoyed last fall at the end of the Whole Life Challenge. Paleo foods in sufficient quantity (including carbs) to sustain muscle mass and activity levels. Starchy carbs around workouts. Meat, eggs, and veggies any time else.

Boringly consistent spaghetti squash
and sausage scramble.
In addition to my Eat to Perform/paleo template, with some focused guidance, I have added some homework around my regular CrossFit workouts. I continue with my beloved hot yoga. To chip away at my mile time, I've been running single 800m sprints often as part of my pre-CrossFit-workout warmup. I've been doing pullup negatives and progressions like crazy, almost daily. Small, regular sets of plank, pushup, and squat drills.

Boringly consistent prebed snack
of salmon, beets, sweet potatoes.
I have definitely noticed an improvement in my body composition and performance. While leaning out more has happened and I've noticed increased muscle definition, I've also become much faster at climbing the 20' rope at CrossFit. My 800m run time has gone from 4:20 down to about 3:45 -- so I have hope that soon my mile time will be under 8 minutes.

And finally: on Friday, I did my first ever pullup. It was a dead hang, too. It's hard to describe how immensely gratifying that feeling was. If any of you reading ever had to suffer the indignities of the presidential fitness test, then you know exactly what I mean. As an athletically inept overweight kid, I never stood a chance of doing a pull up. Gaining a pullup was an affirmation of what I've long hoped: your past does not dictate your future. In fact, in all likelihood, you can steer your destiny more than you might have ever believed.
Boringly consistent chicken
and spaghetti squash dinner.

I wore a tank top from my brother's
NYC CrossFit box doing the pullup.
I may never wear another top to CrossFit;
it is my official lucky tank. ;)
Thanks, Bro!

Boringly consistent sauerkraut,
chicken, chard, carrots.

Boringly consistent
Mediterranean scramble.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snow-Airbrushing, the Endless Cavalcade of Snow Days, and a Stomach Bug that Wouldn't Quit

Greetings, fellow captives of Winter 2014.

If you live anywhere in the mid-Atlantic all the way down through Florida, you are all too aware of the...*ahem*...variant weather patterns we are experiencing this season. Since the start of 2014, our county has had exactly one intact week of school - by which I mean one week without cancellations due to snow, ice, extreme cold, and so on.

I'd love to direct you to the pictures on the right - of travel-sized spray bottles filled with food-coloring-tinted water.

"Oh!" I could coo in a Pinterest-friendly soundbite, "Those dreary winter days trapped inside because of the snow could become so much brighter with this simple art project!"

And, this is a fun project to try out. My mom (an art teacher) was the one who originally sent my brother and I out into the snow with colored water to paint the wintry canvas more than 20 years ago...

---- Aaaaaaand, cut! ------- 
(Where the Pinterest-friendly "life is perfection" content stops. Feel free to gear up your kids for the snow-airbrushing.)

But here is the added truth of the matter.

I'm going a little bit crazy.

I'm a major introvert, and I really depend on:

  • Predictable routines
  • Planned kid-free times that I can more efficiently grocery shop, cook, work out, etc. Right now, this is 3 mornings per week while my youngest is in preschool.
  • Doses of quiet in my week (including, yes, mainly those 3 golden mornings) when I can let my frazzled mind rest in stillness
So, I am going - I will use the technical term here - guano crazy. The colored water was a last holdout in my admittedly small arsenal of snow day tricks, and it genuinely occupied my oldest, well, for about an hour.

Why is my arsenal of snow day tricks so small? Because typically, I don't need more than 2-3 days' worth of gambits in a given winter. We've blown way past that by now. Punxsutawney Phil (who did indeed see his shadow) may not be aware that he's made it on my hit list.

To complicate the cabin fever, our entire family got hit by a stomach bug last week. Luckily, our girls bounced back within about 12 hours. My husband and I were each worthless for about 36 hours, however. It took lots of sleeping, and some kombucha and full fat yoghurt to pull me out of that awful illness. By the time we had fully recovered, a foot of snow had fallen on the DC metro area. Two more days of school, cancelled.

In other words, two days of being housebound followed by two more days of being housebound. If anybody needs me, I'll be curled in the fetal position in the corner, eye twitch activated, rocking and mutter-humming to myself U2's, "Beautiful Day".


Are you trying to survive an erratic schedule owing to weather and illness? What are YOU doing to keep yourself healthy and sane when you feel like you're stuck in Groundhog Day?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spiced Paleo Raisinets - Sugar Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, Paleo and Primal Challenge Friendly

Last fall, when I was doing the Whole Life Challenge with my CrossFit box, my good friend was suffering some major chocolate cravings about halfway through the 8 week long challenge. We were permitted unsweetened chocolate at our chosen level (intermediate) of the challenge, so as a "hang in there" gesture, I came up with these.

These are paleo-friendly raisinets, and if you are involved in a challenge that permits their ingredients, they are little tasty nuggets of, "Phew, OK, I can do this."

Here's the dealeo:

Spiced Paleo Raisinets
Makes at least 32 servings at 1/2 oz. each

1 large round canister of raisins (3.5 cups' worth)
100g finely chopped Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate (or unsweetened high quality chocolate of choice)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Generous dash of cayenne

Did I mention how much
I LOVE the ingredient list
on this bad boy?


Place chopped chocolate in a large oven-safe dish and set in a warm oven (around 200 degrees, not too hot so the chocolate won't scald). Pour the entire canister of raisins into a large gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Add the salt and spices and shake well until raisin clumps are broken up and each raisin is evenly coated in a fine dusting of the salt and spices.

Pull the chocolate out of the oven. Dump spice-dusted raisins into melted chocolate and stir thoroughly until each raisin has a light coating of chocolate. Spread the chocolate-coated spiced raisins out on wax paper to cool.



These are really yummy. I mean REALLY yummy. If you have any appreciation for dark chocolate and especially "zippy" dark chocolate as complimented with warming winter spices, they will do. it. for. you. They do it for me so much, in fact, that I could easily blow through a whole batch in a matter of a couple of days without much thought.

For that reason, I love the little 1 ounce lidded plastic cups that you can find at many stores these days. For me, they aid in portion consciousness and help me to keep my runaway raisin snacking tendencies in check. Since I chose to log my food intake for athletic performance and fat loss purposes, I calculated that 18 g of these (a bit over half an ounce)  comes in at 63 calories, mostly carbs. Here you can see how I have made several half ounce portions in these cups. It's my DIY challenge-friendly answer to 100-calorie snacks that are sold these days, and a decent way to scratch a chocolate craving itch without swan diving off of the wagon.

Bonus: sharing the raisinets with your friends who are also eating conscientiously will definitely boost some spirits!


What snacks are you making these days that helps you to keep on track three weeks into the new year?

Screaming January Deals on Amazon, Nearly ~40% off Gluten Free Groceries and Paleo-Friendly Finds

About 10 days before the end of the month, my husband and I scroll through our Amazon Subscribe and Save subscriptions list. We usually pare down the list, often for items we added previously on a one-time deal. Then, we have the fun of shopping for temporary monthly coupon deals on Amazon that we couldn't find elsewhere. We are often able to combine up to 3 different discounts on Amazon to get the best deal possible, shipped free to our door.

Here are some things we scored this week in our shopping for the February 1 Subscribe and Save delivery. We bought $62.61 worth of items for $38.39 (a 39% overall discount).
  • Zico coconut water - I picked up 12 x 14 oz. bottles of Zico for $15.57 (retail before discounts was $25.31, so 38.5% discount). $1.29 per bottle is a bargain compared to the $2.50+ per bottle I usually see in grocery stores. The same 20% off coupon applies to different Zico sizes and flavors, too, so you can shop for your preferred Zico. I like the plastic bottles because they make sipping some before and after a workout easier without worrying about spilling.

  • Pistachios. I picked up a pound of them combining the $3 coupon with Subscribe and Save to get a price of $6.34 (almost 45% off the $11.49 price).

  • Garden of Life organic gluten free sprouted brown rice protein powder - As I mentioned in a recent protein-themed post, most of my protein intake is from organically and naturally raised animals, but I do use protein powders, particularly in cases where it means I would not otherwise get enough protein owing to time constraints or other circumstances. Because I try to refuel conscientiously to allow my muscles to recover, I would rather get some good quality protein powder after a workout if my alternative is not eating any protein! As vegetable-based protein powders go, Garden of Life looks like a solid choice. I am trying this for the first time as it is 33% cheaper per gram of protein than my usual protein powder choice. I got a $25.81 jar for $16.48, a 36% discount off the Amazon price.
There are many other Amazon grocery coupons, including a list of coupon deals that can be used to purchase gluten free foods. (Be careful, though, some coupons in the gluten free deals take you to lists of products for that brand, some of which are gluten free and some of which are not.)

Here is how to combine the limited-time January coupons with Subscribe and Save to maximize your discounts:

  • Make sure your coupon is clipped for the specific size/flavor of item you've chosen! Coupons will be for a percentage off or for dollars ($) off. You can clip the coupon on the coupon products page OR on the page of the item itself.
  • Chose the "Subscribe and Save" option instead of the "Add to Cart" single purchase option. You can cancel your Subscribe and Save subscription at any time.
  • If you have at least 5 Subscribe and Save subscriptions for the month of February, then your total discount off all items on your subscription list will be 20% off.
  • Verify before clicking the final subscribe confirmation that you are receiving BOTH your coupon discount and your maximum Subscribe and Save discount.
Are you snagging any Amazon coupon + Subscribe and Save deals on nonperishables? What is your favorite bargain?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Paleo-Friendly Breakfast in Your Stockings on Christmas Morning

I am starting to collect our stocking stuffers for Christmas this year. My goal is to layer little toys and fun items with some breakfast-y items so that my husband and I can slowly sip our coffee while we all nibble on the beginnings of breakfast as the stockings' contents are being unwrapped. Lots of nonperishable paleo-friendly items are going to show up to 'sustain' us until the excitement ebbs a little and I can cook some heartier fare.

If you have Amazon Prime (free 2 day shipping) or not - but are willing to pay for 2 day shipping - today is the last stretch of time that you can order stocking stuffers and have them arrive before Christmas. Here is a sneak peek into our stockings' "breakfast-y" contents.

Are YOU slipping something to kick off breakfast into your family's stockings this year? What are you going to pick?

This post contains affiliate links. Shopping Amazon through this link results in a tiny percentage of the purchase price being given to Primal Kitchen, at no added cost to you, so thank you for supporting Primal Kitchen!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Primal Kitchen Recipes Featured in the Paleo Cookbook for Dummies

I am exceptionally proud to have been a part of the creation of the Paleo Cookbook for Dummies.

Dr. Kellyann Petrucci was responsible for the book coming to life. In her words:

  • Includes an overview of the Paleo-diet shopping list and pantry-stocking tips, along with kid-friendly Paleo recipes.

  • Dozens of answers to such questions as “Should you eat dairy? Can you drink alcohol?” and more, along with diet testimonials.

  • Information on how the Paleo diet, which reverses disease naturally, improves autoimmune issues, skin challenges, sleep patterns and fitness levels. Shares how it boosts energy levels and helps celiacs who follow a gluten-free lifestyle/anti-inflammatory diet.


    With more than 100 Whole9 approved recipes ( and contributions from top Paleo lifestyle and food experts like Mark Sissson (, Melissa Joulwan ( Michelle Tam (NomNomPaleo), Arsy Vartanian (, George Bryant (, Nick Massie (, Jason Crouch (, Audrey Olson ( and raw foodie, Alissa Cohen (    

You will find many Primal Kitchen recipe favorites in the kids' recipe section. I am very pleased that many of my contributed recipes qualified for the high standard of Dallas and Melissa Hartwig's Whole9 approval.

The Paleo Cookbook for Dummies is a beautifully done collaborative effort that offers lots of tips on paleo living. I happily recommend it to paleo newbies and longtimers alike!

Primal Kitchen Featured on the PaleoHacks Podcast

I had a blast recently as a guest with PaleoHacks podcast host Clark Danger on the PaleoHacks podcast. We covered a whole lot of ground in our time talking, but a consistent theme was the day to day business of keeping a paleo-leaning lifestyle chugging along in step with family life.

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