I am what I eat

 

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I finished the Beijing Sportive duathlon (50k ride and 5k run) but it was tough.

A recent bout of illness forced me to take a critical look at my dietary habits in the last couple of months.

For the last two weeks, I had swollen tonsils and runny nose. I took a myriad of Chinese herbal medicine to treat colds for a week, but the symptoms didn’t subside. I cut out red meat, caffeine, dairy and gluten for a couple of days, just to see if the symptoms were caused by inflammation. My sore throat and runny nose subsided but was replaced by swollen gums and an outbreak of acne on my forehead. After spending most of the day slumped over my desk drifting in and out of sleep and suffering a headache, I went to my trusted Chinese massage therapist and asked for ‘guasha’, a Chinese treatment that involves scraping the back of my neck, shoulder blades, spine and other parts of my back with something resembling the edge of a spoon to release the ‘fire’ (i.e. the cause of my discomfort) in my body. The treatment usually left dark scrape marks on my back that would dissipate after three or four days. My mother used to administer this treatment to me when I experienced similar symptoms as a child, and I’d feel immediate relief afterwards. This was how I came to know about ‘guasha’ in the first place.

This time, I felt relief about three to four hours later. My swollen gums subsided enough so it didn’t hurt when I chewed. After a good night’s sleep, I felt brand new.

After suffering from this ailment on and off almost all my life, I’ve narrowed the causes down to these usual suspects:

  • air-conditioning (but it’s impossible to function in Beijing summer without it)
  • untreated heat stroke (I was quite sunburnt during the trail run in Lingshan)
  • lack of sleep
  • poor diet

 

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Oily Chinese food is unfortunately not the best recovery food.

If there’s anything I’ve not been pleased about this year, it’s how I’ve let my diet slide. I can’t remember when exactly I began drinking more coffee and alcohol, and eating more sweets and junk food. It started after I stopped recording what I ate in MyFitnessPal because the app stopped working for some reason in Feb. After not recording what I ate for a couple of weeks, I stopped doing it altogether. I figured I exercise regularly enough to burn whatever food I ate and the calorie calculations were not accurate anyway. In the process, I also stopped paying attention to the quality of food I was putting into my body, ordering more and more take-out (the cheaper the better!) instead of cooking.

It took a couple of weeks of feeling very unwell to make me realise my error. I eliminated caffeine, dairy, gluten and meat from my diet for two days in a desperate bid to detox. After just one day, my body felt lighter and my head was clearer. I kept this up for the next two to three days, not so much to detox but more because I physically felt better.

I’ve since re-introduced caffeine and white meat into my diet, but at a lesser amount than before. It helps that the Starbucks in my office building closed earlier this month, making it harder for me to get my afternoon shot of caffeine. I consciously drink more water and green tea when I’m at work, and have cut down on soda and take-out. I haven’t resumed my food journaling probably due to lack of motivation. I can feel my body responding positively to these changes, especially when I’m exercising. I no longer feel sluggish or easily tired when I run. Now I just need the discipline to keep this up for the next couple of months as I train for my first half Ironman race.

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coping with hair loss

how I wish I had as much hair as you
how I wish I had as much hair as you

Since spring this year, I’ve been losing significantly more hair than I previously did. Initially I didn’t think much about it, but as the phenomenon continued without any sign of slowing down, I began getting worried, especially since I’ve always had fine and thin hair.

Possible causes

I spoke to a couple of friends who’s had issues with sudden hair loss in the past to find out the possible reasons for their hair loss, the remedies they’ve tried to reduce hair loss or grow hair and which of these worked. Naturally, I also searched for answers online.

As you can probably imagine, there’s lots of conflicting information out there about the causes for hair thinning.   While it’s been quite easy to disregard the completely non-sensical causes (overexercise, really?), it’s been tough making up my mind about causes that sound logical and probable (frequent hair colouring, Beijing’s over-chlorinated water and thyroid illness). Here are two articles I’ve found online that made the most sense on this topic:

Health Check: why does women’s hair thin out?

How to Speed Up Hair Growth

What I’ve done about it

After doing as much research as I felt was necessary, I decided it was time to take some action and experiment with some of the more rational and sensible remedies.

Using a filtered shower head

I’d initially bought a filtered shower head from the World Health Store hoping it would provide some relief for my increasingly dry skin and hair loss problem. It’s common knowledge that Beijing’s tap water contains chlorine and other chemicals to remove pollutants and make it appear ‘clean’. People who suffer from eczema or other sensitive skin conditions typically drop a grand on the Aquasana water filtration system in their kitchens and bathrooms, which claim to filter out up to 90% of chlorine and other chemicals found in tap water. As I don’t have a pre-existing skin condition, the salesman thought getting the Aquasana was overkill. He recommended I buy the filter shower head for less than RMB 500 instead, which filters up to 70% of the chlorine and other chemicals from tap water, and see if that did the trick. It’s so rare to meet a salesperson who’s more interested in what you actually need than selling you the most expensive item in the store, that’s why I’ve been a loyal customer of Beijing’s World Health Store for the last five years.

Since I started using the filter shower head in spring, I’ve noticed the shower water smells and tastes better, less like the water in a pool and more like spring water. I can tell the difference since I still gargle with normal tap water from the bathroom tap when I brush my teeth. The effect on my skin and hair has been less obvious, especially now that it’s summer and walking outside in Beijing is like being in a sauna. It’s been so humid on certain days, I haven’t had to put on body lotion. I recently cut my hair so I have bangs again, which masks the fact that I have white and thinning hair. Having said that, I have been doing other things to increase my hair growth.

Take 7 raw black beans with water every morning

I forgive you if you decide to stop reading this post from this point forward. I, too, found it difficult to take my friend seriously when she messaged me about this remedy, but I was so desperate two months ago, I was up for trying even more outrageous remedies.

Apparently, my friend got this tip from her colleague’s traditional Chinese medical practitioner. The black beans I was told to swallow raw everyday were hard with yellow centers. I’ve only ever seen these black beans cooked in soup in the past and had heard of their nutritional value, but it was the first time I’d heard they could facilitate hair growth.

After faithfully swallowing seven black beans everyday for the last 2 months, I did notice my hair had grown substantially in length, but sadly not in volume, when I went for a haircut about two weeks ago.

Growell Scalp Lotion
Growell Scalp Lotion

Growell Scalp Lotion

This is a remedy suggested in How to Speed Up Hair Growth (see link above). My Singaporean friend brought this back from Singapore for me and I used it sparingly for about a month before stopping, more due to a lack of discipline rather than its lack of effect. Perhaps this was the wrong solution to my problem, as my hair was growing in length and I didn’t have an obvious bald spot where I could apply this lotion. It’s now languishing in my medicine drawer waiting for the day when my hair does stop growing and/or I acquire a prominent bald spot (God forbid). 

My hair saviour
My hair saviour

Using imported shampoo and conditioners

I was having dinner one night at a good friend’s restaurant and was moaning to anyone who’d listen to me about my hair loss woes. Badr, being ever the good Samaritan, asked me if I was using locally produced or imported shampoo on my hair. I told him ever since I started colouring my hair in February, I’ve been using a Schwarzkopf shampoo that claims to preserve hair colour and was made in China. He then told me I should use imported shampoo instead and see if it makes a difference. He said he’s noticed a difference after he stopped using locally made shampoo and switched to imported products. His theory was the local products were just not suited for foreigners, even overseas-born Chinese such as myself.

I then recalled I didn’t used to lose much hair when I used Lush shampoo bars and other imported shampoo products in the past. I thanked Badr for his insight and switched to using an imported shampoo I’d bought a while back.

After a couple of weeks of going back to using imported shampoo, I’m very pleased to report that I’ve been losing much less hair than before. I guess this means despite what I look like on the outside, every fibre of my being (including the pores of my delicate scalp) is still very much a foreigner.

For thine hair
For thine hair
Inspiration and instructions on how to use Lush Roots hair treatment
Inspiration and instructions on how to use Lush Roots hair treatment

Lush Roots Hair Treatment for thine (abbreviation for ‘thin and fine’) hair

When I was last in Hong Kong for a work trip, I made my usual trip to Lush‘s store in Central MTR station to stock up on my favourite fresh cosmetics. (Lush products are unfortunately not sold in China as they do not meet the local legal requirement that all cosmetic products are to be tested on animals.)

I never used to notice Roots hair treatment in the past, perhaps because I generally make a beeline for the shampoo bars and Ultrabland facial cleanser and hardly take my time to check out their other products. I’m glad curiosity got the better of me this time and I decided to give Roots a try.

I’ve used it twice, once when I first got back from Hong Kong and the second time a couple of days ago. I admit I only massaged the product onto my scalp for about 5 minutes and left it on for the next 10 minutes, instead of massaging for the full 15-20 minutes as instructed. Even then, I’ve noticed a slight improvement in the volume of my hair, which gives the illusion of having a fuller head of hair.

In conclusion

I’m relieved that after just a few months of experimenting with a few remedies, I’ve found a couple that’s worked for me and that my hair loss was a temporary, rather than permanent, problem. I’m fully aware that as I age, my hair will naturally thin out and none of the remedies I know of now will alleviate the situation. Hopefully by then, technology will have advanced and someone will have invented the next miracle hair growth/volumizing solution which will work for me.