Tag Archives: food

How to Not Die (Before You Need To)

I just got back from an awesome and quick workout and I feel a million times better than I felt yesterday after not exercising. Why is it so easy to forget how magical exercise is? Just a few days without it and I already was starting to fall into a slump, and with one good workout, I feel rejuvenated (and sore… I guess that happens when you’re a turd and don’t work out for several days). If you exercise regularly, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you’re missing out man! Pretty much anyone can exercise, so really you have no excuse. If you have a body, you can move it, and you should, and if you don’t, you’ll probably die like, 20 years sooner than everyone else, leaving behind your spouse and children to mourn your unhealthy life and unhealthy death.

Um, ok sorry. Sometimes I get really morbidly existential about health and exercise. BUT ITS TRUE, OKAY! If you don’t exercise and if you eat unhealthy food, YOU WILL DIE. I mean, we all are going to die, but its how and when you die, and more importantly, how you LIVE, that you have some control over. Some factors you can’t fully control, like pollution (lies, you CAN control this) or second hand smoke, and those things can cause all sorts of awful deadly cancers, BUT if you exercise regularly and stop eating crap and start eating organic whole foods from the earth, you can avoid so many more deadly cancers and diseases that are entirely lifestyle-related. Yes, I know, easier said than done, but (and I’m saying this to myself too), stop the excuses and just do it.

So… A few tips on how to NOT DIE BEFORE YOU NEED TO:

Start small if you’re new. Try one (and only one) of these changes for a week. Start gradually… by swapping one or two things a day, and slowly grow, week by week. Set small goals. See how it goes:

Food

  • If you’re still drinking soda (really? are you still 7 years old?? I guess easy for me to say because I’ve never liked soda), drink sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime in it.
  • If you like juice, find one thats 100% fruit, without added sugars or any of that bullshit that I can’t pronounce.
  • If you like sweets, eat fruit, or heck, just eat half of the damn cake and not the whole thing. Share it with another fatty friend who also is trying to be less of a fatty. Just start somewhere. (This is the hardest one for me. I fail constantly, but I’ve gotten better.)
  • If you like chips, go for tortilla chips instead of Lays or potato chips or any of that greasy nonsense. (Also easy for me to say… I’m not big on chips. Unless they’re tortilla chips, with guac, and then I’m done for.)
  • If you want a burger, eat half. Or take off the top of the bun. Or get a whole wheat bun. Or get chicken instead of beef. Or a veggie burger. Or turkey. So. Many. Options.
  • If you like cereal and milk, try oatmeal or Kashi cereals instead. (Or something natural, organic, and as close to raw as possible. Add raisins for sweetness, if you must.) And try almond milk or soy milk.
  • If you go to McDonalds or ANY other place where your food takes less than 10 minutes to make, DON’T. Like really, do you live in a cave? Has no one ever told you that these places are pretty much the worst thing you could EVER POSSIBLY DO TO YOUR BODY?! Like, why don’t you just shoot up heroin in an ally with a rusty shared needle or fucking go skydiving without a parachute. You might be better off. Fuck, at least skydiving is fun. But really. McDonalds? There is NOTHING WORSE. Plus if you’re like me and have sensitive skin, you’ll just become pepperoni face girl and it’ll be age 16 all over again, or you’ll be muffin top boy or man-boobs man or mom-arms lady and your stomach will hurt and you’ll probably have diharrea and you’ll feel lethargic and stoned and also cracked out because there is literally crack (and by literally I mean figuratively) in everything they serve you and you’ll hate your life afterwards and really, its just never a good idea. If you’re broke and are starving for calories, buy a jar of almond butter and a bag of carrots for like, $5 and you’ll pretty much have enough food for the whole day. Like literally if you’re starving. But if money isn’t the issue and its just that you don’t know any better or that you actually like the taste of a mediocre soggy burger, then listen to these words: IF YOU EAT FAST FOOD, YOU CAN START SAYING YOUR GOODBYES NOW.

I am totes serious about that.

  • OK but without the sass, here’s a more gentle solution. Craving fast food? OK, I know if you’re in the habit of going to a fast-food restaurant every so often, then it might be a hard habit to break. (I’m the queen of struggling to break bad habits.) Often you don’t know what other choice you have, or you don’t know how bad it is, or you really love the food. I get that. I’ve never liked fast food (I’ve probably eaten McDonalds less than 10 times in my life), but I fucking LOVE dessert, so I get the appeal. My suggestion is to go to McDonalds or whatever your poison of choice is, and choose something “healthier” off the menu, like a fruit and a salad or something. Or if what you want is a burger, just don’t go to McDonalds and splurge a little on a nicer burger at a restaurant! At least it’ll be more satisfying and probably slightly healthier. There are solutions. You just have to care enough to find them.

Exercise

  • When it comes to exercise, its the same idea. Start small. Try walking 20 minutes a day for a week. After a week, move it up to 30 minutes. After a month (or when you’re ready), try power walking. Looks silly, but gets your heart rate up and burns more calories. Give it a few more weeks and when you’re ready, go for a short run. 10 minutes, and you can take as many breaks as you need. Even if you weigh 300 pounds, YOU CAN RUN. Please, please, please, do it… for me??
  • After you’ve been walking, power walking, and jogging lightly for a few weeks or months, I challenge you to sign up for a 5k race. It should take you 30-45 minutes (or however long you need) and I promise you, it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you can come back here and smack me for being a liar.
  • Don’t be intimidated by a gym. I realize a lot of people avoid gyms because they think they won’t know how to exercise, or people will stare at them, or they’ll feel pathetic next to the beefy dudes or the skinny women, but remember what is important and just push through it. The first step is the hardest, and it will get easier with time. People that exercise frequently are usually so excited to help someone start exercising (like me!), so you might be surprised… you might find that people would be really happy to show you how to use the treadmill, or the stationary bike, or how to properly do a bicep curl. And if you have a friend who can go with you, even better! The point is, don’t be afraid. You are worthy, just like everyone else, of going to a gym and doing what’s best for you. So do it!
  • If you’re still too embarrassed or don’t have the money, try exercise videos. There are so many resources online… all it takes is a very quick google search and you’ll have access to some of the best trainers in the world, for free! This has been my saving grace for my broke ass here in Paris, since gyms are super expensive and difficult to find. Try Zuzana Light or Jillian Michaels to start, then explore to see what other videos or styles you like.
  • Try yoga. Anyone can do yoga and while it might not give you the intense cardio that you need for your heart and to burn calories, it gives you something much deeper and more powerful. It gives you awareness and appreciation for your body, confidence, and a sense of calm (among many other benefits). And, if done enough, it will transform your body. Try yoga once a week, then slowly increase. If you can do 15 minutes in the morning, every morning, you will feel better all day long. Promise.

***

If you’re not a n00b anymore and you’re already more established on the road to a healthy life, which is where I think I am, I think these are the things that work for me, or that I should work on more.

  • Portion control. I know this is really vague because, especially in America, our idea of portions is entirely skewed, but start small and eat off of a smaller plate, or share a dish at a restaurant with a friend, or measure out your servings when you’re at home. This is a struggle for me, but I’m trying.
  • Lessen carbs. They’re the bain of my love handle existence. It’s amazing how quickly the weight comes off when the carbs are gone. That means less bread, less potatoes, less cereal… and sadly for me, less oatmeal. But little by little, it gets easier. And avoid AT ALL COSTS any refined carbs (anything white, like bread, pasta, rice, etc).
  • Lessen dairy, especially cheese. Its fatty. Enough said.
  • Cut out red meat. Cholesterol and saturated fat up the ass.
  • Eat more greens. Spinach and green beans are my go-to, because I’m picky and I hate broccoli, asparagus, and pretty much all other green veggies. Half of the plate should be green. Personal rule of thumb.
  • Drink more water. Not a problem for me because water is all I drink (I don’t like anything else, oddly), but some people (I’ve noticed French people in particular) don’t drink water! Aren’t you thirsty!??
  • Drink more green tea between meals when the hunger pangs arrive. Apparently helps curb the appetite for a little. I’m a monster snacker so this might help me stay away from the temptations when its not meal time.
  • Experiment in the kitchen making healthy swaps for your favorite meals, like instead of spaghetti with meatballs made out of ground beef, use whole wheat spaghetti (if you must) or even better, spaghetti squash with turkey or tofu meat balls. This is actually one of me and my moms favorite things to make when we’re lazy. Trader joes has awesome meat-less meatballs that have tons of protein, with a little homemade pasta sauce and spaghetti squash… YUM. I really have no need for regular pasta again.
  • Eat fruit as dessert.
  • Eat nuts as a snack. Who doesn’t like nuts in their mouth??! !!@?#!@$ [Sorry, I’m tacky.]
  • Learn about calories and nutrition basics. Don’t obsess over the numbers, but be aware. Like when you sit down at dinner time, you’ll know that your piece of salmon has X amount of calories and not Y as you used to think. We tend to underestimate our calories consumed and overestimate calories burned, so use an app (I use MyFitnessPal) to get you started.
  • As for exercise… amp up the exercise to 45 minutes (or more) a day, 4-6 times a week. And if you’re really intense, you can do 2-a-days, with light cardio or yoga in the morning (for 20-30 minutes) and a real workout in the afternoon, doing weight training or HIIT routines. Mix it up, so your body doesn’t get bored. Learn to crave the soreness and the sweat.

And if you’re a pro… well you can tell me what I need to do WHEN I get there, because it’s happening, someday.

***

Other things that might help everyone get a healthier life started:

  • Keep a journal or a blog! Writing how you feel about food and exercise and health helps you stay accountable and helps you see the progress you’ve made. Seeing what you ate in any given day can really be enlightening.
  • Keep inspirational images or quotes in a visible place. Sounds cheesy and guess what, IT IS CHEESY. But guess what else? It reminds you of your strength and power to change and grow, every single day. And at the end of the day, haters gon’ hate. But wear your badge proud, and put up a cheesy little poster in your room to remind you of what your goals are. I did this, and it helped.
  • Tell your friends about your goals. Don’t keep it private. Part of my reason for starting this blog is for this very reason… I know that if I don’t tell anyone that I’m trying to make a change, then no one will know that I “failed” if and when I did “fail.” It essentially gives you a green light to give up before you even start. But telling someone and having them hold you accountable makes a big difference in your motivation to succeed.
  • Ask for help. So many of us are in the same boat. I am so far from perfect, and me writing this list isn’t me giving you all the answers, as if I’ve already found them. This is encouragement for me and for you to seek each other out, find help, and work together. I don’t want to feel alone in my struggle, and I know you don’t either.
  • Get rid of all the haters. People don’t like it when their friends try to get healthy if they aren’t on the same path themselves. They might not know it, but its a reminder to them that their choices are not the best, and they react in disapproval, they mock, they try to get you to eat the burrito that you’re trying so hard to resist because you are showing them something they are not ready to accept about themselves. I am FAR TOO FAMILIAR with this. Its frustrating and alienating when your closest friends make fun of you, judge you, or just simply don’t understand you (and don’t try to) for wanting to improve your life. Find friends that encourage you, that respect your choices, and that maybe even want to join in on the fun, because they know how much it means to you. Find friends that will be selfless, even if they’re not ready to make a change in their own lives. People are resistant to change and people don’t want to be made aware of their own lifestyle if they somewhere, deep down, know that it could be better. Find people who boost you up and make you better. Get rid of the rest.

Lastly, for now… remember this: YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE. You are beautiful just as you are today. There is no standard of beauty that you need to adhere to. This isn’t even a question of beauty at all. It’s about your health, your life, your family, your future, and your self respect. You are worthy and perfect right now, today, yesterday, tomorrow, and always. You are capable of so, so, so much more than you think. It’s a long journey, and it never ends, but all you need to do is take the first step. One little step is closer than yesterday. You are powerful beyond measure. Know this at the deepest core of your being. And you deserve nothing but the best.

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Guilt. So much Guilt.

Oh dear… the guilt! I worried if this day would come, and it has.

A while ago, my host mom told me that if I ever felt like the food they eat at dinner time is too heavy or bad for my cholesterol, that I’m free to eat anything else. I was so relieved to hear this, as dinner time (as you may know if you’ve been following) is often the biggest struggle for me, since the meals are outside of my control and often cooked decadently and always with lots of love, and cheese. Saying no to my host moms meal often feels like I’m rejecting her love and appreciation for my work, so I ate what everyone else ate, and swallowed my guilt in the process. So when she showed some concern for my cholesterol and gave me the green light for a little bit of freedom during dinner time, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude. I still remained hesitant to take her up on this offer, but one day I asked if she would mind if I ate some quinoa and vegetables instead, and she was totally okay with it. Since then, I’ve managed to more often than not, eat my own food for dinner (usually I pre-make it during the day), thus being able to stay about 99% vegan for the past 2+ weeks.

But tonight, like the past few nights, I did the same – opted out of the croque monsieur (ham and cheese sandwich with butter on white bread) and ate my quinoa and veggies instead, and in the middle of dinner, my host mom jokingly, but kind of not, made a sad face and said, “C doesn’t eat my food anymore…” (C is me, obv) and she jokingly continued to pout, and I said, “Aww, that’s not true!” and two of the girls chimed in to help me out, one saying, “She ate some of your tabouleh tonight!” and the other eventually looked at her mom very seriously and said, “Mom, stop.”

And it was done.

The girls know, somewhat, that I’ve mostly stopped eating meat and dairy because last Wednesday when I made them their lunch, I made myself a salad and they asked why and I explained. But I haven’t had the heart to be straight forward with my host mom to tell her I’ve essentially stopped eating all the staples of her cooking and of the French diet in general, because I know how important food is to her. Food is her way of showing love, and holy Jesus, woman can COOK. Seriously I don’t know any better chef than her. So refusing her food is taken deeply personally, and I really don’t want to offend anyone.

I’m stuck in a strange place. I want to keep with my vegan streak, but more importantly I want to keep with my developing healthier lifestyle, but the relationships I build here are also important to me, and for better or worse, food is one way to build those relationships. I don’t want my host mom to think I don’t like her cooking (though I’ve complimented her many, many times) or that I think I’m above their food, because none of that is true. But expressing my desires to get healthier (and yes, lets face it, to lose a pound or two. Okay maybe 10 or 15) are beyond my abilities in this situation, or at least so it seems. I don’t want to bombard them with all of my nutritional research, so all I can do is just request to eat my own thing, and while I thought that was going well enough, apparently its not. It seems like opting for my health means hurting someones feelings, and that puts me in a sticky situation.

So, what to do? Do I try to eat more of her home-cooked dinners instead of my own, likely sacrificing quite a bit (and dealing with intestinal adventures the rest of the night), in order to keep a happy relationship with my host mom? Do I try to explain to her my food goals and hope that she understands without being offended? Do I continue doing what I’m doing and not let tonight bother me? Do I have any other options? On the “bright” side, I’m leaving in 6 weeks, back to healthy California, where this bizarre issue will be behind me. But until then, what do I do?

Thoughts would be greatly appreciated! I feel at a loss no matter what.

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Loving Myself and Conquering The Brain

No external change can happen without a true internal change, and as most of us know, that is the biggest challenge. It’s not really a matter of whether or not you can run a mile (trust me, you can) or 10 miles (you will, if you train) or if you can lift 5 pounds or 50, or if you can finish a 5k or a marathon or an Iron Man. It’s not even if your body is capable of losing 5 pounds or having abs or having a firm butt. All of that is possible. All of our bodies, more or less are built quite the same. If all those people filling up your Pinterest “Fitness” board have achieved those incredible bodies, honestly there isn’t any reason why our bodies aren’t capable of our own versions of the same. After all, we all do have a six pack somewhere in there and glutes and biceps and thighs and all the same muscles as all of those people. So, really, why not me? Why not you?

[Anecdote/afterthought: You may know I like running. I recently ran a 10k, and I’ve run several before. I’m hoping to run a half marathon this year, and maybe a marathon next year. Running has become a huge part of my life. But, fun fact: I used to hate, hate, HATE running. I couldn’t run a mile 3 years ago. Couldn’t and wouldn’t. I’d rather die. But I had a personal trainer for a while in college and she forced me to run a mile with her once or twice a week, and slowly but surely, running became a part of my life. IT IS POSSIBLE. The end. Back to regularly scheduled programming.]

Thats the easy part. Getting your body to look like that is easy when you look at it factually: Eat lean, clean, natural foods, lower your calorie intake, and exercise. Its a simple equation. To lose one pound of fat in one week, you must lower your calorie intake by 3,500 calories in that week. That means that you need to lessen your calorie intake by 500 calories a day through a combination of exercise and healthy eating (perhaps you burn 200 calories in exercise and you cut out 100 calories from breakfast, 100 from lunch, and 100 from dinner). Honestly, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? All of us are capable of achieving the body and the health that we desire. It is in our genetic makeup to be able to achieve that.

So… why in the hell is it so goddamn hard??!

If I really try hard, I can do enough bicep curls to have killer lady guns. No biggie, right? My body is capable of doing exactly what I want it to do. But my brain is the hardest muscle to reshape. The struggle for self control and stronger willpower seems to be so much more challenging than the 80 burpees I did on Monday (more on that later). And even doing the burpees isn’t even the real issue… I know my body will do them. My legs can jump and my arms can do push ups and my lungs can breathe and my heart can pump blood. I’ll be exhausted, but I can do it, eventually. But why is it that after doing 5 of those burpees, my brain says, “No, don’t do it, don’t do it! Noooo!” It requires turning off those thoughts (so hard to do) and forcing your body to do things that your brain doesn’t want to adjust to. Whether its burpees, 10 miles of running, weight lifting, or not eating the tempting food or choosing to eat salad instead of whatever you normally eat, it’s entirely a mental choice and our brains are so, so resistant to change.

Not only that, but I feel my brain being swarmed daily with conflicting ideas and advice about how to achieve the change I really want, and I’m constantly torn between different ways in which to get started. Should I focus on building healthy habits outside of health and exercise, and maybe I’ll get fit along the way? Should I focus on becoming vegan and then it’ll just be so much easier to lose weight? Should I focus on just exercising more, that way I’ll be happier and have more energy and be more motivated to make changes? Should I focus on writing more about how I feel about my current state so I can start to analyze my thoughts and behaviors from a basic, psychological level? Should I focus on doing more yoga and meditation to be centered and strong at my core? Should I focus on self love before changing anything about my lifestyle so that my heart is in the right place? Should I maybe just start with one thing and not overwhelm myself, and let everything else in my life stay the same for a bit so the change isn’t so striking?… AM I OVER THINKING THIS?

These are the things that go through my head constantly. And I haven’t quite found a balance between any of these thoughts, but the best answer to myself is… maybe its just a little bit of everything? I’m too distracted and ADD to be able to just do one thing. I need variety. Or at least variety is what has sustained me up until now, and I think it would be foolish of me to try to change that part of my personality. I need to learn to work within my own personal “constraints” in order to find the answers that are right for me. So taking a little from each of those thoughts and I suppose just patching it all together and “making it work” is the best, maybe the only way for me.

BUT ANYWAYS… what I was getting at was this: The body is easy. The mind is the real struggle. And even if I don’t always believe or truly internalize all the things I want to believe, as a friend (who happens to be a therapist) has said to me many times, “In order to achieve those deep-rooted cognitive changes and mental reframing, the trick really is just to fake it until you make it. Ultimately the subconscious doesn’t know the difference.” So, I suppose thats a great place to start. Similarly, a friend recently sent me this intriguing article explaining the effects of positive self affirmation, and how phrases like “I’m awesome” don’t really do much but something like “I am a great runner” are much more effective because they are direct, tangible, and easy to believe and internalize.

So, I want to focus on reminding myself of things that I know I’m good at and things I already like about myself, and I encourage you (whether you prefer privately or better yet, share it in the comments!) to do the same.

A few things I love about me:

I am an excellent dancer. It’s my greatest love, my greatest talent, and my greatest source of joy.

I am a great swimmer. 12 years of competitive swimming has made me a strong little fish, for life.

Thanks to swimming and waterpolo, I have strong shoulders and killer legs. My legs might be my favorite body part.

Hourglass figure! I’ve learned to love it as my love for fashion grew and I realized I could wear so many sexy, feminine pieces, like high-waisted skirts and belted dresses. I have a womanly body, and I like that.

I’ve always loved my hair. Though I have been caught complaining about the frizz (probably because every girl needs to find some aspect of their hair that they hate because its taboo to like your hair), it has always been a lie. I love my hair. Always have. Always will.

I like my eye color. Hazel.

I’m assertive and a natural leader. I love dealing with people, helping people, and teaching people and I love that about my personality.

I’m optimistic.

I speak 3 languages and I’m proud of my ability to learn languages with relative ease.

So there… a few things that I love about myself. I may make another one of these lists later, along with another list of accomplishments from the day. I found that to be a nice reminder to myself that things really are going well, even if I’m inclined to find the reasons for why they are not. Ultimately, things are GOOD. Things are great. I am healthy and strong, even when I have moments of weakness. Must learn to remind myself of this daily. Things really are just fine.

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Deadly Dairy Diaries

[This post started as a short little post about how dairy gave me a stomach ache, and it turned into something quite a bit longer than that. Get your reading pants on, kids (what??) and EDUCATE YO’ SELF]

I’ve been mostly vegan the past several days, without too much effort as described in this post from last week, and it has felt really great. However, today the girls baked a cake, and since I don’t like chocolate, they baked a little separate one without chocolate for me. I didn’t actually want it, but they were so sweet to make it that I couldn’t turn it down and break their little hearts. So I ate a small piece of cake (and later a bite of one of my cookies from Belgium), and immediately… the intestinal chorus began to sing. I’m sitting here feeling the alarmingly immediate effects of dairy on my body, and I’m reminded once again of that feeling of “liberation” by eating clean, whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods. Food should never make you feel sick. Dairy is not natural for us to eat! And anyone who thinks otherwise, let me explain:

(PS: A lot of this information comes from things I’ve read and watched or learned in school, but I haven’t the slightest clue where or how to cite any of my sources. Take it or leave it, or do some research yourself to be further convinced.)

Why Not Dairy?

When you are born, you drink your mothers milk, which has all of the nutrients you need for the first few months/year of your life, and until you are weaned off of your mothers milk, you do not need anything else. Milk is very nutritionally dense for a little baby. In the same way, a kitten is born and drinks her mothers milk until she is grown and is able to fend for herself and eat the things an adult cat eats. Likewise, an elephant calf is born and drinks its mothers milk, and a baby gorilla does the same, and a baby cow does the same. All mammals drink their mothers milk while growing during those formative infant moments (be it days, weeks, months, years…) and once the baby is old enough, it no longer needs any milk, and the mother no longer needs to produce it. So why as a population have we been convinced that we still need to drink milk (or consume dairy of any kind)? For calcium. Strong bones and teeth. Etc etc, right?

Actually, not so.

First, consider this: If we as humans no longer need to drink our own mothers’ milk, from our own species, why should we have to drink the infant growth juice of a mother from an entirely different species? Why cows milk, and not elephant milk or dog milk or gorilla milk? If anything, gorilla or chimpanzee milk would be most appropriate, considering we share over 98% of our DNA with them. Or, why don’t we just continue to drink our own mothers milk well into adulthood? That would actually be most appropriate, considering our options. But who decided cow milk was what humans need? Likely (most certainly) it was the food industry, trying to find new ways to make money. Inventions like frozen food, non-perishable Twinkies, and milk are all products of industrialized “nutrition”.

Second, consider this: The majority of the human population on this earth is lactose intolerant. So yeah, that means probably you too. If you’re at all like me, you’ve grown up your entire life drinking milk (cereal with milk is and has always been my favorite food), eating cheese, ice cream, butter, etc, then you’ve likely gotten used to the grumble in your tummy or the discomfort or even the diarrhea that comes along with eating dairy. Its likely you’ve never noticed it at all. And if you have, you’ve just attributed it to… who knows… “something I ate” or maybe you haven’t attributed it to anything at all, but to the simple, normal reaction that happens after you eat. Truth is, I lived like this my entire life, literally until about a week or two ago, when I slowly started eating less to no dairy, and today, I’m sitting here, after about 3 or 4 bites of a cake that is made entirely of dairy (milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, and some flour… yes I know eggs are not dairy), and my entire digestive system is NOT happy about it. And I’m starting to see the light.

So, if most of the human population is lactose intolerant, why do we keep consuming lactose? Why do we have so many products, like Lactaid, which make dairy easier to consume? Eating should not require a set of pills to make us function properly. Our body is built to process things naturally, and ideally, we should never need Tums or Pepto Bismol or Lactaid to help us eat. Ever heard of pharmaceutical companies? Yeah…

Another highly compelling fact is this: There is a small population of people living in the desert in Africa who have historically, for thousands and thousands of years, been cattle herders. They live in a place where water and food are scarce, but they have co-evolved with the cattle they herd over time in order to be able to survive together. Since humans are naturally intolerant to lactose, we normally become sick, even if just mildly, upon consuming dairy. In some cases, we can have diarrhea from dairy, which for most of us in a privaledged western world may mean we have to run to the bathroom at an inopportune moment, maybe take some Pepto Bismol, and if its really bad, we may have to lay in bed for a while and drink some gatorade or water to feel better. But if you live in the desert in Africa, with little access to food or water, diarrhea can kill you, since it completely dehydrates you from all liquid and nutrients in your system. So, this unique population of cattle herders has co-evolved with cows, developing a distinct and rare genetic mutation that allows them to properly process lactose without becoming sick and thus dying, since more often than not, they rely exclusively on the milk of these cows to survive. So think about that. In order to process milk, they evolved (over centuries) a genetic mutation to be able to drink milk and not die. Most of us do not have this mutation, and thus, if we were stranded in a desert with only milk to drink, we would all probably die.

I’m just saying…

OK, so maybe dairy isn’t exactly normal to drink, but is it actually harmful? Yeah, it is. Much to my sadness and dismay (I love dairy), dairy has high levels of saturated fat (the bad kind of fat) and of bad cholesterol, similar to a piece of red meat.

“Red meat and full-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, butter) are among the main sources of saturated fat in our diets.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”

“Trans fats are also naturally found in beef fat and dairy fat, in small amounts.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”

“… Because vegetable fat was not related to risk of breast cancer, these findings suggest that red meat and high-fat dairy products may contain other factors, such as hormones, that increase risk of breast cancer.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”

“It’s worth noting that milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are very credible links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and the most dangerous form of prostate cancer.” – Dr. Barnard, quoted in this New York Times article by Mark Bittman

Animals and Planet

Another important factor to consider is the effect of dairy production on the environment and on the well-being of the animals being exploited. I think we all like to imagine that all the milk we drink comes from happy cows (from California) who roam around with wide green pastures much like this,

but sadly, this is a reality for very few, if any cows at all. Most of the time, a real dairy farm looks more like this:

or this,

I’ve actually been to a dairy farm, when I was wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Ireland a few months ago, I was taken by my host to the local dairy farm that provided the milk for some of Irelands most popular dairy products. Ireland and the United States are very different in their production of dairy, but I presume they shared some similarities. Since milk comes from a cow who has recently given birth, naturally that milk should go to the calf, but instead, they are separated immediately (imagine the stress on the mother to have her baby taken from her!) and she is hooked up to an uncomfortable machine which pumps her milk out for hours every day. I actually got to milk a cow with one of those machines, and trust me, the cows did not enjoy it. Though the farm looked like that last photo, the cows in Ireland did get to spend part of their time in a lovely green pasture. But remember, this is Ireland, where leprechauns exist and magic is everywhere. America is not so quaint. Most american dairy and beef cows are fed corn, which their stomachs are not built to digest (they’re meant to eat grass), so when they become sick, they are pumped with antibiotics. More than half of the antibiotics sold in America go to food-animals, not humans. So the happy cow thing is just a big lie so that you can sleep at night and buy milk in the morning… milk from stressed mothers whose children have been taken from them, mothers who are fed unnatural things (imagine if you were fed wood or rocks instead of actual food you could digest?) and pumped with chemicals and antibiotics, living in a metal warehouse filled with feces and all sorts of nasty things… Honestly, just ew. If we are what we eat, and if cows are what they eat, and if we eat cows, then we are what cows eat, and if you knew what it looked (or smelled) like inside a dairy farm, I promise you’d never touch a piece of cheese again. Promise.

Also, that whole thing about cows farting is actually true. The methane gas released from the billions of cows in industrialized farms contributes to more greenhouse gases than all of the gases released from all transportation methods, combined. Global warming is serious business, and a huge part of it comes from cows that are farting from eating corn, much in the same way we’re farting from eating dairy.

“The nearly half a million factory farms in the U.S. produce 130 times more waste than the human population. Cattle produce nearly one billion tons of organic waste each year. The waste from livestock, chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides are a primary source of water pollution in this country. Wastes from dairies, feedlots, and chicken and hog farms enter waterways, damaging aquatic ecosystems and making the water unfit for consumption. Cattle also contribute significantly to global warming because they emit methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, three of the four gases responsible for trapping solar heat.” – Born Free USA, “The Destructive Dairy Industry”

So… if cutting back on dairy for your own health isn’t compelling enough, do it for the earth, man! After all… our body is our one and only vessel, and our planet is too. Once its gone, its gone for good.

[Also I should point out that I highlighted America, but each country has its own industrialized food system and I encourage those of you reading this in other countries to take a look into your countries practices. Its likely that they’re not all that different from those of the grand ol’ U-S-A.]

Ok all of that is sad about the animals and the planet but you’re probably not going to do anything about it because most of us don’t but you’re still thinking about health because a sliver of you is curious about not dying or maybe just not being sick one day, and likely you’ve been wondering this whole time about the “real” question… CALCIUM!

Calcium is needed for strong bones, right? And we get calcium from where? Milk? Research shows that osteoporosis (loss of bone density, bones becoming porous, weaker bones, breaking your hip when you’re old, etc) is most prevalent in the countries with the highest consumption of dairy, like United States, United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden. And that’s not a random coincidence. To quote from the Livestrong website:

“Most know that milk is high in calcium. It may seem counterintuitive that the calcium in dairy can contribute to osteoporosis, which is characterized by a loss of calcium from bones. However, excessive calcium suppresses the activation of vitamin D, argues Walter Willet, M.D. Activated or supercharged D contributes to a wide array of health benefits. According to Campbell, persistently low levels of this activated vitamin create an “inviting environment” for different cancers, autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis. Of note, animal protein also suppresses the production of supercharged D.”

So… Then where else can I get calcium and protein?

If you don’t know where else you could possibly get calcium and protein if not from dairy, there are many natural foods, from the earth, that have as much if not more calcium than dairy, like broccoli, kale, spinach, sesame seeds, nuts, soy, and so much more. Similarly, most of those, plus quinoa, lentils, beans, and other legumes have as much protein as any piece of lean meat. By eating a regular, well-rounded plant-based diet, you can get all the nutrients you need (protein, calcium, etc) without harming your body in the long run. Dairy is not the answer. We’ve just been told it is, and we’ve never questioned it. But becoming informed and educated about what you put into your body, your one and only vessel, is one of the most important things you can do to prolong your life and the quality of your life along the way.

***

[My] Dairy Detox:

Milk

I have always loved dairy. Like I said, cereal with milk has been one of the biggest staples of my diet for most of my life, so I am no stranger to being a part of the dairy myth. I love milk, I love the taste of a sweet glass of 1% milk, I love cold milk and cereal when I’m hungry in the middle of the night, and I often used to say that cereal and milk was “my coffee” (since I don’t like coffee) in the mornings. I am obsessed equally with yogurt, especially greek yogurt, and getting rid of yogurt from my diet has been surprisingly more difficult than milk. I stopped drinking milk a while ago, not all at once, but as I slowly realized there were more options for breakfast than just cereal and milk. I began to enjoy oatmeal or greek yogurt or eggs instead on some mornings, and slowly, without meaning to, I found myself more satisfied by those than by an airy, sugary cereal, so cereal, but more importantly milk, began to take a back seat to my new breakfast discoveries. There are plenty of non-dairy milks, like almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc though I’ve only tried almond milk, and I usually only use it in smoothies because I haven’t quite gotten used to the taste on its own (its best to buy unsweetened but the flavor is also stronger), but I’m working on it. Maybe if I’m ever really craving cereal, I’ll give it a shot. But for now, I don’t miss milk or cereal enough to drink almond milk straight, though that could change as I continue to expand my taste buds.

Yogurt

Yogurt is one of my favorite snacks, particularly and nearly exclusively greek yogurt (except here in France where my host family only buys regular or flavored yogurts), so I’m learning to find ways to replace it, most recently by my discovery of soy yogurt. It tastes great, and has the same consistency as any regular yogurt, and honestly you wouldn’t know the difference after eating it a few times. When soy yogurt becomes your new normal, you wont feel deprived in any way. I am learning to expand from my limited understanding of what yogurt is, in order to discover new, more interesting ways of enjoying the foods I’ve always loved.

photo (21)

Cheese

Cheese is another food to consider. I don’t really eat a lot of cheese so this isn’t particularly difficult for me to cut out, but I know I’m probably alone in that. Though I must say, avoiding cheese in France is about as difficult as avoiding water. But I’ve done surprisingly well lately, just by saying “Non, merci.” (No, thank you). And I hear there are plenty of vegan cheeses that taste the same, melt the same, look the same, but they don’t kill you in the same way. Nice! When I get back to California, I’m excited to try these out. I know eating pizza (another one of my favorite things) is going to be a challenge, but perhaps a cheese-less pizza isn’t so bad, right? More room for the sauce, which, lets be honest, is the best part anyway.

Butter

Another important element to consider in the dairy category is… BUTTER. Good lord. I understand why we like it, but I don’t understand why it’s even legal. It is so, SO bad for you! Eating butter is just asking for a heart attack. It’s basically all “bad fats” and cholesterol. And so many of us don’t know what we would do if we cant cook/bake with butter, but trust me, there are so many options! If you love spreading butter on bread like I do, um, basically, just don’t. Sorry. Find something else. Natural fruit preserves, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, almond butter, avocados… there are plenty of things that can be put on bread, and butter should not be one of them. As for cooking, you can use olive oil, sesame seed oil, coconut oil… pretty much most natural oils are better. I used to not know how to cook certain things without butter, like eggs for example, but I started using olive oil instead and I don’t miss butter one bit. As for baking (one of my favorite things to do), I hear apple sauce makes a great substitute, as well as avocados (yum) or greek yogurt (yeah I know its dairy, but its a start…) and plenty of other things. Just takes a little research. I’m eager to test some of these substitutions out next time I decide to bake myself a treat.

Ice Cream

Who doesn’t love ice cream? Actually… I don’t. I enjoy it from time to time, but I rarely crave it and whenever I do, all I actually want is a bite or two. Often it is too rich and I get bored quickly. But I know some people die for ice cream, so I suppose I’ll address it here. Ice cream is basically just really cold fat and sugar. If you’re looking for something cold, sweet, and flavorful, you could make yourself a smoothie, or eat an all-natural frozen fruit pop thing (I hate those, but if thats your style, go wild), or a natural frozen yogurt (yes, also dairy but better in general if you just can’t let go), or best of all, just a piece of frozen fruit. That is something I can get sexy on. Frozen strawberries? Mixed with a little balsamic vinegar and some mint leaves? You wouldn’t believe how delicious that is. And if you really want something ice cream-y, you can try soy ice cream. I’ve never tried it but I bet if its anything like soy yogurt, its probably really good.

I realize leaving the dairy world is not easy, and if you read my last post, you’ll know my deep frustration with blog posts and magazines that “give you all the answers” and make it look easy. I know its not. I wasn’t born vegan, and even now, I’ve only really been mostly vegan for about 10 days. I’ve spent the past 25 years of my life eating meat, dairy, eggs, and a plethora of processed foods, sugars, and other nonsense (Um… Lean Cuisine anyone? Don’t judge me, I was in college). I’m not perfect (AS YOU KNOW if you’ve read any of my posts. Good lord I’m so far from where I want to be, and you all know it) and I struggle so much with any change I try to make in my life. But one thing that I suppose I can learn about my relationship with dairy (and thus apply it to all my other desired changes) is that things really happen very, very slowly. This slow process of lessening dairy in my life has been something I have been doing (without even meaning to) over several years. And even still, I do consume cheese and yogurt and butter and ice cream, but I’m trying to consume them less. And eventually, who knows how long it will take, I’d like to be free from them all together. Its a slow process and I realize its not easy at all. Sometimes all you want is a cheesy pizza or some ice cream or cereal with milk. But I’ve started to see that you can still have all of these things, but in new ways. Eating right does not have to mean deprivation! It just means being smarter and more aware of what you are putting in your body.

The saying really is true… You are what you eat.

To learn more, I recommend these videos or any of the links at the bottom.

 

Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”

The New York Times, “Got Milk? You Don’t Need It”

Huffington Post Healthy Living, “Dairy: 6 Reasons Why You Should Avoid it at All Costs[…]”

Born Free USA, “The Destructive Dairy Industry”

ABC News, “Sixty Percent of Adults Can’t Digest Milk”

Livestrong, “Milk Consumption & Osteoporosis”

Food Matters, “The Truth About Calcium and Osteoporosis”

US News, “5 Non-Dairy Foods With Calcium”

Yahoo Voices, “5 Foods With More Calcium Than Milk”

Livestrong, “Healthy Heart Substitute For Butter”

Fitsugar, “Healthy Baking: Surprising Butter Substitutes”

Yahoo Voices, “5 Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes”

3 Fat Chicks, “7 Healthy Ice Cream Substitutes”

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

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All Or Nothing

I realized as I was leaving the second grocery store this afternoon that I’m starting to fall into my typical all-or-nothing ways. I tend to get really excited about something, then I start researching the shit out of it, and within a few short days, I find myself entirely changing my lifestyle to something new. I may have talked about this before, and how this is likely the reason for my constant up and down success and failure. I never seem to be able to just stick to something because I think I take on too many things all at once, and ultimately, its not sustainable. But honestly, I just get impatient and bored easily, and when I get an idea in my head, I want to run with it and never look back.

Examples… When I became obsessed with locally-grown, organic, seasonal produce (after watching Food Inc). I nearly tossed out everything in my house that didn’t fit this standard, got my mom to sign up for a CSA program (community-supported agriculture, where local farms sell you their produce in a box, etc), refused to shop at a grocery store and only at farmers markets, started planting my own vegetables, etc etc etc. This lasted for a good few weeks, until in one way or another, it was just too much to change all at once, and we slowly slipped back into our old routine. My mom couldn’t keep up with all the produce we were getting and a lot of it would go bad, and we got into a big fight one time when I (being a brat) gave her shit for wanting to eat a banana, from Chile. Needless to say, it ended right where it began. At least I gained lots of knowledge  and I still try to use this information whenever I shop, but not to the same extreme as before.

Or maybe, for example, that time in my life when I determined that I would be the next Jimi Hendrix AND Deadmau5 and convinced my parents to buy me a guitar and turn tables and mixers for Christmas, so that I could finally achieve my musical potential. Note: I HAVE NEVER BEEN MUSICALLY GIFTED EVER. I tried piano and clarinet for years as a kid and failed miserably. So why, then, the sudden obsession with music again? I don’t know. I got it into my head, and couldn’t get it out. Sadly, this equipment is gathering dust in my parents garage.

This same thing happens to me any time I’ve tried to lose weight. Exactly 1 year ago (for my friends wedding, this very weekend last year), I weighed 118 pounds, and I’m 5’4. I had lost probably 10+ pounds in 2 months. I don’t know how I did it, honestly, because I’ve never been that skinny, but just a few weeks later, I gained 5 pounds back, then I had gained 5 more by the end of summer… and now, well I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’ve gained more. I hate admitting it. Getting obsessed with an idea, like losing weight, works temporarily, but in the long term, it might actually be doing me more damage than good. Its a battle with constant success followed by supreme disappointment by what feels like enormous failure. I lose confidence in my ability to truly succeed because up until now, I really haven’t. Not long-term.

How do I deal with my attention-deficit, my impatience, and my constant need for new stimulation, without losing myself along the way? How do I make healthy, long-lasting changes… how do I get them to stick, and stick for good?

I don’t want this new-found veganism to become just another one of my ridiculous failed phases. I honestly think this could work for me, but I’m afraid I might not be going about it in the best way. Today I spent 40 of my measly 80 euros a week on groceries (that I’m not even supposed to buy, since technically my host family should provide for my food. Except I refuse to eat bacon and cheese every day, so I end up having to buy my own food and keep it in my room) at two grocery stores. I stocked up on a few of my usual staples, but I bought a few new “experimental” items, or guilty pleasures, because I was just so overcome with excitement about starting a vegan lifestyle. I don’t want to see this food, or my efforts, go to waste after a while. So how do I make this become a slow and steady life change and NOT just another one of my phases? Tips? Suggestions? I’m all ears. Lord knows I could use a real change.

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Vegan day 2… and Oops, I got Instagram

Another accidental vegan day, and it feels oh so good. I know I had a shitty day yesterday, but I refused to let it haunt me today, so this morning I reminded myself of how crappy it felt to lose myself, and I set my intentions for the day: stronger than yesterday.

I didn’t do much in the way of exercise (I rationalized it as being my rest day before my race tomorrow), but I did stay on track of my food, and it wasn’t even hard and didn’t require too much thought or effort at all! Its amazing how being vegan for a day feels so effortless, and the days when I do consume animal products, at least in this past week, have been the days when I’ve felt most out of control. Not eating animals or animal products and thus having a whole foods, plant-based diet is amazingly liberating. It fits in with this post about being “free” from certain foods/behaviors, or saying “I don’t” instead of “I cant”. Once I tell myself “I’m free from consuming animals” or “I don’t eat dairy”, I don’t feel the same urge to cave in, give up, and eat a piece of ham or a yogurt. Instead I just use what I have and get a little creative, and it ends up tasting SO much more gourmet than a nasty ham sandwich or plain yogurt with sugar.

I didn’t plan on being vegan today. I haven’t really been trying to be vegan at all over the past few days/weeks. But it just ends up happening rather accidentally, because I don’t eat red meat (unless my host mom makes it) and I don’t drink milk (gives me a stomach ache) and rarely eat cheese (amazingly, I’ve never really liked it), and my host family never seems to have chicken or fish stocked up and ready to cook (only pork products, like lardons or ham), so I almost have no choice but to be vegan, or mostly vegan plus the occasional yogurt (which I still love). So really, it hasn’t been all that hard to have entirely vegan days – if I happen to make my own dinner that night, its really quite easy!

And like I said on Wednesday, I feel absolutely liberated by my food. I don’t feel out of control, I feel happy, I feel clean and healthy and light, I have energy, and I feel well fed. I’ve gotten all my nutrients, all of my protein, all of my vitamins and minerals… and no cholesterol, no saturated fat, and no guilt (of any kind). Its kind of amazing. I’m all about this!

Also… Um, yeah, I got Instagram. For this blog. I don’t have a personal one yet and I’ve been resisting for ages (this is a matter of pride, as a photographer)… but I did it. I caved. So, follow me on Instagram… “strongfitswell“. Duh. Also I have no idea how to use it so give me some time before I figure out how to follow you back.

So without further ado…my Instagrammed meals:

photo 2A surprise treat – passion fruit!

photo 1

Lunch was chickpeas, white beans, avocado, tomatoes, pine nuts, sesame seeds, olive oil. So good!

photo 4

Dinner consisted of quinoa with sautéed zucchini and onions, along with,

photo 3

… an open-faced “sandwich” – toasted whole wheat bread, spread avocados, tomatoes.

Breakfast was my usual oatmeal with protein powder, and snacks throughout the day were mixed nuts, prunes, and lots of fruit. I drank a TON of water (to be hydrated for my race tomorrow) and I got plenty of rest last night. I hope tonight I can get some good rest too.

I’m feeling so good right now. I hope tomorrow’s race goes well (though its supposed to rain!) and I hope the rest of this weekend can be somewhat as good as today and wednesday. I feel fabulous.

Oh also, I watched this informational video today (its about an hour long) about eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, and though it was a little cheesy at times, I actually really loved it and gained a lot of useful information and tips about developing a cleaner, healthier lifestyle. You should watch this!

I’m posting part 1 here, but there are 9 parts total, all easily available one after the other on YouTube.

 

I hope everyone has had a great day!

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Accidental Vegan For The Day

Without too much effort and almost without meaning to, today was an entirely vegan day. I feel amazing! I feel light, healthy, full of energy, happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. I really feel like today was the first time in a long time where I felt liberated by food – the thought of food didn’t consume me while I wasn’t eating, and while I was eating, I felt no anxiety whatsoever. I found myself eating slower, being more mindful, and really appreciating all the distinct flavors of my meals, instead of mindlessly shoveling things into my mouth, stressing over calories or nutritional value, and feeling anxious about whether or not my food was in some way controlling me. Today, I felt free.

I woke up without an alarm (I had the day off) and eased myself into my workout clothes when I finally felt ready. I went for a 4-mile run and threw in some sprinting intervals as well as some bodyweight exercises, similar to the ones featured in this recent post, and I felt powerful and strong the entire time. Slow, but strong. At one point, I had been looking forward to using the adult play structure to do some pushups and other exercises, but when I jogged up to it, I realized that as per usual, it was full of beefy guys, and no women. In America this would be somewhat intimidating, but in France it is so much worse. There is a distinct divide between men and women in most aspects of the culture, including exercise, so I felt immediately hyper-aware of my womanhood and my instinct told me to run away and work out in the privacy of my own home. But, as if sent by Hera (Greek goddess of women) through my headphones, this song came on and my attitude changed instantly:

I redirected my path and set straight for the bars to do some spiderman pushups and pull-ups and a few other exercises before doing one final, balls-out, full-speed sprint. I guess theres some part of me as a woman that feels the need to compete with the big boys when I’m in workout situations where my gender becomes very salient. I always tend to step up the intensity a bit, perhaps to prove to the beefy men that I’m not just some girl, and that girls can be tough too. I don’t know. I guess that’s how I deal with being the only woman in a group full of men flexing their cock muscles and eye-fucking each others’ biceps.

Anyway… I refueled with an enormous banana and some almonds, and later had my real breakfast of oatmeal, protein powder, and walnuts.

For lunch, I ate a quinoa-bulgur wheat mix with sautéed veggies (leftovers from yesterday) and half an avocado. My dessert was a few prunes.

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During my Parisian outing, I ate an apple, a banana, and some more almonds. And when it came down to have dinner, instead of going home for dinner with my host family, I bought a book and did a little search online for nearby vegan/vegetarian restaurants, and treated myself to a healthy, cozy dinner-for-one. I went to this restaurant called Le Grenier de Notre-Dame and I ordered the “formule”, mainly because it was the same price as any one dish, and I was hungry. For a starter, I ate a chickpea mush (I’m sure there’s a much prettier name for it) which was delicious and flavorful and was great for spreading on the whole wheat bread they gave me. My main dish was a mixed vegetable-brown rice-black bean dish, served with soy tofu, seaweed, and a salad. YUM. I ate the whole thing but didn’t feel overwhelmed. I still felt light, at least in spirit. For dessert, a warm vegan apple tarte with a few fresh apple slices. As I was reading while at dinner, I felt calm and relaxed around my food and I didn’t feel any urge to rush through my meal, which helped achieve that level of mindfulness that I mentioned earlier. Amazingly, when the dessert came around, I actually waited a minute or two before starting to eat it (because I was entrenched in my book) and then I only ate it in small bites, slowly, over 5 or 10 minutes. I felt so powerful, knowing that food didn’t have to control me! I’m really proud.

Eating vegan is actually way easier than it seems. It feels so good to eat so clean, and I know my body will thank me for days to come, not to mention my soul. This was such a great day and I’m feeling really happy about myself. I hope I can keep this up!

****

Question for vegans out there: I am thinking about making dinner for my host family one night, and I’d ideally like to make something vegan, but I have no idea how to create a dinner-party-style vegan meal, and I wouldn’t know what to prepare. I want it to be impressive, so no one can find any reason to discredit vegan food, and I want it to be relatively easy, since I’m lazy and don’t want to spend all day cooking. Suggestions? Thoughts? Email or comment if you have any insight!!

 

 

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Lessons Learned

Yesterday I learned a few things. Or rather, re-learned.

Eating shitty feels shitty

– Eating well feels great

– I am stronger than I think I am

Let me explain.

I went to work and because I was in a rush in the morning, I didn’t have time to pack a lunch and was thus at the mercy of whatever everyone else was eating when lunchtime came around. Chinese food was ordered and I, slightly excited because of my AFD (Asian Food Deprivation) here in Paris, filled my plate up with whatever was offered: general chicken (i.e. deep-fried chicken bits, generally the worst parts of the chicken that really shoudln’t be eaten at all), some other saucy chicken-y thing, white rice, a fried shrimp egg roll, and a meat potsticker. There were no vegetables, so I ate little bits of onion mixed in the sauces. After a few bites, I already knew this meal was going to be a bad idea, but I was hungry and everyone was eating, and I couldn’t not eat it now, so I ate it, every bite causing my stomach to hurt a little bit more. By the end, my stomach was hurting so bad, I was bloated, and I felt sick. Likely there was nothing directly wrong with the food (meaning, it wasn’t food poisoning or anything like that), but I think my body just isn’t used to eating so much awful, unhealthy fried food, and it rebelled. I pretty much hated my life the entire rest of the day… I couldn’t walk up straight because of my stomach ache and I was so bloated that I had to wear stretchy leggings and lie in fetal position any chance I could. I felt AWFUL! (Even now as I write this, I still feel remnants of this shitty feeling). This was a very immediate reminder: EATING SHITTY FEELS SHITTY.

To compensate, I prepared myself some sautéed vegetables (onions, carrots, zucchini, red bell peppers, tomatoes) and some quinoa and set it aside for dinner. Every night, my host mom is in charge of dinner, but a few weeks ago she sweetly brought up my cholesterol and said that if I ever feel like the food they eat is too heavy or anything, that I am free to make myself something else for dinner too. I really appreciated her telling me this, though, perhaps because I’m shy, I only took her up on this offer once before last night, and even then I still ate some of what she had made. Last night, however, because I was feeling like death, I reminded myself that I do have more control over what I eat than what I realize, so I asked my host mom if she would mind if I ate some quinoa and veggies I made myself earlier, and she said “of course” (as in, of course I won’t mind), so thats exactly what I did. I added some salad and half an avocado to my meal, and felt satisfied and healthier than I had felt all day.

Eating clean just FEELS right, and there are no two ways around that. So, lessons learned, and learned, and learned again. And likely they will be learned again and again and again over time, hopefully improving each time these things come up. I am stronger than I think I am. I can make good choices if I want. I totally can.

 

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Healthy Weekend!

This weekend was such a success! I was traveling, again, this time visiting friends in Brussels, and overall, I’m pleased with my choices. This is one of the few times I’ve come home from a trip and not felt entirely guilty, so I’d call that a small but significant traveling accomplishment.

On the bus ride from Paris to Brussels, I brought a few healthy snacks with me, like a banana (note to self: bananas do not travel well) and some nuts. When we made a quick pitstop, I went to buy some food but of course, as with all gas stations, everything offered was pure filth. Chips, nasty pre-made bacon sandwiches doused in mayonaise, soda, candy… things that people have somehow been allowed to call “food.” (Honestly I don’t know how this stuff looks appetizing to anyone. It’s repulsive. It’s not food! Its like, hey, why don’t we go eat some concrete-flavored sandpaper and dip it in liquid mercury. Yum! Seriously… Unbelievable that processed food-like edible items exists, much less get eaten by billions. Barf.) I found some pre-sliced apples in a package (not ideal, as they have preservatives to keep them fresh… I hear these are often cancer-causing. Eek), but I figured sliced apples was probably my only safe-ish bet, so I ate that, and cringed at everyone on the bus fussing with that packaging that was keeping them from their wholesome, nutritious, life-giving Doritos.

On to the rest of the trip…

One of the friends I was traveling with (who reads this blog and shares many of my same feelings and goals – hello friend!! I see you!) was entirely on the same page as me the whole time, which helped both of us stay on track for the most part, while still allowing ourselves little indulgences along the way. We agreed before the trip to work out in the mornings and to share any heavy meals/treats we might consume, since often times all we really crave is just a bite and not the entire thing (like for example, with Belgian waffles), and we did exactly that. Our first morning we all got a late start so exercise didn’t happen, but at least we walked a lot that day and did not overeat. We shared one Belgian waffle between 3 girls, which was actually perfect (those things are so big and sweet anyway that eating a whole thing makes you feel like dying), we had a small burger for lunch (like, a correctly portioned patty, no bigger than 3 or 4 ounces) which my friend smartly ate without the bun (I ate half of the bun) and for dinner our friend and host made us some pasta with veggies and ground turkey and a little bit of red wine. That night, while out at a bars, we shared a beer and later a mojito (no need to drink the whole thing…), which was perfect. We got the taste, but none of the bad side effects. Not bad for a day of travel, where most of the time I spend too much money and calories on eating out and drinking at restaurants.

Day 2 was started off on the right foot when we set our alarms earlier and went outside to exercise, enjoying the surprisingly sunny weather in the process. We started with a short walk, then a 15 minute run to warm up. When we got to the park, we did a series of running sprint intervals, and after this exhausting set, we buckled down for a short HIIT routine before walking back home. (Our exact workouts are featured at the bottom of this post). After exercising, we bought some pineapple and water and fresh squeezed orange juice and refueled before setting out for the day. Our sightseeing was accompanied by a few healthy snacks (nuts, protein bars, green tea, etc) and of course, a few bites of a Belgian waffle. We shared our beers that afternoon, and all four of us in the group shared a few macaroons, and at dinner time, we allowed ourselves to indulge in our first and only true Belgian meal. I ate a chicken stew with veggies and potatoes and for dessert, a waffle. I’d like to think this was my only real indulgence of the trip, which is slightly amazing and really exciting that I didn’t indulge more than that.

Monday, day 3, was our last day, and I left at around 1pm. In the morning, my friend and I went out for another quick workout (featured below). Before leaving, I ate a panini (not the best choice, but also not the worst) and I took a banana and a raw, all-natural granola bar for the drive back to Paris. Dinner with my host family was, surprisingly, a healthy salad! I was so happy to be eating greens!

As I type all of this, I’m realizing that while its hard to have a perfect weekend, or a perfect trip (with regards to health), it is SO possible to make good choices given your constraints and to not completely blow it in two days. Surely traveling isn’t ideal for staying healthy, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing! This is a big lesson I am just now starting to learn. After my travels through Belgium and Spain a few weeks ago (and my many indulgent moments therein), I’m seeing that it is still possible (though not easy, I admit) to be healthy while exploring the world and having fun with friends.

Another wonderful thing about this weekend was the power of friendship! Having someone who shares your goals and who understands your struggles is such a blessing. Not to mention, having that person be a great travel buddy… it makes all the difference. I know for a fact that I would not have worked out once if it were not for my friend, and its likely I would have eaten a whole waffle (or two, or three), several beers, plenty of fries, etc. But having someone to share the journey with (and to keep you accountable) was what truly made this weekend a success. Thank you, dear friend, for accompanying me on this journey!!

I feel proud and pleased. I had a great time, and food did not consume me nor did it cause me to feel any guilt, and that is something worth celebrating today. I hope all my trips can be as healthy as this one!

***

And now for a recap of our workouts, in case anyone wants to try it out. We came out sweating and sore in every possible way, so give it a shot, if you dare…

Workout 1:

Warm up: jog/run for 15 minutes

Jog (normal pace, resting pace) 1 minute

Sprint (all out, 90-100% effort) 20 seconds

Repeat 12 times

Then, do this circuit:

To warm down, walk or jog for 15 minutes.

 

Workout 2… We did both of these videos:

Then this one

To warm down, walk or jog 15 minutes.

***

Trust me, your ass will thank you after finishing these workouts. I know mine is.

 

Hooray for a healthy, fit weekend!!

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Avoiding Starvation Choices

Last Saturday in Paris after a morning work event, I found myself hungry for lunch and totally unprepared. Normally, because I live in a ridiculous perpetual fear of starvation, I have at least 457 snacks in my huge purse, just in case! Because you never know when you’re going to get lost and somehow find yourself in a forrest or deserted island, starving and ready to eat your own hand in order to stay alive. (Not even kidding, these are the thoughts that go through my head every day before leaving the house. “Is there any chance of starvation today due to fantastical and unprecedented occurrences?” The answer is always yes.) So, you will always find a bag of almonds in my purse, a piece of fruit (or three), and a healthy food bar of some type (generally I prefer ones with minimal, raw ingredients, like KIND Bars orLärabar, because I try to eat as raw and as close to nature as possible. Food bars should all have ingredients you recognize and can pronounce, and you should ideally be able to easily recreate them at home. There are plenty of recipes online for homemade Lärabars). However, this particular Saturday, I left the house in a hurry and forgot to bring any food with me, and of course, it was 2pm and I hadn’t eaten since 8am and I was ravenous and near the point of starvation-panic.

I passed a number of bakeries and my nose turned to mush when the smell of fresh croissants and baguettes trickled its way into my system. Mmm, butter, I thought to myself, and paused a few times, desperate and starving, considering buying myself “just something small”. But I snapped out of it and reminded myself that this was just my actual biological starvation mechanism being activated (everyone just relax, I know what I’m talking about… I took an anthropology class once in college), as my body began to crave the most simple and necessary nutrition for survival: sugar and fat. I was aware of this and I forced myself to use my highly complex brain system to step away from the bakeries

A while passed and I kept walking, indecisive, trying to figure out what to eat. I found a little shop and bought myself a banana to hold me over until I could get a real meal, and that banana saved the day, truly.

I considered going to a restaurant, but again, I’m broke so a grocery store had to be enough. Eventually I stumbled across a Naturalia, pretty much the only healthy, organic store in France, and I was saved!

I bought a lentil and tofu salad, a small whole wheat multigrain bread roll, a few dates, for “dessert”, and I sat myself down by the canal and enjoyed a picnic with me, myself, and I, and all the pigeons that wanted in on this fucking bomb meal of mine.

IMG_2903Chillin.

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Lentils, tofu, red onions, and a little secret ingredient that I no longer remember, but good lord this was so tasty.

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Cheers.

All for around 5 euros. If I tried ordering this at a restaurant, it would likely cost triple. And if I had made it at home, it probably would have cost half. Cheap, easy, so tasty, and so goddamn healthy, it almost hurts.

1 point for me. 0 points for poor health, cholesterol, muffin tops, heart attacks, cancer, and everything else evil in the world.

#winning.

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Raspberry Banana Oatmeal Protein Smoothie

No almond butter? No peanut butter? What am I supposed to do with myself for an afternoon snack?!?!

I was hungry and I knew that dinner tonight will be soup, and I know that this soup contains probably very little healthy protein (mostly vegetables and heavy cream), so I wanted to get some protein in before dinner so I wouldn’t feel nutrient-deprived later, so….

I experimented with a few different ingredients to make a Raspberry-Banana-Oatmeal Protein Smoothie, and it was glorious!

The raspberries were a lucky find… I did some digging in the freezer because I knew a while ago my host mom had some frozen raspberries for one of her amazing desserts, and I wondered if there might still be some. To my delight, there were! So I tossed some of those in with half a banana (the bananas were huge), some almond milk, a scoop of protein powder, oatmeal, and cinnamon and blended that shit uppppp.

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Raspberry Banana Protein Smoothie

3/4 cup raspberries

1/2 large banana

1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal

1 scoop protein powder

3/4 – 1 cup almond milk

Sprinkle of cinnamon

** Blend in blender. Drink. Make this face:

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Documentaries

A friend of mine has been urging me to watch this documentary, Forks Over Knives, for quite some time now, and I managed to find it online recently and watched it a few nights ago before going to bed. (You can watch it on Hulu). The documentary discusses some of the worlds most common diseases including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, cancer, heart attack, stroke, etc and their direct relation to diet. Forks Over Knives shows through a series of scientific and medical studies and first-hand accounts the incredible and undeniably positive effects of a whole foods, plant-based diet on health.

Here’s a trailer:

I strongly urge everyone to watch this documentary. It will absolutely open your eyes and provide strong evidence to support a healthier, longer life through food, and there is no reason why anyone should not watch this and take its message to heart. Even if you are not interested in cutting out meat and dairy from your diet, learning more about the importance of diet on health (instead of medicine) should be reason enough to get informed. I can’t imagine anyone out there who doesn’t (deep down) want to live a long, healthy life, so do yourself a favor and watch this movie!

If you are interested in learning more about public health and the food industry in general, I recommend Food Inc., a fabulous and well-known documentary examining the origins of everything we eat. Watching this documentary 2 years ago absolutely changed my life, and following it with the Food Inc. book and Omnivore’s Dilemma was a critical time in my discovery and awareness of food and consumption. Along with Forks Over Knives, I think Food Inc. is an effective, accurate, and powerfully informative depiction of some of the most important subjects of our lives. Knowing where your food comes from and what effect it has on your body and on the environment at large is a powerful tool leading to greater education and awareness and hopefully improved health and longevity. It behooves all of us to be educated about the very thing that gives us life: food.


Watch, learn, and allow yourself to be changed and inspired!

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Healthy in France? HA.

Without beating around the bush too much, I’ll just flat out say this: French people don’t seem to know, or care, at all about health or fitness.

Now, thats not to say that there aren’t people here in France who do genuinely care or who are working hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle… I know well enough than to truly believe that sort of generalization I just made. But, in general, I see more people that are just misinformed or disinterested than people who are “enlightened”.

You see, French culture, or the culture I have come in contact with, is mostly focused on pleasure. French people enjoy the finer things in life, and that is something I admire in many ways. They have longer vacations each year and structured meal times every day to spend with family and children only go to school 4 days a week. French people know how to enjoy the worlds finest wine and champagne, bread, pastries, and cheese and they live in some of the most beautiful cities and countrysides on the planet. So much about French life is about pleasure, beauty, culture, and knowledge and it is this attitude that gives so many Americans (and others around the world) an intense yearning for and obsession with France. This is a place of dreams and of fantasies and kings and romance and lavender fields and yachts and museums and macaroons, not to mention the absolutely beautiful French language. It seems to be every girls (or guys) dream to come to France and be swept off her (his) feet by a sexy French (wo)man, speaking to her in his(her) mother tounge, wooing her(him) with nights at quiet wine bars and strolls along the river. Cue this song:

Well, as you may have guessed by now. It is not quite so. I’ve been there… you know, the whole “getting woo-ed by a beautiful French man” thing… It’s really not that exciting. And getting woo-ed by France, well, I’m still in the thick of it, trying to figure out if I love it or hate it, and more often than not, its both. France is all of those poetic things… it is beautiful and the food is delicious and the language is sexy and the wine is great. But its not a fantasy. Its just a place, like anywhere else. Yes, even Paris. It smells like piss, the metros are ugly as hell, and you can’t walk 10 feet without inhaling cigarette smoke or stepping in dog shit. It’s just a city. And half the time, I’m like,

And with that comes the slow realization that the French mentality on food, health, and exercise is really not as glamorous as the world likes to think it is. French people live for pleasure, and as amazing and admirable as that is for us in America (where we live and breathe for work), the culture lacks an awareness of many important things outside of those related to immediate sensory stimulation. When it comes to food, the mentality is purely flavor-based. When it comes to exercise, its purely based on getting skinny and looking pretty.

I “interviewed” a French friend recently about food and exercise in France and she confirmed this. Healthy food is considered “diet” food, and you only eat it when you’re trying to lose weight. Grocery stores have a small section of organic products and they are usually paired right next to the meal replacements, supplements, diet pills, and other skinny-oriented hocus-pocus. Organic food is not prevalent and you often have to go to special stores to buy it, however this is considered snobby and only for rich people, so people don’t eat organic, ever. Whenever someone starts eating healthy, the assumption is that they are doing it to get skinny, and along with healthy eating comes just straight up not eating, another “secret” to how the French stay so thin.

Exercise is viewed in the same way. Gym memberships are expensive and hard to come by, which naturally excludes a huge portion of the population from access to a gym. The few that are willing to dish out the cash for a gym can be seen doing one of two things: men lift weights without proper form, women mindlessly trot on the elliptical while reading Elle.

Walking out in public in your workout clothes is still frowned upon (remember, French people always are put-together) and sometimes even running along your street is greeted with stares of confusion or disbelief, depending on where you are. I was surprised to see any runners at all in France. There are quite a few… enough for a marathon, apparently.

When it comes to meal times, a typical French meal will have at least 3 courses, often 4 or 5. Every night when I have dinner with my host family, we sit down for our meal, and after I’ve eaten what I consider to be way too much already, we move on to cheese and bread, or yogurt… generally some type of dairy product (someone please explain this to me. I honestly do not understand what this part of the meal is about. #confusedamerican). After that, we will have fruit, and/or dessert. I have started to learn when to stop eating during this long dinner process, but often the social pressure of participating in the meal is stronger than my ability to say “non, merci” and I end up eating way more than I am capable of or than I should. Lunch is the exact same way. Fortunately I do my own thing for lunch, but if I ever decide to have lunch with the family on weekends, I know I will be sitting down for almost 2 hours to eat, and eat, and eat. It’s the French way, and it is so vastly different from my American ways, where I want to eat something quick and easy and light and get on with my day.

Each meal in France is made entirely for the sake of flavor, and health is rarely considered, or if it is, it comes from a seriously misinformed perspective. Most meals have an absurd amount of one or many of the following: red meat, heavy cream, butter, salt, carbs, or sugar, and no matter how strong I am (often not as strong as I wish), I can’t escape these heart-killing ingredients. As you may know, I have high cholesterol, so coming to France clearly was not the best way for me to start lowering that.

A typical ingredient used in most dishes is lardons, or as described on Wikipedia, strips of subcutaneous pork fat (aka bacon-ish). I find myself staring into the eyes of this artery-clogging little bitch pretty much every day and there is nothing I can do but eat it and pretend like this bit of pork fat is some type of useful protein. It’s not. French people, mark my words… lardons KILL.

I can’t escape them!!

Okay, maybe not, but eventually we’re all going to regret eating those little fuckers. I swear.

God got drunk and invented these…

Aside from lardons, creme fraîche is used in everything. Making pasta sauce? No problem. Just one whole container of creme fraîche and some lardons and cheese, et voilà! (I’m not kidding about that.) It’s on dessert, its in quiche, its in gratins, and on chicken and in your water and it comes out of your shower head and you use it to fuel your car and to wash your windows and to paint your nails and and when you light a match in France, you get creme fraîche instead of fire.

Again, my arteries are like,

Red meat? Yep, stick that in the lardons paragraph. It’s everywhere.

Butter? Holy fuck, what would we eat if butter didn’t exist? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing.

Okay, I could go on but I’m about to get rude here and, well, it would be very Parisian of me and everything, but I think you get the idea.

As for exercise, I recently overheard this comment, and this should be telling enough. The conversation was about wanting to lose weight, and I heard someone say, “No, riding my bike to work wont make me lose weight. It’ll just make me bulky and muscular.”

….

Fuck.

So you see, staying healthy and fit in France is an enormous struggle. It’s not just that I’m away from home and away from my usual foods, which is very true. Its that the culture I’m immersed in is built for an entirely different set of habits than the ones I’m trying to adopt. My diet here is basically,

and I have struggled so much in trying to find a balance. I want to be immersed in French culture, but I also don’t want to have a heart attack! Fuck, is that too much to ask? I revel in my mild successes because they are so few and far between. Having one good day seems to me to count so much more here than it did back home. Most of the time, I feel like,

when it comes to being healthy in France.

I’m trying. I really am trying. I want to be healthy and strong and I want my cholesterol to go down and I want to improve my fitness and learn more about healthy cooking and I want to have stronger willpower and I want to be in an environment where I am supported and encouraged for my positive choices, but I think maybe that environment doesn’t exist in France. At least not yet.

I’m lucky that I have a host family that cooks really well and often does keep decent healthy options around the house. If you’ve read my other posts about food, you’ll see I do have vegetables and fruits and sometimes quinoa or eggs at home, and I try to use them as much as I can when I’m on my own. But at dinner time, I’m frequently faced with the dilemma of not having much of a say over what I eat, sometimes not even how much (because my plate is often served for me), so the best I can do is resist the multiple courses or carefully try to exert some type of control by asking for a little less on my plate. I try, but I don’t always succeed (social pressures, fear of being rude, not wanting to offend, and also the fact that the food is always SO good… these things make it hard to put my foot down every night). Part of me has accepted this reality and decided that I can only really start living healthy when I get back home to America, but the other part of me doesn’t want to give up that easily. That’s part of why this blog is here. To help me get creative and find ways to beat the system, for the sake of my heart, my body, and my willpower. There has to be a way!

French people out there, please share your thoughts, insights, and wisdom with me. There is so much I have yet to learn and I know there has to be a way to be healthy here, but I just haven’t found it yet. And for anyone else out there, suggestions? Similar experiences? Reactions? Thoughts? Recipes?

Until next time… Over and out.

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Weekends

The weekend is over, sadly, and I wanted to do a quick recap of what worked for me, health-wise, and what didn’t this weekend. Since weekends are always tricky for everyone I imagine, I think it helps me to be aware of what I do to hopefully improve my willpower for next weekend.

This weekend, I am proud of:

– My 5-mile run on Saturday morning, where I discovered a little secret path alongside the river. Finding new paths along the same running trail I always run down made my run so much more enjoyable.

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– Cooking dinner at my friends apartment. Not only was it cheaper than going out (I’m so broke!), but it was healthier and we could control exactly what we were putting in our bodies. We made ratatouille (sauteed eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil), quinoa, and baked sweet potato wedges (with rosemary) and drank some [very cheap] red wine.

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– Waking up early to go running on Sunday with my friend, and taking 15 minutes out of our run to do some intense exercises like burpees, jump squats, spiderman pushups, crunches, etc. Working out with someone helps keep you motivated and it pushes you to work a little harder than you would when you’re alone. A great way to start the day!

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Went running here.

– Having a picnic with another friend (it was the first day of warmth in Paris) and bringing our own healthy lunches instead of buying something expensive and less healthy. I brought tuna with avocado and tomatoes on a slice of whole wheat bread, an orange, and some almonds. My friend brought a lentil salad, hummus, guacamole, and fruit. Again, it was a great way to save money and to stay healthy at the same time.

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Everyone had the same idea as us. Picnic in Paris.

– I walked everywhere on Sunday. Like literally everywhere.

– Because of the heat, I think, and because of all the protein in my tuna lunch, I wasn’t hungry the rest of the day on Sunday so my food choices were light and healthy (for the most part) – mostly fruit and nuts.

I had a few slip-ups, like we all have, that involved cookies, ice cream, and doritos, and I’m not entirely proud of all of those choices, but they were tasty and great and overall this weekend was SO much better (health-wise) than last weekend, when I feasted like crazy and regretted it for days. So much about weekends involves being social, and so much about being social involves food, so its often hard to stay on track with your goals during those two critical days each week. But I’m learning to develop awareness of what I do on weekends and why, and I aim to use this awareness as motivation to improve my habits slowly. As I’ve said before, a lifestyle change or improvement happens little by little so I’m trying to make small improvements here and there to eventually reach a better level of willpower and personal strength. This weekend I learned how nice it can be to make your own food, bring your own food, and live cheaply. I’m looking forward to applying this next weekend, and to tackling a new challenge along with it.

What did you learn this weekend? How do you hope to improve that by next weekend?

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Awareness

I have started to learn lately that in the search for personal change and improvement, whether it is for health, for greater levels of fitness, for work, for school, personal life… whatever it may be, one of the most important steps to achieving lasting change is to have a true and honest sense of personal awareness. Change does not happen over night, and even if it does, it cannot last without a deep internalization of where you’ve been, and where you strive to go. Being aware means coming to terms with every part of yourself, not just the apparent ones that you hope to improve. If it’s a lifestyle change you are after, then it’s an entire life that you need to come to terms with.

This is something I am realizing lately, as I write this blog and examine my methods and motives for improvement. I have fluctuated with my weight, my dedication to my health, and my body image for years, never quite reaching a stable and lasting change, and I’m starting to see why. Each time I become incredibly motivated to change, I jump on it immediately and within a week, or even a day, all my habits are different. I am strict with myself, I follow all the rules, I am excited, and admittedly overzealous, and it started to dawn on me this week that perhaps this was the reason for my continued “failure”. I just simply changed things too quickly and I didn’t properly examine what I wanted and what it would take within me to really make that happen. I certainly achieved some results in a short-ish period of time, like losing 10 pounds in a few months, but the weight always comes back with a vengance and I could never understand why. Not to say that I suddenly do understand, but I think I’m starting to look at things differently and to be more honest with myself, and perhaps that is a better place to start. Losing 10 pounds isn’t really hard as it is… losing the insecurities, negative self talk, anxiety, stress, and confusion about your relationship to food and exercise, that really represent the true challenge. That’s the part that requires introspection, awareness, honesty, bravery, and quite a bit of humility. Without that, change won’t stick and old habits will sneak back eventually, because what is at the core of those habits hasn’t undergone the necessary therapy in order to truly change.

A friend recently told me (that day that I was dealing with intense anxiety) that things will get worse before they get better. I see that as a process in which you come face-to-face with your personal “demons”… insecurities, fears, anxieties, traumas, histories, etc, and accept them into your life not as enemies, but as very real, honest parts of the person that you are. Coming to terms with one’s weaknesses is the first of a long set of steps that need to occur before change can take place. Before jumping ahead of ourselves (like what I have always done), we need to take time to simply become aware.

What this translates to for me in my quest to find my own personal strength in food, exercise, and health is that before I can expect to see any improvements, even before I start making huge changes in my lifestyle, I need to simply reflect and become aware of my habits and of the emotions associated with them. What am I feeling before, during, and after an intense battle with food? What motivated me to get up and exercise today, and how did I feel immediately after? 12 hours later? What is going through my head at dinner time with my host family?

And in a deeper way, what was my relationship with food and exercise like as a child? As a teen? What is my parents’ relationship like with food and exercise and how has that shaped me? Have I had any traumatic or memorable experiences relating to food or exercise?

And moving beyond just food and exercise, because I know these are ultimately just superficial expressions of a deeper state of being, I need to ask myself things like: What is at the root of my anxiety? How does my ADD affect my ability to finish a task? How have my parents positively and negatively affected my sense of self? Which of my parents’ insecurities or personal struggles has been passed on to me? Which insecurities are entirely my own? What am I afraid of? What do I hope to achieve as a person in my life?

These are my own questions to ponder, though I encourage anyone (even if you’ve already achieved your goals and you’ve got alllllll the answers) to take a moment to reflect on similar, but personalized, questions about your own state of being. It doesn’t matter what change you are hoping to achieve… I am starting to realize that it all starts here. Awareness.

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Nutrition 101

A conversation with a friend this weekend reminded me of the importance of nutrition education in developing a healthy lifestyle. I realized that I often take nutritional information somewhat for granted because I have spent hours upon hours at my computer, reading about nutrition and health just because I find it interesting. Not to mention that my mom is a doctor and my whole family lives a very active, healthy lifestyle, so I have been surrounded by healthy knowledge my whole life. But not everyone has had the same exposure to nutritional information, especially in other countries where being as health-conscious as we are in America (this is ironic and we all know why) just is not the norm yet. Here in France, my friend tells me that nutrition labels are just recently starting to become a “thing”, but they are often brief, complicated, and no one knows how to read them so people just ignore them all together. I am quite aware of this every time I go into a grocery store – I can’t find the information I want on the nutrition label and I just have to make blind guesses, using whatever knowledge I already have to try to make the best choice. I can understand how frustrating it must be for someone who doesn’t know how to read a nutrition label because I spend my life here constantly trying to make sense of these complicated labels, in French, and I more often than not feel intimidated, scared, and defeated by that dreadful little box on the package of any product. To some, it really is another language and that feeling just flat out sucks.

I want to share a few quick links that might help begin to demystify nutrition basics and nutrition labels.

Nutrition For Everyone – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Beginner’s Guide to Diet, Nutrition & Healthy Eating – A Calorie Counter

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label – FDA (This link is a little dense for total beginners, but its a really excellent resource to keep on hand)

How to Read a Nutrition Label – WebMD

How to Read Nutrition Facts on Food Labels – WikiHow

 

Good luck! Let me know if these links are useful, and if you’d like to see more like this.

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Anxiety

I want to try to be as honest as I can in this blog, mostly for myself, but also for anyone out there reading this, so today I’m not going to pretend like things were dandy, because in all honesty, I felt anxious all day long, and it took me a long while to figure out exactly why. I woke up late and got my whole day started on the wrong foot. My workout was just meh and same with my lunch and my overall motivation to do anything good for myself. I felt in a funk the whole first half of the day and I tried to ease myself out of it with a long shower and a refreshing phone call with a friend mid-day, but as the afternoon progressed and I was left to my own devices, I felt little bits of that anxious tension in my chest that I had been trying to fight off all morning long. I struggled to stay positive with my food choices, going back and forth between positive and negative self talk all day long, constantly battling the desire to be strong with the desire to give in to that dreaded granola as comfort for my anxiety (the granola won. I confess), and when the inevitable family dinner rolled around, I found myself entirely torn, frustrated, and oddly, near tears, wanting nothing more than to just feel in control of and freed from this mysterious bout of anxiety that seemed dangerously related to food. It didn’t help that I had started to write in my journal before dinner, trying to let out as much of what I was feeling as possible, but was cut short by an abrupt call to come eat. My writing flow and thus my emotional catharsis was left hanging mid-sentence, literally, and upon returning to my journal after dinner, I had lost whatever impulse I originally had to shed some of this anxiety and set it aside for the night. And so, after all of this, I am sitting here at my computer, belly full of rich, creamy pasta, unable to fully let go of whatever has been clouding my spirit today.

After reflecting a bit alone, and with a friend who helped me by asking some useful questions for me to mull over, I began to think that maybe my anxiety was not entirely unusual or without explanation. I’m realizing that I feel anxiety with food, or anxiety about having anxiety about food, and I think part of my motivation for this blog is to help myself discover a way to ease that anxiety and find some peace in my relationship to food, and to my own self image. I fear that I will never have a “normal” relationship with food, as other people seem to have, where food is just a thing and not a place to find comfort or strength or control or happiness or a sensation of self worth. I wonder though, how many people out there actually have a normal relationship with food? And how do we define normal? Everyone must have an entirely different experience, some more extreme than others, but I think it might be better for me to realize that the spectrum of “normal” and “healthy” is quite vast and diverse and unique for each individual. One thing about the health and fitness industry is that I often feel incredibly intimidated by the intensity and drive that some people seem to have – I often feel worse about myself, not inspired, after reading fitness magazines or other blogs because I always feel like I will never reach that level of self control, like I’m just not good enough for that. They make it look so easy and for me it is so clearly not. 

And still, I am here being open about something that I partially wish I wasn’t being open about. But maybe writing it out (and for whatever reason, making it available for the world to see) is a way to complete that incomplete catharsis that I attempted earlier. I want to acknowledge my very real and I think very normal anxieties about food, health, mortality, control, self image, etc and hopefully start to find ways to overcome that anxiety, and, as my overarching goal here, to find my own strength.

Despite what happened today, I have to remind myself of something that I think of quite often and quite often forget to really listen to: “… be gentle with yourself.” (From the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.)

The poem continues,

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

I have interpreted this in many different ways, depending on what place I’m at and what is in my thoughts at the time, but today, in this battle with my personal anxiety about food, in my frustrations in my seeming inability to just not eat the “bad” thing, in my fears of never reaching whatever goal I’ve set for myself, in my insecurities about my body, my self, my spirit… in this place that I’m at right now, I need to remind myself that I am okay. I need to forgive myself for whatever needs forgiving and allow myself to be at peace with whatever happened today. With all the ‘sham, drudgery and broken dreams’ (can be symbolic for whatever it is I’m feeling right now), I want to remember and hopefully really believe that I am still beautiful, and that what I am today is just as worthwhile as what I was yesterday and what I hope to be tomorrow.

‘Strive to be happy’. I’m working on it.

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Overcoming the Dinner Hurdle

I may have touched on this a bit before, but since I’m an au pair and I live with a host family who provides my food for me, I’m often at the mercy of whatever is available or made for me as my only option for food. My host mom is an amazing cook (she always says she would have loved to be a chef/restaurant owner in another life) and I am lucky to be surrounded by such tasty meals all the time. The thing is, as is the case with most gourmet eating, the emphasis is mostly on flavor and not so much on nutrition or health, and this is especially true in France, where people eat for pleasure above all else. Typical French cuisine consists of copious amounts of red meat, butter, creme fraiche, cheese, bread, and wine and I’m really starting to understand why people are so constantly blown away by this so called “French Paradox”… despite this insanely unhealthy diet, French people are not generally overweight! Now, I don’t know the stats on heart health in this country, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the numbers are not so pretty. French people insist that they are healthy, but I just think thats bullshit, to be perfectly honest. I think they smoke enough cigarettes to keep their appetites at bay and they probably walk enough in a day to reduce the obvious effects of the food they put into their bodies, but still, their diets are pleasure and flavor based, and thats it. I mean, they do know how to enjoy “the finer things in life”, thats for sure.

Anyway, tangent. My host mom is an amazing cook, and in general her cooking is healthy enough (and incredibly tasty), but considering my “dietary needs” (cholesterol, which she knows about) and my general desire to lose a few of the pounds I’ve gained since coming here, I feel like things could be quite a bit healthier. Its tough, though, to make special requests in a culture and in a family that values food in such a sensory and emotional way, so I’m just trying to find my balance… allowing myself to enjoy and partake in meal times like any other member of the family, while mentally setting limits for myself and making small efforts here and there to improve my meal in a way that works best for me. It’s really not easy, and I struggle with it every single night. But every dinner time, I hope it will be a little easier than the night before.

Tonight was one of these typical struggles for me, and I am proud of myself for being strong enough tonight to set a few small, but symbolic limits for myself. Dinner was homemade pizza tonight (thin flaky crust, pasta sauce, cheese, sausage, chorizo, ham, tomato), which is incredibly hard to resist, of course, because its pizza and who the hell doesn’t love pizza? I had one slice (about the size of two small slices) and I filled up the rest of my plate (and my stomach) with green beans and lots of water. When I was offered a second slice, I immediately felt the guilt I always feel in refusing food from my host mom, so I initially said “yes, but just a small one”, and as she was cutting the pizza, I sat there and momentarily thought about why I was accepting another slice, I asked myself if it was worth it for my body and my heart to eat that, and I wondered if I would be strong enough to change my mind and eat more greens instead. To be honest, I thought about this blog a lot, and of those small handful of followers I already have, and of the promise I made a few posts back to be honest with myself and with you, and I knew I wouldn’t want to come here defeated. So I politely said I had changed my mind because I realized I had eaten enough, and alas, I said no to more pizza, and that, my friends, is a miracle.

For the second course (since there is always a second, and often third or fourth course here in France), I had a plain yogurt along with the girls (they added sugar or preserves to theirs but I opted out and I’m proud of that!), and I again said no to dessert! Another miracle.

Maybe the pizza was not the best thing in the world for me, but I think I handled it as well as I could by filling up on fiber-full greens (fiber helps keep you full!) and getting some decent protein and calcium from the plain yogurt as my “dessert”.

This is the type of hurdle I have to learn to overcome, and every day is an opportunity for me to learn just a little bit more, about my own ability to assert some type of control over my health, even when it is mostly outside of my control. As I said before… “If it is important to you, you’ll find a way…”

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Salad Bowl

One of the things I’m slowly learning is how to use what I have on hand to eat as healthy as I can. Since I live with a host family, I don’t exactly have control over what groceries they buy or when they buy them, so I’m often at the mercy of whatever is available here, which is not the typical food that I would normally buy at home. One afternoon, after a good workout, I went upstairs and, because of my limited time and my general laziness, I came dangerously close to eating something stupid for lunch, like cereal and cheese or whatever. But I took a moment to think about it and I decided to try to make some type of salad with whatever I could find, and surprisingly, it came out pretty damn good. So good, I ate the whole bowl.

(In my defense, lettuce takes up a lot of space on a plate so I had to use a salad bowl to be able to eat properly)

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In my salad, I used lettuce (yes it was the lame kind, but beggars cant be choosers), leftover bits of chicken, a bit of a red bell pepper, shredded carrots, raisins, walnuts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Not too shabby for a whatever-I’ve-got salad, I must say.

It’s moments like those that remind me that I am strong enough to say no to the easy way out and to prioritize my health above my instincts to not care. In general, my host family does have healthy options at home, but they are different from what I’m used to or what I normally like and I have to get creative in order to feed my body right. I think this is extremely important for anyone in a remotely similar situation to mine, like people on a budget (which I totally am on), or people also living abroad, or people without a lot of time (aka, everyone), or whatever your circumstance may be. Taking 5 – 10 extra minutes to prioritize your health will payoff in more ways than I can count, and in ways that extend far beyond just the immediate impact of a good meal.

Making your body (your one and only vessel where your soul can exist!) a priority is of incredible importance. It doesn’t have to be about getting abs or having a jiggle-free ass… those things are accessories, if you work hard enough for them. More importantly though, it’s about maintaing a healthy weight, because obesity is one of the worlds greatest killers and it seriously affects the global economy because of its effect on healthcare systems. Its also about prolonging your life so that you wont spend your old age in a bed, that is if you are lucky enough to make it to old age. Its even about making the right choices for the environment, for the economy, for your society, by choosing raw, natural, organic, local food over processed, mass-produced, government subsidized food-like products. Its about knowing your own strength, your standards, and your needs and working hard to maintain them all in a positive light. Its about loving yourself enough to care about this one precious body and life of yours. Eating right is just simply the right choice, and there are just no two ways about that.

As I’ve heard many, many times over, “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

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Holy Oatmeal

This morning, like most mornings, I made myself my favorite breakfast food: oatmeal. Considering that I have high cholesterol, oatmeal is an amazing and delicious breakfast option, as it is filled with soluble fiber which helps absorb the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in your bloodstream. It is also incredibly filling, which is great if you are trying to watch your weight because you wont find yourself starving in an hour like you would with other less nutritious breakfast foods, like sugary cereal or white bread. Oatmeal doesn’t overload you with calories (less than 150 in a serving), it has a good amount of protein in one serving considering its a carbohydrate (about 6-7 grams) and its super versatile so you don’t have to get bored with the same toppings every day.

My usual oatmeal (cooked with water, not milk) consists of a scoop of protein powder, cinnamon, ground flax seed, mixed berries, and maybe a few slivered almonds or walnut pieces, but I will make do with whatever is available. Here in France, my host family doesn’t tend to buy berries, flax seed, protein powder, or nuts (much to my disappointment) so I have had to buy some of my own supplies in secret, while expanding my oatmeal horizons by occasionally adding apples or bananas, or, my most recent discovery, peanut butter.

This morning I had already eaten some plain yogurt with preserves (a very French breakfast), which would have been fine but the preserves are very sugary and, well, I love sweet things so I kind of had a lot. So when I went for my second meal (of my 5-6 small daily meals), I wanted it to be a little lighter than normal, so I made oatmeal (measured exactly one serving because my eyes always deceive me when I try to eyeball it) with a scoop of protein powder, cinnamon, and just about 3 walnuts, broken into pieces. It was satisfying, filling, and as delicious as always, and not too high in calories.

Used this handy kitchen scale to get my portion correct

My oatmeal trying to seduce me with its romantic morning glow

Since today is Wednesday (and I’m an au pair), I work all day because French kids don’t have school on Wednesdays (lucky fuckers) so I don’t really get much time to exercise. I know I probably should, you know, wake up at like 6am and work out in my tiny little room or something, but I have totally lost my ability to wake up early for exercise (there was a time when I would wake up at 5am and be done with exercise by 6:30 am. Those days are long gone, but I hope one day I can get them back) so Wednesdays are what I will call my “rest” days, because I flat out don’t do shit. I spend 12 hours with a 6-year-old and I spend most of those 12 hours praying that she will be good to me…

Anyway, since I don’t get any exercise on Wednesdays, I have to be extra careful with what I eat because I won’t really be burning much off. To be perfectly honest, I’m rarely extra careful. I’m at home all day, usually near the kitchen with the kids, and my lack of willpower is on attack mode. I’m hoping that writing about it in this blog will start to help keep me accountable, so for whoever is reading out there, I urge you to hold me to my promises, including my promise to be honest with myself and with you!

Back to oatmeal.

There are tons of healthy oatmeal recipes out there for those of you that might not be entirely convinced about the mothafuckin deliciousness of this kickass healthy food. I use Pinterest to find great recipes, most of which I never try (but sometimes I do, and I’m rarely disappointed), but in case you’re feeling up for it, here are a few links to oatmeal recipes that look amazing, though don’t take my word for it… I’ve never actually tried most of these. (Though maybe now that I’m posting this, I actually will!)

Baked Oatmeal

Carrot Cake Oatmeal

Blueberry Cheesecake Oatmeal

Clean Eating Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

And a Youtube video with a few quick recipe ideas for oatmeal:

Thank you to WebMD for providing me with accurate nutritional information on this holy delicious food.

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