Approaching Balance

balancing stones 2A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and it got me thinking about where I am in my journey and how other people have found their way to gluten-free or Paleo. It also reminded me of something that my dad asked shortly after I started this blog…”When does the balancing come in?” When he asked about it, I think I was probably in the middle of a Whole30 which, admittedly, is not balancing. It’s eliminating and experimenting and learning. I found it helpful to get me started and I learned many things about myself and my eating habits which serve me today, but it certainly wasn’t about navigating the many different circumstances of life.

I questioned for a while how much to share on this blog about what it’s really like for me to try to live Paleo. Even though I fundamentally believe perfection is unattainable – and over-rated – a little part of me would still like to be perfect. If you’re looking for a Paleo blog, do you really want to know that the woman behind it drank too much, ate a ton of smoked almonds, and then collapsed before a couple of s’mores? Because that happened – and it was only a month ago. A few days after that, I ate some amazing sourdough bread and shared a towering slice of chocolate cake with my son. (Incidentally, that night I slept horribly and learned a lesson…). Both of those instances were while I was on vacation, sharing special moments with dear friends, and in retrospect, I don’t regret them. What I’ve been trying to figure out lately is why? Or maybe it’s how? How was I able to off-road so considerably while on vacation and then get right back to eating the way my body functions best? That’s generally not how it goes for me.

In fact, this sense of actual balance is new and I’ll readily admit to loving it. All my life I’ve considered balance to be some elusive, magical theory or maybe something that only truly enlightened people can attain, because quite honestly, I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I’m either working towards a goal or totally not. But this time feels different. I am still working towards a goal, but I am far more relaxed about it than I typically would be. I’m focused on feeling healthy and strong and giving my body what it needs. This also seems to be what my mind needs. The two are so often interconnected that it’s no wonder some of my close friends can tell how I’m eating based on my mood and energy.

What’s the secret then? Nothing really fantastic or revelatory, I guess. I think the main thing that has brought me here is time and patience. I’ve been eating Paleo more or less for two years now. I initially began with a Whole30 in October 2012, realized that my mind and body were better when I ate that way, and then floated around with long stretches of eating Paleo or NOT eating Paleo. A lot of that had to do with holidays and trying to figure out how to stay Paleo when it was a little harder to do it, but bit by bit, my stretches of Paleo became longer and it simply became the way that I eat.

It wasn’t until this year, actually, when it occurred to me that I eat Paleo nearly all the time. And for the past several months, I’m pretty clean Paleo too (meaning very little alcohol, dairy, Paleo baked goods or treats). I’m just eating meat, veggies, fats, fruits, and nuts. Within that framework, I don’t feel limited or restricted at all. The food I eat is delicious and satisfying. I’ll happily make rice or lentils or toast or whatever my family needs to supplement their meal, but I just don’t eat it, and I can tell you, I don’t miss it. I believe that really has to do with time in this lifestyle. I’ll put just about anything on a salad or use any possible veggie as a wrap. Trust me – today I used a roasted chile pepper as a burger bun and it was awesome.

Change can take a while under any circumstances, and when you’ve grown up unhappy with your body, frustrated with your inability to control your eating habits, and uncertain that you are actually capable of becoming the person you see in your mind, well…then change is also scary and there’s a lot of one-step-forward, two-steps-back involved. At least there is for me. I feel lucky that I was actually given the gift of time. My friends who have autoimmune issues, Celiac disease, and actual intolerances might not have that luxury. For them, it’s critical to make the change immediately and I just want to say to them that it gets better. It gets easier.

I have some thoughts that I want to share in another post about how I make eating Paleo easier, especially when I don’t have time to spend in the kitchen. I also have some ideas about eating out or making things to take on the go. I’ll definitely share those, but for now I’ll stop here and feel grateful for the balance that I’ve attained.

I want to live my life with passion and love and pleasure. For me, that includes sharing good food, a glass of wine, and lively conversation with people that I care about. My goal is to do that in a way that allows me to stay true to what makes me feel good inside and out and if that includes a little ice cream from time to time, I consider that an indulgence worth having and I definitely want a few of those in my life. But I’ve also learned that indulging feels a lot better when it’s followed closely by health.

Advertisements

Glutton for Gluten

GremlinI wish I could say that I made it through Thanksgiving unscathed, but I didn’t. What I can say, however, is that I made it out the other side better off than in years past, and I’m pretty happy about that. Here’s how it went down…

We had company basically from the Friday before Thanksgiving until the Friday after Thanksgiving, except for one night in the middle. They were all wonderful visits with dear friends and much of the time slightly indulgent, but still paleo, foods were on the menu. There were a few cocktails, there was some cheese, and there were some treats made from good, whole ingredients. But somewhere along the way, or more precisely, the day after Thanksgiving, I gave in to my desire to have good old-fashioned-totally unhealthy-oh my gosh-what am I eating??-dessert for breakfast. There was gluten and sugar and a few crazy ingredients in it and my brain did backflips.

Unfortunately, I am not far enough removed from eating things like this and my brain grabbed hold and went a little crazy. The brain is an amazing thing and I believe the food industry has done a phenomenal job of creating things that tap into the reward center in our brains and compel them to do certain things. I’m not using this as a cop-out. I also believe that it is wholly my responsibility to make healthy choices for my mind and my body, regardless of scientific, societal, or other pressures. I’m a big girl, I can handle it, but for some people (and I believe I am one of those people), the call is very strong.

One of the cool things about this experiment is I got to see quite clearly what happens when I eat gluten and sugar. It’s not the worst – some people run immediately to the bathroom or suffer from extreme stomachaches or worse – but I did have some clear signs.

  • A slight but noticeable headache begins within minutes of consuming sugar. It happens with either straight sugar or high-sugar alcohol (like liqueur). I think I will also notice it with natural sugar like honey or maple syrup but didn’t test it.
  • When I eat gluten, as in a slice of bread or graham cracker crust, I immediately lose all recognition of satiety. This is the scariest of the psychological responses for me – I have NO idea that I am full. The desire for MORE is completely overwhelming. The drive to overeat becomes extremely persistent. I start looking through the fridge or pantry for things that are outside my normal, desirable eating patterns. I want snacks while I’m making the next meal. I simply can not wait.
  • The day after gluten, my eyes are puffy and I have deep, dark circles. I can’t say that I noticed the lack of circles when I was doing my Whole 30, but I plan to pay attention next time. What I can say is that when I woke up, I couldn’t find my eyes and that hadn’t been happening.
  • Even after returning to my healthy, energizing whole foods, I am hungry all the time for a day or two afterwards and have to use will power to break the cycle.

I am grateful for what I learned, but I’m also sad. Sad that despite knowing how fantastic I feel when I eat right, the pull to eat things that are not good for me continues to be so strong. Sad that I eat so many different delicious things every day but still feel compelled to revert to old habits.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Last year after my Whole 30 and a paleo Thanksgiving, I got completely derailed and spent months trying to get back on track. During that time, I kept wanting my old favorites – a cocktail, some cheese, baked goods and treats, any social event to use as an excuse to overeat. This year I had a few days that were less than perfect, but I am craving something different this time – I am honestly craving whole foods and bubbly water. I’ll take that!

What I learned from my Whole 30

DoneThis is actually the 2nd Whole 30 I have finished (and third attempt) and I think I learned more from this one than any other. Part of the reason is because I blogged about it every day. Of course you don’t have to put it on the Internet, but a lot can happen over the course of 30 days and writing it down is critical to the analysis afterwards. I plan to do another Whole 30 next year because I believe that each time is a little different, providing new insights, but for now…here are a few of my take-aways.

1) Steady energy Before I began the Whole 30, I was finding myself tired in the afternoon. That is no longer the case. I am energized all day long.

2) Sleep Daytime energy was great and at night, I would completely crash. For the most part, I slept deeply, rarely waking up in the night at all. I discovered that I do just fine with 7-7.5 hours of sleep, often waking up in the morning without an alarm clock. I would like to sleep another hour, but my body seems happy like this.

3) Mood I naturally have a pretty steady mood, but even that was improved during the Whole 30. That’s not to say I was suddenly all bubbles and cheer every day; it was actually just a more steady feeling. It seemed like nothing much could derail me, and there were a few things that tried. Even when my hormones shifted, I felt almost like I was watching it happen and I was able to adjust and accommodate the change.

4) No more congestion For most of my life, I have carried nasal spray with me. Okay…I still carry it because I can’t stand the feeling of a stuffy nose, but after about Day 15, I no longer needed it. I remember having this same realization when I did my first Whole 30 last year. I am not sure what I’m allergic to, but I might find that out with a more deliberate reintroduction process. Whatever it is that stuffs up my nose, it’s not paleo.

5) Digestive break If for no other reason, I think it was good for my body not to have all the carbs coursing through it. I know that my belief regarding grains and legumes differs from much of society’s views, but in any case, my body loved not having to digest all those things. I can’t see inside me so I don’t know if I have what is called leaky gut or not, which can lead to inflammation throughout the body, but I do know that I gave my body 30 days to do some healing and I am glad of that.

6) Increased body image This is perhaps one of the most surprising and lovely outcomes I got from the Whole 30. I still have some weight that I would like to lose and I would like to be generally leaner. However, during my Whole 30 I felt my attitude towards my body change. Yes, I lost a few pounds and that helps, but it was definitely more than that. I’m not in a new pants size or anything, but I feel so much better about my body. It is strong, it’s working hard to be healthy, and I developed a new respect for it for those very qualities. Not because the scale showed a different number. In fact, I never once got on the scale during the whole month. I think my body image improved as I continued to treat myself better, giving it the right fuel and energy and not judging it for being more hungry or less hungry. Eating this way felt like an act of self-care and my mental state improved because of that.

7) I eat a lot And that’s okay. I tried to listen to my body and understand what its needs were. Some days I was hungrier than others and I let that be okay. I am guessing that if I continue to feed my body what it needs, over time it will adjust to its very own healthiest place. I am looking forward to that.

8) New recipes It’s important to avoid boredom when doing a Whole 30 so I got a new cookbook, experimented with my own recipes, tried new things (sardines!), and all of that factors in to my success. I need to remember that if I feel like I’m in a rut, it’s probably because I am! Experimentation makes it fun again.

9) Confidence I feel a sense of accomplishment after this. I know I’ve done it before and I knew I could do it again. What I haven’t ever done, though, is put it all out there on the Internet for you to see and sometimes that was a little hard. But even overcoming that added to my confidence and many of your comments reminded me that so many of us deal with these issues. When I drank bubbly water instead of a cocktail, when I recognized that I was eating too many nuts and dates, when I had days where I felt hungry…handling each of these scenarios gave me a little boost, reminding me that whatever happens in the days, weeks, months after my Whole 30, I can handle it. I also feel confident that I can always put my health first, even when it seems hard.

Thank you all for sharing these past 30 days with me. Having you out there cheering me on meant the world to me!

Whole 30 Fast 5

What a wonderful weekend! I was up in Denver for the Denver Rock-and-Roll Marathon and 1/2 Marathon. My husband was running in the half, and we had some other friends out there as well. It was BEAUTIFUL – a spectacular Colorado fall day! Afterwards, we visited some friends and had a little lunch before making the drive back home. When I got back, I had to bathe the dog, take care of a few chores around the house, etc. and so here it is, rather late in the day and I STILL need to prep for my Whole 30, which begins tomorrow.

Maybe you don’t think this is a big deal, but I am a planner, so when I don’t get to plan and prep, it makes me a little anxious. And you see…a Whole 30 is kind of a big deal. I also know that tomorrow is generally my busiest day of the week, so if I don’t have a few things ready to go, I might have some challenges to overcome.

So I sat down and thought for a minute, “What can I do in the least amount of time that will have the greatest impact on the success of my Whole 30 starting tomorrow?”

I came up with my WHOLE 30 FAST 5

CLEAN GREENS Many people immediately think “cereal” when you mention breakfast. When you eat paleo, though, cereal is generally a no-no. There are very few options that don’t include a bunch of grains or added sugars so you have to look at that meal a little differently. I almost always think “eggs.” And for me, I love adding greens to my eggs. But when I’m in a hurry in the morning, the last thing I want to do is wash a bunch – or even a handful, frankly – of kale to add to my greens. And when I’m starving at lunch, if I’m going salad, that lettuce had better be ready!

So here it is – a bunch of kale, a bunch of collard greens, and a head of lettuce washed and ready to go! Easy.

Stored greens

PALEO MAYO If you were to ask me about something that I never thought I’d do pre-paleo that I will never stop doing now that I know how easy it is, that thing would be homemade mayo. Hands down. Check out this post by one of my very favorite paleo bloggers and authors, Melissa Joulwan. (She just released a new cookbook, WellFed 2, that was on my front porch when I got home and I am aching to open it!) Her mayo recipe from her first book, WellFed, includes a variation with apple cider vinegar instead of lemon juice, and that’s what I use, but seriously – Pass by the processed jar of you-don’t-know-what and make your own mayo! If you have a stick blender, it takes 10 SECONDS. No joke.

Then all week long, in a matter of minutes, you have tuna salad, egg salad (because of Fast 5 #3), creamy salad dressing half-way made, lettuce wraps with a dollop of something, tons of options!

HARD BOILED EGGS When you are hungry, about to workout, just post-workout, needing a snack, looking for extra protein for a salad or main, hard boiled eggs are the way to go. They’re quick and versatile and can be made in advance.

The method that works best for me is to put several eggs in the pot and cover them by about an inch with cold water. Bring it to a boil over high heat and then immediately turn the head to the lowest possible setting, put a lid on them, and set the timer for 9 minutes. Some people take them completely off the heat, but I’ve found it works best for me when there’s a little something happening underneath. After 9 minutes, remove them and run them under cold water for a second and then put them in an ice bath for at least 10ish minutes – I’ll often leave them for a bit. Peel them and store them in a storage container with a tightly fitting lid and a piece of paper towel to soak up any excess moisture. Hard boiled eggs all week long. Excellent!

BAKED SWEET POTATOES Paleo carbs are different from what you may have previously thought about carbs. The idea isn’t low-carb or no-carb. It’s about finding the right amount of the most nutrient-dense carbs to fuel your activities each day. I work out nearly every day and some days are quite intense so it’s important that I have some healthy carbs to refuel, otherwise I won’t have enough energy the next day. In come sweet potatoes.

I plop a few into a glass baking dish, stick them in the oven at 400 degrees until they’re soft (time will vary depending on size) and then stick them in container in the fridge. I will mix them with things or cut a chunk off to eat with a meal. It doesn’t really matter as long as I don’t have to wait for them to cook when I’m in a hurry.

ONE BIG DINNER = LEFTOVERS FOR THE WEEK If I’m busy all day tomorrow, what will I have for lunch? Or maybe a last-minute dinner? Ummm…leftovers! I don’t acutally think of my pre-prepped meals as leftovers, especially when it’s something that tastes better the next day, like soups or stews or “pasta” sauces. Tonight I made a delicious meat sauce that will go on top of zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. Don’t worry – I’ll post the recipe tomorrow because it’s definitely worth making.

The idea is to make something you like and either eat it and save some for lunches, therefore saving you time, or make it simultaneously so that you can have it as your main meal when you need a break during the week. Double cooking or batch cooking are really helpful when you have a lot going on in your life but still want to eat right.

There they are…my Fast 5. That’s what I’m tackling tonight, and I know you can too! A little preparedness goes a long way for a successful adventure. Let me know in the comments below if there are things you like to do to be ready for the week. I’d love to hear them!

My Whole30 Begins on October 21, 2013

Whole9

So what exactly IS a Whole 30 anyway? If you’ve ever heard of a Whole 30 or wondered what it was about or are just learning of it for the first time here, I’m about to do one and I’ll chronicle the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs for the next 30 days. In a nutshell, it’s squeaky-clean paleo eating for 30 days. The idea is to give your body a variety of the most nutrient rich foods from the food pyramid, basically what our bodies have evolved to eat best. This means meat/fish/eggs, vegetables, fats, fruit, nuts, and seeds. For 30 days, there will be no grains or legumes, no processed foods, added sugar, dairy or alcohol.

Dallas & Melissa Hartwig, who wrote It Starts with Food, go into great detail on their website about the Whole 30. You can find that here: http://www.whole9life.com/category/whole-30/.

There are a growing number of studies out there that discuss how the Standard American Diet (SAD) negatively impacts our health and well-being, including, and even especially, wheat and other grains. Some of this will come up again in future posts, but for now, let’s just look at this from the perspective of a scientific experiment of one. Me. And if you want to commit to this for the next 30 days too, let me know! And I encourage you to note the changes day-by-day. What’s working? What isn’t? How do you feel? You, too, can be your own experiment of one.

I plan to share my daily journey through this Whole 30 – both food and feelings and whatever else comes up. I’ll let you know what I’m eating and how I’m feeling for a couple of reasons: 1) I think following a paleo lifestyle is not only healthy, but can also right a lot of imbalances within the body and mind, and 2) if it inspires just one of you to try it or make it through another day, then it was totally worth it. I’m not going to lie; this is not easy and it won’t all be pretty. I successfully completed a Whole 30 this time last year, but when I attempted one earlier this year, I succumbed to the call of the cocktail a few days past the 1/2 way point. That won’t happen this time.

I am ready for the challenge and so excited for how unbelieveably great I feel when my body is getting EXACTLY what it needs – no more and no less.

So let my Whole 30 challenge begin – and maybe yours too! If you plan to do one, be sure to leave me a note in the comments – and enjoy!