Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parabens and phthalates..."Because you're worth it"

I'm not sure why I've continued to use the same "typical" beauty products year after year. Beauty products have caused me (and worsened) conditions such as hives, rashes, eczema/psoriases symptoms, etc. And that's just externally. I've had a myriad of other weird symptoms caused by who knows what. I know I can't prove that this is the cause, but I do know this: my skin is a semi-permeable organ and one of the best ways for chemicals to enter my body.  So what's in that lotion (not to mention shampoo, soap, makeup, etc.) that  I smear all over my skin?

Certain products tells us we're worth it and birth controls can do us the "favor" of only giving us four periods a year. All of the ads for birth control, makeup, skin care, hair care, deoderants, sunscreens, etc. tell women that their product will make them strong, confident and beautiful.

I guess saying that their products can "give you cancer, age your skin and cause fertility problems" isn't quite as catchy.

I decided recently to take a closer look at these products. I've recently read articles and reports that talk about all of the known irritants, allergens, hormone disrupters and carcinogens that are in the things women slather on their skin everyday. Flame retardants have been found in breast milk - this is insane. I've gotten a lot of teasing about being a hippie or too "granola". There is nothing faddish about taking care of your body, especially when it affects your lifespan, your fertility and the body of a born or unborn growing little beautiful life that just so happens to rely on your body.

A list of things I'm running away from:

Artificial hormones - a lot of people have started to get more conscious about eating chickens that are pumped full of hormones. But what about the biggest source of artificial hormones for women? Long term use of birth control can cause cause fertility & cardiac problems, as well as increasing the risk for breast cancer. I won't go heavily into it, but I'll definitely make a plug for NFP here - Natural Family Planning. Not the same as the rhythm method, a 99% effective (same as the pills claim) with ZERO side effects. Not just a Catholic thing, those "hippies" call it natural continence ;) 

Here is a list of just a few known categories of harmful ingredients to avoid. If you don't feel like click on that, here is a summary of the chemicals I listed in the title of this blog post:

parabens: used as a preservative, but have hormone-disrupting effects.
phthalates: one of the chemicals in fragrance that are endocrine disrupters, mimicking hormones and may alter genital development

Sounds fun, huh?

I've found a few affordable brands out there including Kiss My Face, Burt's Bees, Tom's, Alba, Physician's Formula...just to name a few.

Also...the same goes for home cleaners. We're slowly switching to dish soaps and cleaners that aren't harmful (to us or the environment).  There are lots of ways to make your own cleaning products, but since I haven't tried them...that will be a post for another day.

I'm sure I have plenty of products with these ingredients, but I'm not running to throw everything away at once and immediately replace them with safer products. For one, I don't have an imminent desire to go into the poor house. Two, I've been using these products all along, and I'm not dead. My plan in general - for food, exercise, beauty products, medicine - is to be conscious of what I'm putting in and on my body. I hope to slowly replenish the old products with new ones that will contribute to me and my family's health instead of threatening it. Since I'm still really new to this, I would LOVE comments on this particular post - home remedies/recipes, brands you love --please share!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dreaming about arms and defining beauty

Last night I had a dream about my arms. I didn't have these chunky arms until the middle of college. Before then, I never worried about wearing a sleeveless shirt or fear that my "bat wings" wouldn't fit in a blood pressure cuff. But now I have these flabby, overweight old woman arms. I didn't realize exactly how much it bothered me until last night I had a dream about having toned, lean arms. This pathetic awakening was motivation #347 to start being really active.

Notice I am using the word "active" instead of "exercise". The word exercise sounds like work, but being active sounds fun. It's like telling a kid to play a game to see how fast he can make his bed versus telling him making his bed is a chore. Play or chore? I think I'll pick "play." 

I realized this yesterday when Chris and I went to the pool to swim laps. I find that physical activity like running or swimming is so mental. When I jog, my mental mantra is "I hate this I hate this I hate this." Inevitably, I get overcome by side cramps and muscle pain. When I swam laps yesterday, I made sure that my mindset was more positive. With each lap I told myself something along these lines "You're going to be so lean if you keep doing this. Think of all of the things you can fit into! If you don't make it to the end of this lap, you won't have kept your heart rate up enough. Keep going so you can wear a cuter bathing suit than this!"
When I stopped mid-lap, breathing in big gulps of pool water, my legs sore and cramping, I realized that even this more positive mental dialogue wasn't sufficient motivation to push me through the hardest parts of my work out. I dog-paddled to the side of the pool, where I clung on for dear life, and thought about why I'm really doing this. It turns out fitting in cute clothes was just a side benefit and then mental babble I was feeding myself was insufficient. 

When I think about what I want for my life, I see myself being strong, uninhibited, not being held back by anything. And I'm no where close to that. The way I see it, I've got two huge things holding me back, shaping my attitude into something less than positive:
Discipline  - my mind isn't strong enough to persevere through tasks and hard times. I need this to get through nursing school, raise a family, etc.
Strength - there are so many things I hold back from because I'm not in shape. I just realized how often I think of something I really really want to do, but think "I can't do that because of my weight/size/lack of endurance and strength. 

I took off from the side of the pool again, clearing my mind of everything. Just me and the water - stroke 1, 2, 3..breathe. Repeat. I focused on the way I felt in the water. Free. Strong. Relaxed. I kept my mind clear, enjoyed the feel of the water and the steadiness of my strokes. I started to feel my strength wane, my breathes get more shallow. Instead of sinking to the bottom of the pool though, I pushed harder, swam faster, made it to the side of the pool. And then I did another lap.

Originally I was exercising because that's what fat people should do. But it's time for a change. It's time to be active because that's what every person should do to feel physically and mentally strong and to show appreciation and care for the marvelous body they have been given.

I watched a documentary on beauty called America the Beautiful (it's on netflix instant watch right now if you're interested). My favorite part of the documentary is when a woman talks about her visit to Africa to interview women about beauty. When the interviewer asks the African woman if she thinks she is beautiful, the African woman looks astounded and says (paraphrased): "I love my body. I love my hands look at my finger, look at my arms so strong they carry me can you not think you are beautiful? Look at the trees. Look at that tree over there. Do you think that it is beautiful? Look at that other tree over there. Do you think that one's beautiful? Do you say this tree isn't beautiful because it doesn't look like that tree? See you're a tree and I'm a tree."

Friday, May 21, 2010

When I grow up.

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be something new every week. At the beginning of college when "major picking" time came around, I chose English. I didn't pick this major with a goal in mind, but just let myself fall into this area because that is where I excelled. However, I changed my major about 8 times over the next 3 years (anthropology, philosophy - you name it, I declared that major) and eventually ended up...back in English. After 4.5 years of college, getting married and moving to New Orleans, I still had no clue what I was going to do with that English degree. The only idea that I consistently entertained was being an English professor. I even took the GRE and scoped out grad schools, but for some reason I always felt like some internal "brakes" were applied every time I tried to go forward with this plan. However, a few months in New Orleans and a series of life events led me to a potential path in nursing, which I am still very happy/freaked out about. I do every once in awhile get a longing for that English PhD, especially when I talk to my friends in grad school.

I just finished my first semester of nursing pre reqs, and I think my performance this semester indicates that I'm going in the right direction. I'm trying to find a full time job while finishing up class and (possibly) starting nursing school. So while I'm at home trying to (for the thousandth time) figure out what to do with my life, I get an email from my husband about an urgent need for an English professor for a 3 week enrichment program for high schoolers in a college setting. While I only have a PhD in my wildest dreams, I find out that they are really in a jam and an English degree will have to do.

In an interesting twist of fate, I got a job intended for an English professor.

We'll see how I feel after the program, but I'm still want to go forward with my nursing school plan after all of this is over. I'm also giving myself back up plans for nursing school, one of them being to not freak out if it doesn't work out and to be incredibly open to all sorts of other possibilities. Another being to write a bunch of professions on scraps of paper, throw them in a hat and pick one. Who knows? Maybe "English professor" will make the cut. If not, it'll be nice to play pretend for the next few weeks :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Road to recovery

I haven't posted in quite awhile - my original reason was that I was studying for finals (which I aced!). Then I didn't post for a little bit longer because I let my brain atrophy back to its pre-swollen, finals cramming size via excessive sleeping, eating and television watching. One day this past week I went to go post and realized I had nothing to say because of all the lazing around I did. (I thought maybe "Ate cookie dough, stayed in pajamas until 3pm" wouldn't be very exciting to read).

I've had several wake up calls recently that this lazy sort of life is something I truly hate. I was depressed and felt crummy about myself. I was watching movies and tv shows that showed other people really living their lives (fictional or otherwise). So I've made it my mission to be more balanced - to set goals, enjoy myself and be productive.

I kicked it all off with a trip across Louisiana and back. I took Hwy 90 because I think it's gorgeous and the interstate is boring. I got to visit Katie (check out her blog at ) and her beautiful daughter Isabelle :) Babies are such a joy! And speaking of babies...I made my next two stops to see some more babies, my adorable nephew Joshua and then to see my close friend Shannon who is carrying her first child. 

I meant to pass through Baton Rouge, say hello and be on my way. However, I ended up staying up super late chatting with the girls, crashing on the couch and having a world record 5 hour breakfast with an old friend. Liz, I can't even tell you how much you inspire me and how many goals I've set for myself since we talked! 

After two days apart, I came home on Friday grateful for my husband and (hopefully) a much more interesting conversationalist for him than I had been post-finals. We had so much to talk about I didn't even mind trekking all the way back across Louisiana for my nephew's 1st birthday party because it gave us so much time to enjoy each other :)

Here's a few pictures of one beautiful and very loved little boy at his first birthday, surrounded by his family. I picked these particular pictures to display this kid's super expressive face.

So happy to be playing ball with Grandaddy!
A little ticked off about the crown that was strapped to his head.
Relaxing during his "spa treatment" given by Mommy and Daddy to get all of the cake and icing off of his face!
Fish face - a common expression for Joshua

In other news...I didn't know if I was just being a fat kid posting about food all of the time, but a lot of people have told me they read the blog and expressed interest in knowing more about our lifestyle/dietary changes. Well you're all going to laugh at what Chris and I ate today. I repeatedly told my body "I hate you" today by eating only the following: toast for breakfast ( I was in a rush), fountain coke and buttered popcorn at the movies (my stomach hurt so bad), all washed down with a huge cup of caffeinated coffee with cream we drank during our 3 hour adventure at the bookstore (to punish my nervous system and further torture my stomach with the 2+ pounds of popcorn in it).

When we came home, we felt so...crappy. There is no other word for it. I made us some veggie tostados for dinner and I feel like I'm on the road to recovery. We've made numerous vows to load up on fruit and vegetables this week. Did I feel this bad all of the time before I started eating well?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Defining comfort food

We belong to a gorgeous old Church in a historic area right along the Mississippi River. Nearby, there are lots of cute little restaurants and cafes, one of which we used to visit many Sundays for breakfast after Mass. This breakfast is HUGE and dirt cheap, at just over four dollars for a plate heaping with grits, eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast. We haven't been in a couple of months because of various reasons (time, money, not wanting to clog our arteries weekly). So I had the brilliant idea to patronize this awesome little diner after Mass last Sunday.

While we waited for our meals we really enjoyed ourselves reading the paper, sharing great articles we were reading and even making a list of things we want to do and place we want to visit this summer. The only thing we needed to make this perfect was that big steaming hot plate of fat-filled breakfast food.
But honestly, we were let down. The food didn't taste as good as we remembered and we felt crummy the rest of the day. We both agreed that Chris' veggie omelets were far better in taste (and obviously loads healthier) than our greasy diner meal.

This is both sad and great news. Obviously we are really starting to enjoy the dietary changes we are making in our life. The healthy food we have been eating is not bland, but full of flavor. One of my favorite things has become a sprinkling of fresh cilantro and green onions (both from our garden) on sandwiches, salads, etc. I love how our new diet makes me feel strong and energetic. I don't feel that "heaviness" I used to feel after meals, and I fill up much faster on the nutrient dense food instead of empty calories. Although I still crave some junk foods, I ALSO crave well-seasoned grilled chicken and potatoes, black beans & rice, roasted broccoli and fresh avocado.

This doesn't mean that our entire diet is healthy. The past couple of weeks have gotten super busy with end of semester work and I have picked up fast food (and felt gross for quite awhile after). We have enjoyed a few treats. Chris bought some ice cream a few days ago per my request, and we've been enjoying a cup of ice cream in the evening for the past few days. Sometimes after a rough week there's nothing better than a good frozen pizza, heated until cheese is bubbly which we devour while watching The Office. But I think the point is that overall our diet has changed, that ice cream and fast food aren't our "norm" anymore.

There are so many benefits to our new diet - better digestion, more energy, weight loss, and I can't even tell you how much my mood has improved. I was having really awful mood swings, and I did some research between food and mood. I have learned to watch out for my triggers and have greatly reduced them in my diet (or cut them out completely). For me this means excessive caffeine and refined sugar, and I'm still identifying others.

I think my new food rules are these: To eat consciously, aware of how food affects me. Don't eat to excess. Don't make anything completely off limits - indulgence is good for the soul.

And speaking of comfort food...Happy Cinco de Mayo! One of my biggest comfort foods is Mexican/hispanic food. Here is a picture of some homemade tamales we used to have on every mission trip to Mexico.
And now I'm extremely hungry.