Friday, January 30, 2015

how (and why) I stopped drinking caffeine

I wrote earlier about my caffeine status. Here's how, and why, I became relatively caffeine-free.

During a physical exam in college, the doctor was surprised by lumps in my breasts, until she asked me how much caffeine I ingested per day: 6 cans of diet coke, at least. The doc had interns come and feel them (not as much fun as I'd hoped), said they are benign, and so I didn't think further on the subject. (WedMd writes: "...even though there is no proof that diet can cause tumors, studies have shown a relationship. For instance, avoiding caffeine may help shrink breast cysts.") Then, in my twenties, the Formyou3 program required that I ingest NO caffeine. So, for the first time in my life, I felt the consequences of caffeine dependency. I withdrew "cold turkey" in about 10 days. 10 really grumpy, headache-filled, unpleasant days. Since then, I've gone through periods of consciously using caffeine in the mornings, but in 2014 I stopped that, too. One side benefit: now that my body isn't accustomed to caffeine every day, I can use it for headache relief or a boost of energy just when I need it.

If you'd like to know more about how caffeine affects your body, WebMD has great articles about it:
I think that caffeine, when used purposefully and judiciously, can have benefits: increased attention, alertness, a boost of "feeling good". But, if you have gotten caught up in the 'caffeine causality loop' then maybe it's time to re-think your caffeine usage.

Finally, as in all things, try for a balance. If you enjoy a cup of coffee and the caffeine that it brings, then enjoy! But, if you require coffee before you're even 'human' in the mornings, then maybe caffeine has too great a hold on you.
For myself, when I gave up soda in 2014, I gave up caffeine, too.  I had been drinking 2 Diet Dr. Peppers (16 oz bottles) in the morning as my "wake up." When I decided to try reducing my soda intake, I specifically chose day when I felt pretty good; I had just 1 Dr. Pepper on that day, and it seemed to go well. The following day, I wanted 2 sodas so I had 2. The day after that, I had just 1. So, I alternated days for a while, until I could consistently have just 1 per day. Then, I followed the same pattern to move from 1 to 0 per day. It took several weeks, and it required perseverance, but I experienced none of the headaches or fatigue that I felt back in my twenties (when I quit "cold turkey").
So, now, what would you like to do? THINK about your caffeine intake. Is it OK? Then, great! Is it a little more than you'd really like? Then, make a plan for yourself (maybe try what worked for me) and see if you can reduce your caffeine intake. If you'd like, see if you can reduce it to ZERO. Go slow (small steps), but be courageous and make this change for your health. It will help your body calm down!
Addendum 2/5/15: For fun, buzzfeed has a fun list of 33 Signs that Coffee Owns You"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

water drinking

Water, water, everywhere! Did you try drinking ONE more glass of water per day? How was it? Not too bad, right? A glass of water by itself won't perform any overnight miracles in your body, but it is a great (and easy) first step.

Now, you might be able to guess the next step: add ANOTHER glass of water per day. Yes, you need to drink more water! One way to see if your body has enough water is to check the color of your urine. It should be nearly clear. If it is yellow or darker, then your body is crying out for more water. Water is vital to all of your bodily functions, and while you can live with less water, you will feel better when your body has more.

According to (a great website for water wellness, both inside and out), dehydration can be the source of pain such as:
  • Heartburn
  • Anginal Pain
  • Lower Back Pain
  • Reumatoid Joint Pain
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Colitis Pain
  • Fibromyalgia Pains
  • Morning Sickness during Pregnancy
So, it's time to actively look for ways to add more water to your daily routine. One 8-ounce glass per hour would be a good guideline, plus whatever other liquid you want. If you aren't used to drinking so much, you will go to the bathroom more often at first. But soon your body will get used to having all the water it needs and you will not need to pee as much.

One woman in the UK decided to "jump in with both feet" and drink more than a gallon of water each day. She wrote and took pictures for four weeks. In the first week, her urine became clear, her bowels were improved, headaches gone, and joint stiffness improved. Her skin broke out (a result of toxins exiting her body).  During the second week, her complexion improved and her stomach flattened. Her husband complimented her lack of cellulite! Her third week, she realized that she was eating less; she had been misinterpreting thirst for hunger (37% of us do). By the fourth week, her skin had so improved that she felt younger when she looked in the mirror. Here are her pictures, see if you agree:
Now, you know that I don't normally advocate such big changes (remember the title of this blog, "Think Big. Start Small."), but look what a difference drinking water can do! Two 8-ounce glasses (or one bottle) every hour for 8 hours will equal a gallon. Maybe you want to try this? Maybe you want to set that as a goal? Whatever works for you. I want you to look and feel better like this woman does, and like I do.
When I first started drinking water, I was in my twenties and I had gained nearly 70 pounds from my "normal" weight. I decided to take part in a very stringent diet (Formyou3). In the first week, I had to give up caffeine, sugar, fat, and drink half a gallon of water per day. As you can imagine, I had royal headaches and was extra-grumpy for the whole week. This is part of why I don't recommend big changes - it's too much for our already-stressed lives! Small changes can work just as well without the drastic consequences! But, even though that was a tough regimen (and I'm grateful for that program, where I lost 67 pounds in a year), I quickly saw the benefits of drinking water. My hair, skin, and nails were vastly improved, and (once I got over the initial phase) my headaches and general malaise went away. I give most of the credit to water, and I've been a BIG DRINKER ever since!

Monday, January 26, 2015

day drinking

Let's discuss drinking. What beverages do you consume? How much? How often?

For me, I drink a lot during the day. I think I get enough liquid. Many people (maybe you?) have trouble drinking enough during the day and are consistently dehydrated (even if it feels "normal"). If that's your problem, this will work for you, too (just keep reading). When I started to think of food as medicine, I took a hard look at what I actually consume in beverage form.
  1. Diet Dr. Pepper (with caffeine) for my morning wake-up. (No coffee for me, please.)
  2. Iced Tea (made with family bags of decaffeinated black tea); a gallon sweetened with 1 cup of Splenda.
  3. Iced Tea (at restaurants, caffeinated) with lots of Splenda (actually, it became something of a joke with my lunch companions: "Make sure to bring LOTS of Splenda!")
  4. Caffeine-free Diet Dr. Pepper at night.
  5. Sometimes hot tea, or Coke, but generally, I just stick with variations of Diet Dr. Pepper and Tea. All day. Every day.
As you can see, I have already been through the process of considering caffeine. I used it judiciously in the morning (instead of coffee), and then tried to be caffeine-free for the rest of the day. Have you considered your caffeine intake? If not, now is a good time to think about it. (Remember that 'thinking' is always my first step.) I'll discuss caffeine in detail in a later blog.

What's missing? You probably already guessed it... WATER. I figured that tea and soda are primarily water, so I'm getting enough water through them, right? Well... that's partially true, but water mixed with other stuff becomes diluted other stuff. If you're adding healthy things (lemon, lime, cucumber, mint, ginger, fruit), that's good. HOWEVER, if you add unhealthy things (carbonation, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, etc. - have you ever read the ingredients list on your diet soda?), then you're putting all that junk into your system. Consider drinking from a clear, running, mountain stream. Now consider drinking from stagnant, dark, mud puddle. Which would you prefer? Which would your body prefer?

Our bodies are mostly water (Star Trek quote: "Humans are Ugly Bags of Mostly Water"), something like 65% depending on your gender, age, and size.

How much water should you drink? EASY! DRINK MORE THAN YOU DO NOW! Start by adding one glass of water per day to your normal routine.  Don't worry about "overdoing" it; it's actually very difficult to drink too much water. So start with just one more.

By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already suffering from the lack of water. From, "The percent of water [in your body] depends on your hydration level. People feel thirsty when they have already lost around 2-3% of their body's water. Mental performance and physical coordination start to become impaired before thirst kicks in, typically around 1% dehydration."

So, don't wait until you're thirsty. Drink water. Try drinking water first thing in the morning (more on that later). Try drinking water before a meal. Try drinking water before your afternoon snack (or nap). Find out when it's easy for you to drink water, and DO THAT. After a while, think about how you feel - better? same? worse? Write it down so you'll know more about how drinking water affects you.

You've started your journey towards feeling better!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

writing it down

Now that we've been THINKING about our health goals, dreaming of how life might be when we feel better, imagining what we can do when we're not weighed down... I want to suggest one more thing before we actually begin:
I know, I know, I hate "journaling" too! Really? Having to write down every little thing, every day, blah, blah, blah...  But hear me out. I'm not suggesting that you have to write the great American novel every day. Not even a whole page, or even a whole paragraph, or even whole sentences!

What I'm suggesting is that you make notes on how you feel today. Just a few notes. My notes for today might look something like this:
Read blog today. Thinking about feeling better. Really want to feel better. Back hurts. Eyes dry. Ate too much today and still craving sweets (nothing new there). Tired. Can I really feel better? I want to!
Before we begin, this is especially important, as it will be a good measurement for comparison to how you will feel differently in the future. Right now, take a moment and write down your version of how you feel today. You choose whether you set pen to paper, or finger to tablet, or fingertips to keyboard. However you want, whether anyone else ever sees it, that's all up to you. Some days you will only be able to get out a few words. Other days you may be verbose! Some days you'll forget. That's all good!

In a NY Times blog article "Writing your Way to Happiness," Tara Parker-Pope recommends writing as a way to recreate your own personal narrative. She quotes the expert on the psychology of expressive writing:
“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said Dr. Pennebaker. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
She writes of one client who came to see herself more honestly through writing:
In one example, a woman named Siri initially wrote in her “old story” that she wanted to improve her fitness, but as the primary breadwinner for her family she had to work long hours and already felt guilty about time spent away from her children.  
With prompting, she eventually wrote a new story, based on the same facts but with a more honest assessment of why she doesn’t exercise. “The truth is,” she wrote, “I don’t like to exercise, and I don’t value my health enough. I use work and the kids to excuse my lack of fitness.” ....
Like Siri, I have numerous explanations for why I don’t find time for exercise. But once I started writing down my thoughts, I began to discover that by shifting priorities, I am able to make time for exercise. 
You are already THINKING about shifting your priorities in order to feel better. In addition to THINKING, now add WRITING to your journey towards feeling better. Over the years, I've written my own notes only sporadically. But now I can look back and remember where I've been, and know how far I've come, and see where I'm still "stuck." I'm grateful that I took the time to write back then. Give your future self this gift; write today!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

where to start?

The goal of "health" is a very broad, almost intangible idea. We must break it down into smaller parts in order to "begin small." Also, I want to make changes where it will matter; not just changes that are easy, but that will actually make a difference in my everyday life. Where to begin? How about looking at what we spend the most time doing...

What do you do most in a day? How do you spend your time? There are several very basic answers that might suffice: breathe, eat, drink, sleep, talk, sit, work, rest, walk and move around. Think about each of these activities; we all do them every day. When you're ready, pick one of these areas, and begin your journey to health there. I intend to discuss each of them in turn through this blog, but today I want to consider all of them.

So far, we've been THINKING about the changes we'd like to see. Continue this throughout your journey towards health. Let your imagination soar; fantasize about how health will positively impact your life; dream of feeling better every day.

BREATHE. This is one of the very few things that are absolutely required to sustain life. We do it without thinking about it. (Thank goodness; as much as I'm forgetting things these days, I'm afraid I would forget to breathe!) Could we make changes to our breathing that would bring us closer to health? I think the answer is YES! We'll explore more later.

EAT. This is a big category. Are you eating what your body is hungry for? Is it getting all the nutrition it needs and wants in order to be healthy? Are you eating enough? Too much? Lots of variety? Balanced? How do you feel before you eat? After? So many things to consider about eating.

DRINK. What are you drinking? It is healthful? Is it enough? Do you know that your body is thirsty before your throat begins to dry?

SLEEP. We spend roughly one-third of our lives in bed. How is your sleep? Do you wake up refreshed? (The first time someone asked me that question, my brow furrowed in confusion, and I asked "Does anyone?") Improving your sleep would certainly move towards better health.

TALK. We talk to others and we talk to ourselves all day long. How is our conversation? Is it encouraging? Happy? Uplifting? Or is it discouraging? Depressing? Dull? Our words are a reflection of what's happening in our hearts and minds.

SIT. In our current culture, many of us sit for most of our days; yet, our spines were not designed to sit for long periods of time. This is part of the reason so many of us have lower back issues. Can we change how we sit? Absolutely!

WORK. Most of us work about one-third of our days. (Have you ever considered that between sleep and work, we only get one-third of a day left to "live"?) How is your work? Stressful? Could it be less stressful? How? What steps might you take to make your time at work more "healthful"?

REST. I believe that resting is a lost art in American society. Our lives seem to be measured by how busy we are; the more packed our schedule, the better! And yet, our busy-ness makes us stressed out, burned out, and tired out. Let's revive the concept of resting on a regular basis throughout our days, weeks, months, and lives.

WALK. We've been walking since we were toddlers (literally), but do we think about how we walk? How much we walk? Could we improve our walk to help us feel better. Oh, yes!

MOVEMENT. There are a handful of people who actually LIKE to exercise, but all of us MOVE in various ways all day long! My personal trainer (Lori Gordon, you'll love her) is fond of this concept. How can we move more? Move better? Move enjoyably? This will be an exciting area to reconsider! No more EXERCISE! Let's MOVE instead!

I hope that I've given you some ideas to consider as we continue in our first step: THINK BIG! Get excited about this journey of life, and how we can make ourselves feel better as we go through it. You are not alone! We all want to feel better, and we're going to explore some ways to do that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

starting small... really small... THINK!

After 7 years of living with chronic pain, I've learned a few things. My own body and mind taught me much; my medical "village" of professionals (yes, it takes a village) taught me other things; respected sources taught me more; and life continues to teach me every day. I work very hard to make sure that the things I implement for myself and/or recommend for others come from good sources. (Have you noticed that the internet is full of UNTRUE statements?)

I'm going to share some of what I've learned here.

First thing, start small. Really small... Although my ultimate goal is to live pain-free, disease-free, full of life and energy, I cannot achieve this overnight. I have to begin somewhere, and the beginning seems to be the hardest step.

My first step was to consider food as medicine. I thought about this for many months. Did some research about what kinds of food produce what kinds of benefits; alternatively, what kinds of foods harm my body. How much food is enough? How much variety?

So, here is my recommended FIRST STEP TOWARDS HEALTH: THINK ABOUT IT. Consider the benefits if you follow the path towards health; consider the consequences if you don't. Think about the changes that would be pretty easy for you to make. Think about BIG changes that you know you need to make, but don't want to do! Think.

Take however long it takes: a minute, a day, a week, a month. Just don't let it take a lifetime BEFORE YOU START DOING! "Putting it off until tomorrow", until Monday, until next month, next year, next decade... this is not going to get you anywhere. But, I find that as I think about what I want to accomplish, I get excited to start. I want that for you, too. So, think and get excited. Get ready to start, and we'll start small. You can make these changes, one at a time, the easy ones first, and before you know it, you'll start feeling better. That's the goal!