Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pregnancy and Weight Lifting

Pregnancy: It seems to me that society treats this as such a delicate time. But, really, does it have to be like that?

What I'm referring to mostly is weight lifting exercise, and what pregnant women can and can not do to help them have a healthier and happier pregnancy and delivery.

When I did a Google image search for pregnancy and exercise (or weight lifting), all I saw were pictures of very pregnant women doing yoga or ball exercises. The only weight lifting picture I could find was the one you see above. And, I wouldn't even really consider that weight lifting (I think the last time I did a lateral shoulder raise I was 16 years old and a newbie). No squatting, no pushups, no chipups, nada.

But, what I really want to know, and what I need help from YOU (the female "you", that is), is how and can a pregnant woman lift during her pregnancy?

Obviously, in the first 3-4 months, almost anything that you can tolerate should be do-able (when there's not any nausea or uncontrollable fatigue). Then after the belly starts to bulge, any supine (lying on back) positions, should be avoided due to the potential to restrict blood flow through the vena cava.

The American College of Ob/Gyn has a one-sentence line about strength training:

"Strength training will make your muscles stronger and may help prevent some of the aches and pains common in pregnancy. "

But, other than this, it's really a grey (or gray) area as far as weight lifting and pregnancy goes.

So, I'm doing as much research as I can here, scanning the peer-reviewed literature, and reading text books. But as I said, I need some help from real women who have lifted during their pregnancies:

What did you and could you do for weight lifting during your pregnancy?

Did you stop and just walk or doing light aerobics?

Did you keep doing what you were doing prior, but with some modifications (and what were they)?

Did you train harder? Did you try a new training program (And which one)? Etc.

I'd love to hear what you ladies out there did. One of my readers told me she was doing pull-ups the day before she delivered (wicked!) and another said she road her bike 10 miles a few days prior to delivery (and she was 2 weeks late, so she was quite big at this pt).

You can post your reply here, or send me an email (

I promise that your thoughts and comments will be kept private if that's what you'd like. Also, this information might end up as an article in the next issue of Muscle and Fitness Hers and Fit Pregnancy.

Cheers to a healthy and strong pregnancy!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Recommendation: Woman, An Intimate Geography

Now that I'm finally finished my PhD and being a student, I have time to really enjoy reading. Before this, all my reading was for school: research papers, class assignments, text book chapters, etc. So, the thought of picking up another book just wasn't enjoyable.

But, now, I'm diving into all the books I partially started, or planned to read, but just never had the time or the desire.

I'd like to make this book recommendation blog post a regular item. My plan is to let you know what I'm reading right now and why I think you should read it too.

So, to start off first, I want to tell you all about one of the most fascinating books about the female body, psyche, physiology and history I've ever read. (Note: gentlemen, this book might not be up your alley, but if you read it, it might win you some brownie points with your ladies... or at least help you understand the opposite sex a bit better).

Natalie Anger has won the Pulitzer Prize for the writing of this book. In it, she actually makes topics like female reproduction, female hormones, and female biology absolutely interesting and... might I say, amusing (you'll definitely laugh/giggle when you read her wording).

I first learned about this book about 3 years ago when I was researching the reproductive physiology of women and the biological differences between men and women. The reviews on it were amazing, and I just knew I had to have it. With chapter titles like, "The Mosiac Imagination: Understanding the 'Female' Chromosome", "Cheap Meat: Learning to Make Muscle", how could you not want to dive into this book?

I actually started reading it in the middle with the chapter on women and testosterone, and was hooked (however, like I said, I just didn't have time to finish it all... but that's not the case now).

Because I'm not skilled necessarily in writing the most complete book review, I'd like to quote other's comments on this book. From this, you'll see that this book is definitely one you want to start reading as soon as you can.

From Rambles: The "geography" that Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer NatalieAngier refers to in the title of her book ranges from the southernmost clitoris and associated vulval landmarks to the high summits of the brain in her exploration of new theories of female anatomy, physiology, psychology, biology and various permutations of these topics across the life span. In gorgeous prose displaying high style and metaphor, wit and verve, Angier by turns is serious, angry, joyous and loving; at times didactic and hortatory; at other times confessional, the result being a book brimming in information.

BY MAGGIE JONES | Simone de Beauvoir probably would have agreed with Natalie Angier's theory of feminism -- with one exception. De Beauvoir believed women were the biological runners-up in the gender wars; Angier, the stylish, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for the New York Times, takes the contrary view. In "Woman: An Intimate Geography," she argues that women's bodies are complex, versatile and powerful, and that they often surpass men's. To prove her point, she takes us on a tantalizing, witty journey through female biology, debunking many entrenched stereotypes and myths and a lot of questionable science.

Equipped with an eye for detail and a sure grasp of science, Angier maps the female body -- eggs, uterus, breasts, hormones, brain -- enlisting a remarkable array of studies and little-known facts, as well as examples from history and literature, to offer a feminist take on biology. She explains, for instance, that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, twice as many as the penis. "All this," she gloats, "and to no greater purpose than to subserve a woman's pleasure. In the clitoris alone we see a sexual organ so pure of purpose that it needn't moonlight as a secretory or excretory device." She details the power of estrogen on the brain and heart and the complexity of the female chromosome, which boasts thousands of genes, compared to the male counterpart's puny two dozen. ....

From Random House: Natalie Angier's text is a detailed exploration of female anatomy. By showing how culture based assumptions have influenced research in evolutionary psychology and have consequently lead to dubious conclusions about "female nature," she deals a body blow to Darwinian-based gender stereotypes. Her ability to choose just the right word, as well as illustrating anecdote, gives this densely packed mapping of the female form a lightness of touch and renders it eminently accessible. From eggs to testosterone ("Wolf Whistles and Hyena Smiles") and from the vagina to "sensory exploitation theory," she creates an exposé of enlightened subversion and a "snarl at injustice."

Woman is a seminal work, and an essential statement in the cultural conversation about how biology affects who we are and how we perceive ourselves.

From me:
This book will definitely teach you something about yourself that you never knew before. It will give you a better appreciation of yourself as a woman, and help you learn to love everything that makes you who you are.

I hope you get to enjoy it today... I sure am.

Cheers, Cass

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nutrition and Metabolism Society: The place to go to get the most accurate information on low-carb and Diabetes management

I often receive emails asking me where people can learn about the science behind low-carbohydrate diets and where to learn more about how to best manage diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

The first place I send them is to the Nutrition and Metabolism Society's website which includes information from the top diabetes and low-carb researchers in the world.

Here is their Mission Statement:

The Metabolism Society is dedicated to addressing the problems of obesity, diabetes & cardiovascular disease through public awareness and education. The Society believes specifically that the therapeutic potential of carbohydrate-restricted diets for the treatment of these diseases is under-investigated and under-utilized. The Society seeks to support research in this area. Our mission is to improve current nutritional guidelines and to see that sound scientific information is provided for the public.

On this site, you can learn everything you didn't know about the world of low-carb research, how to attend a meeting focused on low-carb science, how to locate a professional that specializes in low-carb nutrition, and the big one.... is fat really that bad?

You can also join the society and receive up-to-date newsletters and mailings about the research and progress in this area.

I hope you enjoy this resource as much as I do.

Visit the site today!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The wonders of photoshop and our distorted society.

I just found this video on youtube tonight, care of a friend. I thought many of you would find it interesting. Particularly interesting is that this woman had a beautiful body to begin with.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Top 10 Best Female Science Bloggers from

This morning, Suzane from the site Forensic Science Schools sent me an email telling me that my site was included in the "Top 10 Best Female Science Bloggers" list.

Very cool!

To check out the wicked smart women of this top 10 ten list, visit their site below:

Top 10 Best Female Science Bloggers

There's some really cool (and brainy) ladies out there! What an honor to be included!

Thanks Suzane!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three interesting nutrition articles to read has three interesting nutrition articles that I thought I'd share with you all:

Most Americans ready to embrace nutrigenomics

This article touches on the new science and acceptability of nutrigenomics - essentially, using one's unique genetic code to prescribe the healthiest diet. But, as this article states, and as many genetic scientists know, this technology is 10 to 15 years in the making. Here, at my lab at the University of Connecticut, we contributed to realm of nutrigenomics science here.

New nutrient profiling system proposed by US researchers

Most of us know what we're not supposed to eat, but how do we decide what's really good for us and what is not? Here, US researchers are developing a Nutrient-Rich-Foods (NRF) Index to rank foods based on their nutrient composition. To read the abstract, click here.

Canadians identify barriers to healthy eating

It can be hard to eat well in today's society, especially with the economic crunch. Read this article to see a few other reasons people find it hard to eat well. Consumer education not only needs to teach what to eat to be healthy, but how to do it: shopping, cooking, etc.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Real women aren't magazine cover-models or mannequins

Yesterday, I watched an amazing story on the Today show about how a recent magazine cover photo of Kelly Clarkson was re-touched, and Kelly was not too happy about it.

Kelly Clarkson's Self magazine photo retouched

As you'll read and see at the link above, the magazine editor-in-chief of SELF magazine was brought on to the Today show to explain why they drastically retouched the picture of Kelly Clarkson to make her look much thinner than she really is.

As we all know, Kelly has her curves, but, like so many women, Kelly is proud of these curves. Yes, there is a difference between curves and being overweight, but for some women, they are never EVER going to look like women on magazine covers (or as mannequins in the store). I'll admit, I'm one of them... my thighs touch and my arms are bigger at the bicep than my forearm. And I like it.

For Kelly, she was very unimpressed that Self magazine would do this to her image. But, as you can see the editor-in-chief from SELF had issues of her own: this woman looked like she'd been eating paper towels and ice chips for a few weeks before appearing on the show. Her arms were seriously scary. And, I, out of most people I know, do appreciated vascularity in a woman's arms when she's lifting heavy at the gym. But, this woman just looked like she needed a good meal. It was scary.

She obviously thinks women in this world are too fat, including Kelly Clarkson, who was invited to be on her magazine cover.

It seems that no woman would be thin enough to be on magazine covers today, which is a topic I've blogged about before. Even the cover models themselves.

This is exactely why women today need to stop judging themselves based on these images. Most women have thighs, and when they bend to the side, they probably will get a little roll. Most women even over the age of 25, usually have a little pooch not because they don't know how to take care of themselves, but because nature and gravity have their ways.

Here is another take on this story by examiner.come: Do magazine covers set unrealistic expectations?

Women usually only have a super flat stomach plus perfect thighs and arms for three reasons:
a) They're 18 or younger
b) They have wonderful genetics
c) They're right about to step on stage for a bodybuilding/figure show and have been dieting and exercising insanely for the past 16 or more weeks.

So, ladies, unless you're one of these, enjoy the skin you're in. Yes, workout hard and eat well to attain what God will let you, but know your limits. If your mother has hips, you probably will too, and that's ok. (Guys actually really like hips and don't think boy hips are all that attractive.)

You can look great and feel great, but you likely won't look like women on magazine covers. Make your role models real women in your life either in real pictures or in person. No matter who we are, we all have our imperfections, but the bottom line is that if we don't like ourselves for what we can be, no one else is going to make us look any better.

Even Kelly isn't happy about her new body - but apparently SELF magazine doesn't think she should be'' herself... she should be the 'self' they think she should be.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nutritionist vs RD

This past Sunday on Good Morning America, a "nutritionist" was profiled giving her nutrition expertise to the public.

To read the full story, check out the link here:

What to Eat When: Foods for Slimming, Sleeping and Satisfying

The comments/recommendations made by this "nutritionist" (which, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist) including statements such as:

"Don't eat protein bars because most of them contain soy protein isolate which difficult to digest and can slow thyroid function"

"Don't feed kids pre-packaged fruit snacks, even if they're 100% fruit juice because they are laced with sugar which spikes your child's blood sugar levels"

"Don't drink diet soda because it is high-glycemic and will throw blood sugars off. Also, it is acid-forming and demineralizes bones"

"Don't eat fruit at night because it will 'sit' on top of slower digesting foods in the stomach and cause indigestion"

Now, these statements really ruffled the feathers of many (many) Registered Dietitians (RD). First they were upset that this woman claimed to be a nutrition expert, when they feel a Registered Dietitian is the true nutrition expert. Then, they were upset because she made statements about diet soda and protein bars that they feel is not accurate.

If you check out both GMA's website on this story and the ADA's Facebook page, you'll see the plethora of comments from RDs about how this story was so terrible and how this woman was not credentialed to give this information.

Well, here's my two cents about all of this:

First, yes, I would have to agree that it should have been a RD on the show giving nutrition information rather than a self-proclaimed "nutrition expert". After having gone through 12 years of nutrition education myself and a dietetic internship to become a RD, I do respect the training some RDs have in order to be qualified to give nutrition advice.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that the majority of the public thinks most RDs are idiots. Some RDs only repeat what they read in nutrition textbooks, but never take the time to learn the recommendations themselves by sourcing back to the originial researched information. In some cases, for example, with the recommendations for a low-fat, low/moderate protein diet to make everyone healthy (even diabetics), they'd see that the recommendation was never based on any hard and sturdy science. A low-fat diet is not the answer to everyone's nutrition problems. Yes, maybe for some people it is a good choice, but overconsuming carbs because protein will kill you and fat is evil is not helping our country's expanding waistline. And, there is loads of real science on the benefits of carb restriction.

The RDs who commented on this story felt that the recommendation to not consume protein bars because they contain soy protein isolate was absolutely wrong and inaccurate. They feel soy is a great food, and that it is not harmful at all.

Yet, there is mounds of research showing that isolated soy proteins may actually have negative health implications for bone and hormonal balance. Thus, it may be wise to not overconsume isolated soy, in bars or other products. However, soy as a whole food (as edamame) and fermented soy products like natto, have been shown to be healthy and are foods often consumed by Asian cultures for hundreds of year without harm. So, perhaps this statement made on GMA wasn't so terrible, but could have been stated in a different way. She could have said that when looking for protein bar to look for proteins from non-soy sources like whey protein, hemp protein, rice protein or nut and seed protein instead because the health effects of soy protein isolate are questionable.

Then, her statement about diet soda is not entirely accurate, but not completely out to lunch either. As I posted recently, artificial sweeteners have been shown to have similar effects on metabolism as sugar - meaning that they seem to elicit the same insulin response and thus, act in the same way as the food they are trying to replace. Thus, the statement made on GMA could have instead referenced this research showing that it's better to avoid all sweeteners -real or fake - beause of their potential to increase risk factors for diabetes. The fact that they are high-glycemic though is not correct. They don't raise blood glucose levels. Instead, they could be considered high-insulinemic. So, for RDs to defend this statement as completely wrong could be valid, but instead, they should have corrected it based on scientific research showing how artificial sweeteners may actually not be the answer to everybody's blood sugar problems.

Finally, the statement about fruit seems quite odd. I don't know of anything that would say this is true. Also, this advice doesn't really help the mounds of people that desire something sweet after they eat dinner. Rather than eating cake or other desserts, I think fruit is a much better option. The statement recommends vegetables, and that's good too, but I don't think many people are craving carrot sticks to help them curb a sweet tooth. Show some evidence for this rotting effect and I'd be more convinced.

Overall, GMA should know better than to use someone without any credentials to give advice to millions of people. There are very bright and talented RDs out there that have busted their butts to become the true nutrition experts. Yes, this woman may have some good ideas, but just like other people have commented: if you wanted to give out medical advice, you wouldn't have ask a self-proclaimed medical expert to be on the show. You would have asked a true medical doctor. Do the same for your nutrition recommendations.

I'd love to hear any of your thoughts. I wrote this on the fly before leaving for work this morning (and between bouts of morning sickness), so if you have anything more to add, that would be great.