Health

For the Ladies: Instead Softcup Review

Fair warning: if you’re male, you can skip this post. In fact, you’d probably prefer to skip this post. If you’re female and you’re uncomfortable talking about your period, you should also probably skip this post. Why? Because this post is all about that delightful monthly visitor whose company we enjoy so much. Got it? Okay, then let’s get started.

 

Instead Softcup

Instead Softcup (Photo credit: Selbe B)

Sometime last year, I volunteered to try out and review the Instead Softcup, an opportunity I heard about through For the Love of the  Run. Softcup and FtLotR were offering runners a free box of the product and a free race entry in exchange for a review. It sounded like a great deal to me, so I signed up enthusiastically.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Softcup, here are the basics: it’s a “feminine hygiene” product (I hate that term but I couldn’t think of anything else to call it) that falls somewhere between tampons and menstrual cups when it comes to how it functions and how squicky it can end up being. It’s a very flexible, latex-free cup that you insert into the vagina in a way that allows it to sit and collect your (ahem) menstrual fluid. It can be worn for up to 12 hours, even on your heavier days. When you’re ready to remove it, you pull it out, wrap it up in tissue (and put it in the disposable pouch it came in, if you still have it) and throw it in the trash. It can be worn during sex, while you’re swimming, and has never been associated with a case of Toxic Shock Syndrome. All good things!

During my period, I tend to wear tampons during the day and pads at night. I get some fairly bad cramps at times, but my period is generally light-to-moderate and doesn’t really cause me too many problems. I’m not a big fan of tampons, though–the idea of putting something toxic in my body makes me uncomfortable, they create unnecessary waste, if I don’t insert them just right they can be painful…the list goes on–so when I heard about Softcup, I really wanted to like it. Like, a lot. I wanted it to replace tampons and pads for me, and change my life in the process. Okay, maybe changing my life is a tall order. But I did want to like it enough to use it exclusively. When I got my sample, I was actually excited about getting my period. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.

 

Image via softcup.com

Image via softcup.com

Softcup comes with instructions for how to insert the cup, and also explains how to dispose of it. It seems like a pretty simple process, and according to everything I read, if you’d inserted it correctly, you weren’t supposed to even feel it was there. The first few times I tried it, I made sure to bring back-up with me, just in case. I continued to do so after the first few times, because I still didn’t feel entirely confident. Even though I was following the directions and felt like I was inserting the cup correctly, I ended up narrowly escaping an unsightly leak more than once. Every time this happened, I made sure to check the instructions again and really pay attention to what I was doing when inserting the cup, but that didn’t seem to help.

I also found that even though I couldn’t feel the cup when I first inserted it, I could sometimes feel it after a few hours of wear. That just seemed awkward, and had me worrying that the Softcup was going to somehow find its way outside my body before I was ready to remove it. Call me crazy, but at the age of 31, I don’t want to end up being the subject of one of those “most embarrassing” stories in Seventeen. And speaking of removal, I’m not all that squeamish about my body, but there were a few times when taking the cup out was just a bit too much for me. For one thing, on more than one occasion while at work, when I pulled the cup out, it made an audible squelching sound. Yuck. Fortunately, I was alone in the bathroom. For another, it’s just going to be messy. And there’s just no good way to take the cup out, dispose of it, and insert another one without getting your hands dirty (pun intended?)–my period isn’t my favorite thing, and I just don’t feel like I need to be that up front and personal with it.

Overall, I found the Softcup to be hit or miss. When I felt like it was securely in place and doing its job, I liked it. But after a while, I became less and less confident in it and found that I didn’t want to have to constantly monitor what was going on down there while I was in the middle of doing something else. I ended up never wearing it during a run for that reason–I just didn’t want to get caught in the middle of the park trying to find somewhere to make necessary adjustments…and then have to find some way to clean things up! The thing is, I still really want to like it. I still haven’t given up on it entirely. I still wonder if I’m just doing something wrong, and I still want to figure out how to get it right. If all the work ended up with me finding a replacement for tampons, then it would be worth it. So: to be continued, I guess.

If you’ve used the Softcup, I’d love to hear whether your experience was anything like mine!

 

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Are You Calling Me a Liar?

Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences (Photo credit: kxlly)

A couple weeks ago, a friend of a friend hooked me up with a sports psychologist-in-training. She’s working on getting her clinical hours completed, so she’s started counseling. Because I have awesome connections was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I’ve started meeting with her for an hour, once a week. It’s been eye-opening. I mean, I knew I had some baggage when it came to running in general, and setting and achieving goals in particular. She was able to identify this about me within the first ten or so minutes of our speaking.

During our second session, we talked about the runner I see myself as being versus the runner I really am. In what may come as a shock (or not, if you’re really paying attention), when I envision myself as a runner, I am much more committed, consistent, and capable than I really am. The thing is that it’s not a question of confidence, it’s more a question of denial. I set my goals and establish my expectations based on what the ideal runner should be doing (according to me, anyway) instead of what’s going to help me to progress and move forward at the right pace. The result is that I end up stuck in a pattern of setting high expectations and then feeling discouraged when I can’t meet them. The trick is that in order to break that pattern, I have to be honest with myself and accept the runner I am right now.

After that major revelation, I started to wonder if I could apply the same principle to other parts of my life. Was I trying to lie to myself about other things, or was running the exception? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am a complete and total liar! Okay, maybe not liar, since that implies intentional and even malicious deception–let’s say I am truth-averse. I am completely and totally truth-averse! Examples of my truth-aversion:

  • I am not hungry right now [said over my growling stomach], I just ate [lunch, three hours ago].*
  • Why do I always feel so thirsty? I drink plenty of water!
  • Yeah, I eat really well most of the time [which means I am heavily reliant on bread and dairy, with vegetables and fruit being mostly secondary and sometimes completely omitted]
  • I am not tired [even though I don’t have the energy to do anything]!
  • I do yoga regularly [I can’t remember the last time I did yoga more than once a week, and I certainly can’t remember the last time I did it even once a week for several weeks in a row]

Erm. It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit all that, which is probably why this is the first time I’ve really let myself do it. But I’m pretty sure that if I keep on living the life of someone I’m not, I’m going to remain pretty unhappy. I think it’s time to start being honest, and accepting that it’s okay to make decisions based on what’s actually true instead of what I wish were true. It’s a pretty radical idea, I know, but I’m going to try it. Don’t even try to stop me.

 

*I should note that I’m sitting here writing this thirsty and hungry.

 

I said, “Brr, it’s cold in here!”

Ordinary hexagonal dendrite snowflake, highly ...

Ordinary hexagonal dendrite snowflake, highly magnified. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s go from talking about shorts and warm weather to talking about the post-run deep freeze phenomenon! The weather’s been all over the place lately, so I feel like my blog topics might as well be, too. There’s something zen in there, right? Being in harmony with nature?

A couple weeks ago, putting on shorts triggered all kinds of unhappy body image demons for me; yesterday, they let me off the hook as far as emotional pain is concerned, and I wish I could say the same for physical pain. To be fair, I can’t put all the blame on my shorts, especially since I’m the one who forgot to put on Body Glide before heading out for a long run. My inner left thigh is still a very, very angry red color and the pain is not something I will soon forget. As you can imagine, I was incredibly relieved to be able to wear a pair of capris on my run this morning. Was I totally pain free? No. Did I at least feel better than I did at the end of my run yesterday? Yes.

Unfortunately, wearing capris on a run is, in my case, a sign that the temperature has dropped (usually into the 40s although I do sometimes wear them when it’s in the 50s. Capris are my favorite), and when the temperature outside drops, the temperature in my body seems to go with it. Whenever it’s on the cool side, I have to be extra careful about how long I spend exposed to the elements once I’ve stopped running. Not long after I finish running, my lips begin to turn a rather disturbing shade (unless you enjoy looking like a corpse), my skin gets covered in goosebumps, and my body starts shivering convulsively. I’ve gotten used to it at this point, but as I sit here describing it, I realize it sounds a little bit scary. On days when it’s cold, my post-run routine includes taking a hot shower and piling on layers of warm, dry clothing. If I can, I’ll get under a few blankets. Sometimes I’ll drink some tea as well. It can take a couple hours for the chills to go away.

Is this normal?

Honestly, I have no idea. Judging by the fact that I was approached by a race volunteer after my first marathon and told I should probably get medical attention because I looked hypothermic, I sort of think it might not be. But apparently it’s not that far from normal, so that’s comforting, right? The Internet is surprisingly deficient when it comes to the relationship between exercise and body temperature; however, I was able to find an article (albeit a short one) that offers an explanation as to what causes the body temperature drop:

After you stop exercising, the rate at which your body produces heat decreases, while the mechanisms you use to dissipate heat remain in operation until your core temperature returns to its normal level. Your core temperature doesn’t drop below normal levels, however, unless another health condition is involved. Normal resting core temperatures can range from 97.7 to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It may take a little time before elevated temperature during exercise returns to normal.

I’m not doctor, but this seems plausible. On the other hand, I want to believe that a drop in body temperature is 100% normal and absolutely nothing to worry about–I mean, who wants to find out that there’s something wrong with them? Not me, anyway. Is it possible that since I’m normally pretty cold (it’s not unusual for my hands and feet to feel cold as ice, even in the summer) I’m just more susceptible to chills after a run?

Oddly enough once it gets warm out, I feel like I never stop sweating during and after a run. It’s entirely possible that my body just likes living on the edge, and I’ll always be a woman of extremes. It would be nice if those extremes didn’t involve either chattering teeth or dripping sweat, though.

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Living by the Numbers

Scale model

Scale model (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

Last week, while still in the grips of a very bad few days, I did something I hadn’t done for about two years: I pulled out the scale and weighed myself.

I don’t know why I did it. I knew at the time that it was a bad idea, and I hadn’t had too much trouble studiously avoiding the scale since being advised to stop weighing myself when I started recovering. As I was pulling it out from its “hiding place” (which has always been lame–it’s underneath the couch in our studio apartment), a little voice inside me was saying, “It’s not a big deal. It won’t bother you. You’ll just find out how much you weigh, and then you can go back to ignoring it. It’ll be fine! Just do it, just step on the scale!” Somehow, I managed to convince myself it was alright. And then I stepped on the scale, and before I even looked at the number, I regretted it.

The thing is there’s no way I could possibly have not regretted it. There’s no way in which the idea could have been anything other than a bad one. As far as I’m concerned, no good can come from knowing my weight. If I feel like I’m too heavy, it’s bad because I end up wanting to lose weight; if I feel like I’m where I want to be or below, I end up getting obsessed with staying at that point, or continuing to dip lower. It’s a battle I know I can’t win, at least not at this point in my recovery.

Ever since I weighed myself, my feelings about my body and my weight have been nothing but negative. I feel more self-conscious than I did before stepping on the scale, and instead of paying attention to how my body feels (am I hungry? full? tired?) and acting accordingly, I’ve been thinking in terms of my weight and letting it determine whether it’s a good day or a bad day, or whether I’m exercising enough or not. For a while now working out has meant a lot more to me than looking a certain way or fitting into a certain size; I run to feel good, deal with stress, spend time with friends, and do something I love. Getting to this point has taken effort, and it’s something I’m really proud of. But over the past few days I’ve taken a few steps back and slipped into thinking about exercise to lose weight.

The effect those numbers have had on me makes me think of how I used to feel when I would go for a run and feel like I hadn’t run fast enough or far enough based on what my Garmin would tell me. A “good” run had more to do with the numbers on the watch than the way I felt when all was said and done. Now that I’ve run largely Garmin-free for a pretty long while, I find that I’m much more focused on the way running effects my mood, and how good I feel to run a few miles regardless of the pace–choosing to stop living by those numbers made an enormous difference for me and put me back in touch with all the best things about running. Now the bad days are much fewer and farther between, and when I do have them, I dwell on them much less than I used to.

My mood and my attitude about my body shouldn’t be dictated by what the scale says, and next time I feel tempted to get on it I’m going to remind myself of that fact. There’s nothing to be gained from knowing my weight, and I’m much better off working on getting things into balance emotionally and physically and keeping them there. I know it will take me a while to get over the way I’m currently feeling about my body, but I’m glad that now I can at least recognize that I shouldn’t try to measure my happiness and satisfaction in pounds.

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Natural Beauty is the New ‘Look’ [Embrace:Me]

Well, score one for all of us who have been hoping that the unrealistic standards of beauty our society obsesses over would go the way of the buffalo. It turns out that natural beauty is the big new thing! Has a new day dawned? Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of feeling bad about our inability to look like supermodels? Can we finally breathe a collected sigh of relief, relax, and start feeling good about ourselves?

Um, no.

Come on. Did you think some kind of miracle had occurred?

Health (magazine)

Image via Wikipedia

According to an article from Health.com, ‘natural beauty’ is in. It sounds so promising. I want to be happy about it. But I’m also skeptical about the feel-good potential of any article that comes from a website where the top fitness stories are titled, ‘Moves for a Better Body’, ‘Burn Fat With Ballet’, and ‘5-Minute Fat Burners’ (and let’s face it, that could be so many health and fitness websites targeted at women. It just so happens that those are the headlines from Health.com, but are they any different from the ones you’d find on Shape or Fitness?).

As it turns out, the kind of natural beauty that we’re all supposed to sport this season is just as contrived as any other beauty standard. Flaunt your freckles (but don’t forget to cover up other imperfections with powder)! Let your teeth be natural (but don’t forget to whiten them)! Don’t blow-dry your hair (but make sure it’s wavy)! No word on what we’re supposed to do if we don’t naturally have freckles, or our eyebrows are naturally thin, or our hair is pin-straight. I guess if that’s the boat we’re in, then we don’t get to hop on the natural beauty trend…because we’re not naturally beautiful. Maybe we could fake it by filling in our anemic eyebrows, drawing on some freckles, and having a friend knock our teeth crooked?

The thing about natural beauty is that it isn’t meant to be defined by any kind of parameter. Indeed, beauty isn’t meant to be defined by any kind of parameter. Often the things that are most beautiful are appealing and attractive for indescribable reasons. Unfortunately, once the media latches onto some idea about what beauty is, we all forget about the value of uniqueness and difference in beauty, and immediately start feeling pressure to conform to a standard that a team of marketers probably dreamt up in an office somewhere so that they could sell more lightweight bronzer and tinted moisturizer.

The media touting a new idea of beauty–one more “natural” than those from the recent past–is, sadly, no sign of change, and certainly no marker of a new era. Instead, it’s a campaign that’s just as insidious as the rest, an attempt to create a set of ideals against we measure ourselves, and can’t help but come up short. And to that, I say tchah. Let’s make 2012 the year we all stop caring about what other people define as beautiful, and find out what’s beautiful to us. What could be more natural than that?

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The Problem with Food

As I write this, I’m trying to sit through the very uncomfortable feeling of fullness that accompanies eating. Just trying to process the discomfort–which, in my case, is both physical and emotional–makes me realize that it’s not only been a while since I’ve tried to sit with these feelings, but it’s also been a while since I’ve blogged at all about my relationship with food, eating, and hunger.

Junk food copy

Image via Wikipedia

I wish I could say the silence was because I had nothing to say. Sadly, though, that’s not the case. What’s more accurate is that I’ve had a lot to say, I’ve just been avoiding having to say any of it. Moreover, in avoiding saying it, I’ve avoided dealing with it. I’ve been working to maintain a healthy, balanced diet over the past few months, but I haven’t really succeeded. Instead, I’ve struggled off an on with feeling like I’m not eating too much, and then feeling like I’ve eaten far too much. Most of the time lately, I think I’ve been in the latter category. And that, I think, brings us full circle to where things stand right now.

About an hour ago, I had a late lunch: a bowl of penne pasta with vodka sauce. Nat brought it home for me after being out for a little bit, correctly predicting that in his absence, I hadn’t eaten. I’d had some pretzels (and what I consider a surfeit of junk food–a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, and a salted caramel blondie, the last of a package of four Nat brought home on Friday). I wasn’t particularly hungry when I ate the pasta, and now I feel almost sick to my stomach as a result of eating it. I felt obligated to, though. And therein lies the problem with food, especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder.

Food, I think it’s safe to say, is widely viewed as a means of comfort; it’s the centerpiece of family meals, a way to show sympathy in difficult situations (just think of how common it is to cook a casserole for a neighbor when someone in their family passes away), and a method by which people care for someone who might not be able to do the care-taking themselves. But seeing it in that context doesn’t make it any easier for me to want to have anything to do with it. And in fact, all it really does is add a level of complexity to the act of eating that I really just don’t need in my life. When I’m presented with a package of blondies because I had a long day at work, I’m grateful for the emotion that spurred the purchase. I can also appreciate the motivation behind coming home with ready-made pasta and a huge slice of red velvet cake. But I have a very hard time when I then have to deal with the fact that I’m meant to do something with these gifts (specifically: eat them). At times like these, I can’t help but feel burdened by a sense of obligation, guilt, and expectation. If I don’t eat the food that’s presented, I’m not only rejecting a present that’s been offered, I’m also caving into my illness.

Perhaps the hardest part of all of it is how difficult it is to explain to someone who doesn’t have similar feelings about food the reasons why I’d prefer not to have to deal with edible gifts, especially given how appreciated and accepted they are by others. How do you tell someone you don’t want a plate of cupcakes or cookies on your birthday, or that you’d prefer meeting for coffee instead of going out to dinner? When you’re in the minority, it can be really hard to express to people that what they consider a warm, friendly gesture has the potential to come off as somewhat uncomfortable or thoughtless to you. Obviously I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or accusatory, but it can be tiring enough when normal interactions with food are stressful. When you add the dimension of social obligation or expectation, the entire thing just becomes a mess.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to get people to understand that although I appreciate the thought, I would prefer not to come home to find a slice of cake waiting for me. Or is it possible that as someone with admittedly disordered behaviors and thoughts about food, I should be responsible for adjusting in such a way that makes gifts like these more welcome? When (or if) I figure it out, you will all be the first to know.

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Book Review: Why Women Need Fat

One of the benefits to being a member of the BlogHer publishing network is that you have the chance to do occasional book reviews, which can be pretty interesting. When I got an email from BlogHer in December about Why Women Need Fat, I thought it sounded like something that might be relevant to my blog content, and decided to opt in on doing a review. In the interest of full disclosure, I am receiving compensation for this post from BlogHer; however, the views and opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and entirely honest.

Image via Amazon.com

Why Women Need Fat: How “Healthy” Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing it Forever was published in December, 2011, and is written by a MD and a PhD. The fact that both authors are men makes me wonder why they refer to “us” in the subtitle of the book, and touches on one thing about the book that got under my skin as I was reading it: the focus is exclusively on women, and I’m not entirely sure why. A lot of the information the authors discuss, and the “surprising solution” they propose, is applicable to anyone. It’s true that there is an extensive amount of information on women as child-bearers, but I’m not honestly sure why the book couldn’t have been written for an audience of both men and women. The only thing I can really think of is that there’s greater sales potential in marketing a “weight loss” book (because even though this book kind of acts like it isn’t one, it really is) to women rather than having it appeal to both women and men.

All that said, the gender dynamics in this book were weird. Like I mentioned above, there is a huge focus on women needing to have a certain amount of fat (and a certain type) in order to bear healthy children who will develop large brains. The authors devote so much of the book to this discussion that as a woman who is choosing not to have children, it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Obviously I am aware that the ability to bear children is unique to females (well, in most species, anyway), but in this book it felt at times that the message was that if you’re a woman who doesn’t want children, you’re not really a woman. I’m sure this wasn’t deliberate, but the authors’ emphasis on women’s weight and its relationship to child bearing made it seem as though women have few other roles to fill in life. As I read through this part of the book, I couldn’t help thinking about how weird it was, and how uncomfortable it made me. It was just so gendered.

The central idea in the book is that the American diet, with its heavy reliance on processed foods and vegetable oils (particularly corn and soybean oil, which are in nearly every processed or packaged food available in stores), is responsible for our excessive weight gain. Their theory is that the weight gain itself is due to the imbalance of Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids that arises from a diet high in vegetable oils; essentially, Omega-3s are good for us, and Omega-6s are bad. Vegetable oils contain huge amounts of Omega-6s, and the more Omega-6s we have, the less effective our Omega-3 fats become. In order to return to normal weights, we need to lower the amount of Omega-6 we consume, and increase the amount of Omega-3, in order to bring the two fatty acids into balance. This can be done by eating more whole foods–fruits, vegetables, nuts, grass-fed meats, and dairy products–and by limiting the amount of processed, packaged food in our diets. The evidence they provide to support their argument is compelling, and the section of the book in which they go over this information is really interesting.

Beyond that, however, a lot of the material in the book is really repetitive. I consider myself pretty well-informed when it comes to nutrition and the way our bodies process different sorts of foods, so it may be that someone who is less familiar with information of this nature will find a lot of the information in the book helpful. To me, though, the book could have been boiled down to a long article, with the crux being the information about Omega-3s and 6s, and a suggestion about how diets could be changed to achieve the necessary balance. Instead, this book is 304 pages long, and gets a bit boring because you feel like you’re reading the same thing over and over. Something said on one page will be said a page later, but slightly rephrased. After a while, it gets a bit tedious. In addition to that, it bothered me that a book that contains so much useful information, as well as a section on why dieting doesn’t work and why your body has a set point when it comes to weight, also had a lengthy section on how you can lose weight by adopting healthier eating habits. The main focus of this portion of the book was not on rapid weight loss, but on a healthy return to the body’s “normal”/set point weight, so at least there wasn’t as much of a “lose weight now! here’s the key to being thin forever! your life will be amazing if you just lose all that pesky fat!” as a lot of other diet books have. I wish, though, that there had been more of a message about focusing on health and feeling good, and less on losing weight. But I guess it’s weight loss that sells, not health and wellness.

In many ways, this book is just another bit of damning evidence against the corn and soybean industries. To a certain extent, the authors aren’t really saying anything new; Michael Pollan and documentaries like King Corn, or Food Inc. have been promoting a whole foods approach to eating for years now. But that’s fine, since we need as much information on how disgusting processed foods can be as we can get. Hopefully in another few years, the information in books like this one will be standard knowledge, and we’ll all be leading healthier lives as a result.

If you’re looking to learn more about the effects of processed foods on the body, or if you’re interested in the authors’ theory about Omega-3s and Omega-6s (which is interesting), then I’d recommend this book. If, on the other hand, you already know a lot about these issues, you could probably skip it without missing much.

To read what other BlogHer members are saying about Why Women Need Fat, go here.

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