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

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.


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

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.

…..

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

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

Soy contains a certain kind of molecule called a “phytoestrogen” that acts like estrogen in the body.Health professionals disagree strongly about whether phytoestrogens are healthy for women to eat. Is soy (and flax, another potent phytoestrogen-containing food) the fountain of youth, or is it a toxin?

What is a phytoestrogen?

Phyto is Greek for “plant.” Estrogen means estrogen. Phytoestrogens are varieties of estrogen found in plants. Unfortunately, they do not exactly resemble the body’s natural estrogen. This makes the effect they have on health complicated.

There are several types of phytoestrogens.  The primary kinds are coumestans, isoflavones, and lignans.

Primary types of phytoestrogens

So what foods contain phytoestrogens?

Phytoestrogens can be found in many foods. This list documents the phytoestrogen content in some common foods. Some of the items are not surprising; Flax and Soy rank as number one and two respectfully. Some unexpected foods that contain phytoestrogens include garlic, hops and olive oil.

By far, the foods that contain the most phytoestrogens are soy and flax. These are so high in phytoestrogens that they can impact pretty much everybody, no matter their hormone health. Foods lower in phytoestrogen content such as chick peas or wheat have a very minimal phytoestrogenic impact. For most “healthy” people they shouldn’t be a problem. For women with hormone balance issues (such as me) , however, they may also still have an effect.

In all cases, with hormone balance issues, as well as people who regularly consume vegetable oils, nuts and soy, would do well to consider how potent their phytoestrogen intake may 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 (E1) and estradiol (E2). During a woman’s reproductive years, estradiol levels are much higher than other estrogens. During menopause, estradiol levels drop off, and the bulk of a woman’s estrogen content becomes E1 and E3 (estriol). 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.

E1- Estrone – Weak form of Estrogen, prominent throughout menopause

E2- Estradiol – Strongest and most prominent until menopause, active during reproductive years

E3- Estriol – weakest of the three, levels vary throughout the reproductive and menopausal course

How does the body perform estrogen signaling?

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 signaling process “begins” in the pituitary (with overhead influence from the hypothalamus in the brain).  It is up to the pituitary to tell the ovaries what to do, which is to 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.

Phytoestrogen estrogen

When the locks are filled, the pituitary detects “estrogen sufficiency!” in the body, and it slows down the “please pump estrogen” signal it sends to the ovaries.  This makes the ovaries produce less estrogen.

The whole purpose of this system is to maintain stable estrogen levels in the blood.  

Unfortunately, consuming high quantities of phytoestrogens often interferes with this otherwise healthfully functioning feedback loop.

The medical community’s opinion on what this means

Phytoestrogens act as estrogen in the body.  But here’s the problem: while phytoestrogens have a pretty good ability to bind to estrogen receptors, they are not able to signal as well as estrogen.

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 you eat phytoestrogens, they enter your bloodstream. To many doctors, this means that women with low estrogen levels should eat phytoestrogens. In their perspective, phytoestrogens would signal “fullness” to the estrogen receptors. They would also perform the normal functions of estrogen in the body.

On the other end of the spectrum, many doctors argue that women with high estrogen levels should supplement with phytoestrogens.  This is because the phytoestrogens would flood the estrogen receptors. These receptors would down-regulate estrogen production. And, because these phytoestrogens do not resemble true estrogen, estrogenic activity would not actually increase. It would decrease. This, many doctors argue, could overall decrease estrogen production and possibly reduce risks of certain cancers.

In both of these cases, however, the science is not clear cut. Some doctors may think that women with both high and low estrogen levels should supplement with phytoestrogens, but that’s not always a great solution. For women with high estrogen, it can still sometimes make it worse. There simply could be far too much. For women with low estrogen, it can also make it worse. Since different kinds of phytoestrogens communicate differently with different kinds of estrogen receptors, depending on which phytoestrogen women with low estrogen levels consume, it could actually do more harm than good.

Something you may want to look into then is how to support healthy estrogen production first without using phytoestrogens.

How to balance estrogen levels

– Increase fat mass, if underweight

Decrease fat mass if overweight

– Exercise when it feels right

– Eat anti-inflammatory, paleo foods like organic vegetables and fruits, organ meats, here’s a supplement in case you do not like to eat liver), eggs, fermented foods (on this page are my favorites) and the rockstar superfood cod liver oil can go a long way.

– Sleep.

– You can read about all of these and additional suggestions in my book, available here.

But what about the other types of Phytoestrogens?

There are three primary types of phytoestrogens (plus dozens of sub-types): lignans, coumestans, and isoflavones. There are 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.

Edit 2017: Recently, after learning about new research and working with even more women, I’m finding that plant-based phytoestrogens may promote ER beta activity, which can lower estrogenic potency in the body as a whole, thereby decreasing the risk for certain cancers (this is not true of synthetic estrogen, like that in hormonal birth control or estrogen replacement therapy). Read more about these latest studies right here

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 affinity for ERa.  This 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.., 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 can be helpful to know for women with PCOS who have high testosterone and low estrogen levels: it may be helpful to avoid coumestans.

Different isoflavones bind to different estrogen receptors differently. Some bind more strongly to ERa, and others to ERb (genistein, dihydrogenistein to ERb, equal 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: isoflavones have half of the ability to perform estrogenic function as they do to take up space. Isoflavones such as soy can help women with estrogen dominance.

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 is due in part to the variable biochemical components of different kinds of phytoestrogens I listed above. It may also be due to the broad diversity of women’s physiological responses to phytoestrogen.  What were the women’s estrogen levels beforehand?  Were they healthy women?  Fertile women? Women on the pill or grew up eating soy?  Those who are routinely exposed to xenoestrogens?  There are too many questions and the variables are still too numerous to say whether all women should avoid soy.

Something we can say definitively however is that women should tread carefully around soy, flax, and other phytoestrogens.

I am a firm believer in bioindividuality. Some women could benefit from phytoestrogen usage. Some may not. It is up to you to figure out which you may be. If you are extremely low or extremely high in estrogen, it seems likely that phytoestrogens could help.

If you do not know, step carefully. It is better to be safe than to be sorry. You can work on balancing your hormones first and foremost through adequate carb and fat intake, through smart exercise (for a way to achieve this at home, click here), through stress reduction, and through an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrients.

If you want to experiment with phytoestrogens, start small. Perhaps with a daily bowl of chickpeas or hummus. This is what I personally do.

For further resources on phytoestrogens and how they interface with health :

Why I now believe Phytoestrogens may be good for you

Phytoestrogen Sources you Might not Know You’re Consuming

Menopause and Hot Flashes

Losing weight while you get older 

Live. Love. Eat. Episode Two is Up!

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.”

 

Self-love and Weight Loss: Enemies or Bedfellows?

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.