Birth, Boxing and Plan B

All of you that saw me during my pregnancy knew I wanted just a few things: to have a healthy baby; to stay active and reasonably fit while pregnant; and to have a natural, unassisted childbirth.  I got the first two. 

When I’d tell people I wanted to have a birth without an epidural, they’d say “You don’t need to be a hero.” Women around the world give birth every day, some with pain relief and many without.  I didn’t think it made me a hero or special or unusual – an unassisted birth was just an experience I wanted to try to have.

The pain of childbirth didn’t scare me too much, I was more in awe of the nothing-short-of-science fiction, physical changes the body goes through to let that little one out into the world.  I mean a hard, firm tissue (the cervix) actually thins down to the thickness of a piece of paper and then gets out of the way so the uterus has an opening to push the baby out of – that’s wild! And don’t get me started on the placenta, what a miraculous piece of engineering that is.

Pain, I’m used to – especially in 60 second or so increments – because of how I workout.  I love a hard workout and I love the satisfaction of pushing through to the other side (unfortunately, at times I’ve done this at a disservice to myself). So the pain part didn’t really worry me – it was fear of the unknown that did.

Post workout belly pic the week before my due date.

Being unsure of  what exactly would happen to me, to my body and to my baby when this all gets under way was what got to me.  Fear is one of those things that messes me up, so I knew if I could stay calm and not get scared I’d be ok.  So that’s what my childbirth readying was all about – managing stress and not being fearful.  I figured at worst this would be helpful to me in my everyday life! So I skipped Lamaze and opted for Hypnobirthing – very naturopathic of me, I know.

Hypnobirthing was about staying calm, not giving into the popular notion that my body can’t handle this without a lot of medical intervention, and keeping the focus on the baby.  The language they use in Hypnobirthing was great: let the baby out vs. push the baby out; surges vs. contractions; and birth vs. labor.  I wasn’t actually hypnotizing myself (never got into it that deep) but I was able to learn to keep myself relaxed  for 9 months as my body changed, my practice exploded and my life as I knew it took a 180 degree turn.  I really loved what my pregnancy taught me. Despite the birth not going according to plan, I’ll always have those lessons I learned:  to slow down, stay calm, know “it can get done tomorrow” and I can be busy but the stress is optional (something I wish I learned YEARS ago!).

So now what happened when it came time to give birth?

When I hit 8 months, almost to the day, I started having Braxton Hicks (or false) contractions. They didn’t really hurt, but they were new.  Most women who have these have them off and on throughout the second and third trimester. Prior to this I’d had just one or two, but all of a sudden I was having them every day, all day.  It wasn’t alarming and I’d always expected that I’d deliver early. These contractions told me I was probably right – my body was getting ready.

The second week of August was incredibly busy as I tried to squeeze in a few more new patients and of course get everyone set on a protocol or plan to work on while I was on leave – I didn’t want anyone to feel left behind or to be not making progress during my time off.  And true to form a certain family member of mine had some big drama that threw my already crazy week into overdrive.  Armed with my “keep calm” outlook, I held up pretty well.  Contractions kept steady at a couple per hour most hours of the day and my doctor said I was dilated 1 cm – all normal for 37 weeks.

The week ended with me feeling more than contractions. I felt very crampy, tired, uncomfortable, and not able to exercise or even walk more than a few blocks – figured we were getting close! During the next week everything stayed about the same and I wrapped up loose ends at my office – until Wednesday when things felt weirder still….and I was exhausted!

Auntie Jessica

I’d planned on having my sister in law, Jessica, as my birth coach – however, she lives in Colorado and she wasn’t scheduled to be here for over a week. Thinking we were “oh so close”, I changed her ticket. By the time she got here, all the “weirdness” had stopped and I was back to being able to walk a ton, good energy and just those little contractions.  Oh well! We had fun working out and shopping for a few last minute baby things. Amidst our running around, pedicures and massages, we had an earthquake here in NYC – and mommy was getting a little uncomfortable being this big.

My dad came out for a quick visit and to see his first born full term pregnant. We a great few days and then we had a hurricane! Thinking my baby must be the third in these phenomena of Mother Nature’s – and hoping the barometric pressure change would break my water and we’d be off to the races…but no such luck.

Next up was the arrival of my brother (Jessica’s husband) and my niece – again, more fun but why wasn’t I getting any baby action??? Now just one week from my due date I saw my doctor and she said, “You’re due next Tuesday and you’re obviously getting uncomfortable, so how about we just induce you next Wednesday when I’m on call?” My OB is perfectly nice and clearly capable as a physician, but here we are week 39.5 and still not at all on the same page.  I reminded her the last thing I wanted was to be induced. She said shewas fine waiting until 41 weeks, but then I’d have to be induced. She stripped my membranes hoping it would speed things along (By the way, this was not comfortable! And she didn’t even tell me she was going to do it – she just did it while checking to see how dilated I was.  A little heads up would’ve been nice. Grrr…. we just were not in synch which was increasingly stressful as I approached my delivery.)

We left the doctor’s office to meet Jessica and family in Central Park and I realized that things not going the according to my birth plan is already a very real possibility. Not even in labor yet and we are talking induction, which means Pitocin.  Pitocin is not inherently evil but it was not part of my plan. It is synthetic oxytocin, the hormone associated with emotional bonding and I wanted my own flooding through my veins,  when I had my baby, not the fake version.  Pitocin also produces very strong contractions, so an epidural is also part of deal here as well.

Pitocin was the one thing I really didn’t want , but so far I’d been doing everything to move things along with no luck: lots of walking, weight lifting including full squats (butt to heels) to get plenty of pressure from her little head on my cervix, sitting frog-legged (for the same reason), drinking red raspberry leaf tea, homeopathic remedies and acupuncture.  I even tried castor oil…yuck.

My three year old niece wanted to see the Statue of “Libery”, so we set off for a boat cruise on the Hudson. We figured a little rocking around on the river couldn’t hurt my situation either.  After the membrane stripping, I was having stronger contractions and was very uncomfortable at dinner that night. No appetite and again, totally exhausted.

The five of us spent another night, laughing and having fun. I’m so grateful for these few days with my brother and his family I simply can’t even express it, it was just so special for me.  Getting ready for bed I had the first of what under any other circumstances would be just plain gross “events” of birth: passing of the mucous plug. This did mean though that things were finally happening. Yeah! Contractions were strong all night, but woke up the next day to nothing.  The contractions, even the little ones, had totally stopped.

Super frustrated, we went for another walk, I gave myself more acupuncture and we headed off to dinner around 6pm where all of a sudden, my contractions picked up again. They were 2-3 minutes apart – finally! And held stead there for 3 hours so Jessica, Joe and I packed up the gear, called the car service and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Finally, here we go…

First stop: triage (where they will decide if I’m ready to be admitted or not).  I was put in a “room” (aka behind a curtain) and my history was taken by a nurse.  I told her about my uncomplicated pregnancy and of course was asked what I’m allergic to: penicillin and latex.  Now hooked up to the monitor with contractions measuring above 100 (150-170 is when the pushing happens) she said, “You are in labor, so sit tight and I’ll send in the doctor to check you.” Great, now hopefully I’m dilated over 3cm or they will send me home.

They let Joe in to sit with me and we watched my contractions continue at 100-120. They hurt but it I felt pretty good – which is more than I can say for the lady across the way from me. She was screaming hysterically – she sounded completely and utterly terrified. Joe asked, “What the hell are they doing to her??!!  It sounds like she’s getting a C-section without anesthesia!” I didn’t know what they were doing but it sounded horrifying.  She was screaming about how much blood, was the baby ok, and apologizing over and over again.  Her husband and the doctor were telling her it was going to be OK…..turns out they were doing a blood draw and she hates needles.  Wow.

The chief resident finally came in and took my entire history – again. Seemed weird – shouldn’t that piece of paper the nurse wrote on be following me somehow? She checked my cervix and said, “You’re at 2-3 cm is all. Do you want your epidural now?”  I replied, “Um, no thanks.”  “So you want to wait?” she asked. I replied, “No, I don’t actually want one at all..”  She looked at me surprised, “Really? Not at all?” I told her I’m not planning on it, at least at this point.  “Huh, OK”, she said, “Then I’d say leave and go walk around for 2 hours and come back. If you stay here we’re gonna want to intervene and mess with you”. Thanks for the honesty. I’ll see y’all in 2 hours.

We left the hospital at 11:30 pm and I wish I could’ve just gone to bed, I was so tired already – but we walked around for 2 hours and then went back to triage. My damn history was taken by yet another nurse.  Do I not have a chart around here? This is ridiculous.  Next they send in another doctor to see if I’ve made the 3cm cut.  She does the exam and says I’m at 3cm and they will admit me – but before admitting me, she takes my history….AGAIN! Of course, she asks one more time what I’m allergic to.  When I say latex, she replies “Oops, sorry.” I asked, “Did you use a latex glove for my exam?” “Yeah, sorry about that,” she replied. Well that explains why I’m starting to itch like crazy – luckily there is so much else going on down there that the allergic reaction I was having was the least of my worries.

In labor and delivery finally and of course, the nurse in my room took my history again. Afterwards, she did put a sign on my door and an allergy bracelet on me – whew, no more accidental latex exam gloves! Another nurse came in to put a hep lock (a plastic tube that goes in the vein in the back of your hand for an easy IV hookup later).  I said I didn’t want it as I wasn’t planning on an epidural.  She left to grab any doctor from the hallway to get me to cooperate.  Some random doctor came in and said, “I see you have a birth plan (not that she’d read it) but you have to have the hep lock, it’s protocol”.  I asked, “Is it protocol or is it mandatory?”  She rolled her eyes, already stepping backwards trying to leave the room and not deal with me, “I’d recommend it.   “But is it mandatory?” I asked.  She repeated, “It’s protocol.”  I said, “Just tell me if it’s mandatory and we can stop having this discussion. If it’s not, then let me decline it.“ She just sorta stared at me blankly repeating yet again, “Its protocol.”  Choosing my battles, I told them to just go ahead and put the damn thing in….this was not the hill I was going to die on.

Now admitted, settled and with Jessica snoozing for a minute in the chair, Joe talked me through the contractions. I was hitting 120-150 now and they were still 2-3 minutes apart.

My wiggling toes...

I’ve never felt more tired yet more relaxed – I was even able to doze off between contractions, giving me much needed rest but hardly a good night’s sleep. They say women in labor just do “something” to get through it, something they didn’t plan on.  For me, it was wiggling my toes. No idea where this came from but as the pain picked up I’d wiggle my toes and breath, listening to Joe’s calming voice and knowing it was only a few more seconds (much like how I get through a tough metabolic circuit!)

At 10am the next morning, Dr Wong came in to check me. I figured I’ve got to be close to 10 by now since I’ve been at this for 14 hours. 4cm is all…bummer. Dr Wong is in my doctor’s practice, but was not my OB going into this whole thing – however, I couldn’t have lucked out more.  She was incredibly supportive of me trying to have a natural birth and made every suggestion to me starting with “The baby is doing fine so you let me know what you’d like to do. Here are your options…” I couldn’t have asked for anything more. (Baby’s heart rate was steady as could be – 130-136 the entire time. Everyone was impressed with how even it was and I credit it to those 9 months of workouts she’d already had!)

My options at this point were to get up and walk around to try and speed things up or have her break my water.  I opted for walking.  As we walked up and down the hall, the staff looked at me like I was planning on delivering my baby out my nose.  “What’s she doing?” I’d hear them whisper. “She’s not getting an epidural,” I heard my nurse reply.  I was the only laboring woman up and walking around, which was honestly truly surprising – I really didn’t think what I was doing was this far out of the norm.

Passing the nurse’s station, Dr Wong stopped me and asked if had a copy of my prenatal bloodwork on me.  What the heck? No, I didn’t have that tucked in my hospital gown. She said they couldn’t find my screening tests and if they didn’t get their hands on them and verify that I was negative for hepatitis and HIV, the hospital wouldn’t let me breastfeed.  If another contraction didn’t hit me, I may have hit someone on this disorganized hospital staff! I was really ticked off and would’ve have happily bought my labs with me had I known they needed me to. Turns out their computers were down, hence some of the repeat history taking and now this lab fiasco. Dr Wong said she’d figure it out. I was grateful since I had a few other things to focus on.

Getting through another contraction.

As we paced the hall, when I’d have a contraction I’d lean on Joe and he’d talk me through it – I couldn’t have asked for better support.  Jessica walked with us and we all talked and laughed whenever I wasn’t breathing through the pain. After 20minutes or so I had to lie down, I was simply so, so, so, tired. I rested a bit and got back up on my feet.  Jessica was giving me a homeopathic remedy (Kali phosphoricum) every 30 minutes to help with the exhaustion.  It really helped – no telling how soon I would’ve hit the wall without it.

My contractions still holding steady at 2-3 minutes apart, but on my next exam guess who was still at 4com? Ok, let’s break my water.  Contractions continued hitting 150 or more and I was tolerating the pain – but exhaustion was really setting in as we approached the 18 hour mark.

Now, somewhere in the next hour, my body met its breaking point.  I felt like those triathaletes that cross the finish line and lose control of their legs and fall down like they are made of Jello. I started to get really nauseous and really hot with each contraction and then afterwards my legs and jaw would tremble uncontrollably. I needed to eat and drink but I was so nauseous now that it was really hard to get water in, let alone food. Having physically hit a wall, I kept mental focus on the baby as long as I could. I’d just say in my head to my body and to her, “Just do what you need to do”.  This is how I got this far, but all of a sudden I just couldn’t sustain it – now I’d hit a mental wall.  This was new for me, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t keep going.

Physically I’d reached my edge before, but mentally I’ve always been able to keep going. Years ago when I herniated a disc in my low back, I finished my workout for crying out loud! (Granted when I got home I nearly had to sleep in my car because I was in so much pain I didn’t think i could get out.) I worked out on a torn hamstring for 3 months before giving in and admitting I had a major injury I’d better deal with.  Mentally feeling tapped out was new for me, and it was new for Joe to see me like this.

He was nervous, apparently there was no color in my face – even my lips were white.  Now that my mind had also waved the white flag, my contractions slowed way, way, way down.  Now coming only every 10-12 minutes and registering around 50.  I asked Joe how intense they were because they were hurting so much more.  “They are like a third of what you’ve been having since last night. That last one only hit 30,” he said. I had no idea how I’d keep going like this. I was done. And with everything slowing down my body had obviously decided it was done too.

No matter via Plan A, B or C - this was the end goal.

I felt my reserves were tapped out and If I wanted to even hope to avoid a C Section, I was ready for some medical intervention.  Dr Wong examined me and there I was, still sitting at 4cm.  We discussed Pitocin to get things moving.  At this point, I’d all but stopped laboring on my own with weak contractions now about 15 minutes apart….welcome to Plan B.

Joe said, “I’m sorry honey, I know this isn’t what you wanted.” I said that I was sad that it wasn’t going the way I wanted, but I felt OK about it and I felt I got here on my own time and for my own reasons and I never felt pressured to do anything against my plan. “It was a great birth plan we had, just wasn’t in the cards for us to do it that way this time,” I said.  He replied, “Well, like Mike Tyson once said, ‘Everyone’s got a plan – until they get punched in the face.’” Yeah, that’s about how I felt right now.

Before I could get the epidural, it took 3 bags of saline to get me hydrated and put some color back in my face.  I needed that fluid! Which explains the immense puff I had in all the pictures after the birth. Check out my hand when I held Lola for the first time, it’s looks twice its normal size. Leaving the hospital 2 days later I could barely get my flip flops on I was still so swollen!

When I was getting the epidural put in place I was leaning over Joe (still incredibly nauseous and hoping I didn’t throw up on him) and having to hold perfectly still as to protect my, um, spinal cord…..and of course, I start having a contraction.  The anesthesiologist said, “Well don’t move, even if you feel an electric like sensation in your legs, don’t move”.  As if the pain of the epidural and pain of the contraction wasn’t enough – the stupid blood pressure cuff goes off to take my BP.  It was almost comical. But finally, well hydrated and the pain of the contractions gone, I was able to rest and let things progress…with the aid of modern medicine.

In another 2 hours (seemed everything operated on a 2 hour schedule here), and after 2 doses of Pitocin, I was dilated to about 6-7.  Well at least that’s something, but we’re not yet at the big 10. With the pain, nausea and hot flashes relieved, I was able to eat a few bites and drink some water…this is all fine and good but it’s now nearly 24 hours since this whole business started back and I am ready to get this show on the road.  My body, however, was not.

It took 6 doses of Pitocin to get me all the way dilated – a far cry from the zero I had originally wanted! Around 7pm my nurse looked at the pads that were lying under me and squealed with joy upon seeing the next, would-be-gross-in-any-other-situation-but-all-too-exciting-in-this-one, “event” of birth: bloody show.  I was lying in this little mess, but thanks to the anesthesia I had from the waist down I didn’t even know it. I wasn’t as giddy as my nurse, but I was happy that we had a lot of progress finally – and it meant I would probably have my baby within a couple hours.

Dr Wong checked me again and we were at 9.5 – whoo hoo! I had by now given up the sadness of not having my own hormones doing the work for me and was very thankful to have had the assistance I needed when I just couldn’t go on any more. And best of all, I changed my plan when I was ready and not before. I couldn’t have asked for more than this if a natural birth wasn’t possible for me this time.  It felt good to embrace Plan B, but not before one more little hurdle: baby was face up, a harder position to push her out in. They positioned me on my left side and being somewhat mentally back in the game, I talked to my baby and rubbed my belly. Almost instantly I felt her move.

Doc told me she’d be back soon and we’d start to push. Thankfully by now I was rested and felt I could actually push – just a few hours ago I feared C section would be the only option for my completely exhausted body (and mind).

At hour 27, with Jessica holding one knee, Joe holding the other and Dr Wong casually sitting on the side of my bed, I was able to push my little one out (and she had turned face down just like I’d asked her to).  It took 5 contractions (3-4 pushes with each) to get her out.  During the third contraction I spiked a fever and had to start IV antibiotics.  “Give her Amp and Gent,” Dr Wong said.  I was so focused on pushing – and honestly a bit out of it still – that I was trying to say “No Ampicillin!”, but no words came out. Luckily, my nurse remembered my allergy to penicillin and all is cousins, and they made the switch. One more allergic reaction avoided.

Sadly, because of the epidural I didn’t feel her being born at all – but I also didn’t feel the second degree tear I got either. I had literally zero feedback for how hard I was pushing.  All three of them kept saying “Just a bit harder, she’s almost here” – but I had no idea how to do it harder, I couldn’t feel anything! It was like picking up a stack of heavy textbooks and getting no input that you should perhaps use two hands, maybe bend your legs and that you might have to recruit an additional muscle or two to get the job done.  I am not sure how, but apparently I was able to push a bit harder.

Because of my fever, the final step in my birth plan went by the wayside as well.  I wanted the baby to be immediately placed on my chest. I wanted to hold and nurse her right away – saving all other housekeeping like cleaning, eye drops, heel sticks, footprinting, etc until we’d had time to make eye contact, breastfeed and bond…at least a little. Not knowing what caused my fever, she needed to be examined right away. So the little creature that was familiar yet totally new to me was now here, but all the way across the room.

She was crying and I was still being tended to – delivering the placenta and getting stitched up.  Jessica told Joe to go to her and talk to her, and that she’d stay with me.  Joe quietly said to our little baby, “Its ok baby girl”. She obviously recognized his voice and her crying ceased – it was kinda incredible.

It is surreal to spend every moment with this little being for 9 months and then to all of a sudden have her in the room.  I almost felt like, “Is this really the baby that’s been in me? Or is she someone else?”  It was so hard to believe after all that time, all that pregnancy brings, all the labor and birth are, that she’s finally here….and she’s healthy and perfect. All in all, Plan B worked out just fine. 

Being a determined, stubborn, control freak, I’ve never been much for Plan Bs in general, but as all big experiences do – especially those that stretch us both mentally and physically – this one taught me a whole lot:

Being prepared is where it’s at. Have a plan…then be willing to adjust that plan.  Don’t give up what you want most because it isn’t going your way. In this case, I immediately wanted a natural birth, but I ultimately wanted a healthy baby and a safe delivery. With my body not cooperating, I had to either give up (potentially) what I wanted most or give up what I wanted right now and adopt Plan B.

So when you are planning to hit the gym and your day gets crazy busy and you’re out of time – it’s not what you planned, but get in a Plan B workout.  Sure it’s not your favorite spin class but a set of 10-15 sprints up your stairs is a fat burning workout. It’s not the perfectly calibrated strength training workout on the best equipment at your gym, but a quick set of say full squats (maybe with arms on your head to up the intensity), pushups, reverse lunges, tricep dips on a chair and full sit ups for 4 sets, 10 reps each is still a good workout. And one that will take you all of 10 minutes in the comfort of your own home without any equipment – and best of all, you get to avoid skipping a workout and get closer to your ultimate goal.

Or when you get up the gusto to have an “on plan” lunch with the friend that you always indulge with and you see they don’t have organic salads on the menu or their chicken breast comes with some kind of oil or sauce you don’t think is 100% Dr Brooke approved – don’t throw in the towel based on these tiny details and have the fried fish and chips. Instead, opt for Plan B – the conventional produce and the chicken that’s not quite perfect.

So whether in birth or as you craft your better body, look for Plan Bs and see more and more opportunities to get what you ultimately want. For me, the birth drove home what my pregnancy had been teaching me all along: go with the flow and let go of the need to control it all.  So thank you to my little Lola Jean for teaching mommy a very important lesson – and please be patient with me as I continue to need a reminder on this one.

Thank you to my family, friends and patients for all your support, advice and patience during my pregnancy and now, during my maternity leave.  You are all very appreciated!

And now, just a few final pics:

Cousins: Miluse and Lola

Grateful doesn't even describe how I felt having my family with me for this.

Just moments before we got to go home.

First day at home in baby's new room.

Lola's tiny little head in Daddy's hands.

Plan B panned out just fine for this little family.

My beautiful little creature.


September 30, 2011 at 12:24 am 7 comments

Cool As A Cucumber, Dr Brooke Baby Update and More….

Well I’m nearing the end of my pregnancy – which I have to say has been so fun that if I weren’t so excited to meet my little one I’d be sad that it’s over! What an experience…truly amazed at this body us ladies were given.

Not running at my usual million miles an hour pace lately, my newsletters and blogs have been few and far between. And thanks to all of you and your trust in me, based on referrals alone my practice has more than tripled in the past few months! So that has kept me very busy but, I have been doing a fair amount of writing for other sources:

I have a weekly blog at Martha Stewart’s Whole Living.  A few of my recent posts include healthy foods that might be sabotaging your fat loss and 4 Simple Secrets for Fat Loss.

I’m writing monthly at Best Of You Today with a bit longer posts such as this one on carbs that are often thought of as proteins and what to put in your naturopathic first aid kit. Coming soon is Demystfying Detox and making sense of natural sweeteners such as sugar alcohols….stay tuned!

Also, as most of you remember about a year ago an reviewer gave us our one and only bad review on our book Ultimate You….and criticized me for being too fat to have written an effective weight loss book.  My original response hit home with so many of you, so a year later I reflected on what I learned from this experience at during their week of highlighting a positive body image.

Now onto some healthy eating!  Getting in more of the green stuff is always a challenge – and this hot, humid weather doesn’t always leave us craving hearty protein and salad (I know the ice cream has been calling my name lately!). Getting out of the “salad” trap always helps me stay on track. Cucumber is one of the easiest, tastiest ways I know to do that and here’s several ways to enjoy this cool, crisp green thing:

Cucumbers & Balsamic

Simply slice a large English cucumber very thin and drizzle with favorite balsamic vinegar and a dash of sea salt and black pepper.  This tastes almost better later that day or the next day – but you can whip this up in a matter of minutes and forgo the salad.  Enjoy with any protein choice – grilled chicken or cooked shrimp are both delicious with this.

Israeli Style Salad

Dice 2-3 cucumbers and 3-4 ripe tomatoes.  Add 1/4 cup diced purple onion, a drizzle of olive oil and 2 tbsp (or more to taste) of lemon juice. Toss and season with sea salt. This keeps well for a few days in fridge – we always have a bowl of this around for a quick veggie option that goes great with any meal.

Cucumbers With Yogurt and Dill Sauce

1 cup low fat yogurt, 1 tbsp dill, dash garlic powder and sprinkle of sea salt stirred into a easy, creamy dressing. Pour over 2 thinly sliced cucumbers. Great veggie snack with a bit of protein.

Cucumber and Peach Salad 

Get this delicious, summer in a bowl salad on my Facebook page where you’ll find loads more recipes, fat loss info and tips for being BETTER!

Enjoy! I’ll be out of the office until mid-October but will be responding to emails as I’m able to – thank you for your patience! And thank you all for your support these past few months.

August 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Sugar is Decidedly Not Healthy…But Is It Toxic??

Recently sugar’s been in the spotlight thanks to a Gary Taubes article in the NY Times (Taubes article is in response to a UCSF video by Robert Lustig, MD) . But, toxic is a strong word – does sugar merit such a harsh rap? Absolutely.

First, what do we mean when we say “sugar”? The particular sugar that’s getting the heat here is fructose. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit and vegetables. In this form, its fine – the dose is small and it comes pre- packaged with fiber – so all is well when it comes to metabolizing fruit in the form of let’s say an apple. Trouble arises though when we remove the fiber and up the dose.

Troublemakers such as this include the dreaded high fructose corn syrup and white sugar or table sugar (chemically known as sucrose: one glucose molecule attached to one fructose molecule) but a few other so called “healthy sweeteners” are not much better. The list includes agave (typically contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup); molasses, raw sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, crystalline fructose, honey, invert sugar, and malt sugar. Why are these other sweeteners lumped in with nasty corn syrup? They are still sugar, they are still partly (mostly in some cases) fructose – and too much of any of them is not a good thing for our livers, our blood sugar or our waistlines.

Why is fructose such a problem – and why might some say it’s toxic? A toxin is something our body has a limited capacity to deal with, once that system has been taxed the toxin builds up and we get sick – or worse, die. A small amount of a lethal toxin, like hemlock, might be all it takes. Whereas it would take several bottles of hard alcohol in a short time period to totally do us in. Sugar, on the other hand (particularly fructose – more on that in a moment) becomes toxic to us slowly, over time, but for the same reason: we overtax our ability to metabolize it. A single soda is hardly lethal, but the consequences of repeated, larger doses of fructose create a metabolic nightmare in our livers.

When we repeatedly overwhelm our body’s capacity to deal with fructose by eating packaged foods, high sugar treats like cookies or drinking sodas and fruit juices, etc we get sick: high cholesterol, high triglycerides, expanding waistlines and a whole mess of inflammation. These symptoms together are known as Metabolic Syndrome (often thought of as pre-diabetes or when it affects our ovaries ladies, it’s called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS) – and the evidence is becoming undeniable that sugar is a bigger culprit than fat.

The great news is that this is avoidable – and to a certain extent reversible if you’ve already succumb to our Western, sugar-laden lifestyle. Follow these tips to steer clear of too much fructose:

Don’t be fooled by health food stores – just because its “natural” doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with “natural sugar” that will still thwart weight loss and health efforts. So be smart about your sweeteners and read your labels.

Packaged foods – whether labeled organic, healthy, natural or not – are lower in fiber, lower in protein and higher in sugar than real, whole food. If you do choose a packaged food, read your labels and refer to the list above – if any of those sugars are in the top 5 ingredients, put it back on the shelf. The bulk of your diet should be unpackaged, whole foods including vegetables, fruits, raw nuts and clean, lean proteins. Remember the fructose in fruit and veggies is not the problem – it’s the concentrated, high dose, low fiber fructose sources or sugar sources that are the issue. (For meal ideas, quick snacks and tasty non-packaged food options follow my Facebook page for daily tips).

Minimize or avoid juices and sodas as beverages. Water, sparkling water, and tea are better choices. OK, you accept that soda is not healhty, but fruit juice is loaded with antioxidants right? Get those nutrients, antioxidants, etc in the whole fruit instead (nature packaged it with that much needed fiber – smart huh?). At the very least dilute fruit juices with sparkling water for a lower sugar spritzer.

June 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm 1 comment

Why All of My Pants Are Too Tight

You’ve probably all wondered where Dr Brooke has disappeared to these past couple months. After all the writing, blogging, etc – especially at the end of 2010 – I’ll admit I needed a little break from writing – but I’m back!

I’m back…and I’m several pounds heavier.  If you’re curious what’s been going on with me, read on.  If not, stay tuned for more health and fat loss advice and jump to the end of this post for a great salad recipe.

So back to my growing waistline –  on December 27th, we got this late Christmas gift:

To answer the all too popular question, “Were you trying?”  Sorta.

Based on my “period math” I figured I was at least 6 weeks along. However at the doc’s office, the ultrasound showed no trace of a baby in my uterus. Well that’s unnerving….

“If your last period was 8 weeks ago, it’s either already miscarried or it’s elsewhere”, she said. “Or it could also just be really early – perhaps you had your period last month and didn’t notice.”  Um, I’ve never had a period and just “not noticed” , so I’m pretty sure it’s not that…..

Of my options, neither were great news. If it’s not viable, I could have the not so fun signs of a miscarriage starting any time. If it’s “elsewhere”, it means its ectopic – in a fallopian tube for example – and not only not viable, but could be potentially dangerous. So now we wait.

We were still home for the holidays, so despite popular advice, we told our families and focused on how excited we were (or at least Joe did, I freaked out a little…OK, a lot). Two weeks later, there it was – a little dot on the ultrasound.  I was only 5 weeks along. Don’t ask me where my cycle was in December, perhaps on holiday….

Yikes!! I was pregnant! Given my history of PCOS, I was thrilled that all the work I’d done to get my cycle normal had been successful, I was ovulating normally and getting pregnant was a snap.

So January got underway and I was very excited about my big contribution to the Martha Stewart Whole Living 2011 Action Plan. I designed the detox for the plan and had two interviews on Whole Living Radio. During my second one I felt my first waves of queasiness. Huh, I thought, well that wasn’t so bad. Wow, was I in for a surprise.

That weekend Joe and I decided to go for it – to have a wedding that was just ours, before baby makes three. We’d only been waiting to take the plunge because “we didn’t have time for a wedding!”  From what I understand, these little creatures do not give you any more time, so we started planning….and I started to enter First Trimester Hell.

I was nauseous – really nauseous – all day. I’d wake in the night too sick to move and knowing I needed to eat, but far to sick to get anything down.  I was so tired that I’d be awake for an hour and need a 2 hour nap. I couldn’t fathom a workout, as a walk to Whole Foods two blocks away exhausted me so much I left without shopping – in a cab. That’s right, I took a cab back home…the whole two blocks.  I was miserable.

I felt horribly guilty as well. I was not happy, not excited, not basking in the glow of  being pregnant.  I work with so many women struggling with fertility, and here I was pregnant while only “sorta” trying – and I didn’t feel excited. I felt like I wanted to throw up but I was too tired to even do that.

I was supposed to be a bride in a few weeks and I couldn’t even get out of bed. My skin had broken out so badly and I was exhausted. Airline tickets were bought, friends and family were on their way and I told Joe, “If I still feel like this, you’ll have to go on without me.” I mean, it was really that bad – I just tried to get through little chunks of time and savor this magic hour between 7-8pm that I seemed to feel like a normal person…then it started all over again.

And my diet….whoa! I was the carb queen. Dr Brooke who eats veggies 4-5 times a day without fail couldn’t look at a green leafy without turning green herself. Protein made me squeamish and noodles, crackers and rice became my new best friends.

Typical for a preggers lady huh? Yes, of course – but when your job is setting the example of a healthy diet and a fit lifestyle, I was struggling with it. And every time I’d choose a simple carb out of sheer survival, I’d image what my insulin levels were doing……thus began my lessons in just letting go.

I couldn’t exercise, so I watched my muscles turn to squish. I couldn’t eat quite right so I watched my face get puffy. I couldn’t power through the fatigue with caffeine, so I cancelled all of my work for 3 weeks.

This is a good lesson for me to be learning: powering through life is not always the best option. Powering through is how I got through school, how I survived my first few years in New York and how I get through a really tough workout. It’s a useful skill, but sometimes it’s not the right card to play. Certainly not now! All of my resources were going right where they were supposed to – to my pregnancy. There wasn’t enough left over to work, workout and that had to be OK (but mentally I wrestled with this…seems like a no brainer huh? But honestly, it was hard for me.)

What I’ve realized is that pregnancy is giving me the gift of a baby sure, but it’s also giving me a huge gift of perspective. I’m learning to listen to my body more, to rest when I need to, to workout only as hard as my body says is OK,to eat more carbs when I need to, and to watch my pants getting tighter and tighter with a little amazement and a little joy – and less concern for looking or feeling “fat”.

That may sound funny, shallow or ridiculous as weight gain is a normal, healthy part of pregnancy – but if you’ve ever struggled to lose weight or had a negative body image, gaining weight can be hard to accept – no matter how wonderful the reason.

And this is a great time for me to stop trying to control it all. I can exercise as my body allows and eat healthfully – and try not to stress if I’m not feeling the baby wiggle when it says I should by week 16 and I’m at week 18. As my sister in law (perhaps the best mama on the planet) reminds me every time I worry that I’m a tad behind schedule with this whole thing, “It’s worth the wait…and worth the weight”.

* * * *
So here I am in my second trimester: married, relocated to Brooklyn, back in the gym and back on veggies. A little tired, but for the most part I feel really good and all is progressing as expected with the pregnancy….so it’s back to business with Dr Brooke and Better!

Towards that end, here’s a great Chopped Chicken Salad that’s been a favorite these past few weeks…now that I’m eating vegetables again!

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped

1/4 cup diced carrots

1/4 cup diced cucumber

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1 chicken breast, chopped

1/4 cup chopped purple onion (optional)

1-2 tbsp feta cheese (optional)

Dress with olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

April 12, 2011 at 1:10 am Leave a comment

How To REALLY Read A Label

Food labels can be difficult to decipher and smart marketing can make a food appear healthier than it is. This guide will help you really know what you’re eating when your opt for a packaged food.

 Allowable Claims that you may see on labels that are “guidelines” for making healthy choices:

 1. Eating enough calcium may help prevent osteoporosis. (green leafy veggies are great sources of calcium)

2. Limiting the amount of sodium you eat may help prevent hypertension. (true, but note that not all hypertension is sodium related)

3. Limiting the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you eat may help prevent heart disease. (saturated fat is just one factor in heart disease, some saturated fats like coconut oil do not contribute to poor health )

4. Eating fruits, vegetables and grain products that contain dietary fiber may help prevent heart disease. (this is why oatmeal can claim it lowers cholesterol, however it’s best to get your fiber from vegetables and fruits)

5. Limiting the amount of total fat you eat may help reduce your risk for cancer.

6. Eating fiber-containing grain products, fruits and vegetables may help prevent cancer. (the best starchy fiber sources are sweet potato, yam, pumpkin, winter squashes and legumes,  followed by sprouted grain products and whole grains like oats, quinoa and brown rice.)

7. Eating fruits and vegetables that are low in fat and good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin A or vitamin C may help prevent cancer.

8.  Organic – this can get tricky.  Technically a product needs to have 95% organic ingredients to put “organic” as part of the product name.  For more details, see the USDA website

What Common Label Terms Mean

 Dietary Fiber

 High fiber: 5 grams of fiber or more per serving

A good source of fiber: 2.5 g – 4.9 g of fiber per serving


Fat Free: less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving

Low Fat: 3 grams of fat or less per serving

Lean: less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of sat fat and no more than 95 mg of cholesterol per serving

Extra-lean: less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat & 95 mg of cholesterol per serving

Low in saturated fat: 1 gram of sat fat or less per serving and not more than 15% of calories from saturated fatty acids

Reduced or less fat: at least 25% less fat per serving than the higher-fat version

Cholesterol Goal is 300 mg or less of cholesterol per day.

Low cholesterol: 20 mg of cholesterol or less and 2 grams of saturated fat or less per serving

Reduced cholesterol: at least 25% less cholesterol than the higher-cholesterol version and 2 grams of less of saturated fat per serving  

Cholesterol free: less than 2 mg of cholesterol or 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving


Sugar free: less than ½ gram of sugar per serving

Low Sugar: may not be used as a claim

Reduced Sugar: at least 25% less sugar per serving when compared with a similar food

No added sugars, without added sugar, or no sugar added: no amount of sugar or any other ingredient that contains sugars that functionally substitute for added sugars is added during processing or packaging, the product contains no ingredients that contain added sugars such as jam, jelly or concentrated fruit juice


Calorie Free: fewer than 5 calories per serving

Low Calorie: 40 calories or less per serving

Light or “Lite”: 1/3 less calories or no more than ½ the fat of the higher-calorie, higher-fat version

Reduced Calorie: at least 25% fewer calories per serving when compared with a similar food

Sodium Goal is 2400 mg or less of sodium per day

Light in Sodium: no more than ½ the sodium of the higher-sodium version

Sodium Free: less than 5 mg of sodium per serving and no sodium chloride (NaCl) in ingredients

Very Low Sodium: 35mg of sodium or less per serving

Low Sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

Reduced or less sodium: 25% less sodium per serving than the higher sodium version

 A couple more terms to be aware of:

· Free has the least amount of an ingredient and Very Low and Low have slightly more

· Reduced or Less always means that the food has 25% less of that nutrient than the reference version of that food

· Good Source Of means that it contains 10-19% of the Daily Value (DV) per serving

· High, Rich In, Excellent Source Of means that it contains 20% or more of the DV per serving.

· More, fortified, enriched, or added means that it contains at lest 10%more of the DV for protein, vitamins, minerals or fiber per serving.

· Fresh means that it has not been frozen, heat processed or similarly processed

January 25, 2011 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Estrogen: Too Much Causes Big Trouble

Produced in the ovaries, this female sex hormone is the essence of femininity, the bestower of smooth skin and curvy hips. As an anabolic hormone in women, it builds up bone, the uterine lining, and body fat, estrogen also regulates the menstrual cycle and protects the heart.

However, in excess, this otherwise beneficial hormone can endanger a woman’s health and wreak havoc on her physique. In a relatively high estrogen state, known as estrogen dominance, women can really pack on the pounds, particularly in the hips, thighs, and butt – as well as increasing risk for breast cancer, endometriosis, infertility, etc. Estrogen dominance effects men as well, increasing risk for heart disease. This occurs as men become overweight.

The source of this excess estrogen isn’t the ovaries. It’s medications such as birth control pills, synthetic hormone replacement and our environment – and our body fat (via a process called aromatization which converts testosterone into estrogen in both sexes).

Both compounds that occur naturally and manmade chemicals in our air, water, and food—everything from plastic water bottles and shampoo to pesticides on fruits and veggies–contain molecules called endocrine disruptors, which research shows affect our health. These chemicals can block effects of hormones that balance out estrogens effects, and many act as strong estrogens themselves.

So getting the excess estrogens out of your environment is job one. Don’t panic when you see all the estrogen sources in your life. You can not completely win this battle, but you can probably, do a better job than you are doing now – here’s how:

  • Rid your home of conventional cleaners. Use more natural brands such as Method, Seventh Generation or see for more info on household chemicals.
  • Choose organic produce whenever possible to avoid estrogenic pesticides.
  • Choose clean, organic, free range, grass fed and hormone free proteins as often as possible.
  • Avoid or minimize strong phytoestrogens (namely soy)
  • Minimize alcohol consumption.
  • Use glass containers for food and drink. If you use plastic containers to store food, never microwave them. Avoid soft plastic water bottles as much as possible – opt for glass ideally or metal bottles such as Sigg and Klean Kanteen.
  • Switch to paraben and pthalate free cosmetics and body care products – you are literally rubbing these chemicals onto you body so it is important! Brands I recommend include Jurlique, Weleda, Earth Science, John Masters Organics and Aubrey Organics. Your local health food store will have many great products to choose from – but read your labels as not all products at health food stores are chemical free.

Among the more problematic personal care products is paraben containing deodorants. Most breast cancers occur in the upper outer quadrant of the breast (area next to the armpit), so rubbing exogenous estrogens into that area is a terrible idea! Natural deodorants that I love include Weleda’s spray deodorant in Wild Rose, Sage and Citrus and LaVanilla deodorant – however, good ol’ baking soda works like a charm! Try this recipe:

Place ½ to 1tsp in palm of hand

Add small amount of water and mix into a paste.

Rub into underarm area.

If you find that you are experiencing an offensive body odor, two to three times per week swab the underarm with rubbing alcohol to kill bacteria.

January 18, 2011 at 11:30 am 3 comments

Top Tips From Top Trainers – Make 2011 Your Fittest Year Ever!

Fitness professionals can make it look all too easy to be in great shape. What I can attest to with this group though,  is that they all walk the walk. They work out hard, eat well and consistently make good choices when it comes to staying active, taking care of themselves and continuing to be healthy. And that’s inspiring!

Lucky girl that I am, I get to be inspired by these great trainers every day since they are both friends and colleagues of mine at Peak Performance gym in NYC. As we all try to make 2011 a fit and healthy year, I asked them to share their best  get or stay in shape tips:

Joe Dowdell owner of Peak and my co-author for Ultimate You says, “Schedule your workouts like appointments. Put them right into your calendar like you would any other meeting.” One of the things I hear most often is that people are too busy to make it to the gym, you pencil in a haircut in order to make that happen, right? Do the same with your workouts – even if you don’t have a trainer, schedule it in. Same goes for meals. Many of my patients simply get too busy and forget to eat. Schedule in those 5 small meals per day – and your workout  – so you are reminded to take care of yourself.

Matt McGorry is one of my favorite trainers and favorite people. Read an interview I did with Matt after his body building competition, where we talked about what’s possible when you are simply compliant. Matt says, “To keep injury free and healthy, foam rolling should be as much a daily habit as brushing your teeth.” Get a foam roller from Perform Better and make it part of your pre and post workout routine. Many trainers feel this is even more important than stretching. It can be painful at first, but eventually you’ll really look forward to this practice – it’s sorta like self massage. It will keep you able to keep working out hard.

Sarah Petroski is a trainer and yoga teacher who says: “High quality, organic food is my Prada bag. It’s where I spend my extra money cuz I deserve it!” This may be my favorite of the tips ever! We love the best when it comes to clothes, cars, shoes, etc – why settle for less than the very best when it comes to what you put in your mouth? It costs more but the benefits are more than worth it when it comes to your health and you waistline.

Holly Rilinger, one of the buffest bods at Peak and Flywheel Spin Studio across the street, reminds us to “Not only set goals, but write them down!” January 1 you’re clear on your goal, but it fades. You’re often clear on your goal first thing in the morning, but come coffee break time you scarf down a muffin only to feel guilty afterwards.  Write down your goals, post them on your mirror and fridge, but more important: carry them with you in your wallet. Pull them out and review before meals, snacks, a night out with friends and when you try to talk yourself out of going to the gym.

Finally, my trainer: Joe Larson says “Fitness should be fun.” Sounds about right for a comedian, huh? But he’s right. We take the gym, the diet, and all that goes with it so serious. We need to remember to have fun while we’re working that hard. If we dread the gym, hate eating vegetables and feel restricted, obligated or stressed, then we’ve turned a healthy thing like working out or eating well into one more thing to worry and be unhappy about. So while you might not love every exercise, be sure you’re doing some activities you enjoy and keep a positive attitude about the ones you don’t. 

Here’s to a very fit 2011!

January 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

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