Superhero Checkpoint: Six Months Post-Surgery

Today is a huge day for me.  Today, I am exactly six months post-surgery.  When I realized this, it completely blew my mind; not because I almost missed acknowledging the milestone, but because six months and one day ago, I never imagined myself being in the positive, healthy place I am today.

Before surgery, I anticipated a longer recovery time than my doctors outlined for me.  I envisioned myself not being “back to normal” for almost a year.  I thought that my cancer surgery would be my biggest hurdle in life, and that it would take a long time for me to feel normal again, let alone improve beyond that to some decent level of fitness.  I was so, so wrong.

When cancer came around, I was stunned.  All I could see was what lay behind me.  A carefree lifestyle, a healthy reproductive system – all gone.  Looking back on that time, I see myself mourning a life that would never be the same.  It was a pretty unhealthy place to be, and I can see now what a positive impact my fitness journey has had on my mental and emotional well-being.  So today, I am celebrating the very same thing; that my life will never be the same. Instead of being sick, I am in excellent health.  Instead of being tired, I have more energy than I’ve had since college.  Instead of lifting two grocery bags in one hand, I can lift three!

Yesterday morning, I weighed myself for the first time since my last doctor’s checkup.  I have tried to avoid it, since I tie up a lot of feelings about myself in my weight, but I couldn’t help being curious.  A huge smile came across my face when I learned that I had lost fifteen pounds!  I was so proud of myself, that I went out to celebrate with my husband and friends.  Last night, I didn’t expect that today would feel like the real celebration, because I have learned today that the benefits of committing to exercise are so much more than physical, and that my overall health is so much more than what’s on my medical chart.

I hope my story encourages you to celebrate your own milestone, whatever it may be, and accept the self-love and positivity that it brings you.

Superhero Transformation, Part 7: Extreme Power

It’s clear at this point how much I love being in the water, so it was only natural for me to eventually try out a water aerobics class.  I was hesitant at first, because from the classes I had observed, it didn’t appear to be much of a challenge, but I reminded myself that superheroes don’t say no, and I suited up to try Extreme Power.

I was surprised by how intense of a workout it was!  Superheroes: don’t be fooled into thinking this class isn’t for you.  It’s fast-paced and heart-pounding, and a great aerobic workout, all while the water keeps you cool.  When I started out the class in the shallow end, I felt a lot of impact on my knees, so I moved into the deeper end of the program pool, thinking that I’d get more resistance with my movements and less impact.  This was true, but it also slowed me down and I couldn’t keep up the pace, so I found a happy medium in the center of the pool and reminded myself that the water wasn’t going to completely absorb the shock of my rebounding, and that I had to work a little harder.  Once I got my head on straight with that, I was in business.

Carol, our instructor, was fabulous at reminding us to keep working harder, and I’m glad she did.  When you start getting tired during with water exercise, it’s hard to resist the temptation to just float, or at least ease up a bit, thinking that no one can see your movements underwater anyway.  Trust me; you cannot fool Carol!  She sees right through it, but she will look you square in the eye, flash you a big smile, and give you the encouragement you need to keep going.  This was a really fun cardio class, and I’ll definitely be back.

Superhero Transformation, Part 9: Body Pump

We all know how I feel about strength training, and about how much I’ve fallen in love with TRX, because it’s not the boring “eat-your-spinach” kind of exercise.  However, I realized that as much as I love TRX, I was going to need to try another new strength training exercise, because it’s not great to do the same thing all the time.  With that in mind, I decided to try a Body Pump class.

Before I took the class, I googled “Les Mills Body Pump” to learn more about it.  I found their website, where they have a series of training videos to help you learn the moves for the workout, which gave me a good idea of what I was getting into.  It’s basically a barbell workout set to music that works out all of your major muscle groups through a choreographed series of exercises.  A Body Pump class is always the same from start to finish, which means you can jump into any class, anywhere, and already know what you’re doing.  I felt confident that this was something I could take on in a group setting with instructor support, so I popped into a class.

Before class began, our instructor (Ann) spotted me as a new face and came over to give me the full rundown of how class works, what equipment I need, and what to be careful of.  I really appreciated her keeping an eye on me during class and giving me corrections, especially since we were working with barbells (the most frightening of all exercise equipment, in my opinion!)  I started with very light weights on my barbell, just to get used to the movement (I added more weight the next time, when I took my second class.)  It was a challenge, but I was able to handle it well, and it felt great!  The music was motivating, and the class seemed to move really quickly.  Even after only two classes, I can already see and feel a difference in the shape of my arms and legs, and I had so much fun doing it!  I’m looking forward to incorporating Body Pump into my workout routine on a regular basis.

Understanding Nutrition

F  A  T  S :

When the word fat is used, it is actually referring to a class of compounds called lipids. The lipids include triglycerides (fats, and oils), phospholipids and sterols. Triglycerides are the predominant fats in both food, and the body, but all play an important role in the body.

While it is beneficial to consume a low fat diet, don’t falsely think you should consume very little or no fat. Fats are an important nutrient, and should be supplied in the diet, however in the appropriate quantity.

There are several functions of fats in the diet. Fat is a concentrated source of energy, providing nine Kcal/gm. As a source of energy, fat is crucial to prevent protein from being used as a fuel.

Fats are also important for the high satiety value. They delay the rapid development of hunger and keep you feeling full a little longer. If you have ever eaten a mostly carbohydrate food, you know you feel full for about an hour only to be hungry again. By having a little fat with meals you are satisfied longer. Fat also contributes to the palatability, flavor, and texture of foods.

The fats that are consumed in the diet can be found in several different forms. Dietary fats and oils contain a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The type of fatty acid in abundance determines if the mixture is solid or liquid. Once again, without going to in depth with chemistry, the chemical composition of a fatty acid contains chains of carbon atoms to which hydrogen atoms are attached. These attach to a glycerol structure and are what forms triglycerides. If the

Carbon atoms are filled with hydrogen atoms this is classified as “saturated”. If the carbon atoms are not completely filled with hydrogen atoms, they are “unsaturated”

Saturated Fatty Acids are the type of fats that are usually linked with many health concerns such as coronary heart disease. Saturated fats can increase blood cholesterol levels, and also be very easily stored as body fat because your body really doesn’t need them. The characteristics of dietary fats that are abundant with saturated fatty acids are solid at room temperature. This includes the fats found in animal products such as beef, poultry, fish, lard and butter. They are also found in some plant sources such as cocoa butter, coconut oil and palm oil. You may be thinking you don’t eat these sources, however look at some of the first ingredients in cake, cookies, pies, etc. you will realize you do. The saturated fats are the type of fats that should be limited in your diet.

Unsaturated Fatty Acids are known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are usually liquid at room temperature, and are the fats that come from certain plant sources. Corn, Safflower, and Sunflower oils, contain higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In the body, polyunsaturated fats have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels when substituted for saturated fatty acids. Olive oil and canola oils contain higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids. Oleic acid, the predominate monounsaturated fatty acid has also been shown to reduce lower total blood cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol when substituted for fatty acids.

A question that I am often asked is “Is it better to use olive oil, butter, or margarine”. My answer is that if it is used in moderation, you may use whichever you like, however if you use it often, and in substantial amounts, you may be better off using the olive oil (or canola) as part of your diet. It is important that I define what is considered moderation here. Do you know the pat sizes of butter that you get in a restaurant? If you have one or two of that size amount of butter or margarine per day, that is moderation

Essential Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated fats that your body needs to maintain optimal health, healthy skin, produce hormone like substances, and for normal growth, but cannot make them. We need to get them from the foods we eat. These essential fatty acids are called Linoleic and Linolenic Acids.

The other polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are also important, are known as Omega 3 fatty acids. Research suggests that they may help prevent blood clots that lead to heart attack or stroke. The Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in cold-water fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, and salmon, sardines, and lake trout.

I have recently reviewed two older articles about fish oil supplements that I found interesting, and was unaware of the claims. The first, which was in a November 1996 Pufa News issue, states “Fish Oil Supplements Used Successfully In The Treatment Of Schizophrenia”. This article is based on a six-week study done by Jan Mellor and colleagues at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, UK on 20 psychotic patients, all suffering from chronic schizophrenia and receiving neuroleptic medication that was not adjusted or discontinued during the study. The results of the study indicated a reduction in the severity of their symptoms, particularly tardive dyskenisia (lip smacking), interest and motivation. However these conclusions are based on a single study that only involved 20 people for a short time. In my opinion, there is not enough evidence to support the claim.

The second study in March 1998 Pufa News issue states “Fish Oil Reduces Body Fat Mass”. This study by Covet C. Delarve, J. Ritz P. et al at Bretonneu Hospital in France, was a short three week study done on a group of six healthy volunteers (five men and one woman) They were given tests with two types of diet. First was a conventional French diet with no restriction on quantity, consisting of 52% carbohydrates, 15 % protein, and 32 % fat. The second, was the same diet, except 6 grams of fat was replaced with 6 grams of fish oil each day. The results indicated that while eating the fish oil, subjects showed a 0.88 kg reduction in body fat, as opposed to .30kg in the control diet. However, there was no change in body weight. In conclusion and my opinion, the test was too small and too short in duration to draw any concrete results. There are however many more recent studies that indicate these same results of omega 3 fish oil supplementation decreasing body fat.

GLYCEROL

Glycerol is backbone structure and important component of triglycerides and of phospholipids.  When the body uses stored fat as a source of energy, glycerol and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. The glycerol component can be converted to glucose by the liver and provide energy for cellular metabolism.

Glycerol can also be seperated as an individual molecule, and is used in many healthcare produts such as soap, cosmetics products, creams and foods. One unique property of glycerol is that it absorbs water.  More recently, Glycerol has been used in most of the high protein bars on the market. Why you ask? Because although glycerol is technically a compound within the lipid classification, it has the Caloric equivelent of a Carbohydrate (4 Kcal) and Glycerol is about 60% as sweet as sucrose and is used to sweeten as well as to add a chewy texture or “mouth feel” to foods. Also, manufactures of these bars realized that since it is not a carbohydrate, it did not have to be listed in the nutritional information panel. Therefore, a bar’s nutrition label may indicate that there are only eight or ten grams of carbohydrates. This would deceptively be true. However the other thirty grams, would be glycerol.

Most bars on the market no longer deceptively do this. Many people have realized it, and the change has been made. There is now a listing stating that the product contains glycerol. If it is not listed how much is in the product, just add up the ingredients:

EX:

280 Kcal : 30 g Protein, 9 g Carbs, 8g Fat.

30 g protein = 120 Calories, 9 g Carbs = 36 Calories, 8 g Fat = 72 Calories =  228 Calories. Therefore, there is a 52 Calorie difference of what is indicated. As I have stated, Glycerol contains four Calories per Gram like Carbs and Protein. This product would essentially have 13 grams of glycerol.

I hope this illustration makes fats easier to understand:

Lipids:

Triglycerides  (Fats and oils)

  • Glycerol
  • Fatty Acids
  • Saturated
  • Monounsaturated
  • Polyunsaturated
    • Omega-6
    • Omega-3

Phospholipids  Sterols (Cholesterol)

FAT SUBSTITUTES:

Because sometimes no matter how much will power you may have, you may  want those tempting snack foods such as chips, ice cream, and other desserts, there has been a golden opportunity for companies to develop fat substitutes.  How attractive would this be to you to be able to eat these foods without consuming all the fat that is with them?

The idea behind these products is to reduce the fat and calories while maintaining the texture and taste. As promising as that may sound, it is not without controversy and concern. Is anything in this world ever?  The question is what effect can these products have on the gastrointestinal tract and can they interfere with the absorption of vital nutrients.

One fat substitute that is used in many products is called Olestra. Olestra is a synthetic chemical combination of sucrose and fatty acids that provides no calories or fat because it is indigestible by the body. The sucrose replaces the Glycerol portion of the fatty acid.

Whenever fat substitutes are used in a product, there is usually a caution that reads,” may cause abdominal cramping, or possible anal leakage”. Hmmm, this sounds intriguing huh?  What is messy underwear for five hundred Alex? I have a friend that would eat these products all the time, and it never seemed to bother him. A bunch of us that would hang out together even dared him to eat a whole bag of chips containing Olestra, but still he handled it well. I also know other people who were extremely sensitive to these products and it bothers their stomach to eat even a small amount.

Superhero Checkpoint: Fitness Goals

Since I’ve been pretty good about sticking to my fitness journey and starting to notice some results, I’ve started thinking about fitness goals.  What are mine, and/or what should they be?  Obviously, my ultimate goal is to transform into a superhero, but we’ve already covered what that really means. I don’t expect to magically grow a silk cape and shiny boots (not that it wouldn’t be really neat.)

Before I could even set a goal for it, I found myself increasing the weights I use in my strength training, increasing the number of laps I can swim without stopping, and keeping up with more of my spin class.  I thought I had missed a big opportunity for self-congratulations!  Then I reminded myself that I am improving every day, and I should feel good about that.  Which I do.  Still, setting specific goals are a great opportunity to provide focus, and even better, a great premise for self-spoiling rewards (like massages and pedicures, if you’re me.)

Originally I thought, my primary goal is to improve my health and prevent disease.  This is obviously true, but I need to be more specific.  The biggest part of that goal is to get down to a healthy weight, which will be a major through-line of my fitness journey as it will probably take me a significant amount of time.  This means I’ll need smaller goals to focus on in the meantime.

After some consideration, I’ve decided that my first secondary goal will be to increase (or rather, restore) my flexibility to a point where I feel comfortable taking a yoga class.  Ha! That was easy!  (Now for the hard work…)

What are your superhero fitness goals? Tell me!

Superhero Transformation, Part 6: Zumba Me!

I worked very late tonight (like we all do on occasion), and was concerned I might not have time for an exercise class.  I’ve been sticking mostly to group exercise classes lately because I find it easier to follow through with the exercise in a group, and because the Club Fit instructors are SO great with new faces.  I’m always, always made to feel welcome and supported.  It makes trying new things so much more comfortable, and more fun. I’ve been doing mostly spinning for cardio (I’ve gotten better at that!), but I missed the last class by almost half an hour.  Also, I knew I should really be trying new things and varying my routine.  Luckily, Zumba didn’t start until 7:05 pm, so I decided to give it a shot.

It’s hard not to have heard about the Zumba craze by now, and I seem to be the only one I know who hadn’t tried it yet.  I gathered from the huge crowd of people lined up outside the studio door ten minutes early that this was definitely going to be fun, if nothing else.  When the studio opened up, the music was playing already.  People tossed their belongings to the side and quickly grabbed their favorite spot.  I followed suit, not permitting myself to slink to the back of the room, but to stand up near the mirror where I could see myself and be motivated to work hard.  Our instructor Liz hopped in with a huge smile, turned up the music, and asked if anyone was new. I punched my fist in the air, ready to rock, and I was rewarded by Liz with a high five and a shiny strand of gold Zumba beads!

Sweaty Me, with Zumba Beads

Liz was a POWERHOUSE of energy!  Whatever she’s eating for lunch, I need some, because she was still energetic at the end of class when most of us were just shuffling our feet.  The moves were fairly easy to follow, but I still stumbled a bit, just being new and getting adjusted to the flow of the class. She reassured us that we didn’t have to follow her exactly, just to move your body, move from your heart, and have fun! And I did.

It was hard work. I had sweat dripping in my eyes, and my knees felt really sensitive from constantly stopping and turning around when I realized I was shimmying the wrong way, but it was definitely fun all the way through.  The very best part was the cool down at the end of class, where we struck dramatic stretchy poses in front of the mirror to an intense Latin ballad. Seriously, guys… I cannot tell you what an amazing feeling it is to have a super zippy instructor point at you and yell “YOU’RE AWESOME!”  EPIC props go to Liz Mallon today. I’ll definitely be back to take her class again.