Tag Archives: nutrition

5 Tips For Moms Who Want To Run

18 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s post is also a part of the 2012 Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference Blogger Challenge, in which bloggers are invited to write about an aspect of women’s health.

James and I taking part in the Whitby Waterfront Races

At the time my older son was conceived, I was an active runner. I wasn’t as into racing as I am now, but I was in good shape and I hit the road regularly. Running was logistically easier in those pre-baby days, when I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d had enough sleep and who was going to watch the kids.

I had intended to continue running throughout my pregnancy, but my body had other plans for me. Pregnancy wreaked havoc with the fluid in my inner ear, so I developed the inconvenient tendency to simply fall over without warning. This obviously meant that running would be too much of a risk, especially during the tail-end of winter when there was still a lot of ice on the ground.

After my son was born, I started running again, but only for a few months before I got injured. That was when my six-year break from running started. There was always something that kept me out of it – injury, illness, post-partum depression, plain old garden-variety depression – before I finally found the right motivation to start running again in earnest three years ago.

Combining motherhood with running can be a tricky endeavour, especially when you add a full-time job and special needs parenting into the mix. But with a bit of practice and planning, it is possible to strike the right balance, and it is very worthwhile.

Today, I offer you some tips on how you can successfully combine running with being a mom. These tips do not come from any books or websites. They come from my own experiences.

1.       Lose any preconceived notions of what a female runner “should” look like.

Pregnancy and childbirth can really do a number on a woman’s body image. Our post-baby bodies include new wobbly bits (unless you are blessed with spectacular genetic material), larger-than-before breasts that now serve a practical purpose, and stretch marks that make our bellies look like a railway network. Some of us are self-conscious about the way our bodies look, and we are reluctant to go out in public wearing shorts and tank tops.

We tend to have this idea that in order to run, women have to be skinny and flat-chested. I get a lot of women telling me that they would love to run, but cannot because they are not built for it, or because their breasts are too big. From experience, I can tell you that those are not good reasons not to run. I am not skinny by any stretch of the imagination, and I am definitely not flat-chested. Barring any serious medical conditions, anyone who wants to run can run, no matter what size or shape they are.

Yes, it is true that the women who win the Olympic marathons are skinny and flat-chested, but you’re not trying to win the Olympic marathon. You are doing this for yourself. And if you have a post-baby body to contend with, wear it with pride. It serves as a reminder of the life you have borne.

2.       Remember that women have unique nutritional needs.

Women have to deal with all kinds of stuff that men never have to think about. Our bones start to degenerate after a certain age, and this increases our calcium needs. We have periods every month that deplete our iron stores and can throw our entire bodies temporarily out of synch. For the time we are nursing babies, our bodies are directing all of the good nutrients to our breast milk, leaving us with just the leftovers to live on.

There are scores of books out there that talk in general terms about what runners are supposed to eat and when. The material you read can be confusing and downright contradictory. I have come to the conclusion that different things work for different people. Whatever eating plan you end up adopting, you need to ensure that the nutritional needs unique to women are taken care of.

Here are a few basics:

  • Eat foods rich in iron and folic acid, particularly during your menstrual cycles.
  • Increase your consumption of Vitamin C: this has been shown to improve the body’s efficiency in absorbing iron.
  • As you get into your 40’s, start taking calcium supplements to compensate for the hit that your bones start to take in middle age.
  • If you are nursing, you need anywhere from 500-1500 extra calories per day, and that’s before you take into account the calories you burn while running. Make sure you are well fed on nutritional stuff, and take along an energy bar when you go running.

3.       Get the right support structure.

Whether you are small- or large-breasted, or somewhere in the middle, a good sports bra is essential. The last thing you want to deal with while you’re running is your boobs bouncing around like ping-pong balls. It is not only uncomfortable, it is downright painful. Although I speak from the standpoint of someone with large breasts, I have spoken to women who made the mistake of thinking that their breasts were small enough for them to do without a sports bra. With a couple of exceptions, they have bitterly regretted it.

If you are small-breasted, you can probably get away with getting your bra from a sporting goods retailer. Larger-breasted women could benefit greatly from being professionally fitted at a specialist bra shop that carries sports bras. No matter where you get your bra from, it is important to ensure a good fit. Not only can ill-fitting sports bras add to the bounce, they can lead to very painful chafing.

If you have just had a baby, be aware that the size of your breasts probably changed during your pregnancy. Don’t assume that what fitted you before will still fit you now. The same applies to moms whose babies have recently been weaned from the breast. As your body’s production of milk slows down, the size and shape of your breasts may alter.

Nursing mothers who want to wear breast pads should take precautions to ensure that they don’t shift during the run. When I ran as a new mother, I secured my breast pads with surgical tape and that worked well enough.

4.       Make it a family thing.

You don’t have to force your husband and children to go running with you, but at least enlist their support. Tell your significant other about your intentions to run, and let him or her be a part of the planning. You will need someone to watch the kids while you are out, and if that same someone massages your aching feet at the end of the day, so much the better! Most running moms I’ve spoken to report having supportive partners, and that makes all the difference.

For those with young babies, running can be logistically very easy. All you need, apart from your running gear, is a baby jogger – a three-wheeled stroller designed for motion. Look for a baby jogger that can be adjusted to have the baby forward-facing or rear-facing. These strollers do not have wheels like regular strollers, they have tires that look almost like bicycle tires. That makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. Not only is this a fun way to bond with your baby, pushing the extra pounds as you run is a great booster of upper body strength!

Running with older children can be immensely enjoyable as well. My younger son, now six, is showing an interest in running. He ran his first kiddie’s race last year, and he plans to more. I often take him out with me on a Sunday, just for a kilometre or two, and then I drop him off at home with my husband before heading out for my longer run

5.       Enjoy the me-time

People run for different reasons. Some runners are competitive, and are in it to win the races. Others want to get fit, or lose weight, or address some specific health issue. Some people simply run because they like it. Whatever your primary reason for running is, use it as an opportunity to switch off from the day-to-day business of parenting. Allow your mind to wander a little – bearing safety in mind, of course. Get an iPod and listen to some music. For a busy mom, it can be incredibly liberating to pound the pavement for a few miles. It is a great stress-reliever, it loosens the joints, and it refreshes the mind. When you get back home after your run, you will feel ready – and eager – to step back into role of Mom.

Disclaimer: The information given in this blog post, or anywhere on this website, is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Leading The Food Revolution

9 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s story starts with Megan, the 15-year-old daughter of my friend Michelle.

In many respects, Megan is a typical teenage girl. There are celebrities she loves and those she cannot bear the thought of. She enjoys going to the movies, has dreams about the future, and when the time comes, she would like to wear a pretty dress to her senior prom.

Except that if things don’t change for Megan soon, there may not be a senior prom. Because in order to go to senior prom, you have to go to high school. And Megan is too sick to go to school.

When Megan started experiencing severe dizziness a couple of years ago, her mom took her to a string of doctors who were not able to identify the cause. Even a week of tests in hospital did not reveal why this young girl was so off-kilter that she had to rely on a wheelchair.

The dizziness was not Megan’s only problem. She had a prolonged bout of respiratory illness, her periods were problematic from the very first day, and she became unable to sleep for more than two or three hours a night, in spite of being constantly exhausted.

Eventually, doctors were able to determine that Megan had Fatty Liver Disease. It became clear to her mom, Michelle, that poor nutritional choices had led to this outcome.

But Michelle, who has endured a lot of hardship in her life, is not one to be beaten down. Instead of simply accepting Megan’s condition, she decided to do something about it, not only for her own family, but for her entire community. She started by setting up a Facebook group for people suffering from Fatty Liver Disease.

Then she started making radical changes to her own and her daughter’s lifestyles.

While Michelle acknowledges her role in making less-than-ideal food choices for Megan, she points out that many parents simply do not understand the implications of the foods that they and their families consume. As a society, we are so caught-up in healthy-sounding labels like sugar-free this-thing or low-fat that-thing.

There is no denying the fact that food manufacturers hire very smart marketing companies who can successfully deceive entire segments of the population into believing that something is good for you when it’s actually leading you to an earlier grave.

Michelle decided that it was time for this to change, and so she has spearheaded the organization of an event in her community that will teach children and adults about healthy eating habits in a fun and engaging way. The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day is a global event being held in communities everywhere on Saturday, May 19th.

Michelle is organizing the event in London, Ontario. This day promises to provide entertainment and enlightenment for the whole family. Kids will enjoy such activities as making fruit or vegetable characters , while adults will learn how to make sense of those confusing nutrition labels and how to easily incorporate healthy eating into our busy lifestyles.

If you live anywhere near London, Ontario,  it is well worth attending this event. For details give Michelle a call at +1 226 234 4006.

And if you don’t live in London? Check out the Food Revolution website to see if there’s an event near you. It is going to be a global phenomenon on May 19th, with hundreds of public events and dinner parties in more than 300 cities worldwide.

Today’s children are the first generation who, on average, will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Michelle is determined to do what she can to turn the tide not only for Megan, but for other kids in the community.

Let’s all support the Food Revolution on May 19th. Together, we can truly change the world for our children.

(Photo credit: Denise Testa, JD Communication and Design)

The Stories I Tell And Why I Tell Them

4 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 4 – I write about my health because…: Reflect on why you write about your health for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

When I was young, I had a somewhat cavalier attitude towards my health. This was partly due to the invincibility and stupidity of youth, and partly because there were some things happening in my life that relegated my health to the backseat. I really had better things to think about than whether I was eating enough spinach.

Of course, my lifestyle through my early twenties didn’t really lend itself to healthy thinking anyway. I was fond of pasta, Coca Cola and beer. I was not fond of vegetables, exercise or moderation. Water was for swimming or showering in, not for drinking. My daily life was punctuated with cigarettes. I didn’t really care whether I had enough money for groceries as long as I had a six-pack in the fridge and some cigarettes in my purse.

One morning I woke up and realized that I was tired of being a smoker. And just like that, I decided to quit. I reasoned that while I was quitting, I may as well fix up the other troublesome aspects of my lifestyle. And so I gave up the soft drinks, reduced the alcohol consumption and took up running.

In the years since then, more things have happened that have forced me to take a close look at the health of myself and my family. I have learned better ways of running, I have battled some mental health issues, I have lost family members to cancer and I have become an autism mom.

The subject of health is not something I can ignore or take casually. So much depends on it, and it has far-reaching effects on my children. I am mindful of the fact that for the next few years, I am making decisions about food and activity on their behalf. And for their sake, I have to get it right.

Through my journey, I have learned a lot and discovered that there’s so much I still don’t know. Through my writing, I can share what I have discovered and reach out to people who very often have answers that I need. I have come across people who know exactly what I’m going through, making me feel less alone. In sharing a piece of my life, I have found a voice that I might not otherwise have.

I write because I love to, and because – hopefully – I tell stories that people can either relate to or be informed or entertained by. And as long as I think my voice is touching at least one other person, I will continue to write.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Better Running Starts With A Kitchen Makeover

28 Jan

My 2010 Run For Autism

Two days from now, my 2012 training season officially begins. Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone running a few times and learned how to do the strength training exercises that have been prescribed for me. I have been reading through the plethora of material provided in my Precision Nutrition kit. I have been trying to prepare myself for this season, mentally and physically.

This weekend sees the final push, the last preparations before I start my training program. It’s kind of like preparing for a trip. You spend weeks or months figuring out where you want to go and how you plan to get there. You sort out details like visas and passports, you make lists of what you want to take, you sort out someone to take care of the dog. And then, for two or three days prior to your departure, you rush around in a frenzy of activity, packing your bags and confirming all of the details.

To follow the analogy, I am now in the process of packing for the trip and doing all of that stuff that brings all of the prior planning together and ties it up in a neat bundle.

Here’s what my weekend has in store for me:

  • Today, my kitchen is getting a makeover. I am emptying out the cupboards and repacking them. I will finally throw away the baby bottles that have been lurking unused at the back of the top shelf for the last five years. Now that I have decent pots and pans, I can get rid of the old dented ones with chipped handles and thereby add valuable space to my tiny kitchen. The fridge will be organized in preparation for tomorrow’s grocery shopping trip.
  • Meals for the next two weeks will be planned.
  • I will make a list for said grocery shopping trip. I will buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. The husband will not be permitted to add unauthorized items to the cart.
  • I will go through the training program that my friend and coach Phaedra has given me, and I will add all of my runs to my wall calendar. I will also schedule them on my Outlook calendar. Once they’re scheduled, they have to happen, right?
  • I will get my home workspace organized in a way that it will stay organized. This will make it easier for me to get things done in less time. When my space is cluttered, my mind is cluttered and that doesn’t help anyone.
  • I will finally put away the mountains of clean and folded laundry that I have everywhere. I spend ridiculous amounts of time digging around for clothing that I could find in five seconds if I was organized.

This is a lot to get through in one weekend, but I am excited about doing it. I even have an incentive: if I do all of these things, on Monday I will reward myself with a new pair of sports headphones I’ve had my eye on, and this will give me a wonderful musical experience when I’m running.

I am looking forward to making new starts in my life. I am looking to creating some desperately needed balance, and doing things for myself that will make me happier and healthier. I have been languishing for too long in this feeling of being overwhelmed by my life. It feels good to be taking action and making plans.

I intend to post weekly updates on my progress, every Saturday. Come with me as I embark on this journey. It may not always be easy, and I’ll need cheerleaders along the way!

 

January Goals: Laying The Foundation

9 Jan

launchpadSo, now that I have started 2012 off with a week of inspiration from guest bloggers, it is time for me to solidify my own goals for this year. In short, this year is going to be about me. That does not mean that I will ignore my children, refuse to cook dinner for my family, and let everyone go around in dirty clothes. It simply means that I will do a better job of taking care of myself.

Since becoming a mother, I have put the needs of my family first. Which is fine – the truth is that ultimately, everything I do is for my kids. The problem is that I have been taking care of everyone else at the expense of myself. This has led to me being overwhelmed, exhausted, and in many instances, frustrated and unhappy. In a way, I have allowed the essence of me to get lost, to be buried underneath all of the layers of responsibility that I have imposed upon myself.

And so, this year, I am going to find some balance. I am going to pursue some dreams that have been in the horizon of my mind for some time. I believe that being more balanced, less tired, and more in tune with myself will benefit everyone around me.

In 2012, I am aiming to make great strides in my running. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra Kennedy, I am going to break 2:10:00 in my Run for Autism in October. I am going to make inroads in the world of writing. And come hell or high water, I am going to develop a positive relationship with food that allows me to build good nutritional habits. The old pattern of alternating binge eating with starving myself is going to come to an end. Sometimes I’m thin, sometimes I’m fat, sometimes I’m in between. I’m tired of the yo-yo, and it makes clothes shopping impossible.

My focus in January will be to lay the groundwork for success. This is my plan:

  • I will realign my sleeping habits to go to bed earlier, so I can wake up early in the mornings to run without feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. When I start my training program on January 30th, I will be used to getting up at five in the morning. My body will have already made that adjustment.
  • I will learn how to do the strength training exercises that Phaedra gave me, so I can incorporate them in my training program right off the bat.
  • I have ordered my Precision Nutrition kit (thanks, Phaedra, for the tip). When it arrives, I will not just dive into it like an overexcited puppy. I will take the time to look over it properly, learn how to use it, and plan appropriately.
  • I will contact a web designer about revamping my site to incorporate both my blog and a general writing component. That will make it easier for me to market myself as a freelance writer.
  • Since I already have a day job, I will start to use my commutes for writing. That’s exactly why Santa brought me this nifty little ’puter that I am writing this post on.

By the end of this month, I will have built myself a launch pad, and I will be able to spend the rest of the year in pursuit of my goals.

Hop on, it’s going to be a wild ride!

95 Days And 6 Hours

13 Jul

95 days and 6 hours to go…

In 95 days and 6 hours, my heart will be racing and my adrenaline will be pumping.  I will be filled with nervous energy, and all of my senses will be on high alert, even though I probably will not have slept for a week.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be one of 20,000 runners waiting for the starters gun to go off, signalling the beginning of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half-Marathon.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will start my Run for Autism – the race that I do for my son George, who is my inspiration and my reason for running. My son, who has taught me so much about myself, about life, about the things that really matter. My son, who I love so much that I sometimes think my heart will explode.

Up until now, I have had a poor season of training. A variety of illnesses, extreme weather conditions and family emergencies has conspired against me. Not to mention the not-so-small matter of getting married. I did succeed in running an 8km race in the Spring, but I have had to blow off not one but two half-marathons since then, because I have just not been ready for them. I have tried to follow some kind of regular training regimen, and I have been running just enough to keep up some kind of conditioning, but my training has been very much a stop-start kind of thing.

Until now.

Over the weekend, I gathered together pen and paper, the list of races I am registered for between now and my Autism Run, and my calendar. Thus armed, I plotted out a training program, a path to get me from here to there. It is a program that will work. By the time I’m done, I will be able to run the distance and run it well, as long as I stick with it.

My impediment is not lack of discipline. If I have a run scheduled, there are very few things that will deter me. From time to time I may have to shift a run to another time, or even to the following day, but if my schedule tells me to run, then I will run.

The only thing stopping me – barring unforeseen emergencies – is my health. It hasn’t been so great lately. I have been tired, run down, and prone to getting sick. Conventional running wisdom dictates that it is safe to run with a cold as long as all symptoms are above the neck, but practical experience has taught me that it is not a good idea. It might be perfectly safe, but it knocks my immune system down a few notches so that it takes me longer to recover.

So the way I see it, the one thing standing between me and my ability to totally rock this year’s race is my health. If my health is good, my training will take care of itself.

With that in mind, I have a plan. This is all stuff that I really should be doing anyway, but if planning it is what it will take, then so be it.

Here are some promises that I am making to myself (and we all know that it’s wrong to break a promise, regardless of who it’s made to):

I promise that I will hydrate myself properly, and not only during my training runs. And not only with coffee.

I promise that I will take my vitamins every day, because I definitely feel healthier when I do.

I promise that I will see a nutritionist, because my diet is one area where my self-control goes to the birds.

I promise that I will try harder (and “try” is the best I can do at this point) to get more sleep so that I am not literally running on the smell of an oil rag.

Four promises. Anyone can keep four promises, right? And they’re not even hard promises, with the possible exception of the last one.

I can do this. I can totally do this.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be ready.

Making The Giving Worthwhile

15 Jan

On Thursday morning (at 11:30 a.m. EST if anyone wants to be that precise) I will be donating blood.  I am greatly looking forward to it, and if you’re reading any sarcasm in that sentiment, none whatsoever is intended.  I really, genuinely, truly am looking forward to sitting in one of those reclining chairs while a unit of my blood is transferred from my body for the purpose of saving a life that needs saving.

I am excited to be doing this.  I am excited to be doing something, giving of myself in some small way, to help other people.

The last time I tried to donate was about twenty years ago.  I passed the initial iron test and got settled in one of the reclining chairs in the clinic.  The entire process from that point on was an absolute disaster.  The nurse – a kind, gentle soul who felt terrible about the pain she was putting me through – had to poke multiple holes in both arms before she could get the blood to flow.  When it did flow, it was painfully slow, and when about third of a unit had been taken from me, I passed out. I was sick for days after that, and when I went to my doctor, he advised me not to donate blood while my health was in such a fragile state.

It just wasn’t the right time for me to donate, back then.  There was a whole mess of crap happening in my life, and the stress of it all took its toll on my health.

Now things are different.  I am fit and healthy.  I am not under constant stress, I sleep as much as two kids and a hectic schedule allow me to, and my running regimen pretty much forces me to eat more or less healthily.  I am ready to put the memory of my last donation attempt behind me and try it again.  I am confident that the results will be far, far better.

I’m doing what I can to make sure, though.  My main objective over the next few days is to ensure that my blood is whole and healthy, that it can indeed be used to help someone who needs it.  If I show up on Thursday to give my pint of blood in honour of Capt. Snuggles, and they turn me away because my iron is too low, I will not be happy.  I have to do whatever I can to make sure that does not happen.

I share these tips for the benefit of anyone reading this who might be interested in donating blood (Michelle, maid of honour and friend extraordinaire, has already said that she will try to join me on Thursday).

  • For several days prior to donating, eat foods rich in iron.  Breads, meat, fish, chicken, fruit, raisins, nuts, dark leafy greens.  This is especially important for the ladies, whose iron levels tend to be less stable.
  • Be aware that many foods rich in iron are also high in fat, and a high lipid content can also result in you being turned away.  For 2-3 days before you donate, focus on a low-fat diet, but keep on consuming iron-rich foods that are low in fat.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  If you don’t drink enough fluids, the nurses will have a hard time finding your vein, and once you are hooked up, your blood will flow slowly and the process will take longer.  Limit sugar and caffeine in your beverages, since these slow the absorption of water.
  • Get enough sleep!  This will not necessarily change the quality of your blood, but it will make your recovery a lot easier.
  • The day before, load up on iron-rich foods, but ones that are low in fat.  Drink lots of water and go to bed early.
  • The day of, have a good breakfast so that you have the calories to start regenerating your blood.  Eat fruits with a high water content, and drink water and energy drinks (this can also give you one last iron boost before you go).
  • Try to eat either a meal or a snack right before you go.  You don’t want to donate on an empty stomach.  Take a bottle of water with you.
  • After you’ve made your donation, sit down and rest, and have a snack to raise your blood sugar.  Many clinics provide juice and cookies – if you don’t have a snack of your own on hand, accept the juice and cookies!
  • Light to moderate exercise several hours after you donate will help raise your energy levels.  I’m not talking about a five-mile run, I’m talking about an easy walk.

Many of these are good inroads to a healthy lifestyle, and following these steps will help make your blood healthy and vibrant.   If you are medically able to donate blood, I appeal to you to please consider it.  It really could be a matter of life and death for someone.

I am humbled and kind of ashamed that it has taken this – the life-threatening tragedy of a little baby – to spur me on to do this.  Ultimately, it is Captain Snuggles saving lives here, because he is the reason I am doing this.

Click here for Amy’s latest update on Capt. Snuggles.