Friday, January 31, 2014

Three Amazing Things (Including Whole30 Results)

me and my babes! together forever--even on weekdays. for now anyway.


Three amazing things happened this week.

My husband went to, competed in, finished (7th place!), and came home (to much local fanfare) four days later from a truly insane wilderness ultramarathon (ultra-marathon? who knows) in northern MN called the Arrowhead 135; I completed the Whole30 program; and I very suddenly and rather unexpectedly got hired for a job that begins next Monday.

1. I won't say much more about the ultramarathon/ultra-marathon, because you can read about it here and also here. I will say that people in our little college town are sweet, supportive, and beyond excited. His boss organized a welcome-home reception at the college's student union coffee shop, where everyone listened to Christopher's tale of insanity--oops I mean outrageous skill, bravery, and endurance--, inspected his fatbike, admired his trophy (and his frostbite), and even gave me a round of applause, multiple kudos, and a hug, for my role as support staff #1 and primary child-caregiver so that Christopher could train for and do this thing. So sweet.

2. The job thing was funny and head-spinning. Last fall, when I determined that now was not the appropriate time, family-wise, for me to revisit my dormant therapy career, I wanted more than anything to continue my life as a full-time stay-at-home mom, but to be able to do it without guilt or nagging doubt. However, winter is the worst, and all the horrible cold weather gave me too much time during the girls' school days to feel lonely and achingly sad that I have no more babies (i.e., babies/toddlers/preschoolers/etc.) in this house. Plus, my husband really wanted me to get a job, so that was always sort of nagging at me.

Long story (a tiny bit) short(er), it suddenly occurred to me that what do stay-at-home moms do when their kiddos reach all-day school-age, yet they want to remain available before school, after school, on school vacation days, and over the summer? In my universe, at least, they become EAs (Educational Assistants) at their kids' school. At least, I started noticing, on my volunteering days, that there were several formerly full-time at-home parents who I now saw routinely in the halls of my daughters' school, wearing staff badges and working in various EA positions.

As far as I was concerned, this was the only option for me. I love my kiddos' school, I'm there all the time anyway, and if I got an EA job there, I'd be under the same roof as them during my work hours--which was a major draw considering how much I miss them during the day.

I started watching the school district website a short while ago and waited until I spied an open EA position that a.) was at my daughters' elementary school (not at a different one or at the middle or high school), and b.) was very part-time. After the holidays one came up for an EA in the developmental disabilities/special ed room for three hours a day, five days a week, starting just after lunch and ending when school lets out, from now until the last day of school in early June. Temporary, part-time, around my girls' schedule, and just enough to give me time and space to try it out but not commit to major hours or a permanent gig.

Blah blah. Within 24 hours this week I was approached, "interviewed" (if you can call it that), hired, and at a workplace orientation. If my background check comes back and I can get my staff badge from HR in time, I start on Monday. Yikes?

3. OK, enough about that. I know (some of, or maybe none of) you want to know about my WHOLE30 RESULTS. Right?!?

OK, maybe not. But I'm going to tell you anyway, because why have a long, boring post when you can have a suuuuper-long, boring post? Onward.

I will preface my results by saying I was not super-strict on the Whole30. The "official" "Whole30 community" would thus say that I did not actually do a Whole30. Whatevs. I did really, really well, and am super proud and extremely glad I did it, and I am THRILLED with my results, but I slipped up now and then, purposely "cheated" at times (I hate that word "cheated," more like I chose to eat something I technically wasn't supposed to), and basically ended a half-day early. So, take that however you will. Maybe to you it means I'm not a Whole30 finisher, but to me it was plenty good enough. I haven't had Diet Coke in 30 days (and don't plan to), have had almost NO sugar, wheat, dairy, other grains, legumes, junk food, or processed food of any kind, and have basically completely kicked all former cravings for the stuff most Americans eat far too much of (refined sugar, flour).

All told, I lost 7-1/2 lbs. This is actually a good thing, because while running up to my Toronto trip I was basically too nervous to eat, after Toronto when Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's hit, I fell into an overly relaxed pattern of Eating All The Things and Doing Almost No Exercise. So, truth be told, I'm still a handful of pounds OVER my "normal," fit, preferred weight. But heck yeah, 7-1/2 lbs lost is awesome, particularly when it was done while eating a boatload of healthy food and by cutting out all the junk. In fact, I'm sure that if I had been 100% Whole30-compliant, I would have lost more. I also lost a total of 5-3/4 inches.

But I only started with that result because it's the one people want to know about. In many ways, it is the least important to me. Even with my "slip-ups" and "cheating," I experienced many more positive results from clean eating this past month, results that are thrilling to me.

* My joint pain decreased CONSIDERABLY. While my annoying left hip still gets sore at time, I would estimate that I'm roughly 80-90% less stiff and sore on a daily basis than before the Whole30. I am convinced this is due to not eating sugar or wheat, since they are quite accepted in the medical community as known inflammatories.

* My tummy is super-flat, even though I'm currently about 6-7 lbs. OVER the weight I used to have to get to in order to achieve a flat tummy. In other words, I look thinner than I ever did before at this weight. I guess the tummy flab that seemed to always be around wasn't fat so much as bloat. Or a combo of the two, who knows. All I know is, cutting out processed foods and eating only "real," good-for-you foods as nature intended, gives you a flat belly almost effortlessly. Wow.

* I used to have this mysterious annoying irritated-eyes thing where every morning when I woke up, even when I was just wearing my glasses and hadn't yet put in my contact lenses, my eyes (especially the left one) would water like crazy and sting and look irritated and red for an hour or so before clearing up and being normal the rest of the day. Next morning, same thing. All the time. I have no idea what this was (allergies?), but it's gone. 100% gone.

* I think my skin and hair look better, but it's a little hard to tell since my skin was clear beforehand and, honestly, does any woman's hair ever really look as great as she would prefer? No, but I think it's looking healthy these days--and it's also super-long all of a sudden.

* Most amazingly and thrillingly of all, NO MORE CRAVINGS. Seriously, this is the kicker. And if this can happen to me, it can happen to you, or ANYONE. I was a hard-core sugar (and Diet Coke!) addict, with a healthy dose of any-processed-food addiction thrown in for good measure. Meaning, I thought nothing of nibbling on my kids' snack foods, boxed crackers and cookies, bags of chips, absolutely anything snacky and processed living in my pantry. And sweets? Sweets were a major food group for me. Now, all that stuff is still in my house (I have a husband and kids, and they eat the same way they always have), but I don't crave it or think about it. This is ridic. I can't even believe it.

So, what's next? Well, I'm glad to be "free" of hardcore rules about things like beans/legumes/peanut butter/whole grains, because I cook for my family with a lot of those things normally, but in general I plan to mostly avoid sugar, wheat, and probably dairy, because I do believe the literature that suggests these things contribute to joint pain and inflammation, and since it's no longer hard to resist them, why not? BUT, I won't turn down a grain-based food, baked good, or dessert now and then, such as at someone else's house, a birthday celebration, having company, etc. I probably just won't eat these things regularly anymore. And Diet Coke will be a rare, restaurant-only treat! I never craved it after Day One, so it's outta here!

One last thing. People constantly wonder about energy. Can a person sustain enough energy for living if they're not eating bread, traditional carbs, etc.? If you're only eating fish, meat, poultry, eggs, tons of vegetables, and the like, won't you be lethargic and miserable, so tired you can't get out of bed?

The short answer is no. While in Week Two I did get very low-energy for a few days, my body adapted and after that I felt exactly the way I did when I was eating grains/carbs. In fact, I felt a lot better, with more steady energy and no mid-afternoon slumps. People forget that there are plenty of carbs and calories in many of the foods in this style of eating, such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, avocados, olive and coconut oils, dates and other dried fruit, bananas, nuts and nut butters, coconut, etc. There just isn't any GRAIN (or a few other foods that nutritionally "act" like grains, including corn, peas, and legumes).

And now you know more than you ever cared to know about me or my life.

I will end with this one sweet fact:

When I asked my girls what they would think about Mama working at their school, they literally yelled, "THRILLED!!!!" So it doesn't get any better than that.

Carry on, warriors. I'll let you know how it goes. :)




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Husband is an Elite Athlete Now.

My husband, 37 miles in. I know: a beardsicle. Gah.


I don't even know where to start with the past week. The kiddos have been so super busy.

They're still in swim lessons on Sundays and tae kwon do on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and this week they started guitar lessons with the talented 11-year-old son of a local friend, which is just sweet and adorable all the way around. There was no school on Monday for a teacher workshop (gah), and then yesterday school started late because of the extreme cold (again), and during all this no-school-ness we also hosted a major dinner-and-movie playdate with friends and went ice skating at the indoor arena. Now the girls have tae kwon do forms AND guitar to practice daily, in addition to their homework, and that level of extracurricular shenanigans is totally new to us, so we're getting used to a different and more demanding schedule.

I also had a meeting with Genevieve's teacher and the school's reading specialist, about challenging her further at school. She learned "borrowing and carrying" two-digit subtraction in one day last week, and then conquered four- and five-digit same at home, and then cried because school is too easy. So....onward and upward.

It's been cold. Soooooo cold. Same as everywhere else in the country, I guess, so at least we're all in it together, right? But seriously, the 30-degrees-below-zero windchills are getting old. The kids can't sled or skate on the pond or build snowmen in that weather, and we're all going a little stir crazy by this time of year, so yeah. I desperately want to move to warmer climes.

Speaking of cold, my insane husband left town before sunrise on Sunday (and is still gone) to compete in a wilderness ultramarathon (135-mile) bike race in the snow and 55-below-zero weather in far-northern MN. Then he finished in 29 hours with no sleep and got 7th place. OMG. Incredible, right? Our whole town (it seemed) was following his progress online and between each other (no cell service up there, but the race's FB page was being updated and whatnot), and he's now a local hero.

As you might imagine, I did not sleep a wink (or so it felt) between the time he left in the rental car on Sunday (I couldn't believe the race wasn't being cancelled given the super-extreme--even for northern MN--weather) and the moment I heard from him yesterday afternoon at the finish line. I was a nervous wreck! He had been biking nonstop (other than brief check-in points) since 7 a.m. on Monday.

Monday night was a long, worried-filled slog, because I hadn't heard a thing from or about him since 3 p.m. and truly had no idea if he was safe, still riding, had dropped out, or what. (Seriously, I was terrified he was going to literally freeze to death overnight. Can you imagine biking 135 miles outside on a snowmobile trail through deep northern-MN wilderness in 50- to 60-degrees below zero windchills without stopping for the night?) Plenty of people drop out of this event every year, but my husband got 7th place, his picture on the front page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's sports section, and a pending interview with our town's newspaper's sports writer.

While fielding questions, comments, congratulations, and sheer shock from everyone I encountered around town yesterday, I also went to the doctor (no worries) and, in an unrelated incident, got an unexpected interview for a small job at my daughters' school. And tomorrow I go to the dentist for some not-fun dental work. So....this crazy life goes on. I'm ready for this week to be over.

The girls and I have a congratulations cake to bake this morning before school, so I'd better get offline and on with the day.

And yes, I'll say it: Stay warm!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two More Things...Plus One

Two things I forgot to mention in my post yesterday (and I only write about this stuff in case anyone out there is considering doing this challenge and would find these notes helpful; the rest of you feel free to skip!)...

1. I didn't mention this at first, because I don't want people to think that the Whole30 program is primarily about weight loss or that I embarked on it for weight loss (see my original Whole30 post for details re: my arthritis and the hip issue that has dogged me off and on (mostly on, lately) for 4 (?) years now), but people keep asking me so...yes, one of the results I've seen so far, three weeks into the Whole30 program, is that I've lost 6.5 lbs., which is definitely the Christmas-treats weight, and which is great because now some of my jeans fit again, ha.

It is also a bit miraculous, considering that I haven't been the most perfect on this challenge, and also that, especially in the first two weeks, I stuffed myself. Seriously, I felt hungry all the time in week two especially, and I ate mucho mucho calories' worth of avocados, almond butter, coconut, pecans, dates, and other calorie-dense foods in an attempt to fill up and feel satisfied. So...it is very interesting how much difference getting rid of processed food makes in how one's body works and feels. My body also looks different (better) at this weight than it "normally" would. Meaning, I think I look slimmer and leaner at this weight than when I've been at this weight while eating my pre-Whole30 diet. Hard to explain, but something is going on, body-composition-wise.

2. OK, second. Going to bed early has been a lifesaver on this challenge. I am an early-to-bed, early-to-rise devotee anyway, as most people know, and this has helped me kick the processed-food/sugar habit enormously. Because think about it: When do you most often find yourself poking around in the pantry or freezer for something yummy to munch on? The evening, right? After the kiddos are down, and you're relaxing watching TV or a movie? (That's not just me, is it?) And, unless you're some sort of freak of nature, I bet you're not poking around for an apple or a chicken breast, am I right? Well, guess what? If you're sleeping, you're not eating junk food. (There's also a ton of scientific evidence that people who get more sleep have more balanced cortisol and hunger-related hormones, which helps prevent overeating in general.)

I'm sure my husband, who is already totally annoyed that I go to sleep shortly after the children do (I get up at five, remember, people), is thrilled with this one (sarcasm alert), but it's a fact. I've never been more motivated to just go to bed; it keeps me from craving potato chips and ice cream. :)

Blah, blah, again. I'm done now.

Oh, and one unrelated nugget... My kids' school has once again been delayed two hours this morning due to "extreme cold" (right now: windchill 35 below zero). Since the last time this happened school ended up being cancelled for the entire day, I can't help but wonder. Wow, winter has been a doozy so far, hasn't it, friends? Time to cuddle up by the fireplace and read or color or watch cartoons!

Stay warm.
xo

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Promise This is Not a Whole30 Blog Now

So. I've been skimpy on the motherhood posts lately, I know. There are a few reasons for that, one being that my older daughter is 9-1/2 now and it doesn't feel right to post a lot about her anymore. I don't want to embarrass her. She didn't care when she was younger, and she hasn't said anything yet now, but the stories about her are becoming more "her" stories than my stories, if you know what I mean.

But that's not what I came here to say. For those of you who are interested in my Whole30 adventure, I thought I'd talk a bit about a few things I've learned/experienced on this journey (which is three weeks in now, holla!).

1. Week one was quite easy, at least the first few days; week two was KILLER HARD. Now it's easy again. I'm pretty sure now it's going to stay easy, since cravings have faded---just like everyone says they will when you give up sugar.

2. Diet Coke-free = still easy. AMAZING. It is quite liberating actually. This was the easiest thing to give up by far, people, even though I thought it would be one of the hardest. SO WEIRD. I still believe that the artificial ingredients and chemicals in boxed/bagged/processed foods make you crave those in soda, and vice versa. Because I have had zero cravings for Diet Coke since day one. It's nice to be saving money at the grocery store on this one, especially because....

3. My grocery bill is a lot higher on the Whole30 challenge that it was before. This is mainly because a meat-eating lifestyle costs quite a bit more than a vegetarian lifestyle. Canned beans are super-cheap. Grains in bulk are super-cheap. Meat, fish, and poultry are not. Also, nuts, avocados, coconut oil, and almond milk are very expensive (at least where I live). However, you have to keep in mind that eating a diet free of sugar and processed foods will likely save you far more money in health-care-related costs in the long run than you are spending at the supermarket right now.

4. It helps a lot if you are not used to eating in restaurants, anyway. By that I mean, doing the Whole30 is far easier if you prepare and eat every meal at home. One of the ways Christopher and I have economized in order for me to be able to be a stay-at-home mom is by almost never eating out. And I truly mean almost never. I can probably count on one hand--and have fingers leftover--how many meals we eat out in a year. This fact makes the Whole30 much more doable.

5. People are curious if I've noticed any/many health benefits. At first, my achy hip joints felt significantly better. However, since then, they've acted up again after running, so I'm not quite sure what's going on with that. Part of me believes--based on some anecdotal evidence I've heard here and there--that it takes longer than three or four weeks for joint pain to improve in response to a dietary change. This month's "O Magazine" has a feature on an Alvin Ailey dancer with an arthritic syndrome who experienced complete pain resolution after two months off wheat/gluten. So, it may just take longer to really feel the results. I hope so, anyway. (Meaning, I hope there are real results--not that I hope it takes a long time.)

As for other things, my skin is "glowier" and just looks better overall--I can't really explain how, it just does. My hair is softer and healthier-looking. My energy is more stable; while in week one I had days I couldn't even finish a workout (missing the processed-food and quick carb energy), nowadays I'm full of energy and it lasts all day with no ups and downs (i.e. no afternoon slump).

6. I haven't been perfect on this thing. I've had some slip-ups, some bad days, AND I've recently allowed myself to have sugar-free gum whenever I want it, which helps prevent me from eating something far worse when I have a craving.

If I were to follow the "letter of the law" on the Whole30 program, any of these would mean I'd failed and have to start completely over with day one. As a former cognitive-behavioral psychologist, I respectfully call bull*&%$ on this one. All-or-nothing thinking has wreaked havoc on many a health-improvement plan.

My diet is far, FAR healthier now than it was before I began the Whole30, and no one can tell me that my body isn't benefiting from the changes I've accomplished. I mean, cutting out Diet Coke and sugar and Cheetos and chips and those boxes of crackers and cookies you buy at the grocery store? SO GOOD FOR YOU. A few bad days here and there, or a piece of sugar-free gum, does NOT wipe out the improvements I've made. I have been truly amazed at what I've been able to do--it really is true that once you've been off these foods for awhile, the craving totally abates. We have Goldfish crackers and popcorn and Wheat Thins and FUDGE in the house right now, and I have no problem ignoring them. I don't even think about them. And that is something I would never have thought I could say, before doing this challenge.

All that said, I did decide to tack on some extra days to my Whole30 and take it an extra week to my birthday. Why not? Oh--and I do plan to avoid sugar/wheat as much as I can (allowing for birthday cake, OF COURSE) after that, until I can fully decide if it helps my hip pain or not. I'm not going to give up on that one if there seems to be a chance that more time would generate the results I'm looking for.

7. And just an interesting (?) tidbit. At the same time as I started the Whole30, I started a challenge to drink 13 cups of water every day. This idea was based on a particular article that was circulating online awhile back. (OMG! LOOK. AT. THE. PHOTOS!) I have been very successful with this one. I know from prior experience that drinking more water really does make you feel better in pretty much every way, but what I'm really trying to figure out is if it makes me look younger, too. (Again: THE ARTICLE!) I chug two glasses of water first thing when I get up in the morning, drink giant (two-cup) mugs of herbal and green tea all day, and put extra water in my homemade protein shakes. It's not that hard. It all adds up.

OK. Enough with the boring blah blah boring.

I hope you all are having a good, not-as-cold-as-it-is-here week. See you soon.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sweet Moments and Clean Eating

via disney.wikia.com

 At one point yesterday, I had two 9-year-olds and two 7-year-olds at my sunny dining room table, rosy-cheeked from sledding in our backyard for the past hour and a half, drinking cups of hot chocolate and singing along to the "Frozen" soundtrack. You guys, that is a blessed moment, right there. I'm telling you.

Later on, at bedtime, Genevieve wanted me to crawl in bed with her. She's been going through this phase where she's scared at night--of tornadoes, of bad dreams she had the night before, whatever. She likes me to lie with her until she falls asleep at those times, and I don't even mind, because is there anything sweeter than cuddling a small, soft child in a cozy bed until she's quiet and asleep? I remember all those times she woke up five to ten times per night--for years!--upset and crying, and we'd have to go in and try to get her to go back to sleep, and all those bedtimes with the wailing and fussing, and I think, This is nothing. This is lucky. This is a gift. And it really does feel like one.

So those were my sweet moments from yesterday. And in other news, you may be interested to hear that "clean eating" on the Whole30 is finally starting to feel easy and like no big deal. I'm on week three now, and while I haven't been perfect, it's been 19 days since I had a Diet Coke, cream in my coffee, or desserts (among other things), and that feels pretty huge. Although I can't quite decide if that makes me feel really proud or super boring.

Truly, some of the things I thought would be the hardest take virtually no effort. The Diet Coke thing? People, I loved Diet Coke like a family member for years and years, and craved it every afternoon. But I'm not exaggerating when I say that almost from day one, I didn't even think about it. I have this new theory that processed food makes you crave Diet Coke. Like their addictive qualities enhance each other somehow. Once I was no longer eating any processed food at all, I lost all craving for Diet Coke. Weird, right? So easy. (I drink a lot of green tea, herbal tea, and fizzy water instead. I know! Boring. But honestly--easy.)

The other biggie was cream in my coffee, which I previously felt was one of the main reasons for living. But now, I can honestly say that black coffee ain't no big thing. It's totally fine and I really don't miss dairy at all, other than ice cream, which will always and forever be my favorite food and a large component of my mental health.

Carry on, dears.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Please Look After Me.

  

One of my favorite things about my 7-year-old is the way she names her stuffed animals. She's one of those kids who really, really loves her stuffies; a birthday or Christmas doesn't go by (any day, really) when she doesn't have her heart set on some particularly adorable animal she's seen on a shelf somewhere. Of course, what household with children needs more stuffed animals? No one's. And yet I have been known to send my husband on a secret, urgent animal-procuring mission before a birthday or holiday simply because her devotion to it melts my heart and I want to get it for her when she's not looking.

All that doesn't really have much to do with naming them, except that I've always had the feeling that the somewhat crazy, very deliberate name choices Genevieve makes for her animals are related to her intense adoration of each creature and her sense that each has a unique personality and therefore needs an important name.

When she was a toddler she got her baby bear that she christened Teddy O'Peep. (Irish?) She also has a teddy bear named Easter, and another named (quite mysteriously) Puddle Jumper. But my favorite of her bear names is Chivey. Yes, like the green-onion-like herb. Who knows where this name came from, but it seems to suit him.

True, her beloved stuffed pig, once named Rosie, has long been called Piggy. Not very original. But it begs the question: why did Rosie's name get changed? I don't know, and no one else does, either.

Since her last birthday, her favorite stuffed animal has been a velvety, pale-pink mouse (see photo above) that she mistook for a bear when she spied it at a local gift shop. She has since accepted that it is a mouse--seeing as how its tag says "I am Small Bashful Mouse. Please look after me." But his name--this delicate, tiny, rosy-hued baby creature--is Phillip.

Don't ever call him Phil.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Trials, Trip-Ups, & Tweaks--Plus a Fun Family Weekend

 winter fun

Oh, dear friends. Boy did I struggle with the Whole30 late last week. Somewhere around Days 8-10, things got really, really hard---to the point where on Friday afternoon I consciously chose to fall off the Whole30 wagon and then "start over" the next day, with a few tweaks in place.

The authors and hardcore followers of the Whole30 say a slip-up is gasp-worthy and means you're done; you have to start over with Day 1 again, but whatever. I'm not concerned. Maybe I'll keep doing this until my birthday (early February) rather than ending on Jan. 31, but either way, I know I've made huge nutritional and health progress despite my trials and trip-ups, and I'm not done yet.
On Saturday I got right back on the wagon, but I changed something up a bit. I just can't do that three giant meals but no snacks thing. No matter how much I try to stuff myself with protein and veggies and fruit at lunch, I'm starving long before dinner. What I was doing was NOT working for me; I'd eat those three large meals but then end up snacking anyway (never feeling satisfied by the food, either)--thus eating more than I'd been eating before I even embarked on this nutrition challenge! (And while I am not doing the Whole30 to lose weight, I did put on ten pounds last fall/during the holidays and I am certainly not in this game to GAIN, people!)

So anyway I decided to move some of my lunch food to an afternoon snack every day from now on. So far it's working much better for me.

OK, enough Whole30 talk. I'm sure I'm boring most of you to tears. Sorry about that! But some people have asked me to keep them updated as I go, so....the rest of you can just skip over these parts.

Onward! Since life is about much more than how many vegetable servings you're eating each day, I did manage to squeeze a lot of family fun into the weekend. Saturday was particularly nice; it warmed up (never has 30 degrees felt more tropical), and I was able to get a good run in during the morning while the children were out sledding. Then the girls and I filled the afternoon with reading and naps on my bed, making cornstarch-clay sculptures, and ice skating on the corner pond.



Bliss!

We topped it off with a viewing of the newly remastered "Mary Poppins" for family movie night. So awesome!

Yesterday swimming lessons started up again, and it was 40 degrees, and much playing in the snow and slush and getting soaking wet took place. So, you know--another good day.

Life is a lot better when it's not below zero outside.

Have a great week, friends! Wish me luck with this Whole30 business. Think I can make it slip-free through the week?? Gah.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Back to School, Redux

The littles went back to school yesterday. It was no warmer than the day before, but you can only keep school closed so long.

When you're small, it's hard to go back to school after 18 days off, at home with Mama, lazing in pj's and doing fun stuff. Genevieve was not overly thrilled, and I felt for her. I remember when Julia was in 1st grade and she cried every morning for six weeks after a two-week Christmas break. Fortunately, Vivi didn't cry, and because it was Late Start Wednesday, her school day was an hour shorter than it normally is. It went fine, but the day still wore them both out. I was glad the new session of tae kwon do didn't start last evening as well (that's tonight; postponed from Tuesday when it was cancelled due to the weather).

And me? Well, yesterday was simultaneously nice (easy to get things done when you're on your own) and a little lonely. Mostly nice. It went by really, really fast, as I did three loads of laundry, cleaned bathrooms, went to Target, exercised (halfheartedly; the Whole30 is kicking my ass all of a sudden, just as the book says it will for awhile, and I only made it halfway through my Jillian Michaels DVD, which is unheard of for me), and attempted to get the house a bit more organized after the holidays. Clearly I need several more days for that last goal.

As for this wacky elimination nutrition challenge I'm currently doing, no, I didn't fall face-first into a box of Cheez-Its without my kiddos around to witness and monitor. I stayed technically "Whole30 compliant" (but snacking all day--on approved foods), BUT I will say that day 8 was KILLER. I finally had one of those days where I couldn't get full, craved carbs all day (and I mean REAL carbs like bread, not squash and parsnips, yo) had zero energy, and felt like #$!%.

Experienced Whole30-ers (and the program's authors) swear this is normal and expected and is just what your body goes through as it is adjusting from having a constant quick energy source of glucose from quick-sugar snacks to withdrawing from sugar and refined carbs and being forced to use fat as fuel, but.....it pretty much sucked. I'm praying things improve on that front soon, or I'm not gonna make it all 30 days, you guys! On the other hand (trying to focus on the positive!), I still can't believe how much better my hip joints feel after only 8 days on this plan.

And that's what's going on in my boring life! How about you?


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

One Week Down!!


I can't believe I've completed one full week of the Whole30 Program. If you had told me even just a few months ago that I could go an entire week without ANY sugar (or sweeteners of any kind!), grain/bread products, dairy, or Diet Coke, I would have laughed in your face.

It's so amazing how our mental states and opinions about things can change over time, and when our circumstances change. For me, when I started hearing about people whose joint pain and/or nagging sports injuries mysteriously disappeared when they swore off sugar, wheat, or dairy, it was like a switch flipped in my brain and I began to imagine how much better that would feel than what I was feeling at the time. I was tired of feeling old, stiff, and sore every single time I exercised--and sometimes for days afterward. I mean, I'm 42, not 90!

The amazing thing is that, in only one week of this super-clean eating, the hip joint pain that typically plagues me during and after (and after, and after....) exercise has noticeably reduced, with no other potential explanation than the change in my diet. CRAZY!

A few thoughts about Days 1-7. Prior to starting the Whole30, I heard a lot about the "carb flu"--a term for the unpleasant physical symptoms people tend to experience in the early days of the program as their bodies "withdraw" from all the normal processed, sugary, grain-heavy, etc., foods they normally eat. I was warned that I could feel headachy, nauseous or stomachachey, lethargic, and just generally unwell. I have not experienced the "carb flu" at all. I don't know if that's because my "normal" diet was fairly healthy already (aside from the sugar and Diet Coke, ha ha...) or what, but it has not bothered me.

The only PHYSICAL symptom that plagued me (on Days 1-6) was extremely restless sleep. This wasn't due to extra caffeine, post-exercise soreness, or mental anxiety/worry/stress--in fact, I couldn't tell at ALL why I was tossing and turning all night--so I can only assume that there is something in carb-heavy foods that makes one sleepy (something I think we all know from personal experience after eating a heavy meal).

For me, the "symptoms" have been mental, not physical. It has been really hard to break habits like mindlessly snacking on my kiddos' foods when I'm getting something ready for them, popping a hard candy or piece of gum into my mouth after a meal or just because I'm bored, nibbling something while I'm cooking, or tasting the muffin or cookie dough I'm preparing. Yikes!

The first few days, I found myself fluctuating between feeling overly full--because normally I eat small meals and then snack frequently, so I wasn't used to eating hearty mealtime portions--and feeling twinges of hunger. But before too long I realized that those little twinges weren't hunger--after all, you can't truly be "hungry" an hour after eating a generous portion of fish, a big sweet potato, and a bunch of steamed vegetables, at least, not unless you're an endurance athlete who is motoring through hundred of calories an hour--but were instead cravings. Specifically, a craving for something sweet to top off my meal.

Cravings like this are nothing more than HABITS. I needed to get out of the habit of grabbing a cookie here, a piece of candy there, some chocolate chips when I'm baking with them, some mini-marshmallows when I'm making my kids some hot chocolate, etc., just for the taste.

Having said all that, of course I would still really, really, really like a cookie (or two or ten), a pint of ice cream (I have had fantasies about caramel swirl ice cream and Culver's frozen custard), a giant Diet Coke, a scone, or one of my own homemade muffins. Of course I would! But it's not killing me, and so far I have not given in.

Onward! Today the kidlets even go back to school. For real this time. So now the question becomes: Can a stay-at-home mom maintain this eating plan even when she's alone in the house all day with the kid-snack-stocked pantry RIGHT THERE?

Time will tell.

(p.s. I was reminded by something I read online late yesterday that there is an important reason snacks are discouraged on Whole30, beyond the fact that snacks can so easily be carb-y, junky foods. It has something to do with your body needing to go several hours without food in order for certain hormonal reactions to take place that help regulate your insulin, leptin, and ability to burn fat rather than glucose for energy (i.e., to get "fat-adapted," which you really, really want to do). So, I guess I'd better work harder at not snacking. Oops!).


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

What Do I Eat on the Whole30?


One of the things I've baked recently that I cannot eat. Gah.

One of the questions I've gotten already about doing the Whole30 Challenge is, "What do you eat???" A very logical question. (And a more complicated one for someone who is doing the Whole30 with kids in the house!)

First of all, note the official Whole30 approved shopping lists--one for omnivores and one for vegetarians. These are sort of the "master lists" of groceries you can buy--and, therefore, things you can eat. :)

(Note: I use both. I haven't been a 100% lacto-ovo-vegetarian since my clinical residency year in 1999-2000, but before starting Whole30 my family and I probably ate about 90% lacto-ovo-vegetarian, with the rest poultry and fish. Therefore, I'm using more animal protein now--for Whole30--but it's still hard for me to cut out beans/legumes, so I do follow the Hartwigs' reluctant vegetarian exceptions for organic full-fat yogurt and even whey protein at times. But mainly I'm trying to eat more eggs, turkey, fish, and chicken.)

Second, just an FYI, the Whole30 book (It Starts With Food) has a section on meal plans and recipes. There are also plenty of "Paleo" cookbooks and blogs out there that offer numerous meal ideas and recipes for this type of eating. So, resources abound.

But to just give you a rough idea, here are some of the meals I've eaten in the past six days. (The idea is to consume three meals each day but no snacks; the goal is to figure out how much to eat at meals to not need to snack, which tends to encourage mindless, "junky" eating. That said, if you're starving because you're still figuring it out, you can have a snack assuming it's an appropriate food, and I have indeed had numerous snacks of fruit, nuts, coconut, etc.., so far! In fact, I haven't made it one day snack-free yet.)

* scrambled eggs with steamed spinach, half an avocado, and a wedge of baked butternut squash

* big salads with hard-boiled eggs or all-natural deli turkey or chicken, avocado, olives, & tons of raw veggies (dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette)

* baked tilapia with a citrus-clarified butter sauce (dairy is not allowed, but clarified butter is the one exception; it is butter melted slowly so the (good) butterfat can be separated from the (bad) milk proteins/solids--easy to do at home) along with a baked sweet potato and other veggies or salad

* protein shakes (for breakfast) made with coconut milk, tons of raw spinach, frozen banana, & whey protein powder (see my note above about whey protein; there is some controversy about whether it is "Whole30-approved," but the shopping guide and book specifically say vegetarians can use it if needed)

* fried eggs with half an avocado and veggies

* pan-seared chicken breast with an Italian garlic-tomato-parsley sauce, served on a bed of spinach or other greens, with steamed mixed veggies and some fresh fruit

* banana-nut porridge (so rich, filling, and good; note the recipe makes 4 servings, I halved it and used it on two days for breakfast)

* turkey burgers (no bun) and veggies with spicy avocado sauce

For the above meals, I add as many veggies as I'm hungry for, and/or a piece of fruit if needed/desired. I use olive oil, clarified butter, or coconut oil (I have a brand that does not smell or taste like coconut) for cooking or on top of things that need a little fat.

I've been snacking on fruit, raw cashews or pecans, and unsweetened coconut flakes (SO rich, crispy, and sweet). Eventually I hope to not have to snack at all. It's taking me some trial and error--and simple adjustment!--to figure out how much to eat at meals to fuel my lifestyle without snacking between meals.

My family has been eating things that I haven't: for example, I served them the Italian chicken on spaghetti while I had it on spinach, and they had buns with their turkey burgers although I didn't. When I made them huevos rancheros for dinner one night (eggs, beans, cheese, tortillas, etc.!), I had fried eggs with salsa and vegetables.

It's definitely a challenge, but it's not as hard as you might think. If you're used to and relatively knowledgeable about cooking already, there's nothing hard about these meals. If you can bake a piece of salmon and roast some veggies--something you're probably already doing if you cook dinner for your family each night--you can make these types of meals.

It's really not as complicated and daunting as it may seem initially. The book gives portion guidelines if you need that sort of thing, but it's not about weighing and measuring. It's just about filling your plate with the most natural, nourishing food possible, and staying full that way.

Keep the questions coming! It's sort of fun for me to answer questions, because I'm figuring it out as I go, too! In upcoming days I hope to address things like cravings, "the carb flu" (??), mood, energy, living without Diet Coke (!) and sugar (!!!), and doing things like baking cookies and muffins for your kids when you can't have them. Gah. I also hope to answer the burning question: Will my jeans ever feel not quite so suffocating again?




Monday, January 06, 2014

The Longest Christmas Break EVERRRRRRR.......

Aaaaaand school is closed AGAIN TOMORROW. So we're now on 18 days of holiday break. And Wednesday is a "Late Start day." (Normal occurrence; school starts an hour late every Wednesday for teacher continuing education.)

Today was about 45-50 degrees below zero, with the windchill. Tomorrow is supposed to be a bit warmer, but I guess not warm enough. No school.

It's like my kids aren't even in school anymore! As my friend Jess said when she heard the news, "I hope my kids remember how to read and write when they finally go back."

I am getting to the point where I'm starting to feel increasingly desperate to a.) exercise (away from my home) during daylight hours, b.) go to Target by myself for a long, long time, and c.) take down the Christmas tree in quiet solitude, really really fast.

It probably isn't helping that I'd also really really like some dessert. Of any sort. Or even a cracker.

My Big Whole30 Experiment


courtesy whole30.com

I am six days into a big experiment. 

Last Wednesday, on January 1, I started the Whole30 Program.

For those of you who have never heard of it, Whole30 is a nutritional challenge, outlined by husband-and-wife nutritionists Dallas and Melissa Hartwig in their book It Starts With Food, which involves cutting out all sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes, and processed foods from one's diet for 30 days.

The Whole30 Program is NOT a weight-loss diet (although plenty of people lose weight on it--no big surprise, since you're cutting out all sugar and processed junk). It's full of lots of good, natural, wholesome foods (meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy fats like olives and avocados....) and it is NOT calorie-restrictive. It's also not meant to last forever. After 30 days, there is a method for adding back in food categories you miss, to see if they are problematic for you or not.

I'm not going to go into a bunch of detail explaining the background and rationale for this kind of eating, because a.) it's long; b.) others have summed it up quite nicely; and c.) you can always order and read the book yourself, like I did. If you're interested in a quick but comprehensive explanation, this blog post is a great summary.

The challenge's appeal is that it's supposed to result in dramatic improvement in or complete resolution of a slew of health problems, such as acne, eczema, GI issues (stomachaches, gas pains, bloating, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, etc.), seasonal allergies, chronic pain, frequent colds, high blood pressure, low energy, overweight/obesity, mood issues, arthritis, and general joint pain---through the elimination of the foods that are the least nutritious, least natural, and/or most inflammatory and dysregulating to the body.

(There are scads of testimonials and success stories out there, check out this one, this one, and this one to be truly blown away. These are what really convinced me.)

For example, sugar is well-established in the medical community as a major inflammation-promoter. For those of us with joint pain (or other health problems related to inflammation), cutting sugar out completely can likely mean relief---if we only try it and see.

I'd read about the challenge here and there on the Internet for the past few years. It was one of those things that I'd see now and then popping up on blogs or Facebook or what have you, but that I always dismissed as extreme and impossible.

Well, well, well. How things change.

Personally, I'm doing the Whole30 Program in the hopes that it will cure my joint pain. Arthritic syndromes run in my family on my mom's side, and I have had arthritis in my feet/toes since age 28. More recently, I've been plagued with annoying hip pain that is triggered by exercise but never goes away completely for any length of time despite medical treatment, running hiatuses, etc. If cutting out sugar, flour, and other potential troublemakers cures my joint pain, it would truly be life-changing for me--and very worth it. Which is something I never thought I would say, not that long ago. (Hello, sugar and Diet Coke addict, right here...)

So how has it been going so far? I will tell you this (and I am shocked to be saying this): It has been far easier than I anticipated. Yes, I've had cravings for Diet Coke and cookies, but it doesn't feel even remotely impossible--as I'd feared it would be. By and large there are so many filling, healthy foods I'm eating each day that I'm satisfied and generally just fine. (Going to bed early at night helps, too. Less time to poke around the kitchen looking for snacks.)

I've realized that if you stay full from protein, fiber, and healthy fats, it's not actually all that hard to resist snacking on crackers, cookies, and chips. I've also learned that natural foods like raw cashews and unsweetened coconut chips are amazingly sweet when you haven't eaten sugar for four or five days. Imagine! Your taste buds really DO change---just like the experts always say. (However: there is no getting around the truth that raw cashews are far more expensive than a bag of M&Ms. Fact.)

I'd love to tell you more as the days go by (I plan to make it all 30 days--no cheats!), answer any questions you might have, and/or give updates along the way and at the end---if you're interested. Let me know if you have any questions; either comment here or send me an email (shannon@tassava.com), and I'll answer you in a future post.

I'm pretty intrigued myself--I can't wait to see what changes I notice in my physical well-being by day 30. I've already noticed less joint soreness after workouts--and that's from only five days off sugar etc.! It makes total sense, when you think about it, that the foods you put into your body would affect how your body feels and functions, but in American society that idea is largely ignored. It's kind of crazy, really. We try all sorts of medicines and doctor visits and surgeries and whatnot and rarely think to examine whether something processed and "junky" we eat every day might be actually causing or contributing to our ailments.

So I'm on to Day 6--which really means there are a whole lot of days left in this endeavor. Wish me luck! (Thank God I'll be done before my birthday in early February! Because: cake!)






Saturday, January 04, 2014

Setting Records



So, we're wrapping up a full 16 days of Christmas break. Yes, SIXTEEN DAYS. Two full weeks of school, with three weekends scattered throughout. By any measure, that's a crazy long winter break. I don't know why it's that long this year. The year's schedule is set every year by the school board, and it's been awhile since the kiddos got two full weeks off (and all those weekend days).

For some reason this year it got long. That sentiment really means something, coming from me, seeing as how I truly miss my children when they're in school and cherish after-school hours, school breaks, and summers with them. But things are always more challenging when the weather is this cold; it makes a HUGE difference in the life of a family with young kids whether or not one can play outside or not. A calm, 20- or 30-degree winter day is lovely and perfect for a nature walk, sledding, or skating; a blustery, zero-degree day with a 20-below-zero windchill is a lot of daylight hours shut inside potentially going stir crazy. Now imagine many of those days strung together. (In other words, summers with the kids are easier.)

So imagine my reaction when, yesterday morning, an announcement came over the radio that MN's governor is closing all public schools in our state on Monday due to temperatures that are forecast to hit nearly 30 below zero on Monday morning (with windchills in the 50-below range). Yes, three days in advance, the weather forecast is so dire that the governor has already declared it too dangerous for anyone to go outside to wait for the school bus (or do anything else).

So, we're now going on 17 days of Christmas break.

Oh, and by the way, Tuesday is supposed to be just as cold. Decisions about Tuesday's school openings vs. closings will be made on Monday.

Eighteen days of Christmas vacation?? Why not!

I'll just be over here drinking my strong coffee and sitting around in my pajamas all day, dreaming of either a.) summer; or b.) getting my family back to a normal routine one of these weeks.

Yikes!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: (Accidentally) Egg-less Multigrain Banana-Cranberry-Coconut Muffins

 (Note the two tiny loaves in the top left corner; I bought those pans in Toronto 
and now I make two mini-breads for my girls every time I make muffins. They love them!)

So I was all set to make some banana muffins earlier today for my kiddos' snacks when I realized I am out of eggs. (Very rare occurrence; there's a good explanation but more on that some other time.) I'm going to the supermarket tonight, but because we're hosting a playdate this afternoon, I didn't really have time to move my errand up.

A quick Google search for egg substitutes in muffins revealed that you can use mashed banana. So I pulled some dried cranberries and sweetened shredded coconut out of my pantry for added interest, fooled around a bit with one of my standard muffin recipes, and hoped for the best.

My no-egg experimental muffins turned out beautifully! Here's the recipe in case you're interested. :)

Egg-less Multigrain Banana-Cranberry-Coconut Muffins
makes 12

Ingredients:

1 mashed ripe or over-ripe banana
1 cup buttermilk, or a combination of buttermilk and plain yogurt adding up to 1 cup total (could also use an entire cup of just yogurt, but your batter will be thicker/dryer)
1/4 cup canola (or other) oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup whole oats
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with papers, or grease with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the mashed banana, buttermilk/yogurt, oil, vanilla, brown sugar, and oats. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flours, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Add cranberries and coconut and fold into batter.

Spoon into muffin tin (cups will be quite full). Bake for 14 or 15 minutes, or until browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy for breakfast, an after-school snack, or packed in a lunchbox!