Accepting Imperfections

There have been a lot of changes in my life in last several years.  I am very grateful for all of the experiences these provided, and for all of the success along the way. I have also learned a few lessons that only came from acknowledging my flaws, admitting mistakes and accepting my own imperfections.
Accepting imperfection has been a lesson I have learned over and over and over again. As a high school athlete I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best. Most of the time I was not, but I still worked my ass off to try and be the best. In college I kept working out like I was training for the biggest event of my life all because I was striving to have the perfect body. No matter how much weight I lost (which was never very much), or how much weight I gained (which happened more than I preferred), I was never satisfied with myself.
This focus on imperfection has carried itself well into my adulthood. Admittedly it has taken on many different variations, but nonetheless, if there was just one more thing I could change, then I would _________ (fill in the blank with any number of responses). And, if you are being totally honest with yourself, how often have you felt this way, just one more thing to change before you actually feel good about yourself, feel worthy or good enough?
Now I actually have a much healthier relationship with my body and I like to think I am a little kinder to myself in general. I tend to focus more on how I feel, rather than how I look. Sure there are still times I wish I could find the perfect pair of jeans that fit my waist, hips and quadzilla thighs that do not require a set of air squats until they fit just right. I would like to be less emphatic when I get riled up about something, so that people don’t look at me and say, “whoa,” or worse, “calm down.” Through some of these imperfections though I have discovered a few things that I really like about myself. I have great shoulders and the strength to do some killer push ups. My thighs are very muscular, which allows me to ride my bike and go for long walks.  And of course all of the energy I release when I get riled up about something is simply a manifestation of my passion.
Today I am learning to accept a new set of imperfections. I am starting my own private practice as a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, which means I am becoming a business owner. I am building my own website, writing my own blog, sharing more of my own stories than ever before. I am feeling very vulnerable at times, inadequate at other times and super excited.  I read through my previous blog posts and see 45 things I should have done differently or that I should fix…from typos to poor word choices, bad grammar and foul language.  For right now though I am going to continue accepting these imperfections and focus on the lessons to learn, rather than what is wrong.
Instead of ending this blog post with my top five tips for some food, fitness or fun strategy, I am going to ask that you too accept imperfections.  I ask that you accept my imperfections and give me a little wiggle room for learning how to develop my skill sets as an entrepreneur and how to build your trust.  I also ask that you accept your own imperfections, give yourself a little wiggle room for learning your own lessons and being more comfortable than perfect.

Calcium Without Dairy

If you follow any part of my real food approach, then you already know that I do not do dairy.  While I really like a warm, stringy, cheesy stuffed pepper as much as the next person, I do not like the zits it causes.  Other people do not like the gas and bloating it causes, and still others do not like the ache of their inflamed joints or the constant drip of their runny nose after consuming dairy.

The good news, there is hope for the masses who choose to live dairy free.  If we make educated food and beverage choices, then we can get much of the calcium we need from foods and beverages.  Short pause for a mini-disclaimer.  I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose or treat illnesses or diseases.  This information is for informational purposes only.  It is your responsibility to see your healthcare provider to determine the status of your bone health and create a plan to prevent or treat your own ailments.  Okay, let’s move on…
We already know that calcium is super important.  It is a mineral important for maintaining strong bones and teeth.  What many do not know though, is the small fraction of calcium in the blood is kept in a very narrow range, and is important for blood clotting and regulating muscle contractions such as your heart.  
Dietary Reference Intakes (aka DRI) from the Institute of Medicine is 1000 mg for adults 19-50 years old and 1200 mg for adults 51-70 years old.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need 1000-1300 mg. 
One of the main reasons dairy is recommended as the primary source of calcium is due its bioavailability, which simply means how much of the calcium in the food or beverage is available to be absorbed by the body.  Dairy provides the highest percentage of bioavailable calcium when compared to vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  This is because plant-based sources of calcium also contain nutrients that inhibit absorption of calcium.  These are known as anti-nutrients, and include oxalates and phytates.  
On the other hand there are other nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin D and boron that work along with calcium to enhance absorption. So, all of that to say…it is still possible to get calcium from plant-based sources by eating an abundance of different kinds of plants.  I eat over a pound of vegetables every day.  It does my body good.

The Diary Nutrition website has an awesome chart that puts the concept of bioavailability into perspective.  For example, it takes 3.2 cups of kale to provide the equivalent amount of calcium available in 1 cup of milk.  So, the point here is for those of us who do not or cannot consume dairy we must mindfully select foods, beverages and possibly even supplements to ensure we are getting enough calcium for optimal health…and you know how I feel about optimal health…it feels good and looks good, so it must be good.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but that is intentional.  Please understand that if we do not include food group that has  a significant source of nutrients,  then we must replace those nutrients in other forms.  That requires planning and expanding our culinary horizons.  Bacon and eggs taste great, but are not necessarily going to save the world unless we combine them with a  heaping pile of vegetables to add color, goodness and, of course calcium.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting calcium if you don’t do dairy
  1. Eat at least 1 serving of vegetables at every meal.  This is equivalent to 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw vegetables or 2 cups of leafy greens.  Work up to eating a pound of vegetables daily. Check the references at the bottom of this post for lists of foods that contain calcium.
  2. Try selecting seafood options with tiny little bones that are safe for consumption.  Those bones are filled with calcium and minerals and all the goodness we need.  The other great news is that these foods are more bioavailable then plant-based sources.  For an added bonus they also contain protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, protect our heart and do other great things for us.
    • 3 ounces of canned salmon with bones contains 170-210 mg of calcium
    • 3 ounces of sardines contains 370 mg of calcium
    • 3 ounces of canned mackerel contains 250 mg of calcium
  3. Drink homemade bone broth.  Oh the goodness coming from bone broth is infinite.  It is filled with minerals and collagen.  It even has properties for healing and maintaining joint and gut health.  Stay tuned for a future blog post on this topic.  For now you can check out the Wellness Mama for her take on this good stuff and to get her recipe.  I prefer to make my bone broth in the slow cooker and love this post from Team Nutrition Genius.
  4. Add plenty of nuts and seeds to your diet if you can tolerate them.  A great snack might include 2 ounces of tahini (sesame paste) blended with 1 cup of sprouted garbanzo beans and garlic, salt, pepper to taste.  This is also know as humus and pairs really well with carrots and celery…yum!
  5. Check with your healthcare provider to determine if you need to supplement.  We can only absorb 500-600 mg of calcium at one time.  If you need a higher dosage, then split it up throughout the day.  You may also want to check out why Chris Kresser recommends eating your calcium rather than popping a pill for it.
And now for one last consideration.  There are products fortified with calcium, such as orange juice,  non-dairy milks, breads, cereals and crackers.  None of these are a part of my real food pantry for several reasons.  First, these items require a lot of processing that removes their natural goodness and adds in nutrients that did not exist before.  Second, all of these items include additives, preservatives, added sugars and other ingredients that most of us cannot pronounce.  Some of these ingredients can be difficult to digest, cause irritation and can lead to a leaky gut.  The added sugars also increase blood glucose.  If your body is anything like mine, then this sends me on a blood sugar roller coaster and inevitably I am hangry later.  Lastly, many of these products have shelf lives longer than my natural life. I do not trust food that does not go bad. 

So, once agin have no fear.  We can have strong bones and meet our calcium needs by eating real foods, even if we do not eat dairy.  Choose wisely and contact me at for your own nutrient assessment.

That’s it for now.  Hope this helps.
A Guide to Calcium-Rich Foods, National Osteoporosis Foundation.  Accessed at
Calcium and Bioavailability, Dairy Nutrition.  Accessed at 
Calcium Content of Foods – UCSF Medical Center.  Accessed at
Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, November 2010.  Accessed at 

Vitamins & Minerals Health Centre, WebMD.  Accessed at 

How I Got Rid of Adult Acne

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Even thinking about adult acne makes me cringe.  I mean really, anyone who has had big, fat, red zits as an adult can relate to the pain and even embarrassment of the unsightly blobs.  My story is unique to me, because the last time I checked every physical body is different from another.  There may still be parts of my experience to which you can relate.  For those of you with acne who cannot relate to my story, keep reading! There are some strategies for acne-management that are still effective for you.
So, my zits were cystic and red and painful.  They were hard round bumps that wouldn’t just go away either.  Zits as a teenager came and went for me in like 2 or 3 days.  As an adult they lingered, sometimes for months.  I’m not kidding.  It was awful.  The discoloration of my skin was a reminder that haha, puberty might be over, but your hormones are still all jacked up.  I just wanted to flip off mother nature while sarcastically saying, “Thanks for the experience.”
The first round of adult acne came in my mid to late 20s, perfectly timed right before I got married.  At the time I was not fully integrated into the nutrition and functional medicine world as I am now, though I was resistant to taking oral medications for it.  So, I decided to see a dermatologist, who quickly prescribed multiple creams that most teenagers use.  Guest what, they didn’t work.  Why? Because hello…I was not a teenager and, although I didn’t realize it at the time my acne was not a dermatological problem!  The retinol A was so harsh on my skin that it made other areas breakout in red, itchy splotches. Round 2 of treatment came in the form of blue light therapy to which I did not respond well.  On top of the treatment itself, I had to take steroids to control the inflammation and ran a low grade fever for several days.  People were also scared to look at me for a good 2 weeks, during which time I got more zits.  That was so frustrating, and I was mortified at what I had done to myself.  The dermatologist office said it was just a bad reaction, but it was still “normal” and recommended that I come back in for another treatment.  Um no thanks.  Like any polite, skeptical patient, I just ignored their recommendation and never went back.  So, after that I tried Proactive, which also didn’t work…duh…read the ingredients.
As I continued to seek solutions for my acne I also started noticing other signs of dysfunction.  My blood sugar would drop too low after workouts and big meals, so my level of hangry was off the charts.  I was stressed out all the time, worked too much and studied too much. I also had a bad habit of working out like a crazy person.  And to bring it all together my menstrual cycle was unpleasantly unpredictable.  For some one who wants to be the epitome of healthy, there was a lot of shit going wrong.  Excuse my language, but I don’t feel hormone imbalances and adult acne are polite, so I don’t want to be polite when discussing it.
I finally found an osteopathic physician with a functional medicine approach.  After changing my diet and taking a ton of supplements I finally had better control of most of my ailments and happily discovered my skin was clearing up.  The good news is this lasted for several years.  The bad news is I did not maintain all of those lifestyle changes and I got a fresh round of zits 8 years later.
Fast forward to now, when I have a master’s in dietetics, an obsession with functional medicine and access to quality food and supplements, and I am cured!  Well, maybe cured is a strong word.  I now have an understanding of what causes my zits and how to manage it.  I have also gone through cycles of being willing to make necessary changes and seeing good results, then getting lax and living with more zits.
So, what’s my deal?  I have poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).  Approximately 5-10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS.  There is not one singular test that diagnoses PCOS, rather it is a cluster of symptoms that may include weight gain, hormonal imbalances such as insulin resistance and excess androgens (fancy way of saying higher than normal testosterone levels), excess hair growth in unsightly areas (chin, upper lip, areolas), acne and multiple cysts on ovaries or enlarged ovaries.  I’ve experienced all of these symptoms at one point or another. What’s even more exciting is that the hormone imbalances also cause mood swings and some of the more notable signs (excess hair and acne) really took a toll on my body image.
So, what did I do about it?
  1. Work with qualified health professionals to get the support I need for determining which changes are most important and what supplements may be most helpful FOR ME!
  2. Eat more fresh vegetables than any other type of food.  I use the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 to guide me through the world of organics.  I eat a minimum of 1 serving of vegetables with every meal.  Most days I consume over 1 pound of vegetables.
  3. Limit fruit, avoid all fruit juices and shun all sugar sweetened beverages.  Fruit is not bad because it contains a lot of great vitamins and minerals and it has fiber…yay fiber!  Fruit does have a lot of naturally occurring sugar though.  Because I have had insulin resistance and fluctuating blood sugar levels I do not need to add to the problem by dumping more sugar into it and making my body work harder.  I typically eat 2 servings or less of fruit each day.
  4. Consume grass fed, free range animal products and wild caught fish.  Conventionally raised animal products contain added hormones to increase the rate of growth and size of the animal.  Clearly I do not need extra hormones, since as I mentioned earlier mine are all out of whack.  Grass fed, free range or pasture-raised animals have some other health benefits, such as higher amounts of essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation and vitamin K2, among several others. (Explaining all the goodness of vitamins and minerals will have to be saved for another blog post.)
  5. Drink more water and less alcohol, in fact, avoid alcohol most of the time.  I do not drink heavily, but I do enjoy wine and hard cider.  I love dark beer, but don’t drink it anymore because it contains gluten.  Alcohol itself is an endocrine disruptor, which is another fancy term with a simple meaning and basically sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride which is hard to control for several days after consumption.  The beauty of drinking more water is that it helps us get rid of a variety of toxins.
  6. Avoid dairy, gluten, soy, nuts and seeds. 


·      Dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities.  Dr. Sara Gottfried provides a great overview of dairy’s effect on hormones and health in The Hormone Reset Diet.  Approximately 75% of people cannot make the enzyme, lactase, needed to breakdown lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk.  It is a major cause of inflammation for many people who are sensitive to a specific milk protein known as casein. Conventional dairy has also been linked to rises in growth hormone and insulin, both of which trigger fat deposition (increased weight gain) and blood sugar dysregulation.  For me the bottom line is I get zits.  No amount of scientific evidence is as strong as my own personal experience.
·      Gluten is found in barley, wheat and rye.  It is a food glue used in a gazillion different processed foods, most of which we are completely oblivious to because the food label does not say gluten, barley, wheat or rye.  Gluten itself is a protein that provides structure to many baked goods.  Unfortunately, it too is on the list of the top 8 most allergic foods.  The problem is our guts really do not know what to do with gluten.  When our guts are not working perfectly, which let’s face it most of our guts are not, gluten damages the tight junctions that maintain the integrity of our gut lining.  When the gut lining is damaged the large gluten molecules can leak out of the gut and into the blood stream and cause a variety of reactions, such as skin rashes and acne, dry coughs and brain fog just to name a few.
·      Soy, nuts and seeds are all plant-based food sources that may be very healthy for other people.  For me though, these foods contain an excess of phytoestrogens.  This plant-based version of the hormone estrogen found in the human body exacerbates hormonal imbalances.  In my case it further increased estrogen dominance and made PMS symptoms even worse.  I’ll spare you the details of my monthly discomforts, but suffice it to say I can control them through mindful eating and managing my hormones.
Let me also be super honest and say that despite knowing this information and understanding all of the science (which I did not include in the blog post…waiting on my future book deal for that…kidding), I still stopped and started dairy like 14 times.  I am also well-aware that I have been “glutened” while dining out and on very rare occasions have knowingly consumed it.  It also took me the longest to even recognize that I am not able to tolerate nuts and seeds.  The bottom line is that this is a lifestyle change.  It comes with the traditional learning curves of any change and has led me through a number of successes and failures along the way.  All in all, I have learned a great deal about myself and how food affects my health.
Since I am still alive and well I cannot say “the end” to this story.  The journey continues, but for now I am done sharing.  Go forth and prosper, and I will do so gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free.  Be well.

Exciting News!!!

I am working on developing a new website that will host the Grateful Guts blog along with other nutrition and wellness services.  I will be taking a short break from blogging while the website is being created.  You can still find me on Facebook and on Instagram @Grateful_Guts.  Stay tuned for more info!!!