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Tag: health (Page 1 of 2)

In Which I Figure a Few Things Out

I’m on a never-ending quest to make my life easier, as are we all, I’m sure. Which is why when I have some “A-ha!” moments I feel like I should share them, just in case there’s someone reading this who struggles in the same area(s) I do and who might benefit from my discoveries.

(The rest of y’all probably figured this stuff out a long time ago and are shaking your heads wondering why I’m so slow on the uptake.)

Anyway. These probably could have waited for my next “What I Learned” post but that won’t happen until winter and I want to get these things down while they’re fresh. And mind you, there’s nothing particularly mind-blowing or groundbreaking happening here… but still, it might help someone. So here we go.

1. Smaller, more frequent meals are better for me. Probably.

Writing that recent post on PCOS motivated me to bring myself up to speed on the latest research and re-examine my eating habits in light of the most up-to-date information, and I realized that the way I’ve been eating hasn’t been good at regulating my insulin. I mostly follow the Zone diet, and a properly zoned meal should keep me satiated for five to six hours, but this hasn’t been happening. Instead I’ve been getting hungry after about three hours, and since I can’t stand to be hungry AT ALL, I go ahead and eat a snack, thinking that I need to elevate my blood sugar. I did not realize that probably the reason I’m hungry is because my insulin is too low, which means I’ve not been managing my insulin resistance.

One reason for this is probably that I eat too much bread. I thought I was doing pretty good about eating bread and grains in moderation, but then Aldi stopped carrying their gluten-free bread. Which meant I had to stop buying gluten-free bread, because all the other brands cost more than I’m willing to pay. And not having it made me realize exactly how much I’d been depending on it to make up a meal.

At any rate, I read on a number of nutritionist websites that women with Type 1 PCOS (which includes insulin resistance) sometimes do better eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. So I’m giving that a try. Specifically, I’m eating a meal consisting of two Zone blocks (that means roughly 14 grams of protein, 18 of carbs and 6 to 8 of healthy fat) every three hours, until my last meal of the evening, which is the normal three blocks. I’m just starting this today, so whether this is actually the right thing for me is yet to be determined. But so far I’ve been more satisfied, more energetic and more clear-headed. Also, while planning out a couple of days’ worth of meals (I don’t think I’ll need to meal plan once I get used to eating this way, but right now not knowing what I’ll be eating for all those scheduled meals makes me too anxious not to plan ahead), I realized that this is going to make it a lot easier to avoid bread and grains*, since I won’t need to eat as many carbs at each meal. So this might just solve two problems at once. Win!

*By grains I mainly mean wheat and anything with gluten. I do okay with oats, corn, rice, etc. as long as I have them in moderation.

2. It’s better to focus on one big task per day.

I thought I was doing pretty well with a daily rhythm that allowed a little room to do a little bit each day on several projects. It made me feel like at least each thing on my project plate was getting attention and making a little bit of progress every day. Sounds good, right?

But this week, since I’m still fighting off this cold or whatever it is, I cut myself some slack and only scheduled one big project task per day. This week that means blogging on Monday and Tuesday, pitching articles and freelance work on Wednesday and Thursday, with Friday set aside for working on my novel. And you know, I think this is actually a lot more effective. I’m only a few days in but I’m making major progress and actually finishing things ahead of schedule, leaving me more time for things like researching what I should be doing for my health and loving on my home and family. I think I’m going to keep this up for a while and see how it goes.

One tweak I’m going to make is to try and front load each weak with the projects that energize me and give me life, and save the more draining stuff for the back half of the week. I used to think it was best to get the draining stuff out of the way first, but then I’d be too drained for anything else. So for me this means book writing on Monday, blogging on Tuesday and Wednesday, and article pitching/writing on Thursday and Friday. Which brings me to…

3. I can schedule time for freelance writing and pitching every week.

Y’all, this has been a revelation. I am SO, SO grateful for my freelance writing work, but one of my biggest frustrations is that it’s sporadic and unpredictable, which makes it difficult to plan. Currently I write regularly for three corporate blogs through two different agencies. One of these agencies just posts assignments in batches once or twice a month, and there’s no regularity for when this happens. The other one will have a monthly idea pitching window for each client–again without much regularity–and whether or not you’re assigned work depends on whether any of your ideas are accepted.

Since I’m someone who thrives on steady rhythms and a certain degree of predictability and regularity in my schedule, this unpredictability has been driving me crazy. There are few things that drive me up the wall more than having to drop everything and change my plans at the last minute.

Y’all. I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but I finally figured out that I can schedule time for pitching and writing articles into every week–AND that I don’t have to wait for a pitch window or writing assignment from my current clients. I can pitch and submit articles to prospective clients, too. This really should be obvious, because this is how most freelance writers make their living, and I’m kind of an idiot.  But now that I’ve remembered this very basic thing about being a freelancer, not only will my schedule be more predictable and sane, but maybe I’ll also make some more of the monies. One can hope.

If you’re wondering how this last thing might apply to your life, since it’s pretty specific to mine, here’s the main point: if there’s an unpredictable thing in your schedule that’s driving you crazy, then schedule time for that thing every week, or every day if that’s what it takes. Maybe when that thing isn’t actually in play, you can spend that time doing something adjacent to that thing to help you be ready when the thing crops up. Or just consider that time free time to use however you want when you’re not having to actively do the thing. Either way, when it comes time to do the actual thing, then it won’t be a big deal because you won’t have to drop everything and adjust your plans around it. There will already be room for it in your week.

So I hope that helps.

Is there anything you’ve recently figured out that’s made life a little easier or more sane? In the spirit of sharing and helping, tell us about it in the comments!

PCOS 101

September is PCOS Awareness Month. You might not have been aware of that, which is exactly why such a month is needed. PCOS — Polycystic Ovary Syndrome — is a disease that’s known to affect roughly five million women in the U.S. alone–nearly 10% of the population, including yours truly. But not a lot was understood about this disease until fairly recently, and unfortunately the diagnostic criteria relied on by most medical professionals is seriously outdated, which means that countless more women who suffer from PCOS aren’t being properly diagnosed.

It might astonish you to learn that a disease affecting so many women is so underdiagnosed, but it’s really not surprising. Despite the fact that I presented with classic symptoms from the time I started puberty, it took two miscarriages in my mid-thirties before a doctor finally suggested that I might have it, and then it took another year for me to be officially diagnosed. And then each time I spoke to a different doctor they each told me something different. One believed it could have played a part in my miscarriages. Another said that PCOS absolutely does not cause miscarriages and that the only way to treat it was with the birth control pill. Yet another said that it causes infertility and that I needed to watch my weight and keep my blood sugar down. She, at least, was right (Doctor #2, by the way, was completely wrong), but that was only part of the story. Honestly, apart from the infertility and what it does to your health, the most frustrating thing about having PCOS is simply finding a doctor who is actually knowledgeable about it.

The good news is that a lot of strides have been made in PCOS research in recent years, and today a lot more is known about it than back when I was first diagnosed. Where it was once thought to be a reproductive disorder, we now know that it’s actually an endocrine disorder affecting almost every system in the body, not just the reproductive system. PCOS also affects the digestive system, the immune system and, of course, the endocrine system, among others. When it comes to the havoc it can wreak on overall health, PCOS can politely be called a cluster mess. Here is just a partial list of the things that PCOS either causes or places you at a higher risk for:

• Infertility and pregnancy loss
• Gestational diabetes and preterm delivery
• Irregular and painful periods
• Elevated insulin and insulin resistance
• Diabetes and metabolic syndrome (aka pre-diabetes)
• Thyroid disease
• Autoimmune diseases
• Chronic inflammation
• Inflammatory illnesses, including chronic pain disorders
• Heart disease
• Losing hair in places where you want it and growing it in places where you don’t
• IBS and leaky gut
• Gluten intolerance
• Acne
• Anxiety and depression
• Sleep apnea
• Fatigue
• Brain fog
• Difficulty losing weight

Often, women will seek treatment for one or more of the above issues, having no idea that PCOS is the underlying cause, and leaving with their health professional making them none the wiser. This is sad and frustrating because PCOS is a manageable condition, and proper management is the key to treating all of the symptoms and resulting conditions. I’ll get to more of that in a minute, but first let’s talk about what PCOS is, exactly.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, at its core, is a hormonal imbalance in which the body produces too many male hormones and not enough female hormones. Additionally, the liver doesn’t clean the excess male hormones out of the body like it should. This imbalance wreaks havoc on the female body. The disease gets its name from one symptom in which the ovaries produce small cysts in place of eggs, but in spite of that, this particular symptom is not always present. As I said earlier, research into understanding this disease is only just getting off the ground, but here, so far, is what is actually known about PCOS:

• It’s linked to both high blood sugar and chronic inflammation, but it’s not known whether either of these cause PCOS or whether they result from it.
• Either way, managing blood sugar and inflammation through nutrition and exercise is the best way to treat PCOS and most of the conditions that stem from it.

How do you know if you have PCOS?

The diagnostic criteria for PCOS is that you have at least two of the following:
• Irregular or absent periods
• A blood test showing excessive male hormones in the blood, or physical signs such as hirsutism (i.e., whisker-like hair grown on the face and neck), hair loss and/or acne
• Polycystic ovaries
However, diagnosing PCOS this way fails to take into account insulin resistance, which is a far more common occurrence in women with PCOS than polycystic ovaries.

If you suspect you might have PCOS, you should bring it up with your doctor, but if possible it’s also a good idea to seek out an endocrinologist who specializes in, or is at least knowledgeable about, treating PCOS. You should also be prepared to do a lot of research, be your own health advocate, and possibly even design your own treatment plan with the help of a knowledgeable nutrition expert.

What to do if you have PCOS

PCOS is not a one-size-fits-all disease. It affects everyone differently, and there is no cure or no one-size-fits-all treatment. While for decades the common wisdom has been to prescribe the pill in order to regulate periods and help control acne, that only treats two out of many symptoms and does absolutely nothing to treat the underlying cause or help the additional health issues linked to PCOS.

The best treatment is a diet that’s designed to control both blood sugar and inflammation, and that incorporates foods known to reduce androgens and improve liver function. There are a number of good low glycemic index, anti-inflammatory diets that can be adapted to effectively treat PCOS, including the Zone diet, Paleo and Whole 30. There are also diets geared specifically toward PCOS, which I’ll link to below.

You should also get used to the idea of avoiding gluten and dairy, both of which contribute to inflammation. There are a number of reasons to give up dairy, or at least cut way back on it. Besides the inflammation factor, cow’s milk also contains natural hormones designed to help growing baby cows, which are not conducive to helping a hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS are also more susceptible to leaky gut and IBS, neither of which are helped by dairy.

Regular exercise is also an important part of an effective treatment plan. That doesn’t mean you have to become a gym bunny, but regular movement and strength training help to control your body’s insulin response, as well as helping to keep depression at bay.

If you want to know more about the link between nutrition and PCOS and how to manage this disease, check out the following links:

PCOS Diva

PCOS Diet Support

PCOS Nutrition Center

Also, be sure to check out the PCOS Awareness Association for even more info.

Do you have any experience with this disorder? Have you got any questions I might be able to answer? I’d love to discuss it with you in the comments! ♥

Sources:
https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/pcos/pcos-20-facts-may-surprise/

http://www.pcosnutrition.com/facts/

30 Days After Whole 30

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It’s been a month since I ended my Whole30, so I thought I’d look back at the last 30 days of life after Whole30.

All in all, I think it’s gone well. I’ve continued making healthy choices, although I have strayed here and there–most notably when we took my mom out for burgers for a belated Mother’s Day treat. We went to our favorite old-fashioned burger stand and I had a burger with everything (no cheese, though!) and a large serving of onion rings. WORTH EVERY BITE. For the most part, though, the majority of my meals have been in line with my dietary & health goals.

I find I’m “cheating” a lot less than I did back when I scheduled intentional cheat days, and when I do go off-diet to splurge it’s an intentional, thought-out decision based on whether or not the splurge in question is truly worth the potential consequences, and not an impulsive failure to exert self-control. I’m also finding that it often takes just a few bites of something to satisfy my craving and make me feel like I’ve had a real treat.

I haven’t been exercising as consistently, mainly because it was such a busy month. I’ve done better this week, though, and I aim to keep doing better, but that always seems to ebb and flow no matter what I do.

I weighed myself this morning, because I felt like I’d lost some weight, but according to the scales I didn’t–but I didn’t gain any either. That said, my clothes feel a bit looser — most tellingly, my denim capris that gave me a a slight muffin-top before W30 and fit just right by the end now need a belt to stay up. So I’m guessing I’ve lost somewhere around half an inch. Which just goes to show that scales are not the most reliable indicator of progress, so I can go on happily not weighing myself.

As far as “non-scale victories” go, though, I still have a lot more energy and stamina. Looking back over the last month I’m kind of amazed at how much I’ve gotten done. I’m starting to feel a little burned out, though, mainly because I slipped back into hustle mode, and my mind and soul are just not made for hustle, no matter how much energy my body has. So I’m trying to slow things back down to make more time for the things that are good for my mind and spirit and not just my body. I sat down this morning to look at my calendar, and I’m thinking I should be able to take a good, long break week after next, which will include a break from the blog.

At any rate, I’m pretty happy with the continued aftereffects of my Whole30. I can easily see myself continuing my good habits through the summer and into fall. Once the holidays roll around, though, things are bound to get interesting.

Interested in trying your own Whole30? Here are some links to get you started:

Have you ever done Whole30? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

 

My Whole30 Journey

doing the whole30

Welp, I made it to Day 30 of Whole30, you guys, and I didn’t die, although it seemed touch-and-go for a little while there around the end of Week 3.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But it was hard going there for a while, and it was around Days 20 – 22 that I was most tempted to quit. Here’s how my experience broke down.

Days 1-7 – I felt pretty good, overall. I had some issues with moodiness and irritability, and low energy around Day 4, but that could’ve been chalked up to hormones.

Days 8 – 14 – This week was pretty uneventful. My mood seemed to even out. My energy was okay — not through the roof or anything, but I didn’t feel draggy and my thinking seemed to be getting clearer.

Days 15 – 21 – The week started well, but by mid-week I was irritable again, and I started having issues with lightheadedness and fatigue. I had a really difficult time waking up and dragging myself out of bed in the mornings. I was frustrated because, according to the Timeline, those issues should’ve happened during the first or second week and by this stage I should’ve been feeling “tiger blood” — a general overall feeling of awesomocity — and I most decidedly was not. This is also the point where chocolate cravings and food fatigue really started to get to me and I was most tempted to quit.

Days 21 – 28 – I pressed on, and after Day 22 or so the dizziness and fatigue passed, and so did the chocolate cravings. I was still pretty tired of the lack of variety in my diet, but by that point I had come too far to actually quit. On our next grocery run I added some new veggies into the rotation and that helped some with the food fatigue. Toward the end of the week I was feeling better overall. My energy levels were up, I had more stamina and I started feeling a lot more clear-headed and focused, but still felt like “tiger blood” was eluding me.

Days 29 & 30 – Yesterday and today I’ve felt pretty energetic and didn’t have any trouble waking up in the morning (well, today I did thanks to a bout of insomnia last night, but I woke up more easily than I expected to and I feel pretty good otherwise), so I think maybe I finally achieved “tiger blood” here at the tail end.

Results

Overall, I’m pleased with the results. I weighed myself this morning for the first time since Day 1, and I actually lost five pounds, which I didn’t really expect or hope for, so that’s a nice bonus. But I achieved a number of non-scale victories, which include:

  • The discipline that came with having to follow the rules for 30 days. This spilled over into other areas of my life, too. I also found myself exercising more consistently, and also doing a better job of sticking to a writing schedule.
  • I broke some bad food habits I’d developed, and I stopped feeling like I’m missing out if my husband eats junk food without me (and he stopped feeling like he’s obligated to share it with me).
  • The aforementioned increased energy, stamina and mental clarity. I no longer feel perpetually like I need a nap.
  • Reduction of chronic pain . . . somewhat. My knees and back feel better, and my wrist tendonitis hasn’t flared up in well over a week, even though I’ve been doing a ton of typing and Photoshop, both of which tend to aggravate it. However, the pain I’ve been feeling in my clavicle for the last year or so hasn’t gotten any better, which leads me to suspect maybe it has more to do with my mattress than with chronic inflammation.
  • Just generally feeling more confident, capable and good about life.

Life After Whole30

So will I be doing this again? Maybe, at some point, if my habits get so derailed again that I need a total nutrition reboot to get everything back on track. But I don’t plan to adopt it as a lifestyle. Going forward, my diet will be a mish-mash of Whole30-inspired meals, the Zone diet, and the PCOS diet. I’ll still avoid gluten, dairy and soy, and keep processed foods to a minimum, but don’t plan to concern myself too much with added sugar, legumes (I really miss peanut butter, y’all) or gluten-free grains in moderation.

One big change that I can attribute to my Whole30 experience is that I won’t be reinstituting cheat days, which just set me up for failure. I plan to follow Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom philosophy of consciously deciding whether it’s worth it to eat something that’s “off-plan.” I’ve already made up my mind that things like frozen pizza — even the really good kind from Sprout’s — and Little Debbies aren’t worth it. Actual delivery pizza and home baked chocolatey treats, on the other hand — totally worth it, and also don’t occur often enough to worry about, so I will enjoy them when the opportunity presents itself and then move on without guilt.

So would I recommend it? If you struggle with things like low energy, brain fog, high blood sugar, or chronic pain, definitely. And if you feel like you should be eating healthier but just can’t exercise the self-control to make healthier choices, or if you struggle with food issue like emotional eating, boredom eating, guilt over your choices, etc., I believe this would help break those unhealthy psychological patterns and get you on a road to wellness.

If you do it, just keep in mind that you need to commit to the entire 30 days, because it may take that long to see real results (for some people it takes 40, 50 or 60 days. I’m really glad I didn’t turn out to be one of those people), and there WILL be days when it is HARD and you want nothing more than to quit. It’s an excellent exercise in perseverance and patience, on top of everything else.

Have you done Whole30? Do you have any plans to? Share your experience and feel free to ask questions in the comments!

Whole30 at 43

doing the whole30

 

Next week, I’m going to turn 43. The week after that, I think I’m going to jump on this Whole30 bandwagon to get my 44th trip around the sun off to a healthy start. This decision is partly inspired by my friend Rebekah over at Fantasia Hearth, and a lot of my reasons are similar to the ones she outlines in this post.

In addition to chronic pain and inflammation, the effects of long-term stress, and low energy and fatigue, I’ve also got Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and an underactive thyroid (among other things; on the official site they list all of the different conditions that people have claimed this diet either helped or cured, and I’ve got at least eight things on that list). I’ve had some success managing all of this with the Zone diet and cutting out (or at least cutting way back on) gluten and dairy; the Whole30 plan appears to take that several steps further, by also making legumes (including peanut butter – SOB!), ALL grains (even the gluten-free ones), sugar and ALL forms of sweetener, including Stevia (goodbye dark chocolate and sweet tea), and alcohol (which, I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage since New Year’s, so NBD).

So what CAN I eat? Meat, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats, along with various herbs and seasonings. And I can keep drinking coffee and tea, which is good because that would’ve been a deal breaker (the chocolate already came close to being one, but . . . it’s only for 30 days. I can survive without chocolate for that long. I think. Coffee, though? Not so much).

What do I hope to accomplish by doing this? Well, feeling better, for one thing. Having more energy and less pain. Increased focus and clearer thinking. Decreasing all of the increased chances for all of the scary things that having PCOS places me at risk for. Improved fertility and more regular, less harrowing monthly cycles.

I also like that the Whole30 plan is designed to break emotional and psychological ties to food, of which I have plenty.

Currently I’m planning to start on the Monday following my birthday. Why then? Because I’m not willing to give up the annual Chinese buffet binge that my mom always treats me to, nor the chocolate chip and cream cheese cookie brownie my husband is planning to bake for me in lieu of cake. And since my birthday is on a Wednesday, Matt and I will probably wait until the weekend to do our celebrating, which will involve said cookie brownie and possibly pizza and may or may not also involve a celebratory glass of wine (or possibly a beer) or two — we haven’t decided yet. And for the last couple of weeks I’ve been munching on Easter candy so this will be a perfect time for a nutritional detox to break my sugar addiction. And also because it’s just easier for me to start new things on Mondays.

I also need the time between now and then to prepare. I’ve already gotten my husband on board (he won’t be doing it with me, but he’s promised to do what he can to encourage and support me), but I’m still working on psyching myself up for it. Plus I need to plan what I’ll be eating and stock up accordingly. One thing I know is that I’ll be more likely to stick with it for the duration if I can keep it simple and automate as much of it as possible by having a set of go-to meals and preparing them ahead of time. So there are logistics to figure out, too. I’ve already started pinning recipes to my healthy eating Pinterest board.

I’m probably not going to blog regularly about it, but you can follow me on Instagram where I may track my progress, and when my 30 days are done I’ll do a post on how it all went and whether it made a difference in how I feel.

Also . . . pray for me, y’all. And let me know if you’ll also be doing Whole30 (or something else challenging and potentially life changing) in the comments, so I can return the favor.

Love,
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PCOS Awareness Month: What You Should Know

Fight Like a Girl

Image credit: didmynails on Photobucket

September is, among other things, PCOS Awareness Month. So I thought I’d break from the routine today to resurrect a (slightly modified) post from my old Blogger blog, originally posted in September of 2011.

***

There’s a meme currently making the rounds on Facebook, supposedly in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in which women are being encouraged to post fake, coy pregnancy announcements in the form of “I’m (the number of your birth month) and craving (an item of food on a list that corresponds with your birth day),” without offering further explanation. This is, somehow, supposed to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of backlash. Men are annoyed at being intentionally left out, and rightly so, seeing as how breast cancer affects them, too, both directly and indirectly. My friend Erin Palette points out that it’s time to give equal attention to other more common and deadlier types of cancer that nevertheless hardly receive any media attention. And then there’s the Infertility/Recurrent Pregnancy Loss crowd, of whom I’m a member, who finds this meme, at best, insensitive, and at worst, downright hurtful. Others have expounded on the reasons why far more eloquently than I can, and if you’re wondering, then I encourage you to read those posts.

I admit that when I got the memo encouraging me to participate in the meme, I felt a little hurt and annoyed. I thought about how great it would make all of the friends and family feel, who’ve been hoping and praying for me to have a healthy pregnancy, to see me post something like that only to turn around and tell them, “Just kidding!” But mostly I felt bewildered, because, what does pretending you’re pregnant have to do with breast cancer, exactly? And also, Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t until October.

This month, September, is actually PCOS Awareness Month. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog for very long at all, then you know that this is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is the reason all of those people are praying for me. It’s most likely the reason neither of my previous pregnancies made it to the end of the first trimester[*]. It’s the reason I’m terrified of even trying to get pregnant again until I lose enough weight to cure my insulin resistance. It’s also the reason that there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to get pregnant again once we do start trying, or that it will happen quickly or without difficulty and a lot of heartache.

In the interest of doing something that actually raises awareness about a cause, here are a few facts about PCOS:

  • It’s a disorder that affects approximately five to ten percent of all women.
  • It’s one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
  • It’s closely linked with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
  • Those with PCOS who do manage to get pregnant face an increased risk of miscarriage, most likely due to said insulin resistance.
  • It can be diagnosed at any phase of life and is not limited to women of child-bearing age.

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods, or no periods
  • Painful periods
  • Acne, especially at an age where acne isn’t a common affliction
  • Excess hair growth on the face and body
  • Hair loss
  • Unruptured follicles, or cysts, on the ovaries

Despite the name of the disorder, ovarian cysts aren’t always present and aren’t necessary for a diagnosis. Generally, three or more symptoms are enough for a diagnosis.

There is no known cure for PCOS. Currently, the only known medical treatment for PCOS is the birth control pill, which is not exactly helpful for those with the disorder who want to get pregnant. Fortunately, however, studies have shown that treating the related insulin resistance through a healthy, low-glycemic diet and regular exercise, or even with medications such as Metformin, can serve to lessen the severity of PCOS symptoms, and has even resulted in healthy pregnancies in women who have been prone to miscarriage.

If you’d like more information on PCOS, or if you think you or a loved one might suffer from this disorder, or for information on treating the disorder, please check out the following links:

***

*I’ve since discovered that the most likely culprit was a thrombophilia (i.e, blood clotting) disorder, but controlling my blood sugar will still be a vital component of a successful pregnancy.

I would also like to add that women with PCOS are more likely to also have a thyroid disorder and gluten resistance, and also have a greater chance of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease if it goes untreated. And while taking the birth control pill can help regulate your cycles and give you easier periods, it does nothing to treat the underlying condition.

And here’s a good news update: Earlier this summer, my husband and I made the decision for me to stop taking the birth control pill and switch to a natural family planning method (specifically the one detailed in the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler), prompted by concerns about side-effects and health risks associated with long-term use of the pill. I was concerned that once I went off the pill my cycles would once again be all over the map, but I’m happy to say that so far, they’ve been pretty regular for the first time in my life–which tells me that the changes I made in my diet and lifestyle are working.

For more information about controlling PCOS through diet and lifestyle, I highly recommend both PCOS Diva and PCOS Diet Support. Both sites offer a number of paid resources like ready-made PCOS-friendly meal plans and online courses, but they also both contain a lot of free information and resources.

Personally, I’ve checked out some of the sample meal plans and found them too complicated for my lifestyle, so I just sort of do my own thing by following Zone diet principles, avoiding gluten and dairy as much as I can, and incorporating PCOS-friendly foods as much as possible. In addition to regular cycles, I’ve also noticed other improvements, such as increased energy and the near-elimination of my acne.

If you meet any of the criteria listed above, please talk to your doctor about the possibility of PCOS. This is serious stuff that affects far more than your reproductive health, but as you can see by my example, it’s completely manageable if you’re willing to make some lifestyle changes.

In love,

Jean

P.S. – Once again I’m linking up with Holley Gerth. Check out her post for more encouragement and “Coffee for Your Heart.”

How Aldi is helping me stay gluten free

Aldi gluten free foods

Some of the gluten-free products from Aldi in my kitchen

As you probably know if you’ve been following along here for a while, around the start of last fall I decided to severely limit my gluten intake to see if it helped my thyroid issues and gave me more energy. I’m happy to report that it has indeed.

You may recall how in the beginning I was reticent about gluten-free substitutes for all of the wheat-based foods I enjoyed. Flavor was one concern, but a bigger concern was cost. Up to that point, all the GF breads, cookies and the like that I’d seen were on the pricey side.

As luck — or Providence — would have it, right around the time I decided to avoid gluten, Aldi started rolling out their own line of gluten-free foods, Live G Free. Now, you should know that I love Aldi. It’s not perfect — Lord knows the produce section at the one we frequent leaves a lot to be desired — but back when we were on a rice-and-beans budget, this store made us feel like we could eat like kings.

Their gluten free stuff is just as affordable, for the most part, but it still took me a while to get around to trying it. This is partly because at first they didn’t offer that much, or at least not that I noticed. But it must’ve proved popular enough for them to expand the line, because now there are quite a few items in the line. This include:

  • Pretzels
  • Cookie, brownie and pizza dough mixes
  • Breakfast/snack bars
  • Crackers
  • Pasta – spaghetti, rigatoni and penne
  • Mac & cheese
  • Bread – white and whole grain
  • Frozen foods including pizza, breaded chicken nuggets, waffles, and Hot-Pocket-style sandwiches

The other reason it took me a while to get around to trying the stuff was concern about flavor. But you never know if you’ll like something until you try it, so a few weeks into my GF venture I bit the bullet. The first thing I tried was the crackers, made primarily from rice flour. They don’t taste like wheat crackers, no, but they’re quite tasty in their own right, and great with tuna or egg salad.

The second thing I tried was the fudge brownie flavored breakfast bars. These are actually quite delish, but they’re not very substantial. I keep a couple in my purse for when I have low-blood sugar attacks and start to get hangry while I’m out, and they work in a pinch, but they don’t tide me over very long.

Since then I’ve also tried their pasta (the rigatoni), bread and chicken nuggets. I’m actually quite a fan of the whole grain bread and the pasta. The chicken nuggets take a little getting used to, but they’re starting to grow on me.

I plan to try out some of their other fare in the coming weeks. I’ve mainly got my eye on the waffles. I’d like to try the Mac & Cheese, but I’m also avoiding dairy, so that’s going to be a real indulgence when I do. At any rate, adding some of these products into my rotation has made it a lot easier to stick to my new GF lifestyle, and if you’ve made a decision to give up gluten in the new year, you could definitely do a lot worse.

What about you, reader? Have you ever shopped at Aldi? Do you love it as much as we do? How is your relationship with gluten working out? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

5 Ways to Bust Seasonal Depression

5 ways to bust seasonal depressionThis is another re-post from my homemaking blog, A Sensible Wife, which is now on permanent hiatus. This was one of my more popular posts there, and now that the holidays are done and we’re deep in the throes of winter, it seems an appropos time to update it here–although, somewhat ironically, today is the first sunny day we’ve had in weeks. Also one of the coldest, though, so I probably won’t be stepping out to soak up the rays.

Confession: as I write this intro, the weather outside is sunny and 55 degrees, and I’m about as chipper as it gets. When I started this post, though, we were in the midst of some seriously cold and dreary weather, and my seasonal depression was working hard to make a comeback.

 Normally, January is my worst month of the year (August is a close second, but for different reasons). There are no more holidays to distract me, and everything is dark and cold, and all I want to do is alternate between sleeping and stuffing my face with comfort food all day long. It’s usually really hard to drag myself out of bed in the morning, and nearly impossible to focus and actually be useful and productive. I think it’s safe to say that I tend to get a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder around this time of year.

This year, I’m pulling out all the stops to combat it (of course, the spring-like weather we’ve been having the last couple of days sure don’t hurt).  Here is a list of the things that have worked for me over the years, keeping in mind that I’m neither a doctor nor any kind of health expert. There isn’t really anything ground-breaking here, but if this post helps just one person pull themselves through the rest of winter, then it’s worth writing.

Get Some Light

Of course there’s no real substitute for the real thing, so whenever possible, spend some time outside in the sunshine, or spend 30 minutes sitting by a sunny window. For days when that’s not possible, you can use a therapeutic lamp with a 10,000 Lux setting to mimic daylight. The NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp fits the bill, and also releases negative ions, which studies have shown to have an antidepressant effect. If you don’t have the funds to spend on a fancy lamp, a friend of mine has had good results from simply swapping out his light bulbs with full-spectrum and daylight bulbs.

 Eat Healthy

If you’re like me, when you’re in the throes of SAD, you want ALL THE CARBS served up with a big side of fat. But as comforting as that big bowl of mac’ and cheese might be in the moment, it’s not really helping you feel better. A healthy diet of lean proteins, low-glycemic fruits and veggies and a reasonable amount of healthy fats (like olive oil, avocados and nuts) will do a lot more to boost your mood and energy levels — not to mention your overall health.

 Take Your Vitamins

Of course it’s important to get all of your vitamins and nutrients year-round, but in the winter it’s especially important to help keep up your energy. Taking extra vitamin D to make up for what you’re not getting from the sun has been shown to be helpful in alleviating seasonal depression. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, particularly EPA and DHA, have also been proven to help achieve emotional balance, according to DrWeil.com. Although you might need to take supplements to get high enough doses of both vitamin D and fish oil, you can also get both by eating tuna — which gives you a great excuse to have tuna melts for lunch (mmm, carbs and melty cheese). I recommend high-grade, purified fish oil if you take supplements; it can be a bit pricy, but at least you won’t have to worry about mercury poisoning. You can check the purity and safety of different fish oil brands at the International Fish Oil Standards Program.

 Get Enough Sleep

While some doctors and therapists will tell you that you should force your circadian rhythms into submission by forcing yourself to stick to a rigid sleep/wake cycle, that just has never worked for me. Over the years I’ve found that things go a lot better if I listen to my body when it cries out for sleep. So get to bed early when you can, but go ahead and sleep in once in a while if you need to, or make time for an afternoon nap. If you need help (I have a hard time getting my brain to hush up long enough to let me fall asleep no matter how tired I am), try drinking some Sleepytime tea or taking a supplement like Valerian or melatonin about an hour before bedtime.

 Get Moving

Exercise is always helpful in fighting off mild depression. Any chance you have to do it outside on a sunny day, so much the better (although if you’re like me, any kind of workout in freezing cold temperatures gets a big NOPE!). Besides being a great mood lifter by getting all those endorphins kicking around, regular exercise has also been shown to improve focus and aid in sleep (as long as it’s not done too late in the day) — both of which tend to be problems related to SAD.

 Of course, this is always the hardest part for me (well, that and the eating healthy part). As much as I KNOW exercise will help me feel better, some days it just feels impossible to put down the cocoa,  get myself off of the couch and out from under my big pile of afghans and pets and make myself move.  But on the days when I manage to do that, I’m always glad I did, because it really does help me feel better.

Do you struggle with seasonal depression, or just plain old winter blahs? How do you deal? Share your SAD-busting secrets in the comments!

Looking Back

All in all, 2014 was an okay year for the Bauhaushold. It wasn’t stellar, and it had its fair share of challenges and trials — among which were a health scare and the wreck and subsequent insurance rigmarole (which, I’m happy to report, is resolved as of today) — but it was definitely a big improvement over 2013. The important thing is, we’re better off now than we were this time last year, and as we head into the new year I’m filled with genuine optimism for the future.

Highlights were kind of few and far between, although they weren’t nonexistent. I managed to publish a couple of books, and while they haven’t performed magnificently, they’ve helped my other books to get noticed. Our prayers surrounding said health scare were positively answered and that turned out to not be too serious, which is always worth celebrating.

If you don’t mind my turning spiritual for the space of a paragraph (and you can skip to the next one if you do), I think the biggest highlight of the year is how much we’ve both grown in our faith and in our ability to apply it. Although I still have a long way to go, God has done amazing things both for me and in me during this past year. I’ve become much more patient and able to be content and at peace regardless of my circumstances, and much less prone to self pity and the negative thought patterns that lead me to depression. When I do catch myself going down that road, I’ve learned how to pray and praise my way out of it. I also started keeping a journal of prayers, promises found in scripture, and reasons I have to be thankful, writing down all the ways that I’ve seen God move in my life, which has helped tremendously to alter my mindset and make me a more hopeful person. I haven’t been keeping up with it the last couple of months, but that’s definitely something I want to get back to doing regularly in the new year.

And then there was the new diet. Even though it got derailed during the holidays, restricting my gluten and dairy intake during the week made a world of difference in my energy levels and my ability to think clearly. I think that was mostly down to the gluten, and I’m now more convinced than ever that my hypothyroid is caused by Hashimoto’s disease (which is common in women with PCOS and has been linked with gluten intolerance). Hopefully I can get tested for that in the coming year to be 100% certain. Cutting back on dairy helped a lot with my digestion issues (and that’s all I’ll say about that). I didn’t realize how much it also made a difference to my PCOS symptoms until the holidays came and I started downing eggnog and cheese with abandon.

As for how we plan to wrap up the year, we’re still debating, but I’m hoping it will involve Chinese takeout and a cozy night in with the DVD player.

What about you guys? Has 2014 been good to you? Any special plans for New Year’s Eve?

PCOS, goal interference, and reluctant diet changes

Last week was just a bad week. I have those from time to time, and I’m growing more accepting of that fact — and better at extending grace to myself — now that I’m past 40. Still, it’s really annoying to have stuff that needs to get done and lack the energy or mental clarity to do it. On the bright side, spending last week feeling vaguely ill has finally helped to convince/motivate me to get my diet back under control, since probably at least 99% of what was wrong with me could be traced to not eating healthy enough.

Seriously, I’ve been doing some research on my various chronic ailments and diet, and basically I’m not supposed to be eating any of the stuff I’ve been living on lately. I already knew that PCOS causes issues with insulin resistance and that I should be eating a low glycemic-index diet and not nearly so much bread (I’ve been eating a ton of bread, y’all) or sugar (hello, Halloween candy!). But apparently the fact that I have both PCOS and hypothyroid means it’s highly likely that I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease that’s been linked to gluten intolerance. Yet more reasons for me to avoid bread. Excuse me while I cry into my pumpkin spice flavored English muffin.

And then this short podcast offered compelling reasons why dairy is also horrible for anyone with PCOS. The gist of it is that any animal-based milk contains natural growth hormones that stimulate androgen production and make PCOS symptoms worse. Also, despite the fact that dairy is considered a low-glycemic source of protein, it actually causes blood sugar to spike about as much as bread or sugar.

So lately, this is what my diet has looked like: for breakfast, an English muffin with peanut butter and a glass of milk; for lunch, tuna salad with cottage cheese mixed in on two slices of toast; a cup of yogurt in the afternoon; and something involving meat, veggies and some form of cheese for dinner.

Can you see a few problems there? No wonder I feel like crap half the time.

Of course, this is the worst time of year to try and start a new healthy eating regimen, with Halloween and the holidays right around the corner. And I’m actually dealing somewhat better with the idea of cutting out bread and sugar than I am with giving up cheese. But I’m really tired of not feeling well and it would be nice to actually have the energy to go after my goals.

I like that the podcast I linked above pointed out that it’s not like I have celiac disease or anything, so the occasional indulgence won’t kill me. That’s good to remember, because so many of my favorite things have either gluten or dairy or both. Off the top of my head, that list includes pizza, egg rolls, cookies, breakfast toast, beer, grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream. Sure, there are gluten-free alternatives to all that stuff, but it tends to cost twice as much and often tastes half as good as the real thing.

At any rate, I’m going to need to do some more researching and planning on all of this. If you follow me on Pinterest, don’t be surprised to see an influx of PCOS and health food related pins showing up on your home page.

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