How Lovely to be a Woman!

“The wait was long worthwhile. How lovely to wear mascara and smile a woman’s smile. How lovely to have a figure that’s rounds instead of flat! Whenever you hear boys whistle, you’re what they’re whistling at.”        

                                                                                               – Bye, Bye Birdie 

I listen to this song as an adult and realize how unfortunate it is that it was written by Lee Adams (a man), instead of a woman. I’m positive that a woman could have portrayed a more accurate depiction of what it feels like to grow up and go through puberty… But that’s not the case and unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. But I’m not here to talk about that today.

I grew up never really aware of my womanhood. I didn’t know why I got my period other than it meant I had the ability to get pregnant, what the difference between my uterus, clitoris, cervix and vagina were and what hormones had to do with my overall health and well being. “Hormonal” had a negative connotation to it as in: “you must be feeling very hormonal right now” a.k.a.: “you’re acting like a bitch” . Hell, I thought that I had to be okay with men staring at my boobs and touching me a little too far down my back. I thought I had to “like” that, or approve of it at the very least.  I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this and that’s upsetting. I don’t know if it is a product of poor education or the culture we live in, or the culture I personally grew up in. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. (And Mom, don’t take this personally. You raised me to be a strong, independent, and intelligent woman and I couldn’t ask for anything more.) 

It is because I was raised to be a thoughtful, strong, independent and intelligent woman that I write about my personal experience with hormone imbalance, birth control and discovering my femininity. I hope someone reads this and finds comfort in that they are not alone, that it’s okay to be confused and that your anxiety, depression, weight and skin issues may be due to inflammation and a hormonal imbalance. There’s nothing wrong with you and you are not alone in your struggles.

Here’s my story.

I always struggled with acne and weight issues, especially when I was going through puberty. I didn’t go on birth control until I was in college, where I got a free pack at my College Health Center with no consultation or discussion of what dosage I was given or how it may affect my body or mood. Just: “I want birth control.” Nurse: “Okay, here you go.” I don’t want you to think I was ungrateful, I know that I was incredibly fortunate to have such easy access to birth control because so many women around the world, and right here in the U.S.A. , are denied birth control every day. Many of those women end up pregnant before they are ready. The father is most likely someone they do not love, or even know, and their future is changed in an instant. That is not my story and I am grateful that it is not.

 

My story is of a young girl who was naive, uneducated and scared. Who probably had hormonal imbalances that could have been fixed by changing her diet and not going on the pill. She needed to be educated on the other birth control options available to her. She had no idea there were any other options or that the pill had side effects at all, so instead she would have to suffer through the next eight years going on and off birth control only to experience digestive, skin and mood issues no matter what she did or didn’t do. Now that I know more, I think I can trace the start of my severe digestive  issues back to 6 months after I was put on the most recent birth control I was taking. This birth control was a lower dosage because I eventually spoke with a doctor who understood that I was having negative reactions to my previous prescription. I did feel better, but I began to have digestive issues that I, in no way, thought could be from the birth control I was on. I still don’t know if this is true, but time will tell.

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So, what’s the deal with birth control anyway? Why is it so bad? Well, it’s still being studied. So far, I’ve read studies that show that birth control interferes with our microbiome because of the artificial hormones being pumped into our bloodstream, which may result in leaky gut syndrome. It also messes with our thyroid because, you guessed it, the artificial hormones. Women already produce estrogen, but when on birth control, women become estrogen dominant, which negatively affects the brain and heart. This could be why many women complain of depression and anxiety and the chances of heart attack and stroke are increased considerably. Oh, fun fact, after five years of being on birth control, there is a 300% chance of developing Crohn’s Disease. The pill is also inflammatory and insulin resistant masking metabolic disorders like PCOS, which is a severe metabolic disorder caused by hormonal imbalances. All of this disrupts the immune system causing your body to go into fight or flight mode, which increases inflammation… Not to mention it’s affect on libido and vaginal health: i.e. more yeast infections, dryness, etc. UGH.

What bothers me is that this is not common knowledge. There are far better birth control options and every woman should be educated on ALL of these points. When I began learning about all of this, I was in denial. I thought, “I’m healthy, I don’t have any inflammation, none of this pertains to me.” How could it not? I didn’t like the sounds of other birth control options, IUD’s scared me and I wasn’t ready for kids. So why not just stay on birth control? But I was horrible at remembering to take the pill, constantly having to double-up for fear of pregnancy which ended with paranoia, a messed up cycle and askew hormones… why did I want to stay on the pill?!

I finally woman-ed up and decided to get an IUD. An IUD is a small, T-shaped intrauterine device inserted into your uterus that provides long-term birth control. We’re talking, 3-10 years depending on what kind of device you decide to go with. Some devices have hormones and some do not. Initially, I wanted to go with the non-hormonal one since that was one of my number one reasons for going off the pill, but after a consultation with my gynecologist, I decided to get the Mirena device. Mirena releases progesterone, no estrogen, over a period of time to prevent pregnancy. I went with Mirena because adding progesterone isn’t harmful to the body and it protects your ovaries which is a good idea since there’s cervical and ovarian cancer in my family history.

I got the IUD inserted yesterday and DAMN it was painful. I expected it to hurt, but wasn’t prepared for quite how much. I kept telling myself: “You’ve run a marathon, you’ve fractured bones, you can deal with this pain.” . Which, I did. But it was definitely not easy. At first I thought it wasn’t so bad, until I realized she was only dilating me (since I haven’t gone through childbirth) and had yet to insert the device. Once she did, it felt like a horrible cramp with a very large brick on top of my uterus. I had the sensation that I was either going to pee or poop, which she assured me was normal since I had to be dilated. She asked me how I felt, to which I replied: “uhhhh, weird?”. After she cut the strings and came out, I felt the cramping subside and thought I’d be back to feeling normal. Nope, not so much. All the blood rushed to my brain and I felt insanely dizzy and nauseous. They laid me back down, gave me a puke bucket and rushed to get me water. My ears were buzzing, the room was spinning, my vision was blurry and I questioned why I ever agreed to do this on my own free will. They were incredibly supportive and patient with me and brought Mike in to hold my hand and talk me through everything. After a minute or two with him I had the courage to sit up and leave. The dizziness didn’t subside for a while, which made the 5 minute walk home into a 20 minute one filled with many stops to take deep breaths. I was keeled over while I was walking because I was having the most intense sensation of where my uterus was located, which is really strange. You know you have one, but you’re never really aware of it until you have an IUD inserted, and when you’re pregnant, I imagine. I feel like I got a nice little childbirth preview yesterday and have so much respect for all the mother’s out there. I didn’t experience half the dilation and pain that you go through during labor!

And now, I am free. Free of the pill. Free of artificial hormones (for the most part) that may or may not be causing the digestive, skin and mental issues I’ve been coping with for the past eight years. I am excited to experience change, but am also nervous and not looking forward to the spotting, bleeding and for my cycle to be off, but I am thrilled that I don’t have to worry about missing a pill for the next five years and look forward to (hopefully) healing my microbiome once and for all.

More importantly, I am proud that I finally kissed fear goodbye and went for a healthier and more sustainable birth control that will hopefully be much better for my body. I am also grateful to have access to this  kind birth control, for FREE with my health insurance, and hope that the education of women’s reproductive health only advances and improves and that our health care doesn’t regress.

Don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re completely clueless about your reproductive health because I’m 28 years old and am finally understanding my body for the first time and I truly feel how lovely it is to be a woman. IMG_8306

 

 

 

What I Learned Doing the Whole30

About a month ago I embarked on the Whole30 diet program (essentially the Paleo diet) in an effort to get my body ready for Marathon training.

I didn’t complete the whole30 program. I had a bunch of family events and celebrations and I did it successfully for 23 days and that’s okay with me. Why? Because I pretty much follow the Whole30 lifestyle as it is. It wasn’t a huge change for me and I didn’t experience many symptoms other than extreme bloating around days 10-14 (but I also had my period, so there’s that).

There are definitely things about it I liked:

  1. I was forced to eat more veggies. Veggies were the base to all my meals: even breakfast! I found myself craving salads and raw vegetables. This is most likely a seasonal effect, but still!
  2. I paid more attention to what food I had on hand and planned meals and snacks ahead of time instead of winging it when busy or at work.
  3. I felt energized and lighter.
  4. Not drinking alcohol was the most challenging part for me! I never realized how often I’d resort to a glass of wine or beer after a long shift or when cooking dinner. It forced me to be more present and to not drink away any sadness or frustrations I may have been experiencing.

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Here’s what didn’t work for me:

  1. A lot of Whole 30 for me was feeling like I had to eat all this animal protein in order to feel satisfied and full. And while I don’t ever rule it out, I feel much better when I’m eating plant based protein or fish. I just don’t think I’m much of a carnivore. Doing this diet made me realize that.
  2. Being restricted for such a long amount of time triggered a lot of old eating disorder and body dysformia thoughts and feelings for me. I didnot like that. There were a few days where I felt like I was playing “a game” to see how little I could eat and feel satisfied just like I used to and that is obviously not good. When I began to feel bloated ( a symptom of cleansing and detoxing) I began looking in the mirror and obsessing over every little wrinkle, jiggle and curve on my body. Getting into this frame of mind is self destructive and affects every area of your life. I felt miserable, unmotivated and wanted to give up. It is a curse and a blessing to be so intuitive because I was fully aware of what was going on, but I couldn’t stop it.

…and that’s the real reason I stopped at 23 days. I saw myself going down the rabbit hole of counting calories, obsessing over the quality of food I was eating, choosing not to eat a meal (or meals), hating my body and myself.

I want to be honest about my experience. I am in no way condemning the Whole30 program. I’m sure it works wonders for some people. But for me, the negatives outweighed the bad and I knew enough was enough. I embarked on the journey to feel fresh and clean and ready for marathon training. Instead, I’m feeling more self conscious than ever.

And that’s why I don’t do diets. DIETS SUCK! They’re too black and white and life has gray area. Also, if you’re experiencing any trials and tribulations in other areas of your life such as relationships, career or spirituality (as an example) it doesn’t matter how much kale you have, you’re not going to feel amazing without working on the other areas of your life first.

That’s another reason I ended the program early, other areas of my life were being pushed to the side. I realized that all the hard work I was putting into successfully completing this challenge was only taking energy away from things that I really needed to focus on. It was really hard to come to terms with this because I felt like I was failing.

But what felt like failure, wasn’t failure at all, it was success.

Because now I’m focusing on stuff that’s way more important than a diet. I’m focusing on my career, my business, my happiness, my health and my artistry. Naturally, by focusing my energy on the things that needed it, I’m only drawn to nourish myself inside and out, I’m not falling off the bandwagon and I’m still eating a pretty whole30-friendly diet because I want to.

And that’s the difference. The desire to fuel yourself with foods that support where you want your energy to go instead of following a regimen that takes up all your energy so you have none left to dedicate to the stuff that really matters. I know how difficult it is to pull yourself out of the dark, lonely hole you dug for yourself. You know, that hole that’s filled with calorie counting and excessive nutrition label checking? Yea. But it’s possible.

Have you ever felt this way? I urge you to experiment by factoring in this non-diet mentality. Think of what else feeds and nourishes you.

Your job? Your partner? Your friendships? Your guitar? Your gardening? Your painting? Your home environment?

Do these other areas of your life feel nourished, taken care of and healthy? If not, try spending more time and energy on these areas of your life. Trust yourself! Get rid of the obsessive calorie counting and worrying and focus on something that really needs it.

Experiment and let me know what you discover! If you feel like you could use more assistance and outside perspective with this, contact me! We can chat and figure out the best program for you to reach your goals and feel healthy, happy and nourished.

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Self-Care gone wrong?

What happens when our self-care days turn into anti-social anxiety-inducing days?

You know, that day you’ve been looking forward to all week where you’re going to do exactly what you want to do and nobody can stop you. You’re going to binge that new TV show! Sleep in! Not answer your phone! Wear the same outfit all day!

Self-care or “me time” is really popular right now. NPR recently did a segment about how millennials are obsessed with self-care routines concluding that their priorities to take time for themselves could mean that their emotional intelligence is greater than the generations that came before.

Now, I’m all for this whole “increased emotional intelligence” thing,  since I think millennials get a bad rep. After all, I am a millennial and I eat avocado toast, but I also practice self-care! I’m proud of this. Well, until it goes wrong.

My self-care day (or days) sometimes turn into a dark, sleepy and depressing day where I do not leave my apartment, stew in my anxieties about student loans, life and my career while cleaning aggressively and staring at my phone, computer and TV screen for much too long. But I do yoga, cook myself nourishing meals, journal and take a hot bath so that means I’m taking care of myself right?

Eh.

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Does anyone else experience this? Am I alone in struggling to find a healthy balance between being a hermit who takes care of themselves versus a well-adjusted and confident woman taking care of herself?

Sometimes I really feel like I need the day to do nothing. To zone out. To just be with myself because living in New York, working a service job and trying to start a Health Coaching practice is a lot and I want to escape from it all. It’s important that I recognize that I need that and I provide myself with the space to rejuvenate.

But how much time is too much time? Self-care days should be purposeful. Active, not passive. You should be driven to take care of yourself, it should be fun! You should not feel ambivalent about such an awesome thing. It’s about prioritizing time to nourish your mind, body and soul.

Nobody said it was easy!

There is a line that is easy to cross regarding active and inactive self-care days and the later is something I suggest trying to stay away from because, in my experience, that’s a formula for a self-care day gone wrong. Taking care of yourself is not easy and it takes a lot of thought and effort. But it’s worth it.

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You won’t know exactly what to do for yourself to help yourself when you first start practicing self-care but I promise that you’ll figure it out. We’re always going to be figuring it out because we are always changing. You’re not always going to need the mani/pedi as part of your routine, maybe you’ll need to start seeing a therapist as a new form of self-care, and so on and so forth…

If it’s hard, don’t give up. You’re not worthless and you deserve to be taken care of by someone who knows best and, believe it or not, that is YOU.

I hope that my honesty and transparency with my own struggles help a little bit. Because it IS possible to feel great, to take charge of your life, to get out of that toxic relationship, or whatever you’re going through. I’m not here to change lives, I’m here to provide honest perspective that I hope will help you. After all, we’re all human and what we can relate to in others often helps open the door to better relations within ourselves.

Try not to focus on changing yourself, instead explore what’s already within you… you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Happy exploring and be well!

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Throwback to taking a casual dip in the clearest jungle river in Thailand. Ah, if only all my self-care days could take place here…