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Posts made in June, 2012

Live. Love. Eat. Episode Three is Up! And I am Away!

Posted by on Jun 26, 2012 in Podcast | 4 comments

Live. Love. Eat. Episode Three is Up!  And I am Away!

First: I will be out of town for the next week.  That is, until July 1.  Please know it will take me a bit of time to clear the comments and respond to emails when I return.

Second: While I am away, if you would like to read some beautiful lady-empowerment out of a fresh mouth, read this post by Scott Abel sent to me by Beth at Weight Maven: Ladies, Please.

Third:

Episode Three of Live. Love. Eat. has now been posted.

And in it we talk about how enormously kick ass Whole9‘s Whole 30 program is.

Each episode of Live. Love. Eat. is an interview with someone who has stepped up to share the story of her (or his) relationships with food and with her body.  She may be a disordered eater, she may be a paleo dieter, she may be totally at peace with her body or not.  The whole point being that I can do all of the writing on my blog here that I want, but I will never be able to do something as empowering, comforting, and inspiring as sharing with y’all the beautiful and brilliant lives of others.

Search on iTunes or download and/or subscribe from iTunes here.   We’d appreciate it if you left a review whether you like it or not.

If you’re not into iTunes, click here to download and/or subscribe.

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Episode Three is with guest Juliet.

Juliet is currently residing in her the town of Blacksburg, VA where she went to college and has spent the last two years living there as a Research Technician for a medical diagnostics company.  This fall, she will be moving back to her home state of NJ to begin her PhD in Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, as well as to be closer to family. Juliet’s story began at the end of college, in March 2010, when her desire to lose some fat turned into an all out obsession with detail, negative self talk, and ammennorhea of unidentifiable cause (which later turned out to be non-classically presented PCOS). Eventually, she competed in 2 natural female bodybuilding competitions, bringing her obsession, binge eating, and self loathing to a new level.  In October 2011, Juliet realized her behavior was not normal and set out on a path of self discovery. Though these last 8 months have not gone without many a bump in the road, through paleo eating, forgiveness, and the desire to love the life she lives, she is finally moving on the right track. Juliet has passions for lifting heavy pieces of iron in the gym, reading fantasy books, drinking black coffee, and eating. She loves to make new friends, hear new stories, and experience life in as many ways as possible. If you’d like to contact her with questions, or even just to talk about how awesome self serve frozen yogurt is, you can email her at Joob@heyjoob.com or reach out at her blog at http://www.heyjoob.com.


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Guest Post at Free the Animal: No One’s Power but Our Own: Paleo Sexist Woes, and an Invitation to Rise up and Roar

Posted by on Jun 23, 2012 in Blog | 6 comments

I wrote a post about my views on feminism and why the paleo movement needs feminist voices at Richard Niokley’s blog,  here.

An excerpt:

The solution then is not to attack the paleo masses. Nor is it to attack the people at the top, those who are calling the shots. It’s not to attack Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, or any of the other several male paleo bloggers who dominate the blogging scene. They are not doing anything wrong. They want women to be as healthy as women want to be healthy. In fact, while they do not necessarily trumpet women’s health issues, I’d assert pretty confidently that they do a better job loving and advocating natural female bodies than women do.

The simple fact is, however, that it’s not their job to walk the walk.

It is ours.

Our job is to stand up. Our job is to take ownership of womanhood and to live by healthy, empowered example. It is to be real and honest with ourselves as women, and to come to terms with our own desires and natures. Womanhood will never change if women are not owning and loving the right stuff themselves. We have to get over our baggage. I don’t care if we get more attention when we are skinny; I don’t care if any of us grew up with towering professional ballerinas squeezing our hips and telling us to go stand in the corner while the real dancers danced. I don’t care if we have mommy issues or daddy issues or if we grew up in a world in which being thin or exercising or meeting any of the ridiculous Western notions of womanhood were the only ways we could achieve psychological peace. That’s over, now.

…..

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Phytoestrogens in the Body: How Soy Interferes with Natural Hormone Balance

Posted by on Jun 20, 2012 in Blog, Hormones | 53 comments

Phytoestrogens in the Body: How Soy Interferes with Natural Hormone Balance

Soy is perhaps, second to chocolate, the food most closely associated with women.   It is not only a vegetarian staple, which automatically makes it a womanly food, but it also acts as an estrogen in our bodies, so this fact is unsurprising.  Yet interpretations vary: sometimes women are assured that soy is the fountain of youth, and others are warned off of it with skulls and crossbones.  What advice do we heed?  What’s actually going on inside of our bodies?  It’s hard to tell.   But with just a bit of science the waters become less murky, and we can glimpse the truth of why eating soy (the most potent, but definitely not sole phytoestrogen) can be so risky.

What is a phytoestrogen?

Phytoestrogens are a class of chemicals that resemble estrogen, but are not identical to estrogen.  The whole category is called xeno (= false) estrogens.  And then as a subclass come then phytoestrogens.  Phyto means plant.   Estrogen means estrogen.  Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens.

There are, moreover, several varieties of phytoestrogens.  The primary kinds are coumestans, isoflavones, and lignans.  Coumestans are found in split peas, pinto and lima beans, alfafa sprouts, and most importantly, red clover and clover sprouts.  Isoflavones are found in soy (powerfully), green beans, alfafa sprouts, chick peas, peanuts, and red clover.  Lignans include flax seed and sesame.  Other less potent sources are rhy, wheat, oal and barley, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables.  Note that there is often significant overlap of phytoestrogens between different foods.  Here is the most comprehensive and scientifically accurate list of phytoestrogen content of foods I have yet been able to find that is publicly available.  Here is the journal article (even more comprehensive) that gave birth to the bulk of the information out there.

Please note that soy (and arguably flax, depending on how concentrated it is) is the most potent phytoestrogen by far.  Yet all legumes, seeds, and nuts are phytoestrogens.  Please note, moreover, that phytoestrogens are orders of magnitude less potent than regular estrogen. This means that a healthfully functioning man or woman should be able to handle consuming phytoestrogens from time to time.  However, women with hormone balance issues, as well as people who regularly consume vegetable oils and nuts and soy, would do well to consider how potent their phytoestrogen intake can really be.

What is estrogen?

Estrogen is actually a catch-all term for a wide variety of chemicals with similar shapes and functions, such as estrone (E3) and estradiol (E2).  During a woman’s reproductive years, estradiol levels are much higher than other estrogens, so for these women, referring to estrogen almost always means estradiol.  During menopause, estradiol levels drop off, and the bulk of a woman’s estrogen content becomes E1 and E3.  This is important because E2 is the form of estrogen the ovaries pump out, and is also what is has the greatest effect in a woman’s reproductive years on partitioning fat to the hips and thighs rather than the abdomen.  Plummeting E2 is why many women experience increases in abdominal fat during menopause.

How does the body perform estrogen signalling?

Estrogen is a hormone, which means that it is one of the chemicals in the body that works primarily as a signal: it tells cells and organs what they should be doing.   The sex hormone signalling process “begins” in the pituitary (with overhead influence from the hypothalamus stepping in from time to time, particularly when stress and energy balance are at stake).   But the pituitary is the head honcho when it comes to sex hormones.  It is up to the pituitary to tell the ovaries what to do, and they, in turn, produce estrogen.

The hypothalamus and pituitary glands have estrogen receptors liberally positioned through them.   These receptors tell them how much estrogen is circling throughout the body at any given time.   Think of it like keys and locks: estrogen receptors are the locks, and estrogen molecules are the keys.   With more keys, more locks can be filled.  With fewer keys, locks end up sitting there empty, and rusted.

When the locks are filled, the pituitary detects “estrogen sufficiency!” in the body, and it down-regulates the strength of the “please pump estrogen” signal it sends to the ovaries.  This makes the ovary produce less estrogen.  The whole purpose of this system is to maintain stable estrogen levels in the blood.  If estrogen levels get too high, then the pituitary (in a healthy body) tells the ovaries to back off.  If estrogen levels are low, the pituitary (in a healthy body) revs up estrogen production.

So is the problem that phytoestrogens, in resembling estrogen, bind to estrogen receptors and mess up hormone production?

Yes.

Does it get more complicated?

You bet your sweet ass it does.

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What the medical community recognizes phytoestrogens do

Phytoestrogens act as estrogen in the body.  But here’s the trick: while phytoestrogens have a pretty good ability to bind to estrogen receptors, they have less of an ability to give instructions the way true estrogen does.

This fact is so important it bears repeating.  Phytoestrogens look enough like estrogen to bind to estrogen receptors, but they do not look exactly like estrogen.  This makes their ability to perform estrogen functions inferior to true estrogen.

When we eat phytoestrogens, they enter our bloodstreams.  This means that, to many doctors, women with low estrogen levels should eat phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens would signal “fullness” to the estrogen receptors, sure, but they would also perform the normal functions of estrogen in the body.  If a woman has low estrogen, the medical community doesn’t really think she can boost those levels by any means other than supplementing with food or with drugs, right?, so adding some phytoestrogen into her diet could do her nothing but good.  Like I said, she may be signalling estrogen ‘fullness’ to her hypothalamus and pituitary, but perhaps it would be worth it if it could boost estrogenic activity.

By the same token, many doctors argue that women with high estrogen levels also should supplement with phytoestrogens.  This is because the phytoestrogens would flood the estrogen receptors, which in turn wuld down-regulate estrogen production, without really increasing estrogenic activity too much.  Or so the theory goes.

In reality, however, women with low estrogen often suffer more from the binding of estrogen receptors than they might benefit from limited increase in estrogenic activity (particularly if by filling the estrogen receptors they actually reduce their already limited estrogen stores.)  Women with high estrogen levels clearly already have flooded receptors, so adding more estrogen into the mix is not necessarily going to help anybody.

The solution might be, then, to restore estrogen balance by other methods.  Increase fat mass, if underweight.  Decrease fat mass if overweight.  Exercise when it feels right.  Eat anti-inflammatory, paleo foods.  Sleep.  Etc.

Does it get even more complicated?

Hell yes it does!

What we have dealt with so far are phytoestrogens and estrogen receptors.

What the body is actually dealing with are three primary types of phytoestrogens (plus dozens of sub-types): lignans, coumestans, and isoflavones, and two types of estrogen receptors: estrogen receptor alpha (ERa) and estrogen receptor beta (ERb).

Different estrogen receptors have different shapes, and are distributed unevenly throughout the body.  ERa is concentrated more heavily in the hypothalamus than ERb, for example.  ERb is concentrated more heavily in skin tissue.    It also varies for fat cells, for ovarian cells, for different types of brain cells.  It is a complicated mix.

Coumestans have a unique chemical shape (with two hydroxy groups in the same position as estradiol).   Coumestol has the same binding affinity for the ERb receptor as estrogen, but it has much less of an afinity for ERa.  This fact means that ERb’s will get filled up by coumestans, but ERa-heavy tissue might suffer a decrease in estrogen-like activity because estrogen production in general gets down-regulated by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovaries, etc, in response to the coumestol, thus making estrogen levels decrease in ERa tissues relative to ERb.  Additionally, the shape of coumestans means that coumestans have the ability to inhibit aromatase.  Aromatase is the process of converting testosterone to estrogen in cells.  This is a big deal for women with PCOS who have high testosterone and low estrogen levels.

Different isoflavones bind to different estrogen receptors differently (my head is spinning, too).   Some bind more strongly to ERa, and others to ERb (genistein, dihydrogenistein to ERb, equol to ERa).  Yet most importantly, many (though not all) isoflavanones that have been tested have the same binding affinity as actual estrogen, but half the receptor-dependent transcriptional power.   This is a powerful fact, that isoflavones have half of the ability to perform estrogenic function as they do to take up space.

There are so many different kinds of lignans that it’s best to just walk away and shake your head.

As a matter of fact, that notion applies I believe to all phytoestrogens.   Walk away and shake your head.  I have included this last section about estrogen receptors and phytoestrogens in this post not to incite anyone to figure out which plant they should be eating in order to fix which specific tissue in their body, but rather to demonstrate the enormous complexity of phytoestrogen biochemistry.

The takeaway

Phytoestrogen biochemistry is complicated.  Some studies have shown that phytoestrogens boost estrogen activity, and others have shown that they decrease estrogen activity.   This varies widely by the population studied, too.  What were the women’s estrogen levels beforehand?  Were they healthy women?  Fertile women?  Women who grew up eating soy?  Women who are routinely exposed to xenoestrogens?  There are too many questions still yet for real answers, yet above all I believe it indicates that we should step lightly around soy.

The fact of the matter is that while the medical community has yet to understand and come to grips with phytoestrogen biochemistry, it is clear that phytoestrogens can cause unnatural hormonal disruptions.  This is especially problematic for people with high or low estrogen levels or other reproductive issues.  If estrogen seems to be increasing by one measure in one type of receptor and in one type of tissue, it is possibly decreasing in others.  And vice versa.   This can do real damage, since it is impossible for us to understand what is going on in every kind of our tissues at once.

The solution, then, is in my opinion to minimize the influence entirely.  You are welcome to disagree.  Many doctors do.  Yet in my personal and research-based experience, soy is not a way to find hormone balance.  Even if it patches a leak for a long time, it may be creating other holes, and it will never repair the bottom of the ship.  Instead, as I mentioned briefly above, I believe that holistic healing, stress reduction, paleo foods, and weight management all fare much better for women in the long term, and definitely with fewer risks.  This post did not even touch on breast and other estrogen-dependent cancers.  That pool of research is a conflicting box of vipers all on its own.  But I will cover it in due course.  Suffice to say, it is an uncertain and risky landscape.

 

 

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Live. Love. Eat. Episode Two is Up!

Posted by on Jun 19, 2012 in Blog, Podcast | 2 comments

Live. Love. Eat. Episode Two is Up!

Episode Two of Live. Love. Eat. has now been posted.

Each episode of Live. Love. Eat. is an interview with someone who has stepped up to share the story of her (or his) relationships with food and with her body.  She may be a disordered eater, she may be a paleo dieter, she may be totally at peace with her body or not.  The whole point being that I can do all of the writing on my blog here that I want, but I will never be able to do something as empowering, comforting, and inspiring as sharing with y’all the beautiful and brilliant lives of others.

Search on iTunes or download and/or subscribe from iTunes here.   We’d appreciate it if you left a review whether you like it or not.

If you’re not into iTunes, click here to download and/or subscribe.

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Episode One is with guest Lex Covucci.
Alexandra Covucci (Lex) has spent the last few years on an exploration of one of the strangest, most confusing and most beautiful places she’s ever traveled: herself.  She got there by way of growing up in Concord, MA, attending the University of New Hampshire, roaming around Europe and South America, and living and working in Santiago, Chile for over a year. She now resides in Cambridge, MA, where the cafés are as plentiful as the live-music, and every different kind of person roams the streets. She has been working in Sales at Education First  for almost two years, but her true passion lies in health and well-being.  In addition to working, Lex is currently studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she is learning a plethora of information regarding living, loving and eating. Her main focus is to eventually work with women who struggle with disordered eating and body-image, as she herself has for many years. On a more personal level, she enjoys all things active (especially biking), loves to cook, laugh, study the little nuances of people, and collect old typewriters. Her future plans include more living, more loving, more eating, and more exploring of this strange and confusing land known as herself. She also hopes to launch into Health Coaching full time in the near future in order to connect to more beautiful and amazing women around the world.  For any questions, further conversation, or just to say hello, she can be reached at lexcovucci@gmail.com.

Two final relevant notes:

If you would like to be on the podcast, please contact me via my contact tab.  I would love to have you on, no matter where you on your journey or what kind of person you are, or how popular or not.  We are all worth it, and I want the depth and reality of your life to be heard, should you have something you would like to say.

Leaving a review of the podcast really is important.  It’s the most powerful way to reach people who might find resonance in and solace from our work.  Sharing it in other mediums is cool, too, as in everything we do, but in all cases I invite you to help us as much as you please.  Podcasts, additionally, are expensive, if you want to help us in that donation kind of way.

This week’s hidden treasure:

You’ve found my speech impediment.  Now, listen for when I say, and I’m not even kidding, I said this phrase: “hells no.”

 

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Self-love and Weight Loss: Enemies or Bedfellows?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2012 in Blog, Disordered Eating, Self-love-spiration | 28 comments

Self-love and Weight Loss: Enemies or Bedfellows?

I propose in a number of blog posts that the most important thing for a woman’s health is to love herself.  Maybe I never came out and said it that explicitly, but I do believe that that is the truth.  And I do hope that is apparent in my writing.  From self-love (and being reasonable!) I believe follow nourishment, healthy diets, emotionally healthy eating, reduced stress, and increased well-being and happiness.  Self-love is at the top of the hierarchy.  From there filters the whole cascade of holistically healthful and beautiful practices and beliefs.

In my opinion.

One of the most powerful–or at least vocal–responses I have gotten to this viewpoint is that it is discouraging to women trying to lose weight.  Am I just telling them to give up?  Am I telling them their goals are unworthy or even immoral?  Am I trying to create a happy-go-lucky fantasy land in which all people at all sizes walk around in equal health and equal sex appeal?

Well, that’d be nice.

But I’m not.

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Self-love and contemporary notions of overweight

In our society, we have this funny idea that self-love and weight loss are exclusive.   Or maybe a better way to put it is that we associate the promotion of self-love and body acceptance with being overweight.   There are a fair number of people out there who advocate body acceptance at any size, and who disparage the effort to lose weight (whether they do this because they failed to or refuse to lose weight is irrelevant).   Many of these people advocate self-love.  They advocate accepting their bodies as they are, and feeling sexy and empowered no matter what their size.  This is powerful stuff.   It’s not ideal for holistic health, since there are real health concerns with being overweight, but it remains powerful stuff.

But somehow the idea of self-love then got inexplicably and monogamoulsy married to this notion of being overweight and proud.   If I advocate loving one’s self and one’s body, I must necessarily, at least in some people’s eyes, be telling them that weight loss is irrelevant, that it’s unnecessary, and that they should accept whatever skin they are in regardless of what is healthy or how they feel about it because that’s just how their natural bodies are built.   I must, in this view, be telling women not only that it’s impossible to be lean and healthy, but also that it’s wrong to try to lose weight in order to be lean and healthy.

That could not be further from the truth.

I have zero desire to keep people from healthy bodies.    I want them to get healthy bodies.   That is in fact my primary aim!  But what I mean when I advocate self-love is not an excuse or an apology for being over weight, but rather a tool to help women achieve weight loss.  Among other things.

My idea of self-love

Self-love is about loving the body as a body.  I don’t believe that this has anything, at the outset, to do with how it looks.  Love is not an issues of aesthetics.   Your body does not have to look a certain way in order for you to love it.   It only has to be.

And to be you.

Self-love is in my opinion loving the whole self first and foremost, regardless of it’s appearance.  Loving the body, in my view, is about loving ourselves as physical creatures, absent of how we might look to others or in a mirror.    Our bodies are not just visual instruments.  They are complicated, thrumming, vibrant organisms.  They provide the physical basis of our existences, and as such they enable us to perform all of the physical functions available to us– they enable us to run, to leap, to sleep, to feel the wind in our hair… to bleed, to cry, to pray, to heal, to live, to die.   And they enable our internal lives as well, providing the means for us to feel joy, sorrow, exaltation, pain, freedom, peace, and love.  Our bodies are physical, first and foremost.  And not visual.  So when I advocate that people love their bodies, what I really want for them is to love themselves and their relationship with their physical existence.

This physical existence may be complicated. Maybe it looks better to a woman some days than others.  Maybe it feels better some days or others.  Those things are all well and good and deserve attention in their own ways.  But the looks and the feeling, these things follow from being a physical body first and foremost.  They derive from it.   Which is why I advocate loving and nurturing that physical existence above all other things.  The body cannot look healthy (not without significant monetary investments, in any case) if it is not actually healthy, and the body will not achieve true holistic health without a woman working in harmony with that body.  In order to have a truly glorious body, a woman must feed it what it needs, and therefore she must listen, and nourish, and care for it.

Loving a body leads to wanting a healthy body, and a body within the normal body fat percentage range is generally the healthiest body.  For that reason, I advocate weight loss.   Of course I do.  I want everyone to be functional and springy and radiant.   So when I say “love and accept yourself” I am not advocating that women accept a body that is uncomfortable or unhealthy.  Not a chance in hell.   Instead, I am asking them to have sympathy for their bodies.   To give their bodies a hug, and walk off into the sunset together, hand in hand.

Bodies that have endured stress and metabolic abuse look unhealthy because they have been hurt.  And currently, they are actually trying desperately to heal themselves.   What then is a better solution than getting on board and helping the body do what it is already trying so hard to achieve?  Why fight it, why hate it, why go to war,  when it is already trying to get the job done, and probably better than we as body-dictators could ever force it to?    Healing leads to both metabolic and psychological fitness, for both overweight and for normal weight women.  Without healing in mind, a woman can literally drive her body into the ground, and can do both it and her spirit worlds worth of damage.   Gentle restriction has its place in health and weight loss.  Militant restriction does not.  Warfare is not good for anybody, nor is it ever going to achieve a weight loss that is simultaneously healthy, happy, and sustainable over the long term.

I have also told women that they will not look like Cameron Diaz or Jilian Michaels and be healthy.  Generally, I stand by this.  If a woman is born into, and develops throughout puberty in, a super thin body, then she will maintain this level of thinness possibly for the rest of her life.   And many women get down to super low weights without much hormonal disruption.   But sometimes if a woman developed through puberty at a higher weight, and then once an adult overshoots her weight-loss needs into the sub-20 range, her body might identify this as starving.  This isn’t to say that her body wants to be overweight.  It does not.  Not.  But having more fat on her than a skeleton once she reaches a healthy weight, which may, for example, fluctuate between 20 and 25 percent body fat,  just means that this woman has been programmed to operate optimally with different levels of hormones than sticky women.  And that’s okay.  She is still healthy, and she is still hot.  So this is what I mean when I say “normal weight.”  Not overweight.  But healthy.  Lean, active, capable, radiant… but not poking at her hips, not grinding her teeth in the mirror if she’s got “stubborn” fat on their thighs.    Lean.  Active.  Capable.  Radiant.

Fat loss is healthy, but up to a point.  Self-love is healthy all of the time.

Self-love is not antagonistic to weight loss.  Nor is self-love antagonistic to those of us who need to gain weight.   Instead, self-love is about working in partnership with our bodies to achieve a holistically healthy and beautiful existence, for all of us.   Self-love is about providing the body with the tools it needs to get healthy and vibrant and radiant, while never hating it for looking or behaving a certain way.  It is about troubleshooting problems and forgiving imperfections or missteps.   It is about moving forward with peace and equanimity.  And it is about becoming over time an increasingly empowered, increasingly sure, and increasingly bad-ass embodiment of healthy, exaltant, beautiful womanhood.

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