My Thirties Body Image

Me, today, unshowered and not made up. Natural light. No retouching.

Me, today, unshowered and not made up. Natural light. No retouching.

I have been thirty-years-old for almost exactly a month (October 12th) and my body image has taken a hit; I’ve started looking more closely at my face, and my skin, which has always been a point of pride for me. Turning 30 and seeing signs of that is not what has me upset, though. I’m upset, because I got on the scale, and I found out that I weigh too little.

When I was 16, I dreamed of this weight. I just knew that I would look like a super model. I read Vogue. I knew numbers for actresses (height and weight). Well, I was finally happy with my weight, at age 29, and then I tried to help my migraine problem by getting rid of the gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy, in my diet. I accidentally lost 15 pounds. Then, I gained 5. Then, I lost 10. I’m down 20 pounds from my minimum acceptable weight (what I consider healthy) and 25 pounds from where I was most comfortable. When I stared at my face in the mirror, I wasn’t focused on wrinkles or dark circles. I don’t know if they’re there, consistently. I honestly don’t care. I stared at the hollows under my cheekbones. I feel like I can see the exact shape of my skull. I’m scared.

I’m so afraid of losing more weight that every time it’s time for me to eat, I feel pressured, and I want to avoid it. I want to have eaten, if that makes sense, without thinking about it, and I hate knowing that I will have to eat, soon. It’s 3:00 pm, and I have consumed exactly two cups of coffee, with goat milk in them, because my husband worked a Keurig machine for me. I need to go and make a sandwich (gluten-free bread wins!) and a smoothie with my green dairy-, gluten-, soy-, and sugar-free protein powder, plus flaxseed oil, which is also high in calories. I’m working myself up to it.

I gained some weight back with a lot of help from my husband, who was doing all the cooking. When it became clear that he did not have the time to do this, or rather, that we had always been in denial to think that he had the time to do this, write a dissertation, and spend time with our child, it became clear that I had to cook for myself. His work and his time with the kiddo were obviously more important than my hangups (aka major anxiety issues) about the kitchen.

I don’t have an eating disorder. Just to be clear about this: I do not want to lose weight. I have trouble with anxiety about preparing food, but when there is food in front of me, I happily eat it. But it won’t matter whether I have an eating disorder or not, if my weight drops low enough to send my body into all the same scary spirals that happen to women with anorexia who stop eating enough calories.

With impeccable timing, my son is now asking for “nana!” which is what he calls “food.” We’re off to the kitchen. Wish me luck.

Round and Round I Go

I let my weight get really low. I do well stuffing in the calories, until I don’t. I am sick of food being such a huge source of anxiety. I am sick of feeling like making even one sandwich takes so much energy (gluten, dairy & soy free bread – it does actually taste yummy). I am tired, probably because I’ve lost too much weight.

I’d like to gain it back by eating ice cream and pie. But since my migraines have improved so much since I went off gluten and sugar (and went back to my preggo anti-depressant dose – SSRI connection? I think so!) I have to eat high-calorie foods that are also nutritious, which = filling. No sugar high.

I want to use today’s NaBloMoPo words to just whine. I don’t want to hear that I’m doing a good job. That it will get better. That I just need to eat more avocado/flax seed/cashew nuts/bone broth/smoothies. That I’m still a good person. I feel awful. I don’t like myself very much. And I’m turning off the comments, if I can figure out how to do that. But I’m still here. And I’m honoring this commitment.

While throwing a tantrum. Because I don’t want to eat this plate of food, and it’s late, and I can’t put it off anymore. TANTRUM!

Anxiety Over Weight Loss: Passive Self Harm

I haven’t felt anxiety about my weight since I was a teenager. Ten years ago. Suddenly, I’m facing serious anxiety over weight loss. I knew that had lost some weight, but I feel good and didn’t look *too* different. When I visited my doctor’s office to find out why my ear hurt (of course, by the time I got there, the discomfort I had felt for days was pretty much gone), the nurse did a routine weight check. I heard the number. I asked her to repeat it. I asked if she was certain. I asked her to please inform my doctor that I had lost twenty pounds since January, and that I did not remember seeing a weight this low in my entire post-pubescent life. I wasn’t surprised that I had lost weight–I did cut sugar, gluten, dairy and soy from my diet, over a month ago. The nurse was nice enough to tell me that I was still within a healthy range for my height, and because the doctor and I had recently talked about how my change in diet had really helped my migraines, he wasn’t too worried about my thyroid or heart or any dramatic underlying cause. In other words, I was the one feeling major anxiety, while my doctor was mainly concerned that I include more calories in my diet.

Of course, he did run every test he could think of. He’s that kind of doctor. None of the tests made me anxious. I did not for a moment feel afraid of a damaged thyroid or a disease of some kind.

No, I feel anxiety over weight loss, because once I see that it’s happening, I am always tempted to let it go on… and on…

I have never had an eating disorder. According to some definitions, I have engaged in “disordered eating” when I have skipped meals, because the idea of paying for or preparing one has sometimes felt like too much. My husband does most of the cooking around here, because I would just let it slide. (He’s also much better at making meal-type food, anyway–pie is my speciality. Oh, how I miss pie!) My close friend nailed this one right on the head, though, when she asked if this was “passive self-harm.” I usually love the Mayo Clinic website for defining words and phrases I use, here, but this one is flawed (“self injury/cutting” is a bit narrow) and clearly written by someone who hasn’t ever experienced the impulse to self-harm:

Self-injury, also called self-harm, is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It’s typically not meant as a suicide attempt. Rather, self-injury is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional pain, intense anger and frustration. …

While self-injury may bring a momentary sense of calm and a release of tension, it’s usually followed by guilt and shame and the return of painful emotions.

When I’m tempted to just skip one meal, to ignore that light-headed, hungry feeling for another hour or two, I am engaging in this behavior. I am refusing to listen to clear signals in my brain. Anxiety often manifests physically, but I cannot ignore its signals. Shaking hands, shortness of breath, nausea, all interrupt daily life. I can cope with the frustration of feeling out-of-control by simply continuing an activity well past meal-time, until I have skipped that meal altogether. It does bring a momentary sense of calm, release of tension. And then yes, I feel shame.

Thinking of this impulse as a self-harm impulse, rather than a first step down the terrifying road to an eating disorder, feels more accurate, because what I’m feeling doesn’t seem to have much to do with my body or body image. I don’t dislike the way I look. I don’t want anything about my body to change. I do want something to think about besides the sharp increase in anxiety that follows a discovery like that one on the scale, on Thursday. The shame comes from feeling that I have failed at this diet, even while it has helped my migraines all but disappear. I have failed to eat often enough, or to eat the right foods. Worst of all, I didn’t even notice that I am lighter now than I have been since the age of twelve. Isn’t that something I should notice? I’ve had issues with my milk supply these past few weeks. Why didn’t I think that that might have something to do with a decrease in calorie intake? Why didn’t I think?

Most of my “negative self-talk,” the mean thoughts I swirl around my mind, centers around being too stupid to see something important. I “should” have seen this coming. I should have known what to do. I should have stopped it. This is quite clearly my mind’s response to the heavy importance placed on my intelligence as a measure of my self-worth, by my father and myself. It’s a good reason to stay away from academia, and to not finish my graduate degree; it’s too easy, in that world, to depend on grades to give me a sense that I have an important place in the world.

I know all of this. I know what to do. I know what to eat (please, no advice–I’m hearing lists of foods from two professionals) to maintain my weight and easily avoid losing an unhealthy amount. All of that knowledge is playing in my head, like NPR. Calm, quiet, informative.

Anxiety acts like the static that refuses to let me listen to NPR while driving; I can’t pick up a clear signal on the real programming, so I hear and can’t stop focusing on the awful static that mutes those calmer voices.

How I feel when it's time to eat. (In case you thought I had lost my sense of humor)

How I feel when it’s time to eat. (In case you thought I had lost my sense of humor)

Healing Anxiety Naturally, Phase One: Food

I’m embarking on a new path, in conjunction with my more traditional talk therapy and psychiatry treatments, that takes a more holistic approach towards anxiety, depression, and trauma. Called Functional Medicine, it’s a unique approach to healing anxiety naturally (also: depression, trauma, chronic pain, hormone imbalance). “Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease” (The Institute for Functional Medicine).

I’m working with a practitioner in California, because a childhood friend referred me. We speak online, in a video conference, and even before our first long visit, it became clear to me that while I had asked for a referral to help with my migraines, I had no idea how to untangle my physical health from my mental health. Anxiety goes up, migraines get worse. Anxiety goes down, migraines respond to medicine, again. So, while she usually begins with a gentler, slower approach and more subtle changes, we decided to jump right in to a full-blown resetting of my mind and body’s systems for dealing with stress, trauma, etc. I’ll talk more about how that works in a future post; the science is pretty incredible.

What I love most about this treatment is that it works with the philosophy most often found in Eastern medicine: our emotional, mental, physiological, and spiritual selves are intertwine. And it also uses Western medicine’s greatest assets: insight into how physiological mechanism work and change, and amazingly precise medical testing.

My first step is to follow a strict diet, for two weeks, that is meant to give my body a break from the stress I put on it from the way I was eating. I’m skipping foods with a high glycemic index (the body responds to them by ramping up blood sugar production) and sticking to eating smaller portions, consumed more often, of foods that will keep my blood sugar even. My anxiety acts as an appetite suppressant, often, so I was going a very long time between any sort of meal or snack. I am also an admitted sugar addict–we ate our feelings, in my dad’s house, usually in the form of ice cream. Between what I was eating and when I was eating it, my blood sugar and energy levels basically were doing major peaks and valleys all day. I knew that. I knew better, too, because the nutritionist I saw while I was trying to go off my medications, before we tried for a baby, told me all about it. As I remember it, it goes like this–

I skipped meals. I craved sweets. The healthiest option I chose might have been a bottled smoothie, full of sweet fruits and soy protein. My blood sugar would skyrocket in response to the two bananas and five kiwis and whatever else I had consumed in about three minutes, in juice form, and then pretty soon, it would begin to fall, taking my energy level down with it. My body would try to make up for my energy nose dive by producing extra adrenaline. Chemically, that’s the same thing as anxiety, by the way. It’s also just not healthy and takes a big toll on the body.

So, for yesterday and today, I have skipped bread/wheat, refused sugar, chosen eggs, avocado, fish as protein. Apple, pear and grapefruit are the closest I’ve come to sugary foods. And I feel like HELL.

I’ve felt this before. It’s withdrawal. My body is freaking out, because I am not feeding it sugar. Sugar addiction is real, people. My headache, stomach ache, shaky hands and sensitivity to light and sound are proving that, to me. But I will do this for 12.5 more days (but who’s counting?) and it will get better. I may slowly add some gluten, sugar, diary, back into my diet. But I will be careful, and see how I feel after having a little of each food, one at a time, and I will avoid becoming addicted to sugar, again.

sugar

Coming up: how amino acid supplements can reset my brain to its original production, delivery and use of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol, to name a few.

Proud Welfare Mom Update: We have not caused a budget crisis

There’s been a rash of absurd comments on a post I wrote last summer about WIC vs. SNAP, most of which have nothing to do with the content of that post. I would like to address a few apparently common misconceptions about life on government assistance, nevertheless, in case anyone is actually reading the content of my Proud Welfare Mom posts.

1) People on assistance programs have always been on assistance programs and will always be on assistance programs. This applies doubly to those who are not ashamed of accepting assistance.

This is false for many so many reasons, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But let’s pick this place to start: there are many kinds of assistance, and most of us do not receive all of them. My family, for example, receives only SNAP (Food Stamps) and Medicaid, at the moment. “Welfare” is a catch-all term that does not always refer to people receiving cash. In my state, by the way, people who receive financial assistance actually do so through a program that is called the TEMPORARY Financial Assistance Program.

To the “lifestyle” question (a thin veil for the stereotype that if we are poor, we must also be lazy) I have the following answer: at any time, the government may demand information about our income, rent, and other bills, in what is called the “redetermination” process. For my family, that means that the amount of money we receive for SNAP has changed three times in the past nine months. This is not a yearly thing, folks! You don’t get a SNAP EBT card to spend on anything you like (and for the love, please know that the popular myth about buying cigarettes and alcohol with SNAP is a MYTH! It’s not possible!) without any sort of check. Oh, no, friends–they check. The last “redetermination” form I sent in, along with the proof they wanted, was a twenty-three page document.

Finally, I am not ashamed that we are using public assistance to SUPPLEMENT our income (yes, I know that these programs are supplementary, people who have commented 1,000 times to remind me–it is my budget we are discussing, after all, and that little fact is pretty hard to miss!) because while my husband is in graduate school, neither of us can make enough money to pay all of our bills. After he graduates, I am happy to assure all and sundry that we will be hunting for jobs harder than anyone in this history of job hunting. It is neither fun nor easy to use public assistance, and I would love nothing more than to simply use what’s in our bank account.

2) All government assistance does is let people get away with irresponsible choices.

If there is a way for a family of three to live AND stay healthy on $20k/year, please–send me that budget, and we will follow it. This is the most responsible choice I could find. And, just in case you missed it, I have to choose it for my family again and again, because there is some sort of issue that needs clearing up, on the state’s end, nearly every month. Again: not fun. Not easy.

3) Stay-at-home-moms who accept government assistance are really just staying at home for fun, and should be working.

This one is so easy! Guess what? If we made enough money to even think about looking for child care, we wouldn’t qualify for any public assistance! If you find me some free daycare, I will then talk to you about my choice to stay home. (FYI, it’s illegal to leave your one-year-old son at home, even to go to work.) Until the day free childcare becomes available, let me just explain something: I AM SO LUCKY THAT I AM HAPPY AT HOME. I have no freaking clue where I would start trying to find the money for child care while I worked. And, for the record, I am now a WORK-at-home-mom, because my writing has started to earn me some income. Not enough to get us off assistance, but enough to help me avoid a panic attack every time there’s an issue with our SNAP or Medicaid. If you think I’m lazy, please try to write well enough to get paid for it with a one-year-old who is struggling with sleep.

4) Being dog owners is irresponsible, because that money should go to food and bills.

I find this complaint truly weird. It has come up a few times, and I just don’t understand either the assumption that we got our dog while on assistance or that the dog has anything to do with any part of this debate. Nowhere on the application for assistance of any kind does it say “How many pets do you have?” The government does not care if our dog has enough dog food, so it’s not a factor! The end! Which brings me to…

5) The amount of money we get from the government is calculated based on the money we have left over after we blow everything on dogs, dog food, cigarettes, alcohol, and organic food.

INCOME + FAMILY SIZE + PREDETERMINED COST OF LIVING = ELIGIBILITY. Mitigating factors do include rent, utilities and medical expenses. They do NOT include “I own a dog” or “I prefer organic foods” or “I like beer.” All of these things are true, for me, but the government doesn’t care! They’re not on the forms! If I spent all our money on all of the above (even though I quit smoking long before we qualified for aid) then we would simply have no money to pay our bills. You cannot receive aid simply because your preferences raise your cost of living. I think that I got a lot of “how dare you ask for organic food” crap after writing my last post, because I complained that WIC specifically prohibits organic eggs, milk, cereal, etc. First: the idea that organic food is for Fancy People is absurd. I’m not going to discuss whether or not it is healthier, because science says that it is. I will discuss this: if I were to find a coupon that made organic milk CHEAPER than generic non-organic milk, I still wouldn’t be able to use a WIC voucher to buy it. That bugs me. Because it makes no sense, not because I think that my family is entitled to fancier food than your family.

I don’t buy jars of baby food very often, because my child has pretty much always eaten food I’ve prepared for him from groceries, or breastmilk. These are, by far, the cheapest options for feeding a baby who is old enough for solid foods. We use the money we save by not buying prepackaged baby food (WIC covers some, but not all–remember: supplemental!) to buy some organic produce for the child. I have a list I keep in my purse of the foods that are “clean” – I buy organic berries, but not bananas or avocados. I assure you, government assistance and our income do NOT allow me to simply turn up my nose at anything that doesn’t have a “USDA Organic” label attached to it.

6) All government assistance programs deposit cash into our bank account.

I am getting the impression that people think Food Stamps and Medicaid are amounts of money deposited into our account, and that we can spend that money irresponsibly. Just so there’s no confusion, let me make this clear: SNAP/Food Stamps money goes on an EBT card, like a debit card. Each family gets one and only one, which makes it pretty obnoxious to realize that you want to buy groceries, but your partner has the card. This card has money added to it each month, and when that money runs out, you don’t get more until the next month. You can keep whatever you don’t spend. You cannot use the card to purchase non-food or prepared-food items such as cigarettes, alcohol,  and restaurant meals.

That’s it for today, folks. Anything else I can clear up for you, while certain representatives are trying to claim that families like mine are bankrupting the government? Note: if anyone brings up my birthday gifts from yesterday’s post, I will delete you. Don’t mess with me on discretionary household spending anymore, because, and I’ll happily repeat this until the cows come home, it has NOTHING to do with how much money we get on our food stamps card. Also off limits: my dog. He has nothing to do with any of this, and I love him very much.

Lewis the dog

We consider this guy to be part of our family, but Lewis the Dog does not appear on any of our applications for government aid.

Adventures in Entitlement

I’d like to take just one moment for the fact that I was in the middle of signing up for WIC (a federal program that helps low-income pregnant women, infants and children purchase nutrition staples) when this whole Mitt Romney 47% thing started. If I had thirty seconds with him, I’d just like him to know that if he wants to see low-income people “take responsibility for their lives,” then he should sit in on a WIC orientation. We spent an hour listening to a lovely woman explain how the program works, why they encourage breastfeeding, all the breastfeeding resources available to women, how we to use the program as pregnant women and how to transition to using the program after our children are born. Then, we met one-on-one with a nutritionist. But obviously, we’re all lazy and don’t take care of ourselves.

Politics aside, I am pleased to report that the local WIC office is a nice place to be. There are fantastic pictures and posters of breastfeeding mother/infant pairs all over the place. The people are nice even when they’re busy. They really listened to me and my husband Nathan when we explained our situation. The nutritionist we saw is so excited that we are using donor milk to give our baby breast milk despite my setbacks that she dragged a colleague out to meet us. We got a set of “checks” to use at local farmers markets!

My worst fear was that I would leave humiliated. I thought I would be talked-down-to and waste an afternoon listening to why whole grains are better than not. I thought I would feel beyond incompetent because we qualify for WIC because I have no job.

None of that happened. The women I met take great pride in their work. They work to develop long-term relationships with the families they serve. They happily answer questions, even when it’s the end of the day and everyone is tired.

The program is also simpler to use than I thought it would be; we were given a set of “WIC checks” that are like travelers’ checks, but with lists of foods printed on them. We were also given a long list of foods that do and do not qualify, but the vouchers are good for whatever is printed on them. If you’ve got the “milk, bread & cheese” voucher in your hand, you pick out the least expensive of each, double check the rules and head to the checkout counter. The cashier watches you sign the voucher, checks it against the signature on your WIC card, writes in the total amount of money you spent, and you’re on your way. If the cheapest option at the store you’re using is brand-name Cheerios, then you buy the brand name. If you’re in a big grocery store, you buy the store brand. It’s pretty straightforward. I do love, though, that the fresh fruits and veggies, whether purchased at the farmers market or in a store, are just given a dollar amount, and you pay the difference. Got a $5 WIC voucher for fruits and veggies? Spend $6 and hand over $1 with your voucher. No rules about organic/non-organic or what you’re allowed to buy.

We now use SNAP (food stamps) and WIC. These programs let us buy extravagances like a car seat! diapers! wipes! It’s a luxurious lifestyle, I know, and I do feel a little guilty about all the taxpayer money that has gone to help my family. Oh, wait… no, I don’t! This is my life, and I don’t much feel like apologizing for any of it. In my family, we do our best to do the right thing. It may be shock you, but “the right thing” just is not always the choice that makes us more money. Often, it’s the choice that brings us more happiness or even just less stress. There’s a tradeoff; it’s easier to pull out a credit card than it is apply for and learn about SNAP and WIC. I’d like to have unlimited funds and not look at prices. That’s not where we are. So thank you, governmental entitlement programs and your undoubtedly underpaid staff, for helping us out. We need a hand and we are grateful that you’re there.

What I Eat For Love…

Sardines! Despite the fact that I have never met a fish I didn’t really enjoy eating, I was nervous about eating sardines. I don’t know why, because I have no problem with canned tuna. I think I was picturing opening a can and seeing whole fish, with eyes. But no. It was just cooked fish. And the bones being inside? That scared me. But actually, I can’t even see them. Here’s the amazing part: wild-caught, practically mercury-free fish for $2.59? I got two lunches out of that. I put it on toasted bread, mixed with mayo, put cheese on top and broiled it. Like a tuna melt, only safer and, actually, more delicious!

These came in extra virgin olive oil and lemon (there was a little lemon round in there!). I want to try the ones that come in marinara sauce, too. Oh, and the Wild Planet brand? BPA-free cans. Score! [This is not a paid endorsement. I don’t know the Wild Planet people, and they don’t know me. I didn’t even get free sardines for writing this.]

So, why sardines? Here’s a breakdown of the nutrition content of sardines, all the things they contain that are good for us, especially those of us who are pregnant, in order of % daily value:

vitamin B12: 283.6%

vitamin D: 109.2%

omega-3 fats: 86.6%

tryptophan: 78.1%

protein: 44.7%

phosphorus: 29.5%

vitamin B: 320%

vitamin B6: 19%

vitamin B2: 17%

Bonus points for tryptophan, which helps blood flow and is chemically very similar to the meds I take for migraine (triptans), something Jan the Amazing Nutritionist researched for me.
What about mercury? Well, sardines have just about the lowest mercury content possible. They’re tiny, first of all. Big fish have big mercury levels, because they need to eat little fish. Little fish have mercury in them, so big fish get whatever is in the water plus whatever their meals have absorbed. But sardines are at the bottom of the fishy food chain, which means that instead of eating other fish, they eat plankton or algae or whatever is at the bottom of the sea. The New York Times says about seafood and mercury that “among the sea creatures with the lowest known levels of mercury are shrimp, oysters, clams, sardines, anchovies and herring.”
The conservative estimate is that I can eat 12 oz. of these kinds of fish each week. That’s about two sardine melt lunches and two dinners that feature shrimp. Yum!

The Treatment Plan: Finally Approved By All

I got on a train before dawn this morning in order to make it to my appointment with Dr. P at 8:30 am. It was worth it. We had an awesome chat (we always do) and made each other laugh (we always do). We talked about why I am against the idea of tapering my Effexor dose or trying to switch to a better-researched, more-often-prescribed SSRI:

“I have accidentally lied to everyone every time we have made changes to my meds. I will say ‘I’m fine! I’m fine!’ And then ‘OOPS I lost my job because I was so anxious I couldn’t leave the house. Maybe I’m not fine.’ I am terrified that if we do it again, that will happen again. I don’t want to do it again. I can’t afford to lose this new job.”

She completely agreed with my reasoning. She told me that she had just finished a frustrating and unsuccessful attempt to switch another patient to Zoloft. This was a huge relief, because honestly, I would have doubted myself if she had questioned my decision. In fact, while I was talking, I was thinking “Maybe I’m just not being tough enough?” That’s not a thought I need. It’s also not an accurate thought. I am one tough lady.

At the end of our session, I heard the most wonderful words I have heard ever during this entire process:

“I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Phew!

I have officially done everything I could possibly do. Including all of this:

I hope not to add any prescriptions to my daily regimen of pills, but I have acquired quite a collection of vitamins and supplements. I’ve replaced prescriptions meant to help with migraines and insomnia. Recent blood work revealed that I have almost no Vitamin D in my body; without Vitamin D, I’m not going to even get pregnant, let alone give a fetus enough Vitamin D to grow bones and other important things. The weird thing is that I’ve been taking quite a bit of D since I first learned I was deficient last summer. And yet… nothing! So I added some more of that. There are other vitamins and supplements to prepare my body for pregnancy, too.

It’s starting to make me laugh, because there so many bottles. I had a drawer for them. They don’t fit anymore. I tried to take a picture for you, but they didn’t all fit in the frame. I have a very large pill organizer like the ones old people use. Seriously. I made these collages so you could see all the bottles, though:

 

Clockwise: Calcium, Prenatal, Fish Oil, Vitamin D

Clockwise: Effexor XR 150 mg, Effexor XR 37.5 mg, Klonopin, CoQ10, Vitamin B2, Passion Flower tincture, Magnesium Citrate

What are they all for? Well, here’s a list, excluding the prescriptions:

  • New Chapter Bone Strength Take Care Supplement (calcium) & New Chapter Organics Perfect Prenatal: These two are for the pregnancy. Most people take one prenatal vitamin per day after they find out about a pregnancy. The problem with this is that most prenatals have lots of iron and lots of calcium, but our bodies can’t absorb both at the same time. “Calcium inhibits iron absorption from non-meat sources. Wait at least 2 hours before taking an iron supplement following a calcium supplement or vice versa” (MIT). The coolest thing about the New Chapter prenatal is that it’s made from food and includes probiotics; you take three small pills a day instead of one huge pill, and it’s so easy on the stomach that you can take it on an empty stomach. [New Chapter has not asked me to praise their products, nor have they paid me. For the record.]
  • Nordic Naturals Arctic D: Cod Liver Oil (liquid): Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, key elements for, well, life in general, but especially for pregnancy. “DHA is an essential fatty acid—we must get it from diet or supplements, because our bodies don’t make it—and consuming enough DHA is critical for normal and healthy development of infant brain, eyes, and nervous system.” And… “Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems.” My nutritionist recommends this brand for several reasons, but it comes down to this: “…fresh and pure raw material: fish low on the food chain, which naturally contain low levels of impurities (and are also ideal for long-term sustainability, given their short reproductive cycles). All of our products are made exclusively from four types of fish, none of which is endangered: wild-caught Arctic cod (Skrei)…” Do you know what’s in the fish oil pill in on the drug store shelf? Mean neither. Also, it really does taste like lemon, and there’s no burping. Watch the expiration date, if you use this: three months after you open it, it’s done. And I mean done. I learned this the hard way. (The Arctic D has extra Vitamin D in it–to help with my deficiency.)
  • Vitamin Code RAW D3 is made from food and other stuff found in nature, like the New Chapter products, but it’s got 5,000 mg of D3 in each pill. I’m hoping that between the sheer amount of D in the supplement and the “RAW” part, my body will start absorbing and retaining some of the stuff.
  • CoQ10 and B2 are supposed to help prevent migraines. My neurologist recommended this. The suggested dosage varies, but I take 400 mg. The migraine treatment with B2 is 400 mg as well. I’m not taking that much for now, at least until I can find out if it’s safe during pregnancy. Note: I took another brand of CoQ10 (I think it was NatureMade) and it had all sorts of artificial colors in it, so I threw it out. Read the labels! Why put artificial colors in a nutritional supplement? I don’t understand it at all. Apparently because it’s good for the heart and blood it should be colored bright red? So strange.
  • Passion Flower is the extract of said flower, and I put some of this tincture in a glass of water before bed. I’m really hoping that traditional medicine is right, and passion flower helps with sleep and anxiety.
  • Magnesium Citrate is helping my body handle all the iron in the prenatal, aid digestion in general and is also good for anxiety. Ever seen that Natural Calm powder stuff? It’s mostly magnesium. It’s just easier for me to remember pills than powders (because of the old lady pill organizer…)

Both the magnesium and the passion flower were given to me by the latest addition to my team, a naturopath, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner. We’re mostly going to use acupuncture to help with my sleep issues, since we don’t want to add a bunch of herbal stuff that might not be so safe for pregnancy (natural is not the same as safe!). The passion flower has been approved by an herbalist she trusts, and that’s good enough for me–the dose is tiny.

If you haven’t tried acupuncture, no matter who you are or whether you are perfectly healthy, DO IT. It feels so good. I rarely ever feel any of the needles themselves, if I do it’s like a tiny pinch, and after a session, I feel like five pounds have just evaporated out of my muscles.

So that makes nine kinds of pills and two liquids, but it’s actually a total of 15 pills I swallow every day. And two liquids. I guess that’s why I’m so careful about what’s in each one of them.

Book Review: Eating Well When You’re Expecting

My nutritionist recommended the preconception diet outlined in this book, but the preconception diet is the pregnancy diet minus some calories and some calcium. So I’m just reading the book. Quickly. Okay, so I’m skimming a lot of the book, because I don’t have morning sickness at the moment, but I am actually reading lots of it. Here’s why:

This is not a book about “pregnancy.” It is, essentially, a book about food. Heidi Murkoff, author of the entire What to Expect series, focuses on the nutrition pregnant women need, but it’s not very different from what people need in general. (I’m avoiding What to Expect When You’re Expecting because I hear it can raise anxiety levels in women without anxiety disorders in its detailed descriptions of just all the things that might go wrong.) I happen to be a curious person, so I’ve always wondered what specific vitamins do for us. There’s a whole section on that. It’s readable, not too technical and pretty short.

Oh, and one of my favorite things? Murkoff includes all sorts of old wives tales about food and pregnancy. I had heard the “sweet cravings = you’re having a girl” myth, but there are some truly cool ones. In some countries, instead of overdosing on crackers, women eat papaya when they’re nauseous.  Who knew?

Before I get to The Preconception Diet Murkoff outlines, I want to explain why I am interested in such a thing. Research suggests that there are something we can build up in our bodies before we become pregnant, including the all-important folate, or folic acid, which can prevent neural tube defects. But there’s another thing–those little cells divide like crazy in the first few weeks, before any pregnancy test is going to give me a positive. Did you know that Vitamin B12 is “important for the formation of red blood cells, for building genetic material, and for the proper development and functioning of the nervous system”? I didn’t. But here’s a shocker: if a baby weight 7.5 lbs (a pretty ideal weight), mom will have gained FOUR extra pounds just with an increase in the amount of BLOOD in her body. I know! Crazy, isn’t it? Well, that starts right away. And there’s the mineral Zinc? Helps prevent miscarriage. So I really don’t want to be deficient in any of these things and have to try and play catchup while the baby is trying to develop.

I’m not going to lie; it’s also nice to know that I can do this one little thing–take vitamins and eat healthy foods–to help offset the risk of the very birth defect my meds put us at the highest risk for: cleft lip and palate. I can’t go off my meds. But I can do this. And anything could still happen. But I’ll know that I did my part.

Here’s what I take from these tips that work for me, at this stage, preconception:

  • Lots of small meals. Five or six, in fact. This will help when I’m trying to cram all those calories into my pregnant self, but it also helps now. I get really anxious about food sometimes, and I don’t know why. But, like dealing with any of my specific anxieties, if I take baby steps, it helps. Greek yogurt? I can do that. And then two hours later, some oatmeal. Ok. That’s manageable. Cooking three dishes and eating them at once is not my style. (I don’t eat much in one sitting, anyway. I get full!)
  • Efficiency. Greek yogurt instead of regular cow’s milk yogurt? Super efficient eating. Lots of protein and calcium. I love orange juice. If I get the kind that has extra calcium and vitamin D, that’s some efficient and delicious drinking. (A bit expensive, but that’s why we have variety.)
  • The Pregnancy Daily Dozen. I won’t list them all here, but the discreet sections are just plain easy to remember. How much protein? Oh, yeah! Three servings a day! Etc. You can read more about the diet here.
I bought the $9.00 Kindle edition of this book, and it’s totally worth it. I’m sure I’ll go back and rely heavily on all the suggestions for how to relieve various pregnancy symptoms when I need those. All in all, I highly recommend this one!

Product Review: I Love My Prenatal Vitamins

*This is not a sponsored post. I received no money or even a free sample for writing this.*

My nutritionist didn’t give me a list of prenatal vitamins, she just told me which bottle to buy: New Chapter Organics Perfect Prenatal. And something about the chemistry of it all means I also have to take their Bone Strength supplement, too. I don’t know exactly why, but I trust Jan. And she knows that we don’t have tons of money.

  • The downsides?
  • I have to take three a day. But I can take two with dinner, so it’s really just morning and evening. And I take medicine three times a day anyway.
  • They’re on the expensive side. About $25/month when I bought a big bottle (192 pills). Plus about $20/month for the calcium. And that’s after a heavy discount from drugstore.com on the prenatal and on the calcium supplement. BUT! I did just find a whole trimester’s worth of prenatal pills (270) on Amazon for $54.65. Let’s hope that price lasts, because I’ve still got half a bottle from my previous purchase.
  • The glass bottles break if not shipped properly. Drugstore.com sent me a brand new bottle immediately, though, and I didn’t need to even show them the pictures of the broken bottle.
  • I have to clip my nails more often. I supposed that’s a good thing–they’re strong, more calcium, etc. But I’m not a manicure girl.

Here are the positives (warning–this may contain too much information if you’re squeamish):

  • No smelly pee. This is super important, actually. Smelly pee after swallowing a vitamin means that you are not absorbing your vitamin/supplement. As my friend’s doctor likes to say, “You’ll just have really expensive pee.” If I need to take three pills a day to actually absorb this stuff, then that is just fine with me!
  • No burping. If you’ve ever swallowed a pill and then burped and tasted the pill later, you know why this is up at #2. GROSS!
  • They’re small! Seriously. My anti-depressant capsules are bigger. No horse pills, here.
  • They are made of food. For real. Organic food! I try to eat as much organic food as possible and will up my game on that while actually pregnant. So my prenatal should be organic, too. It is going into my body three times a day, after all. This is how New Chapter puts it:
    • Organic Formulated with Organic Ingredients
    • Probiotic Cultured with Beneficial Live Probiotics
    • Whole Bioavailable, Easy-to-Digest Food [Easy-to-Digest = no burping up vitamin taste]
  • Probiotics. These are mostly good bacteria that help us digest food. They are expensive if you buy good ones separately. They are soooo good for the tummy. My tummy is happier since I started taking these.
  • They come in glass bottles. No plastic, no BPA.
  • Naturally Gluten Free & Vegetarian. I don’t care about keeping gluten or meat out of my diet, but neither gluten nor meat belong in my vitamins.
  • Between the Bone Strength supplement and the prenatal vitamin, I’m getting enough Vitamin D3 to stop taking the extra supplement I started when the blood test came back low in June. Same with iron.
So, if you are in the market for a good prenatal vitamin, I highly recommend this one. I’m pretty sure it’s actually healthier than a lot of the actual food I eat. But let’s not get into that today…