Living with IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is one of the most common health concerns facing Americans today yet it’s one of the least discussed. Many people who have this condition suffer in silence due to it being somewhat of a “taboo” subject or just for not knowing that there is an actual problem.

download (1)

The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum. If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal which will cause gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. The opposite can also occur with weak intestinal contractions, slowing food passage and leading to hard, dry stools. Abnormalities in your gastrointestinal nervous system also may play a role, causing you to experience greater than normal discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can make your body overreact to the changes that normally occur in the digestive process. This overreaction can cause pain, diarrhea or constipation.

As many as 1 in 5 American adults experience signs and/or symptoms of IBS. There are two common forms of IBS – IBS-C, with constipation, and IBS-D, with diarrhea. It is unknown what causes IBS but there are many factors, including family history, which are considered to be a trigger for those suffering with this illness.

One of the biggest triggers for IBS is a person’s diet. Many people have more severe symptoms when they eat certain things. Some doctors will recommend doing an elimination diet to pinpoint what the exact trigger food(s) could be. Some other recommendations include: eliminating high-gas foods such as carbonated beverages, vegetables (especially cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower) and raw fruits, eliminating gluten (wheat, barley, and rye) or avoiding refined (not whole) grains, eliminating FODMAPs, avoiding high protein diets, limiting or eliminating caffeine (such as coffee), and experimenting with fiber intake. A person suffering with IBS should eat smaller meals and drink plenty of liquids, especially water! It’s also important to note that a person with this illness should be careful with their dairy intake, regardless if they are lactose intolerant or not.

Another common trigger for IBS sufferers is stress. Many people find that their symptoms are worsened or brought on during periods of increased stress. While stress certainly will aggravate your symptoms, there has not been any research found to cause them.

Women, especially under the age of 45, are twice as likely to develop IBS. Researchers believe that this is due to hormonal changes. Many women find that their symptoms are more prevalent during or around their menstrual cycle. IBS worsens as hormone levels fall. As hormone levels fall to the lowest point during menstruation, symptoms such as stomach pain, discomfort, and constipation or diarrhea become more common and intense. What’s worse, those who suffer from painful periods, are twice as likely to have an increase in symptoms.

Even though the signs and symptoms are uncomfortable IBS, unlike ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (which are forms of inflammatory bowel disease), doesn’t cause changes in bowel tissue or increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Some symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night, and/or weight loss.

While there is no cure for IBS, there are certain things that have been proven to alleviate some of the symptoms. One easy remedy is to exercise regularly. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine will not only help you to look & feel better about yourself, it will also help to stimulate normal contractions in your intestines. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. If you have other medical problems, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Another form of therapy, while non-traditional, is the use of herbs such as peppermint. Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic that relaxes smooth muscles in the intestines. It’s important to note that while it may ease your IBS symptoms, peppermint may increase heartburn. Before taking any herbs, check with your doctor to be sure they won’t interact or interfere with other medications. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that normally live in your intestines and are found in certain foods, such as yogurt and in dietary supplements. It’s been suggested that if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may not have enough good bacteria so by adding probiotics to your diet, you may ease your symptoms.

IBS can be a long-lasting problem that can impact how you live your life. Many people with IBS miss work or school more often and they may feel less comfortable taking part in daily activities. If you feel that you may have IBS, contact your doctor for further testing.

**This article was originally published with The Arena – all references for the information given above can be found on that site.

 

Finding Strength through Struggle

“Never let any disappointment in life define who you are.”

I recently saw this quote on social media and it really stuck with me. Lately, I’ve been going through a really tough time and despite my best efforts, I’ve let the stress from my personal and professional life really get the best of me. It’s really gotten me to a point where I never feel well and my workouts suffer. This time last year, I finished a very strict challenge that I gave myself. The result had me in the best shape of my whole life. This year…is an entirely different ball game.

image

Birthday girl last year vs. this year

I love to work out. I love how it makes me feel. However, I’ve been in such a rut lately that my workouts haven’t been consistent and my diet, while mostly healthy, has also been hit or miss. As a result, even my blogging has suffered.

This year, my plan was to exercise just as hard and eat clean but not be AS strict as I was last year. I wanted to see if I could look how I did by living normally. I also wanted to make sure to not lose all of the muscle that I built during the winter. BUT I never gave myself that chance. Quite frankly, even when I did the Whole30 diet, things didn’t go well. I blamed the diet but I really do think that my stomach has been such a mess from the stress, no diet will be able to fix it right now. Sometimes you have to fix your situation before anything else can fall into place. I’m learning more and more that some of my stomach issues are, in fact, stress-related.

My birthday is this weekend and with it also comes 10 years since I graduated college. My life is nothing like I expected it to be 10 years ago…and maybe that’s another part of my rut. I’ve worked so hard to transform my life and make changes to better myself but many things are still lacking. I had a very clear plan for myself….for much of my life…and it just hasn’t happened. I know they say you have to take control of your own destiny…but I’ve found that every time I make a plan, it somehow fails me. I guess the saying that we plan and God laughs must be true…and if so, I’m sure I’ve had him cracking up for years.

Despite years of disappointment, I am going to attempt to reboot myself….again. With a new found (and somewhat unexpected) freedom in my professional life, I would like to explore the possibility of turning my passion for fitness into a full-fledged career. My original career plan of sports broadcasting may not have worked out…but maybe that wasn’t what I was meant to do. I have always loved helping/teaching others and I would love nothing more than to take all of the knowledge that I’ve built up over the last few years and use it to help others in their own journeys. In the coming weeks, I will be exploring every avenue possible to pursue just that. My first course of action will likely be to get my personal trainer certification…but we shall see. With everything happening in my personal life, I’m thinking that having the flexible schedule that comes with being a fitness coach/trainer would be amazing.

Some things happen in life that we can’t control. However, I’ve learned that its better to keep moving and live life rather than dwell on the negatives and let life pass you by. I may not look how I want to look on my birthday…or be where I expected to be when I graduated 10 years ago…but that’s life. I fully intend on enjoying this weekend and, above all, getting the relaxation that I so desperately need. It’s time to make the best of what I have and find strength from my struggles. I know that it will all be worth it in the end. After all, nothing worth having comes easy.

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina
TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

This too shall pass…

1fc9ca94c90780e82d2fafdf1c0df6b0

Well…I’m back! I know it’s been a little while since I last blogged but I needed some time to regroup. Since Christmas I’ve had a lot of unnecessary stress at my job and it’s really been effecting my health. My stomach is the worst that it’s been in years…I haven’t slept very well…my skin keeps breaking out…I’m just a mess. My body has gotten very rundown and as a result I currently am getting over a bad cold. Between the stress and the horrible northeast winter, my workouts really haven’t been consistent. I completed the #Whole30 diet but due to everything going on, it was a failed experiment. Truthfully my life right now just isn’t conducive to such a strict diet with the stomach issues that I have. Once things settle down, I will have to give it another try.

I’ve spent the last few months doing the best thing that I could possibly think of – I’ve focused on the things that make me happiest. I’ve spent time doing things that I enjoy and seeing people who bring me joy. It’s been great balancing out my life and it’s allowed me to forget about the stress, if even just for a moment.

Unfortunately, my fitness has really taken a backseat. My workouts have been sporadic, at best. Between my stomach acting up and the sheer exhaustion from not sleeping well, I just haven’t had the energy or motivation to workout. Some people say they use stress to push them. Well, right before I got sick with this horrible cold I promised myself I would do just that. Truthfully, I feel like I’ve undone a lot of my hard work…and I want it to stop. Now with my stomach being very blown up, it’s a bit hard to get an accurate weight and size but nonetheless I’m not happy with myself these days. I’m not so sure that working out will necessarily change anything physically until I can get rid of the stress…but it will make me feel better mentally.

I recently discovered this fabulous app from Bodybuilding.com:

IMG_20150413_181716

It allows you to select workout programs based on your individual goal. Whether you want to tone up or become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, they have a plan for you. Last year I followed a diet and workout regimen that mimicked that of a figure competitor. Well….this app has several programs geared towards just that! I will be starting one of the plans this week and incorporating it into my 4-weeks to fit challenge, which is coming in about 2 weeks! I also have to get back into doing cardio. Any workouts that I’ve done this winter have centered around lifting. I struggle with running so much due to my breathing troubles that it’s become a chore for me….but with summer rapidly approaching it must be done. While I do prefer lifting (and feeling bad ass), if I want to look good on the beach….cardio has to happen too.

I’ve gone through much worse situations than this in my life and I know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to be an uphill battle but I will try my best to keep my head up and use the stress as motivation rather than letting it keep me down. If you are facing a similar situation or if you are struggling in another way, remember this too shall pass. After all, nothing worth having comes easy. Work hard, lift heavy, and NEVER GIVE UP!

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

#Whole30 Restaurant Tips & Snack Suggestions

Just a few more days and this diet will be a distant memory. It’s been pretty rough on me. The first week I was hungry all the time…so I upped my portion sizes and added more meat to my diet. Then my stomach started to retaliate. Now I’m back to being hungry all the time. Sugar cravings haven’t stopped at all…in fact they’ve only gotten worse with time. To be honest, that’s exactly why I don’t believe in elimination-type diets like this. When you completely eliminate something you love, it will only make you binge on it later. I did this diet as an experiment but it’s failed pretty miserably.

Despite my misery and all of the issues that I’ve experienced, I continued to stick it out. I came up with some snacking suggestions to beat hunger, while staying #whole30 compliant. I also figured out what to eat at certain restaurants…should you be going stir-crazy and want a break from the kitchen.

Now the rules for #Whole30 state you aren’t supposed to snack…but that’s impossible. There is no way you can survive eating just the 3 measily meals..especially if you workout. So, I’ve come up with some suggestions to conquer your hunger and keep you fueled all day long.
image

  • Larabars – these bad boys have saved me. They say to not eat them except for emergencies however if you get the fully compliant ones (cashew cookie is a perfect example) you should have no issues.
  • Monkey salad (comprised of nuts, sliced banana, and coconut chips.) I found that this is perfect to fuel a workout.
    image
  • Frozen blueberries with coconut chips
    image
  • Apple slices with cinnamon
    image
  • Apple slices and frozen blueberries
    image

 

Now, just because you are on this crazy diet doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy life with friends and loved ones. I’ve found that going out breaks up the monotony of what I normally cook and eat…and someone else does the dishes! Below you will find some suggestions I have for eating at restaurants on this diet.

  • Look at the salad options first. More often than not, these are gigantic portions and contain mostly compliant foods. Carefully view the ingredients and after you make your selection, order the salad with oil and vinegar on the side.
    image
  • Turkey burgers (or regular if you can eat them) – order them off the bun (obviously) with a side salad or baked potato. Sweet potato fries may also be okay if you know the restaurant to not deep fry them. If you don’t know, ask!image

image

  • Look for grilled meats and fishes then order a vegetable or sweet potato on the side. Virtually every restaurant under the sun will offer this option. While it may not be the most exciting…it is definitely compliant. Just make sure no butter is used and you should be good to go.
  • Omelettes – This is one of the best options I feel. You can order egg white omelettes and often get just about any vegetable in it. AND they almost always come with home fries. win-win. Just make sure that they don’t use butter or milk in the eggs and you’re in the clear 🙂
  • image

  • Diners seem to offer the easiest solution. They have huge menus with endless possibilities. Be cautious and ask questions
  • Ladies and gentlemen…CHIPOTLE! They offer a glorious salad option – stay away from the cheese and you’re set! Also, you can ask them to add a little extra chicken and they usually will for no extra charge…especially when they see how little is in the bowl.
  • image

    •Last (and most important): No matter which restaurant you choose…always ask your server questions! Their job is to provide a service. You are on a special diet and most times the restaurant will do whatever it takes to accommodate you. You could even call ahead and ask the questions prior to your visit if that makes things easier.

    Whether you’re doing this diet or just trying to eat healthy, give it your all. This diet has been really hard on me physically but I’m not giving up. I promise to write a full review (warning-it won’t be pretty) once it ends later this week. Work hard, lift heavy, and NEVER QUIT! After all, nothing worth having comes easy.

    Stay strong & stay in the fight!

    -Gina
    TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

    My Whole30 Breakfast Plan

    Breakfast has been one of the bigger struggles for me. I’m used to having oatmeal or a yogurt everyday…and both of these are no-no’s on the Whole30 diet. I’m also used to having coffee creamer or some flavor in my coffee…which is also not allowed. So I’ve had to adapt. Since beginning this diet, I’ve been eating eggs most days. I’m used to only eating egg whites but I’ve had to incorporate the yolk as well to make it more filling. I also have learned that you must incorporate some sort of meat or vegetable into your breakfast or else you will be starving all day.

    The best part about these recipes is that they all take 15 minutes or less to prep and cook. I make all of my food the night before so I can grab it and go to work. They can all be easily microwaved and all taste just as great the next morning. All of the recipes seen here serve one, as I cook for myself. However, I can certainly assist you with expanding whichever recipe to feed more.  Feel free to ask if you have any questions or comments. Bon Appetit 🙂

     

    Scrambled Egg with Sweet Potato Hash

    1-large egg

    1-small sweet potato

    Black pepper, to taste

    Pinch of salt

    • Begin by grating the sweet potato. Toss shredded potato with black pepper. Take a paper towel and drizzle some olive oil on it; rub oil onto a small pan.
    • Add shredded potato to pan and place on medium heat. Cook for approximately 5 minutes then flip. Continue this until cooked through.
    • Crack the egg in a bowl, add salt and pepper (I also had a pinch of parsley) as well as a drop of water. Poke the yolk and scramble egg with a fork. Set aside.
    • Remove potato from pan and add egg mixture. Let it set for a bit then flip eggs in pan. Cook for a total of 3 minutes. Lay egg over potato and enjoy 🙂

     

    Egg in Avocado

    image

    1-egg

    ½ avocado

    Black pepper, to taste

    Pinch of salt

    Lemon or lime juice (to drizzle over avocado)

    • Begin by preheating an oven to 400 degrees.
    • Slice a medium avocado in half. Using the half without the pit, drizzle lemon or lime juice on top. This will help prevent browning. If using a large egg, scoop a little extra avocado out of the center.
    • Place avocado in a baking dish, such as a ramekin. Crack egg into avocado hole. Add salt and pepper.
    • Bake for approximately 20 minutes (I don’t like runny eggs so I cook until the yolk is firm, however you can cook for less time if you like it that way).
    • Remove from oven. Serve alongside fruit or sweet potatoes and enjoy 🙂

     

    Scrambled eggs with leftover turkey “chili”
    image

    2-eggs (one whole + one egg white)

    approximately 1 cup of leftover turkey chili (no sauce)

    black pepper, to taste

    pinch of salt

    pinch of parsley

    • Begin by cracking an egg into a bowl. Take the second egg and separate the white from the yolk; add the whites to the egg in the bowl. Add a drop of water, salt, pepper, and parsley to the bowl; scramble together.
    • Take a paper towel, add a little olive oil and rub onto a small pan. Heat pan on medium and add egg mixture. Cook for a total of approximately 3 minutes, stirring around throughout to cook evenly. Set eggs aside to cool.
    • *When I made turkey chili, I made sure to take about half of the meat and peppers out of the pot before making the sauce for it. I then portioned that half out and used it for two days worth of breakfast.
    • Take your leftover “chili” out of the fridge. Once eggs are completely cool, add to “chili” and place back in fridge for your morning breakfast.
    • **If you are making this to eat right away, reheat meat prior to cooking eggs. Set aside, cook eggs, and pour eggs over the meat.

     

    Strawberry Smoothie

    *This shouldn’t happen everyday but once in a while it’s a nice addition to break up all of the savory foods.*

    approx. 1-cup of frozen strawberries

    1/3 cup of light coconut milk

    1 tbsp flax seeds.

    • Place all ingredients in a blender. Add water if needed. Blend and enjoy along side a banana.

     

    Coffee
    image

    This is where I thought I would struggle most. I love my coffee creamer and sweet flavors from Dunkin and Starbucks. However, I found that canned coconut milk is creamier and slightly sweeter than what I was used to. I add about 1/3 cup of light coconut milk, which is the serving size…and while it sounds like a lot, trust me you will need it! I also add a pinch of cinnamon. Somehow that’s a fake-out to making your mouth think you’re having something sweet. Anyway, this has actually been working really well for me and I don’t really miss the extra sweetness in my cup of Joe. I even found you can alter your favorite Starbucks drink with it! I got a Grande Americano, black then I went home added the coconut milk and blended with some ice. Topped that with the pinch of cinnamon and boom—Coconut Blendicano 🙂

    Water: I’m making a point to add this. I have a bad habit of forgetting to drink during the day. I don’t really know why or how it happens but I do. I’ve found that the more water I drink early in the day, the less hungry I am as the day goes on. I didn’t invent that theory but I figured out how true it was when I was starving during the first few days of this diet. So, it may not be the most exciting beverage and you may already know to do this…but be sure to get at least your 8 glasses in while doing this diet.

     

    This diet, like everything else on this journey, is extremely hard. Remain focus and remember why you started. It may not get easier but you will feel so much stronger for doing it. After all, nothing worth having comes easy.

    Stay strong & stay in the fight!

    -Gina

    TheFight2Befit@gmail.com

    Whole30 – Week One Recap

    As of today, week one of this Whole30 experiment is officially in the books! I’m not going to lie…this diet is much harder than I thought it would be.

    image

    I have been really strict with this and really following all of the rules. I thought coffee would be my biggest hurdle..seeing as I can only put coconut milk in it. However, that hasn’t been an issue. My biggest problem at first was with hunger. I’m used to eating small portions multiple times a day. Well I realized with this diet portion sizes go out the window. I can’t speak for everyone on that…but since I am unable eat some of the bigger, more filling foods I have to bulk things up a bit. I started using MyFitnessPal again to track everything and I was horrified to learn I was hovering around 700 calories…by the day’s end! 

    Enough was enough so I decided to play around with adding more protein (ground turkey and chicken) to my breakfast and lunch, respectively. I also bulked up my portion sizes and added more fruit. This seems to have really done the trick…however now I’ve caused another issue. My IBS is on fire! My guess is that it’s being caused by my significant increase of fiber. Either way, this experiment won’t work unless I nip that in the bud.

    Here’s how my diet looked week one:

    Breakfast: egg with avocado (most days, a couple of days were just egg whites), egg with sweet potato hash, strawberry smoothie* and banana, egg white omelette with asparagus and home fries, egg with sweet potato hash and ground turkey. Coffee with coconut milk and pinch of cinnamon.

    image

    Lunch: tuna with avocado, chicken burger with avocado and string beans, string beans and sweet potato, string beans with eggplant, a chicken tender and a small salad, mixed veggies with small salad.

    image

    Dinner: tilapia with veggies, chicken cutlets with warm kale salad, chicken burger with Brussels sprouts and string beans, chicken breast with brussel sprouts and string beans, turkey chili with warm kale salad, chicken with kale chips.

    image

    Snacks: apple with cinnamon, grapes, cantaloupe, banana, almonds, larabar.

    Despite severe sugar cravings and IBS flare-ups, I’ve actually managed to lose weight this week. While that wasn’t my goal…its always nice to see!

    Week two I will be focusing on curing this IBS mess that I created. I will be limiting my intake of high fiber veggies and to continue these new eating pattern. Hopefully with all of this, I will feel better and have more energy to get back to my workout regimen.

    I will be posting some of my recipes later this week. If you are interested in anything you see above or have a request, feel free to let me know 🙂

    Until then…stay strong and stay in the fight!

    -Gina
    TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

    Winter Blues

    motivation 2

    The funny thing about being on a journey is that it never really ends. There honestly is no finish line to this…every day you just get stronger and continue to grow from your experiences.

    I’ve been put to the test lately, as I’ve been suffering with some PCOS issues as well as a very bad flareup for my IBS. As if that wasn’t enough, I’m also battling with a freezing cold northeast winter. Now, I don’t know about you but I’m very susceptible to getting sick. So, in an attempt to not get myself deathly ill, my workout routine has been completely thrown off. All of this has given me a terrible case of the winter blues and I’ve spent most of this week feeling good and sorry for myself.

    I don’t remember the last time that I had a hard workout. Sure, I’ve been keeping up with my strength training…but cardio has become like a foreign word to me. With my non-existent metabolism if I don’t workout, I will get fat. It’s a proven fact that regardless of my diet, without cardio I will gain weight. Being super paranoid about getting sick has led me to scale back my workouts…which means little to no cardio and big issues for my mental state.

    Now, I know that cold weather is (sadly) part of life. I can’t spend the rest of winter being so bitter and miserable. I’ve worked way too hard and come to far for that. Besides, why be so miserable about something I can’t even control? That being said, I’ve come up with a preliminary winterized routine to keep myself in-check and keep me from going batty.

    Beginning tomorrow, I will be doing hardcore cardio on weekends. This is because I can get to the gym during the day when it is typically (slightly) warmer. Since I work all day during the week, those days will be reserved for strength training. I will utilize DVDs and workout videos on days where it (God forbid) snows. If it happens to be warmer on any given weekday, I will take advantage and do a harder workout.

    I’ve also decided to get my diet in check. I said I wanted to begin the IIFYM stuff but I need to get things working right again. My IBS has been horrible lately so I really want to get that under control and the best way I know how is to eat super clean and strict again. Trainer Bob (Harper) from Biggest Loser has been posting about a 30-day diet that he’s currently following. I looked into it and it seems like what I did last spring, just a little more strict. It’s the Whole30 diet and I will be starting that in a couple of weeks (beginning of February.)

    With a bad stomach and a ruined routine, I’ve really been tested. This has all really done a number on me mentally. It’s really hard to see the “new you” when you are all swollen and aren’t working out. Hopefully with the new diet and a new workout plan, I can start feeling more like myself again.

    It can be really hard to see the light at the end of tunnel when there’s so much darkness in front of you. This journey never ends and things happen in life that can’t be controlled but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last two years it’s this: the bigger the obstacle, the sweeter the reward once it’s overcome. Always remember: nothing worth having comes easy.

    Stay strong and stay in the fight!

    -Gina
    thefight2befit@gmail.com