Taste the Rainbow

I posted this photo on facebook a couple weeks ago, and it spawned an interesting, unexpected discussion among my friends and family. I took this photo of my grocery cart because, well, to be honest, I was proud of myself. I was proud because I’ve finally graduated out of the processed foods aisle (did anyone else live off of Easy Mac in college?) to the produce section, and can actually say I’m enjoying it.

But the discussion that ensued was fascinating. The photo sparked a lot of curiosity, a few passionate speeches from vegans and healthnuts, and some humble, honest remarks from others who haven’t yet figured out how to make the switch to a healthier diet, mostly because of cost. Simultaneously, side conversations about pregnancy cravings got me thinking even more; as one who only wanted bagels, cheeseburgers and pizza for the first 13 weeks, I myself was totally averse to anything that resembled a leafy green until the second trimester. I get it. Eating healthy – specifically eating more fresh vegetables – is difficult sometimes. I don’t yet have a family of 5 that look to me every night to have dinner ready and waiting, and I am not in the business of preaching that there is only one path to health and longevity. I know that wallets are tight, and I empathize with my preggers counterparts who vomit a little in their mouth when they think about eating a salad. But what I DO know is this: eating a robust, healthy diet including fruits and veggies is uber important for everyone, especially that little baby you’re growing. And I also know that small, simple choices here and there can make a BIG difference in the long run. My mother always told me there are lots of paths to the same destination… you just have to find the one that is right for you.

So without further ado, here are a few ideas to set you on the path to tasting the rainbow, while making it affordable and palatable.

Simple Steps to Make Veggies More Affordable

1)  Check out your local CSAs.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you buy a share of a local CSA near your home, you are buying a share of the harvest of a local farmer. Once each week during the season you either pick up your produce at a designated location, or maybe it gets dropped off to your door. Each organization’s fees are different, but paying a one-time flat fee in the spring is more than likely a lot cheaper than trying to buy organic, locally grown produce from your grocery store. Bonus: you are also supporting your community, your local farmers, and eating the freshest produce you can get. Your make-it-work moment: you won’t always have a choice in what produce you get, so you will need to keep an open mind, and look up a few new recipes along the way (how many ways can I use a peach…?) To find CSAs in your area, visit http://localharvest.org.

2) Trade In, Opt Out

Take a look at your grocery list next time you go shopping. What are some of the items that aren’t so healthy, but you buy every time? Hubby has a hankering for frozen apps during every football game? Try making those jalapeno poppers from scratch with a quick recipe found online. Opt out of the frozen box, and put the same amount of money that you would have spent on it towards a healthy alternative in the produce section. If you do this with one thing on your list at a time until it becomes habit, before you know it you will have a healthier diet and an arsenal of homemade goodness.

3) Frozen vegetables are still vegetables

True story. Just cause they are frozen doesn’t make them any less nutritious. But the way you cook them does. Avoid boiling your vegetables, as that zaps the nutrients. The best ways to cook your veggies include steaming, stir frying (with a healthy oil like olive or canola), microwaving, or grilling. The less water, the better. And when you serve them, they should be brightly colored and tenderly crisp – not soft, mushy and brown like the school cafeteria.

4) Grow your own

Yep, that’s right. Grow them yourself (I said this was how to make eating fresh veggies more affordable, not less time consuming…). If you have a green thumb and even just a little plot of land – or even a patio with some big terra cotta pots – you can grow your own tomatoes, herbs, peppers… you name it. It does take some time, some dedication, some sun and some water. But where there’s a will, there’s away.

5) Choose your organic produce wisely.

Again, it’s all about choices. Yes, organic is often more expensive, so if you can’t buy all, buy some. My rule of thumb is, if I’m going to eat the skin (apples, berries, leafy greens), I’ll try to buy it organic. If I’m not going to eat the skin (bananas, avocados, etc) then I might save myself the cost.

6) Eat in season

Produce that is being harvested right now is much cheaper than produce that is grown out of season, to feed the masses. If it’s fall, apples and squash will probably be cheaper than they will in the summer. And if it’s berries you need, July is your month. This comprehensive list from Frugal Living tells you when your favorite items are in season: http://frugalliving.about.com/od/foodsavings/tp/Cheapest_Produce.htm

Simple Steps to Make Produce More Palatable

1) Invest in a juicer

For me, the thought of eating my veggies in the first trimester was not appealing. But drinking them was another story. I noticed early on that liquid was easy on my nauseous stomach, and I was thirsty all the time. I would even go to bed with juice next to me, so I could drink it first thing before rising, to quell the morning sickness. So, we thought long and hard, saved our pennies, and did our research, and then…. ta-da!! We bought a shiny new masticating juicer from Omega. It is amazing. And pretty tasty too. I found most of my juice recipes on Pinterest, and started adding juice in as a snack a few times a week. Disclaimer: pregnant women should not fast on juice alone. While there are lots of people out there who will promote juice fasts and cleanses, pregnancy is not the time to do heed their advice. Think of juicing as a snack or meal supplement, but continue to eat at least 3 balanced meals per day.

2) Make smoothies for breakfast

So a juicer is a little expensive for you, but you have a blender? Perfect. Make a smoothie. This is how I do it: some low-fat vanilla yogurt, some milk and/or OJ, some fresh fruit (usually berries and bananas), some frozen fruit to give it consistency (usually peaches, mangoes, or pineapple), blend and waa-laa…. deliciousness in a glass. You can also include protein powder, flax seed or oil, immunity boosters, even some green veggies like spinach, whose mild taste will be hidden by the fruit. Jamba Juice gets expensive – give yourself a calcium and antioxidant boost from home.

3) Season your veggies to suit your cravings

For some unknown reason, I have not been able to get enough lemon to save my life these last three weeks. Lemon in my water? Check. Lemon in my tuna fish? Check. Lemon in my veggies? BRILLIANT. As a result of my overwhelming urge to consume all things lemon, I’ve consumed more kale in my pregnancy than I ever have in my entire life. Mmmmm… just talking about it makes me want to eat some. Here’s my favorite way to prepare it:

  • wash the kale and remove the stems with a knife
  • chop the kale coarsely
  • put it in a saute pan alone, sans oil, cover and steam over low heat for about 2-4 minutes, until it starts to shrink down and turn bright green
  • add a touch of olive oil, a clove or two of fresh crushed garlic, and the juice of one lemon – stir
  • saute for about 5 minutes until it cooks down, taking it off heat before the color disappears and before the leaves wilt fully

4) Take them off the side

Add your veggies into your entrees every chance you get. It will help you eat more of them, but also help you mask the taste or texture when it’s not appealing to you. Making lasagna for dinner? Add some broccoli into the dish. Cheesesteaks? Add mushrooms to your peppers and onions. Having a sandwich? Choose spinach over iceburg lettuce. Remember: small choices go a loooong way.

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Better safe than sorry…

Like most of you, I celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday surrounded by family, friends and football. I happily spent the entire day barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen – quite literally – as I captained dinner for my husband, sister-in-law, her husband, and their 1 year old baby girl Megan. Having Megan in our house, in and of itself, was a lesson straight out of Bringing Home Baby, 101. With a little munchkin crawling everywhere, climbing on everything, and putting everything in her  mouth, I learned that our house is definitely NOT babyproof yet. Then, when Megan started thowing up, completely unexpectedly, and with no apparent reason, we got to experience the not-so-cute side of parenting: projectile vomit down Mom’s shirt at the dinner table, a poor, uncomfortable baby who couldn’t eat or sleep, and the ins-and-outs of diaper research (was she peeing? what was in her poo?). It wasn’t until Friday evening, when the puking took a turn toward diarrhea that we all started getting worried. Despite having no fever, this poor baby couldn’t keep any liquids down – and at 5280 feet above sea level, this is even more cause for concern. My sister-in-law is always tough as nails, and rarely gets nervous about anything… but when I saw the look on her face turn from soothing comfort to worried sick, I knew we needed to get Megan to the ER to avoid dehydration. Better safe than sorry, I said…

After a 3 hour visit to the ER, an anti-nausea pill and ounces of pedialyte later, Megan was on the mend…. just as this virus began wrecking havoc on each of us adults, one by one. My brother-in-law went down first, waking up at 4 in the morning Saturday with his first urgent run to the bathroom. Next, it was me. At about 9am, I could feel it coming…. and I didn’t know which end it was coming from. My sister-in-law was the next victim about an hour later, and then finally my husband at 5 pm that day. Despite the fact that all of us had gotten the flu shot, we were no match for this bug. It was a nasty virus that came on fast and furious, emptying out our insides with a vengeance I have never experienced. Regardless, I thought I would just wait it out, try to keep pushing fluids, and the baby should be just fine. People get sick during pregnancy all the time, right?

At about 4pm, after I thought I had cleared everything from my system already, it got worse. I couldn’t even take a sip of water without running to the bathroom to vomit. My body was heaving so much that I started to feel unfamiliar cramping around my lower abdomen, and then I knew. I had to call my OB’s office, and talk to the on-call doc.

Thank God I did. She told me that this virus was going around, and she didn’t want me to wait it out. She prescribed me two anti-nausea meds: one to take orally, but if that came right back up, I would need to take a suppository. Yikes…  But the alternative was scarier. If I couldn’t keep down any fluids, I’d have to go to the ER for IV meds and hydration, in order to prevent uterine contractions, or worse, pre-term labor. And after the lower abdomen pain and pressure I had been having with my bouts of heaving, I knew she was serious.

The doctor told me it would take some time for the meds to kick in, but to monitor whether or not I was still urinating… if not, then I was already dehydrated and needed to get to the ER. For the next six hours I struggled to keep the medications down, let alone any liquids. Tiny sips of water would send me running to the toilet, stomach cramping, and tears flowing. At one point, I sat on the toilet, crying, trying to pee, thinking there was no way these meds were working, and now with a husband who was also down for the count, who was going to drive me to the hospital? What was happening to the baby?  After calling the doc again, she told me to take one more magic pill, and then call back if it didn’t work. 

Sure enough, I took that pill, fell asleep, and woke up to a calmer stomach. Slowly, I started drinking water, then ginger ale, then gatorade. Now, 36 hours later, I’m still not 100% and have no appetite, but at least I can hydrate and keep it down. This wasn’t at all how I envisioned making up for the Thanksgiving day calories, but it’s taught me a few lessons that I hope will serve you, too.

1) Program your doctor’s office number into your cell phone. And if you have any doubts at ALL, call, no matter the time of day.

I hesitated when first deciding whether or not to call the doc. It was a holiday weekend after all, and I didn’t want to be “that patient” – the worry-wart who was panicked about a silly stomach bug. But it turns out, it was a virus that was worthy of concern, and it is their job, after all…. Better safe than sorry.

2) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Typical guidelines for a non-pregnant woman are to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. That’s roughly 48-64 ounces. Or, if you are like me, and you measure by Nalgenes consumed, that is two Nalgenes. For pregnant women, they often suggest even more – your little one is swimming around in a water-based sac, after all. If you add in factors like living at altitude, or working out at least an hour a day, your body needs more than that. My personal goal is to drink one Nalgene in the morning, drink one Nalgene in the afternoon, and work on a third after work. The stomach cramps I felt may have been just cramps, or they may have been contractions. I’m not entirely sure, but it was enough to scare me into drinking water every chance I can…. Better safe than sorry.

3) Wash your hands, stay away from hospitals, and try to boost your immunity through nutrition.

Pay attention to what you are eating, and trying to eat foods rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants and other nutrients. Berries, citrus, and leafy green vegetables are all great options. If you can’t stomach them, try them in a smoothie or juice. Wash your hands whenever you can; if you are concerned it will dry out your hands too much, start carrying lotion. The alternative is much worse…. Better safe than sorry.

The First Trimester: What I Didn’t Expect

After witnessing the pregnancies of my friends, sisters-in-law, cousins, and clients, I assumed I had an idea of what I was getting into. In reality, I had no idea.

I guess that no one really, truly, knows what to expect when you are expecting until you actually go through it. But, it continues to amaze me how much other women don’t actually tell you until you are going through it. I’m sure part of that has to do with not wanting to overwhelm every casual conversation with the detailed minutia of their pregnancy… I know how that feels. I could talk about my pregnancy all day long, but the truth is, most people get tried of listening. I mean, I’m pretty sure they really don’t care about what colors I’m picking for the nursery and how only my fat-day jeans fit (with a hair tie) at this point, but they just smile and nod as a courtesy.  On the other hand, maybe women don’t share the nitty-gritty with their non-prego friends because they don’t want to scare you off. True story: pregnancy is not always easy. And if it’s your first time around, you will probably learn new things every day. Here’s what I’ve learned from the first tri – and what has surprised me the most – about my experience.

1)     Tired doesn’t begin to explain it.

Yeah that’s right. You are tired. I mean exhausted. ALL THE TIME. And that still feels like an understatement. The best way I could think of to describe it was to imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, minus another night or two of sleep.  It’s the kind of tired that made me want to cry, for no reason. Add that to your raging hormones and sometimes you actually do cry, for no reason.

I’m the kind of girl who can’t stop moving. I hate sitting still, unless I am getting my hair done or enjoying a good dinner. Even when I watch TV I’m multi-tasking, getting other things done. As a dancer, athlete, and fitness instructor, movement is my lifeline. But in the first trimester, I would get winded climbing a flight of stairs. I would have moments of feeling like I couldn’t physically move to get off the couch and go to bed. I would feel like my muscles wanted to give out after 10 minutes of working out, moderately.

In all fairness, this level of exhaustion might be attributed to the fact that I didn’t slow down as much as I could have or should have. I’ll never forget one asshole’s unsolicited commentary at a concert one night…I had rested all day in preparation for our date night, and saved my one cup of coffee for just before. Tickets had been bought long before we knew I would be pregnant, and I wasn’t going to miss this show. My lovely husband was so understanding of how hard it was for me to actually get myself out that late at night (considering I had been collapsing in a heap on the couch at the end of every work day), and his encouragement and support gave me a much needed boost of energy. About midway through the night, I went to the bathroom, feeling so proud of myself and grateful I was actually out and about. Even still my exhaustion must have been written across my forehead. At that moment some jerk, who was clearly out of his mind, pushes past me, eyes me, and says out loud, mockingly, “Wow why don’t you try having a little fun?” Oh what I wouldn’t give to go back in time to that moment. I would say something like “Why don’t YOU try building a nervous system, you jackass.” Sadly, my shock and exhaustion prevented me from saying much of anything before he stumbled off.

It’s true. Tired doesn’t begin to explain it.

2)     I’ll take my tired with a side of guilt, please.

Oh, the guilt I felt. About so many things. First, about being tired. Yeah, I know, ridiculous. But here’s the thing. I have always, always wanted to be a mom. And I am blessed enough to say that we are in a pretty perfect place in our life to become parents. And, it turns out we didn’t have to try that hard to make it happen. We pulled the goalie, and sure enough, the game-winning goal was scored right away. So many of my friends and family have not been that lucky. I thought I would feel nothing but joy and elation upon reading that positive pregnancy test. Not so. When you are so tired that you feel like 10% of yourself, and you want to vomit to boot, it’s hard to feel elated about anything. Rationally, I was happy. But emotionally and physically, I was drained, and as I mentioned, just wanted to cry. Try to explain that to a good friend who’s been trying to get pregnant for 2 years. It’s awful. Feeling so yucky you have a hard time being thrilled: 1st guilty charge.

And then there was the guilt about slowing down. I live in Colorado, where it’s not uncommon to see pregnant triathletes running miles at a time, or women with a bump skiing moguls.  And, I work in an industry surrounded by uber-motivators who, by job description, are required to get you off your ass. Yet there I was, unable to get out of bed for my morning workouts. I was stressing. I mean, really.  I felt so guilty that I couldn’t continue the same level and frequency of my workouts. I was fit and strong, and my doctor said I could continue almost everything I’d been doing, just decrease the intensity. So I tried. And I tried really hard – one day I forced myself to do and hour + of intervals including functional strength, jump roping at high speeds, and core work – a normal pre-prego workout for me. Sure enough the next day my body let me have it. I started bleeding… and, I freaked out. My body had been telling me to slow down.  Clearly I wasn’t listening, and a wake up call was needed. While the guilt still sneaks its way into my mind, I have now realized – I’m not just being a lazy slacker. My body is legitimately telling me to chill.

3)     My first MOM characteristic – major worry

The first trimester is a funny thing. You take a test, find out you are pregnant, and if you are like me, you wanted to tell everyone right away. I was so excited, I couldn’t keep it a secret – it was only my husband’s reluctance that kept me from telling everyone from our grandparents to the mailman and next door neighbors. Then at about 9-10 weeks, after the first doctor’s appointment, when the excitement wasn’t as fresh, worry started to seep into the crevices of my mind. I couldn’t yet feel the baby, and I didn’t look pregnant, so my mind started playing tricks on me. I would find myself wondering if the baby was still in there, if that heartbeat was still beating. There’s nothing that gave me any reason to believe otherwise, other than the spotting I had once in awhile; I mean, I was still bloated, I was still tired, I was still nauseous. But it didn’t make a difference. I was worried. And the worry was a constant nagging in the back of my head until my next doctor’s appointment, when that little heartbeat would yet again put my mind at ease. Then, again, two weeks after the appointment the worry would creep in again….. the cycle continued throughout the entire first trimester.

4)     Nothing says pregnancy like a crazy trip to dreamland.

Almost immediately, my dreams took a turn towards crazy land, and never came back. They became so vivid, so memorable, so LONG, and so detailed that often times the only thing that would bring me back down to reality was my raging urge to get up and pee. Most of the time, the dreams were silly and entertaining. In one episode, Tom and I received a yacht as a baby shower gift (yes, please!). A few times I wondered if they were prophetic – very early on I dreamt that we had a son, and named him Keane… which wasn’t even a name I had heard before.  Sometimes, the dreams were completely absurd: for instance, a dream in which I discovered my husband had slept with 150 prostitutes during his college days. Other times they were downright terrifying. There was one instance where I woke up panicked after dreaming there was a strange, drunk, bruised and bleeding man banging on our back door. There was another nightmare involving someone I love, which I will still never speak about; it was so scary, and so real, I will not mention out loud for fear that it would come true. And, I even dreamed about beer a few times… (I guess you always want what you can’t have!). They say that our dreams are the safe zone where our subconscious is able to unload our deep-rooted fears, hopes, anxieties and emotions, in order to find resolution. They are often more pronounced in pregnancy because of our changing hormones, roller coaster mood swings, and the anticipation of what will surely be a life-changing event. That very well might be the case, but I prefer to think of it as cheap, mind-altering entertainment that comes without a hangover.

And then, just as I was getting used to all of these first trimester ups and downs, the 13th week came, ushering in a whole new set of second trimester experiences…

What shocked you most about your first trimester?

The journey from BURN! to Birth

Five months ago, I. Was. Killing it. By that I mean: I was a fitness fiend. A day without some type of workout was all but unheard of; some days I might have even doubled down. Now, I should mention that I work in fitness – I’ve worked at gyms since I was 16, taught Pilates and group fitness for 9 years, and certified new instructors for 6. A large part of the last 15 years of my life has been spent inside of gyms, studios, and clinics… so I’m lucky that “getting to the gym” isn’t usually that difficult. Even still, I was especially driven in the last few years to really push myself: to reach for new goals (running half marathons when I HATE running), to be more aware of what I was putting in my mouth (a pumpkin spice latte has HOW many calories?!), to add to my list of “tricks” (Peacock pose. Look it up.).

To a certain extent, I believe I was not only competing with myself, but with that omnipresent, addictive beast: the Facebook Newsfeed. Yes, that’s right. When you work in fitness, and if you are friends with your colleagues, your newsfeed is a log of incredible feats of super-human strength. Well, ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But there’s a lot of “I just crushed a 50 mile run!” and “Try this super amazing juice fast!” So, when you are eating an ice cream sundae in your sweats and checking Facebook, if you HAVEN’T worked out that day, you may feel a little…well, lazy.

Then, one week, things were completely different. Monday I set my alarm for my normal 5:15 am workout time… and slept right through it. Tuesday, I did the same. Wednesday came and I thought, ok, maybe afternoon hot yoga is a better option. And as I lay face down on my mat, dripping sweat, in a room heated to 97 degrees, I felt it coming… that moment when you KNOW you are about to puke…

That Saturday I bought a pregnancy test. And let me tell you, that little blue line did NOT need 3 minutes to process. It was there immediately. My husband and I had just decided to start trying that month… so we were both in a bit of disbelief. There’s no WAY it happened so quick! So I took the second test in the box. Same result. I even bought another brand of test, and still, the same result. I was pregnant.

There are very few things I’ve known with certainty in my life,  but knowing I wanted to be a mom was one of them. I have always wanted this, as far back as I can remember. Even as a toddler, I named my baby dolls after my newborn cousins, as a child I begged to go visit the newborn unit of the hospital, and as a teenager I spent my Friday nights babysitting. That’s probably why, in my head, I always thought getting pregnant would be nothing but rainbows and butterflies. But no one really tells you the not-so-shiny part, do they? The first trimester got underway, and though we were thrilled, I suddenly found myself feeling miserable, and freaking out.

Suddenly my workouts were much harder, if they existed at all.  I could barely find an ounce of energy. When I forced myself to work out and did my regular cardio, I started bleeding…. WHOA, that was scary (after visiting the doctor, I found out it was not the baby, thankfully). I felt so conflicted – I didn’t know what was safe or what was normal, when to push and when to back off. My doctor told me to do 15% less of what I was doing before… but even with that in mind, my body wasn’t having it.

So I did what every health and wellness geek does when she doesn’t have the answers. I started researching. As much as I could. And wow, was I disappointed. Everything I found seemed to be very generic, written for women who were not active before pregnancy. Most consumer articles approached pregnancy and exercise from an one-size-fits-all, overly-cautious standpoint; which makes sense, since it is a risky situation to write guidelines that apply to everyone when every woman- and every pregnancy- is so different. Even the scholarly articles – the very, very few that I found, were somewhat vague, and rarely discussed the woman who was fit and active before she was prego. Or, they addressed a broader subject than what I was seeking – like, does exercising while pregnant result in shorter labor times? But what I wanted to find was specific fitness information based in research: a what-to-expect-when-you’re-expecting for the fitness fiend who already had some basic knowledge. Of course I didn’t want to start anything new or push myself too hard. But, I had questions none of these articles seemed to answer. For example, what was it  about jumping rope that made my cervix bleed? Is it true that deep twisting is contraindicated even in the first trimester, and is it due to a risk of diastasis recti? Is a drop in testosterone levels the reason why my muscles feel soft all over, even though I’m still including resistance training? Is it normal that I have a little extra cushion-for-the-pushin’ even in my BACK?  These are the answers I was seeking.

I still continue to research, and would welcome any suggestions from any of you who may have answers. In the meantime, I decided to start this blog in an effort to share my own experiences, knowing that there are women out there like me who want to remain active and healthy during pregnancy, while making educated, smart decisions. Furthermore, I find it silly that women don’t talk about the not-so-good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly parts of being with child… sometimes, it’s laughable. And if we can all laugh about it together, then it will make it that much more enjoyable.

I hope you find something here that inspires you, motivates you, and makes you smile. I hope you join the conversation,  and tell your friends. And I hope that throughout your pregnancy, you remain Fit to Glow.