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Veg Curious

17 Jul

I am two weeks into my (mostly) pescatarian diet, so I figured it was about time for an update. Thus far, the diet has been as uneventful as I anticipated. I am right on track with my meat allowance for the month. I have had meat on two occasions which leaves two more for the remainder of the month. The first time, I was traveling and went with what was being offered by Derek’s family: a ham sandwich. I am currently digesting my second serving of meat. I found some chicken tucked away in my deep freeze and decided to use that up by adding it to some homemade Greek pizza. It turned out pretty yummy if I do say so myself (even if the crust was undercooked – I swear to God, this happens every time I try to make homemade pizza dough).

One thing that has been a welcome change with this tweak in lifestyle is that I’ve started to make more exciting, complicated meals again. I don’t always enjoy the obligation of cooking, but it’s fun to branch out sometimes. Some vegan meals I’ve made and enjoyed: dilly dumpling stew, enchiladas, cauliflower curry made with coconut milk and Gardein beefless tips.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with various store-bought vegan foods. I haven’t been disappointed by many of them. But I haven’t tried anything that’s knocked my socks off either. Some foods I’ve tried: Gardein brand crispy tenders, Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy peanut butter and cookies ice cream, Field Roast sausages, jackfruit carnitas, Follow Your Heart American “cheese”, Just Mayo, and Earth Balance vegan butter.

Even though I haven’t been wowed by any prepackaged vegan foods, I’m not letting myself get discouraged. In general, homemade foods tend to be better than store-bought, right? I imagine this to be as true for vegans as it is for omnivores. For example, store-bought soups of all varieties miss the mark for me.

A few days ago, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough from scratch and veganized it, hoping it could bring my faith back into the possibilities of this diet. Years ago, I discovered an egg-free cookie dough recipe thanks to this cookbook: http://www.cookiedoughlovers.com/. Since the dough is designed to be eaten, not baked, the recipe excludes eggs to avoid the food safety risks of eating them raw. The only changes I had to make was using vegan chocolate chips (I used my favorite – Endangered Species brand 88% dark chocolate bar, chopped into “chips”) and swapping regular butter with a vegan version. I used the original flavor of Earth Balance. The good news is, the changes were easy and more importantly, delicious! The bad news is I ate all the dough way too fast. It was gone within three days…but this is nothing new for me.

Despite my cookie dough binge, I haven’t found my current diet to be problematic in terms of food obsession/disordered eating. Overeating sweets is something I do on occasion, and I don’t really care. The bulk of my diet is healthy, so who gives a damn? I’ve worked hard to achieve this peace with my dietary choices which is why I am using this blog to check in along the way to ensure my gradual diet changes don’t trigger any odd behaviors or fixations.

I joined a local Facebook group created by vegans for vegans (or veg curious peeps like me). It’s been a great resource so far. I discovered an extensive list of vegan options at local restaurants and love how welcoming and encouraging the members have been. I’ve even posted a few of my own questions, such as “How long have you been vegan? What struggles have you encountered along the way and what did you do to overcome them?”

Thus far, I’ve encountered one stumbling block that made me second guess my dietary decisions: my gut. I have this tendency to pretend like I’m a normal person, conveniently forgetting my chronic illnesses until they refuse to be ignored. For some reason, I harbored a false sense of safety about what my digestive system was willing to accept and started eating FODMAPS in excessive amounts. (If you are like FOD who?!, check out this post: https://thehungryguineapig.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/fructose-fructans-just-2-elements-of-the-fodmaps-puzzle/ ). It didn’t go over well. I almost talked myself out of this whole vegan thing until I realized there were other things I could try to make it work. For starters, not eating a bunch of FODMAPS! Also, peppermint pills (which soothe intestinal spasms) and probiotics (which have been helpful in the past). I searched for vegan YouTubers with IBS for meal ideas and a sense of camaraderie. It renewed my resolve, and I now feel prepared to keep on keepin’ on.

I plan to switch over to as many vegan and cruelty-free products as possible. I’ve been buying predominantly cruelty-free soaps, deodorants, shampoos, sunscreen, and other toiletries for several years, but I’d like to step up my game. Not all cruelty-free products (meaning products that are not tested on animals) are vegan (meaning that they do not contain any animal products, such as beeswax or animal fats).  I am a minimalist with very little brand loyalty. While others might find this transition jarring, to me it feels like embarking on a fun challenge, one that benefits animals and my conscience.

What can YOU do today?: The next time you purchase a toiletry or cosmetic product, opt for a cruelty-free option. For example, instead of purchasing L’Oreal mascara, go with E.L.F. cosmetics or Wet N Wild (Bonus: They are cheap and easy to find!) Instead of using Herbal Essences shampoo, use Jason Natural Cosmetics brand. Try Every Man Jack shaving cream in lieu of Gillette.  The internet makes a cruelty-free life that much easier. Here are a couple of cruelty-free databases I found in a matter of seconds: https://mybeautybunny.com/cruelty-free-brands/#W  &  http://features.peta.org/cruelty-free-company-search/index.aspx

Now, go vote for compassion with your dollar!

 

 

 

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I’m Back Baby! (But Please, Hold the Baby Back Ribs)

19 Jun

It’s been about 3 years since I last posted on this blog. Wow! Time flies. For the past 3 years, I have been eating any/everything that I want (well, sort of. There was a pregnancy in there somewhere, and I had to restrict certain things during that time.)

Anyway, I decided to revisit this online journal for a new dieting venture: veganism.

My desire to go vegan is two-fold:

1. Help the Environment: Knowledge is power – Eating a vegan diet is the best way for a person to reduce their carbon footprint. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/veganism-environmental-impact-planet-reduced-plant-based-diet-humans-study-a8378631.html The leader of my country doesn’t seem interested in supporting initiatives to help make a dent in this cluterfuck of a climate dilemma. So, I guess I have to pick up the slack. Thanks a lot, Trump! First you take away my faith in humanity and now you I have to give up cheese too? This is just great.

2. Reduce Animal Suffering: Ignorance is bliss – What goes on in factory farms has become more transparent over the past decade thanks to food documentaries like Food Inc and other films easily accessible through Netflix. However, like most people, I chose to turn my head the other way. I’d like to stop doing this.

When I first started this blog, I flirted with veganism in a non-direct way. I called myself a “factory farm vegan” which meant I was only eating animal products that I could verify the source of and felt comfortable with. Unfortunately, I decided to do that at the same time I was restricting other foods during my various diet experiments. This complicated things, to say the least.

Veganism seems more attainable for me now. I have calmed down a lot about food additives, preservatives, sugar, and other unnatural atrocities in my food.  I am lazy, and I refuse to make everything from scratch. These days, I welcome mock meats and other processed vegan goodies that I would have shunned back in the day in lieu of driving myself crazy for the sake of purity. I also recognize I may accidentally eat something that is not vegan, even while claiming to be one, and somehow this won’t cause me to spontaneously combust.

Is a vegan diet for everyone? I really don’t think so. People with certain health or eating disorder issues may find such an approach to be problematic. I’ll be curious to see if I can hack it. Here are the things that have derailed my vegan efforts in the past:

1. Disordered Eating: This is my biggest fear. For me, restrictive diets tend to coincide with perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with food. I am so lazy, that I will skip meals if nothing is available or looks good. Also, I’m not sure it’s possible to follow such a culturally incompatible diet without forming a ridiculous fixation on food. Is this inherently a bad thing? I guess we’ll find out!

2. Chronic Illnesses: I have two chronic pain conditions that wreak havoc on my body. I’ve talked about these at length in other posts, so I’ll keep this short.

-IBS: I have a finicky gut which may be aggravated by a predominantly plant-based diet. Following an IBS-friendly vegan diet is possible but not necessarily easy. On the plus side, my intestines seem less sensitive since pregnancy, so there’s hope.

-Fibromyalgia: I have a hypersensitive nervous system which doesn’t respond well to blood sugar swings. I have to be careful to emphasize plant-based proteins when consuming carb-heavy staples, such as grains, fruits, and starchy veggies, to avoid upsetting my altered equilibrium. Again, not impossible but will require conscious effort.

3. Social Convenience: I am a natural-born follower who SUCKS at being assertive. I am not the type of person who wants to be noticed or make a scene or have to explain myself. These personality characteristics create an unfortunate hurdle for me. “Is there butter in this?” “Are there eggs in that?” “Oh sorry, I can’t try your amazing cookies. I’m vegan.” Somehow, I would have to become the type of person who can whip out sentences like these without wanting to barf. But what are experiments good for, if not eliciting some personal growth?

4. Taste: This is the last, and also, the least of my concerns. My current diet is predominantly vegetarian, based on preference, laziness, and the high cost of higher quality meats. Of course if you make ribs for me, I’m going to be sad if I can’t eat them. And if I go to JL Beers, I will obsess over the fact that I’d prefer to get a chicken sandwich with bacon rather than another goddamn black bean burger. But so far, I’ve discovered some vegan “chicken” tenders (Gardein brand) and “bacon” (Upton’s Naturals) that I’ve enjoyed enough to trick myself into thinking this experiment won’t be a total disaster. My current favorite past time is watching vegan food taste tests on YouTube.

What about my husband? – He will continue to eat whatever he wants, but by default, he will be eating about 2/3 veg, since I make his breakfast and supper. We aren’t big meat eaters, so it shouldn’t be (too) jarring of a change for him. We already eat a vegan smoothie every morning. Now, suppers will be more plant-based as well.

What about my daughter? – Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association insist that well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of life, I’m hesitant. Maybe Big Dairy has brainwashed me, or maybe I just shudder to think of how socially ostracized she would become. (P.S. Do NOT google “Big Meat”. Trust me on this one.) In any case, I have no plans to offer a vegan diet to my child at this time. However, I may eventually raise her as a vegetarian since I don’t plan to cook meat at home. Of course, she’ll be free to go off and eat burgers and pepperoni pizza and whatever else she wants when she’s with friends. I know what it looks like when something is 100% off limits to someone, and I don’t want to have to pay to send her to rehab for a McDonald’s addiction in the future.

What about my kitty friend? – Cats are carnivores. As a general rule, they need meat in their diet to thrive. She will continue to receive fancy Paleo cat food with plenty of meat and very little carbs to help keep her feline diabetes in remission.

What about Bob? Ha! I love Bill Murray. But seriously though…

What about me?!

Here’s the Plan:

As evidenced by all of my ramblings above and even more so by my previous ramblings on this blog, it is clear to me that the only chance in hell I have at being successful at this is by taking things very, very slow. Baby Steps!

July: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 4 servings for the entire month. (I currently eat meat about twice per week, so that’s a 50% reduction for me.)

*Pescatarian: a vegetarian who also eats fish.

The “meat allowance” is my own invention. I don’t expect to buy meat to prepare at home, but I want to keep my options open for restaurants and social outings, so I can better mentally prepare for the eventual loss of this option.

August: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 2 servings for the entire month.

September: I will follow a (mostly) Pescatarian diet with a meat allowance of 1 serving for the entire month.

October: I will follow a full Pescatarion diet (No more meat allowance)

November: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

Yes, you read that right. I said “fish/bug” allowance. I’ve been curious to experiment with cricket flour for awhile now, and this experiment gives me a great excuse to do so.

*Vegetarian: generally, this term is used to refer to a person who does not eat the flesh of animals (meat or fish) but still eats dairy, eggs, and honey. The technical term is “lacto-ovo” vegetarian, but if people went around calling themselves by this ridiculous name, the veg movement would get mocked even more than it already does.

December: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

January: I will follow a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a fish/bug allowance of 1 serving for the entire month

February: I will follow a full (lacto-ovo) vegetarian diet. No fish or bug allowance. I’m sure some of you are relived to hear this. Ha!

March: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 4 servings for the entire month

*Vegan: a person who refrains from eating any/all animal products including: dairy, eggs, bugs, fish, meat, honey, and toenails (I assume?) Can a vegan eat their own fingernails and still be vegan? These are important details I’ll have to iron out later.

April: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 2 servings for the entire month

May: I will follow a (mostly) vegan diet with a lacto/ovo allowance of 1 serving for the entire month

June: I will follow a full vegan diet

July: ??? We’ll see how I’m feeling physically and mentally and proceed from there!

What can YOU do today?: This project may look ambitious, and I’m inclined to agree with you. If you have an interest in reducing your meat intake, but you don’t know where to begin, try committing to meatless Mondays! https://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/

Wish me luck, friends!

 

 

It’s Not You, It’s Me

23 Aug

This is my 101st post!

You may have noticed that it’s been pretty quiet on here lately. The last time I posted was at the end of May! At the time, I was still trying to keep sugar off my plate. Shortly after I wrote that post, I realized that I was tired of trying so hard for minimal benefit and it was time to go back to life as usual.

Only, for whatever reason, this time was different without much pomp and circumstance. I gradually reintroduced sugar and didn’t find myself craving it like a crazy person during periods of abstinence. Research suggests that new habits take approximately 66 days to stick. In my case, I was eating sugar-free for 5 months. Perhaps, because I had dampened my reliance on it, its reintroduction was less satisfying than my prior sugar-addicted brain and taste buds had anticipated.

I had toyed with the idea of charting my sugar intake in July. I thought it would be interesting to compare how much sugar I actually consumed vs my estimated intake charted in my “Coulda Woulda” post. However, that plan fell through. I reached a point where I was getting really sick of “diets” and everything that went with them. I didn’t want to record anything or have to pay such close attention to everything that I ate. Luckily, I have internalized the low-FODMAP diet, so my shopping and meal planning are automatically centered around the foods that I know will give me the least grief even when “anything” goes.

I really feel as if I have the healthiest relationship with food that I ever have. It’s been a long road to get here, but I am happy to have finally arrived! This isn’t to suggest that I have a “perfect” relationship with food. That does not exist. I still eat for comfort or celebration at times when I am not hungry. The important distinction between my days of self-loathing and now is that I allow it and move on without feeling guilty. I am able to stop eating when full, because eating beyond that no longer fills me up the way it once did. I acknowledge why I am eating the way that I am (stressed out, tired, social circumstances, etc.), analyze whether or not I would do the same thing next time, and adjust my habits accordingly. Mindfulness is key to this transformation.

I never gave food much thought prior to my junior year of college when I started to restrict and binge. I started to label foods “good” and “bad” and could only resist my favorites for so long before an inevitable binge would ensue. It was an ongoing battle complicated by malabsorption issues, perfectionism, and depression. As a child and teenager, I ate like an average American. I’d snack on Dorito’s after school and eat plain white bagels with cream cheese for lunch. I had a healthy relationship with food in the sense that I didn’t stress out over my meal options or worry about my weight, but I often made unhealthy choices.

These days I have the best of both worlds. My standard eating pattern is full of healthy foods that I enjoy eating, but when I stray for a meal or an entire weekend, I appreciate my junky indulgences and go back to my usual pattern of eating without beating myself up over my fall from grace. I finally know which foods I can digest which allows me to make informed decisions about my food choices. By paying attention, giving myself permission, and having the knowledge of how various foods affect me, everything falls into place.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that my fibromyalgia doesn’t care as much about my dietary manipulations as I do. Being absolute didn’t lead to absolution. Tweak as I may, wish as I might…it’s still there whether or not I am virtuous enough to eat dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc. However, it’s nice to know that eating a very clean diet does make my symptoms rear their head less often and with less vigor. It’s a tool I can use when I’ve deemed the benefits outweigh the costs. There may be times when eating a boring diet is superior to the convenience of a quick meal at Jimmy John’s. There will be other times where eating onions in a veggie tart with friends is worth the tummy chaos for the pleasure of flavor and company. I’ve gotten much better at striking a balance in the gray zone without getting trapped in my black and white tendencies. For the past couple of months, I haven’t followed any specific diet beyond my standard low-FODMAPs template. This is naturally lower in dairy, sugar, and gluten thanks to the necessity of limiting lactose, fructose, and fructans respectively, so it kind of works out.

I had been wanting to lose a few pounds but was really struggling with how to go about it. With fibromyalgia, it’s hard to plan a workout regime with any confidence. You never know when a flare will leave you down and out of commission. For me, I get broken more often than not where exercise is concerned. As a result, I was left with the traditional option of calorie counting. I decided that that option was not healthy for me either now that I’d just gotten used to my newfound healthy relationship with food. A surefire way to fuck up a healthy relationship with food is to start obsessing over every calorie that goes into your mouth. With a natural tendency towards perfectionism, calorie counting is a slippery slope to disordered eating. The calculator on the computer says you’ve already met your calorie quota for the day, so you go to bed with a growling stomach. It’s no way to live.

After bitching about my conundrum with several understanding girlfriends, I finally talked myself into just eating smaller portions and trying to sit on my butt less. That was the best I could offer the process. I made a silent pact with myself that if nothing were to come of it, so be it. Health o’er everythang.

To my surprise, it worked. I’ve lost 4 pounds in 1 month which is exactly the amount I could hope to lose if I were to follow a program based on standard weight loss protocols. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working all the same. I’m not letting myself get too attached to my new weight, because I know how easy it is to regain such a small amount of weight. Not to mention that winter and all of the comfort eating that goes along with it is hiding just round the corner…

In any case, I’m pretty happy with my current situation. As a result, I think it may be time to break up with this blog. It’s not you! It’s Me! I’m tired of the diet roller coaster and of over analyzing every symptom, wondering if it was the cheese on my burger. I’ve exhausted my dietary trials. Since this blog is essentially dedicated to that purpose, it seems logical to retire.

I may still write occasional posts for shits and giggles, but I have no idea what I’d write about. No promises there. All I know is that I’m sick of talking about my health problems. I’ve hit a dead end. I accept this and have no further comment where my diet is concerned. It could be fun to write general pieces on nutrition research or something in that vein. We shall see where the wind shall blow me. Haha, I said “blow me”. 😀

Mixed messages aside, you guys are da best. Thanks for reading my blabs over the past 3+ years. I shall miss this place where diet and swear words collide. I’ve learned a lot, but it’s time to move on.

Coulda Woulda

28 May

I have been keeping a tally of all of the sugar indulgences I would have partook in, if only. Anytime I had a craving serious enough to notice or free sweets were available and I had to turn them down, I took note. Some of the days have dates, others don’t. Here’s what I’ve recorded so far…

January:

1 tsp sugar (coffee)

1 caramel + 4 Fruit Punch “Frooties” (leftover party candy at my house)

January 10th:

Brownie

January 15th:

Brownie

1 tsp sugar (coffee)

Large bucket of free M&Ms at work – would have eaten the equivalent of 1 regular bag of M&Ms each day they were available = 3 bags total

January 19th:

Free birthday dessert at a local restaurant (Doolittle’s): Slice of Mudslide Pie or something equally awful

Piece of chocolate cake from mom for birthday

Hard Cider at a friend’s birthday party (The bar only had sweetened, not dry, hard cider available)

Milk chocolate truffle at another friend’s birthday party + one piece of liquor infused chocolate candy

Cake at work for employee appreciation (Coulda but not sure if woulda. Cake isn’t my favorite, so even if I had been eating sugar at the time, I’m not sure I would have had any.)

Estimated imaginary sugar total: 1 + 2/3 cups

February:

Piece of chocolate cake at sister’s house

Cupcake at work

Cake at work for coworker’s birthday (Coulda but not sure if woulda)

Doughnut at work

Estimated imaginary sugar total: 1/4 cup

March:

Wild Berry Popsicle

Dessert bar of some sort from Co-op (My mom wanted to buy me a “treat”, so I got a La Croix soda instead)

Jam on local wheat bread during brunch at in-laws’

Dark chocolate “Mega Chunks” at cousin’s house

Cake at work for coworkers birthday (Coulda but not sure if woulda)

Chocolate chip cookie (store-bought) at friend’s BBQ

March 21st – I introduced dark chocolate back into my vice-less life

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 3/4 cups

April:

Homemade Easter brownies courtesy of my cousin (although they looked very/possibly too sweet)

Marshmallow eggs in a basket at my grandma’s house

Hollow Easter bunnies (Last year, I bought one of these everyday for a week or two after Easter when all of the candy was on sale.  I probably would have done the same thing this year if given the option.  I LOVE hollow Easter bun buns.  They are delicious and really satisfying to eat.  Russell Stover knows how to make some damn fine milk chocolate.  Ok, I’m done talking about it. I swear. But I’m clearly not over it…

Chippers at work (3-5 at least, because I am an asshole and would take more than my fair share)

Big ass carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting from a local doughnut shop (Sandy’s)

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 1 + 3/4 cups

May:

Cheesecake bar at work

Store-bought chocolate chip cookie at BBQ

Brownies with frosting (at least 2) – made for Derek’s birthday

Derek’s shared birthday dessert at Doolittle’s: Chocolate molten cake with coffee ice cream

Estimated imaginary sugar total (including actual dark chocolate intake): 1 cup

Grand estimated total of lost sugar opportunities (+ actual dark chocolate consumption) = 5.4 cups

I have spared myself from almost 5 + 1/2 cups of sugar over the past 5 months.  Sounds more menacing when put into absolute terms like that.  However, when you average it out, that’s less than 2 tsp per day.  Interesting.  I have to admit I was expecting way more drama. Two tsp per day is less than the most strict recommended daily amount: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/06/health/who-sugar-guidelines/index.html.

On the other hand, these amounts were mostly calculated from sweet dreams.  In reality, I probably would have eaten more sugar than that, especially considering the cumulative craving effects of multiple indulgences. In other words… eat sugar, crave sugar. Not to mention that eating too much fructose in one sitting causes health issues regardless of total sugar consumed over a longer time frame.

Still, it’s interesting.

I came very close to throwing in the towel on this sugar-free challenge this past weekend. While at a friend’s lake cabin, I came face to face with a dish so near and dear to my heart, I was ready to trade in my Methadone (dark chocolate) for the real thing…

Rhubarb Crisp

Add to list: Giant Slice of Rhubarb Crisp (x2)

I have a thing with rhubarb desserts. They scream summer like iced tea and Rainier cherries.  They turn a sour garden staple into an endorphin rush.

I decided that I must at least try it or I might lose my mind.  And so I did.  I challenged myself to 3 (reasonable) bites. I rationalized that I’ve gone almost half a year eating less than a tsp of added sugar per day and that now would be a great time to see how my taste buds would respond. You know, whatever I had to tell myself to get that rhubarb crisp in my face STAT & guilt-free  reduced.

It was overly sweet, but still something I would have gladly kept eating. As per tradition, the emotional connection obsession proved to be the biggest motivator. After those 3 small but potent bites, I saw how easy it would be to fall back into the “Fuck it, let’s do this” scenario.  That situation where I would shove several more pieces into my mouth until I had a proper sugar buzz. I’m an addict for life I guess.

I also drank 3 1/2 cans of Diet Coke over the holiday weekend. I had planned to cut out all natural and artificial sweeteners for the year but decided that “What happens at the lake, stays at the lake”…within reason. Sugar and sugar substitutes both have their downfalls.  I rarely drink Diet Coke, so I’m not worried about long-term adverse health effects. I am mostly concerned with keeping the sugar demons at bay, and sweet tastes tempt the beast.

Yesterday, after my oh so crazy weekend of 3 bites of rhubarb crisp and 3 1/2 Diet Cokes, I was craving a brownie in the worst way.  In general, after getting over the initial withdrawal, my cravings for sweets since the beginning of the experiment have largely been environmentally/emotionally based.  But that brownie craving was a biochemical demand that took every last shred of willpower for me to ignore.  Just as I suspected, I am very sensitive to sugar.

Essentially, sugar is an abusive ex-boyfriend whose manipulative powers seduce me into a state of nostalgia, allowing me to forget the damage that’s been done in the interest of momentary bliss. Distance is the safest course. Once I give an inch, he’s everywhere…calling my name…reminding me of the good times…promising things will be different this time around.

I sure do miss you, my beloved

Dammit sugar! If you liked it, then you should of put a ring on it! Oh, never mind. I was getting a little carried away with my analogy. I guess Beyonce doesn’t really apply here. Sorry, bae.

My So Called Diet: Dealing with the Ibbs and the Fibbs

6 May

Here’s what’s going on with me these days:

First, a quick rant.  I recently tried a personal training session at the gym that I go to.  The trainer was informed ahead of time that I have fibromyalgia and that I struggle with lifting weights because of chronic neck pain. He studied up a little before my session and told me that he had great news!  Exercise had the potential to eliminate all of my pain (bullshit). He speculated that my pain probably got worse after starting my desk job (the opposite, actually). The trainer informed me that coffee is bad for you (while drinking a Monster energy drink).  So many red flags and still I wanted to trust an expert in a field in which I am completely unfamiliar. I let him lead me through a short (yet brutal) routine that seemed suspiciously intense given the pep talk about taking things slow he had just spouted at me minutes prior. I felt good afterwords thanks to the immediate endorphin rush that exercise is known for.  I almost let him trick me into signing up for more sessions (my God, they’re relentless salesmen). Luckily, before making any rash decision to spend lots of money on a trainer who is not formally trained in rheumatic conditions, the session caught up with me by the next day.  I had terrible post-exertional malaise for OVER A WEEK afterwards. My insomnia spiked, my pain reared its ugly head after hibernation, and my energy took a serious nose-dive.  I had been feeling really good up until that point.  The diet changes I’ve been implementing had brought me to a good place. I felt betrayed but also validated.  I really am broken.  Moments like these remind me of just how vulnerable I am to unexpected set-backs and how necessary it is for me to be my own health advocate. They also make me more determined to figure out ways to regain what chronic illness has taken from me.

Coffee: I have mostly eliminated coffee (even decaf). It has made a tremendous difference in how I feel. When I drink it, it feels like my brain short-circuits and starts going haywire (similar to when I eat raw onions and get “onion brained”). My vision gets kind of wonky, my muscles ache and feel more vulnerable, my stomach gets gross, and my nose stuffs up. A few weeks ago, I decided to retest coffee as it had been several weeks since I had a cup. I felt like crap after a few sips, so I ended up dumping it out. On the plus side, I ordered it black and like it that way now, proving you can recalibrate your taste buds in a matter of months with sugar-free eating.  Luckily with the change in seasons, I do not feel too deprived without my beloved coffee.  I tend to steer clear of coffee in the summer and switch over to iced tea.

My saving grace? La Croix! For now, I have replaced my morning beverage indulgence to flavored carbonated water.  I like the Grapefruit flavored La Croix. Or more accurately, since my cousin/health ally introduced me to this product, I have become psychologically addicted, and generally drink about 1-2 per day. 🙂

Chocolate: I reintroduced dark chocolate at the end of March.  I have been eating some dark chocolate on a daily basis. I decided that if I was planning a strict gluten/dairy free diet in addition to all of my other dietary limitations (low FODMAP, no processed oils, etc.), I would need something fun to look forward to!  I choose 85% or 88% versions and eat anywhere from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce per day.  That means that I eat 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of added sugar per day. I am fine with this. For perspective, the average American adult eats about 22 tsp of added sugar per day while the average American child eats about 32 tsp of added sugar per day. Yikes!

How could I introduce dark chocolate when I vowed to be 100% sugar free for 1 year? Easy. I feel no need to be a diet zealot on this go-around. I wanted to eliminate sugar for the challenge, the mindfulness, and to regain control of my taste buds and cravings. Eating dark chocolate does not seem to make me crave more sugar which means that it is not a threat to my experiment. Unfortunately, I suspect that the stimulant properties in chocolate are causing me to sleep less soundly lately.  As a result, I’m working up to phasing chocolate back out. If you love something let it go, right? Le sigh.

My saving grace? Summer = lots of delicious fruit in season. 

Being (mostly) sugar-free?: It’s been amazing.  I rarely crave sweets, and when I do, I get over it quickly. I have the healthiest relationship with food than I’ve ever had before thanks to forcing added sugar out of my life. I am afraid of losing sight of the progress I’ve made.  It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about it for another 8 months though. 🙂

Mostly gluten-free: I was going to do one month on a very strict gluten and dairy free diet, but I changed course along the way.  I can’t afford to switch out my entire pantry on a hunch that gluten may not be my friend. If I had an official celiac disease diagnosis, it would be easy to go all in, but without it, it’s hard to take it too seriously.  Instead, I’ve decided to be as strict as possible at home.  When I buy new staples, I will do research beforehand to seek out certified gluten free products.  At some point, I’m going to have a very clean home diet.  If I am exposed to gluten at a restaurant or while eating at a friend’s house, the reaction should be pretty obvious if I turn out to have a very high sensitivity. I’m at the point where I have no reason not to aim for gluten free eating as much as possible anyway.  As mentioned before, I don’t digest wheat well. I also have celiac disease in my family, a chronic pain disorder, and genetic susceptibility for autoimmune disease, so my health can only go up by cutting it out.

Testing Dairy in Doses: I am testing different dairy products here and there.  For whatever weird reason that I can’t pinpoint, certain things are definitely problematic and other things are more illusive. For example, time and again when I eat greek yogurt, I get the most disgusting post-nasal drip, a sore throat, and fluid build-up in my ears.  I’ve never noticed such symptoms with hard cheeses, however.  I don’t really get it? The only theories I can come up with are that I have an allergy to one of the cultures used in the making of the yogurt or a strong sensitivity to lactose/whey.  Since hard cheeses are essentially all casein, the reaction is different.  Or maybe the reaction is just delayed, and I’m in denial…In any case, I shall continue to try things every once in awhile to see what I can learn from it.  Overall, however, my diet is dairy-free.

Going without gluten and dairy is less sad to me than going without chocolate and coffee.  I mostly like gluten for its baking properties and cheese for it’s ability to make a quick, tasty meal.  The worst part is that the more things I cut out, the less variety of foods I am able to work with.  For the most part, it’s not the end of the world not having these foods on my plate.

Low-moderate FODMAPs: for obvious reasons listed in numerous other posts.

Processed oil free: Cutting these out has been easier than expected.  Of course that’s because I make most meals from scratch. When I eat at restaurants, I let this rule go, mostly because I have no choice.  Even if the menu says “olive oil”, there’s a good chance you are getting diluted canola oil in your dish. I only eat at restaurants once or twice a month, so this minimal exposure is not much of a concern for me.

Let the record show that when I eat the cleanest diet possible, I feel like my best self.  This is no surprise really.  If sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and processed oils are able to create inflammation and/or rev up the nervous system in a healthy person, it’s little surprise that my fibromyalgia symptoms would diminish while following a diet that excludes or greatly limits such components.

Am I cured? Sadly, no.  But I’ve come a long way, baby.

The quest for health continues…

Sources

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/

Sugar Impact Diet Finale (The Abridged Version)

28 Feb

Weeks II & III on the Sugar Impact Diet

Week II was not a good time.  I cut out all fruit (for 5 days…that’s all I could commit to). I felt very deprived and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t cut out for this challenge after all. I would have been allowed to eat my beloved 85% dark chocolate during this time if not for my prior commitment to shun all sugar. My foods were further restricted by my decision to keep dairy off my plate for awhile.  My week II menu ended up looking like what Week III was supposed to look like.  I decided that I would not go back and redo the week correctly as even the altered version I followed made me feel like a crazy person on the verge of a binge on damn near anything just to spite the limitations.  That’s when I know it’s gone too far.  So, I decided to cut my losses and go on with my life.

Week III didn’t happen.  This diet is not sustainable given my current limitations and inability to follow anything longer than a set period of time before I’m bored half to death with rules.

What I gained from the experiment was another reminder of how much sugar (even from healthy sources such as fruit) has the ability to drive hunger and cravings to a whole new level.

What am I doing now?

Still no sugar or processed oils.  Mostly, it’s going well.  Every once in awhile, I feel as if I could murder someone for a doughnut.  But let’s be honest, that’s just life.

I have reintroduced dairy (and oh man, how I love it!) Does my body love it? The jury’s still out.

I’ve been drinking mostly decaf coffee (except for when I was with family this past weekend as high octane is what the masses tend to prefer & prepare). I seem to feel better overall when I choose decaf over regular coffee.  Quite honestly, I won’t be able to reach optimum health by continuing to drink coffee of any kind. My body gives me clues that it would prefer we left the Cup Cups O’ Joe behind. On the other hand, it’s my new vice in place of brownies. It gives me a certain quality of life that only an addictive “got have it” substance can provide.  I could do worse.

What am I doing later?

I am putting off my super duper strict gluten-free challenge for the time being for financial reasons.  The experiment with all of its proper bells and whistles will cost me a pretty penny. I plan to upgrade my cat’s food & litter & purchase new jars of staples (such as ghee) to avoid possible cross-contamination. Not to mention, more often than not, gluten free foods are more expensive than their gluten filled counterparts. It adds up fast!

What kind of naughty shenanigans have I been up to recently?

I had some processed oils at a restaurant recently.  I was eating sushi and had some sweet potato tempura (deep fried num nums) & one sample of a tuna roll with spicy mayo.  I didn’t stress out about it too much as that would defeat the purpose of the experiment.  I wish to make non-processed options the norm in my life.  One sushi outing isn’t going to change this. I rarely go out to eat anyway.  At home I avoid chips, at bars I avoid popcorn with “butter flavor”, and at restaurants, I do my best without making the experience depressing/mentally unhealthy for myself. Works for me!

You’re a girl.  You must want to lose weight.

Where my weight goals are concerned, I dare not say any of it out loud as it tends to jinx the process. I started entering my foods into a daily calorie counter to assess where I am at these days.  The good news is that I don’t eat that many calories overall.  The bad news is that I now lead a very sedentary life thanks to my desk job, winter’s ability to force me into a cocoon, and unpredictable pain flares.  If I were eating this many calories at my old job, weight would have melted off by now.  But alas, the saga continues. Immediate quality of life (drinking too much coffee with too much cream while watching too many episodes of Roseanne) trumps the insurmountable task of “eat less, move more” for the sake of a smaller waist by the fourth of July.

What’s the plan, Stan?

For now, I think I’ll go on a planned diet hiatus.  I shall continue to shun sugar and processed oils, but that seems to be all I can handle as long as winter keeps hanging around.

Burning in Eternal Hellfire(ball) for my Sins + Sugar Impact Diet Specifics

9 Feb

I absentmindedly took a shot of Fireball Whisky last night.  A few minutes later it occurred to me that there was a reason it went down so smoothly…sugar!  For the past half hour or so, I have been scouring the internet to investigate possible infidelities in relation to my sugar-free goals. I wanted to confirm that Fireball Whisky had added sugar so that I could feel proper guilt. Mission accomplished.

I also drank one of these bad boys: http://www.woodchuck.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/IMG_4551edited.jpg. I aspire to enjoy beer, so I consider a hoppy hard cider to be my training wheels. I really liked it. However, interestingly enough, it seemed quite sweet to me. The ingredients read as follows: hard cider, less than 1% of : natural flavor (I hate this suspicious catch-all idiom), sulfites to protect flavor. I started to get paranoid about the term “hard cider”, so I questioned my husband who has been making homemade hard cider for the past 6 years. He assured me that sugar would likely be added at the end of the fermentation process, not during, and therefore would show up on the list of ingredients. I wasn’t able to come up with any definitive answers through online searches. Basically, the best I could come up with was evidence that pointed toward a conclusion of no added sugar.  Twelve ounces of apple juice has 40 grams of sugar. (Yikes! That’s more sugar than a can of Coke has. No wonder Steve Jobs ended up with pancreatic cancer – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17093171 . By the way, I am referring to the fact that he was a fruititarian, not that he created the APPLE brand.  Although, that is clever, so you are allowed to take it however you wish as long as it makes me sound smart. 😉 )

I found information that Angry Orchard’s dry cider is made without adding any juice at the end to sweeten it up. Twelve ounces of Angry Orchard’s dry cider has 19 grams of sugar.  Each bottle of Hopsation only has 10 grams of sugar per serving.  Therefore, I can safely assume I am in the clear.  This is really exciting.  Possibly even more exciting is the fact that a dry cider with only the equivalent of about 2.5 tsp of sugar in it seems really sweet to me.  My taste buds are growing up.  I’m so proud!!! (Eyes welling up with tears)

Anyway, to make a long story short: no more Fireball, but most dry hard ciders seem to be okay in moderation (and do not contain added sugar).  Hooray!

Now, for the Sugar Impact Diet Specificshttp://www.everydiet.org/diet/sugar-impact-diet

Normally, diet gurus with shiny books that are wielded by Dr. Oz make me weary.  In fact, every time I see J.J. Virgin’s arms, I get a little scared. http://bohmphotography.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-branding/jjvirgin2.jpg  However, if you can get past all of the disgusting over-promotion & sensationalism, you’d probably come to the conclusion that she does know her shit.  I have, and so I trust in the merit of her diet plans.  I also like the 3 week approach.  There’s something less sad about 3 weeks without something than having to go a whole MONTH.

Here’s the gist of the program:

Week 1 – “Taper” – This is the week I just completed. During week 1, you are allowed 2 pieces of fruit per day max.  In addition, you substitute higher impact carb choices, such as potato chips, with medium impact carb choices, such as baked sweet potatoes.  The book lays out several categories of food: grains, fruits, vegetables, beverages, etc. with low, medium, and high impact choices spelled out for reference.  There is also a Sugar Impact Plate to follow that allows a person to visualize how much protein, how many vegetables, etc. should make up what percentage of your plate at meals. She recommends drinking a daily Sugar Impact Shake which is basically a protein shake with added fiber, fat, and greens. I loosely adhered to the plate concept but did have a daily smoothie for breakfast (along with coffee and coconut milk). I used non-offensive tasting collagen powder for additional protein instead of any of that stevia flavored garbage that others magically choke down on a daily basis in the name of health.

Overall, the week went well.  Somewhere along the way, the energy that disappeared when I first went low-carb magically resurfaced.  I think my body adjusted, because I still haven’t been eating very many carbohydrates relatively speaking.  I have been making an effort to make sure I get at least 50-75 grams of carbs/day, however.  Going lower than that can ravage your adrenals. For reference, here is some info about how many carbohydrates the average American eats: http://livehealthy.chron.com/average-american-diet-calorie-intake-2960.html and some more information about how to figure out your ideal carbohydrate number http://www.thepaleomom.com/2011/12/how-many-carbs-should-you-eat.html, http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/07/optimizing-carbohydrate-intake-for-your.html

I lost 2 pounds this week.  I suspect some of this may have something to do with the fact that I removed dairy again.  I am currently at 136 pounds, which is right where I was before reintroducing cream in my daily coffee.  After a week of that, I had gained 2 pounds.  This week, I’ve continued to have daily coffee with fatty coconut milk but have lost weight.  Hmm.  Seems ‘spicious.  I’m still not comfortable blaming dairy for the weight gain as there are other confounding factors, such as reduced fruit intake, to consider.  In any case, it’s something to keep in mind and monitor when I reintroduce dairy in the future.

Week 2 – “Transition” – I start this phase tomorrow.  Basically, you follow the same general guidelines, except you exclude all fruit (except avocados, olives, tomatoes, lemons, and limes) and swap medium impact carb choices with low impact carb choices.  Instead of sweet potatoes, now it would be pumpkin, etc.  I’m a little sad about cutting out fruit entirely, but overall, I think it’ll be a really great thing (not to mention it’s only for 1 measly week which is child’s play in my ongoing book of denials).  My blood sugar maintenance will probably be improved and my FODMAP load will likely reduce.  These changes point to potentials: feeling better and losing more weight.  I tend to carry extra weight in my belly.  It’s uncomfortable and unhealthy, so even though I am only borderline overweight, I feel compelled to figure out a way to lose some of my blubber. I have to work harder than your average Joe, because fibromyalgia decreases one’s metabolism by 25%. :/ (http://www.lifescript.com/health/centers/fibromyalgia/articles/weight-loss_tips_for_fibromyalgia_sufferers.aspx)

Week 3 – “Transformed” – During this week, you test out your tolerance for foods that are higher impact to determine an appropriate maintenance plan.

There is a Sugar Impact Quiz you are supposed to take at the beginning and end of every phase.  You are also supposed to weigh and measure yourself at the beginning and end of every phase.  The quiz measures your cravings and other signs of sugar sensitivity.  This is meant to help a person gauge where progress is being made & whether or not introducing higher impact items on an occasional basis is halting your desired results.

There are exercise guidelines in the book that I have decided to more or less ignore for the time being… but not because I want to.  I was actually working out for awhile there and really enjoying it, but post-exertional malaise (http://chronicfatigue.about.com/od/cfsglossary/g/malaise.htm) is an ongoing battle for me.  This is a common trait of fibromyalgia and one that I hate a lot.  Basically, I do 30 minutes of Tae Bo, and I’m down and out for the next few days with increased brain fog, exhaustion, and/or pain.  Sometimes, there’s the added excitement of a neck migraine.  I can get away with exercise sometimes, but I never know before I start a session whether I will get away with it on that specific occasion. I’m starting to suspect that the reason I do better with exercise in the summer is because I am more active in general and the warm weather & increased humidity help relax my muscles. I am hoping to get to a place with my health where I am able to shun exercise solely on the basis of my own personal laziness (like your average human) rather than out of the fear of painful consequences.  It’s all very ludicrous, isn’t it?  Onions and exercise make me sick while both are endorsed by almost every health expert you can find.  Cruel world.

I am looking forward to Week 2.  I’ll let you know how it goes!