Sh*ts women say

It is both amusing and disturbing to hear these from women as a strong girl, someone who hope to make women stronger and healthier. If you belong to these categories, feel free to ask me if you want to know what to do.:
– I can’t lift weights because I am too weak. (That’s why you need to lift weights, babe!)
– I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible. (Inflexible people should do yoga.)
– I just don’t know what to do. (enter the internet?)
– My biceps have gotten so big since I started lifting weights. (Hey, what about your belly?)
– I want to lose my belly fat this year so I do cardio every day. (That’s one way to make your belly bigger.)
– I want my arms to tone up so I will use the 3 lb weights. (Does your grocery bag every do anything close to toning your arms?)

Meh, what would I myself be complaining about?
– I shouldn’t try to lose weight because I am too fat. (Trust me, if mentality wasn’t involved, I’m the least likely person in the entire world to get lean.)
– I can’t do chin up because I am too weak. (Hello, it took me 8 months to get my first one.)
Plug into the equation the obese girl at the corner who is covered in sweat and gasped for air after 4 flights of stairs, who was always blowing her noses. That fat, unattractive, anti-social girl in grade school.

10th year as a scientist – lessons learned for health & fitness

2013 is the 10th year since I first grabbed a pipet and did real work in the lab. I ain’t saying this to boast. I’m only emphasizing that it’s been a really humbling experience.

Few things in life, however, were less disappointing than discovering that I didn’t know a damn thing. My pride was blown up to the size of a football field when I won a national science competition and a scholarship so I had thought I knew every single damn thing Biology could cover. It had shrunken to the size of a pinhead as I sat in a thesis defense on my first day and observed 7 professors interrogating the doctoral student as if they knew nothing.  The questions were deep, though; something along the line of “how did she find out this amino acid interacts with another amino acid at this angle?”. In fact, these brilliant scientists never stopped asking questions. The whole thing was just driven by extreme amount of curiosity.

If I couldn’t accept that I could have walked out, then avoided research forever and lived the rest of my life with my pride the size of a football field. But I stuck with it. And by sticking with it, that means failing 90% of my experiments for the entire year. Lots of late nights, sweats and tears. Science is freaking hard and there’s nothing luxurious about it.

10 years later I found myself weekly in a Naturopath’s office, attending classes on holistic nutrition, and even attending an expo where they sell chakra healing crystals. I have opted to use steam sauna over steroid creams to deal with my eczema. And I believe that chronic fatique is a real health problem that could be dealt with by lifestyle changes.

Every once in a while I get into arguments with people as I discuss my trying acupuncture, homeopathy, reiki, emotional freedom technique and the natural remedies through things. “But you are a scientist!,” they said. It was indeed because I am a scientist that I decided to try all of them. It is because I am a scientist that I start to question what doctors recommend to me. Conventional medicine make people accustomed to putting their health and lives in the doctor’s hands without even learning the reasonings behind what they do to us. If you ever look deeper into how doctors operate, you will realize that the whole thing is guestworks. Thus, you can get a completely different diagnosis and treatment from one doctor to another.

Science has a big place in my heart. I have always considered myself a scientist first and everything else second. From counting mosquito larvae to how different things kill them in high school to operating experimental robots in college and to really pursuing my doctorate.

Here’s a few catch of being a scientist.

1)   Few knowledge was discovered objectively. At least science isn’t typically done objectively, although it’s meant to.

I can’t properly count how many times I encountered the situation when the final conclusion of a research study was influenced by emotions, politics or someone’s desire to keep their job.

I just got off the podcast on Stumptuous.com where a researcher is trying to prove that some athletes die from drinking too much water rather than dehydration, and he faces (political) resistance to his finding.

2)   I don’t know an effing damn thing. We don’t. Accept it. The longer we are in the heights of academia, the more we realize we don’t know. It’s humbling.

Like I said, the longer I have been in science, the more I run into unanswered questions, and the more I am okay with it.

3)   I don’t need to know the entire story before trying a new thing. Because few things are entirely supported by science. Don’t expect science to be able to justify everything.

Scientists’ jobs are to ask questions, challenges previous studies or find gaps in our human knowledge and fill it. So, don’t be surprised if you want to validate a claim such as “GMO foods are unsafe,” and find literatures to support both sides of the argument.

Another aspect of this point is that few stories are simple. Like President Obama said (in his book “Audacity of Hope”), it’s almost always more than a soundbite solution.

4)   Everyone is different. We learn this in individual genetics, and our traits are influenced by environment. Hence, cookie cutter solutions will not always work. The only way to know how something (no matter how controversial) works for you is to try it yourself – systematically, and give it enough time to decide whether or not it’s good for you.

5)   I’m accustomed to information overload, and I have a good BS filter.

Textbooks that are so heavy they give you a workout are actually like a pin in a haystack of knowledge, and most of them are not on Google.

By the way, Google and Wikipedia don’t know everything. A lot of real quality information still requires payment or special privileges to access. It may be a good idea to check out a restaurant or a barber on the internet to see what other customers say. But when it comes to real knowledge for references, databases like Pubmed and ProQuest are still not providing 100% of their full-text content on the internet for free. Forget about validating health claims on Google. Simply because something is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.

One last good point that I learned is that many research publications (especially in nutrition) sell stuff. And you can look at different layers of information like who funded the research may influent the research outcome. Or anyone can always cite one side of the arguments to justify them trying to do or sell something.

This is not about conspiracy theory. Nobody is trying to dupe you by putting information out on the internet or by creating such a thing as search engine. Most of us have found helpful information on the internet one way or the other. I certainly believe that most of them have positive intent to do it. Ideally, scientific research should have the purity everyone assume it has, but it just doesn’t, and the problem is too scalably large to fix.

Ladies, get your cast iron on

It’s sorta ironic how it never crossed my mind to get a cast iron item into my kitchen until I became an iron pumper.

And I rarely have the cash to splurge on kitchen tools, no matter how much I love cooking. Most of my kitchen gadgets are hand-me-downs.

Back in my old world where dietary fat was an enemy, the big, heavy, black pan was my annoyance because I couldn’t lift it. It burns things much faster than my $10 STARFRIT nonstick that I got from Walmart, and it tended to stick if I didn’t add enough oil. And for some reason they seem unreasonably pricey.

My ex-boyfriend co-owned a restaurant where all the cookwares were cast-iron, despite the fact that all the employees are toothpick-skinny ladies. All the pans in his kitchen were cast iron which I could barely move. Plus, I kept burning things and getting the wrong consistently on all attempts to impress him failed miserably. I just concluded that I could not cook in his kitchen, period.

It clearly doesn’t take long for the STARFRIT pan to call it quit and start peeling off in layers. Soon enough foods started to stick to it. I knew that the peeling Teflon is probably toxic and carcinogenic but I held on to it because I was poor. I used it pretty much daily, from my morning omelette to the stirfry for dinner.

Years later I finally understand my ex-boyfriend’s obsession with cast iron cookwares in my class taught by a chef and holistic nutritionist Maxine Knight. She said that her favorite is cast iron because it conducts heat very well. The cast iron cookwares always last for generations. Also, the iron leaks into the foods, providing a source of dietary iron. She also said that aluminum should never touch foods because aluminum is toxic. The Teflon pans definitely peel, leak toxins into the foods and don’t last very long, which doesn’t make up for the discrepancy in the prices.

By then I have done enough iron pumping to achieve chiseled arms and enjoyed the increased strength enough to buy 10-lb bag of things, which saved me money. (I can’t be the only iron pumper with 40 – 50 lb of grocery on her bike, right? right?)

I also realized that I hate washing my nonstick pans because it is so fragile, and my hands get too dry in this weather. Cast iron would suit me well because I only have to rinse and scrub it in hot water without soap before greasing it with some oil.

That’s when I feel I’m strong enough to cook like a chef – as in shuffling cast iron pans like ninjas.

I went on a cast iron pan hunt, on the internet, of course. It surprised me that the price of the 12 inch cast iron ranges from the 20s to 100s. Being me, of course, I grabbed the cheapest one.

So far this baby has been the centerpiece in my kitchen. I cook pretty much everything with it. Well maybe except salads. I still need to speed up my kitchen action a little bit so not to burn things up, but I love the little crust I get when I brown my meats, burgers and garlic.

But I’m glad I’m strong enough to shuffle the pans around and not get annoyed by how the most important kitchen tool makes me feel too weak to be a chef.

Nevermind the fat. Fat doesn’t exactly make you fat, especially if you use a reasonable amount of coconut oil just to season the cast iron.

Seriously, if you are a female, you should get yourself a good cast iron pan. Whoever you are, you should toss out your nonstick pans.

To go organic or not organic when you are budget-tight

As a nutrition-savvy (but poor) person, I have been asked more than enough times about whether to go organic. And in the discussions, I participated.

Since my recent eczema breakout, the fact that anything I eat could put me in a hell of itchiness made me that much more careful about what I put into my body.

But prior to that, I have developed a strong base of habitually and spiritually nourishing my body with whole, nutritious foods. I learned how disgusting processed foods can be, so I have evolved to not touch them altogether.

With that, I was able to sustain my life with less than $50/week of grocery budget, on average.

Did you know you can get a bunch each of broccoli and spinach, a cabbage, a bag of carrot, 2 boxes of strawberries, a huge yam, a bag of sprouts, a pack of mushrooms for $12?

I loved scouring Chinatown and other areas that are cultural islands, because they often have awesome deals on fruits, veggies and everything. In addition, I still look at flyers from nearby supermarkets that arrive in my mailbox every week. I would be the first person to know when the common bodybuilding staples (chicken breasts, salmons, tuna cans, greek yoghurt, cottage cheese) are on sale. I stocked them up.

With the recent body transformation, I consume much more proteins and have to cut out all soy from my diet.

When I saw the genetic roulette movie (geneticroulettemovie.com), something clicked within me.

Back in high school, I worked on protein engineering research on a Bt protein (not the one you find in GMO plants, but a similar one). I have been told all these times that the proteins only specifically harm its target organisms.

Now, I learned that any foreign proteins engineered into crops can very well be a food allergen, and that may be why more and more people are having allergies these days. Even if they don’t know it’s an allergy, it may be some odd symptoms they can’t explain like chronic fatique, compromised immunity, food intolerances, or even infertility. That also explains why people are becoming more sensitive to corn and soy, which used to be sacred staple crops in many cultures.

A more striking thing is that most corns are genetically engineered to be resistant to a pesticide called “Round-Up,” which is a metal chelator. These corns are then very heavily sprayed before it gets into our food chains and fed to animals that we eat.

First of all, my stomach churned. What have I been eating?

Yuk!

Second of all, it gives me a reason to supplement with magnesium, calcium and other important minerals. Chelators make these minerals less available to your body, and it can sequester these minerals from other sources in your body.

Third of all, I switched to organic meat because it turns out to be comparable in prices with the supplements I would be paying for.

Fourth of all, I get my dirty dozens organic and mostly local.

My grocery bills went from $30 – $50 a week to $80 – $100 a week. I have to give up eating out for now because of my eczema.

It feels like a manageable increase for me.

Here’s a few catch about going organic

  1. Change is hard. It’s about building habits, ingraining it into your psyche and figuring out what works for you. It’s a lot more important and better to build yourself a good base of a whole food diet, and getting rid of non-foods than to go organic.
  2. You can very well get junk foods in organic stores, and that’s when your grocery bill will overshoot and why people think it’s a ripoff to eat healthy. It’s not.
  3. Superfoods are great but not necessary. They may be a ripoff. I admit I love them, though.
  4. There’s a few known issues about going organic that indirectly makes you better nourished nutrition-wise. Firstly, as mentioned above, you are less likely to be mineral deficient. Secondly, grass-fed organic animals have more omega-3 in their meats than their non-organic counterpart. Thirdly, eliminating toxins from your body depletes vitamins, especially vitamin B complex. Thus, it reduces the odds of you being nutrient deficient without supplementation. In the end, the cost of going organic may be comparable with the cost of supplements you may be purchasing.

And in case you think $80 – $100 a week grocery is a good deal. Here’s what I did:
1. I am not eating 100% organic. It’s a toxin-reduced diet. There’s no way you can go without toxins in your diet, anyway.

2. I located an organic food coop within my biking distance, and I get all my dirty dozens there. In downtown Toronto, I joined Karma Coop. I love the half-priced pile with less than attractive looking produces, as always.

By the way, apples are on the top for the dirty dozen because they are super heavily sprayed. Because organic apples are like $5/lb apples I eat now are the ones from the half priced pile. They are tricky to eat because I always find visitors inside of these apples. Protein source. Just so you know.

Spinach and kale from Karma coop are wonderful. I love the spinach in my smoothies and I make a million different things from my kales. They are organic and locals.

3. For the produces that are off the dirty dozen list, I still buy from Chinatown and other stores that sell local produces. I have established a routine of getting my local favorite produces from farmer’s market. 3 pumpkins/squashes a week for $5 makes me pretty damn happy. Pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin soups, pumpkin protein pudding, pumpkin cakes, roasted squashes.

4. I gave up all dairies from my diet, except for a stick of organic butter in my fridge and the odd parties when I slip up. There’s no need to drink milk because there’s enough calcium in my kale, nuts and other sources. I have my bloodwork to prove this to you if you want to see.

5. I eat less meat. There are other sources of (cheaper, less toxic) proteins like peas and grains, seed, and nuts.

I almost always buy organic meats from the discount pile. It’s the meat that made the grocery bill double because I still want to make sure my protein intake is about 20 – 30 g/meal and total of 120 – 150 g/day to maintain my muscles and strength. If you can do less, it’s easier and cheaper.

6. Animal fats are not epically bad for you, especially if you get it from grassfed animals.

I haven’t gotten fat by switching from chicken breasts to whole chickens, or pork tenderloins to pork chops.

I’m a carnivore. I like eating every single cut of meat and I don’t mind a cheaper cut. Again, my cholesterol numbers are wonderful because I exercise and balance animal fats with other good fats.

7. The ocean is not organic, so don’t spend money on organic seafood.

More and more seafood and fish are being farmed these days. These animals can still be fed corns, though, so go easy when you get farmed tilapia and salmons. They may be no different from conventionally raised chickens and pigs in terms of nutrition and toxins. Preferably, get wild caught seafood, limit consumption frequency and maintain variety.

How are you guys responding to the Prop 37 news and GMO labeling law?
What do you think about going organic?
Please comment below. Love to hear from ya. xoxo.