Understanding what’s best for our bodies may seem easy in principle. But I’ll be the first to admit that WebMD is bookmarked on my computer, and while my personal doctor is displeased with that fact, health is something we shouldn’t take lightly. So I sat down with a close friend of mine to get an inside scoop when it comes to taking first class care of our bodies.
Abby has always replied to my frantic late night questions when my period is late, has talked me off the ledge from many internet maladies, and above all is a dear family friend with the most sincere heart (as evidenced by the last question I asked her–find it in the quickfire round below!). She became a doctor for all the right reasons, to advocate and promote healthy habits for women, and most of all to do good in the world. Not only is she a badass lady doctor but a very talented runner as well! Abby is the definition of #girlboss and someone who inspires me very much.
For all my female runners, grab a cup of coffee or a mug of tea and get cozy because below is some information we should all become privy to.
What inspired you to become a doctor + what has been the most rewarding moment so far?
I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. I’m sure it started out as a childhood dream, but as I grew up and spent time volunteering in hospitals and clinics, I knew that this was the career path for. It’s equally challenging and rewarding on so many levels. You constantly face a new puzzle, a set of symptoms, and a patient looking for answers. Hopefully, I’ll be able to diagnose and treat patients, providing them with a better quality of life and continue to learn throughout the process.
The most rewarding parts of my job are spending time with patients. Sometimes it’s a nice conversation we have or having the privilege of knowing that the patient is sharing an intimate part of themselves during some of their most vulnerable hours. Being there for my patients is my greatest joy.
Reproductive health is important (to say the least). I think a lot of young women forget that even if they don’t want a baby today or tomorrow, the choices they make in the present can affect their bodies in the future. What are some healthy habits women can practice to make sure they’re taking care of themselves for the long term?
This is a great question, and you are definitely right that present choices can affect women down the road. Good habits women can take up now have four pillars in my opinion.
- Establish good physical health. You don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner per say, but setting routes that get you moving on a daily basis is a goal to aspire for. It’s recommended to be active for at least 30 minutes each day, 5 times per week, but the more the better. The key is setting good habits early and finding an activity that you love!
- A healthy diet. We all are aware that fast food isn’t the most nutritious, but the main key in my mind is that everything can be enjoyed in moderation. Get lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and plenty of water. But if you’re craving a doughnut, have one (just maybe not every day). You want to try to get your general vitamins and minerals from what you eat, but adding a general multivitamin is a good idea if there are areas that your diet doesn’t cover.
- Set your body up for success. Avoiding smoking, or quitting smoking. Every day and year that you go without smoking, you add years to your life. Enjoy alcohol in moderation, not excess.
- Go see your doctor. Whether it’s your generalist, family doctor, or OBGYN. We are happy to make sure you are up to date on screenings, answer questions, and set you up for success when you feel ready to step into the next phase of your life.
Running on your period….should women do it, should we take the week off? What are some guidelines or things to remember when it’s that time of the month?
There aren’t too many ‘rules’ about this, surprisingly. If you feel comfortable, and can be out moving without being uncomfortable then definitely go for it. Moving around, oxygenating your lungs, and being outside can all help with managing the cramps and bloating. If you tend to have very heavy periods and become symptomatic where you feel lightheaded when standing, you should avoid activity and go see your OBGYN. Bleeding to excess, even on your period can be managed with medication so that you can back to your daily activities, including running!
Menstrual cups vs. tampons vs. pads…is one better than the other?
There isn’t one that is inherently better than the other. It mostly comes down to personal preference, and what you’re most comfortable with. Tampons seem to work best for those with active lifestyles, in general. I am not as familiar with the cup as with the others, but you would have to be pretty comfortable with yourself and the potential “mess” that could ensue. By all means, try it out, but only if you aren’t squeamish.
Feminine hygiene: being an ultra-runner is pretty difficult…having your period during a race can make it even more difficult. When we’re supposed to change a tampon or pad every few hours, what are some other ways women can stay clean down there when being outdoors/exercising for a prolonged period of time?
That’s a tough question. Tampons seem to be the most logical answer for active women and testing them out while training is your best bet. However, if you wanted to talk to your OBGYN about birth control options that may lighten your period as an added benefit, that could be a game changer. The pill can do that and gives you some control over when your period comes, or something like hormone-based IUDs (Mirena, Skyla, Liletta etc…) are great options too!
Anemia, low-iron, and amenorrhea are unfortunately very common for women in endurance or high-stress sports. What are some things we can do to prevent those things?
Yes, you’re right. Unfortunately, these conditions are common in many women, not just runners. I would recommend visiting your doctor and asking for a blood test to establish a baseline level of your hemoglobin and iron. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have low levels and that this can cause us to just feel all around “crappy”. But honestly, one of the best things you can do to help prevent this is to eat a well-rounded diet. Make sure to include plenty of protein, including meat or fish. Leafy greens have lots of iron as well and are both nutritious and tasty.
Bone density: what is it and why should women in particular pay attention to it?
Bone density is a measure of how “dense” or thick your bones are. There are several factors that help to maintain bone density, including calcium from your diet as well as contact activities (including running!). The more you run, the more impact your bones take, and they are then able to regenerate and maintain their strength.
Women and men to have similar bone density until women hit menopause. This is because estrogen is a protective factor for bones, but menopause levels drop to zero and therefore bones are more at risk for fractures. That being said, if you aren’t getting your period (amenorrhea), you also have low estrogen and your bones may be at risk.
I would recommend trying to get most of your calcium from dietary sources, but if you add a general multivitamin to your daily routine, that will also provide calcium. Keep on running, as that helps to keep bones strong, but if you’re missing periods, please see your OBGYN and discuss further steps to help correct this.
While it’s more common for women to worry about bone density, men aren’t off the line either. Because they can’t suffer from amenorrhea, what are some signs or symptoms when it comes to men and low bone-density/over-training?
Although I’m not specialized as an orthopedist and don’t often see men in my OBGYN, a persistent injury, ache or pain that does not feel better on its own after 2-4 weeks with appropriate rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen or Naproxen) should be evaluated by your doctor.
Fad diets are prevalent and dangerous. As a medical professional, how would you advise we navigate the world of conflicting nutritional messages?
I think the best way to think about what you eat is to stick to the basics of nutrition. You need to fill your body with enough calories to replenish what you expend during the day (your basal metabolic rate + expended calories from workouts etc..). I think getting pulled into the trends of “cut this, or eliminate that, or only drink juice” can be dangerous and a false way for people to feel they are eating much better than they may be. My advice is to find what works best for your body, what makes you feel the best and make sure to eat enough calories. The key word for me when it comes to eating is a balance- a slice of pie won’t kill you, but maybe not every single night. Balance protein, carbs, and fat. Add color to your plate, and don’t forget to treat yourself on occasion, you’re worth it!
Unfortunately, disordered eating is really common among runners. Do you have any advice or tips on how to practice having a positive relationship with food?
Especially with runners and those who use their body to achieve amazing feats on a daily basis, it is important to remember that you need to feed your body in order to reach those goals. The concept that being thinner and smaller will get your farther faster isn’t always true. Like a car, you need to put in fuel for it to run properly. However, disordered eating isn’t as simple as telling yourself or other this. Disordered eating can be a true mental illness, and should be treated as such. If you or someone you know struggles with this, please seek the help you need to feel better and have a more positive relationship with food.
Getting sick always seems to come at the wrong time, and many forego listening to their body when it comes to catching a cold. What are some guidelines you would recommend on knowing when to push through or when it’s time to take a day off?
Similar to running or working out on your period, it’s kind of a self-awareness decision. If you have a cold or are recovering from a stuffy nose, it will likely feel really good to get out of the house and go for a quick run. However, I would recommend avoiding exercise if you have a fever, or are vomiting. You become very prone to dehydration in those situations and it’s probably best to rest up and sip on some electrolyte-heavy drinks (avoid the super-sugary ones since they are likely to upset your tummy).
Wake up early to workout or get an extra hour of sleep?
I am a morning person and definitely opt for getting up early and squeezing in a workout. That way I don’t have an excuse when I’m tired at 5:30PM!
Coffee or tea?
Hmm, it may be blasphemous but 50/50 on this one. I’ve recently been on an Earl Grey kick, but still love the routine of making a cup of joe with our french press and milk frother.
Last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I’m working the night shift on labor and delivery this first month of my residency. The combination of hilarious co-residents and long nights has lead to many belly-laughing sessions. I’m so glad to be working where I am!
3 kitchen essentials you can’t live without?
1. Recently, my Instant Pot has become my lifeline. Working 75+ hrs each week, it allows me to meal-prep healthy food for the entire in less than an hour. Lots of veggies, enough protein and some carbs to power me through the day. I can’t wait to try making homemade yogurt with it!
2. Garlic press. I don’t know how I would get by having to finely chop garlic… it’s a time saver and makes adding flavor to any meal so easy!
3. A jar of TJ’s almond butter. It’s salty and sweet, goes great on everything (toast, bananas, on its own, on plain yogurt), has lots of protein, and doesn’t empty my pockets!
Last book you couldn’t put down?
Before We Were Yours. I actually listened to this on audiobook and loved it. The storyline, suspense on where the plot was going, and character growth was such a joy.
Favorite guilty pleasure? (Doesn’t have to be food related!)
Hmm, that’s tough. Probably going to the movies, and getting a large popcorn and a box of sour patch kids or Reese’s pieces. It feels like such an indulgence to unplug for a few hours and escape into a movie. That or getting a mani/pedi.
Your favorite way to unwind after a long day?
I’m a knitter and crafter at heart, so doing things with my hands in front of a good Netflix show or baseball game is super relaxing.
If you could have dinner with anyone on the planet, who would it be?
Probably you— it’s been too long!!
Run Hapi + Healthy!