Visit to Centennial Gardens

I visited the Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park twice recently, early September and 3 weeks later. What a difference a few weeks made! They had starting to cleaning things up for Fall and cut back plants. The first time I was sweating miserably with the humidity. On the second visit, Beta had brought us 12 inches of rain and it was cooler. I could see the change in the flowers. They had perked up and the roses were starting to bloom again. Here’s what I captured with my camera.



What I’ve learned about Covid and Fat Burning

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“Show me a single person under 65 without a serious underlying disease or immune deficiency who ended up in the ICU who had been categorically avoiding vegetable oils for the prior 5 years and you’ve proven me wrong” said Dr Cate Shanahan M.D. who is a board certified family physician and the former director of the LA Lakers Pro Nutrition program. When I heard her say this, this got my attention! I knew the most serious cases were often people with underlying conditions such as kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and an immunocompromised state, but I had’t heard anyone talk about vegetable oils.

Dr Cate went on to talk about the Hateful 8 vegetable oils that are important to remove from your diet because they cause inflammation in your body. Those oils are canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed and rice bran. It’s not that these oils are inherently bad, but they are highly processed and become unstable in the body. These oils have grown exponentially in our diet in the last 40 years and there are quite a few doctors talking about the link to health conditions and PUFA consumption.

As Dr Cate talked about vegetable oils, I remembered my nutritionist Ashley had recommended a couple years earlier that I avoid these oils to reduce inflammation. Dr Cate recommended making your own salad dressing and looking at your snacks like crackers and chips. I had stopped making my dressing over the last year because I was bored with my recipes. When I looked at my salad dressings and snacks, 90% of them had the oils I should be trying to avoid. So I started cleaning the pantry out! It’s true you should have a little PFA, like 1%, but Dr Cate said you can test your fat and some people have 25-30%. I have been cooking a good bit during the pandemic, but this was a wake up call to try to cook most of our meals. Her full article on the oils is here.

I was intrigued as Dr Cate mentioned the research that showed vegetable oil makes us sugar addicts in articles and presentations online. I wanted to know more, so I ordered her book The Fatburn Fix. I had gained 5 lbs over the last year and wanted to understand fat burning from her perspective. This book has had a big impact on my thinking but is chock full of information. I will highlight key points that were meaningful to me and encourage you to read the book if you want to know more. I’ll summarize what she is saying in her words as much as I can and add my personal experience along the way.

The first step is to remove the vegetable oils from your diet (listed above) so that you can burn fat. She has a list of the good oils to use and snacks that are made with those oils on her website.

Then Dr Cate talks about how burning body fat promotes weight loss and burning sugar does not. She defines sugar as fruits, pasta, potatoes, bread made with flour because they spike your blood sugar. Of course, most people tend to think of candy, cookies, cake, ice cream which are very high in sugar.

I didn’t realize our blood stream carries only 16 calories during normal blood sugar. We don’t have a lot of space to store blood sugar only the liver can release it back into the blood stream. Most people have about 200 calories worth in their liver which will last a few hours at a desk job. Fat stores can fuel you for days. If you eat more than a few grams of sugar, then it is stored as fat. If you eat fruit, bread, snacks, then it forces our hormones into fat building mode. Sweet tasting foods intensify your desire for sweets and create sugar addiction.

Unhealthy Hunger. Do you get hangry? Dr Cate talks about unhealthy hunger which is is characterized by anxiety, brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, headache, irritability, nausea, shakiness to name a few. I used to feel this way. I used to have a terrible hunger that would make me irritable and was often hungry in the morning. After reading her book, I know that I had an addiction to those foods that raise your blood sugar. Over the last couple years, I feel better through diet changes, but I realized there is more that I could do.

Dr Cate talks about how Unhealthy Hunger can cause desperation eating and can cause executive dysfunction. Executive function is things like planning, organizing, and prioritizing. If you can’t perform executive functions, then it could impair your ability to plan your meals.

Diabetes is a spectrum. She looks at diabetes on a spectrum and says it is basically blocked fatburn. Hypoglycemia is first symptom which leads to insulin resistance which leads to prediabetes which leads to diabetes. Those unhealthy hunger feelings listed above are examples of the first stage, hypoglycemia.

Fasting blood sugar. Your fasting blood sugar is the reading when you first wake up in the morning. All healthy people have the same set point but when your metabolism is damaged the set point can’t be maintained. The set point is regulated by the brain and pancreas and normally they are the same. When your fatburn declines, your brain is in an energy crisis. Your brain wants more sugar and instructs your liver to release more which raises your fasting blood sugar. The pancreas is telling the fat cells to take the sugar out of the bloodstream and releases more insulin, so the body is fighting itself. The brain wins because it has a direct neuronal connection to the liver. Dr Cate describes this as profound metabolic disturbance which elevates blood sugar and builds fat which causes weight gain in many.

Mitochondria and cell energy. Mitochondria are the engines in your cells that create energy and they are fuel flexible. Sugar is not a good fuel for your cells because it can’t be increased very much during exercise and stress. Carbon dioxide that is released from glucose can acidify and damage your mitochrondria. Ketones generate more energy than sugar. Ketones can be made from body fat giving you extended energy. Protein can be used and certain cells in the small intestine may require amino acids for fuel. There’s an abundance of amino acids in the bloodstream in the form of albumin, but few cells use albumin for energy. A complication of protein fueling is gout when uric acid forms in the joints and causes swelling.

Debunking Protein Myths. Don’t I need carbs before a workout so I don’t break down protein? In a nutshell, if you fuel with sugar before a workout, you’ll block fatburn. Don’t I need protein 30 minutes after a workout? You have 24-48 hours after a workout to consume protein for muscle growth. Don’t I need lots of protein to build muscle? Eating excess protein will be stored as fat.

Why the news on Fat keeps changing. She goes into details about how our Dietary Guidelines are developed and influenced by special interest groups. In studies where they say saturated fat is bad, they don’t usually clarify what kind of saturated fat they are talking about. Dr Cate goes into great detail about fat and talks about why we still believe saturated fat is bad due to Ancel Keys. He was an eel physiologist who said his research proved saturated fat is bad, then falsified his data to maintain his claim.

Fatburn Quiz After Dr Cate goes through the science, there is a Fatburn Quiz about halfway through the book. I took her quiz and scored as a Fatburner, not elite, but a fatburner nonetheless. I knew that I had made progress on my carb addiction but wanted to work on a few things.

Phase I and Phase II plans. She has a Phase I dietary plan for those who need to repair their metabolic damage and get them ready for weight loss. In this Phase II, she recommnends fasting to get in touch with your true hunger by skipping a meal or time restricted eating (7 hour window). In the beginning, she recommends one day a week then you can work up to 2-3 days in a row. I’m not sure if I will be doing this.

Things Dr Cate said that Surprised Me

Seek out salt. It helps with digestion, bones, improves energy, and reverses insulin resistance. She recommends a 1-2 tsp a day. I’ve been trying to avoid salt for years. Now I have added Himalayan Pink Salt to my collection and find myself sprinkling it on everything!

Don’t exercise to lose weight. It doesn’t help that much and you will be in trouble if you have an injury and can’t exercise. It is good for your heart and muscles. Some people can exercise the right amount to keep their weight in check, but she says they tend to be exercise fanatics. (Dr Cate was a runner who was addicted to sugar.)

You should be able to kick back your hunger as an adult.

There is no such thing as a fast metabolism, the goal is a flexible metabolism.

My summary. I never wanted to go low carb, because I really liked my carbs. Also I am one who felt weak when I try to cut carbs, also known as the keto flu. But after reading her book, I knew I would benefit from making changes.

My strategy now is have a low carb breakfast and lunch, then have some carbs at dinner. Dr Cate said when people eat carbs at breakfast, they tend to crave them all day. I think that’s true for me as well. Morning could be eggs and bacon or pea protein drink with almond butter. Lunch is a salad with chicken, avocado and homemade dressing. At dinner, protein with vegetables and starches. I sleep better if I have some carbs at night. I avoid snacking and wait 4-5 hours between meals to allow the fatburning process to work. Ironically, these meals are what Pam Owens encouraged me to do during Precision Nutrition. I did it a little, but wasn’t fully bought in at that point.

I started with this approach 3-4 days and gradually have gone to 6-7 days a week. I wondered if I would be able to jump rope and have enough energy, but so far it’s working! I have more energy in the afternoon and don’t get the drowsy feeling when I was eating more carbs. I have lost 7.5 lbs so far. I focus a little more on eating my vegetables with this approach and keep the carbs around 50 grams. Perhaps this will help someone if they are considering making some changes. Let me know your thoughts!



How We Improved our Book List

Why are we reading this book? Who suggested it? Do you ever get those questions in your book group? We didn’t get them often, but they did come up.

My friend Cathy started our book group about 14 years ago. It started as a social group for working moms at our church. The intention was to discuss good books, have some wine and catch up with friends. In the beginning, we would pick books at a meeting. Whoever could be there would suggest some books, then we would pick a few books for the upcoming months. With everyone’s schedule, it was difficult for some to make the meetings. As time went on, there were questions about the books and who was picking them.

In 2013, we decided to use a survey. The members nominated books and I created the online survey. The first time, I used an average rating for the survey. We quickly learned that it was hard to different between 20 books with the average rating. We didn’t get enough statistical spread. The next time, I used the ranking feature which means they have to rank ALL the books. This year, we had 28 books to rank. Not everyone likes the method because it is time consuming and it requires taking a look at all the books. The upside is the quality of books have improved and everyone can give their opinion. We keep it anonymous until books are finalized. We now pick books once a year and our group keeps growing and growing.

The question I get these days is what are you reading in your book club? Can I have the list?

Current book list for 2020-21

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera

Happy reading!



The Serenity of a Japanese Garden

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As I approached the lake in the garden, the ducks started swimming my way. I had to keep my eye on one when I turned my back to take a photo. Good news, I wasn’t chased! I wished I had bread in my pocket for them and the koi.

The garden is part of Hermann Park and I’m sorry that I had never been there. The joy of more leisure time is being a tourist in my hometown. If you enter from the front gate, the garden is slowly revealed to you. The challenge for the Tokyo landscape designer Ken Nakajima was to use our local trees in his design. The effect was lovely! It was a peaceful respite from the heat of the city.

As I was sitting there enjoying the lake, I heard a loud cry from a toddler. A multi-generational family came in with two young children. That was my signal to move on!

What I learned from my Nutritionist

Could I have food sensitivities? This is what I wondered when I was working with Pam on Precision Nutrition. My mother, grandmother and her sisters all had autoimmune issues. I decided to go to a nutritionist halfway through the program with Pam. I found Ashley Hurst, R.D. who also has a degree in functional medicine. Functional medicine specialists often want to know why things are happening and try to get to the root cause.

Ashley was friendly and a great listener. She did a complete medical intake and I had a few digestive issues and some inflammation. I was at a healthy weight but I could see the inflammation in my face. Ashley said to prevent inflammation focus on healthy oils such as Walnut oil, Avocado oil and Olive oil. and avoid Canola, Safflower and Vegetable oil. Also avoid refined and white grains which can spike insulin. This will come up again later in my journey.

Ashley reviewed my vitamins and supplements and I decided to start on her multi-vitamin, fish oil. probiotic, and magnesium in powder form. The magnesium is amazing and improved my sleep immediately!

Mediator Release Test I decided to take the MRT to see if I had food sensitivities. The lab tests your blood to see if you have an immune reaction to 150 foods. I had some severe ones which where wheat, lettuce and strawberries. I noticed that I was eating lettuce and wheat frequently. I removed all the moderate and severe foods and gradually added them back in over a 6 month period. Ashley suggested that I stop eating gluten and dairy at this point because the test indicated wheat and some dairy were reactive for me. It was difficult but I did that. I also looked for starch alternatives to gluten that I could eat, such as rice and potatoes. Giving up bread and pasta were difficult but if I could find alternates then I could get through it.

It was difficult to remove a large number of foods at first, but I was able to gradually add more back in. After 6 months, I was able to add all the foods back in without a problem, though still avoiding gluten and dairy at this point. I lost a couple pounds, I felt better and look less puffy after going through this process.

Micronutrient Density test A few months in, I decided to test my micronutrients to see how I was doing. They test 33 different vitamin and minerals. They look at the nutrients that are part of the Krebs cycle and Methylation cycle. I did pretty well considering I had been on Ashley’s vitamins for a while at this point. There were a few things I needed to supplement. I found this to be really helpful and plan to retest every year. The thinking is that if your micronutrients are in good supply you will prevent disease. Also, as you age, you don’t absorb micronutrients as well. I read recently in a magazine that people who are 50+ need selenium. Yes, that’s me! I added Brazil nuts into my diet and saw an improvement in my test results.

Gut Bacteria: I ended up taking two different stool tests to check my gut bacteria. The first one, Ubiome went out of business shortly after I received my results. Ashley made some suggestions after looking at my results. I took Thryve Inside 6 months later and found my gut bacteria to be in fairly good shape. I tried their probiotics for a while but couldn’t tell much difference from my other brand. I would take this test again in the future if I needed it.

In summary, it was very useful to work with a nutritionist. Ashley was my partner to help me figure things out. She had a lot of tools and ideas to draw on. I was very impatient at first, but realized it takes time to work through the steps and look for results. The Micronutrient Density test was very helpful and I plan to take it once a year. The MRT probably helped but it was harder to tell. I did have a reduction in inflammation and my slight digestive issues improved. Her vitamins and supplements are high quality and the micronutrient density test showed that I had good absorption. After working with Ashley, I learned that I don’t have an autoimmune disease which was good news.

Perhaps this will help someone who is thinking about meeting with a nutritionist. Stay well!



Cadillac Ranch

I’m gonna pack my pa and I’m gonna pack my aunt

I’m gonna take them down to the Cadillac Ranch

Bruce Springsteen

Cadillac Ranch was on Bruce Springsteen’s album, The River. It was released in October 1980. The following Fall, I started college at UT-Austin and remember bringing this album with me. As we studied, played and hung out with new friends in our dorm rooms, I remember playing this album over and over. It became scratchy and worn from use. My friends probably tired of listening to it. Yes, I had a little crush on Bruce back then.

It was exciting to see the inspiration for the song in person, though it looked different than I expected. All the cars are covered in graffiti. When we arrived at 7:30 in the evening, people were streaming out of their cars to see this landmark. Some brought spray paint with them and others were excited to find cans on the ground with leftovers.

The artists, a group called Ant Farm contacted Stanley Marsh 3 about funding a project in 1972. Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974 and moved two miles west in 1997. The artists support the interactive nature of Cadillac Ranch today. I find it to be an evolving and iconic landmark.



What I Learned with a Fitness Coach

“I can help you with your nutrition and get stronger”. My friend Pam Owens was talking about her new program 3 years ago. I was curious. I knew she that she was a fitness and nutrition coach and specializes in golf, but didn’t know that she had a new program. I had been doing weight training for over 20 years but hadn’t worked with a trainer recently. Hoping to learn some new things and lose a few pounds, I signed up. It was a 1 year program and she used the Precision Nutrition system and tools. I would receive regular emails with nutrition lessons and my workouts, which were mostly strength based. The workouts were 4 days a week and Pam and I had regular coaching calls. Sometimes we Face-Timed so she could demonstrate or I could demonstrate. My customized program was heavy on building muscle which meant following the program and not doing some of the cardio I was used to. This was hard at first! I set my goals based on what I wanted to achieve and would track weight, measurements and take photos monthly.

I learned many things over the year but this is what stayed with me.

Eat slowly. It takes a while for you to sense fullness so eating slowly is important.

Balance your macro nutrients in a meal. Have some protein, a little fat, vegetables, sometimes starchy carbs.

Pay attention to carbs Are you carb sensitive? I hadn’t heard this term before. I was encouraged to try things out and see how I did. I didn’t realize zucchini is a starchy vegetable. When I think about carbs, I tended to think about potatoes, rice and bread.

Strength workouts alone can change your body. I lean towards cardio exercise so it was good for me to focus on strength work. I’m so glad I bought free weights and bands back then! I’m using them now during the quarantine.

Take note of your workouts. Pam suggested I write down my workouts that I received from Precision Nutrition. Each week your workouts would be emailed to you and for the following three weeks, the intensity would increase. I kept notes in a spreadsheet and have a year’s worth of workouts that I use today.

Experiment! Keep trying new things to see what works for you. Try new exercises. Experiment with new foods or taking foods out. I’m still doing this today.

Overall, it was a worthwhile program and I’m glad I went through it. At the end, I lost 14 inches and a few pounds.

Goodbye Mom

My mother’s health started to fail in 2019. I could tell that she was getting weaker and her heart failure was progressing. She had little energy to participate in activities at their Independent Living apartment that she shared with my Dad. My parents moved there in 2013 and they depended on me to help them. I couldn’t do all that they needed of me and helped when I could. There was a point when it felt like she wanted me to live their life with them but knew that I had to live my own life. Eventually they hired caregivers to help with daily tasks.

In March 2019, I flew to Mexico City with my sister and niece for a short vacation. I started receiving calls and texts from the caregiver who came in to help my Dad. ‘Are you bringing your mother something? She says you’re coming back to the apartment. No, I’m in Mexico City.’ The texts continued over the next several days. ‘Your mother rode her scooter to the front desk in her robe and said she needs help. I can’t seem to control your mother.’

When I returned to Houston, I took her to the hospital to see if the doctors could determine what was going on. I hoped it was something that could be cured with an antibiotic. She was clearly having some hallucinations and her personality changed in just a few days. Her doctors ran tests and didn’t come up with anything. She had heart failure along with rheumatoid arthritis for years. They said she might be approaching end stage heart failure. Her doctor told suggested I move her and my Dad to Assisted Living to save money.

Once she returned to their apartment, her symptoms continued and she asked to see the nurse practitioner who visits the facility. Thank goodness I was there that day! The Nurse Practitioner pulled me aside and said this is definitely End Stage Congestive Heart Failure. Your mother has all the symptoms. I think you should put her on hospice. I was enormously relieved to hear the truth!

It was a whirlwind but we started hospice the next day. I had no idea what this journey would be like but kept telling myself take one day at a time. We added 24/7 caregivers. Mother’s personality continue to change but she let go of the angst and anger in a few weeks. She became happier and lighter. Usually she could only tolerate the news or sports on TV but I was surprised to see her laugh while watching a sit-com on TV.

On April 17 they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Dad wanted a big celebration on Easter Sunday. Mom was continuing to weaken. She told me she didn’t want a party. I knew I couldn’t get 20 family members or friends to come at the last minute on a holiday! Dad ordered a huge cake and asked the facility to reserve a private room for 20 guests. I felt reassured that Mom had said she didn’t want a big event. On the day of the lunch, it was our immediate family. We had lunch then ate some of the beautiful cake with their photo reproduced on it. Mom wasn’t hungry and had trouble holding her head up for the photos, but she had a big smile on her face. Once we got back to their apartment, she asked when the next party started. What??!! I asked if she wanted me to invite her close friends to the apartment for cake. She said ‘oh no, I don’t want people in the apartment’. She was satisfied for us to send some cake to her friends.

She continued to weaken and passed on May 30, 2019. She was a wonderful and loving mother. She had high standards for us but I know she wanted the best for us. She told us how much she loved us often. I miss her very much but feel like she’s with me everyday.

Hop to it!

I bought some weighted jump ropes in late April. We were home (like everyone else) due to the pandemic. I had been walking, doing some weights and even joined a dance class online. My intention was to jump a little at home and bring them with me to the kickboxing gym once it reopened.

Woah! The first time I jumped, I thought these ropes are great! They’re weighted and you get feedback from them. So much better than my cheap rope that will twist up. The ropes come with a free app with workouts. I started doing a beginner workout that was 16 minutes long. I could only make it for 6-7 minutes with breaks. My heart was pounding with this workout. Yikes, it was time to get in shape!

In the first few weeks, I could feel my muscles recovering after the workouts. It felt like they were humming and throbbing. I could feel it most in my legs, arms, and butt. One of the things I learned is that you need to have a day or two break in between to let your body recover. I overdid it in week two. I was jumping and kept going faster and faster. That night I had trouble sleeping and couldn’t lay on my left side. The lateral muscle in my quadriceps was aching. I was concerned I had done some serious damage to my leg but the pain went away in a day or two. I decided I need to take 3-4 days off from jumping and start over.

Why am I doing this? When I was in my twenties, I decided that I wanted to stay healthy for the long haul. I ran a lot during that period then, then I started weight lifting in my thirties. Later I started cycling then took up yoga. Now, I don’t want to do long workouts but like to get my heart rate up and maintain my muscles. Jumping rope is a great solution because you can do it anywhere and the ropes are portable. I didn’t think about nutrition much in the early days. I’ll write about that journey in another post.

I’m improving now and jumping 3-4 times a week. My stamina has improved and can jump longer without a break. I’ve worked up to 30 minute workouts. I also realized quickly there is so much to learn. I watch people in the online group jumping rope and admire their speed, fluidity and skill. I’m working on the basic bounce, alternate foot, boxer step, crossover, and jump jacks. I can see a difference comparing my videos from the beginning to now, but the improvement seemed slow to me. My kickboxing trainer told me to keep practicing and it will come. Then I heard from more experienced jumpers that I need to be able to jump 100- 200 times in a row before I move on to the advanced jumps and increase my speed. Okay, back to the basic bounce now!

Is anyone else trying something new for fitness? I’d love to hear!

Sarah 💕

Taking Flight

I flew last week. I was curious and a little concerned about how it would go. I hadn’t seen much on flying recently but remember the photos of crowded planes and few face masks. I also was aware that the Texas Medical Association had rated flying as a moderately high risk activity.

After thinking about it, I decided to continue with the trip. I was meeting close friends for a weekend in West Virginia. My husband and I have been mostly home during pandemic. We have seen a few friends and gone to the beach, but other than that, we have had little social life.

My flight was from Houston to Richmond, VA and I found a direct flight. I was disappointed when a week out, the airlines canceled my flight. They routed me to Washington, D.C. then picked up a smaller plane to Richmond. My flight to DC was 50% full and I had the row to myself. I was thrilled! The flight attendants gave us a plastic bag with a small water bottle and a couple snacks. I packed my lunch thinking it would be a long day and when I saw that the restaurants in the Houston airport were closed, I was grateful that I had my meal. My flight to Richmond had more passengers, around 70%, but it was a short flight. I was relieved to land in Richmond! I had that mask on for 6 hours and couldn’t wait to take it off. I thought about the essential workers who wear them every day all day.

I felt like the airline tried to do everything they could to make it safe and comfortable. All the passengers were wearing masks, were patient and complied with requests. The crew seemed happy that we were there. It was a good experience overall. I’ll fly again when the times comes.

Safe travels!