New Year, Same Me? Reflections and Moving Forward

December and early January flew by as always. I did my usual December baking creative joy – a new thing I baked this year was Stollen, the Christmas bread originating in Germany. It’s an enriched bread meaning it usually contains more butter, eggs, and sugar, and also features candied citrus, almonds, raisins and spices, and the like. I spent a weekend candying my own citrus peels before the baking commenced and that in itself was a fun adventure.

I adapted my cinnamon roll dough – and dropped the sugar to not too much, per a few traditional recipe comparisons. It was absolutely delicious and turned out well, and I loved it so much that after two loaves, I took some of the same add-ins and incorporated them into a regular yeast whole-grain loaf without the extra enrichment.

We’re finally getting back to “regular season” bread around here as my somewhat dormant holiday-season sourdough culture has been back in action. I make about one loaf every couple weeks, usually.

Otherwise, we enjoyed an easier version of Biryani, the Persian/Indian rice dish, to celebrate New Years Eve, and promptly began dozing through an old episode of All Creatures Great and Small before 9pm. We’re not much for New Years Eve celebrators, or maybe we just don’t have enough of a reason to stay up into the wee hours in the last few years, but it was nice to wake up to a new day and year refreshed and having slept well, even with all the intense fireworks that went off at midnight. 

Now that we’re firmly in January, I’ve been reflecting a bit about the direction of this blog and my newsletter

I began the blog and recipe sharing very shortly after I graduated from my undergrad degree in 2009 – feeling inspired to continue my creative joy for writing and food (I did initially begin college as an English major, which eventually became an English minor – and either way, that basically means I enjoyed a fair bit of writing on the way to a degree.) 

My first blog was not a recipe, but a food story about picking cherries and making my dad a cherry pie. My mom had come to visit at the end of school – not being one for celebrations particularly, I skipped graduation and signed up for one of my teacher examinations instead – and after the visit to my house and to pick cherries in our rental front yard, we took  a trip together to the coast. I remember now that I was an absolute teenager on that trip (even though I was not), with all the petty and huffy responses to my mom that a teenage girl could give. We did a tour of one of the lighthouses which was really enjoyable, and I got all irritated at not finding / remembering the “right” restaurant along the Newport bayfront for a brunch. We ended up at a fine enough place instead (truthfully there never have been great restaurants for breakfast along the bayfront so I don’t know what I was looking for), and I was huffy and irritable all throughout the meal. In retrospect, it was really dumb and colors an enjoyable trip in a negative way. I did not feature that story in my first blog post – just the idealism that came before and after it.

With the transition to providing nutrition consultations through Hope Wellness, I’ve spent less time curating recipes and articles for this website and newsletter, and may eventually abandon the project entirely. (You’re welcome to sign up for the Hope Wellness newsletter which I write and publish half of the time). But this also remains a space that has morphed with me as I’ve shifted and grown. I’m not quite ready to walk away completely. It may be an educational space for you – or an inspirational one for food and lifestyle shifts – but it’s still and to this day a space for creative joy for me. 

Beyond that, let’s speak to New Year Resolutions for a moment. 

I don’t particularly aspire to them, but there’s also something about the collective momentum and freshness of a new year to wipe the slate clean and begin something new, or at least refresh an intention or habit shift we’ve been working on. 

I’ve spent the last couple years refining my morning routine so I set a better foundation for my day, and my priority for this season and year is to continue cementing the consistency I’ve accomplished with that. Not striving for perfection, but getting back to consistency as soon as possible when the routine goes astray for a day or a few. 

I show up internally and externally, as a more grounded, clear-minded, better person when I start the day with breathing, prayer/meditation, and a little yoga (more breathing and getting into my body, and out of my head). 

That space in my head is the entire intention for the practice. 

And in fits and starts this past year, I’ve begun playing the piano again. By the time I left home at 18 for college, I was fairly good at the piano and could play several advanced pieces. It took until the end of 2021 to have my childhood piano in my possession again, and after a couple months to rest before I got it tuned to play, I dipped my toe in. 

Like pulling a long ago language from the depths of my brain, I had to first re-learn even the basics. And because the piano bench is a time capsule to the early 2000’s, it was disheartening to see where I was in 2005, and to start nearly back at the beginning to relearn again (which C is middle C again?

My intention with the piano is to keep up the consistent playing: a few minutes, a handful of times per week. Nothing too out of the way – consistency being the most important thing. 

The goal for playing is not to get to the point of “being really good,” but to be able to sit down and play an enjoyable song without stretching my brain so hard that it’s more work than pleasure. 

It’s a continuation of the creative joy I spoke to above about food and writing.  

Beyond that, I have a couple long-term and ongoing intentions with my nutrition and running: chewing my food better, single-tasking while eating, preparing meals in a way that is most supportive of my digestive system, as well as race goals and more community in running. None of these are particularly dramatic, new, or different than before.

I’m all for subtle and slow, yet significant shifts over time.

If you’ve read all that I’ve rambled on about by now, I’d love to know about your end of year / beginning of year. What’s going well with you? What are you working to maintain or shift?

If it’s food and nutrition related, can I help? And if it’s getting to finding some space in your head or more creative joy, I’d love to hear about your own process. 

Iron Deficiency + The Athlete: Part II

If you recognize the food on the left side of the plate above as red lentils (a red lentil soup), then you may also know it to be a rich source of the mineral iron. 

I’ve written about iron in detail before, but a recent research paper on  impaired iron and endurance athletes reminded me that I need to periodically review this topic. 

Nearly all of my female clients in the past few years have come to me with iron deficiency, iron-deficiency non anemia, or iron-deficiency anemia. This has been true whether they are endurance athletes or not. And whether they’re highly active or not.

Here’s a refresher on the difference between those three:

Stage 1: Iron Deficiency: Iron stores in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen are depleted, indicated by ferritin values less than 35 ng/mL, Hemoglobin values > 11.5 g/dL and transferrin saturation >16%

Stage 2: Iron-Deficient Non-Anemia: Red blood cell production decreases as the iron supply to the bone marrow is reduced, indicated by ferritin values less than 20 ng/mL, Hemoglobin >11.5 g/dL, and transferrin saturation < 16%

Stage 3: Iron Deficiency Anemia: Hemoglobin production falls, resulting in anemia, indicated by ferritin values less than 12 ng/mL, Hemoglobin <11.5 g/dL, transferrin saturation less than 16%. 

While iron deficiency may be much more likely in women, it’s not a female-only issue. 

It used to be that when there were signs, symptoms, and laboratory results indicating deficiency of a nutrient, I did just the typical nutritionist thing of recommending eating more foods rich in that nutrient, increasing bioavailable co-factors in the diet, adjusting timing of nutrient intake so absorption increases, and according to the circumstances, recommending varying amounts of supplementation. 

Generally, that’s a pretty good and standard game plan.  But to a certain extent in many cases, it was band-aiding the real issue. Or at least not getting all the way there. 

Why is nutrient absorption impaired in the first place?  Did the individual merely need to increase nutrient intake and we’d solve the problem? Was it just an issue of increased demand or not eating foods rich in that nutrient?

What I started finding was that even with continued intake of iron-rich foods, or in some cases high-dose supplementation, we’d still have low levels of iron (and often of other nutrients).

So what’s happening here? 

It wasn’t until I had continued professional training on gut health and malabsorption that I began having some personal aha moments. 

When I began addressing the issue of nutrient deficiency from the standpoint of improving the person’s digestion and absorption and calming the nervous system (which is so incredibly entwined with gut health), absorption of iron and many other nutrients drastically improved. 

We were finally treating the issue. 

Which is to say, that still doesn’t mean it’s easy. Figuring out which puzzle piece or perhaps multiple puzzle pieces of the GI system are impairing absorption of nutrients and digestibility of food can take some time and it can take some persistence. But it’s so worth addressing. 

Here are some factors that might be causing impaired absorption of dietary and supplementary iron and/or increased need.  Check all that apply for you. The more that apply, the more likely absorption and/or intake of iron will need addressed.

  • Female of menstruating years 
  • Endurance athlete
  • Digestive Symptoms – Pain, Bloating, Gas, Loose Bowel Movements, Undigested Food in Stool, etc.
  • Have low stomach acid (quite common and most people are completely unaware)
  • Follow a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based dietary pattern
  • Omnivore who avoids red meat
  • Fast eater or eats while distracted or stressed
  • Low estrogen or testosterone levels
  • Supplemental intake of other minerals at the same time as iron, not-including nutrient cofactors when consuming iron rich foods or supplements, and/or consuming foods and beverages that prevent absorption at meals rich in iron
  • Taking prescription medication(s) – depending on the medication if may impact nutrient absorption or change physiology so there’s an increased need
  • Lack of knowledge about how to eat a balanced diet or poorly planned dietary pattern
  • INFLAMMATION! – Particularly inflammation of the gut (may be asymptomatic or not obvious)

Want to Know More?

If you’d like a refresher on iron, check out my first article on this topic.

Need help with iron or absorption of other nutrients? Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you’ve struggled with chronically low iron or poor absorption of other nutrients, I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

What does Healthy Digestion Look Like?

What’s considered “normal” in our modern culture doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy or optimal. 

What are signs that your digestion is working optimally?

  • Healthy appetite 
    • being ready for a morning meal by 7-9 am, feeling hungry again 3-6 hours later and at steady 3-6 hour intervals throughout the day. 
  • Steady energy throughout the day
    • no fatigue or big drops in energy after eating or mid-afternoon, or difficulty waking up or getting going 30 minutes after waking.
  • One to three bowel movements daily, which pass easily and are formed like a banana
    • no visible food, mucus, fatty film, or off colors
  • Clear skin
    • free of acne, itching, inflammation, and rashes
  • Focused mind and inspired thinking
  • Your athletic performance is reflective of your training
  • Balanced hormones and menstrual cycle (if a menstruating female)
    • no PMS or menopausal symptoms

What are signs that your digestion is not working optimally?

  • Lack of appetite, or only tolerating very small amounts of food before feeling full 
  • Fatigue throughout the day, or crashes of energy after meals or during certain times of day; 
    • difficulty getting going in the morning
  • Sluggish or rapid digestion 
    • feeling hungry again within 1-2.5 hours after a meal, or like food sits in your stomach after a meal, resulting in excess fullness
  • Less than one bowel movement daily, difficulty passing a stool, or having to go multiple times per day
    • diarrhea, loose stools, deer pellets, visible food, mucus or greasy film; colors other than chocolate brown
  • Digestive Symptoms
    • bloating, gas, reflux, pain, cramps, gurgling, nausea, food intolerances
    • cravings for certain foods; particularly sweet or salty flavors
  • Skin Irritations
    • eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives, acne
    • tooth Indentations on the tongue’s edges; a white, black, gray or yellow coating on the tongue
  • Brain Fog or Irritability, Depression, Anxiety, Scattered Thoughts
  • Your athletic performance is suffering despite training, or you continue to encounter performance or training set-backs
  • Hormonal Imbalances and menstrual cycle symptoms 
    • PMS or menopausal symptoms 

Are all of these really related to digestion? 

The answer is yes! The ability to take food and break it down into nutrients, and assimilate it into the body to be used as energy is the basis for building healthy body tissue (and thus a healthy body!) The health of your gut microbial community and intestinal lining directly impacts your health, hormones, and ability to tolerate food.

Next Steps

Do you find indications that your digestion isn’t working optimally? Within my nutrition practice, I specialize in endurance athletes and digestive imbalances. If you routinely struggle with any of the above symptoms,  I encourage you to reach out to me for more personalized support.