Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finishing Up the Whole 30

The month of January is drawing to a close. For me, it has been a month of trials. (I've told you about my dog's emergency surgery, but if you missed that post, it is titled Stressed Out.) Once the holidays were over, I committed to 30 days of clean eating: no sugar or sweeteners of any kind, no flour or products made from flour, no alcohol, no fried foods, no junk food. No treats. I even cut out peanut butter! My meals have consisted of meats, poultry, fish, lots of veggies, healthy fats, nuts, and a little fruit.

My husband asked me if I'm going to indulge in a huge carb-fest now that my month of purity is coming to an end. To be honest, I don't have any plans. I'm not really craving anything. This is one of the perks of eating clean for a month: all those cravings disappear.

And that's not the only perk! After just one month, I see many changes in my body and mind. I've lost weight for sure. (I didn't weigh myself at the beginning and I won't weigh myself at the end, so I can't give you specific numbers.) My belly is flatter. My skin is clearer. My gums feel much healthier. I'm sleeping way better-- longer stretches and more deeply. My moods have been mostly stable, except for the couple of days when stress got the better of me. I feel proud of myself for sticking with my program, even when the going got tough.

Although I'll probably have some wine during the month of February, I won't fall off the wagon face first into the muck and mire. I still plan to avoid sugar almost all of the time. A Valentines Day treat might pass my lips, but during the rest of the month I'll remain sugar-free. Because I'm now in the habit of eating clean, it won't be so difficult to simply continue down this path.

I found the month of January to be an easy time to experiment with healthy eating. There are no major holidays that demand baking cookies or sipping champagne. But with a little extra willpower, you could get through this program any time of the year. Is it worth the sacrifice? Absolutely. You will gain so much more than you will give up. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dr. Oz and Touched by an Angel

Today, Wednesday January 28, the Chicken Soup for the Soul volume titled Touched by an Angel will be featured on the Dr. Oz Show. "My Grandfather's Gift" is the name of the story I have in this book. Dr. Oz will be talking about the power of angels to assist in healing.

If you had asked me a week ago, I probably would have told you this sounded pretty far-fetched. But in the past week, I have witnessed firsthand the power of prayer to help heal my sweet akita. A week ago, she bloated suddenly and had to have immediate surgery. The following 48 hours were truly touch and go, with her heart doing funky things and the doctors pumping her full of every medication known to mankind. When she finally came home, she was refusing to drink water, turning her head away from all food, and walking around in a daze. When she managed to get up.

We nursed her round the clock, forcing the food into her mouth as we were warned she would not survive without it. Soon she began drinking on her own. And then licking the spoon when I fed her. And then searching out her food bowl. Every day, the dog I know and love returns to me a little more. Thanks to her own innate strength. But also thanks, I believe, to the power of prayer.

I am so grateful God doesn't hold a grudge. Because I am truly a foul weather friend. When things are going swimmingly in my life, I rarely spend a moment talking to God. But as soon as that crisis hits, boy am I a big believer! Fervent, you might even say.

So thank you to all the friends, and even strangers, who prayed for my sweet baby to heal and recover from her surgery. Thanks to you, she is better and better every day.

And if you get a chance today, check out Dr. Oz!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stressed Out

How do you cope with the kind of stress that punches you in the gut?

Our female akita bloated (a condition where gas fills the stomach and cuts off blood supply, which will kill a dog without immediate treatment) and I had to rush her to the emergency vet. For me, this is about as stressful as a situation can get. Okay, if it were my child or my husband, I'd be in worse shape. But this dog is truly the love of my life. She and I fell in love with each other at first sight and we have bonded in a way that is beyond words. The thought of losing her terrifies me. On top of that, you throw in medical procedures and multiple doctors, enormous bills, and complications from the surgery, and you have stress hormones zinging around at top speed.

What do you do to counteract the heavy toll stress takes on your body and brain?

If you are a typical human, you probably choose to numb those sensations with alcohol. Prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs are another popular solution. And these may work in the short term. But for the long haul, you're either going to become addicted or need to find another way to cope.

When facing extreme stress, I believe the best coping method is extreme self-care.

1) Remember to be kind. It is terribly easy to lash out when you're under extreme stress. (Believe it or not, I discovered this fact first hand!) I wanted to scream at the doctors treating my dog. I wanted to blame somebody, including and mostly myself, for the awful situation. I did a lot of yelling and cursing (thankfully not in public, for once!) before I began to calm down. Today I was finally able to express my gratitude to our primary vet for everything she's doing to help bring our dog through this. We cried together. I felt a hell of a lot better afterwards, although we're not out of the woods yet.

2) Fight or flee. You know those stress hormones are designed to save your life by pumping you up so you can either run fast or kick ass. In most of our stressful modern-day situations, we are more likely to sit still and chew our fingernails down to the cuticles while our stomachs churn with excess acid. If at all possible, I suggest some kind of physical activity. Running is a great one, if your joints can stand it, but walking, swimming, dancing, skating, or anything aerobic will work. You will flush those stress hormones out of the body, at least temporarily, and you will feel better because you did something besides sitting and worrying.

3) Breathe. Deep breaths. This one almost sounds like a cliche, except for the fact that it works. The more stressful your situation, the more times each day you need to stop, drop what you're doing, and just breathe. Try it.

4) Let go. Sorry to have to tell you this, and believe me, I don't like it one tiny bit, but we are not in control. You don't know how much I wish this were not the case. I love control. I yearn for it. But all that grasping accomplishes nothing because in the end, I control nothing. Nothing except the way I react to the situation. I'm working on this one. Still struggling.

5) Nourish the physical body. In the midst of a crisis it's very easy to forget to eat, to stop sleeping, to neglect your basic daily needs. If you do this, pretty soon you will be sick on top of worried and stressed out. Even if you can only eat a small amount, choose nourishing whole foods. Drink plenty of water along with calming teas like chamomile. Bone broth is another great choice, full of minerals and protein but easy on the belly.

6) Forgive yourself. And others. Stress brings out the worst in all of us. Well, me especially, it seems. If you forget to employ any of the above recommendations, at least do this one. Forgive yourself for being imperfect in an imperfect world where things are out of your control and sometimes go very wrong. We are all doing our best with the knowledge we have in the moment.

If you're reading this blog, whether or not you know me personally, I'd be very grateful for your prayers for my sweet dog, Ginny.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dry January

I was laughing with my husband yesterday about how awesome my liver must be. As you may know, I've given up alcohol, along with all added sugars and sweeteners, and all junkfood, for the month of January. I was imagining how the autopsy might go, with the doctors exclaiming about the beauty of my pristine liver. Something to strive for.

I recently read about a study in Britain where a group of people gave up alcohol for a month. (Dry January is pretty big over there.) Apparently just 30 days of abstinence makes quite a difference to the health of the liver. I think this is very heartening, especially if you are a heavy drinker. Your liver can recover if you can just manage to take a break.

Should you NEVER take a sip of any alcoholic beverage? No, I wouldn't go that far. If you know me, you know that I enjoy a glass of wine (especially red) and a locally brewed craft beer now and then. But I do believe balance is key. We all know alcohol is a poison. If your poor liver has to process a daily dosage of poison, the damage simply accumulates with no time to heal.

I might not say I'm "enjoying" my month of purity, but I do feel I'm doing something worthwhile to heal my body. And as I just mentioned, balance is key. I love chocolate, peanut butter, french fries, and red wine. I enjoy a juicy burger (with a bun!) on occasion. And if I indulge in these treats once in a while, I don't suffer many consequences. However, if I ate burgers with buns, fries, and chocolate chip cookies on a daily basis, I'd balloon up in no time flat.

How do you find your balance? How do you find your sweet spot? How much is too much? I can only answer this question for myself as each person is unique. And each of us is also constantly changing and evolving. What I could get away with as an active twenty-something is VERY different than what my body tells me now.

I believe that a month-long vacation from your addictions, whether they be alcohol, sugar, fried foods, fast food, or something else, is an excellent place to start. Or you can give up all these things at once! Yes, you will lose weight, but the benefits are way greater than just weight loss. You will heal your liver, lower your blood sugar, stabilize your moods, sleep better, and discover you are NOT a slave to your cravings. You might even remember how much you love salad! (Honestly, this happened to me!)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

On the List

In case you are looking for healthy, organic and/or grass fed finds at your local Costco and Trader Joe's, I thought I'd share some examples of foods we regularly buy. If you're on Whole 30, or another Paleo diet, or just trying to eat more healthy stuff, you might want to sample some of these:

1) Grass fed burgers and ground beef from Trader Joe's. These frozen products are very high quality and scrumptious! The prices are lower than I've seen anywhere else. Grass fed meats are better than conventional for many reasons: higher in omega-3 fatty acids AND lower in omega-6's (which cause inflammation in the body) plus cows who eat grass are happier and healthier. Better for you, for the animals, and for the earth. Win-win-win!

2) Grass fed cheddar cheese. You can find this product at Trader Joe's (in smaller packages) and at Costco (Kerrygold Irish cheddar in 3 pound blocks). Milk from grass fed cows is healthier due to more Vitamin K2, which is very difficult to find in a typical American diet.

3) Grass fed butter (Kerrygold) is found at both Trader Joe's and Costco. A beautiful deep golden color tells you this butter has more nutrients than the anemic stuff we find on the grocery shelves. Higher in K2 and omega-3's. If you're on Whole 30, you can make your own ghee by melting the butter in your slow cooker and skimming off the milk solids.

4) Wholly Guacamole. Costco now carries this delicious dip in single serving containers. At first we thought this was a pain, and just meant a lot more packaging. But now I'm sold. The serving size is 2 ounces per container which I find to be the perfect amount for a meal. No more brown guac getting thrown in the compost! I've added guacamole to my daily breakfast. The healthy fats keep me full until lunch. Highly recommended.

5) Diced butternut squash. Both Costco and Trader Joe's carry this extremely convenient product. I don't know about you, but I would never peel and dice a raw squash myself. Too much work. But I'll throw the diced squash into a soup or stew (check out my recipe for Cinnamon Short Ribs as an example!) and voila! Instant healthy meal.

6) Plantain chips. Trader Joe's carries these roasted, not deep fried, healthy chips. Should you eat a bazillion of them daily? Maybe not, but a small handful might tide you over and get you through a persistent french fry or potato chip craving. I like them with a handful of pistachios and a cup of green tea.

7) Kale Chips. Again, Trader Joe's. Not cheap, but completely healthy and junk-free. These chips are coated with carrot powder, cashews, and nutritional yeast, which may not sound quite as delicious as it tastes!

8) Tahini sauce. Also at Trader Joe's. Absolutely yummy and nothing in it that you should avoid. Even on Whole 30!

This list is very far from complete, so please add your own favorites in the comment section. Or if you prefer a different place to shop, tell us why and what they have that keeps bringing you in.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Paleo Burger Buns

If you've been following the Whole 30 or another Paleo-based diet plan, then you've given up bread, along with all bakery products, as well as everything made from flour and grains. Sure, you can create a type of Paleo "bread" made from coconut or almond flour, but not if you're on Whole 30. So what's a girl to do when she gets a hankering for a burger? (If you've met me before, you might know that I am a burger FIEND!)

Well, if your name is Paula Deen, you put your burger on a couple of doughnuts. Glazed, I believe.  But I just explained how I'm not eating any bakery products so this is out.

There is always a plain burger with no bun. You can still dress it up with condiments. But you'll have to eat it with a knife and fork. Not out of the question, but not rocking my world, either.

Other options?

Paleo cookbooks have suggested giant portobello mushroom caps. I paid a buttload for a four of them over the summer and used them on the grill with burgers. YUCK. Not good at all. Slimy, bad texture, bad flavor. Just bad.

If you eat white potatoes or even sweet potatoes, I was thinking you could make hash browns or latkes (potato pancakes) to use as bun halves. I haven't tried this out yet, mostly because it is a lot of work and I'm fairly allergic to work. Or how about a baked potato, split in half??? OMG, I think I just had a brain storm right in the middle of my post! (Note to self: try this next.)

But here's what my hubby and I tried today. Baby romaine lettuce heads cut in half! It's like a burger inside a salad, sort of. Upside: delicious, especially with homemade salsa ranch dressing and fried plantains and guacamole on the side. Downsides: messy, slippery, difficult to hold, could be embarrassing to eat in front of company. Of course, the solution could be to eat the burger inside the lettuce with a knife and fork. But my goal is to be able to eat the burger like a burger. I'll keep on trying.

Do you have any fabulous ideas for burger buns that are not bread? If so, please post below in the comment section. Thanks for your assistance!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Food + Me = Healthy?

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? How can you tell?

Sometimes it's obvious. You binge and purge. You erode your throat and your teeth with stomach acid. You feel so guilty every time you eat, you kneel before the porcelain goddess to pray for forgiveness.

Or: you're anorexic. You are literally starving yourself to death. And this is no exaggeration. I met a young woman who killed herself this way. It's a slow, painful death. And not just for the person starving, but for her friends and family and caregivers.

Or: you're obese. This way you're killing yourself, too, but slowly. You're putting a strain on every organ, every joint, every bodily system. You're screwing up your hormones. But the damage creeps up on you. You might be able to pretend it's not happening. Until the day you get that diagnosis: you are infertile or you have diabetes or insulin resistance or high blood pressure. Until your heart gives out.

But most of us are not quite so obvious in our relations with food.

Do you know you're allergic or have a sensitivity to some foods, but you eat them anyway? And then you feel sick? Even though your body has given you very clear messages, you've ignored them.

Are there certain foods, or groups of foods, that you refuse to eat even though you know your body needs those nutrients? We, as human beings, are so adaptable that we can survive on a wide range of different diets. But surviving is not thriving. If your diet is not optimal, there will be signs. How frequently do you get sick? Do you pick up every bug that goes around the office? If so, your immune system isn't as strong as it could be. Is your energy low? Can you make through a vigorous hour of exercise without flagging? Can you sprint up a hill?

Do you spend most of your day fantasizing about your next meal? Do thoughts of food take up much of your mental space? Do you regularly crave foods that you know are unhealthy? Do you give in to those cravings frequently? Do you yo-yo diet, dropping pounds one week and then regaining them the next? Do you take weight loss drugs or supplements? Do you compromise your health by attempting to lose weight?

Do you use food to change your mood, soothe your hurt feelings, fill up the emptiness in your life? Do you eat in private, hidden away in your car or your bedroom, so others can't see what or how much you're eating? Do you hoard food?

Sugar acts in a very similar way to heroine in the brain. Do you think you might be addicted to sugary foods or drinks?

Is it possible you have taken your quest for healthy eating too far? Do you NEVER allow yourself a treat? Is there no joy or pleasure left in your meals? Have you stopped eating with friends and family because your diet doesn't allow you to EVER splurge? Do you obsess over the contents of every morsel you put into your mouth?

Even if you answered "yes" to some of these questions, this is not cause to freak out! We are all guilty of fantasizing about the next meal, or going a little overboard with a new diet, or craving unhealthy treats once in a while. But if you feel like you have become obsessed with food in a way that doesn't serve your overall well being, then this is an opportunity to step back and assess the situation. If you can't handle it on your own, you may need to ask for help. There are MANY others who are just like you. Overeaters Anonymous has meetings both online and in person. Or you might choose to visit a therapist one-on-one.

An alcoholic can stop drinking permanently. A heroine addict can give up the drug and never go back. But someone with an eating disorder HAS to eat every single day. Three or more times each day, we are all confronted with food choices. Healing your relationship with food will benefit every aspect of your life, from your physical to your mental and emotional well being. Don't wait. Take that first step toward getting healthy today.