Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Food for Thought

Over the past few months, I've been asked about what kick-started my health and fitness interest (one person said obsession, but that word carries weird negative vibes). There really isn't one simple answer, as my interest in food and exercise has kind of always existed and it just ramped up a bit when I returned to the US last year.

I've always had the mind of an athlete.
Granted I was never a talented athlete, but I have always been the drive to be active. I participated in various organized sports teams and leagues from the time I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. I've had a lot of injuries (sprains and breaks), I have bursitis in several joints, I have a deviated septum (makes it difficult to get a full breath), and now I have vertigo. I have a lot of fitness barriers, but I'm determined to not let them get in the way. I do, however, need to be aware of my own limitations.

I don't want to get fat.
Simple and to the point. I know that carrying extra weight would affect my joint health and overall health. It would affect my self-esteem and ability to to remain active. It would affect the health of whatever potential children may be in my future. Just to be clear, when I say "fat" I mean more than a little overweight. Everyone fluctuates a little- and that's normal, but I have a goal of always staying within the "average" category for body weight: I don't want to be over and I don't want to be under.

I started watching food documentaries.
I've always loved to cook, so in my recipe research I would come across articles about healthy foods and how to tweak traditional recipes to boost the nutrition. That turned on my curiosity and I graduated to documentaries like Super Size Me, Food Inc., Food Fight, and my personal favorite: The Skinny On Obesity. Eventually, I got into shows like The Biggest Loser and Secret Eaters. As much as I love nutrition and fitness; I feel equally, if not more, curious about what makes people crave different foods and the science behind food addiction.

And probably the #1 factor:

For as long as I can remember, I've gotten headaches. It took me a long time to realize headaches weren't normal, and once it was brought to my attention that it "wasn't normal to complain of a headache three times in a week," I started thinking of what could be causing them. At first, I thought it was because of my vision problems, but my ophthalmologist cleared me. My primary care put me on Yaz and that really helped reduce the number of headache days, but they didn't entirely go away and the ones I did get were just as intense as before.

Over the past 6 or 7 years (since I've been on Yaz), I average maybe 1 headache per week and 1 migraine per month. Mind you, 1 headache can span multiple days-- usually averages somewhere between 10 and 36 hours-- my record is 6 days. When I arrived back in the US last April, my headaches were consistent but not too bad. Within a few weeks they were back and they were killer. I did some research and made 2 complete lists of food items that are known to cause headaches and items that are known to soothe headaches. Oddly enough, some items are on both lists- apparently if an item (like chocolate) is not a trigger for you, it may soothe your headache.

I went on an elimination diet and for 2-week increments I would cut out any foods that I suspected might be the culprit(s). There were only 4 or 5 foods that roused suspicion, but I eventually settled on nitrates (and likely other preservatives) being the culprit. I love sandwiches and Korea doesn't really do deli meat, so when I cam home I would eat a lot of sandwiches or chop the deli turkey and throw it in a salad. I also took note that a lot of canned food items have loads of nitrates (and preservatives). While I didn't completely cut out deli and other processed foods, I'm much more selective as to when and how much I allow myself.

Progress Report: Since figuring out my trigger, I've noticed a reduction in intensity and duration of my headaches. I absolutely still get them; I think it will just be a part of my life forever. However, knowing that I can control them a little bit better with what I eat is really inspiring.

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