Monday, September 27, 2010
It's been bitter-sweet day. I'm excited for my new adventure, but already miss my Co-op family. Thankfully I'm not going far (virtually speaking, anyhow); I'll continue blogging and reading from the kat, I just won't be leading the charge.
As I reflect on the nearly 6 years total that I've worked for the Co-op, I feel both gratitude and sadness in leaving. Immense gratitude for all that I've learned about health and aging; the extended look into all the things people wish they knew in their 20s.
Sadness because the Co-op is something special -- it represents a world where eating healthily is "cool," silly pet humor matters, and values like honesty and sincerity are honored without a second thought. Such a rarity, and I feel fortunate to have been part of it in such an intimate way during such formative years. This community has shaped me.
As for what's next for me, tomorrow I start in the Human Resources department of small startup technology company here in Seattle. It will be a stark contrast to join a bunch of techy guys who live off pizza and beer and avoid vegetables like the plague, but I'm confident I'll have them eating vitamin C out of my hand in no time (especially once cold season hits). They're a very friendly and funny bunch, and it's been made explicit that part of my job will be to "mother" them a bit. :-)
As for what's next for you, you're in good hands. Our new Chief Community Officer, Chris Harding, is a gem and members will be lucky to have him. Chris's dad used to boil fresh slippery elm when he had a sore throat and his family grew most of their own food during his childhood. He learned the lessons of good nutrition early, and has been an avid Constant Health fan for years.
Chris also offers years of experience in the entertainment business and leading organizations through culture change initiatives. Among his big dreams for the Co-op are finding more ways for the team and experts to communicate better with ya'll through videos, teleseminars, webinars, and community boards. Chris is committed to seeing the Co-op become a community resource in addition to a provider of great supplements and service.
Personally, I can't wait to see what happens. I care deeply for the Co-op and all our members I've gotten the chance to speak and write with over the years. Now it's my turn to be one of the meowy members keeping the team on their toes. I can't wait. ^..^
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Their coats are beautiful and shiny; their bodies sleek and muscular; their energy vibrant and enduring. Shockingly, their feces have no odor whatsoever (I know, I still can't believe it), and they use the box far less than in their dry food days. I honestly couldn't imagine putting them on the dry stuff ever again, and I'm not sure they'd stand for it anyway!
I'm looking forward to seeing how Diddy does with the moist, oxygen-rich Seattle air, but thus far getting his system back to good health is a big success.
So when all you-know-what broke loose a few weeks ago, I kept bracing for the oogies. My best friend decided to move to Europe, I needed to find a new apartment, my college semester was ending, and I lost my kitty, Dante, to a chest infection right after getting Diddy's asthma stabilized. I was stretched thin, and rest was nowhere in sight.
Apartment hunting, something I usually enjoy, felt like a drag. I dreaded appointments to see new places and felt discouraged even looking online. I attributed my lack of enthusiasm to stress, but I knew something else was up when I found the perfect place and felt panic, not relief, every time I started the application.
See, I'm the poster child of easygoing, all the way down my "happy feet," so I was intrigued by this panic. Then I woke up with unwelcome tightness in my throat announcing enemy takeover. I felt I was being slowly strangled from the inside and braced for the sickness I'd learned to associated with stress.
Before I went home, tail between my legs, I started exploring with a friend what might be going on with the apartment application panic. Practically dictated I just fill out the application and get on with it. I didn't want to keep looking and this was a golden opportunity. However, something I had not confessed, even to myself, was that I didn't want to stay in Utah. When I started talking, words came like "Seattle" and "I just can't see staying here, even if it seems rash." The more I talked, the more I realized I was being strangled -- not just by germs, but by my unwillingness to acknowledge my feelings.
Interestingly, I had just been reading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, who writes that often the most significant moments are those we can't explain and may make no sense whatsoever to anyone, even us. Perhaps that passage gave me a little more courage to explore what was actually going on and not just chalk it up to general stress. It was stress all right, but most of the stress was caused by my not wanting to acknowledge what was actually inside clammoring to get out.
The more I talked about what I saw for myself in Seattle (community, holistic learning, a culture that supports integrative health strongly, the ocean, etc.), the easier I could breathe. The tightness that had gripped my entire day was nearly gone, and a big smile had crept onto my face. I never did end up getting sick, and my energy surged back in a way that shocked me. Here I was actually taking on more, and feeling energized, not depleted.
One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, writes, "The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, but wholeheartedness." When I look back at the times stress actually did take me down, not only do I see an overall weaker immune system, I see how I felt there was no way out. I didn't know how to listen to myself, and I would push myself until my body forced my hand. Poor bodies, so easy to ignore sometimes. Not this time, thankfully!
So I'm off to Seattle in less than three weeks with a full heart. I couldn't wait to get apartment hunting, and I found myself an apartment overlooking Puget Sound. I'll be spending time with the naturopaths at Bastyr University, the integrative medicine students at the University of Washington, and our integrative pharmacist friend, Mike Ciell, who travels to Seattle regularly. Note to self to keep exploring the wisdom of stress.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Saturday I took Diddy to the veterinary heart specialist. You can only imagine his excitement. Thankfully, his vicious protest was nothing more than a soft, pouty meow and a pathetic squinty look that seemed to say, "But why?" He soon discovered a clever hiding spot under the towel on my lap while we waited for the doctor.
The specialist was excellent, and a "cat person" to boot. His staff appreciated Diddy's compliance and even opted to carry him around between tests rather than sticking him in a cage.
I waited patiently in the exam room trying to prepare myself for the news to come. The vet soon re-entered, asking me to come on back and take a look at the digital x-rays. Diddy reached for me like a toddler, and I let him perch on my shoulder while I heard the results. X-rays showed trouble in Diddy's lungs, not his heart. Irritated lungs were affecting his heart, but main problem looked asthmatic. Phew. A serious problem, no doubt, but far less scary than heart failure.
Siamese are prone to asthma, this I knew, but Diddy's symptoms were so mild considering the serious inflammation inside, it's no surprise we didn't catch it sooner. Interestingly however, Diddy's always had a "sensitive stomach" and I've been through several foods over the years to find one he'll keep down. The vet explained that, like humans, most immune cells are located along the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and the skin. So, just because Diddy hadn't been coughing long, his tummy trouble says his system has likely been irritated for ages. Poor baby.
While there's no "cure," for asthma, there are many ways to manage it, like most any other inflammatory condition. Drugs are always the first option presented, but a purely pharmaceutical approach won't suit me for long. Changing his diet, improving home air quality, removing obvious irritants, and adding supplements will all support a overall healthier Diddy, and thus a stronger immune system.
My goal is to get Diddy to where he relies on as little medication as possible. That said, with a little medication, Diddy's already stopped coughing completely, has more energy, and is breathing better at night. So, I am grateful for pharmaceuticals when it comes to acute care. They can work wonders in a pinch.
I spent most of Sunday morning reading about kitty health, and discovered the site of a cat-loving veterinarian who has had amazing results switching all her cats to a "raw food" diet of chicken thighs and supplements. While I'd always heard dry food is better than canned food because it promotes better dental health, turns out dry foods can bring a whole host of problems.
In addition to issues like contaminated ingredients that caused the deaths of numerous pets back in 2008, dry foods are also prone to molds, bacteria, mites, and other unfriendlies while they're sitting in warehouses and stores. Dry foods are also grain-heavy, which cats don't need (and actually contribute to stinkier, bulkier stools -- ew).
Everything I read made sense, and I've committed to slowly switching my kitties over to a homemade diet. Just like we humans, who aren't meant to fill up on processed foods, cats have had to try to adjust to less-than-healthy processed diets that aren't what thousands of years have trained their bodies to eat.
My little carnivores devoured the half-cooked chicken thighs like lions on the plains of Africa. They were also discernibly more content after dinner. So, of all the things I never thought I'd have in my house, I'm ordering a meat grinder. It's very important to feed bones as well as meat for calcium, and a grinder to offer up bones easily. Supplements are important, too, says the site creator, especially taurine. I'll be adding a few anti-inflammatory supplements, like fish oil, as well. If my cats weren't already spoiled, they'll be crossing a new threshold here shortly.
I look forward to seeing how my own health improves as I make changes that benefit the whole pride. For example, the dust and fragrances from clay kitty litter can cause a whole heap of irritation, for humans too. Living beings are living beings, and no system thrives on a sub-par nutrition, environmental toxins, and poor air quality. Stay tuned for updates!
Friday, February 26, 2010
See, several years ago one of the Co-op's manufacturer's had never heard the saying "TGIF." Cindy and I tried to explain to him that we weren't talking about the restaurant, we were simply wishing him a Happy Friday of sorts. The phrase stuck and has since lived on for years now. Sun, rain, travel, days in the office...very few Fridays have passed without one of us wishing the other a Happy Friday.
Today, the sun shines bright in Salt Lake City, but it doesn't feel like a Happy Friday. This morning I took my Siamese cat, Diddy, to the vet with a cough. While we waited for the vet, Diddy took to his usual post on my shoulder and busied himself trying to get his face as close to mine as the laws of physics would permit him. He's such a good baby, even when he's stressed.
My heart sunk when the x-rays revealed an enlarged heart. Diddy is unlike any cat I've had and as is often true with Siamese and their humans, we're tight. I tried to keep myself together as the vet scrawled the name of a specialist down and sent me on my way, x-rays in hand.
The appointment with the specialist is tomorrow, thankfully. As soon as we have a firm diagnosis, I'll get him an appointment with a holistic practitioner to see how to best support him. I've already ordered heart-friendly taurine, l-carnitine, and fish oil to get him started nutritionally.
My hope is that holistic healing is in my blood. I'm pretty sure my grandmother deserves the Guinness World Record for keeping dogs alive the longest after their "death sentences." One dog diagnosed for kidney failure and given "three months, tops," lived another happy, healthy 7 years. Another dog had heart problems for ages, but lived well-past 14. Her current dog, Lilly, has been living with an enlarged heart for most of her, now long, life.
Skeptics may say that because they're Jack Russell Terriers they just stubbornly refuse to pass on, but I know better. I know she's given them all various homeopathic tonics and other supplements. She's never been a big fan of the allopathic system and she likes nothing more than to see the astonishment on their faces when her dogs keep on truckin'. I'll be calling my grandma later today. I'll be sure to pass along whatever she tells me.
In the meantime, I'm just going to keep enjoying my Diddy kitty. No matter how long I have him, he pretty much insists that I enjoy every minute of him I get. Diddy is a retired show kitty, and while he's well-socialized, I don't think he got nearly enough direct adoration in his previous life so he doesn't want to miss a drop. Good thing he picked the right human.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
We soon started chuckling about how even though there are all kinds of things we know we shouldn't eat, we find a way off the hook. I, for example, really shouldn't eat wheat. Ever. No really, I shouldn't. I sneeze, I itch, I suffer. A lot. Yet when a neighbor blessed my front door with a moist, truffley chocolate cake...well...I cracked.
I rationalized that I'd just have a little bit and that I'd take the Co-op's Pancreatic Enzymes to aid my system in processing the irritant (they work wonders in this way). Unfortunately, the next morning I could still feel the effects. Enzymes help minimize the damage, but they're not miracle workers.
See, I have lots of ways of letting myself off the hook. I tell myself I'll just have a little; or that I've otherwise been really good about wheat that day; or that whatever I want surely can't have that much wheat; or that I'm really hungry and don't want to suffer a growling stomach all afternoon. I'm just so darn clever, but my rationalizations don't fool my body at all.
Dr. Rodier is often quoted saying of his patients, "They haven't suffered enough yet, they're not ready to change." And it's true. My friend didn't think too much about changing his wicked ways until his gall bladder complained enough to require surgery.
I'm not so different sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit. As soon as I feel my immune system struggling, it's amazing how easy it becomes to say no to the golden grain. Yet, when I'm feeling out of harm's way, my resolve suffers. I've heard the same confessions from others trying to be more healthy; whether it's wheat, sugar, bacon, alcohol, or some other something they shouldn't have, it's tough to be good.
If pure, unbridled willpower were all it took to change, the world would be a very different place. So where to turn instead? Here are a few ways I've discovered to support myself.
Personal Resolve: Getting clear that I actually want to stay away from wheat always helps a lot. Knowing that I "should" isn't enough. It's too easy to feel rebellious and reckless.
Network of Support: Telling the people in my life that I'm staying away from wheat works wonders. My father's widow (who serves pasta, sandwiches, and other temptations for big family dinners) said, "I didn't know you couldn't have wheat. That's all I've been feeding you!" I didn't want to inconvenience her, but turns out she was happy to be more accommodating. Confessing my wheat-free wish to friends helps, too. They help me shy away from choices I'll regret and suggest places to eat with lots of friendly options.
Keeping in Touch with the Body: When I pay attention, my body has so many ways of telling me what it likes and doesn't. The sneezing is obvious, but more subtle cues include having to pry my lifeless body out of bed in the morning, dry skin, puffiness, slight bloating, and itchy ears. Charming, huh? The truth is when I tune in, I don't even want wheat. I love it when my body feels good, but when I'm not so connected to feeling (good or bad) it's easy to tolerate a lot of these symptoms.
Keeping Friendly Choices Handy: I confess, I don't plan. I fly by the seat of my pants, much to my mother's horror. However, magically, when I keep the fridge stocked with friendly foods and don't pick restaurants I know will push my resolve, it's not hard at all to keep from sneezing.
So, when I suffer the itchies and sneezies, I take it as a reminder that I need to return to better practices like the ones above. I try not to scold myself, but instead look at how I can better support myself.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Anyway, I'd be tempted to take these dismissals personally, but I've seen health care professionals meet the same fate. When they deviate from the traditional medical model, they're called quacks, charlatans, witch doctors, and other flattering monikers. What makes me sad is how often genuinely valuable information is ignored because of these biases and stigmas.
Take my recent conversation with a family member. She's only 29 and has begun to suffer from extreme pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness -- to the point that she cannot work (she's a nurse) and spends her days at doctor's appointments and in bed. She's already on multiple pharmaceuticals because none of the specialists can agree on a diagnosis.
"Chronic fatigue is a result of depression, try these anti-depressants," says her psychiatrist.
"It must be a nervous system issue, try this anti-inflammatory," says her neurologist.
"Sleep deprivation can't be helping, take these sleeping pills," says her internist.
All the pharmaceuticals bring plenty of undesirable side effects, too. Restlessness, cravings, exhaustion, headaches. And still, nobody knows what's "wrong" with her.
When I listen through an ear that isn't just searching for a finite diagnosis, the conversation gets more interesting. Sure, she's not overweight and her skin looks reasonably healthy, but I hear about her poor diet, and how she eats few fresh foods, gets no exercise, and has plenty of stress. Not exactly the recipe for wellness, but not considered "symptoms."
When I began talking to her about cellular health and the gut, she got curious, but another family member (who's older, heavier, more stressed, and a veteran sufferer of fibromialgia and chronic fatigue) completely cut me off and assured the youngster that the drugs will help some, but not to expect that much will change. Basically, just trust the doctors and get used to feeling like crap. I was shocked. I was also grateful that the sheer speed at which my jaw dropped wasn't too noticeable.
When the nay-sayer left the table, I offered my young family member the telephone numbers of a couple practitioners that would help address her issues more holistically. She seemed appreciative, but when I saw her a few weeks later she was still feeling terrible and hadn't contacted either one. She was still hoping for a diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment that would magically restore her health.
As I continued to reflect, very troubled, I thought of Dr. Rodier who has literally thousands of reputable journal studies and clinical results to support his work. Yet patients continue to get angry with him and put him down when he asks them to make nutrition and lifestyle changes over trips to the pharmacy.
So I'm finding myself very curious today about what it would take to open more people to integrative methods. I care about the future of this country and our larger global society. I care about my generation being able to support ourselves and our parents (which is looking dismal these days). I care about education with good information. Now if I can just make that care contagious. At least I care about a good challenge, too!
Thursday, January 14, 2010
This from my good friend who is struggling with the "Dr. Rodier Cleanse" (not exactly for the faint of heart -- the cleanse is a sort of rehab protocol for sugar addicts, wheat worshipers, dairy devotees, and processed food fans).
My friend's diet wasn't so terrible, but included a few vices generally incompatible with good gut health. Namely her relationship to vegetables resembles that of most five-year-olds, her morning tea has more sugar than tea, and she firmly believes bacon deserves its own national holiday.
Why I suggested the cleanse had more to do with her partner, whose been experiencing debilitating migraine headaches for years now. I know migraines often stem from gut issues, and it turns out her partner's diet is rife with sugar and other intestinal enemies.
The duo decided to do the cleanse together, and so far have been troopers, following the cleanse rules to the letter. Kicking and screaming has been minimal. Protests have been halfhearted despite intense sugar cravings. Which brings me back to the top of this post -- stevia. When I mentioned nonchalantly one day that stevia was acceptible to use during the cleanse, my friend nearly fell out of her chair in shock that I could withhold such vital information.
She couldn't understand that I didn't mean to deprive her of stevia. I just don't use much sugar, so the thought of a sugar substitute didn't occur to me as a necessity. She rushed out that evening to stock up on SweetLeaf, and by morning was quick to report:
"On the stevia website it says using stevia actually reduces sugar cravings. I don't know if I believe that, but maybe if I just eat lots of stevia and then I won't even want cookies."
Personally, I'm still going to push her to make friends with her vegetables and other whole foods, even when they aren't covered in sugary sauces. But hey, if stevia helps build the bridge for my friend and many others, I'm sure glad the Co-op can offer it inexpensively.
Stay tuned for updates as my friend and her partner make their way through the cleanse. Right now they're just looking forward to reaching week three when they're allowed to have fruit again, or what they've now dubbed International Fruit Celebration Day.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
From the start, I couldn't help but think of our aging Co-op members. We promote cognitive health often, carrying a variety of supplements to boost brain power and hopefully beat the odds against dreaded dementia. However, cognitive health isn't usually a glaring priority for most of us. It lacks the measurability of cholesterol and the instant emotionality of cancer. No one thinks they're going to lose their mind. The mere thought doesn't even cross our minds until symptoms are already nipping at the heels of our consciousness.
Take my grandfather for example, a retired police chief, who I've watched slowly become estranged from his mind over the last year. The footprints of an ant would have once grabbed his attention. Now he can barely discuss the weather without becoming lost and repetitive.
Unfortunately, his plight comes with no surprise. Poor diet, extra pounds, and unfavorable genetics have slowly chipped away at his health for years. The major heart attack that forced his retirement came when I was only three. The stroke that strangled the mobility of his right side came years later, leaving a once powerful man unable to climb his own stairs.
Dementia was once viewed as an isolated condition, but more recent research continues to link it with inflammation, heart disease, obesity and other degenerative conditions. If I've learned anything in my years at the Co-op, I have learned that a cell is a cell and it's frighteningly safe to assume that if heart cells are struggling to thrive, brain cells are too.
While I've got quite a few years ahead of me (knock on wood), I'm going to do everything I can to protect my little cells. This means I'll be taking my supplements and as my good friend likes to say, "eating lots of yucky vegetables and depriving myself of delicious foods." Good thing I have a liking for those yucky vegetables and can get by on a timid vice for dark chocolate.
So when autumn swept over the Utah valley, I noticed an interesting trend amongst my Facebook buddies -- everyone kept getting sick, and further, the same few people keep getting sick over and over (and over).
As the repeat offenders kept begging to feel better and drinking NyQuil like water, Dr. Rodier's words rang in my ears, "It's not the bugs, it's the terrain." Then I noticed some commonalities among the germ haters.
One of them bakes cakes for a living. Another spends her days cooking elaborate casseroles and desserts filled with wheat and dairy. Yet another relies on fast-food to carry her through an overpacked graduate school and full-time work schedule. The list goes on echoing a deafening theme: too much sugar, too much wheat, too much dairy, too much stress, and not enough nutrition to keep cell membranes strong and impenetrable to bad guys. Weak, sugar-ravaged cells make staying well and uphill battle.
A larger problem showed itself as I continued seeing this cycle of sickness. I'm sure most of these people know they should eat better, however, most of them would only connect diet with weight issues or cholesterol. The narrative we share as a culture around sickness often does little to foster wellness.
Diseases are portrayed as alien invaders that must be controlled and cured rather than prevented and proactively responded to. The intelligence behind the body's breakdown is often lost, submerged, drowned even, by palliative care.
I long to help shift our collective "story" around health to a tale where nutrients and so-called alternative healthcare practices are the heros, not the black sheep of medicine.
A few days ago I came across an article ranking cell phone radiation emissions. The article offered evidence that just 10 years of cell phone use may significantly increase one's risk of developing brain and salivary gland tumors, Alzheimer's disease, and even behavioral problems. Further -- and for me, perhaps scarier -- the article speculated that constant cell phone use in younger generations may lead to cognitive decline as early as age 40.
Radiation doesn't just go for cell phones either. Wireless internet, satellite television, and GPS system waves have infiltrated perpetually higher percentages our high-tech society. We're surrounded by a smog of signal waves that we can't see, hear, taste, or otherwise detect.
One article compared this century's rampant technology with last century's cigarette. Meaning what began as a cool cultural phenomenon was eventually outed as a sure way to depress your health and shorten your life.
Troubled, I couldn't help sliding my cell phone into my purse and away from my chair. While our crowded world is rife with toxins and other dangers, this one seems so easy to curtail. Use a hands-free headset for your cell phone. Limit your direct contact with wireless technology.
Further, choose a brand with lower radiation emissions. The Environmental Working Group ranked more than 1,000 cell phones by radiation emission. I was sad to discover my Blackberry Curve ranked close to the top, but pleased to know my contract is almost up and I can swap it for a safer model.
So, I offer my thanks to Cindy and other "canaries in the mine" out there for alerting the rest of us to silent dangers lurking in broad daylight.
I've heard this more times than I can count. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
When I was just 22, my health began to decline. I'd been "burning the candle at both ends" already, and then my father died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. Exhausted. Sad. For many months, I relied too much on coffee and sugar to keep going, and came down with serious tonsil infections at least every three months.
A year later, my health crashed, likely due to adrenal burnout. Yet another tonsil infection hit, but I knew I was in trouble when I sat freezing in a 103 degree hot tub. Next thing I knew I was leaving Insta Care with an IV port in my forearm and instructions to report the next morning for another round of heavy duty antibiotics. Bloodwork showed me to be nearly septic, and I was almost thrown in the hospital.
My energy and immune system were decimated, along with my naive attitude that my health would just improve. I knew it was time to take my habits more seriously, and I'm proud to say I haven't had a tonsil infection in years.
My mission now? To bring wellness wisdom to every age. Young, old, in between. If you've got a body, you know the toll of keeping up with today's processed foods, pollution, stress, and more. Wellness is a full-time job, and as part of my job, I've been lucky enough to be inspired by a progressive group of healthcare professionals and wellness advocates.
While my peers flipped burgers or folded t-shirts at Old Navy, I started hearing our members' stories here at the Co-op. While the cool kids were dancing in clubs, I was researching menopause, prostate health, and, dare I say this, all things unspeakable about bowel health. Didn't exactly make me hip with my peers, but everyone with gray hair in my family started coming to me for advice. And, I learned that I really had something valuable to share.
So, encouraged by my middle-aged friends, of which there are many these days, I decided to share my stories with you.
My hope is to inform you, inspire you, and perhaps even entertain you with anecdotes of normal people trying to be healthy in a stressful, saturated, fast-food nation.