Flat Stomach, Scoliosis & Estrogenic Foods

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Claudia asks:

I was wondering if you have any tips for people with scoliosis. I’ve had it for about 5 years, and I was wondering also if you knew anything about straightening the spine out again.

Scoliosis, in terms of having it for about 5 years, I’m guessing what you mean, Claudia, is that you’ve been diagnosed 5 years ago. People tend to have it, unless there’s an acute injury or something, usually have it from birth. Of course with age and things, it can become more pronounced, or with certain activities it can become more pronounced, or as you grow.

The interesting thing about scoliosis is in most cases, scoliosis is not structural. What that means is, if you did not have any muscles or connective tissues, your spine would straighten out just like anyone else’s spine. So what that means is, is that what we’re really talking about is, in most cases, connective tissue and muscular imbalance, which is interesting in that there’s a lot that you can do. Now everybody’s different, it really depends. There’s different levels of severity of scoliosis. I have friends who actually have metal rods in their spine. They’re limited dramatically, in terms of what they can do. And then I know lots and lots of people with minor scoliosis, some people so minor that they’ve never even been diagnosed and perhaps don’t need to.

But really, in most cases, what we’re talking about here is a connective tissue imbalance, which is very, very natural. Everybody has muscle imbalanced, connective tissue imbalances, but in your particular case, it’s gotten to a point where it’s creating problems.

So can you reduce the symptoms of scoliosis? Yes. Can you reduce and relieve pain? Yes. Is that always true? No. For some people, yoga makes it worse, but for a lot of people, lots and lots of people, it makes it better, especially if they work carefully. The risk here is to try to force or to try to push too hard. You really need to be mindful and make sure you’re working with whoever you work with, whether that’s a chiropractic doctor, whether that’s an osteopath, whether that’s an allopathic medical doctor, whoever you’re working with. Just make sure you let them know what you’re doing, what you’re hoping to do. Keep in close contact with your teachers. But for sure, I’ve known lots of people who’ve seen some pretty dramatic results.

Stephny-Ann asks:

Can you please give me the layout for one or two weeks to lose belly fat, to get a flat stomach?

This is a common thing, where people want to lose fat in specific areas of their body. Belly is obviously the most common one. Butt, hips and thighs is another big one, and underneath the arms, particularly for women, or underneath the chin is a common one.

So the bad news here, Stephany-Ann, is that spot reduction is almost impossible, when it comes to losing body fat. And what I mean by that is, you’ll hear people that will say, men say this a lot, maybe they’ll have a big pot belly and they’ll say, “Yeah, but that’s the only place on my entire body I have fat.” That’s rarely true. People tend to distribute fat equally, or at least equally for their body type. You have people with a pear shape and people with an apple shape, and you have people who tend to get fatty necks and people who tend to get fatty ankles, and that’s true.

But for the most part, that fat is distributed equally. So if you are someone who tends to gain weight in their breasts or underneath your arms or wherever it is, if you gain more weight you’ll probably gain more weight there. If you were to lose weight proportionately, you’d lose weight there, too. That’s a really long explanation, but in terms of losing belly fat specifically, there’s only a couple of things to think about.

Like we said, you can’t spot reduce, meaning the common thing is people have a jiggly belly so they want to do a bunch of sit ups, imagining that because they’re moving those muscles, it’s going to burn that fat. But the body doesn’t really work that way. Your body is just as likely to metabolize some fat down in your thighs, as it is in your abs, if you’re doing ab crunches.

That said, there are some foods that are very, very lipogenic, meaning they create body fat, and they’re very lipogenic, specifically in the abdomen. What I mean by that is they tend to accumulate belly fat. The foods that do that are high sugar foods and also sugar alcohol. So the quintessential beer belly, for example, where you see somebody with a really, really exaggerated belly, what happens is sugar alcohols, as well as fructose, which is only really found in high quantities, in things like high fructose corn syrup. It’s pretty difficult to eat enough fruit, near impossible to eat enough fruit to have this situation. But fructose is used as a sweetener in lots of different things. There’s also all kinds of new alcohol sweeteners on the market, which I’m not a big fan of. All the things with weird chemical-sounding names, like xylitol.

What happens is, these are not digested in the same way that glucose is. What happens is, they go straight to your liver and they’re stored very, very efficiently as body fat, and they could lead to fatty liver disease. So there’s actually people who have fatty liver disease. There are teenagers and even preteens who have fatty liver disease, that looks exactly like that of a beer-drinking alcoholic, and it’s from drinking soda.

And so if you struggle with body fat, probably you need to take a look at your overall diet. But everybody, regardless of who you are, you need to take a look at reducing the sugars, specifically the processed sugars, and specifically sugar alcohol, so if you’re drinking alcohol on a regular basis, and then anything that has extracted fructose in it. If you’re eating a couple of pieces of fruit a day, it’s not a big deal. If you’re adding fructose or eating high fructose corn syrup, sweeten things on a regular basis, that’s going to get it. Even sugar. Sugar is about half fructose. So no matter what kind of sugary food you’re eating, you’re still getting a lot of the fructose, which goes straight to your liver and is turned into body fat very, very efficiently. Fructose is one of the more lipogenic nutrients that you can eat.

But in general what you need to do is take a look at your whole diet and try to balance it out. That said, when you take a look at your whole diet, you’re still going to come to that same conclusion. Almost everybody needs to increase the amount of nice, healthy, unprocessed fats and lean proteins as well, in their diets.

Sheela asks:

I love coconuts, and I drink or eat around 4-5 whole, fresh coconuts a week. Recently, my mother mentioned that she doesn’t eat or drink them because of the estrogen content. Is it possible to consume too many of them, and does that create an unhealthy estrogen imbalance in the body?

There’s been a whole lot of talk about this recently, estrogenic foods. These are foods that mimic estrogen in the body. The challenge is that it’s not really as cut and dry as you might hear it. So coconut water in particular, not coconut milk, but coconut water is believed to be estrogenic. Now, what that means is different for different people.

What I mean by that is, soy is one that you’ll hear a lot about. Soy has estrogen-like compounds in it, and that’s why for many, many years they recommended that menopausal women increase their soy intake, to try to balance out their hormones. Now, the interesting thing is it’s not a black and white thing, and in fact often it goes the other way. What I mean by the other way is just because you’re taking in foods that have estrogenic compounds in them, doesn’t necessarily mean your estrogen levels will go up. In some cases, it might do the opposite. It might actually bring your estrogen down. It’s a little bit counterintuitive, but these are estrogen-like compounds. It’s not like you’re taking pure estrogen.

Another example is sweet potato. Sweet potato is where they get bio-identical estrogen from. Bio-identical estrogen is used now for hormone replacement therapy. It’s considered much, much safer than other forms of hormone replacement therapy for women. They used to get it from horse’s urine, which is kind of weird. Now they get it from yams, from sweet potatoes. The interesting thing is men can also eat sweet potatoes and they can also have benefits, and they can also have benefits in terms of balancing their hormones. Not increasing their estrogen, in most cases the opposite, increasing their testosterone. And so it’s not a black and white thing.

In terms of on the estrogenic scale, coconut water is very, very low. But if your mother’s been given that advice and it’s somebody you trust, I’d take the advice. But with all these things, you have to take it with a grain of salt. So another thing that’s very, very common that’s believed to be estrogenic is flaxseeds. And again, for some people that might raise their estrogen levels. For some people it might not.

The one that I find more interesting than the food sources, which my theory is they tend to balance themselves out because they become packed with all these other bio-available phytonutrients and I feel like your body knows what to do with them. The ones that are, in my mind, something to be a little bit more paranoid about, are the Bisphenol A’s, the chemicals that come in plastic water bottles that you buy water in. It’s also used in lots of food packaging preparation, and this stuff gets into our water a lot, and that mimics estrogen in the body.

And that, to me, is a lot more troubling than an estrogen-like compound, and coconut water or an estrogen-like compound in flaxseed or an estrogen-like compound in soy products. You’ll hear all kinds of crazy things on the internet, like people saying they grew man boobs after eating flaxseeds or soy, and I’ve never seen that to be true. In anybody I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen that to be true. For some people, for sure, if they’re having major hormonal problems, maybe staying away from estrogenic foods, but it’s not what you think it is. It’s not like you’re injecting estrogen into your body. It’s a lot more complex than that.

But again, the things that I’m more interested in and I’d recommend you take a look at, are plastics in particular, trying not to drink out of plastics whenever possible, avoiding specifically heated plastic things, is probably a good idea. But all of this is new research, so we’re just learning.

Sean asks:

You said flexibility can change how your DNA expresses itself. Can you share everything it can change and how that can be avoided?

Sean is worried that he’s going to turn into the Incredible Hulk or something. What happens is, this is again a real grey area of research. There’s lots and lots of people trying to figure out how this works. Nobody really knows for sure. But it’s the epigenome.

Our genetics are very, very, very similar to that of a mouse, very, very similar, shockingly similar. You think are DNA is close to a monkey, that’s not that shocking, but we’re very, very close to a mouse also. So what we’re learning more and more is that it’s not so much that we’re genetically unique. It’s that our genes are expressed uniquely. It’s kind of like everybody’s got a pile of bricks and some people stack them up and build a castle, other people build a hut and other people just throw them all over the place. And so this is epigenetic research, and there’s all kinds of interesting things happening and I only have a very layman’s conceptual understanding of it.

But essentially what they’re learning is that your environment, your pre and post-natal experience, your nutrition, everything from your mindset to the food you put in your body can affect your genetic expression, and that’s why two identical twins, one of them can manifest to cancer, the other one can have the same genetic predisposition for cancer and not manifest it. It seems pretty obvious. When you start to think about how that can play out on many different levels, it’s pretty interesting.

So somebody who naturally has a really high surface tension of their skin and their muscles and might be really naturally resistant to stretching, they can perhaps change that genetic expression. Sean, you’re not going to turn into the Incredible Hulk or anything like that, so I wouldn’t be concerned.

Olga asks:

Are there any advanced options for the blaster exercise, after standing on your elbows? I feel rather comfortable in this position and don’t feel it is stretching.

Olga, so make sure, first of all, your ankle is in front of your knee, so you’re in a very, very deep lunge. And then forget about your elbows, go onto your fingertips. Stretch your arms all the way straight, put your fingertips on the floor, and then rest your forehead on the floor. That’s about as deep as you can go with that pose. Some people will even put their foot up on a block. You could try that if you want to. Again, just make sure that foot is way in front of your knee, so you’re in a nice, deep, extended lunge and that knee is protected, and not bending past a 90 degree angle.

Chris asks:

I have done a total knee replacement of my left knee in January of this year. I am having difficulty doing some of the yoga exercises I used to do. Can you suggest yoga asanas, if they’re recommended after doing surgery to regain mobility?

Chris, I’m not sure what a knee replacement means. People use different terms for different things. I’m going to assume it was a real major surgery, whatever you had, in which case I’d be really, really careful of going to any kind of public class, and I would try to work with somebody who’s a physio or a chiropractor who has a background in yoga. Your average yoga teacher does not know enough about knees, just to be totally honest with you, to give you really safe advice, especially if you’ve had some kind of major surgery like that.

So do be careful. Knees are so, so delicate. You really have to be careful. But I think yoga can help, for sure. If I had anything done with my knees, I would for sure get on a yoga protocol to heal them. I’d just be leery to recommend something to you, without knowing exactly what’s going on, and better yet working with you in person. Yoga Trapeze