Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love Letter: 52 Reasons Why I Love Crossfit

Today marks my one year "Crossfitaversary". Last year, I walked into the introductory ramp up class not a little terrified of whether I could hack it Crossfitting. But, to tell the truth, I had hit the end of my rope and felt like I had no other waffling options - it was time to take some major chances.

It was painful at first. OK, some days, really painful. Not only were my muscles (and muscles I didn't know I had) sore all the time, but I felt the ego pain of realizing exactly how far gone my body and fitness were. I frequently felt the searing self-awareness of being the last to finish, often by more than ten minutes.

What can I say? Me and Crossfit sittin' in a tree...

(Via Flickr Creative Commons)
Fast forward 52 weeks. Like coming around a bend while driving through the mountains, it took me getting a ways into Crossfit to realize exactly how much ground remains for me to cover in the future. I enjoyed the feeling of getting stronger, and noticing new definition of muscle tone where it hadn't been visible for years.

What really kept me coming, though, was the people. My Crossfit box's coaches and owners are some of the most steadfast, friendly, encouraging people I have ever met. The quality of the box has everything to do with their positive attitudes and their teamwork, with their programming, with their dedication to excellence and continuous improvement - that of the box as an organization, and its members as chasers of exceptional fitness.

That in mind, I've decided to dedicate a post to the reasons I love my Crossfit box - 52 reasons for every week I've been Crossfitting. Now that I'm one year in, I'm excited to realize all that is possible in the year to come!

Crossfit Is

1. Learning to fight. After learning to fight through and finish workouts, I recognize myself exercising that same will to "make it" when I'm fighting through a tough day. When I need inspiration to power through a day, it reminds me of shrugging my shoulders and exploding through the hips on a tough power clean. It's in me, I just need to let it out.

2. Learning patience. I often talk with fellow Crossfitters, and learn that after 2 or 3 years of Crossfitting, they've finally reached a personal goal. I remember this when I get frustrated with myself for seemingly being far from hitting some of my goals (like a dead hang pullup) - they made it to their goals, and I can, too. It may simply take longer than I'd like.

3. Learning limits. There have some days (or, weeks!) in the last year that were so humbling - whether I've been rehabbing an injury, or realized that thrusters seem to never get easier, or discovered that my overhead squat PR was lower than I expected because I still have lots of core strength to build. Sometimes running into limits is a daily reminder, sometimes they occur at once - unexpectedly - in a workout and it feels like hitting a brick wall. Either way, I've learned my limits and how to respect them, and sometimes, I've been able to worth through them, which feels like even more of an achievement.

4. Avoiding the temptation to cherry-pick. Not cherry picking is part of the character building process. If I only showed up for the parts of life that I knew ahead of time that I'd enjoy, I would miss out on a whole lot.

5. Leaving self-consciousness at the door. It only took a few sessions at my box before I completely chucked notions of vanity or self-consciousness. Over time I've found function-focused workout gear that lets me get things done, and I've learned to get over the fear of looking silly...often because everyone else is trying to do the same thing! Collapsing into a endorphin-basted makeup-free red-faced pile of sweat and chalk when time is called is something I now fully embrace.

Crossfit Opens
New Avenues of Self-Esteem by Developing Athletes

6. Seeing anyone and everyone as an athlete. I was a poster child for participation trophies as a kid. Now, I recognize the ways I measure my own success, and every little improvement in strength, in speed, in power...all adds up to a growing athletic ability and a growing confidence in what my body can make happen. Now that I know what is possible from my own workouts and watching those at my box work out, I know that anybody who truly wanted to Crossfit could do it.

7. Learning to fuel oneself as an athlete. I've gotten better on average in my fueling up. When I know that the next workout is depending on me getting clean protein and nutrient dense foods, I'm more motivated to keep myself stable on that front.

8. Learning to recover as an athlete and to value that recovery. Over time I've gotten better at recognizing the multiple aspects of recovery, and to honor those when needed - sleep, a rest day, stretching, doing foam rolling, and seeking the advice and services of professionals like my chiropractor (who is himself also paleo and a Crossfitter).

9. Fellow athletes and coaches set the standard of self-care and fitness gains by their examples. My fellow Crossfitters simply take care of their bodies and value their mobility and fitness gains more than the average citizen. When everybody else at my box is doing that for themselves, it makes it easier to do it for myself, too.

Crossfit Means
I Get to Have FUN!

10. Early morning social time. There's nothing to bring me out of my bleary-eyed 5:30 a.m. state than when I pull into a parking spot at the box and see everybody up and about, the earlier class getting their WOD done. The music perks me up, I get to say hi to my friends, catch up on everybody's week while we stretch and warm up. Admittedly, sometimes it's the only interaction I get with other adults the entire day!

11. Laughs. Dancing, busting each other's chops, and generally joking around. And yes, there is still a serious workout that gets done in the middle of all that.

12. Celebrating personal records. Nothing brightens up the rest of the day like hitting a PR. Just as fun is cheering on fellow Crossfitters to PRs of their own!

13. Trying new things. Even a year on, I'm still getting to try new things from one week to the next. I love that Crossfit is based on mixing things up; it's a dopamine fix I can fully endorse.

Crossfit Offers

14. Fundraisers - Our box regularly gives back. We participate in nationwide and local WOD fundraisers. A group workout, a tee for everyone, and working as a team to accomplish a bigger goal...I love it!

15. Food drive/polar bear plunge - We do a polar bear plunge as a group -- and everybody contributes to the local food pantry. Win-win.

16. Holiday WODs - I love getting to spend the early mornings of my holidays knocking out a WOD with my fellow Crossfitters. Even if I'm lazy the rest of the day, the WOD gives me a sense of accomplishment...and an excuse to wear wacky socks and seasonal colors.

17. Team Races and Other Competitive Athletic Events - groups from our box regularly participate in local road races, Tough Mudder, Primal Quest, and other events. These people are fun-loving fitness geeks - WODs just aren't for checking off a box; they genuinely love to get sweaty and compete!

Crossfit Fosters
Goals for the Future

18. Bringing back concrete goals for oneself. Once kids arrived, it became really hard to focus on growth milestones for myself, much less on specific goals, because I felt like I was just trying to make it through each day. Crossfit not only gave me permission to bring goals for myself back - it gave me permission to make them big. I started with my first deadlift 1 rep max at 125 lb. last October. Once I hit 230 lb. on my deadlift early this spring, I knew that 250 was in sight...and within a few months I hit my current PR of 255 lb.

19. Dreaming up goals for your kids. Even if my girls don't grow up to Crossfit, I hope that as they grow, they do find a fitness outlet that gives them a rush and power in the feel of weight work and functional fitness.

20. Seeing oneself as a role model. It's a little easier to hold myself accountable when I see my workouts and my nourishment as a long term project, with me as my daughters' role model for overall adult female wellness.

21. Dreaming about therapeutic applications for sensory kids. My youngest daughter has sensory processing disorder - and in her case as a proprioceptive/vestibular seeker, she needs regular specialized weight work to release dopamine and serotonin. Because she is an intensely active and physical child - she already enjoys monkey bars at age 2 - I have added hope, though, for her future. I dream that maybe, some day, in Crossfit she could relish the therapeutic value of weight work, and gain her needed dopamine fix in such an encouraging environment among friends and coaches.

Crossfit Means
I Get to Be a Kid Again

22. Kids naturally know how to do it. Kids' brains and bodies know more than we think they do. A squatting toddler exhibits more natural mobility than many adult marathon runners. I've so enjoyed reclaiming my body's natural ranges of mobility while Crossfitting!

23. Kids revel in the physical. A young boy scrambling up a fireman's pole on the playground knows the raw joy of being physically active and instinctively lets his core and legs help him up. Crossfit lets me have those moments, of "Wheee! I did it!" as an adult that I rarely experienced as a kid.

24. WODs = recess. One morning last winter, before we began a workout that would involve a lot of wall walks, my friend B said, "I love Crossfit! It's like recess." When you see a WOD as your chance to get some fresh air and fun running around with friends, it puts a cheerful spin on things.

25. The competitive spirit. Just like a bunch of kids at recess, a good WOD will tease out the competitive spirit. I love it when I'm in lock-step with someone across the WOD's reps and we both know it - it makes us both finish faster and stronger than if we were doing it by ourselves.

Crossfit Promotes
Defying Inertia

26. Reclaiming life in the right direction, 20 minutes at a time. Even though many days our workouts are 20 minutes or less, they still manage to leave me thoroughly wiped out. Some may pooh-pooh such short workouts (I call them "efficient"), but over a week that's almost 2 hrs. of intense sweat equity that otherwise wouldn't have happened.

27. Recognizing that in body composition changes and performance changes, the best results come from continuously tracking data. It's hard to recognize body fat creep or weightlifting plateaus unless you regularly document and track your own data. Luckily, my Crossfit box encourages this in pretty much any aspect.

28. Accountability to turn the ship around. If you've been living one way for 20, 30, 40 years, it is so. hard. to turn the ship around - to dedicate yourself to workouts and clean eating. Having partners, friends, and coaches interested in your progress keeps you accountable in a singular way.

29. Knowing the lion-hearted in every coach and member. It is only as a matter of time - eventually, if I get to know a fellow Crossfitter well enough, I discover that they have not allowed the dark side of life to get the best of them - or let the inertia drag them down for good. There is so much that folks at my box have overcome. To see my friends and coaches daily having gotten out of bed, laced up their shoes, and put themselves through a WOD's paces, demonstrates their consistent will to defy downward inertia.

Crossfit Affords
Pleasure in Physical Accomplishments

30. Nerds learning the thrill of the PR. As if it were any secret at all, I'm a nerd - a major one. Most of my life accomplishments until my late 20s have been marked by what I could accomplish using my  mind, but I always assumed myself generally incapable of anything athletic. Now I know that my body possesses a power that I never before realized was there - and it's up to me to do right by my body.

31. Hormone release. Working out releases all kinds of feel-good hormones - some the same hormones released when eating delicious foods, enjoying sex, and trying new thrilling things - like bungee jumping. If you can get a guaranteed bundle of these wonderful hormones packaged and delivered on a regular basis, why wouldn't you?

32. Letting the WOD counter the effects of stress. The right kind and quantity of exercise can effectively counteract much of the negative biological and emotional impact of stress. Tabatas might feel awful in the moment, but 10 minutes after you've caught your breath, you can sail on the hormone-modulated mood boost of accomplishment all day.

33. Honoring the zone in oneself. You know the zone - if you've ever watched the Olympics, or a coach, or a champion, or experienced that moment yourself. It's a moment of unadulterated flow, when your mind barely whispers to your body what to do, and your body salutes and says, "Yes, ma'am." These moments don't happen all the time, but when they do, you can only bask in the euphoria.

34. Celebrating the zone in others. Many days, especially if the workout of the day is a short one, I'll hang around after I'm done to watch other folks tackle the same WOD. My coach, a lean and petite retired Marine who can deadlift double her body weight, will often arrive in a zone during her WOD, when she's scaling a rope, or cranking through multiple dead hang pullups, and it's then that she makes it look as easy as riding a bike, while the rest of us stand by, slack-jawed at her God-granted hard-earned finesse.

Crossfit Creates
A Family Atmosphere

35. Welcoming newbies. We get a new batch of Crossfitters joining our ranks about once per month. One of our box's owners always says to us regulars, "Don't be a workout snob, say hi to - ...." and is sure that the new people are introduced all the way around at the box. This right-at-home welcome set a very nervous me at ease a year ago, and I still really, really enjoy saying an enthusiastic, "Hi!" to the folks joining us - because waking up early to go do something completely terrifying and new while you're still sore is a little easier when you don't feel like you're doing it among strangers.

36. Knowing that folks are teased for even brief absences, and welcomed back warmly after harder stretches away. "Whoa-hoa! Everybody check out the new girl!" Variations on this dig are commonly tossed out when somebody returns from an absence of as short as a couple of days - but always in good fun. I take it as a comforting sign that somebody can be missed and rewelcomed after missing even a handful of workouts. It's also a great motivation to not casually miss too many workouts. And yet, sometimes there are solid reasons to be gone; while I was letting an injury heal recently, under my chiropractor's advice, I missed about a week of workouts straight. I came back on a Friday, and the first thing one of the box's owners said to me was, "Hey, welcome home." You know that people truly care about where you've been and how you're recovering, and that they are genuinely glad to have you back.

Crossfit Teaches
The Value of Teamwork

37. Team WODs. I've learned to appreciate team WODs; the first few months of Crossfit, I was afraid that working as a team meant that I would be holding my partners back. Now, though, I see the value in shared reps and runs, and in the importance of letting no one feel left behind. Often, it seems, one team member's gifts will complement the other's, and that lets us carry each other just a bit through the hardest parts of the WOD...except through wallballs and thrusters, because I've yet to meet somebody who would consider themselves gifted in doing those - at most, gifted in surviving them.

38. Team Nutrition Challenging. We don't do all of our nutrition challenges in teams, but this summer I had a chance to do one with a fabulous partner. Knowing she was giving it her all as we checked on each other throughout the week kept me very much in line with my own eating and workouts, and we finished strong as a result. It was a great way to mix things up with the challenges!

39. Seeing coaches as team members in wellness. I have a primary care physician that I adore, and a chiropractor who is the jam. Meanwhile, our box has an awesome nutrition gal (who also coaches) and coaches who look after the general fitness welfare of the box members. Even though they've all never met face to face, I love having such a capable "team" looking out for me!

Crossfitting Yields
The Continuous Practice of Doing Hard Things

40. Tackling the most-dreaded WODs. Reading the descriptions of some WODs makes me want to run a mile...or avoid running a mile, as it were. The only way to make these things I dread easier, though, is to keep doing them, to make them a way of life. Simply showing up for those tough-looking WODs is more than half the battle.

41. Adding more weight to the bar. Because getting stronger doesn't happen unless you push yourself.

42. Scaling up. Sometimes I have recognized on my own when the time was right...and sometimes my coach gave me that nudge. Scaling up is what prevents us from stagnating, so even if you have to do the WOD a few minutes slower, and end up a little more sore the next day, you've earned yourself some progress.

43. Fueling the right way, faithfully, consistently. We start another nutrition challenge fourth at the box this year. Responsibly fueling myself is not always fun, but the results that come from it - clear-headedness, improved strength and performance, decent health markers, and a leaner look - make fueling that way worthwhile in the long run. As many I've spoken to at our box will testify, though, it often takes a solid three weeks of dedicated clean eating before cravings start to fade and the body makes the switch to using "premium". The biggest difficulty for me, then, is remaining consistent for very long stretches of time of several weeks in a row. The more I do it, though, the easier it gets to stay on course and recognize whether a splurge is truly "worth it" or not.

44. Deprioritizing fluff time to make room for rest and recovery. Sure, it's fun to stay up late browsing the web, catching up on emails, and watching movies, but ultimately, a night like that robs me of sleep and drains my energy if I do it too often. I am still learning to bring sleep and recovery toward the top of the list - so that I can live to WOD another day.

45. Greasing the groove. Earlier this year we had an entire month of extra burpees every day after the WODs were finished. I was not a fan burpees, but I did them anyway, and discovered that doing those burpees day after day really did grease the groove. By the end of the month, I had learned to flop to the ground much more efficiently, and as a result, I came to embrace burpees in my WODs from that point on as much more doable.

46. Honesty with oneself. There have been some uncomfortably honest moments I've had to endure - learning my highest body fat percentage back in January was one of them. Moments like these, though, inspired me to be honest with myself more often...because it's less painful that way, and less likely that I have a chance to stick my head in the sand. Instead of blowing off the body fat assessments offered by our box's nutrition gal, I sign up for them regularly through nutrition challenges. I weigh myself regularly to understand how workouts, food, and other factors impact my weight on a regular basis. Knowledge is power, so honesty with myself about how I'm performing on all counts is ultimately my wisest course.

47. Giving up some pleasures for the sake of bigger goals. The difficult thing is accepting the idea of opportunity cost. If I want to lean out, I need to avoid insulinogenic and inflammatory foods. I can't eat massive amounts of chocolate every day and continue to develop into a lean, mean Crossfitter. If I want to make it to my morning WODs, I need to not sleep in and instead get myself to bed earlier - thereby forgoing my aforementioned "fluff" time. Giving up some parts of my past life impersonating a slug is what must be done to pursue a future of health and fitness, and it's accepting and applying that reality that is still a hard thing - an ongoing process, truthfully.

Crossfit as a Microcosm for Life

48. Training the core. Crossfit - but especially the lifting - almost always involves engaging the core abdominal muscles to bring about explosive power. What I've realized as a mother, is that I'm the core of my family's home life. (Corny, I know, but true.) If I don't condition and take care of myself, it can take one awkward moment of lost form for my own weakness to bring everything crashing down. If you're at the core of family life, remember to take care of yourself, too. Keep the core strong and engaged!

49. Learning what's right for you, then going out and getting it, because you're worth it. When you're Crossfitting, you learn to cherish the time you're given. This time is for me, this WOD is for me, I'm going to make the most of it. When you begin to think like that regularly as a part of your day, soon you begin to value yourself more, to value the wellness of your family more, and to value the time and energies you put into the rest of your day.

50. Keeping setbacks in perspective, and getting back in the game however you can. Whether it's an injury, or an unavoidable absence, or a shift in schedules, any setback could be an excuse to quit - or an excuse to get creative and do whatever you have to do to keep yourself moving and retain strength. It means paying extra careful attention to what you eat (to retain muscle mass and avoid gaining fat), or doing bodyweight WODs while you're on the road, or substituting movements around an injury. No matter what has to happen, it teaches your brain a "don't quit - just get creative" philosophy that I've in turn applied to my own life outside of Crossfit, as when dealing with managing my youngest daughter's SPD through diet, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

51. Believing that "If it is to be, it is up to me." My dead hang pullup won't happen on its own. Neither will rope climbs. My ability to do those as prescribed in the future depends on me - and not just showing up for WODs; they will only come with continued day-in-day-out dedication to healthy nutrient dense eating and smart supplementing. Holding my own feet to the fire in this way gives me plenty of practice for dealing with the ongoing daily commitments of my marriage and my parenting, and to believe that there are great things to achieve with steadfast application of my efforts.

52. Trusting in the best from people and waiting to see what they deliver. My coach believed in me from the first day...even during that first week, when I could barely finish the beginners' super-scaled workouts. I've watched her place the same faith in fellow Crossfitters day in, day out - from the freshest beginners to the longtime members. It still amazes me to this day, and convicts me of my natural bent toward cynicism. If my coach could look at a cream puff like me and cheer me through a whole year of weight loss, strength gains, and PRs, how much more faith could I put in my own family and friends?

Why do you love your Crossfit box? Do you have 52 reasons? Or 100? Or 1000? Post your reasons!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bone Broths and Packed Lunches

Thermos of bone broth in the sunshine.
I'll bet she never gets sick.
(Via the Library of Congress on Flickr.)
Bone broth is a cornerstone of any healthy ancestral diet - whether you identify as "just eat real food", Weston A. Price Foundation, paleo, primal, or any other diet based in nutrient-dense foods.

Broths and stock made from scratch using the bones of naturally-raised animals can offer up gelatin and trace minerals - like a warm, soothing multivitamin that you can sip. Broth made from scratch has been demonstrated to have anti inflammatory properties, and to aid in regulating the immune system. Who wouldn't want some immune system regulation, especially with the colder temps coming up?

However, there tend to be logistical complications with bringing bone broth to school or work. Though bone broth is a wonderful and nutritious addition to any meal, and considered an essential part of the GAPS diet, it's sometimes tough to figure out tidy and appetizing ways to consume bone broth away from home.

There are a few "outside the box" ways to get bone broth into your away-from-home lunch and snacks. One is to simply slurp down a few "cubes" of cold gelled broth. No smell, no worrying about heating the broth - it is a fast (if not that appetizing) way to get some broth in your belly.

For adults, there is often the option of using a smaller appliance discretely at work, to heat bone broth by itself or as part of a leftover soup or stew. One simple and inexpensive option is a coffee mug warmer to gently heat your broth in a ceramic coffee cup. You could also reheat broth in a mini 2-cup capacity crock pot if your office permitted it. I've even seen a handled thermos with a metal inner bowl that you can cradle on a warming dock at your office.

Microwaves, too, are an option, but a lot of ancestral health folks avoid those, especially if on GAPS, in a bid to preserve the structural/nutritional integrity of the broth. (The jury is out for me on how much microwaves actually change bone broth.)

A no-appliance method for warm broth consumption is to find yourself a high performance, reliable stainless steel or ceramic thermos. (I love my Nissan thermos - it's served me very well for years.) This way, you can transfer bone broth straight from your slow cooker into your thermos, and enjoy sips of warm broth at your leisure all day long. The thermos is definitely the friendliest option if you are in close, shared quarters with coworkers - because some people relish a long simmered broth, and others can do without the smell lingering. It is a great option, too, for picnics, or day trips and road trips, making travelling a little more flexible even for those who need bone broth every day, like GAPS patients.

When it comes to my 2.5 year old, who is on the GAPS diet, I've elected to keep bone broth a staple at home. Since she comes home from preschool less than an hour after her lunchtime with her teachers and classmates, it's easy for me to offer her bone broth before and after preschool to avoid having to figure out ways to get it in her tummy when she's at preschool.

What methods do you use to get more bone broth into your day? Do you have a bone broth ninja method to share?

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Operation "Smuggle Cod Liver Oil", aka the Supplement Smoothie

I've tried a lot of different methods to smuggle certain vitamins to my kids over the last couple of years. This year has become an even more interesting gambit because there are certain supplements I've been advised to give my two year old with sensory processing disorder. How do you get a young, sensory kid with oral motor and language delay issues to down different forms of necessary (and sometimes not-that-tasty) supplements?

A smart girl makes the most of a banana.
(Via the the U.S. National Archives on Flickr.)
My current answer is: a banana smoothie. After going through the initial stages of the GAPS diet, very ripe (brown-spotted) bananas are permitted. My sensory two year old doesn't get as much fruit as she did pre-GAPS. This means that she's especially eager to have some of that banana smoothie, because it tastes extra sweet to her these days. I use that one banana's worth of smoothie to my full advantage to smuggle in her supplements - and a nice feature is that a thoroughly blended ripe banana's thick liquid texture accommodates drops, powders, and capsule contents alike.

Most of the time, I use a minichopper to make the smoothie. It's so much easier to pop the chopper's cup and blade off into the dishwasher after making the smoothie - much less work than dealing with a blender or my full sized food processor. Another option I've used for the smoothie is an immersion blender, which works well as long as the banana is very ripe. I simply blend a very ripe banana until it's a thick liquid, and then add the supplements and blend a bit again.

Fortunately, sucking thick liquids through a straw is one of many oral motor exercises that our speech therapists and occupational therapist have recommended for my two year old, so I get to kill multiple birds with one stone when she's slugging down her smoothie.

For omega-3 essential fatty acids, I use Carlson's cod liver oil for kids in Lightly Lemon flavor (which I order on - I've found that the lemon and the banana flavors combine very well with no discernable fishy aftertaste. A high quality fish oil that's been tested for negative with heavy metal contamination is critical for us, since my sensory girl doesn't eat that much fish because of concerns about heavy metals and her body's limited ability (if any) to deal with them appropriately. That said, we give Carlson's to my neurotypical 5.5 year old as well, because quality omega-3s are almost always a good addition to one's diet. There are a few really good quality fish oils out there, many with flavored options. I think a cinnamon flavor fish oil might also combine pretty well with blended ripe banana, but I haven't tried that combo yet myself.

Other things I've been known to smuggle into the banana smoothies include Vitamin D3 drops (a great idea anyway for kids who may not get enough sunshine), Vitamin K2 drops (as I've mentioned, a decent addition for those avoiding dairy), and some trace minerals that are especially critical for kids with neurological issues, such as magnesium, iodine, and selenium. Of course, in tandem with giving these supplements are our efforts to improve our daughter's gut health with the GAPS diet, in order for her digestive tract to regain its ability to appropriately absorb and process these nutrients in the first place! While I think it's ideal to get as much of these micronutrients from their original food sources as possible, in the case of a kiddo playing developmental catchup, making sure that these bases are covered is that much more important, which is why I'm grateful that most mornings, a banana smoothie usually gets enthusiastically gulped down.

How do you ensure that your kids get their supplements down the hatch? Do you have any tricks for them (or for you!)?


This blog post is an explanation of personal experiences for entertainment purposes only, and is not to be misconstrued as medical advice. Please consult your trusted primary care physician with any questions about major changes in your diet and your family's diet, and remember that decisions about your diet and your family's diet are your own to make based on your own health and circumstances. 

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lunchbox #192

Here is a lunchbox for my kindergartner. It featured:
  • Strips of roasted chicken tossed in some homemade ranch dressing
  • Baby carrots
  • A single serving pouch of guacamole (great way to get some guac without it going brown by lunchtime)
  • An apple
  • A mini box of raisins
  • A coconut butter cup (coconut butter, coconut oil, a little raw honey, and a little sea salt...mix together while warm, pour a mini muffin cup liner, and freeze)

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Lunchbox #191

This is a recent lunch for my husband. It featured:
  • A steak salad. A bed of iceberg lettuce, a generous amount of sliced cold leftover grilled steak, and some sliced grape tomatoes. It was topped with a chili-powder heavy (= spicier) version of my homemade savory ranch dressing.
  • Pistachios
  • Baby carrots
  • Half a banana


Lunchbox #190

Here is a paleo lunchbox of my husband's. It featured:
  • Baked spaghetti squash, covered with a serving of meaty marinara (basically grass fed ground beef, marinara, and some added mushrooms)
  • Pistachios and dried apple chips
  • Sliced nectarines


{GAPS} Lunchbox #189

Here is a GAPS lunchbox for my 2.5 year old daughter. The banana is just starting to go spotty - this is her snack. It's eaten seperately from the lunch during snacktime, which is handy, because GAPS generally suggests keeping fruit consumption seperate from meals.
The top half of the lunchbox is her actual lunch. It keeps the portions accordingly small for a 2.5 year old -
  • Thin strips of roasted chicken
  • Quartered grape tomatoes
  • Shelled pistachios
  • A coconut butter cup - this is coconut butter, coconut oil, a little bit of raw honey, and a little bit of sea salt

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Context Post: Managing Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) with Paleo / GAPS diet principles

Lingering in the background of the last few months describing GAPS diet related stuff is, of course, a full and complex story. Early in the spring, my 2.5 year old daughter was diagnosed as having speech delay and sensory processing disorder (SPD).

WOOF. How is that for a suddenly serious, personal revelation on what, to this point, has been a fairly lighthearted blog?

For those not familiar, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder that affects the way that a person's brain takes in and perceives sensory information. This includes inputs from sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and the lesser known vestibular (body spatial relationship) and proprioceptive (pressure) senses.   It often occurs in tandem with many other neurological disorders.

I went back and forth in my head on whether it was worthwhile, discussing these issues. After all, my daughter is deserving of privacy as much as any other person, and I debated whether it was worthwhile bringing family business to a public sphere.

Then I realized: We've learned a lot in the last 7 months. The journey thus far has proven (and continues to be) a crucible for our whole family in many ways. What if...what if some of the lessons we've learned over weeks and months could be distilled into blog posts that would help other parents of children with sensory issues and other neurological issues? What if they might learn something by reading a post that is turns out to be a shortcut for them, whereas otherwise they'd have spent much longer working through it on their own, or perhaps to never even have tried it?

As if it weren't obvious from my slowed blogging pace, we had to hit the ground running with managing my little one's SPD - in large part because it seemed to be a main culprit in her speech delay. After all, if your brain is not processing sensory information in a typical way, it is very likely going to impact how well your brain can interpret and develop language - and that window for optimal brain plasticity and language development closes very quickly. So, we've been immersed in speech therapy and occupational therapy. We've tried so much - some stuff works for us, and some stuff doesn't. This turns out to be typical, as every case of SPD is different and unique to the person who has it.

Lingering in my head was a suspicion that my daughter's diet could be even better honed from her 80/20  paleo model to manage her SPD symptoms. While our family tries to stay gluten free at home, I hadn't restricted my daughter from eating Sunday school snacks (almost always wheat-based as in pretzels, crackers, cookies) or the odd piece of cake at a birthday party. News of her diagnosis, however, suddenly motivated me to crack down. I wanted to know for sure if the small but regular doses of gluten were impacting her. I also reluctantly completely cut her off of dairy. While our state laws are tough on raw milk, we had been buying low temp pasteurized grassfed milk from a local farmer, and this milk - in addition to full fat cheese and yoghurt - at that point made up a significant portion of her calories.

Upon going "cold turkey", the difference was astounding. Within a few days it was as if my daughter came out of a fog. We went from her sometimes acquiring one word per week to trying to say about 40 words in a single weekend. Her eye contact also dramatically improved in those few days. To this day I still can't be certain whether it was the gluten, or the dairy, or both, but I'm willing to bet that it was both, because wheat and dairy sensitivity frequently go hand in hand, especially in the presence of  neurological disorders. My mother-in-law (a retired speech therapist) and my dear friend both remarked on the huge before/after difference in my daughter's attempts to verbalize, whereas before she had simply not even been trying.

In the late spring I saw something flicker across my Twitter feed, mentioning the use of the GAPS diet in managing dyspraxia. My daughter's speech delay was initially identified as apraxia, which is a kind of verbal dyspraxia - a verbal motor planning disorder, so in that moment I began to seek more about GAPS. As I learned, GAPS is a long-term gut health management diet plan that aims to get to a source of many neurological issues, including my daughter's condition.

The GAPS theory dovetailed so precisely with what we had witnessed going on with my daughter's reaction to going wheat- and dairy-free - in that for her to have sudden and documented neurological improvement when removing wheat and dairy in her diet, her damaged gut was probably letting those proteins through to her bloodstream and her brain. I knew that for our family, in this case, I was willing to give GAPS a try. (Note that GAPS does not de facto exclude dairy and permits it in certain forms in even in the early stages, but GAPS does allow for dairy to be excluded entirely if it needs to be, as is the case for us right now.)

First, I found a certified GAPS practitioner who was willing to consult by phone (as we have no certified practitioners living close to us) - a delightful lady that works with special needs kids as the core of her consulting business. I gathered for her all of my questions, and she patiently answered them over the course of a two hour phone call. We began my daughter on GAPS in earnest in late June, with a very slow reintroduction of foods over the following weeks.

My youngest daughter is the only one of us that is full-on GAPS. Like many parents who kick off GAPS and integrate its bone broth, probiotics, and other elements into their routines, I've had my initial doubts as to its impact, but those were put to rest when we recently had to reluctantly suspend her intake of probiotic drops and probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.) in order to collect stool samples that my daughter's primary care doctor was sending off to a lab. I saw some noticeable SPD regressions in her in that short time frame, enough to convict me that GAPS had indeed been bolstering her progress. We're only 2.5 months in, but I'm excited to see my daughter's continued progress as supported by GAPS.

Since my daughter is still nursing, I'm also strictly wheat and dairy free. We are careful, though, with our significant dietary shifts - under the advice of our certified GAPS consultant and the close supervision of our primary care physician, we are taking care to monitor nutrient intake and absorption as best we can. As just one example, due to the lack of high fat dairy in our diets, both my daughter and I take a high quality form of Vitamin K2, the fat-soluble vitamin found in high fat dairy and natto, which aids the body in depositing calcium where it belongs (i.e., teeth and bones, instead of in atherosclerotic plaque). All this information I put "out there" is to explain that we did not make lightly the decision to try GAPS for our daughter, and it remains an undertaking that we pursue carefully, with the advice and services of professionals that we trust. I see GAPS not as the only tool in our "SPD management" toolbox, but it is a cornerstone in her progress - it supports everything else we try with our speech therapy and occupational therapy by giving her the best chance at learning and hitting new milestones.

Is the GAPS diet worth considering for your family or one or more family members? Only with research and consulting your trusted primary care physician can you know for sure. But, if you're thinking about trying it, you can be sure that here at Primal Kitchen, you'll often catch tidbits about how we've found GAPS shortcuts, practical preparation tips, and the social/cultural aspects of doing GAPS for a young child with sensory issues.

Do you have a loved one with sensory processing issues? Have you thought about giving GAPS a try for boosting gut health? What have been your experiences?


This blog post is an explanation of personal experiences for entertainment purposes only, and is not to be misconstrued as medical advice. Please consult your trusted primary care physician with any questions about major changes in your diet, and remember that decisions about your diet are your own to make based on your own health and circumstances.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Basic Savory Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Paleo Ranch Dressing / Dip

Dips "sell" packed lunches - especially for kids. Strips of leftover steak or baby carrots become that much more compelling when there's a savory dip around.

Since my two and a half year old has been dairy free for a few months - and by extension, so have I as the nursing mother - I've had to become a lot more diligent in learning to make classically paleo dips and dressings. My old stand-by was mixing full fat sour cream with seasonings. Now, though, I've been making a lot of practice batches of dips and dressings using a good old fashioned paleo mayo base. Credit goes to Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make the Girl for introducing me to the world of making one's own mayo - her recipe is a great one, and she has some links to delicious-looking tuna salads to make with it!

I've learned, too, that spending just 15 minutes to make a batch of homemade dressing or dip can yield a week's worth of dip - for the price of 1 egg and 1 cup of a healthy oil of choice, plus seasonings. The versatility comes when you experiment with added paleo condiments and seasonings to alter the taste profile and consistency of your basic mayo base.

This edition is a basic ranch dressing. The beauty is that it is very easily adaptable - you can remove the vinegar to keep it thick and ultra-dippy (like sour cream), or keep the chili powder and hot sauce out if you're serving it to someone who is averse to spiciness (though this recipe is hardly spicy...perhaps better described as "zesty"). The flavor of the dressing deepens overnight in the fridge, so keep that in mind as you add your seasonings - a batch that tastes just a little underseasoned while you're making it may be just right by tomorrow morning.

I've tried to base this recipe in ingredients that nearly anyone has in their kitchen at any time, but there are plenty of less common extra possibilities for fun additions to mix up the flavor, like fish sauce (for savory), curry paste (for tasty heat), or tamari and/or coconut aminos (more savory). As always, carefully read your ingredient lists on your condiments and seasonings to make sure that they fit your dietary requirements.

Basic Savory Ranch Dressing
Makes 1.5 cups

  • 1 egg (room temperature, so that it emulsifies properly - use the best quality eggs you can source for your money)
  • 1 cup oil of choice  - some good neutral taste choices are avocado oil, macadamia oil, a good quality light tasting olive oil (avoid oil blends with canola or soy added), or (less neutral) slightly warm just-melted coconut oil - either way the oil should also be very close to room temperature
  • 2 tsp. dried dill
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper (I used ground white)
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar of choice (read ingredient labels; raw organic apple cider vinegar is a great choice)
  • 1.5 tsp. Tabasco or paleo-friendly hot sauce of choice
  • 1 tsp. raw honey
  • 1 tsp. plain yellow mustard (read your ingredient labels!)
Also, you will need a clean glass jar with lid that can hold at least 12 ounces.


First, you will make the mayo base.*

Crack open your room temperature egg into the bowl and turn your appliance onto medium speed - enough to whip the egg. Once the egg is uniform, turn the appliance onto high speed and very slowly drizzle your oil into the bowl. If you're doing it the right way, it will take a few minutes to drizzle your cup of oil into your bowl - using a narrow necked bottle or pitcher may make it even easier to keep your drizzle steady and slow.

Once you have achieved a nice, thick mayo base, add in your condiments and seasonings with your appliance at medium speed. If you want to be conservative, add a little of each at a time to suit your tastes. Chili powder and Tabasco should be added last, since they have the most potential to amp up the zestiness of the flavor profile. Some kids (and grownups) like zesty; some don't. Customize yours!

Store in an airtight glass jar in the fridge and consume within a few days.


*There are four kitchen appliance options to consider when making your mayo base. You can use:
  • One hand to hold a mixer while the other drizzles oil (tiring, very! I've done it), or 
  • A hearty blender, or 
  • A stand mixer, or 
  • A food processor with a lid that has a top with an opening.
In my experience, the stand mixer is the easiest option, but my food processor is a close second for ease and produces the thickest mayo base because it whips at even higher speeds than my stand mixer. Either way, your appliance will need to be prepared to run on full speed for at least 5 minutes...sometimes closer to 10, so chose one that is up to your task.


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