Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Altering Metabolism -- Foods and Habits that Influence Metabolism

  When I want to learn something, I use it as an excuse to write a blog.
'In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.'
  By explaining, by teaching, by writing a blog, it helps me gain a better understanding, a better grasp on the subject.

  Recently, I've made a few changes in my eating habits. Though, there have only been a few changes, I've found they've greatly affected my energy level throughout the day, and my overall 'feeling'. My energy levels are suddenly constant -- there are no peaks and valleys, and I generally feel better.

  So for me, that meant my metabolism has changed. The way my body is burning fuel has changed. It brought up the question: What is metabolism?

  People often say 'I have a slow/fast metabolism' But what does that really mean? To some degree, yes, we have a set metabolism. The levels of hormones our bodies produce are specific to each individual. That's why, comparison between people, in regard to metabolism and diet, is never a helpful strategy.

  Metabolism is our bio-chemistry, our hormonal makeup, our body chemistry. It dictates how our bodies burn fat, how many calories our bodies burn, muscle maintenance, how much fat you store or burn.

  Since our bodies synthesize hormones, we can affect them depending on our habits, and therefore, influence our metabolism. Certain hormones play a huge role in hunger, satiety, fat burning ability, and muscle maintenance.

  Simply stated, hormones help our bodies function properly. And depending on our goals, the foods we eat, and our day-to-day routines, can either positively, or negatively, affect our metabolism.

My plate has looked a lot like this lately.
  Certain foods and lifestyle habits are going to help create more of one hormone or another. So in researching how my body's metabolism was changing, I came across some helpful information. Here are some tips to decrease fat storage hormones, and increase fat burning hormones:

  While I might be over-simplifying it, insulin is commonly referred as the fat storing hormone.

  Insulin's main job is to remove sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream, and convert it to something the body can use for energy. When we eat, (anything really -- a piece of bread, candy, a piece of fruit, or even protein), our pancreas produces insulin to convert it to usable energy. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin that is produced.

  One thing we don't want is a constant surge of insulin. An increase in glucose causes the body to store more body fat. More fat is stored, less is burned.

  Keeping our insulin levels as stable as possible is the goal. We can accomplish this by eating higher quality carbohydrates (complex carbs vs. simple carbs, whole grains vs. refined grains).

  Foods that are slow digesting (low GI foods), pass more slowly through the digestive system, gradually enter the blood stream, and keep insulin at a more consistent level. Slower digesting foods, or complex carbohydrates include quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta. High fibrous foods like beans, and vegetables and most fruits are also slow digesting foods.

  Fast digesting foods are those that pass quickly through your digestive system, and into your blood stream. Because they arrive so quickly, they drive up blood glucose levels causing insulin to spike so that your body can utilize the glucose. These foods include 'white' foods -- rice, bread, pasta, potatoes -- soda, most cereals, sports drinks, and candy.

  Limit the fast digesting foods as often as possible, and insulin levels will stay relatively stable throughout the day.

Nothing more relaxing than this -- Sardegna.
  Cortisol is most-commonly referred to as the stress hormone. It's also associated with triggering the 'fight or flight' response. When we experience stress, our adrenal gland releases cortisol. So obviously, the more stress we feel/experience, the more cortisol produced.

  Studies have linked cortisol to the storage of abdominal fat. And elevated, and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream is also related to higher blood pressure, impaired cognitive function, decrease in bone density and muscle tissue, among other things.

  Cortisol is also known to leave us craving sugar and carbohydrates (which then lends itself to trigger the production of insulin).

  To naturally decrease cortisol levels: 1) sleep more (and keep a 'normal' sleep habits), 2) do any-and-every-thing possible to decrease stress (vacation, meditation, breaks in the work day, exercise).

  Find effective ways to manage stress. Easier said than done though, isn't it?

  Serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, and sleep. Known as the 'happy' hormone, serotonin has the opposite effect of cortisol. It calms us down, and helps drive down stress hormones. It also acts as a natural appetite suppressant.

  To encourage more serotonin production, eat folate (Vitamin B9)-rich foods. This includes:
lentil beans, garbanzo beans, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), and asparagus.

  By changing my eating habits, my goal was not necessarily altering my metabolism. That was just an effect of altering my my diet. After reading these 'tips', you can probably guess my dietary changes came in the form of: more slow burning foods: less processed sugars, more legumes (beans), and a lot more vegetables.

  I am constantly amazed at the human body. And the way its functions and effects are interacted never cease to blow me away.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Portland's Rose Festival & Grand Floral Parade

My favorite float from the Make a Wish Foundation.

  You know, Portland is called the Rose City, for several reasons.

  Along with being famously weird, and its rain, its food carts, and Nike, Portland is also known for its roses. The most commonly referenced reason for the rose moniker comes from the International Rose Test Gardens, where hundreds of rose varieties are grown and experimented.

  Apparently roses grow like crazy in Portland. So the city wanted to put that to good use, and as early as 1919, there have been test gardens in the city.

Two other favorites floats.
  But most-likely, the 'City of Roses' origin came from former mayor, Harry Lane. In 1905, Lane came up with the idea of an ongoing festival dedicated to roses.

  Two years later, Portland held its first Rose Festival.

  Today, the Rose Festival is possibly the most-popular time to visit Portland, the with the Grand Floral Parade being the
highlight of the three-weekend long city

  Even though we haven't officially hit summertime yet, many would call the Rose Festival the centerpiece of summer in Portland. Though many years, summer still seems a long time off during Rose Festival.

  I have a vivid memory of the Rose Festival as a kid. It's not one of bright, sun-shiny skies, however. I remember one particularly-wet CityFair where my family and I braved a soggy, smelly waterfront park, all in the name of riding a few amusement park rides.

The Festival
  Optimistic city leaders started the festival in 1907, with hopes of putting Portland on the map and branding it the 'summer capital of the world.' While I'm not so sure they've reached that lofty goal, Portland's Rose Festival has become quite the attraction -- drawing over a million visitors to the city each year. And for those who live in the the Portland-Metro area, it's something to look forward to when June rolls around every year.

CityFair 2012 -- notice the black sky.

  The Rose Festival is filled with different events -- most of them centered around Portland's waterfront downtown.

  There are three parades, a two-week long amusement park -- CityFair, firework displays, a 5k run, Dragon Boat Races, the Queen's Coronation, and of course, the Grand Floral Parade. There's a little something for everyone.

  Sadly, this year there was one thing missing from the Rose Festival: the Navy ships.

Fleet Week 2012.
  Since the very first festival, navy ships and other fleet-related vessels (submarines, for example) have made their way to Portland's waterfront for Fleet Week. It gave the city and the people of Portland an opportunity to celebrate and thank the military, and also for active personnel to come to port for the week.

  But this year, due to the Navy sequestration and budget concerns, the ships were not able to attend Rose Festival. Hopefully that does not become the trend for good.

The Grand Floral Parade
  I've attended the Grand Floral Parade a handful of times. And this year happened to be one of them. The weather forecast was clear; we were in for a beautiful day. So with nothing on my Saturday agenda, my mom and I packed a couple chairs, some snacks, and off to the parade we went!

The scene as we waited for the parade to arrive.
  We found a perfect spot to enjoy the parade: a front-row, sidewalk seat, nestled in between food carts and coffee shops.

  Before the parade made its way to our location, we passed the time mostly by people-watching, while fighting off the urge to taste every different aroma coming from the food trucks.

  Here are some highlights from the four-mile long route:18 marching bands from local, and not-so-local, high schools (one band made the trip all the way from sister city, Kaohsiung, Taiwan), 19 equestrian units, and 17 all-floral floats.

Mom and I waiting for the parade.
  The Grand Floral Parade is the second largest all-floral parade in North America, meaning the floats are made entirely with 'organic' materials. Something to wonder at as you notice the detail, texture, and intricacy as each float passes by.

Without a doubt, the Grand Floral Parade was a great way to spend a Saturday.

  The Rose Festival has a long-standing presence in Portland. It survives year in and year out because of volunteerism, and people willing to work to put on a fabulous summertime event, and make Portland a better city to live and visit.

  It's a great tradition I'm proud to be able to say originates from Portland!


More pictures to enjoy!
Most outstanding float from Reser's Fine Foods.
Fleet Week 2012.
Fleet Week from 2012
Mom getting ready for the sun.
Sidewalk fun.
Detailed look at Make a Wish bear.
Hello llama! This little guy came to say hello to me.
Happy Canyon Princesses.
The Oregonian float.
Life Flight float.
Battle Ground Rose Float.
Food cart scene.
2013 Rose Festival Court.
They're so creative! Where there's horses, there's bound to be...
Detail of the alligator float.
Beautiful horses.

Royal Rosarian Foundation Float.
Royal Rosarian Foundation Float.
A nod to the history of the Oregon Trail.
Peace Corps Association.
Dragon dancers.
Chinelos dancers.
The Clydesdale horses.
The Boy Scouts brought the parade to an end.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What's Your Brand?

Athlete, health-conscious, traveler.

  I came across an article last week I thought had an interesting concept:   
            What are you known for?
  As in, what do your social media 'jottings' say about you?

  In this, the era of social media, we are essentially able to create our own 'legacy'. It's true. If we participate in social media, we are building our own brand, solidifying our reputation, and selling ourselves.

  It also feeds into one of the biggest criticisms of our era.

The 'Me' Generation
  Probably the biggest criticism of social media in general, is that it feeds the 'me generation'. It's all about what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I'm buying, what I'm eating, and so on.

The things you see on the road.
  That might be the extreme way to look it it. But I agree, social media can lead to ego. It's the world we are living in, however, and just like everything else, it's important we find a balance.

  I think social media has an incredible amount of positive that comes with it as well. 

  Whatever your feelings toward social media are, one thing is for sure: it's here to stay. So we might as well get used to it, and learn how to best benefit from it.

Your Reputation on the Line
  That being said, what do your postings elicit from followers, readers, friends? Are they positive or negative feelings? What do your Twitter account, your Facebook profile, your blog posts, your Instagram pictures say about you?

  That's your reputation. Whether you mean to or not, those are the traits you are exuding.

  Putting it that way makes it interesting thing to think about. And more significant. Each and every thing we post stands alone; it's an individual piece of information. But over time, a brand is developed and those postings become your reputation.

  Are you representing yourself the way you want?

You can find your niche anywhere.
  It's one thing for people who know you. But many times with social media and the internet, people don't know you 'in real life'. They just know you based on what you post.

  Maybe you say, 'who cares?' or 'we shouldn't care about what others think about us.'

  I think that is true to a certain extent -- we need to be ourselves. But when it comes to social media, and potentially, our careers, I think that's a naive perspective to have.

  It's not to say you should hold back. Be your true self. Be proud of the person you are, and the things you are saying and doing.

  If it's important to you, it's something to think about.

  For me, as someone who is entering the job market, it makes me more aware. Before, as a (somewhat) public figure as a basketball player, I was always conscious of the things I posted on my social media accounts. But I am even more cognizant of it now.

  You always want to put your best foot forward. Always.

  Outside of the obvious, here are a few things I've learned on the fly about social media:
  1. It's not about what you do, it's about who you are. Let your personality shine through. 
  2. Sarcasm doesn't always translate. 
  3. Think before you post, you never know who's reading. 
  4. You never know who's reading, in turn leads to: you never know who you can connect with, and where things may lead. 
  5. News travels quickly -- in the past several years, I learned of the most important news events via social media and Twitter. 
  6. You can have amazing conversations and interactions with people you don't know, and may never meet.
  Whatever we use social media for, and whether we mean to or not, we're building a brand. For me, I think my brand is three things: athlete, traveler, and health-conscious. That's what I would think, but I really don't know for certain.

  What's your brand?