Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are YOU Roadway Restricted?

Apparently, "Winter Weight" is an actual term: it refers to highway weight restrictions enforced on trucks carrying heavier loads. These restrictions are (ironically) in effect between December 1st and the last day in February .. interestingly enough, these dates correspond quite closely to the dates that my weight should be restricted on roadways!
So what's up with winter weight gain? From a naturopathic standpoint, it becomes important to evaluate all of the possible contributing factors. Firstly, because it's cold, our bodies crave heavier foods, more carbohydrates and denser meals. These types of meals are generally higher in calories. Surprisingly, these cravings usually start in the brain: serotonin naturally decreases in the fall and winter months due to a decrease in sunlight exposure. This can contribute to the onset of SAD (seasonal effective disorder), an increase in blood pressure, an increase in pain sensitivity and sleep disturbance. Carbohydrates, because of their effect on insulin release, can contribute to the increase in serotonin production, increasing circulating serotonin levels resulting in mitigation of the above side effects of low serotonin. However, excess carbohydrates can also contribute to the unfortunate side effect of a few winter pounds!
A second and very important factor to the December "Butterball" transformation that happens to a few of us in the winter is the association between light and thyroid function. Although, after 4 weeks of light therapy test subjects did not show changes in typical blood measures for thyroid function (thyroid function panel), tests did show a decrease in circulating reverse T3 levels. What one may extrapolate from this result is that people that exposed are to less light have a higher amount of reverse (or unactive) thyroid hormone. When these subjects are exposed to light again, their bodies have an increased amount of active thyroid hormone which results in an increase metabolic function (less weight gain and more energy)!

Is light the only way reduce reverse T3 (inactive thyroid hormone) and avoid winter weight? No way, Jose! Other simple and effective ways to keep your T3 active and stabilize weight is to insure adequate protein intake: this stabilizes the blood sugar and decreases stress of the body which decreases cortisol and helps fat metabolism remain optimal. Protein will also help curb carbohydrate cravings, keeping you fuller for longer. Adequate sleep is also part the fat burning equation: when a body lacks sleep, hormones are produced that decrease the rate of fat metabolism which equals the birth of the butterball belly!

These simple strategies coupled with a little regular exercise and fresh air can keep your tundra tummy tiny and tucked tidily under your winter wool .. and then you can embrace the little bit of belly that you do gain as cushioning for those skating mishaps and unexpected ski "trips"!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to my "Roots" ...

I went to an art opening the other night (check it out, its really good work: http://www.markbrodkin.com/Mark_Brodkin_Photography/Home.html). My friend, Michael, and I decided to walk down since it is not too far from where I live. Donning my goose down, a practical yet stylish pair of knee high boots, skinny jeans and a little tunic top, I was out the door. As we arrived, I wondered if we were at the right event: there were women dressed to the nines .. I'm talking diamonds, heels that made the shortest legs look 7 feet tall and backless, sequins tops on skinny little frames. Well people, a feeling of deja-vu ran through me like a arctic stream, sending chills up my neck (if you haven't already read it, please see "In the Nude"). As I peeled off my goose down to expose my cotton tunic and argyle arm warmers, I gulped down any humiliation, straightened my back and thanked myself for being intuitive enough to put on a little make-up and a set of pearls.
In the centre of the room there were an amalgamation of couches, a little bar and a DJ set-up. The thing that I noticed immediately was that no one was actually looking at the art .. Michael and I did however, and were pleasantly surprised at its beauty and the artist's ability to capture a moment.
I took some time between photographs to be a typical woman, admiring some of the styles: I decided which women's boots I liked most, decided whose make-up was the most flattering and realized that no matter how good it looked on someone else, a backless sequin top in November would simply accentuate my smurf-like skin (see "hey Blue Legs..)!
Fast forward to the next day's shopping trip. Since I've been a maniac purger (see Clear House, Clear Mind), it has come to my attention that I no longer have winter boots! Being newly inspired by the styles of the night before, shopping seemed like a reasonable way to spend a few hours. This became an interesting exercise: instead of gravitating to the usual flat, functional yet stylish boot that I general go for, I found myself, store after store, putting high heeled boots on hold. I would try them on and they would make me feel sexy and womanly and desirable. There were moments when it seemed completely rational to drop a few hundred dollars on an entirely fashionable purchase. In the throws of internal conflict, I sat down on a bench and considered my options: (1) freeze your feet to the point of near amputation and smoosh them into a shoe that will contribute to the development of bunions to feel sexy or (2) find sexy within and buy a boot that will facilitate beautiful AND comfortable winter walks in the city; no amputation, no post-surgery recovery time required.
Before finishing off my boot shopping tale, let me add this: I spoke to my ex this morning. He just got into town from Trinidad (where we used to own an organic farm together and where he has now relocated to). He told me of his absolute shock when he saw the completely full, Yorkdale mall parking lot from the highway. In asking his driver what was going on at the mall to prompt such a crowd, the driver responded, "People are shopping". It is easy to forget in a society of consumerism that we are complete and whole just the way we are: no pair of boots, no slinky top, no diamond bracelet will change that (although, I will not deny that these are nice to have)!
My shopping trip ended at ROOTS, where my money went to supporting a Canadian company. I picked up a pair of nice winter boots that will keep my feet warm, will be comfortable to wear and whose sexiness will be reflected by the level of sexiness that I radiate from within!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clear House, Clear Mind

In preparation to move house, I have committed myself to the act of purging. It seems easy enough when you think about it: just look through your stuff and get rid of the stuff that no longer serves a purpose in your life. I have purged in the past, but never so intensely as I am purging now. I am not sure what has prompted the intensity of this purge; perhaps my promise to move forward in my life once and for all or perhaps the feeling of stagnation that any excess seems to create or perhaps a combination of these coupled with the intention to finally attract the future I wish to have. Regardless, I have embraced this process with such fervour that it has frightened those close to me!
As frightening as my trance-like state is, it has facilitated a process of absolute change. This change, although necessary, has not been entirely easy. The emotional energy wrapped up in something as simple as a Nike track suit is so intense that it has left me whimpering like an infant for hours! Some of my purge has demanded that I critically assess my emotional association to objects and my need to preserve past relationships: both romantic and familial. I have observed the excessive emotional energy I've put into material objects: whether it's jewelery or pair of my ex's pajama pants or my deceased mother's hand knitted sweater, putting them in the purge bag tears at my heart. I don't completely know why since the jewelery that my ex bought me is not longer anything I would wear, his pajama pants don't fit and are practically rags and the keeping the knitted sweater of my mother's is not going to result in her coming back. But still, the emotional ties are strongly present and unless I cut those ties once and for all, they will continue to consume valuable emotional energy that I could be spending more wisely on other aspects of my life.
I have noticed in my process that I can only do a little at a time: too much seems too emotional and too overwhelming. After getting over the initial emotional shock of letting go, a clarity of mind is achieved. There is something to be said for the fung shui concept of clutter: clutter in the home results in clutter the mind. It makes sense: the more energy tied up in the stuff that you have, the less energy there is to devote to clear and calculated thinking. With every full bag of Goodwill items, an equal weight is lifted off my shoulders: with more room in my living space, both physical and emotional, I have more room to accomodate new objects, new experiences and new people.
As difficult as this process has been, it has also been refreshing. I look forward to a new future in which, every time I search my closet for something that's been hastily tossed into the purge bag, I give myself yet another, very reasonable excuse to go shopping! And every time I look to something material to satisfy my emotional need to feel close to my mother, I choose instead to look inside myself at the woman that she had such a significant influence in creating.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Positive Vibes

Life brings us messages that are received if we are open enough to pay attention. I happened upon the above three wonderful, positive, little messages in my travels around the world in the last few months and I thought I would share them with you guys. The first photo is so full of love and totally made my morning when I was half asleep walking to a course I took at Harvard University. The second photo was taken today at my local organic market .. it made me giggle! The last was taken in Cabbagetown this summer .. there is nothing like defacing a stop sign with a beautiful message of empowerment! Love it!! Enjoy the rest of your weekend you guys: take time to see the messages .. smile with others and with life! :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breaking the Athlete's Heart

Breaking some one's heart is easy. There are the typical ways often seen in relationships: cheating, saying hurtful things, being neglectful .. but, although popular, these are not specific to athletes. So how, exactly, do you break an athletes heart?
I once dated a competitive cyclist. Although a wonderful man with beautiful legs, he was one of the athletes I'm referencing who's heart had broken. At the age of 36, while racing, his heart went from about 180 beats/minute to about 30 beats/minute in a matter of seconds. This resulted in a crash off the bike, unconsciousness, a few weeks in the ICU and an operation to install a pace maker that re-activates his heart if it plummets below a certain value. Interestingly, he is one of three competitive cyclist men that I know with heart conditions. So what's up with this? Isn't exercise supposed to make you healthier?!
A friend recently sent me a link written by researcher Dr. Andre La Gerche. I'm not sure that this was sent to me for the actual reading, or due to my dating a broken hearted athlete or simply because there is a picture of Dr. La Gerche and he's really hot (see above)! Regardless, I'll take the opportunity to summarize the article and its insightful points.
This is what happens when you are active: your heart beats faster and harder to accommodate for the muscles' demands for oxygen. Over time, with regular exercise, the heart gets bigger (like any muscle that is exercised). This growth increases efficiency. Studies have shown that if the exercise ceases, the heart muscle in a normal individual (verses an elite athlete) returns to its original size over time. In the elite athlete, things are different: the heart muscle does not return to normal. It is speculated that this change in size may interfere with co-ordination of electrical impulses that move through the heart that initiate contraction: this disruption can cause arrhythmia or irregular heart contraction.
So, we know that the heart gets bigger but is this growth normal muscle growth? Any muscle under trauma, including the heart, can develop scar tissue (or fibrotic tissue hypertrophy). Scar tissue does not have the flexibility and structure of normal muscle tissue. It is projected that the presence of scar tissue within the heart muscle may inhibit normal function of the heart. In order to determine this, a scope of the heart would have to be preformed in order to properly assess fibrotic tissue development and its impact .. this is a difficult procedure if the athlete is actually alive.
On the dead, elite athlete Ryan Shay, however, a post-2008 marathon trial autopsy WAS done. Interestingly, it revealed a over sized heart with fibrotic (scar) tissue development. There is no real physiology to explain this occurrence. All we really know is that it is not normal, it likely had an impact on how his heart functioned and it may be happening in other well conditioned athletes.
How does this information translate to the recreational athlete? In short, it doesn't! The physiological implications of training at more than 50% of your maximum output as a seasoned athlete has not been adequately studied .. this is where the hot Dr. La Gerche comes in!
What we do know is that moderate exercise is really good for you. Jogging, cycling and swimming at 50% of your maximum output improves blood sugar levels, cardiovascular conditioning, lung capacity, mood and body composition. Exerting yourself regularly on hard rides that push your limits may be causing heart damage rather than heart health. However, be consoled: you are more likely to get hit by a car than die of a heart attack on your ride! As for me, at this point, I like to think that I am more likely to experience heart break from love than from athletics!

The Col de Roselend, France ..

OK peeps: you guys have been harassing me about not seeing pictures of my trip. Let me start with these .. this is the Col de Roseland, the day #2 of my crazy, mountain adventure in France. Oh, how I long for the mountains!!! Enjoy .. more to come ..

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hey Blue-Legs ...

Date after winter date with a variety of men would illicit the same eventual question, "So, what exactly is wrong with your hands .. I mean, why are they blue"?
I have Raynaud's Disease. I know, it sounds serious .. but its really not; it's merely a spasm of arterioles (small capillaries) usually in the digits (fingers) which causes intermittent pallour (paleness) and cyanosis (the blue hue that appears when tissue is oxygen deprived). The most serious consequence I have experienced of having Raynaud's Disease is being forced to adopt the nick-name "blue-legs" throughout high school, coined after changing into shorts in preparation for gym class!
I'm not going to bore you with the pathophysiology, diagnostics and treatment of Raynaud's Disease. Instead, this blog entry is one that encourages absolute acceptance of the self: fully and completely. Raynaud's is a very small one of the many shortcomings that I have had to come to terms with in my life. Being teased about my discoloured hands and legs wasn't always easy, but it did remind me that, although I look like a smurf every time the temperature drops below 30 degrees Celsius, at least I have hands and legs that work.
Life is full of opportunities and challenges for self acceptance: from who we are genetically to who we become by the decisions we make, from the few pounds we gain over the winter, to the hasty comments we make that hurt the people we love, from our undesirable toes to the undesirable patterns we repeat. As unfavourable as they are, all of these have the potential for absolute self-love.
So what's the magic recipe to snap out of self loathing and into self-adoration?
Considering the following:
1) Do something you're really good at: it's hard to hate yourself when you think you're totally awesome!
2) Put some fantastic clothes on and accentuate your assets. If you're a woman, take the time to curl your eyelashes and powder your nose. When you're feeling not so great on the inside, sometimes the outside pretending becomes your new reality.
3) If the things you're having a hard time accepting are things you can change, then start the process. If it's weight you have to lose, commit to better food choices. Until the weight is gone, be sure to thank every last pound for facilitating a self love that has helped you make necessary lifestyle changes.
4) Try the Buddhist approach of compassion: whenever you notice condemning self judgement creeping into your thoughts, soften your tone and treat yourself like you would your own small child. Talk yourself out of judgement and into compassion and encouragement. You wouldn't condemn and criticize a child that you love, you why would you do it to yourself?
5) Try not to take yourself so seriously. Learn to laugh: it is kind of funny that that I look like a smurf after all! Eyelashes curled and nose powdered, that's Smurfette to you! :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In the midst of change ...

"The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress".
~Charles F. Kettering~

In the Native Indian tradition, the seasons initiate the flow of life: in the spring, new ideas are born; in the summer, those ideas are fed to flourish; in the fall, the ideas that have thrived are kept, those that have struggled are discarded; in the winter, the limited energy we have goes into the ideas that have been selectively kept. It is a flow of spreading energy into a vast space of potential and allowing that potential to expand. And then, suddenly and oppositely, cutting that very potential back mercilessly into a pinpoint focus in which to truly create.

This is the season of discarding stagnant ideas in favour of those which are continuing to bloom. In looking around my social network, I see my my walking buddy who has decided to suddenly quit her job in favour of exploring a new, professional direction. I see one of my soul sisters considering a move to a different country, giving up all that she knows here and taking a risk on another, more spiritually fulfilling life. One couple I know has just gotten pregnant and is looking forward to moving into an entirely new realm of their dynamic; another set of close friends are moving to a tropical country and starting a business there; my teacher friend and his partner are moving into a house they never thought they could afford and buying chic, new furniture to decorate their new lives. I could go on .. and I will to say that I am also experiencing a post-1-month-vacation, re-evaluation of my life.

I haven't written in my blog for almost 2 weeks now. In this two weeks, I have made decisions that are throwing me into the whirl-wind of shifting my life. These decisions feel like a big, huge step back that will eventually facilitate a gigantic, catapult ahead. In this perceived step back, I find myself in a place of "instability"; a place of unbelievably, undeniable fear that all that I know to be my life is going to metamorphose into an entirely different reality - a reality that may be no better that what I have now and, even worse, a reality that I might totally not like!

Change is hard. The fear associated with change is even harder. There are always bad days in the process that make you question whether taking a risk has been worth the difficulty. Then there will be days in which the entirety of your vision comes together before your eyes and all the fear, the angst, the apprehension will fall away. Creating our lives is an experience that will push us beyond living in the comfort of day-to-day: it is an experience that will help us see our true potential and force us to step up and forage ahead when the obstacles seem insurmountable. It will provide an excitement and a personal satisfaction that is only found through facing and over coming hardship.

So, to all those people that are looking major life change straight in the eye, allow yourself to welcome it, without fear! After all, the best part of changing things in your life is that if you don't like the result, you can keep changing them until you do!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

SICK! .. no not sick, like cool, I mean really sick

There's something nasty going around and I've got it. Perhaps the combined stress of returning to life in Toronto, getting in the bike accident last week and the ominous knocking of my financial institution on my door has left me depleted. It amazes me that drinking wine, eating chocolate and riding a bike crazy distances every day for a month allowed me to remain perfectly healthy .. and two weeks back in Toronto has knocked me on my ass with illness.
Alas, I'm not going to bore you with the details of the virus only to say: severe congestion, what has felt like knives in my throat and a headache that mimicks a parade of elephants, one at at time, stepping down, crushing my brain only to allow it to pop up again before the next comes along to repeat the process.
When I contracted the virus on Thursday afternoon, I looked in the cupboard to check out my options for cure. This is how you cure your cold from your cupboard:
1) Garlic becomes your best friend! Use it raw; chew and swallow it for a sore throat. You will stink - perhaps for days! If you have a sensitive stomach, beware! It may cause some burning and discomfort if you take it on an empty stomach. Alternatively, chow down some garlic sandwiches with avocado, salt, lemon and raw garlic on bread or toast. Or sautee your garlic and put it over what you're eating. Garlic has an antimicrobial agent called allicin which helps kill viruses.
2) Lemon and honey tea .. drink a lot of freshly sqweezed lemon tea. Lemon is high in vitamin C. Honey is antimicrobial which also helps kill viruses. Manuka honey is best studied for its antimicrobial properties but, if you don't have this in your cupboard, any honey is better than none. Add some ginger as a decongestant and to warm up the body.
3) Steam with eucalyptus oil. Heat some water, put it in a bowl with a few drops of eucalyptus oil and put your face over with a towel over your head: inhale deeply. The eucalyptus oil will help clear congestion.
4) Salt: this is one of the few times that excess salt is actually good for you! Gargle with it as often as you can to sooth a sore throat. Do neti (nasal salt water rinse) to clear excess mucous and soothe the nasal passages. If you're going to be up every few hours at night, why not be gargling and rinsing?!
5) Wrap up: wrap yourself up like a mummy and increase your core temperature. The reason that our bodies produce a fever is because viruses cannot live in high temperature environments. Support your immune system by creating a little heat of your own and sweat it out!
6) Water: drink a ton of it. When viruses are killed, they emit endotoxins. Drinking a lot of water helps flush these toxins out of the body eliminating the burden on your detoxification system. It will also keep you hydrated!

In addition to the above suggestion, fuel your body with warming foods: stews, soups, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Get a lot of rest and a little light exercise: a few sun salutations or a 15 minute walk will actually stimulate your immune system.
You will be a garlicy, sweaty, mucousy excuse for a human being for a day or two. If you have a partner, for the sake of your relationship, do not let them witness this experience. Have them sleep on the couch or vacate the house for a few days!

It is now less than 48 hours after contracting the virus: my elephants have gone back to Africa and taken the headache with them, the knives from my throat are now back in my cutlery drawer; I am only left with a bit of excess, nasal mucous. Recovery in two days is NORMAL: viruses should not last 3 weeks! If they are lingering on, this may indicate that your immune response is not as effective as it could be. In this case, get your butt to a naturopathic doctor and get some support for your immune system!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Step-by-Step, Falling-Off-Your-Bike Recovery Program

I had this brilliant plan: rush down to Queen's Park on my lunch break to catch a glimpse of Michael Barry and Ryder Hesjedal at the PRO men's race. If I left at 1:45pm, I'd be able to see the last 40 minutes, visit with a few people and fly back to work.
For those of you who don't know, the aforementioned "pros" are a few of our best Canadian cyclists. Ryder Hesjedal placed 7th overall in this year's Tour de France and Michael Barry was on the US Postal Team in the glory days of Lance Armstrong! It is not everyday that these guys come over to grace our Toronto streets with the beautiful elegance of their absolute talent. For a little footage, check it out online: http://www.sportsnet.ca/more/2010/09/19/queenspark_gp/?source=topstories

Flying back to work with wind in my hair .. ok, I admit, I do not wear a helmet when I am commuting; when I'm really riding (on my race bike) I ALWAYS wear a helmet. Judge me if you like! I know that it's stupid. I know that helmets save lives. I know that regardless of what bike I am riding, I am probably riding WAY TOO fast to not be wearing a helmet, but there is nothing like feeling the wind in your hair. I suppose if it precedes a cracked skull on the pavement, it might be just as effective to use a blow dryer to simulate the sensation!

Feeling inspired (and with the knowledge that I would likely arrive back to work late), I rode even faster. Sailing across the via-duct with sun on my face, I chose to run an orange light. Coming up on a leisure cyclist at 35km/hr, I proceeded to pass .. at which point he decided that it was a good idea to, without looking, ride across the adjacent crosswalk. This, of course, resulted in his bike colliding with my high-speed front wheel, sending yours truly flying in the air, shoes smoothly sailing on the wind and both landing hap-hazardly on the paved surface below!

What do you do when you fall off your bike?

1. See if you can stand. If you can, clear the course; in other words, GET OFF THE ROAD! If you can move your limbs, they're likely not broken. If there are bones sticking out of your skin: well, that's not good.
2. After you've assessed yourself and taken a few deep breaths, assess the bike!

Before I go on, let me just say that the most life threatening injuries can be the one's that you can't see: a ruptured spleen for instance, which may cause some pain over the left side of your chest cavity and could lead to an internal hemorrhage if untreated, or a concussion, which could result in brain swelling and damage and may present with dizziness, inability to concentrate, nausea and fatigue.

3. Good back to work or, if you have the option, go home .. if you need to, wait for the ambulance! (I went back to work)
4. ARNICA!!!! Homeopathic Arnica is used to treat trauma, both topically and internally. An appropriate pellet dose internally for acute trauma is a potency of 30CH. Take it as often as you need to to relieve bruising, pain due to trauma and pulled muscles. Slather the topical form on liberally and regularly to expedite healing.
5. Take a bath with 2 full cups of Epsom salts. Epsom salts contain magnesium which will relax the muscles that tightened up during impact.
6. Keep moving!! Light movement will promote circulation and direct "cytokines" that encourage healing to the site of injury. In addition, GENTLE movement will minimize swelling. FYI: don't move broken limbs if they're not casted!
7. Get treated for ongoing trauma: kinesiotaping, acupuncture and massage all work well to assist in healing and will help you avoid developing chronic pain. (To all of my colleagues, I will be requesting a massage session between patient visits tomorrow)! :)

Since I'm writing this, I have not died. I am pretty battered: bruised left hip, knee and shoulder, sore back and neck and scraped up left hand. But I will survive! I leave you all with some cycling wisdom from 84 year old Gordy Shields, US record holder and National Cycling Champion:
"Yet in spite of the danger, this sport has a fascination that, to me, no other sport gives. Yes, I know I will crash and while I will do all in my power to avoid it, I will not give up any forms of my riding".

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Obstacles on the Path of Passion

Today was a hard day.
You see, choosing to be a Naturopathic Doctor has been a path of passion.
Previous to my returning to school, I've lived a few different lives: the Yukon, Trinidad, an Ashram in India, corporate Toronto; all of these lives have encouraged my desire to help people and my want to add a little more love to the world.
Often after hearing of my many pasts, I am admired for going back to school at such a late age to start a new career, "a career with meaning". This admiration generally evokes a sense of empowerment and pride in me at the life that I have chosen.

It's only on mornings like this, after being out of the country for a month (earning NO income), and opening a newly received bill to find that my bank has "restructured" my student LOC payments and lovingly requests that I cough up an extra LOT of money for September 30th, that I question my path.

You see, I am not a rich lady. In fact, I have worked my hands to the bone to achieve the little that I have. I would be lying if I tried to convince you that financial demands that extend my limited means to the point of fraying make me stronger. They don't initially .. I often break down in sobs, seriously ask myself whether I am too old to sell my body for a reasonable amount of street cash and wonder if the bank would find me in Tahiti.

After the breakdown this morning, I made some espresso and thought about declaring bankruptcy. Deciding that this is probably best avoided, I resigned myself to the fact that I may not eat for the next few months (or years).

I have noticed in my limited experience that, when faced with challenge, the universe often brings you the reassurance that you need: little, sutble messages that tell you that you really are on the right path. Unpacking my handbag this evening revealed a small jewelery box; the delicate home of a beautiful, handmade broach given to me by a woman as a token of appreciation for the depth in which I've helped her. Payment for actions we preform in life come from more than just money: it comes from experiencing someone else's successes, it comes from sharing love, indulging in laughter, tasting good cheese and finding comfort in perfect espresso. It comes from knowing that sometimes your smallest effort effects positive change in the life of another. Its about knowing, with conviction, that you may not be able to eat out ever again, but you do have the power to add love to the world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Addicted to Bliss

The market in my neighbourhood happens on Tuesdays from 3pm-7pm. I often miss the opportunity to shop there due to my office schedule. This Tuesday was a different story however.
Being in Europe for a month reinforced all my blissful addictions: cycling, good espresso, chocolate and completely non-naturopathic gluten-rich fresh breads! The market in Cabbagetown is much like being in Europe. The beautiful, baked goods, the rich, dark chocolate pucks, the aroma of freshly roasted java blends and even the occasional cute cycling boy all tickle my urge to indulge!

Lately, my self-talk has been going something like this, "Oh Gail, you've only been back for a week .. you NEED another espresso simply to get you over the jetlag! "Jumping back into a strict naturopathic regime seems a little extreme at this point, doesn't it"?! "Maybe we can just coast on chocolate until Christmas and adopt a few resolutions for 2011"!

Walking around, salivating, fighting with my own mind and listening to the sweet whispers of chocolate on the wind, carassing my ears, resulted in this: "there must be SOMETHING I can do with chocolate pucks that will justify their ingestion"?!

Chatting with the chocolate monger led to a wink, a smile or two and a big, stuffed bag of raw chocolate in my arms! A few minutes walk home, a 20-30 minutes of prep led to this:

Raw Chocolate Balls

2/3 cup steal cut oats, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp of chopped walnuts
1 tbsp of chia seed, ground
3 tbsp pitted dates
3-4 tbsp water
1-2 ounces of raw chocolate chopped into small pieces

Mix all the above, dry ingredients (excluding the chocolate chunks). Heat the pitted dates in a saucepan with the 3-4tbsp of water (to soften). Blend the dates with a hand blender until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes and mix into dry ingredients. Blend the raw chocolate into the mixture and shape into balls. Let set in the fridge for 30 minutes. Enjoy! **If you would like a LITTLE more sweetness, add a tbsp of maple syrup**

This is the thing: indulgence doesn't have to be sinful!

Most chocolate is roasted during processing before being made into bars to expand the complexity of its flavour. There are many healthy and naturally occuring oils in chocolate. Roasting, however, potentially denatures these oils and causes their rancidity. The chocolate chosen from the market is raw (not roasted) and combined with ground hemp and agave nectar, to cut the bitterness. The ground hemp adds a little protein and fiber to the mix, the agave cuts the bitterness of the raw chocolate and the chocolate itself, provides a ton of antioxidants and healthy fat (check out http://chocosol.posterous.com/).

The ingredients in Raw Chocolate Balls provide healthy fibers called lignans which assist in keeping cholesterol in check (in the steal cut oats and chia), magnesium (in walnuts) to assist in energy production, sleep and muscle soreness and fatigue and natural sugar (fructose from the dates).

It's now Wednesday: I am still addicted to my chocolate bliss. However, I would like to inform you all, despite the battle in my head, it is my second day without espresso! Let's see how long THAT lasts! :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Family Affair

My brother and I are different people: he is a hard-working, successful, relatively conservative individual who is one of the most intelligent people I know. I, on the other hand, am a little more free-spirited, live to love, enjoy work but also like to play and .. well, I would need to combine four Gail's, with different knowledge bases, to give my brother a run for his money intellectually.
Although I am proud of my brother and his accomplishments, there was a time when his many successes completely invalidated me. This, my friends, is one of the reasons why signing up for the Ride for Karen every year brings me joy. My brother has become notorious for doing a few rides on the trainer and a couple 20-30 minute rides outside before embarking on the hilly, 160km ride that honours Karen Tobias and her battle with cancer. The process usually includes my brother suffering, me bearing witness to his suffering and gaining a single, proud moment when he needs my help (for a change) at which time, I provide a draft. (In cycling, this is when one rider rides ahead of another to break the wind. It can decrease the following riders workload by up to 30%)! An additional proud moment is often achieved when we run into high school friends of my brother at the rest stop and they refer to his needing help from his little sister to get him through the ride (part of me cringes at how this must make his ears bleed while the other part of me experiences this unique sense of absolute GLEE)!

The Ride for Karen is a family affair in every sense of the word from my sibling rivalry that finally finds fair ground, to the relationship that Kirk and Kris Tobias share that has enabled such a successful and meaningful event. The 160km of riding, in sometimes rain, sometimes cold and rarely sun, has raised over $1,300,000.00 in the last eight years which has gone towards improving the cancer care facilities at Sunnybrook hospital and sent numerous children with cancer to summer camp.

In addition, this ride also gives individuals an opportunity to find purpose in their athletic endeavours. Many people on the ride have experienced cancer in some capacity: through their own cancer experience or one of a friend or loved one. This event attracts a group of riders that seem to pour their heart and soul into the ride for the purpose of supporting others. The passion extends beyond the day of the ride: as friends, we all gather the afternoon before the ride to make over 500 sandwich wraps to fuel the riders the next day. Positive energy comes together to create a movement that supports a growing need.

This blog entry is an opportunity to encourage all you casual and avid cyclists to check out the ride for Karen: www.rideforKaren.com. The three different distances allow every cyclist to participate. All you need is a bike! :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

10.5% ..yahoo!

One word: redemption. Who knew that a girl could redeem herself on one of the hardest climbs of the Tour de France?

Much has transpired: after death on the Alps, I rented a car and headed down to the south of France. My intention was to spend my days drinking wine, eating good food and exploring all the beauty that Provence and the Luberon have to offer.

Its interesting to note the difference in climates between the Alps and the south-central part of France. The dry mountain air of the Alps and the weather systems that roll in in a moments notice often result in rides that begin sunny and end cold and wet (or vice versa)! The Luberon is also dry but, contrary to the Alps, it is consistently hot and windy, much like a desert. Both environments offer their own challenges when it comes to cycling any distance.

I made my way to the famed Chateauneuf du Papes region of France. Despite what many people think, this is a wine-producing region and not a single winery. As a result, the options for tasting wines from many different producers was endless. The way it works in France is that you can either go to the winery itself or you can go into Chateauneuf du Papes (which is a town) and go to a place de degustation (a place for tasting). Because the town was so beautiful, I chose the latter. I found myself across from a woman who,while speaking broken english (as I attempted french), pulled out bottle after bottle of wine for me to taste. Apparently, lighter wines are best tasted first (white, rose and reds with less tannins) so the palate is not obscured. After these, then the richer wines come into play: the deeper, full-bodied reds. The experience was exceptional! The wine is better than any that I've tried and comes at a much more reasonable price than anything imported to Canada.

I couldn't stay too long though for fear of getting completely annilated and not being able to drive! So after a quick bite to eat, I headed off the the chocolate factory for a tour of continued indulgence. By the time I had my fill of rich, dark chocolate it was late in the day .. just enough time of daylight left to drive up Mt Ventoux and then back to Fontaine de Vaucluse (to my hotel). At this point, I honestly thought that having spent a week climbing in the Alps, the drive up to the top of Ventoux would be enough to satisfy my curiosity about the mountain so I could let go of the thought of climbing it on my bike until my next visit to France. It was quite the contrary: I began looking at the km markers on the side of the road that indicate what km of the mountain you have reached. I began evaluating the grade % and thinking about how my legs would feel at various parts of each km. Then something else happened. Something that happens to every athlete: there was a nervousness in my stomach, an anxious yearning to be on my bike, the need to get to the top driven by strength, perseverence and will instead of gasoline! And so, the decision was made: I was coming back the next day to climb Mt Ventoux on the bike.

The thing about Mt Ventoux is that the last 3-4km is completely exposed to the elements. At one point this mountain was covered in trees only to be clear cut. Unfortunately, because the soil has dried and eroded so dramatically, this mountain will never successfully be replanted. What this means for cyclists is that, after you've already ridden 18km up steep inclines, you are faced with the last 3-4km of insane sun and wind that whistles across the top of the mountain like a hurricane (I could not get out of my car at the top the evening before for fear of being blown away)!

To the day of the climb: you know those days where everything just comes together? You've eaten well the night before, are well hydrated, the legs are rested, you've sleep long and deep and you wake up ready for the challenge ahead? This is how I started my climb up Mt Ventoux.

I will not lie to you: Mt Ventoux is probably the hardest climb that I have done. The wind at the top is insane, the gradient of the climb is steep (11%) .. hence my celebration at the km marker that indicated 10.5%. It is amazing how much easier 0.5% can feel! In addition, climbing alone brings with it an entirely different experience: you are forced to dig deep within yourself and find the strength and drive to keep going. There is a satisfaction that comes with this that is difficult to describe. I talked to a few guys enduring the same pain - a couple of which I passed and one of which passed me - it was nice to know that we were all up there suffering it out. The top was the most incredible: happy, tired people (all men, not a woman is sight!) that were all smiling and taking photos. My legs at the end of it were tired, but I didn't crack like I did on the Madeleine. There was a beauty in the experience, a patience with the process of simply one pedal stroke at a time and a personal power obtained with the last few hundred meters to the top. Mt Ventoux has taught me why people love climbing mountains so much: it is a spiritual journey with one of the greatest rewards.. standing at the top of the world and almost touching the heavens.

I am back in the Netherlands now .. back to flat, windy riding. The mountains have changed me - like they have changed every rider that I know that has ever climbed them. Suffering aside, I miss the journey and look forward to the day that I can return.

I will leave you all with these words of climbing wisdom given to me from Steve: when climbing a mountain on your bike, leave your tires a little flatter(10-15psi less). Air expands with altitude and the tires will get firmer as you go up. On descents, be sure you don't break too much: this heats up your rims and may predispose you to a flat tire. And lastly, if you are a woman that rides a bike, get out to the mountains!! We need more women out there!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

keep pedalling!!

Bonjour toutes les amis ..
Let me begin by asking you to please excuse any typos in this entry (and future entries while I`m away). It should be against the law to change the position of the letters on a keyboard .. since when did Q become more important than A?! It is taking me forever to type anything so let me get on with things!!
First: without telling you the entire story (I will do that when I have a proper keyboard again), the Col de Madeleine was the craziest ride I have ever done. For those of you who do not know, this climb is epic: Cadel Evans (a pro tour de France rider) cracked on the Col de Madeleine ... now, what exactly do I mean by cracked? Well, let me tell you from my first hand experience with it!!
Steve and I started out the ride .. a little 5 to 7km warm up before the beginning of the climb. The climb itself is 28km .. that is long .. its an unpredictable climb too. Just when you think you have a handle on it, it gets really steep or throws you off. Because of its varying degrees of steepness, it is a climb that does not allow you to find a pedalling rhythm.
After a week of climbing insane mountains, my legs were tired, my body ached but the last thing I wanted was to be defeated by the Madeleine. This, my friends, was wishful thinking .. at km 20 with 8 more to go, I cracked: I started hyperventilating, tears streamed down my face, my bike halted and I thought "what the hell am I doing out here? how am I possibly going to finish this climb? Steve really IS trying to kill me"!!!
Steve and I had a chat. I am lucky in life to have friends that believe in me more than I believe in myself, push me to do things I would never dream of on my own and who would kill me before they would let me quit!
I started up again, after absolute defeat, and rode over all the painting from the tour: cheering for Livestrong, Schleck, etc and found myself in no time, drinking Orangina and eating fries with mayonnaise on the top of the world. The story continues but I will stop here for now and leave you all with this:
I complained to Steve about my bad day on the mountain to which he responded "you see, I don`t see it like that. Instead of thinking that you died on the Col de Madeleine, I like to think of it like: you got through 20 strong kms before she took you"!!
This morning when I was riding the undulating terraine of the Luberon and passing many men on the climbs the thought came back to me, "If I could only console those men; afterall, its not about a girl passing you, it is about celebrating the kms you have climbed before she does"! :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mountain Madness ...

How do I begin exactly .. well, let me first say that riding mountains is like nothing I have ever experienced before. I am in France; I've been here since Saturday night. Sunday involved the first mountain cycling experience of my life.

Training for mountain riding in the flat lands of Ontario is a challenging feat. As you can well imagine, embarking on my first mountain climb in the French Alps was a little intimidating.

Steve, my guide, put it like this, "We'll start with an easy day: descend down to Moutiers from the chalet, climb 9km to Montagny, desend into Bozel, loop back and climb Pralognan la Vanoise, a little 15km hill then we'll add 2.5km climb to Champagny, then descend down to Bozel again and climb the last 8km toward Courcheval as far as Le Praz and descend back to the chalet. Sound good? Its a little 84km ride to warm your legs up and get used to some hills".

Holy crap!! Let me clarify something for you all: this first warm-up ride was 34.5km of climbing!! It may not seem like a lot, however, I can honestly say that after this first ride I thought that I might not make it out of this week alive.

The second day was yet a greater push: 112km starting with a 20km, 1967 meter climb of the Cormet de Roselend (popular in the tour de France for Johan Bryneel's famous crash off the side of the mountain) then a ending with a 10km climb up to the chalet with 50km of riding in between!

By the third day I was pretty much done. Steve decided that my little legs could use a rest and signed me up for a 146km flattish, windy ride which headed conveniently into a rain storm! At this point, I was convinced that Steve planned this and was trying to kill me and sell my bike for a small profit.

Throughout this entire process, Steve continued to talk me through it repeatedly attempting to convince me that "by mid week, something generally happens to people: their bodies just seem to get adjusted to the climbing, the altitude, they find their rhythm and seem to just get used to the abuse". Words of encouragement with every pedal stroke and every puff of breath kept me going as Steve pedalled along side with ease. At one point he passed me a power shot (a little gummy thing filled with caffeine, sugar and electrolytes) .. I thanked him but couldn't even chew it because my breathing was so laboured!!

Today invited quite a different experience: after a night of tossing and turning due to waking with pain whenever changed positions in my bed, I made my way downstairs for breakfast. Every step down hurt and I wondered how I was possibly going to meet the next challenge. Steve and Anna greeted me with coffee and excitment.

"Why don't we climb up the Col de St. Bernard, a 28km (2188m) climb? The climb finishes in Italy; we can stop for espresso in Italy if you like?!" Now we're talking - this was the best idea Steve has had yet! The sun was shining, the weather was warm and I was going to Italy, IF my legs would get me there ..

We embarked on our ride, warming up with a 15km spin and then starting the climb. Something happened today: things seemed to come together and, miraculously, I found my legs, just as Steve said I would! It felt great: I was not puffing, held a nice steadish pace and thoroughly enjoyed the process, the scenery, the beautiful reward of reaching Italy, eating french fries and drinking Orangina!

I will not lie to you: simply touching my legs this evening induces a tender, painful sensation. I've decided to follow Steve's training advice, "if it hurts to touch them, stop touching them"!!

The run down of the last few days is as follows: I have climbed 6548 meters over 434km of riding in 4 days. Mount Everest stands at 8446 meters up which means I need to climb 1898 meters to reach the height of Mount Everest, a feat that is agreeably very do-able in the next two days.

Tomorrow presents another adventure: the Col de Madeleine, a steeper 1993m, 26km climb that is affectionately known as the Serpent of the Alps: a serpent that I am hoping (but am not likely) to tame!

Stay tuned ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Taking a Trip to the Other Side of Stability

I ran into a friend of mine in my neighbourhood about a week before I left for Europe. Interestingly, I often attract this friend when my mind is in a fit of turmoil. On this particular morning I wondered how I was going to navigate this blog while I am on holidays. After all, my blog is supposed to give its readers some interesting naturopathic information in a fun and informative way. A colleague of mine suggested I push forward with the blog more than ever and throw myself into research, construct informative stories and come home with a sense of accomplishment. This was precisely my turmoil: how does one holiday while completely consumed by work?!

Meeting my friend on that particular morning led to discussing said issue. Barry politely responded in his very free-spirited, artistically inspired way:

"Well (dramatic pause) .. it seems to me that you have a dilemma: you're an over-worked individual who wants desperately to be on holidays but has a sense of obligation to what you're trying to create. I think that you should create a European segment of your blog that talks to the importance of taking holidays and completely shutting off"!!

It had exciting potential .. but where has this advice exactly led to while I've been away? As is obvious to all of you, I haven't exactly been devoting all (or any) of my time to the blog! This does not necessarily indicate, however, that my holiday thus far has been day upon day of relaxation!

Today my world began to unravel. First, my PIN number on my VISA has been blocked. This is a situation, according to VISA, that cannot be rectified from abroad so I am currently without the security of credit - a security that I could really use while spending a month in Europe!! Second, I was informed that the train I booked to France for my bicycle tour through the Alps will not allow me to travel with a bicycle! So, how exactly, am I going to RIDE up mountains?! Third, the aforementioned, 200 Euro train ticket was not refundable and mailing my bike was priced at 1800 Euro .. and since I do not have a functional VISA, I could not pay that even if I wanted to!!

The experience today reminded me all too much of the chaos I live back home. In the moments of absolute frustration, I dawned on me that even though I am not working like a crazy woman, I am still living the chaos that I am desperately trying to take a break from!

So .. before I head off to bed, let me tell you how this story resolves. First, I am still VISAless, however, VISA has agreed to send another chipless VISA to my France address so I will have it next week. I was able to purchase another train ticket for tomorrow so I will arrive in time to ride on Sunday. This train has 4 more transfers than the other and will take 15 hours instead of 6.5, BUT I will have my bike!! The non refundable ticket was in fact refunded in full because the travel agent felt so bad about `our stupid, Dutch rules`!!

There you have it .. my unraveling is beginning to ravel up again. Things in my world are slowly coming back together after a day of challenge. Now, instead of continuing my pattern of inviting chaos, I hope to settle into the nice, steady pace required when climbing a mountain on the bike!

Friday, July 23, 2010

In the Nude ...

The next adventure begins. An unlikely happenstance: finding myself at a socialite party with a man who is definitely a soul mate, Ame. The men were handsome - tall, influencial, confident, some dark haired, some light, all with good shoes. The women glittered in beautiful dresses, were long and leggy and had salon-perfect hair. Glass candle lanterns adorned with glowing faux diamonds shimmered across the outdoor patio casting perfect shadows on perfect faces. Ame fit in completely: he's handsome - messy hair in a sexy, just woken up kind of way - tanned skin, and unnaturally big nose, which creates character in his face.
Before we go on, perhaps I should share some back story on Ame: since the first day we met, I've cared for him beyond what I can describe, in some instances, at the expense of my own needs. We share a connection that I hold close to my heart, however, due to a variety of life challenges, both his and mine, we've never explored a functional romantic relationship together and, frankly, I'm doubtful we ever will. This particular evening was delightful: it just felt right.

Shortly after making our entrance, I bee-lined to the bathroom, leaving Ame to mingle a little. The bathroom was rich with stunning marble and attractive women who evaluated each other's outfits through sideway glances. Making my way to the sink mirror assured me that Miss Mascara Racoon Eyes and Lady Lipstick Teeth had spared me thus far. Face and hair in place, the last thing to check was my outfit - there is nothing worse than not knowing that your dress is caught in your underwear and that the "ass"ets are fully exposed! Confidently approaching the full length mirror, the surrounding ladies graciously stepped aside to let me, athlete-woman-doctor-tigress, step into view. Thanking them, I flicked my hair and met my gaze ...

Let me begin by saying that the outfit wasn't that bad from the shoulders to the waist: a cute, frilly, blouse with short puffed sleeves that flattered my flat chest. The ensemble fell apart further down however! Lets start with the XL board shorts .... yes, you read correctly .. board shorts - the type teenage boys wear. This atrocity was coupled with compression stockings in a horrifying shade of nude, finished with a pair of purple Converse high tops! Humiliation moved through me like a wave of lightning as I fled the scene, all the while thinking that Jeannie Becker is going to put a hit out on me for this!

This was simply the beginning of my nightmare ... I pushed through the crowds to find Ame with the intention of exiting as quickly as possible. Sitting on a couch, overlooking the city, his arm was draped over the shoulder of possibly the prettiest woman I have ever seen in my life! As I approached in my pathetic state, tear-stained and defeated, he said, "Oh, hey Gail .. this is Samantha. We've decided to travel to Europe together in the fall! Isn't that great?!"

That was pretty much all my brain (and ego) could handle and .. yep .. you guessed it, I woke up. Instead of psychoanalizing my dream (a process I have already exhausted), let's focus on the important part of this image: Gail in compression stockings! I'd be lying if I said I don't wear them in real life. I do. Although less than becoming, I have been known to wear them in public when I am required to stand for long periods of time.

So, how do compression stockings work exactly? Well, when "venous return", or blood moving towards the heart, is compromised either by prolonged standing, endurance athletics or structural impairment, blood tends to pool in the veins and capillaries of the legs. Over time, this can lead to decreased integrity in the veins and capillaries of the legs, varicosities, swelling, pain and fatigue. By compressing these tissues, blood is forced back into circulation returning to the heart more efficiently which helps maintain venous integrity, aids in muscle recovery by clearing lactic acid and inhibits swelling and edema (lymph fluid accumulation).

There are varying degrees of compression ranging from 8-15mmHg to 30-40mmHg (the larger the number the more compression the stocking offers). The rate of compression required is determined by an individual├Ęs needs and what they are attempting to correct or prevent.

Because I recommend these to clients and have access to them, I have had the pleasure of evaluating them. In my personal experience, I've noticed a measurable difference in both relief from fatigue when using compression stockings with the addition of an improvement in next day recovery when I endeavour on my ride or run 24 hours later. Since there are contraindications to compression stocking use, safely choosing an appropriate pair requires a consultation with knowlegdeable health care professional. However, if you're simply trying to compliment your sassy, little cocktail dress, be advised of the following medical warning: "Adverse reactions may occur with this combination. Please avoid as this interaction may lead to laughter resulting in asphyxia and death in onlookers and humiliation resulting in social phobia and isolation in the wearer"!

Monday, July 12, 2010

How It All Began: My Brother the Pimp

It all started when my older brother said to Drew, "I betcha my sister can beat you in a running race"!

Drew was our nemesis: a complete ass of a kid, a year older than my brother and three years my senior. He bullied his way into our street hockey games, soccer games and tennis matches and sapped the fun out of each one!

My brother has always known how to monopolize on a potentially lucrative situation so here I was: 7 years old in rolled-up, hand-me-down bell-bottoms, being pimped out as Speedy Gonzalez to win a bet (a percentage of which I am still waiting for)! .. with this innocent bet, my life as an athlete began .. and my brother's life as successful entrepreneur was, apparently, already well on its way!

The race was scheduled for Friday morning before school. Starting line: at the light post, finishing line: the corner of Galsworthy. All the neighbourhood kids gathered to watch it go down. Some lined the finish to marshal a possible tie, others lined the course. My pimp-ass brother was in charge of the start.

I remember feeling pressure - a sense of expectation, as if all the onlooking kids were depending on me to get back at Drew for all the childhood bullying he had inflicted - but after a quick "READY, SET, GO!" the feeling of obligation seemed to disappear and all I was left with were my legs, my breath, the moment and the goal: RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN AND COME IN FIRST!

As I came into the home stretch significantly faster than my opponent, my mind began to register the cheer of the crowd, the fatigue of my poor little legs and my heart pumping out of its small chest cavity! Winning was both gratifying and. frankly, unbelievable!

Its fun to recall being a kid: there are no obstacles. Running doesn't mean personal bests, heart rate monitoring and training regimes. Running is just running. There is no such thing as performance anxiety, there is just the moment; there are no limitations, only possibilities.

If we are able to embrace it, athletics can be a forum to practice being in the moment: a run is simply one step at a time, a ride is simply one pedal stroke followed by another. The obstacles that I have experienced in athletics (and in life) have, more often than not, been a result of my perceived shortcomings: perceptions created in my own mind rooted in insecurity and fear. Surpassing these obstacles means recognizing the capacity to achieve, celebrating talents AND weaknesses with the ability to feel secure in each moment with each challenge that presents itself. Perhaps simply staying with the next step or the next pedal stroke and allowing all of our anxiety and insecurity to fade away into what is now, will allow us to live in the world of our unlimited potential: just like we did when we were kids.