Yoga for Lymphedema

My introduction to yoga was in college. To fill in my physical education requirement, my friends and I signed up for yoga. Why not? It should be an easy class, right?

The instructor filled every single stereotype of a hippie-dippy yogi that I’ve ever heard of; she smelled of patchouli oil, with straw-like long wavy hair straight out of a Woodstock movie. She preached about the benefits of vegetarianism and filling your soul with a “complete protein” of beans and rice. She wore tie-dye and long skirts that jingled.

Needless to say, as a college student, I would simply fall asleep during the 20 minutes of ‘corpse pose’ during her long diatribes. I hated the slow pace of the stretches and poses. I didn’t see any benefit and I didn’t see the point.  I thought to myself – this certainly couldn’t be considered exercise.

Now, over 10 years later, I look forward to my yoga. I took a complete 180 turn in my attitude towards the benefits – mostly because I’ve SEEN the benefits first hand.

Shortly after I was diagnosed in 2014, I began to do yoga as part of my wellness plan. I read all about the benefits of beating cancer through connecting mind and body, and I wanted to do everything in my power to give myself an edge on the cancer.

In a way, I found yoga and yoga found me.

And since I started doing yoga, my practice has changed. At first, I just started with a few poses and breathing exercises. Then I found some online yoga teachers and classes that I really loved, (see the post about my favorite online yoga group here) and so began my journey. Now, I use yoga as my exercise routine – some days, I do an hour of “super sweaty” yoga for cardio, other days I hold poses for strength or stretching.

Since my Complete Lymph Node Dissection (CLND) to remove more of my melanoma in 2016, I’ve noticed that yoga significantly helps my lymphedema. The stretching and muscle movements help to reduce the swelling in my left thigh, meaning the lymph in my left leg is flowing rather than staying stagnant.

The trick is to use pulses of muscle tension to propel the lymph under the skin. Holding a pose only holds the lymph in one place – so when using yoga to reduce lymphedema, hold for a few seconds, release and repeat multiple times for optimal drainage.

I’ve found these 3 poses help the most with my leg lymphedema:

You can find photos of all these poses and more at https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/34721642/image/34721659/Downward-Facing-Dog

Downward Facing Dog

I always like to open up my yoga with a few Downward Facing Dogs. Your lymph system is like a highway – traffic upstream causes congestion downstream. Your lymph system collects lymph from all over the body, and it all converges into what’s called the thoracic duct. The lymph then drains into the left subclavian vein by your left collarbone. Standing or sitting means that the lymph has to work against gravity to get to the thoracic duct. Downward Dog helps to use gravity in your favor and clear out the congestion, thus allowing more lymph from the legs to get to the thoracic duct during the rest of your routine.

Warrior I

The vast majority of the lymph nodes in your leg are in your groin. Stretching the hip forward helps to massage these lymph nodes and get the lymph flowing. I personally no longer have the nodes in my groin, so it’s much harder for my lymph to cross this area. I also have scar tissue here from my previous surgeries. I find that stretching in this pose helps with both – my scar tissue has loosened up, allowing new lymph channels to form, and helping lymph to cross and drain. It has also helped to build my hip flexors, helping the muscles behind the skin to massage the lymph upwards.

Bridge Pose/Half Wheel

Bridge pose is the best of everything – using gravity, stretching, and massage to help drain lymph from the legs. It uses gravity to your advantage while building the hip flexors and massaging the lymph nodes in your groin. Use this pose with deep breathing exercises (which have been proven to help move lymph towards your thoracic duct) and you have a super combo to help reduce lymphedema in the legs.

 

What are your favorite poses to help reduce lymphedema?

Week 2 on the Elimination Diet

Has it really already been 14 days?!  Wow I can’t believe it! The past 2 weeks have only been sliiiiightly torturous.

OK, OK, really, it hasn’t been bad at all! I promise!! It’s actually gotten much easier as time has gone by. The cravings have lessened and it seems easier to “throw” a meal together. I’m not as anxious about how the meal will turn out – having a select few foods makes it easier to master what works best at mealtime. My husband and I haven’t gone to bed hungry once in the past 2 weeks.

And to top it off, he’s lost another 2 pounds and is coughing much less!! He’s down to ONE Prilosec every other day and only coughing about once a day! A HUGE improvement for his coughing. At first, he was skeptical and thought it was a fluke. But 2 weeks later and consistently coughing less has convinced him this is a step towards FINALLY finding the dietary culprit.

I’m not sure how or why, but I think simplifying mealtime to focus on nutrition rather than purely about taste makes it easier to me. There’s much less of a work up throughout the day to create something delicious at dinnertime. My husband no longer asks about dinner while eating his breakfast (his usual MO) and I rarely even think about dinner until close to 6pm. Being this restrictive is really just simplifying.

The week 2 meal planner and shopping list

And not just simplifying the mealtime routine. It simplifies my grocery shopping, too. I no longer wander the aisles, wondering if I have this or that in the cupboard to make something that I haven’t done in a few weeks. Since I use the same things every day, I know what I need and how much. Decision making has become MUCH easier for shopping and meal planning.

It also simplifies the daily routine. Breakfast is no longer a struggle of “what do I feel like today?” I have 3 choices – chia seed pudding, coconut rice porridge, or sweet potato hash with turkey sausage. Having only 3 things really makes mornings so much easier!!

And to make YOUR lives easier, here are 3 recipes to help you get through your own elimination diet.

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Chia Seed Pudding

I found this recipe online at PopSugar Fitness a while ago, and dug it back up for this diet. It’s great for a fast on-the-go breakfast. You can find the recipe here.

 

Breakfast Maple Sage Turkey Sausage

I created this one because every kind of breakfast meat was FILLED with preservatives and icky stuff. I’ll definitely use this recipe FAR beyond the elimination diet. The “sausage” is easy to make, tasty, and once cooked keeps well in the fridge. I usually make a batch at the beginning of the week – they usually get eaten within a few days!

1 lb ground turkey

10 fresh sage leaves – chopped

2 T maple syrup

1 T “Jane’s crazy mixed up” seasonings (or your own mix of salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, and celery salt)

1 T poultry seasoning

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. Mixture will be slightly sticky (due to the maple syrup). Form small amounts into ‘links’ by rubbing turkey between hands. Cook links in batches in non-stick pan, turning to brown on all sides. Refrigerates well for about 5 days. Incredibly tasty when served with…

Maple Sage Turkey ‘Sausage’
Yummmmmmy!

 

Sweet Potato Hash

A super easy recipe that takes less than 10 minutes to cook in the morning. I chop all the ingredients at the beginning of the week and refrigerate in separate containers. I also pre-cook the mushrooms (2 packages of sliced white mushrooms) in olive oil at the beginning of the week so I can use them for breakfast or dinner whenever I need them. Super tasty and filling!

1 T coconut oil

1 C shredded sweet potato

2 T chopped onions

¼ C cooked mushrooms

Melt the coconut oil in a pan on medium setting and add onions. Stir until covered in oil and beginning to brown. Add sweet potato and mix in with onions. Allow sweet potato to brown slightly, stirring occasionally. Add in mushrooms, stir all hash ingredients together and allow sweet potatoes to brown. Serve once sweet potatoes are cooked through, about 7-10 minutes in total.

 

Hope you enjoy the recipes! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Week 1 of the Elimination Diet

We’re almost through the first week on the elimination diet, and we’ve survived! Using lots of creativity and LOTS of prep, I think I’ve also made this week as easy (and belly-filling) as possible.

I really thought the first week would be filled with random cravings and terrible hunger pangs to make me want to stray. I’ve always found it hard to say ‘NO’ to cheese and bread. And tomatoes. And chocolate. But I’m surprised to say that the only thing I’ve REALLY craved is a glass of wine with dinner. I’m sure my liver could use a little detox, so I’m OK with holding out for another couple weeks. 🙂

So far, the absolute hardest thing about the elimination diet is finding food while traveling. I’ve learned that I can ‘pack’ a breakfast to take with me – a chia seed and powdered coconut milk premixed in a jar that I can carry onto a plane. The night I arrive at my destination, simply add water and refrigerate and voila! Chia seed pudding! Most hotels also have fruit in their breakfast buffet, so add in fruit for a protein and fiber filled breakfast that’s pretty darn tasty.

Chia seed pudding after soaking overnight

But lunch and dinner are difficult to find on the road. I can’t carry food into the OR with me…and most foods on the list need to be refrigerated. So I’m looking into the best options for me while traveling and I’ll report back.

And my husband is happy to report that in the first week, he’s lost 4 pounds! I never even THOUGHT about weight loss with this diet – I was much more concerned with getting his acid reflux under control. His weight tends to fluctuate normally, but he’s never lost 4 pounds that easily in 1 week before. All these good-for-you fruits and veggies apparently are helping his waistline AND his esophagus.

As for the MOST IMPORTANT symptom that we’re hoping to help…his cough…I’m super excited to report that it HAS decreased in number per day and intensity!! When we started the elimination diet, he was on Prilosec twice per day. He’s down to 1 per day in the morning and we will take it to 1 every other day as of tomorrow.

Weaning these medications can actually cause even MORE acid production, so we have to take it slowly in order to let his body adjust. I’m hoping he’s completely weaned from the meds with no cough by the time we start to work foods back into the list.

I want to warn you that I’m not being AS strict as some lists out there. Since we’re doing this for acid reflux rather than a food allergy, I’m allowing some seeds and nuts (specifically chia and flax seeds and almonds) and some vinegars (apple cider and balsamic) as well as maple syrup. I’m also allowing green tea because – really – green tea is nothing but good for you!!! I know that some studies show that caffeine may cause reflux, but really, I just KNOW that no matter WHAT we do, my husband will never give up caffeine. So honestly, cutting the caffeine down to just green tea is practically like cutting it out 😉

Download this cute meal planner here

I’ve attached our meal plan for the week with the shopping list. Most meals take less than 30 minutes to cook (not the roasted chicken, obviously, but the leftovers are well worth it!) I’m hoping to make a meal planner involving less chicken next week because I think we’re both about chickened out this week. And I’m writing up some of my favorite recipes from the week – so stay tuned!

The Elimination Diet

I HATE the word “diet”. Nothing is worse than that word. Saying diet is voicing a symbol of restriction – just the sound of it makes me cringe with yearning for a plateful of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It makes me think of heroin-chick models of the 90s who need to eat a burger STAT. Nothing good can come of a diet….right?!

And yet, I’m doing it. I’m going on a DIET.

OK ok so before I whip myself with a wet noodle, I’ll explain myself.

My husband has been battling acid reflux for the past many years. His only symptom is a chronic cough. His voice sounds like he’d been out partying the night before, but never once has he have the feeling of heartburn. His symptoms never went away…the catch in his throat, the hoarseness, the coughing…was it a chronic cold? Pneumonia? Lung cancer? What could it possibly be??

Doctor after doctor, medication after medication and finally a GI doc did a scope and we had a diagnosis. He found that his esophagus was “like a Florida sunset” – red, inflamed, and angry due to constant acid reflux. This reflux was going allllllll the way up his esophagus to his vocal cords and causing his chronic cough.

Silent symptoms of Acid Reflux. Courtesy of: http://www.doctoroz.com/article/silent-reflux-epidemic

So we tried the classic medication for reflux. A proton pump inhibitor (aka PPI – something similar to Prilosec) twice a day. Everyday. For the rest of his life.

And it worked!! But we didn’t like this as a long term solution. The doctor suggested he take calcium supplements as a PPI can inhibit your absorption of calcium. We figured this CAN’T be good in the long run. So we tried to ween him after a few months.

But the cough came back.

So we tried to take out the highly acidic foods from his diet.

And the cough came back.

And then we tried a glycemic index diet that was described in a book titled Heartburn: Fast Tract Digestion by Norman Robillard.

And the cough came back.

Back to the point where my husband is on the pills again twice a day. It progressed to the point where it is embarrassing to be with him coughing all the time. People look at him as though he’s contagious in public places.

So I looked into the most drastic thing we could do diet-wise where we could potentially find the culprit foods. An elimination diet fits the bill.

Soooooo what the heck IS an elimination diet??  It’s just that – you eliminate ANY potential allergen or irritation causing food for a few weeks and slowly work in other foods to see what’s causing the symptoms.  Foods such as: gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, beef, alcohol, caffeine, citrus, legumes/beans/peanuts, nightshade vegetables, and anything processed. It sounds pretty simple in concept, but in reality?

courtesy of: https://wholelifenutrition.net/articles/elimination-diet/free-elimination-diet-resources

What the heck do you eat???

In a lot of ways, this is probably the simplest diet you could ask for. Chicken, rice, and veggies are going to be staples for the next few weeks. But eating the same thing every day in this household is NOT an option.

So I’m going to have to get creative with recipes and finding ways to keep the husband’s belly happy throughout this journey – there has already been one breakdown (OK I admit it was me having a fit when I realized that I couldn’t have eggs for breakfast and there are VERY limited options in the cereal aisle!)  I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

I know this won’t be easy. But I’m hoping it’ll be worth it in the end. If this is what it takes to find out the culprit of my husband’s reflux, then I’m there 100%. I want him to be happy and healthy, and I’ll do anything I can to get him there.

Keep following for recipes and grocery lists – coming soon!

My Top 2 Realistic Holistic Travel Tips

I travel a lot. I mean A LOTTTTTTTTTTTTTT.

I’m on the road every week for work. Yes, EVERY WEEK!! I spend more time away from home than actually enjoying the presence of my husband and fuzzies.

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Hitting the road last fall with a nice view

When I took this traveling position, I knew that I’d have to really make an effort to keep a healthy lifestyle and keep the stress down. It’s hard enough making the right choices when you’re at home surrounded by healthy food and a healthy routine. But add in the hustle and bustle stresses of airport life, “grab and go” travel-type foods and living in hotel rooms and being healthy is hard. Like, getting out of bed at 4 AM on a weekend hard.

So I always try to make living a healthy life foolproof when traveling. I don’t always succeed, but I always continue to try. I’ve discovered these 2 things that are ABSOLUTELY VITAL to helping me stay on track while hitting the road.

1 – Traveling well is all about preparing.

There are plenty of things that you can do to prepare for your travels – especially in the food realm. If I’m traveling around mealtime, this is the most important thing I can do to keep myself on track. Nothing is worse than hitting the road when I’m starving and I’m driving past every possible bad option. The temptation is simply too much for me to take. The “Hangery Lauren” sets in and next thing you know I’m gobbling down the first thing I can shove into my face. So if you’re traveling around mealtime, take the time to think it through BEFORE you travel.

If I’m hitting the road early in the morning, I set out travel mugs and program my coffee pot to brew before I leave.  I also prepare something I can eat in the car so I’m not tempted to stop at the fast food breakfast place. A breakfast muffin frittata or chunky granola or fruit travel very well.

If I have a few extra minutes, I make one of my favorite breakfasts: an egg over baby kale with cream cheese and/or avocado on toast. It takes me literally 5 minutes to make and it’s not rocket science. I’ve fallen in love Ezekiel bread – TONS of fiber and sprouted grains to keep me feeling full. Avocado as a healthy fat or cream cheese for a more decadent flavor with baby kale for a great morning veggie. And a hard fried egg as my protein. Viola! Complete meal and I’ve been known to eat this as I’m packing my bag/doing my hair/driving in the morning!

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Yummmmmm

If you’re traveling daytime, pack a small bag of nuts and dried fruit. Believe it or not, you can bring FOOD through airport security, but not liquids. So pack a sandwich. Or a fruit salad. Maybe you’re in the mood for a burger. One time, I saw a girl chowing down on slices of ham that were tucked away in Tupperware on a plane. Pack it in! Just skip bringing on spaghetti slathered in Mom’s famous pasta sauce and you’ll be good to go!

2 – Take the time to destress.

We all get caught up in the stress of traveling. Traffic, airport security, and time crunches make it easy to go from 0 to 100 when that a$$hole cuts you off and you’re running late. If you’ve prepared (as in tip #1) then hopefully you’ll incorporate time into your preparedness.

I wake up an extra 10 minutes early so I can fit in a few yoga sun salutations and still have extra time to get where I’m going. Many of the stresses of travel can be lessened with giving myself extra time and BREATHING. Instead of rushing through security at the airport, I get there a half hour early. Big meeting in the morning? I prepare and pack my presentation the day before. The fewer pieces I have to put together when I travel, the less I have to be stressed about.

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Rush rush rush rush rush rush

You might say “spending an extra 30 mins at the airport is a complete waste of my time”. Really? You have NOTHING else to do, no one else to call while you’re waiting? Bring your planner, then, and get stuff done!! Plan your kid’s birthday party coming up next month. Look into vacation spots for your anniversary next year. Dream about the life you’re building for yourself and your family.

To me, keeping my stress down allows me to live a healthier life that I can look forward to sharing with my family. Even though I’m constantly on the road, I’m living a life that I love. Every minute of it, even the hours that I log while in transit. I look forward to vacations like everyone else – but I don’t HAVE to run away from reality to destress. My vacations are time to share experiences and explore rather than pretend I don’t have to go back to work on Monday.

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Take the time to BREATHE when you travel and enjoy the moment

No matter how you travel, you CAN do so in a healthy, stress-free way if you follow these 2 tips!