Madrona Nutrition and Fitness: Recipe and Nutrition Guide

Madrona Nutrition and Fitness:
Guide to Wellness through Holistic Diet
and Lifestyle

Rachel Fiske
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant,
Certified Personal Trainer

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Confirmed: Sometimes, I Am My Own Worst Client! Recognizing The Effects of Stress and Overtraining

So as you've probably gathered by now, I love conducting experiments on myself. It's fascinating to discover the effects of various foods, nutrient timing, exercise, and combinations of all of the above. After all, achieving our own personal wellness is a matter of trial and error, and finding what works for each of us individually. With that said, of course, a diet of chips and cookies will not work for anyone, so save yourself the trouble of that experiment.

However, recently I unknowingly conducted an experiment on myself that yielded painful results, and it took me a good 3 days to figure out what was going on! Once I did, I channeled my NY Jewish Grandmother (bless her heart) and shook a finger at myself in the mirror, as I had been ignoring some key guidelines I tell my clients to follow every day.

First, the symptoms: I woke up over the weekend after a full, restful nights sleep with extreme fatigue! Every muscle in my body just felt weak. I drank my usual morning cup of coffee (just one), hoping this would help wake me up, which of course it did not, but instead contributed to an overall feeling of dehydration. My generally easy bike commute to work felt endless, and this terrible feeling of 'BLEH' continued to increase as the day progressed. For the next couple of days, more of the even felt like a chore to lift up my water bottle! Plenty of sleep, nutritious and regular meals throughout the day, no more stress than normal, and my usual workout frequency, and BAM! I was baffled.

Then I realized (and of course as with the results of any experiment of this nature, this is all speculation): I had burnt myself out to a point I had never experienced before. Was I overtraining? I didn't think so, but it is important to remember that overtraining is relative to the other things going on in our lives. Given these factors, yes, I absolutely was. I had gone and done a few very important things I tell my clients NOT to do every day, and didn't even realize I was doing (or not doing) it. The combination of moderate to heavy work-related stress, mild dehydration, and not enough rest days in between workouts had left my poor adrenal glands, central nervous system (CNS) and muscles overworked and tired.

What IS overtraining? Overtraining, as mentioned above, can mean something different depending on the individual at different times. With this said, however, is it an accumulation of stressors, combined with inadequate rest between workouts, which leads to varying symptoms to varying degrees. Possible symptoms include fatigue, decreased immunity, decreased performance when doing your usual workout, decreased motivation, irritation, depression, and insomnia.  A big problem with overtraining (that I have been rudely woken up to recently) is that it can be very difficult to recognize in ourselves, as we don't understand why all of a sudden our usual workload which never seemed to cause problems before is now, suddenly, impossible to carry out. When we are overtrained, it can be a combination of the muscles themselves being fatigued, our adrenal glands being unable to produce enough cortisol, and our central nervous system being overtaxed by an increased demand for electrical impulses to the muscles. To ensure the above does not occur, it is absolutely essential to take adequate rest in between workouts. After all, the growth we are aiming for when weight training occurs during recovery, so if we want to see results from our hard work, we must allow recovery time. The amount of recovery depends on the intensity of our workouts, but allow at least a day between working similar muscle groups. And always listen to your body! If you are particularly sore, keep resting, or do some light cardiovascular activity.

Decreased adrenal function had more than likely aided in my exhaustion, as well. While I have helped multiple clients recognize and support their own symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it was remarkably hard for me to recognize these symptoms in myself. Personal Trainers are sometimes the first ones to push their bodies when they should be resting. As I've written about before, adrenal fatigue occurs on a spectrum, and hopefully we catch it before it has progressed to the point of needing months of recovery time and a (possibly) complex supplemental protocol (this point known as adrenal exhaustion). According to Dr. James L. Wilson, N.D., Ph.D. in his book Adrenal Fatigue

"often the causes of adrenal fatigue are not obvious because the combined stresses look so different. Our bodies may not even tell us when we are under stress. In one study, hospital workers in a pediatric nursing care unit...were totally unaware of being under stress, but their cortisol levels were elevated by 200-300%...the number of stresses, whether or not you recognize them as stresses, the intensity of each stress and the frequency with which it occurs, plus the length of time it is present, all combine to form your total stress is when the body becomes unable to make the appropriate changes to these stresses that adrenal fatigue begins."

REST!!! Is the most important thing at this point. The good news is, if we listen to our bodies and catch these signs and symptoms early on, usually a few days rest will solve the problem. Depending on the degree of fatigue from all of the above listed factors, we may need more. Again, it is essential that we pay attention, and if our body tells us to rest, listen! This is a lesson I have recently learned the hard way. Keep in mind, if we do not give ourselves adequate rest, this fatigue will worsen, potentially leading to having to take way more time off from our normal workouts and daily activities, illness, injury, and more.

And lastly, PLEASE REMEMBER (because I didn't) to drink tons of water, don't overdo it with the caffeine (1 morning cup of coffee per day is more than enough), and engage in enjoyable, relaxing activities...whatever that means to you. This could be just 10 minutes a day of deep belly breathing, meditation, yoga, walking outdoors, and focusing on exercise that you enjoy, as well. If you hate running, do something else! Trust me, its worth it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cauliflower Mash Recipe

While potatoes are ok once in awhile, due to their starchy nature they can lead to pretty intense blood sugar spikes and crashes. And of course, if weight loss is our goal, they're not a great choice. Cauliflower, on the other hand, is a cruciferous vegetable packed with nutrients, and is especially high in vitamin C, K, folate and other B Vitamins, magnesium, and is full of fiber. Try this recipe instead of mashed potatoes next time, it is absolutely delicious!

Mashed Cauliflower
adapted from
1 medium head of cauliflower, organic
3 – 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled (or more depending on taste)
1 cup chicken or veggie stock, or water
sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast, optional or 1 tbsp miso paste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or organic butter

Wash and trim the head of cauliflower and cut into rough pieces. Heat a pan and pour in the cup of water or stock, toss in the cut cauliflower and cloves of garlic. Bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. Add pepper. Transfer mixture, including the liquid, into a blender. (You may want to do this in two batches.) Add in the nutritional yeast or miso paste, olive oil. Puree until it resembles the consistency of mashed potatoes. You may need to add in a little more water/stock to facilitate the blending, but be careful NOT to add in too much liquid. (You could also add in some coconut or almond milk for extra richness and flavor.) Taste and add sea salt if necessary.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Debunking The Myth Of Cholesterol

I've encountered several conversations and had various clients/friends/coworkers ask me recently about cholesterol. I've addressed the topic before, particularly when talking about the importance of good fats in our diet, but I'd like to spend a little bit of time going more in depth on just cholesterol. There are a lot of myths to debunk still milling about out there...

First of all, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a substance produced by our bodies from simpler substances within the body, excreted through the liver via bile into the digestive tract. It serves many essential purposes, and is produced by our cells constantly. Many cell membranes within our body consist of half cholesterol, because it is, along with saturated fats, crucial to cell integrity. First and foremost, cholesterol and saturated fats make up the integrity/structure/firmness of our cell membranes. Without them, we would be piles of mush. Also without enough of these substances, our cells would be more susceptible to invasion and unable to withstand the rapid flow of blood swooshing by 24 hours a day. Remember that our bodies are pretty amazing, self-regulating structures. If a cell needs more structure and rigidity due to the above mentioned forces, it will make more cholesterol, and vice versa. This is certainly not a natural process to be messed with by avoiding dietary cholesterol!

Another key function of cholesterol and saturated fats is to deliver messages between cells. These compounds essentially act as carriers, and without them the cells would not be able to deliver many molecules to one another. 25% of our cholesterol is found in the brain, where its most vital roles are carried out. Every brain and nerve cell are coated with a layer of myelin, a fatty substance that provides nourishment and protection (Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D.). 20% of myelin is made of cholesterol, and without it many problems can ensue. A major example of a degenerating myelin sheath is Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Also according to Campbell-McBride in her great article, "Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?" she notes that cholesterol is the primary tool our body uses to form brain synapses, affecting our functions and memory. This is why cholesterol-lowering medications can cause memory loss.

Below is a list adapted from Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in their book, Eat Fat Lose Fat on the many benefits of cholesterol:

  • Cholesterol is the building block of all of our hormones, and is particularly important in the managing of stress and sex hormones. Infertility? Lack of good fats and cholesterol could be a culprit.
  • Vitamin D is made by the body from cholesterol, which is crucial to bones and nervous system function.
  • Cholesterol is actually heart protective, it helps ward off heart disease and cancer. It is also an important antioxidant, protecting us from harmful free radicals.
  • Cholesterol is vital to babies and children, as it is absolutely necessary for proper brain and nerve development. This is why mothers milk is so rich in cholesterol.
  • Aggression, behavioral problems and depression are linked to low cholesterol levels, as it is needed for proper functioning of our serotonin receptors (the "feel good" chemical in our bodies).
  • Dietary cholesterol is necessary for gut wall integrity, and without enough we can have impaired digestion and/or leaky gut syndrome (see previous blog post for more info on this).

Uffe Ravnskov, M.D. in his article, "The Benefits of High Cholesterol," states that "People with high cholesterol levels live the longest." I know this statement is hard to believe, but Ravnskov goes on to site many studies that have been done proving there is no link between cholesterol and coronary heart disease, quite the opposite, in fact, that cholesterol (as mentioned above) is heart protective. Atherosclerosis is the plaque build-up found that typically proceeds heart attacks and/or strokes, and cholesterol (LDL, known as the "bad" cholesterol) is often falsely blamed for this, as it is found at the scene of the crime. However, this type of cholesterol is present to carry out its duty of protecting and healing these adhesions in our arterial walls, which were caused by (you guessed it) refined sugar and carbohydrates! Instead of recognizing these two culprits as the main cause of heart disease, the western medical world has invented (and made obscene amounts of money from) statin (cholesterol lowering) drugs. Interestingly enough, the side effects of these drugs include muscle pain and weakness due mainly to a depletion of nutrient Co-Q10, heart failure, dizziness, and cognitive impairment (remember the link between cholesterol and brain function). basically statin drugs end up causing the very symptoms we are seeking to avoid by "high" cholesterol. 


It kills me when people eat only egg whites to avoid cholesterol. Eggs are an incredibly nutrient dense food (it is of absolute importance to eat organic, free range eggs due to nutrient content) and the main source of these nutrients comes from the yolk. It is best to eat your eggs with a slightly runny yolk. According to Dr. Ed Bauman,

"egg yolk is rich in choline, a precursor to the acetyle choline, the brain neurotransmitter that keeps us alert, intellectually sharp, and with excellent short term memory problem solving abilities. Choline also keeps cholesterol emulsified, elevating beneficial HDL levels, while clearing LDL cholesterol. The cholesterol in eggs actually helps us to manage stress, as it is a precursor for balanced adrenal and reproductive hormones."

Other great sources of cholesterol are butter, ghee, and saturated animal fats (all from good sources, of course!). These should be mixed in the diet with other types of fat sources like olive and flax oils, coconut and avocados.

Remember, the most important thing in managing healthy levels of cholesterol is to eat a real, whole foods diet that excludes processed and refined carbohydrates and sugars. Also, managing stress levels are of great importance in managing cholesterol.

References and Recommended Readings:

"Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?" Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. Wise Traditions and Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, 2007

"The Benefits of High Cholesterol," Uffe Ranskov, M.D., PhD, from the Cholesterol Myths

"The Dangers of Statin Drugs: What You Haven't Been Told About Popular Cholesterol Lowering Medicines," Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Wise Traditions and Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, 2004.

Eat Fat Lose Fat, Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon

Friday, July 8, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato with Cinnamon Yogurt Sauce and Almond Butter

This is a great recipe for any time of day! Try in the morning for a warming breakfast. Remember to go for the full fat greek yogurt, or use any other kind of organic yogurt. If sensitive to dairy, try a goat or sheeps milk yogurt.
Servings: 2
By: Laura Rymar

2 large sweet potatoes
2 T almond butter
¼ c plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp maple syrup
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp orange zest
2 T chopped pecans
2 tsp ground flax seed, ground

1.   Preheat oven to 400F.
2.   Clean sweet potatoes thoroughly, leaving skin on. Wrap in parchment paper and then foil. Place in oven and cook for about 40 minutes or until soft.
3.   Meanwhile, mix yogurt, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup and orange zest together.
4.   When potatoes are ready, remove from oven and let cool.
5.   Split down the center and spread 1 T of almond butter each. Top each with generous drizzle of cinnamon yogurt sauce.
6.   Sprinkle each evenly with chopped pecans and ground flax seed.