Real Food: Why my family is now eating organic!

I have struggled with my weight for many many years! I have written blogs about it, complained about it, and had finally given in and decided to accept it when something amazing happened to me.

Karol and I went to see Jillian Michaels.  Going was kind of a fluke.  We love Jillian Michaels, and to be honest I had no idea she was doing a speaking tour.  I happened to stumble upon the information on Facebook, and checked out the price of tickets.  I went to the web page, squinted my eyes, took a deep breath, and hit the button to see the prices.

I was quite surprised to see how affordable the tickets were.  So I texted Karol and asked her if she wanted to go see JM.  To say she was excited would be an understatement!! So tickets were purchased, and we waited with bated breath. The night came and we went to see the amazing Jillian Michaels.  The first hour she talked about food and the second hour she talked about living a full life without “shoulds” and guilt, etc.  I have spent years in therapy, that stuff I knew. But the food stuff that I should have known, had eluded me somehow.

I have written about my huge grocery bills. Switching to an organic diet was daunting to say the least.  I was worried about the cost, and how I was going to afford to feed my family of 5 and not break the bank.  But Karol and I were committed to eating better.  No more pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other nastiness in our food. However, the cost of switching really concerned me.

So we entered the Real Food genre slowly.  Just purchasing the food we were making for ourselves.  The interesting thing was the first week we purchased all organic for ourselves we reduced our grocery bill by almost $100.00!!!

Photo courtesy of Blue Planet Green living
Photo courtesy of Blue Planet Green Living

So we ventured out farther into the organic realm and purchased organic meats and dairy.  I have to say that the milk was the hardest for me.  Spending $6.00 a gallon almost gave me a heart attack, but I figured it was the right thing for my family, so I just took a deep breath and put it in the cart.  Two of them…..  The most interesting thing is, my boys like the organic foods.  They say they taste better!!!

We bought organic peanut butter, organic crackers, cereal, creamer, etc.  It has been an interesting transition.  Last week the grocery bill was a bit higher than the first week, but we had cat litter, cat food, and some cleaning supplies, so it was not all food.

I have even found “healthy” alternatives to candy and soda.  I no longer indulge in candy made by any of the huge chocolate companies that immediately come to mind.  Instead I have switched to Unreal Candy.    Their products have NO high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or flavors.  No chemicals!!!!  Just wonderful natural ingredients!  Currently you can find these products at CVS and Target stores!  The price is the same as the other ones in the candy aisle, so why not spend the same and get a MUCH MUCH better product?  Seriously! CANDY!  lower in sugar and healthier?  This stuff is amazing, you have to try it!  (not paid by the company for my endorsement). I used to avoid candy like the plague, never thinking I could fit it into my daily calorie “budget”.  Now I can, and so can you.  Why feed you and your kids crap when you can feel them foods without chemicals?

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

I used to be a Diet Pepsi junkie.  As a matter of fact I drank 2-3 cans of caffeine free diet pepsi every day.  After seeing Jillian, we decided to no longer use artificial sweeteners.  Then one day while shopping we found Zevia.  Stevia sweetened soda.  They have a wonderful assortment of flavors.  Root Beer, Dr Zevia, Cream soda, orange, grape, cherry, cola, caffeine free cola, among others.  It was a bit more expensive than other sodas, but at only one can per day it was completely affordable. The next week my local Harris Teeter had it on sale buy one get one free, so mama stocked up!! You can buy this product at Jewel, Acme, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Safeway, Target, Walgreens and more.  You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

So we are on a new trend. Eating REAL food, drinking naturally sweetened sodas, and guilt free candy!

It is working!!  Two and a half weeks in I am down 5 pounds, and have lost inches in my stomach, hips and thighs!!  Karol is taller and has a faster metabolism than me.  She is down 7 pounds!!

I am excited to keep going and see how healthy we can get!! No more chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics for my family!!

An inoperable brain tumor?? What??

You can never be sure exactly what is going on inside your body.  Well, there are the obvious things, like hunger pains and gas….   But beyond that, it is impossible to really have a clear picture of how healthy our organs are, or how our blood looks, or exactly how things are functioning.  Of course we know when they STOP functioning, but what about when things are “okay”, but may not be perfect.

For example, what if your lungs had some spots that were unhealthy because when you were younger you decided to cave to peer pressure and a smoked cigarettes for 15+years……(I am talking about a friend here….duh), or if you decided to smoke Marijuana a couple of times just to “check it out”….ummmm duh,…..a friend again……. or maybe you even might have tried something harder once…..(FRIEND……….OKAY????…..sheesh).  We can’t look into our bodies and see what kind of damage these choices may have caused.

What about the people who have illnesses due to no fault of their own, but just because it is that way for them?  What about time bombs that are just ticking away like Cancer, or heart disease, or high cholesterol, or a stroke.  Just waiting until your guard is down to strike and cause havoc in your life and loved ones.  Too bad we can’t have some sort of see through window that doctors can use to see what might happen to us and our bodies so we can prepare.

My point is  that we never know what is going on inside us.  Maybe that is a good thing, maybe not.

About 4 years ago Bluebell began having headaches.  Every day.  All day.  They were worse if she coughed, or sneezed, or bent over to tie her shoes.  I made her go to the Primary Care doctor.  They sent her to a neurologist.  He ordered an MRI.  We were called back to the Primary Care doctor.  She brought us in, and told us she did not know what was causing Bluebell’s headaches, but they had found a “Tumor” in her brain while they were doing the MRI, and Bluebell would be sent to a Neurosurgeon for evaluation.

Then the Neurosurgery appointments began.  MRI’s, Cat Scans, discussions.  This was in December of 2009.  Bluebell was diagnosed with a Meningioma (benign tumor of the meninges), which was sitting right next to her brainstem in a very bad (inoperable) spot.  She had an amazing Neurosurgeon at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital: Dr. Piccarilli.  Dr. P. is a super smart lady, and told Bluebell that it was a very small (millimeters) tumor and we were simply going to watch it for a while.  Get MRI’s annually and see what it does.

I was shocked!!!! Really??

A tumor???

In an inoperable spot right next to her brainstem???

Only Bluebell could have this kind of luck.  We often joke, that when God created her, He mixed up lots of different kinds of health issues, and tossed them into her DNA, just to see how she could handle it.  We had already been through eye surgery, cervical cancer, a radical hysterectomy, benign thyroid tumor, lymphedema from the hysterectomy, a stapedectomy to correct her deteriorating ear bone……

I mean……. really???

An inoperable brain tumor??

So we did what we assumed everyone does in that situation.

We named the tumor.


He became her scapegoat.  Any time she did something and we got into an argument she said “Oops, must be Calvin.”  If she forgot something she would say, “thanks a lot Calvin”.  Basically poor Calvin was blamed for all her difficulties.  I almost felt bad for the poor little millimeter of tissue……   except that he parked himself right next to Bluebell’s brainstem….which is incidentally a VITAL organ….   If he had parked himself in a more accessible spot in Bluebell’s brain I would like him MUCH better!!!!

Bluebell's looks like this only hers is a bit smaller.  Not encroaching on the brainstem
Bluebell’s looks like this only hers is a bit smaller. Not encroaching on the brain-stem

Time went on and Bluebell continued to see Dr P.  After a year, Dr P decided that Calvin had grown just a smidge, and it was time for Bluebell to see someone else about Calvin.  A neurosurgeon who specialized in a particular procedure that could help either reduce Calvin’s size, or stop him from growing.  So she sent us to see a doctor at Riverside Hospital in Newport News named Dr Lesnick.  He is a surgeon who specializes in a procedure called Gamma Knife Radiation. 

Bluebell was scheduled an we went in at 6 am for Bluebell’s procedure.  She was given a twilight anesthesia cocktail which means she wouldn’t feel anything but would be alert enough to answer questions and respond to directions.  However, she wouldn’t remember anything, so of course I took advantage of that!  🙂

For the procedure they had to put a contraption on her head called a halo.  Then they buckle this helmet thing on in the machine and use a computer to pinpoint exactly where the radiation is to go.


Bluebell in hospital bed with halo on.
Bluebell in hospital bed with halo on.

To hold the halo in place so it won’t move they actually screw in into your skin in 4 places.  Two on the forehead and two in the back of the scalp.  Hence the anesthesia.

left side of forehead
left side of forehead

It was pretty much an all day procedure.  We didn’t get out of there until 4:00 in the afternoon.

It all went as well as they expected, and she was scheduled for a follow up visit in 6 months to do another MRI to see if Calvin was affected by the Gamma Knife.

The follow up MRI showed that Calvin had not grown, but he had not gotten smaller either, but Dr. Lesnick was very hopeful the procedure had worked.

So now Bluebell goes in every year to have an MRI done to see how Calvin is doing.  In May it will be time for her annual visit to check on Calvin.  Since she remains asymptomatic I feel pretty confident the Gamma Knife stopped him in his tracks.

I will say that one of the most touching moments I had during this entire situation was during a visit with Dr Lesnick.  I told him how grateful I was that a doctor of his prominence made this procedure available to those of us who use government healthcare insurance (Tricare) because I know Tricare does not reimburse doctors very well.  He responded it was the least he could do to honor people who served in the military!  Brought tears to my eyes!

I guess the moral of the story is that you never know what life will throw your way, and in the big picture we just do the best we can and keep marching forward to face the challenges head on.

Literally, in Bluebell’s case.  So Calvin is here to stay because he is in a place that no surgeon can get to.  He is a part of our life, and he is going to stay right where he is.

Let’s talk about Acne

I have been working for a local dermatologist for over 8 years.  He has been the President of the  National Medical Association and was named the 2008 Practitioner of the Year by the National Medical Association.  He has been in private practice for over 27 years.

I have learned an amazing amount of information from him.  Prior to working for him as a medical assistant and Skin Care Specialist, I spent 20 years in the Navy as a corpsman, so I have over 25 years of expertise in the medical field as well.

Today I want to talk about acne, which affects 40 to 50 million Americans at any given time according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).  Acne can affect people of all ages, and some women don’t develop their first case of acne until they are in their 40’s. Acne causes many people emotional distress!  They are embarrassed and upset by their skin.  Let’s be real, your face is the first thing most people look at, and we want to put our best face forward.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard patients say, “I have NEVER had an acne bump….why am I getting them now in my 30’s..(or 40’s)…(or 50’s)???”  This is more common than you might think.  Often when an adult develops acne it is called “Rosacea” also referred to as “adult acne”.

However, let’s back up a bit and debunk a few myths about acne that most people think are true.  First of all, despite what your mother told you, (or what you are telling your kids), fried foods, soda, and how much water a person drinks has NOTHING to do with acne. Fried foods and soda do not make acne worse, so eat french fries and drink Mountain Dew to your heart’s content.  It will not make your acne worse.  It will however cause your waistline to increase, but that is not the topic for today.

Okay so now that you know what does NOT make your acne worse, let me tell you what DOES.  Hormone and stress levels are a huge factor in acne.  As a matter of fact many times I have heard from high school patients that their acne was doing really well after seeing the doctor and getting on a regimen of medication and products and procedures, but when they went off to college their acne got much worse.  Many patients come home on their first school break with their acne flaring out of control.  Let’s face it, going to school is stressful, especially if it is their first year away from home.

Many of my female patients will often tell me that their acne is worse just before their menstrual cycle.  Even if they no longer cycle due to menopause or birth control, they will notice that their acne goes through monthly cycles of better and worse.  That is because our bodies’ hormone levels still go up and down.

Acne is caused by the skin not shedding properly.  So the skin clogs the pores, thus backing up the oil in the pore causing whiteheads and blackheads (comedones) or larger “juicier” bumps also called pustules.  This is where acne medicine comes in.  For comedonal acne, (blackheads and small whiteheads) the retinoids are a great medicine to use.  These are medications such as Retin-A, Tretinoin, Tazorac, Epiduo, Differin, among others.

Topical medicines
Topical medicines

These medicines “teach” your skin to shed or slough properly so the oil can flow and not clog your pores.  They can sometimes be irritating or drying, (especially to sensitive skin), so there are a couple of “tricks of the trade” you can use to help combat the irritation.  1) Use the medicine every other night to start so your skin can get used to the medicine.  2) Mix a dab of moisturizer in with the amount of medication you are putting on your skin so the moisturizer acts as a  “buffer” it to make the medicine less irritating.  Even with all of that you may notice some peeling with these medications.  Of course if you have any concerns discuss them with your medical provider.

Comedonal acne
Comedonal acne

For the larger, “juicier” bumps, there are other things a medical provider can use.  Benzoyl Peroxide is a great medicine for larger bumps, as well as topical or oral antibiotics.  Benzoyl Peroxide can also be drying, so start that every other night also if you notice your skin being more dry than usual.

Pustular type acne
Pustular type acne

For people who have that really large acne all over their face that is painful and deep in the skin, (called cystic acne) they DEFINITELY need to seek out medical care.  I have seen many patients put on Isotretinoin (aka Accutaine, Isotret, and a few more).  This medication has many side effects and has to be monitored VERY closely by your dermatologist with monthly visits, blood tests, pregnancy tests (for females) among others.  However, I have seen this medication literally work miracles for patients.  I always think about the teenagers who went from kids with poor posture, hiding their faces behind their hair, poor self esteem before the medicine to kids who sit up straight, have improved self esteem, and smiling MUCH more.  It can make a HUGE difference, but as I said, it needs to be closely monitored by a medical professional.

Nodulocystic acne aka Cystic acne
Nodulocystic acne aka Cystic acne

There are also some great products that can be used to help with acne.  Glycolic acid cleansers are a wonderful product for people (even with sensitive skin in the right amounts) with oily, acne prone skin.  A couple of glycolic cleansers that we sell in the office that I like (they can be purchased at many dermatologist’s office or online) are:

Glyderm Gentle Cleanser
Glyderm Gentle Cleanser

Glyderm Gentle cleanser (made by Equalan Pharma) is a daily cleanser with 2% glycolic acid (also known as AHA or Alpha-hydroxy acid).  It is very gentle and can be used by most people.  The glycolic acid helps exfoliate the skin. However, it is a creamy cleanser and will NOT foam up.

Vivite daily cleanser
Vivite daily cleanser

Vivite Daily cleanser (made by Allergan) has a 12% glycolic acid compound in it, and is therefore a bit more exfoliating than the Glyderm.  It is also stronger and can irritate sensitive skin.  It is a creamy cleanser.
For those of you who LOVE to use a scrub, Vivite makes a nice one.  PLEASE stay away from scrubs with nut shells as the exfoliating ingredient….nut shells can be sharp and scratch the skin. I really like the Vivite Exfoliating cleanser.  It has a 15% Glycolic acid compound and very nice soft exfoliating beads that scrub without scratching or causing irritation.  It should be used no more than two to three times per week.

Vivite exfoliating cleanser
Vivite exfoliating cleanser

Other products to try:
We have some products made by Topix Pharmacuetical that I love.  You can also get these at many dermatologist’s office or online. One of the reasons I really like Topix products is because they use many botanical ingredients in their products.  I like botanics and more natural ingredients.

Glycolix/Topix 15% Glycolic pads
Glycolix/Topix 15% Glycolic pads

Topix 15% Glycolic pads.  I love these because they don’t make your face sticky at all.  You can use them in the morning after cleansing, or during the day if you get hot and sweaty and yucky……(love that medical term?)  I tell my clients you can out some in a baggie and carry them with you during the day or to the gym, or the beach, etc.

Topix/Glycolix 5/2 Gly/Sal pads
Topix/Glycolix 5/2 Gly/Sal pads

These are Gly/Sal 5-2 pads.  They have 5% glycolic and 2% salicylic.  They are great for acne spot treatment.

Glycolix/Topix 10/2 Gly/Sal pads
Glycolix/Topix 10/2 Gly/Sal pads

ly/Sal 10-2 are pads with 10% Glycolic and 2% Salicylic acid.  Stronger than the 5-2 pads, they are also great for acne spot treatments.

There are lots of other products out there, too many to name them all.  I shared with you just a few of my favorite acne treatment products.  Generally speaking a product with salicylic acid can help with bumps.  Glycolic acid is also a good product for skin too sensitive for Salicylic acid.

I am happy to answer any questions you all may have, and if you are local to the Hampton Roads area I do offer free skin care consultations at the doctor’s office where I work, so you can call me or email me, or comment to schedule an appointment.  🙂  Please note I do NOT get paid by any of these companies, nor do I get paid for FREE consultations……