Forgive, forget and move on

I just spent a fantastic weekend with my sister and her family, celebrating my niece’s birthday and giving my daughter some much-needed cousin time. It was a quick trip, with one celebration after another: actual birthday dinner out Friday night, dinner together with even more family Saturday night, and the birthday party on Sunday.

The weekend started off poorly, food-wise: for one thing, it was a 5-plus hour drive and I hate to stop or not have something suitable for my very insistent toddler, so I loaded up a tote bag with healthy snacks for my daughter and me – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat, raisins, apples, graham crackers. Not exactly balanced eating, but a lot better than stopping at Burger King or the other very limited options along the interstate. Also, eating while driving – i.e. multitasking and not really listening to satiety cues – isn’t exactly the most healthful behavior.

When I got to my destination, it didn’t get better. We went straight to dinner, which was at a restaurant of the birthday girl’s choosing (and I was duly forewarned by my sister and brother-in-law that the food was not very good, but rather that the main attraction was the kids arcade). I got a pizza, and it really wasn’t that great. But, I was so distracted by keeping an eye on my daughter, catching up with my sister and brother-in-law, that again I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating and before I knew it my entire pizza was nearly gone (plus a few slices from my daughter’s plate – the plain cheese kid’s pizza was actually better than the “gourmet” version I had ordered.)

I went to bed stuffed that night – a feeling I hate – and didn’t quite shake the full feeling all weekend. I’m a sucker for birthday parties and LOVE cake, and my sister had two absolutely delicious cakes for the birthday girl over the course of the weekend. I couldn’t help but indulge – and then blame my poor eating on being pregnant. Poor unborn child – he’s already being pegged as the scapegoat.

So what do you do when you find yourself sitting on the couch, feeling like a lump, and swear you can feel your belly expanding with each breath? Have a pity party if you want to, but keep it short. Weekends like these happen to us all – or entire vacations or even years of our lives. Rather than wallow in self-pity, or reach for another bag of chips thinking to yourself that the damage is already done – dust yourself off, say goodbye to the food free-for-all you just had, and make a new goal to refocus on making healthful, balanced choices. You can’t change yesterday, but you can certainly change tomorrow.

As gross as I can feel after a weekend of indulgence, it’s rare that I truly regret the experience. Splurging or going off your healthy eating path is often a good reminder that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing – and that even our favorite foods (such as cake), can be a turnoff if you get too much of it. It also makes me appreciate my fresh salads and broth-based soups even more, as my body just naturally craves a veggie-filled meal to counteract all the carbs, sugar and fat circulating through my system. So later today, I’m heading to the grocery store and re-stocking my fridge with fresh produce and salad fixings for the week, plus some lean proteins thinking black beans or hummus – and yogurt. Should be feeling better in no time. Besides, it’s what the baby is asking for – smart little guy!

The politics of breasts

Never thought these words would come out of my mouth (or be typed by my computer), but thank you, IRS! On Feb. 10, the Internal Revenue Service allowed breast pumps purchased in 2010 and later to be considered a reimbursible medical expense. Many health groups, from the World Health Organization to the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the importance of breastfeeding, encouraging women who choose to and are able to breastfeed to do so exclusively in the first 6 months of a child’s life, and to continue until the child reaches a year to two years or more.

Unfortunately, this issue has become policial, after First Lady Michelle Obama made a statement supporting the IRS decision, which was met by backlash from Tea Party Republicans Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. The Washington Post did a nice article outlining each woman’s statements, including the flawed remark by Gov. Palin suggesting that Mrs. Obama was trying to compensate for higher milk prices (cow’s milk should not be introduced until after a baby reaches age 1). Here are some additional counter-arguments for the nay-sayers and considerations worth noting:

  • The government is not paying for breast pumps. This is a tax rule that will allow for reimbursement and use of a flex spending account to purchase medical devices. Breast pumps were merely added to the list. Even the IRS spokesperson noted that the tax rules that apply to the breast pump reimbursement are the same that applies to men getting vasectomies.
  • This tax break will serve moms beyond those who work in an office setting. Today’s moms are balancing more than ever, between office jobs, work-from-home jobs, and stay-at-home parenting – which is one of the most underappreciated jobs a woman can have. For my daughter’s first 7 months, I was a stay-at-home mom but relied on my breast pump to: keep up my supply as we adjusted my thyroid medication (which at one point caused me to nearly dry up); allow my husband to participate in the feeding process and the bonding that goes with it; provide me with some much-needed breaks and a weekend away for my husband and me to remember it’s not always all about the baby, and so on. A good breast pump is also a must for any mom – working or not – who either does not want to or cannot directly nurse or whose baby does not latch well.
  • Women need MORE support, not less, when it comes to continuing to provide breastmilk to their babies. A recent news article found that women are more likely to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding if she had family support. Although I’m not aware of any research on the matter, a breast pump is a sizeable expense and could be considered an obstacle to breastfeeding. With a reimbursement program in place, more families may be able to spare the expense — and reap the rewards.

Lap it up!

Swimming usually isn’t my first choice for being active, but once I get back into the pool I start getting addicted. There’s something about emerging from the water after some serious laps, peeling off a wet swimcap and releasing the suction cup of goggles that makes me feel so alive.

Let’s face it, though, swimming isn’t one of the easiest sports to get into. It requires special equipment (a heated pool), some basic skills and a fair amount of time. Getting in a “quick swim” is no easy feat – you have to get to a pool, shower, swim, and shower again – it’s not like yoga or a brisk walk where you can sneak back to the office after a workout with a quick towel-dry.

Yet there is something addictive about swimming, especially when you’re pregnant or just starting out a new fitness regime. And according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, it’s a sport that pretty much anyone can do, from childhood into older adulthood, and even among those with disabilities or chronic health conditions such as osteoarthritis. Once you have access to a pool, the rest of your “gear” needs are easy – you really just need a swimsuit and yourself. A pair of goggles is helpful for being underwater, and a swim cap is nice to have to protect your hair. I also use silicon ear plugs, since I hate hopping on one foot to get the water out of my ears.

Here are some great reasons to consider swimming as part of your exercise plan:

  1. It’s perfect for people with joint issues or those who need a non-impact workout. Swimming is a great exercise when you’re pregnant, as it’s easy on the joints and ligaments and makes you feel weightless. The breaststroke in particular can help strengthen muscles needed for childbirth, as well as stretch back muscles that can get tight during pregnancy and early motherhood. If you’re new to a workout routine, are overweight or recovering from injury, pool exercise is a gentle but effective workout.
  2. It can be a serious cardiovascular workout. Lap swimming engages your entire body, especially the freestyle (crawl stroke) which works your arms, legs and core. Timing your breathing with each stroke also works your respiratory system. Water running and water aerobics are also major calorie burners.
  3. You don’t sweat! Sure, at the end of your workout you’re completely drenched, but unlike other cardiovascular workouts, the temperature in your physical environment (the pool) is fairly regulated, with your body corresponding to the temperature. Your chances of overheating are very low, and if the pool is cold your body will warm up to it as you begin exercising. Perhaps the biggest shock to the system is the initial surge in the water, if the water is cold, and emerging from the pool – particularly if you’re swimming in a heated outdoor pool on a cold day (don’t scoff – it’s actually really neat!)
  4. It’s meditative. I first got into swimming during a particularly tough time in my life. Being underwater was a welcome silence and allowed me to be free with my thoughts. For some people, the silence can be deafening, but there are actually waterproof mp3 players you can get if listening to tunes is the best way for you to pass the time and keep you energized during a workout.
  5. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. “It’s boring!” is the first thing people say to me when I suggest swimming as an activity. Yes, you swim up one length and back, but there’s so much that can happen in between – so many ways to challenge your muscles. You can do alternate strokes with each lap, working different muscle groups and giving your breath a break (if you do backstrokes, sidestroke or water running), work with props such as kickboards to concentrate on your legs or a wedge between your legs to challenge your upper body. Play with your cadence, speed, etc. When I swim as part of my prenatal exercises, I like to swim 40 laps to coincide with each week of pregnancy (or I swim to whatever week I’m currently in, depending on how my body feels). If I get bored, I think about the particular “week” I’m swimming, either reminiscing about what things were like that week, or planning what I’ll look and feel like if it’s a week in the future. I guarantee you, with a little mindplay or shaking up your activities, your time in the pool will fly by.

While the Physical Activity Guidelines rate swimming among one of the lower-risk activities, people must take certain precautions. First of all, never begin any new activity without first consulting your doctor. And second, swimming – like any cardiovascular activity, can be dehydrating. Keep a water bottle poolside and sip regularly throughout your workout.

Don’t be afraid to put that bathing suit to use and get in the pool. It’s refreshing, and you’ll feel great.

In support of breastfeeding support

It may be one of the most natural things, but let’s face it – breastfeeding is hard work.

As a dietitian, the benefits of breastfeeding and recommendations had been drilled into me long before my daughter was born (not to mention, my grad school advisor was a breastfeeding expert). I read the studies about breastfeeding and health – both infant and maternal, reviewed the guidelines and understood the challenges. I made it my personal goal to provide breast milk to my daughter for the first year of her life. Despite colic (her), an out-of-whack thyroid (me), a cross-country move and all the Mother’s Milk tea, fenugreek pills and More Milke Plus drops to get me through a dwindling milk supply, it was a promise I kept to myself and her for 13 full months, even though by 7 months I was exclusively pumping and feeding her expressed breast milk in a bottle.

Even though breastfeeding was my decision – and the responsibility fell solely on me – there was no way I could’ve made it through those 13 months without support from my husband, as well as family, friends and other resources I sought out.

Not all women are so lucky. A recent USA Today article highlighted the importance of family support for breastfeeding women. And recently, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued a call-to-action to support breastfeeding – not just among family members, but also businesses and communities. I understand that breastfeeding is a highly personal decision, and that not all women want to, or can, nurse their infants. However, for women who do choose to breastfeed, they should be given all the support, encouragement and resources they need. Additionally, they should be able to breastfeed as long as they and their babies want to, and should not be limited by external pressures and obstacles.

For all the strong pregnant ladies…

A friend and I were recently talking about all the crazy comments and looks we get from others when we’re pregnant, especially at the gym. Given all the research that shows activity should be encouraged, even during pregnancy, you’d think we should get praise for continuing to pound on the elliptical machine, stretch out our kinks and yes, even strengthen our abs to prevent diastasis (the separation of the rectus abdominus muscles, the vertical muscles that run in front of the abdominal muscles. Working the transverse abdominal muscle – the “seat belt” that runs across the bottom of your abs, helps).

When we’re pregnant our bodies are different, changing every day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re delicate flowers who need to rest and wait for the baby to arrive. In fact, it’s the opposite. In addition to the energy boost and typical benefits associated with exercise, there’s some evidence that certain exercises done during pregnancy may in fact help prepare the mom for labor and delivery. A recent study also found that regular aerobic exercise during pregnancy may lead to healthier birth weights. Even though my first daughter was born face up, I credit my daily walks and regular prenatal yoga, strength and swimming to help me through the rigors of childbirth (most of which I was able to withstand without pain medication) and deliver her without a c-section.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy. Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and using cardiovascular machines at the gym are great for working muscles and keeping your heart and lungs strong. Any sport with a high risk of falling, such as skiing and bicycle riding, should be avoided, as well as contact sports (basketball, soccer, hockey) and scuba diving (due to increased water pressure). Also, after the first trimester, pregnant women should avoid any activity that involves lying flat on your back, since the added weight from the belly can compress the vena cava – the blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart.

With so many exercise options, I would hope to see more pregnant women at the gym. I suppose many are as guilty as I am, and as soon as I see the plus sign on the pregnancy stick, I think about all the prenatal yoga classes I should take or sequester myself to the pool. And while these activities are great – and I look forward to each one – I wish more expectant moms would join me on the elliptical machine or in the weight room. Let’s show people we’re not delicate flowers! Who’s with me??

Welcome!

I’m so glad you found my new blog! You can learn a bit about me in the “About Me” tab, but in a nutshell I’m a communications consultant and registered dietitian in the D.C. metro area, serving patients in Northern Virginia and business clients all over the country (technology is a wonderful thing!). I work with clients of all types, particularly those with a focus on eating more healthfully and with a goal of losing weight. I also specialize in prenatal and postnatal nutrition, early childhood nutrition (those picky toddler years!), and cooking skills for young adults and people living on their own for the first time.

The purpose of my blog is to comment on the latest food and nutrition news, review products that clients most often ask me about – or that I come across myself and feel they are worth mentioning, or general musings on nutrition, health, fitness and pregnancy.

I welcome your comments and hope to learn more about you as you learn a bit about me. Thanks for reading!