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Gluten, lactose, and learning to love seaweed

Bridget Yard The Aquinian

The road to wellness is long. It’s hard work and it sucks. Do I have the authority to tell you how to take the journey? Certainly not. But I’ve been in pursuit of optimal health for years and I hope you can glean something from my experience. It all started out pretty well. I finished high school as a superathlete. I raced cross-country skiing, track, and cross-country running in high school. I’d been to Ski Nationals several times, landing high enough in the rankings to make myself, my family, and my hometown proud. Then I was diagnosed with asthma. And lactose intolerance. And soy intolerance. And several other nagging allergies and intolerances I had yet to figure out. My immune system was falling apart due to over-training and being underweight. Add this to my severe nut allergy and the recipe for disaster is obvious. I completed the twelfth grade in two years instead of one, in order to focus on my health and my future. I was unable to compete at the level I was used to, which depressed me. But at least I could run. No matter how many times I had to stop to catch my breath, I was still able to put one foot in front of the other. By the time I got to university, I was happier, if not healthier. I carried a healthy amount of weight, but my asthma was completely out of control. I joined the cross country team but failed to recapture my former glory and race times. So I drank rum and cokes every weekend and ate my food all processed, all the time. I felt good for a few months. I was perfectly aware of what I was doing to my body, but rationalized that I was young and the effects of my boozy binge would be unnoticeable. Once I got home and realized how unhealthy I’d become, I decided to make a change.

I decided not to ignore my lactose intolerance. No more pizza for me. II made it a priority to annoy the hell out of my respiratory therapist and get my asthma medication under control. I kept running, because that’s what I do. I added weight training to my exercise regimen in order to feel strong. Things started to improve. Since my second year I’ve discovered a gluten intolerance, so my diet has become something out of a hippy commune. But it makes me feel good. My first two years of university, I had a cold every second week. Since I’ve changed what I eat, I’ve barely had a cough. Throughout the course of my troubles, I’ve tried to educate myself. I volunteered for a few years as a youth advisor for Anaphylaxis Canada. AC is an organization that lobbies and looks out for people with life-threatening allergies. Many of the people I met through my work with AC were far worse off than I was. Some had a laundry list of allergies. I met one girl who was allergic to nuts, gluten, eggs, and milk. Try taking her out for dinner. I visited Baltimore to speak at a conference for AC’s American counterpart. The difference between my group and theirs was immediately apparent. While my fellow Canadian advisors were happy to brainstorm problem-solving techniques and put together educational materials, the American kids focused on allergy bullying. I spoke to one mother who said her worst nightmare was that her son would one day want to go to summer camp, where he would be exposed to new threats to his health. It’s all about your state of mind. Health is both physical and mental. My point is, people with allergies and ailments are able to thrive despite their health issues. To look at me, you would never know my medical history. My newest challenge is to find not just health, but optimal health. In order to be my best self, every cylinder needs to be firing perfectly. My coach and I have discussed hydration. I’m having trouble retaining water and have muscle spasms and tightness as a result. His solution: dulce, which is basically dried seaweed. It tastes like garbage. It looks like garbage. But I’ve been taking it with water because the salt in it helps me to stay hydrated. And I’m trying not to complain about it. I want to reclaim my fastest running times. I’m looking forward to running a marathon upon graduation. So my focus is on how to fuel for running, keeping in mind that I need to function in everyday life. Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I’m navigating the road to wellness as best I can. And after four years, it still sucks.

Dealing with campus caffeine addiction You might need a cup of joe to kickstart your day, but do you know what it’s doing to your body?

How many cups a day do you need to keep you going? (Kaylee Moore/AQ) Alyson MacIsaac The Aquinian

You wake up in the morning feeling exhausted and incomplete. The familiar gurgling noise of a coffee maker wakes you up a little more. A sweet cup o’ brew is all the morning needs. Adam Wright, a journalism graduate from St. Thomas University, applauds the brew and loves the new Tim Hortons extra large sizes. He even made his own “Ode to the Tim Horton’s Extra Large Cup” to the tune of Adele’s, Set Fire to the Rain. “Energy jolt to the brain, as the caffeine ran through my veins,” Wright sings. When asked about the extra large coffee, he praises Tim Hortons’ choices. “God bless those geniuses! I have one from time to time. Takes me six hours to finish, three piss-breaks,” Wright said. The caffeine kick keeps students going. Gives us a boost of energy when there’s no time to stop. We become like an energizer bunny, except with more shakes and higher heart rate. Ellen MacIntosh, dietician at University of New Brunswick, said students should look at how much caffeine they have in their diet. “Our body becomes desensitized and gets used to caffeine,” MacIntosh said. “After a while of drinking it on a regular basis, we need it to function on a regular level.” Jeremy Fowler, a recent graduate of STU, has accepted that he

needs coffee in his diet to function normally. “If I don’t have coffee, I am slow at getting going in the morning and if I don’t have one by midday, I will start having a pounding headache and if I don’t have one at all during the day, I’ll be sick by the night,” Fowler said. MacIntosh says students need to ask questions about the amount of caffeine in their diet. “The question is... how is it working for you? Is it upsetting your stomach? Do you find your heart rate is racing? Are you shaky or jittery? Do you have a problem with anxiety and does it make it worse?” MacIntosh said. Hilary Ball, a third year student, tries to stick to one cup a day. “Usually no more than one and sometimes I drink tea instead,” Ball said. MacIntosh says that alternatives to caffeine can be beneficial for students during stressful times. “Caffeine gives you all of the symptoms of stress. It can make the stress response even worse. If you’re nervous before a presentation or exam,” said MacIntosh. “If a person feels like they’re constantly turning to coffee to keep them going, that’s a red flag. It’s a good opportunity to look at their life and say ‘hey what am I doing? am I drinking enough water? Am I getting in all four food groups?’ Dehydration is the biggest cause of fatigue. It is a mask for some other issue. We really shouldn’t need it.” Health Canada suggests adults drink 400 milligrams of coffee a day,

the equivalent to two large coffees from Tim Hortons. However, MacIntosh says it’s a different story for young adults. “For older teens and younger adults there’s not a lot of studies for these things so what they say is 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight,” MacIntosh said. “A 60 kilogram male (125-130 pounds) then that’s 120 milligrams of caffeine. One medium coffee would put you over that. Or a can of pop is about 50 milligrams.” MacIntosh says that students should try to look for alternatives to caffeine. “Water, herbal teas, raw veggies and dip, something nutritious for you. Plain popcorn or fresh cut up fruit with yogurt,” MacIntosh said. “You’re replacing something nonnutritious with something nutritious and it’s going to give you more vitamins and more minerals so your body can function at its very best.” Adam Wright always has a coffee on hand, but he only drinks one to three cups a day. “Although I am known for my love of coffee, I usually just have one, or two, or three per day. But I’m a slow drinker. I enjoy it. Savor every drink. Hell, I don’t mind drinking it cold either,” Wright said. MacIntosh understands that coffee is going to be part of a students life. “As a university student, coffee is going to be part of a student’s life,” MacIntosh said. “Its just a matter of being aware of what you’re drinking.”