Are You Orthorexic?

(Sorry for the radio silence after last week’s post. Class is taking up a lot of my time, so it looks like some weeks may be one post, some weeks may be two.)

Have you heard of this term? It’s a real one, I promise you, though not an officially recognized diagnosis. It means to have an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy. Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

Orthorexia origins

But on closer inspection, you can see how being consumed with being too healthy is unhealthy since being consumed by anything isn’t good. Being able to eat only something you would consider a superfood, for example, and unable to enjoy anything that’s not, or worse, having anxiety over the fact you had something that wasn’t on you “only will eat these things” list, is never healthy.

Rainbow of foods

The term was first coined by Dr. Steven Bratman. When I visited his website, I discovered he also admitted that the definition sounded like an oxymoron (great minds think alike?). He gives an example of a woman who died from orthorexia (though the lines seem a bit blurred to me as to whether she really had anorexia). Labels aside, anything that causes us to restrict food in an unhealthy way, whether we think it’s unhealthy or not, can be detrimental to our health, both mental and physical.

Salad with egg, legumes, nuts

I’m bringing this up because I have been through stages when I started to head to orthorexia-land. It’s not surprising given my history and you know how open I’ve been with my unintended weight loss last year and subsequent (healthy) gain. I’ve gone through periods, even in those healthier times, of restricting my carbs and/or dairy more than necessary.  While I do know my body benefits from being gluten-free, that doesn’t mean I have to be low-carb. And while I’ve experimented with reducing my dairy due to a potential issue with FODMAP foods, that doesn’t mean I need to eliminate it completely.

Mixed greens salad

Why all the salad pictures? I think I had been having a few too many every week. I came to realize this after recently mixing it up. Having one for lunch and having a lot more raw veggies for dinner was messing with my digestion almost as much as gluten! I shunned or drastically reduced other carbs, such as the gluten-free pasta we would make to go with American Chop Suey and instead put the mixture on top of greens. Don’t get me wrong–veggies are great for you, but anything in excess is not so great for you.

Salad prep for lunch

This makes me wonder if there is also an equivalent exercise term would could apply. That is, an unhealthy obsession with only being able to work out a certain way. Don’t get me wrong–if you find an exercise you love, you should do it. But if that exercise is causing you to become injured, perhaps you need to mix it up.

Jillian Michaels DVDs

You know I love my Jillian-inspired HIIT workouts and though I mixed up my workouts throughout the week (some yoga, some running, some strength), I didn’t mix up the intensity much. I thought the best way to go was to max out every time. I liked feeling like I had worked really hard and given my all. But perhaps I was pushing my body too much. In an effort to rein it in recently, I decided to focus on also varying the intensity and my body has been thankful.

What’s the point of all of this? To admit sometimes we don’t know everything, or what we thought worked may not. To be truthful with ourselves about our aim to be healthy and whether trying so hard is actually unhealthy. Being healthy, like all things that are worth your time, is not effortless, but it also shouldn’t consume you.

Questions: What do you think of the term orthorexia? Do you think it’s a real thing? Could you see yourself going down that path? How do you make sure you keep your healthy choices healthy?


Adventures in Weight Changes Revisited

Hi all! Happy Monday. I’m back to class this week. Having a week off in between was heavenly. It allowed me more time on the weekend so I could go to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline with WHH and my parents as part of WHH’s birthday gift. How amazing is this view of Boston from the top of the hill by the museum?

View from Larz Anderson Parl

WH Mom accidentally photobombing

I actually found the small bike collection to be more fascinating than the cars since a lot of the interesting parts of the cars were the mechanics that you couldn’t see. Can you imagine riding these bikes?

Antique bikes Larz Anderson

We went to Matt Murphy’s for drinks and appetizers after. They have a great selection of both and the cheese platter was delicious! Included were pickled onions, an Irish cheddar, walnuts, fried goat cheese, whole grain mustard, pistachio-thyme honey, blue cheese, pears, and pickles.

Cheese plate appetizer Matt Murphy's

Next up we walked a mere two restaurants down to Orinoco, one of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area. They serve Venezuelan food and it is delicious! My favorite part, naturally, is being able to have their arepas (sandwiches) because the arepa is made of corn meal, so it’s naturally gluten-free. No pictures of my own to share, but here’s an example of some areaps from their FB page.

Orinoco arepas

Another thing I was able to do this weekend because I wasn’t in class? Organize the crazy amount of clothes I have that no longer fit me due to my slow and steady weight loss over the past two years. How much money’s worth of clothes do you think is here? Now you know why I’ve had to resort to mom pants in the past–I had no clothes that fit!

Pile of clothes too small

I counted about 22 tops, 18 bottoms, 5 dresses, 3 pieces of activewear, 1 bathing suit, 1 bra, and 1 coat. I tried on everything to see if it fit after I purposely gained a bit of weight following losing too much last summer. I was able to add a few tops and a pair of jeans to my current wardrobe, which I was thrilled about. The rest was divided into items to donate, items for ThredUp, and items to be kept for when/if I’m pregnant in the future. I”m glad to know that I’ll have a nice wardrobe I don’t have to pay for should that time come (no, Mom, I’m not subtly hinting that I’m pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant…don’t worry, you’ll be one of the first to know when it’s time).

As I was trying on my clothes, I thought it might be good to do a check-in from my last post since the other one was over two months ago. At that time I had gained ten pounds since the summer,  five of them since starting the blog in November. So, how has my weight fared since then? Let’s check it out (vertical lines are increments of 5 pounds).

Weight changes past 6 months

I’m still up at about the same weight as March. You can see how steady it’s been since February (within a 2-3 pound range, which is a normal variation for most people).

Weight change 3 months

My BMI is still in the middle of the normal range, which is a great place to be! I have no idea what my body fat percentage is, but I’ll probably be checking in with a personal trainer I worked with back in September and see if she can measure that. I would like to know as I was feeling like I had a little too much jiggle on my abdomen (visceral fat is no good and the place I unfortunately tend to store it first), but it seems that since swapping my morning yogurt parfait for a smoothie, as well as increased the intensity on some of my workouts, it’s melted away a bit.

BMI chart

I also showed you this picture last time:

Before and after weight gain

I just happened to take an updated picture last week, which was perfect timing (yes, I’m wearing the same top as in the March picture).

May body changes

I also found a picture of me from vacation that I’ve been hesitant to show, mostly because I’m in a bathing suit. But I think it perfectly illustrates how messed up my body was that the picture of in a tank and shorts can’t. Thankfully the bikini is hiding some of my ribs you could see at the time, but you can see how much I lack in the chest area as well as the sharp angles I’m rocking on my shoulders. Here I am, in all my skinny-fat glory:

Skinny fat

Yikes. Glad I’m not there any more. Well, not there there. That picture was taken in Switzerland. I’d give anything to go back there. Here’s what my view was while I was sitting there:

Lake Thun, Interlaken-Unterseen

Lake Thun, Switzerland

I noted back in March that it would be interesting to see what happened once I was able to run more and the weather got warmer. I do feel that my appetite is back to normal now that it’s warmer. My appetite was crazy over the winter. It was so hard for me to figure out if I really needed to eat or if my body was just tricking me into it since it was extra cold this winter.

The increased running actually hasn’t changed my appetite much. If anything, it seems to have dulled it slightly. I’m not reaching for a second helping at dinner as much and I’m not getting the hungry horrors about an hour after dinner.

It seems I’ve stayed on an even keel since the late winter and I’m so grateful to be here. But it’s not about the weight at the end of the day. It’s about being able to do what I want with my body and feeling good about myself. Sure, I still have fat days just like anyone else, and want to remain at a healthy weight while looking as good as I can, but mostly I want to feel confident, strong, and as though I can tackle anything. That’s what’s important to me. The numbers on the scale can go up and down (within reason), but as long as I feel good about myself and feel I am healthy, that’s all that matters.

Questions: How are you doing now that the weather has changed? Do you find your appetite dulled a bit, whether due to the weather or exercise intensity? Do you change up how you eat according to the seasons? Have you found a weight where you and your body are happiest?

Adventures in Weight Changes

Possible other title I was considering: How I’ve Gained Weight, Yet Still Fit in My Clothes.

True confession time: I’ve gained ten pounds since this summer and five of those pounds have been since I started this blog in November. Yes, an eyebrow raise is okay.

Weight change past year from MyFitnessPal

Weight change past year. Horizontal lines in increments of 5 pounds.

Say what? Yessir, it’s true. I’m more than okay with it and I’ll tell you why: I was underweight ten pounds ago. Sure, I was still in the reasonable weight range for someone my height. At my lowest weight I had a BMI of 18.7, which was seriously flirting with the underweight zone. At five pounds above my lowest weight I had some measurements done as part of my work’s “Spring into Action” challenge. At that time, I had a body fat percentage of 19.7%.

To put all of these numbers in perspective, here are the ranges for BMI and body fat percentage:

BMI chart

Body fat percentage chart

The other indicator that I was a bit too low? My period got a bit out of whack. Sorry if that’s TMI, but for us women, it’s definitely an indicator of what’s up with our health. You know something’s up when you go from your usual 29-32 day cycle to a 57 day cycle!

Whacky period

Now granted, there were some confounding factors: I was having incredibly painful Graston done at the time (intense pain can signal to your body that you’re not in any shape to bear children, thus throwing off your cycle) and my anxiety started spinning out of control. I was also unable to exercise and it was the summer, both of which dulled my appetite. So all in all, a great recipe for losing weight.

I’m not confessing this because of what I revealed a couple of weeks ago with my history of anorexia because the weight loss wasn’t caused by “Ed” in my head (my therapist used to have me try to separate my voice from Ed’s voice, short for eating disorder). I lost weight because of all of the reasons I talked about above and I’m telling you because I’ve gained back some weight and it’s good weight. I looked too slight for my medium-sized frame, with my ribs and collarbone protruding a bit much. I had such little muscle tone due to my inability to exercise at the time courtesy of multiple injuries.

Top of Arc de Triomphe July 2013

Looking a bit too slim in France

Now, with ten pounds back on me, I feel incredibly strong instead of like someone who’d get pushed over by a slight breeze. My butt is back and so is my (though still miniscule) bust. When the back of your pants are loose because you have no butt to fill it in and your bust seems concave instead of convex, it’s not a good thing. It’s time to gain weight.

Just for a visual, let’s compare some before and after pictures (sorry for the slightly creepy pic of me at the gym; it was the best I could do at the time).

Before and after weight gain

How did I gain the weight? I purposely increased my calories at the end of the summer by eating whole fat dairy and incorporating some protein shakes. I wanted to gain a little weight at this point because I knew I didn’t look good (and when your husband suggests it, you know you really should). If I was going to gain weight, I wanted it to be muscle and the best way to do that is by increasing your protein intake. I’m sure I’ve also gained weight thanks to my appetite this past winter, which has been roaring! As long as I know I’m truly hungry, I trust in my body’s signals and I eat.

Gluten free dinner 3-11-14

How do you know if you’re truly hungry and not just having a massive craving? As always, I rely on my girl, Jillian Michaels, for advice. She suggests asking yourself if you could go for something healthy. For example, “Could I go for some chicken right now? How about a salad?” If the answer is yes, then you’re hungry. If the answer is no, you only want the ice cream in the freezer, then you’re probably just having a craving.

Once I’ve established hunger vs. craving, I then try to find something healthy and filling to keep my body satisfied and nourished. My go-to this winter has been a small bowl of oatmeal with a little maple syrup, almond milk/coconut water mix, and a small serving of almonds or walnuts.

Gluten free oatmeal with maple syrup and almonds

The interesting thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gained weight? My body wants to be where it is now, because I’ve been holding steady the past two months. This is my “homeostasis weight,” the weight at which my body functions best and where my hunger is normal. Whenever I start to reduce calories, even a little, I get an intense hunger, which signals to me that my body thinks it needs to go into survival mode. It’s not good when your body thinks it’s going into survival mode, because it will hold onto fat for reserve energy and use (eat) muscle instead.

Current weight via MyFitnessPal

Holding steady, +/- 1lb. Horizontal lines in increments of 5 lbs.

In order to maintain this weight I work out 4-6 times a week at moderate to high intensity and eat pretty clean, though I always allow room for a small treat every day and for the occasional splurge at family gatherings or a night out. At this weight I can slip up from time to time and also go hard-core and I tend to hang around the same area. And I’m more than okay with that because I’m happy with how I look, and more importantly, with how I feel, which is healthy and strong! Plus, since I gained mostly muscle, my clothes still fits (you know how much I hate shopping!)!

It will be interesting to see what happens once I’m able to run more and the weather gets warmer. I’m predicting my hunger will be all over the place (sometimes running makes me famished, sometimes it dulls my appetite), and there’s a possibility for weight loss. As long as it’s not more than five pounds, and I feel strong, I’m fine with that. Ain’t no thang. 😉

Questions: Have you lost too much weight, intentionally or unintentionally? Did you gain it back? Have you found your homeostasis weight, or the weight where your body seems happiest?

Friday Favorite: Jillian Michaels

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I adore Jillian Michaels. To start, while I don’t believe that much in astrology, we are both Aquariuses (is that a word?), and I have found we have very similar personalities. I like to think we’re kindred spirits. (Does that sound creepy? Or creeper-ish? Or obsessed? I really don’t mean it to!)

Yogurt parfait in Jillian Michaels mug

Just my usual yogurt parfait

She’s the first person in my life, other than family and friends, who has really inspired me. I realize she’s only human and thus is not perfect. I don’t always agree with everything she does or says, but for the most part, she gets it right.

Jillian Michaels pic

It was Jillian Michaels who first got through to me over two years ago. My mom had given me her 30 Day Shred DVD because the moves were too hard on her knees. I had never watched the Biggest Loser (and in fact, thought it was kind of a stupid show), so I dismissed it at first. What did this woman really know? Wasn’t she only famous for being on TV? She couldn’t be a real trainer.

C/o Flickr/winningman

One day, I finally gave it a chance and it whipped my butt. I was so sore that I didn’t try it again for another couple of weeks. Then I kept doing it and kept doing it and for the first time in a long time, I felt empowered and proud by what I could accomplish. Exercises that had left me sore were no longer touching me. I was moving through the levels, always striving to keep up with the advanced moves.

C/o Flickr/csztova

But it wasn’t purely the workouts that got through to me; it was what Jillian was saying throughout the DVDs. Most home workouts I had tried were too easy on people. “Oh, just take a rest if you’re tired” type of thing. Don’t get me wrong–if you absolutely, and I mean absolutely, cannot go on, you should take a quick (5 second) break. But you need to keep going.

For example, from the start of 30 Day Shred Jillian sets your right:

Jumping jack Jillian Michaels

I love that she keeps it real. She doesn’t tell you it’s going to be easy. It’s not!

Take the stairs Jillian Michaels quote

But if you work hard, you can do it! Just be willing to work hard.

Phoning it in Jillian Michaels

I’ve since acquired many of her DVDs and have a blast trying her new workouts.

Collection of Jillian Michaels DVDs

My personal favorites are Killer Abs and, the original one that started it all, 30 Day Shred. I’ve talked to so many people who think they need to be at the gym on a piece of cardio equiptment for hours to burn as many calories as possible. I promise, you don’t! I saw serious changes in my body doing these DVDs. I never knew I could have toned abs and arms! Granted, you have to be smart about the way you eat because you can out-eat all of your hard work.

Jillian Michaels podcast

I also thoroughly enjoy listening to her podcasts while I run. Not only does it help my pacing, but I learn all kinds of interesting things. In fact, if you want to know the real Jillian, instead of the one the media likes to portray, listen to it. She has so many wonderful segments not only on health, fitness, and nutrition, but also on life in general. You can tell that she genuinely just wants to help people be the best versions of themselves.

And that’s the crazy thing about her influence on me (or rather, what putting in the hard work did): it manifested itself into all other aspects of my life. Suddenly I was more motivated to be better at everything and go after what I wanted! My physical achievements gave me the confidence to want to achieve more: change my job, go after that nursing degree, break out of my comfort zone.

So I obviously had to see her on her Maximize Your Life tour last year. And she’s going on tour again if you want to catch her this time around!

Jillian Michaels tour

Okay, I think I’ve gone on enough about her. WHH is probably shaking his head reading this. He’s the lucky one that always gets to hear, “So, Jillian Michaels says…”

Questions: Do you have anyone who’s inspired you to be better? What do you think of Jillian (I promise I won’t bite if you say something negative. I can take it.)?

Quick Tip: Eat Every (3-)4 Hours

Happy hump day!

Today’s quick tip was a tipping point in my weight loss and general whole health. I’m sure you’ve all heard that we should be grazers, eating small meals frequently to keep our metabolisms humming. It seems to make great sense on the surface and I abided by this rule for a very long time, but it got me nowhere.

Eternal clock

c/o Robbert van der Steeg/Flickr

Then one day, while out for a run, during which I usually listen to a Jillian Michaels podcast, JM was doing a segment on dispelling common weight-loss myths. That’s when I heard her say we should only eat every four hours.


Eating around the clock prevents your body from burning fat. Whenever you eat, you release insulin. When you release insulin, your body is storing sugar instead of letting other enzymes in your body release sugar to break down fat. So instead of using your energy stores (and thus, fat), you’re using your most recent snack.

I’ve found that this not only increased my fat burn, but it made it easier for me to track my food. When you’re only eating four times a day, you know what you’re eating and when and also tend to eat more balanced meals. I also noticed that eating a bit more at each sitting has left me more satisfied. My original plan of eating every two hours left me even more hungry than when I started eating my snack!

Eat every 3-4 hours

A typical day for me consists of four meals about four hours apart: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. I start around 6:30 AM with breakfast. Though I’ve been experimenting with my usual yogurt parfait, I have to say that this has the best staying power.

Pumpkin yogurt parfait

Lunch is around 11:00 AM. I realize this is beyond the usual four hours, but I generally find it easy to keep myself distracted at work for the extra half hour. No one wants to eat lunch at 10:30 AM (plus, if I need to grab some extras for my lunch at my work caf, they don’t open until then!).

Salad for lunch

Next is my snack around 2:30 PM. Now this is obviously not four hours after my lunch, but I go with my body cues on this one. Sometimes it’s 2:15 PM and sometimes it’s closer to 3:00 PM. Closer to 3:00 PM is perfect timing as I often work out right after work, starting around 4:15 PM. This way my snack doubles up as energy for my workout.

Peanut butter and apple snack

Dinner times vary. We’ll eat anywhere between 5:30 PM and 7:00 PM depending on how long it takes to get dinner together and what else is going on that day.The later time is a bit better as it is closer to the four-hour mark. I definitely don’t obsess over it, which is why I say eat every 3-4 hours, with four hours being a bit more ideal.

Stuffed peppers with spinach

Dinner ends with little treat in the form of a smallish piece of one of these babies. Dark chocolate is my go-to dessert most days. Antioxidants and delicious!

Chocolate choices

My weekends tend to be less structred and I sometimes end up eating every two hours (and notice a difference in my hunger when I do–I feel like I’m hungry all weekend sometimes!).

Please keep in mind that this is not meant to be a hard a fast rule, but rather guidance on “best practice” as we say in healthcare. This is what I have found works for me and you need to find what works for you. 🙂

Questions: Do you agree or disagree with this? How often do you eat? Are you structured most of the time or wing it most days?