Category Archives: Wellness

Going With The Flow (Mindful Menstruation)

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Warning: The following post is about the menstrual cycle. If you are uncomfortable with the words menstrual cycle, period, uterus, vagina, blood, ovary, fallopian tube, VAGINA, then I don’t suggest reading on.
I want to share my thoughts about a woman’s monthly cycle. Specifically, I am going to talk about the ways that I  handle my period without using pharmaceuticals, synthetic pads and tampons, and birth control.

I was partially inspired to write this post by a booklet that I own titled: “Sacred and Mysterious: Healing Wisdom and Herbal Lore For Those Who Menstruate” by Brittany Wood Nickerson.
I will pull on a few different herbal remedies that I have found to be useful.

To begin I will give a brief run down of the menstrual cycle just so we are all on the same page.
The start of a woman’s cycle is known as her menstrual period and typically lasts 4-7 days. This is when the thickened lining of the uterus (endometrium) begins to shed. After the lovely times of blood and cramps are over the ovary gets ready to release an egg and the uterus builds its lining back up. Around day 14 the matured egg is released from the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube  where it awaits its sperm in shining armor. In most cases said sperm is not present so the unfertilized egg hangs out in the uterus for a bit then breaks apart. Hormone levels drop and the uterus prepares to shed its lining once again signaling the start of a new cycle.

Typical girl from a tampon commercial. I don't know about you but this does not correctly encompass how I feel when I'm on my period.

Typical girl from a tampon commercial. I don’t know about you but this does not correctly encompass how I feel when I’m on my period.

That was just a very brief insight into what it means to menstruate. I left out most of the gory details but the reality is that having a period is not always about eggs and fallopian tubes. For me, having a period means cramps (my uterus literally shredding itself apart to get rid of the dead tissue),  voracious mood swings, acne, wanting to eat 15 reese’s peanut butter cups in one sitting, countless pairs of favorite panties ruined, tampons that run a risk of toxic shock syndrome, pads that feel like a diaper, and birth control being pushed on me by parents, doctors, and friends.

I don’t want to have to fight my body. Menstruating is something that nature intended so I am learning how to “go with the flow” so to speak. Here’s how I deal:

Raging Hormones: Hormones fluctuate wildly during all times of the month. Before ovulation I might be feeling like a sex goddess tigress on top of the world. Then within a few days the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone post ovulation make me feel anxious, depressed, irritable, and overwhelmed.
I find the two most important things that help curb these extreme fluctuations are food and exercise. It’s hard to sum up exactly how to eat right in just a few sentences, but I feel like it should be a pretty intuitive thing. Your body already knows what it needs, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to listen to it. Exercise should not be brushed off either. Whenever I feel that overwhelming sense of frustration that can come from nowhere else but my hormones I slap on my running shoes and just try to break a sweat. It always makes me feel better. My herbal booklet recommends several tonic herbs (basically another word for tea). These are two of my favorites:
Red Clover Blossom“Red clover nourishes the hormones and helps restore hormonal balance, providing relief to symptoms of menopause and premenstrual tension.”
Oatstraw/Milky Oats: “When taken over time, oats help to nourish and rebuild the nervous system and improve the body’s ability to cope with the everyday stress of life. Consistent consumption can help to curb anxiety, nervousness, irritability, and exhaustion.”

Acne: Right around ovulation is when a lot of women experience a breakout or a single pimple in the same area of the face. I’m still learning how to deal with this one, but it is all linked back to hormones. The most I can do at this point is to make sure I am washing my face enough. My skincare is pretty basic at this point. I’m done with using harsh facial scrubs and suds. I use Dr. Bronners as shampoo and soap for my whole body including my face. I moisturize with an unscented lotion or some coconut/olive oil. Once a week I’ll do a facial with an egg and whatever else I have in my fridge (yogurt/honey/lemon/oatmeal/ etc.) I notice when I don’t eat sugar my breakouts tend to be very small/non existent, but I work in an ice cream shop, so this might be one thing I just have to cope with.

Sweet Cravings: And speaking of sugar! The week leading up to my period is when I have crazzzyyyy cravings for anything with sugar. I’m not a big candy fiend so chocolate is usually my go to choice. Seriously, I wasn’t kidding about the 15 reese’s in one sitting. The thing about succumbing to these cravings though, is that it is not going to do anything to alleviate the chemical reaction of those pesky hormones (aka make the cravings worse.) But rational explanations will not pacify the pms monster. In these situations this is how my thought process usually goes:
Me sitting on the couch doing something on the computer, reading a book, or maybe even mid conversation when…
Hormones: Chocolate
Brain: Okay hormones try to eat a piece of fruit before you do anything rash
Hormones: There might be a year old chocolate bar in the back of the cupboard
Brain: You don’t need to go there. Wait, why are you getting up. PUT THE HERSHEY’S DOWN STEPHANIE
Hormones: Numnumnumnumnum sugar chocolate so good
Brain: And you call yourself an evolved human being

One of my typical cravings

One of my typical cravings

Sometimes it’s a losing battle, but having a small stash of high quality dark chocolate (with sea salt… mmmm) on hand never hurts when the craving strikes. The herbal booklet recommends bitter flavor therapy. The idea is that increasing bitter flavors in the diet (such as kale, collards, dandelion greens, lettuce, mustard greens, broccoli, parsley, watercress, and arugula) will enhance liver function which in turn regulates blood sugar levels. This can also be done with herbal bitters (tinctures) taken in water.

Cramps: If I were to start an all-girl combat boot wearing punk band we would be called The Menstrual Cramps. Cramps happen during the first few days of the cycle when the uterus is shedding its lining. The pain ranges from mild to severe. Some women don’t have cramps at all. Some have them so bad it is acute to labor pains. I never had a problem with cramps during the first four years of my period. It was after high school when I stopped playing sports (meaning I was exercising 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week) that I began to get pretty severe cramps.  My doctor recommended 600 mg of Aleve (Active ingredient: Naproxen) every 12 hours when I needed a pain reliever. Compared to most pharmameuticals, Naproxen, Ibuprofen, and Ketoprofen (the three drugs commonly used to counteract cramps) are pretty safe to use, but my stance on pharmaceuticals is that I don’t want to take them unless I really need to. If there is another way for me to treat the problem using a natural home remedy, then I would rather do it that way. So far I have had a 100% success rate when it comes to treating cramps the natural way. The supplement that I started using recently is Rainbow Light Food Based PMS Relief Dietary Supplement. I found it at a natural food store by my house. Mainly any supplement you use for cramp relieve will contain some antispasmodic herbs such as Rosemary, Catnip, Ginger, St. John’s Wort, Dandelion, the list goes on) as well as vitamins (E and B6 for example) and minerals (magnesium and chromium) which give total body support. I have also taken just a magnesium supplement and some fish oil caplets and that has done the trick. Compared to taking Aleve, which just masked the pain, I feel like taking herbs and vitamins did more to help the actual process of menstruation.
Also a side note* When I stopped consuming animal products I stopped getting cramps completely and my cycle was the most regular it had ever been (28 days on the dot.) I’m not advocating a vegan diet because I’m not even vegan, it is just an interesting side note I thought I would share*

Tampons and Pads: If you’re like me you might think that tampons and pads are a necessity and that there is not a lot that can be done sidestep this fact. But alas! Gone are the days where the only two options are diaper-pad or chemically laden synthetic tampon. Here are my problems with pads and tampons:
-They are expensive. I usually end of dropping $10-20 every month on pads and tampons
-They are not environmentally friendly. Pads and tampons (as well as wrappers and boxes) wind up in landfills and don’t break down.
-They are not safe. Pads and tampons contain harsh chemicals and are usually cheaply made from synthetic material such as bleached rayon, cotton, and plastic. That is going directly into your vagina. A friend told me that something “the kids are doing now days” is soaking tampons in alcohol in order to get drunk (I was pretty horrified by this) but it works because whatever is in the tampon will enter directly into the blood stream. That made me really ponder how safe it is to be putting this chemical concoction in my system.
And even besides that fact menstrual blood is absorbed into the pad/tampon and then sits for hours, creating a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

There are alternatives to this. Before running away in horror at the thought of a menstrual cup watch this video. It changed my perspective.

Another alternative which I was pleasantly surprised to see at the store was sea sponge tampons. They are honestly only a bit more expensive then the nicest box of tampons, but they are reusable for six months and they are about as natural as you can get. I think that’s pretty awesome.
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Even though there are other ways to go besides pads and tampons, they are what most of us grew up using, and they are extremely convenient in an emergency when your cup or sponge isn’t on hand. In that case look for 100% cotton pads and tampons.

Birth Control: The final topic I will address is birth control.
I had a pretty bad experience with birth control so my opinion is somewhat one sided. Most of my friends are on birth control, and the main reason isn’t to avoid unwanted pregnancy, it is to help regulate their period. Taking birth control gives one complete control over whether to even have  period or not.
I can’t say whether or not birth control is right or wrong, but it is pretty creepy and likened to Brave New World if you really think about it. I went to a gynecologist when I was thinking about going on it. She was extremely pushy bordering forceful and so I took her prescription and tried it out for about two months. It was absolutely awful. I gained weight, I got pretty bad acne, I felt terrible and just something didn’t feel right about taking this tiny white pill every night. I felt like I was trying to control my body, but it just made me confused. It’s true, I was able to control my period and even skip it all together if I wanted to, but it didn’t feel like it was good for me. After I stopped taking it I had my period for 9 days. I realized from then on that my body is not something I need to have reigning control over, it is my link to nature. It’s no coincidence that a woman’s cycle is the same as the moon. I just need to listen to it and appreciate it for what it is.
moon-5-lovely-woman

Resources:
http://women.webmd.com/tc/normal-menstrual-cycle-normal-menstrual-cycle
http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/menstruation.cfm
http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/a-month-in-the-life-of-your-hormones-107587
http://www.wikihow.com/Decide-About-Using-a-Menstrual-Cup

5 More Reasons to Avoid Sugar (From a Beauty Perspective)

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The more I hear about the white stuff, the more I think that it should be eliminated from the diet completely, or at least consumed in infinitesimal portions.
I never realized how toxic sugar is because I grew up eating it. Cookies, candy, chocolate bars, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and all of the other devilish Cs made regular appearances in the kitchen. The sugary sweet stuff tainted my taste buds. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the counter while my mom was baking cookies and sticking my hand in the sugar bag then licking it clean. Sugar made everything taste better. A spoonful helps the medicine go down right?
The reason I was able to so readily believe this is because I am young, and I can eat all of the sugary doughnuts my heart desires and not see the effects just yet. But the more I read about sugar, the more I realize just how destructive it can be.

The Breakdown:
There are several types of sweeteners
♦Cane Sugar
♦Raw Sugar
♦White Sugar
♦Brown Sugar
♦Honey
♦High Fructose Corn Syrup
♦Agave

There is much debate about which is the “better” sugar to eat. Super refined sugars have tons of chemicals added to them and are stripped of all nutrients, so in my opinion it is probably not better, but certainly less harmful to stick to natural (aka unrefined) sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. Keep in mind that any type of sugar will cause a spike in insulin levels. My rant today is mainly about processed sugar.

There are a seemingly infinite amount of reasons to avoid sugar that range from diabetes to its addictive drug like qualities. In a nutshell, sugar enters the body void of any nutritious value whatsoever and extracts nutrients in order to make up for it’s deficiencies. So it not only brings nothing to the table, it also takes away valuable nutrients that the body needs. Think of annoying Uncle Ernie who shows up at thanksgiving, eats half the food, makes everyone uncomfortable with some pervy jokes, then passes out on the couch in a turkey coma. That’s sugar.

It’s not easy to avoid the stuff though. Some of my favorite foods have sugar as the first or second ingredient. Creme Brulee? Frappuccinos? Even Kombucha. And I can usually rationalize it by telling myself “Okay this one cookie isn’t going to give me diabetes” which in retrospect is true, but using that rationalization is dangerous when sugar is lurking at every meal. I find it helpful to remember that I love my body and I don’t want to undo all of the goodness I put into it, both inside and out. So here are five more reasons you might want to remember the next time that cookie is staring you down.

1. Aging- There is a slew of sciencey stuff that can explain why it is that sugar is linked to aging. I won’t break it down on the molecular level but I can tell you that I have experienced this first hand.  One morning after a “sugar hangover” I looked in the mirror and literally jumped back. For a split second it looked as if I had aged twenty years! Upon closer inspection I realized that I had just imagined it, but my skin definitely lacked it’s normal glow, and took on a dullish grey tinge. It was not flattering. Even my eyes weren’t as clear as they usually were. I knew sugar was the culprit.

2. Acne- Another direct correlation that I have experienced first hand. During my first year of college I was eating absolute crap. I hated the food in the dining commons and I was too lazy to hoof it on the bus to go buy groceries so I pretty much lived off of reeses pb cups and gummy worms from the vending machine. ACK! My skin was constantly breaking out from all of the sugar. Again sugar makes it impossible to have a clear complexion

3. Weight Gain– This one is given. The idea of carbs making you fat or fat making you fat are both debatable ideas. Overconsumption of sugar leads to weight gain. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. At the end of the day sugar is just empty calories and those empty calories have to get stored somewhere.

4. Teeth- Have you ever sucked on a lollipop or drank a soda and felt a film of sticky grainy stuff on your teeth? That’s sugar breaking the enamel down and creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and plaque to build up. Hello yellow teeth and cavities. Your teeth are awesome at masticating food for you. Give them a little love! Brush, floss, and remember that they don’t appreciate sugar.

5. Vitality- That ever elusive word. I think that vitality is someone’s overall well being. It is that luster that makes them glow, that sparkle in their eye. Vitality is in a person’s smile, the way their hair shines, the overall energy they put out. Sugar will put a serious damper on all of the above.

I will leave you with this thought. All things in moderation, but just be conscious of how certain things will affect your body. Ask yourself: Is this really what I want? The answer might surprise you.

Root chakras and deodorant.

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I just got back from traveling around Oregon and down to UC Santa Barbara. It seems like I have been gone for way longer than a few weeks. I am now back in Berkeley and find myself overwhelmed. The vibes in Bezerkeley are so different than anywhere else I have been. Up in Oregon I felt the need to eat and sleep a lot which are root chakra activities. In Santa Barbara I felt like I wanted to party every night and go to the beach and be a social butterfly.
In both of those places I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do. In Santa Barbara especially I felt very in touch with my heart, and I wanted to talk to people with out putting up a facade. 
Since I got back home two nights ago I have been feeling so out of it. Ungrounded is a tricky thing to define, but more or less the characteristics of an grounded person are that they are focused, practical, organized, and present. An ungrounded person is more of a space case, they tend to float through life, and are often distracted or “not all there.”
This is more or less how I have been feeling. Last night I ripped my favorite shorts on a chair, dropped my laptop off of my bed, and stubbed my toe all in a span of about 5 minutes. I’m not sure if it’s a result of my environment, or if I just feel overwhelmed because it is time for me to get a job and start applying for school, but I feel as if I am being pulled in three different directions, and I cannot stay on the path that I want to be on. But at the same time, whatever path I am on is exactly the path I am supposed to be on. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was on a very specific train of thought in my time in Oregon and especially Santa Barbara, and now that I’m back home I feel like this train has turned into water and it is slipping through my fingers.

It’s a confusing time ladies and gentlemen.
Do you ever feel like this? What would you do in this situation?

Here are 5 things I did (and plan to do) today to help me get grounded
1. Listened to Muse
2. Took a deep breath. Took another one.
3. Ate a salad
4. Went on a walk
5. Wrote this blog post

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I also bought some amazing-smelling deodorant.This is totally off topic and completely reaffirms everything I just said, but I feel like telling the world. I stopped using popular brands of deodorant because they use aluminum to clog the pores under the arm. I’ve tried a few brands such as Tom’s and this other water roll on stick thing, but they just didn’t work for me. The one I bought today is tea tree lavender scented by earth science. It smells like faeries.