The Check-In

Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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The Check-In

Final Thoughts for this Week

Today is the final day of my diet reset. Overall it went well and I am feeling better about my eating choices, though it wasn’t an easy process to get through. It got rather boring by the end and I was excited to be eating different types of fruit throughout the day if only for the variety they provided. The food that I made for the reset was delicious, but even delicious can get boring if you are eating the same thing over and over again.

How I am Feeling

I feel much better at the end of the week, a little bit lighter (I lost 2 pounds), and I don’t feel as bloated as I did on Sunday. I think that has a lot to do with the water I’ve been drinking; it certainly helped flush out the extra water weight I retained from high-salt and fatty foods. I also found that I enjoy drinking high-alkaline water, not because I think they do anything specific for my health, but because I like the taste and it’s easier to drink. I learned something new about myself.

I also feel more energized, though I am still feeling fatigue from the last vestiges of my flu. Once I have finally shaken off my flu fatigue, I can already tell that I am  motivated to dive into my running again. I just need the temperature to go up a little bit in the mornings. Running in temperatures lower than 20F are rough. I can do it, but it’s hard to be motivated to get out there when bed is so warm.

Cravings I Encountered

Some cravings I encountered throughout the week: fried foods, eating late, coffee, and bacon.

I was really surprised by the fried foods craving since I haven’t had anything deep fried since October. I think that was a carryover from the flu at the beginning of the week. I have learned that when I am sick, I really love to have fried foods for comfort.

The desire to snack after 7 pm wasn’t entirely surprising: that’s when I do the bulk of my snacking during the day. Once Ash is home and Jai is in bed, Ash and I sit on the couch and will snack while catching up on our shows. The snacks may be healthy in nature, but it’s the quantity that becomes unhealthy. There are nights where I will grab a snack just before going to bed because the idea hit me that I was “hungry.” Through this reset I realized that I was less hungry and doing it out of habit.

The craving for coffee was a surprise to absolutely no one. I went from drinking two cups of Americano a day to nothing. I use coffee as a natural means to boost my energy in the morning and early afternoon. I really love the taste of it, especially during cold winter days. I find it very soothing because of its familiarity and I missed that with the cold snap we’ve been going through. I had a few mild headaches that may have been caffeine withdrawals, but I drank a bunch of water and herbal tea to help minimize the discomfort.

I found that I was craving salty protein some of the time, specifically bacon. I don’t eat a lot of bacon, though when given the option, I will take it. This might also be attributed to the cold weather – looking to derive some pleasure in high-fat foods which is fine in small doses, but hard to moderate in the dead of winter.

Some Reflections

The detox/reset went relatively well, but not as well as I would have liked. I ran into some issues following the protocols I had planned by Day Four because life got a little hectic. I wasn’t able to do my morning ritual from that day forward because Jai picked up a really bad cold and needed care as early as 2 am some mornings. Getting up after that to do yoga was really hard despite going to bed around 10 pm.

When experts say to plan detoxes/cleanses around periods of time where it will minimally impact your life, they aren’t kidding. I couldn’t account for Jai’s cold, but considering I just dealt with the flu and he’s in close proximity to me, it wouldn’t be hard to extrapolate that he’d get sick too. So I probably should have delayed given the circumstances.

While this was a good start as far as length is concerned, I think a longer reset would be more effective for me. They say that it can take up to two months for a habit to stick and while I wouldn’t want to spend that amount of time on a reset, perhaps spending at least 9 to 12 days on it would be more ideal. It will help give me more time to break through some of my bad habits and understand my deeper cravings. I believe that the longer I go, the more random and intense the cravings are and I assume those are the really ingrained cravings that I might not normally notice. By bringing them to light, I can decide how to deal with them.

I think that my daily energy and feeling lighter comes from not eating after 7 pm. In fact, I would argue that the best thing I did through this entire reset was not eating after 7 pm. I think I have a lot of psychological energy tied up in my snacking late and this helped show me how dependant I was on it. I think that some of my extra weight comes from eating late and if I go a few more weeks not eating past 7 pm I might see some more weight lost because of it.

I don’t know how this impacted my MS, in fact, I don’t think it impacted it at all. It’s too short of a time for me to notice any appreciable changes in my health, but I did find that focusing on the regimen gave me something to think about and not worry about my MS as much.

Moving Forward

I am going to keep the following things from the reset: no eating after 7 pm and try to be in bed by 10 pm. Even if I don’t fall asleep right away, being in a position of rest helps get me through the next day and feel less tired when Jai wakes up in the middle of the night.

I am, however, going to pick up coffee again. I already have an Americano with my name literally on it waiting for me tomorrow morning. I really can’t go without my caffeine, no matter how healthier it might be for me. I need some vices.

I think I will consider doing some form of a reset every 6 months, almost like a booster shot. I considered doing a 3-day version every 3 months, but I will have to examine I am feeling with my diet at the beginning of March before I make any commitments. Doing it when my motivation is flagging will help keep me going and feeling good.

While I liked this modified version of the Ayurvedic detox, I am interested in examining other types of healthy resets. A juice cleanse, a raw food reset, possibly Keto, or just a very bland diet with nothing special to it. I want to make sure that whatever I try in the future it will be healthy and safe for me. By experimenting with different types, I might find the one that fits best for me or combine a couple into something that works. The whole point is to give my body a rest from all the junk I’ve put into it and feel refreshed by the end of it.

I will be eating a strict plant-based diet (no animal products whatsoever), no gluten, no sugar, and no alcohol. I may need to make a few exceptions here and there, but this will be stricter than I have been since before the holidays. So if I have a day or a meal where I indulge in something, it won’t be continued beyond that.

I want to shoot for June, a full 6 months of eating this way, as that will give my body plenty of time to remove the old stuff from my system, remove bad gut bacteria and allow the good bacteria to flourish. It will also help me determine if I have any allergies or sensitivities I was previously unaware of, like sugar.

2018 Health Goals

I anticipate that during the next 6 months I will reach my ideal body weight for my body type. If I want to be successful in this weight loss, I will need to maintain that ideal weight for at least 2 years. In order to do this, I will want to be more aware of my eating habits and if I re-incorporate anything back into my diet, do so in moderation. Allowing my eating habits to go out of control is what got me to my highest weight originally. I would like to not return to that point again.

When I go to see my neurologist in March, I want him to tell me that I am still doing well and that we don’t need to alter my treatment until I am ready. I already mentioned that I want to go the entire year flare-up free, which I think I can do by eating healthy, being mindful of my stress, and exercising.

I want to get my natural energy levels up to what I perceive is normal for everyone as often as I can. MS makes that difficult to do everyday, but if I can have more days with higher energy levels than not, I will consider that a success. This will be harder to measure, but if I feel that I can go the entire day without needing an actual nap, and just an hour of rest while Jai is sleeping, then it would be considered a low-fatigue day.

I will continue to check-in from time-to-time with how I am doing like before, but I will be shifting my blog focus away from my personal habits and onto healthier living habits overall.

What healthy goals have you made for this year? What are your plans to keep them?

Food & Recipes

Delicious Foods for an Eating Reset

Eating simply sounds easy by the terms used, but it’s hardly ever simple to do. There tend to be a lot of steps, ingredients, preparation time, and a short shelf-life. If you are being particularly strict about it, it can be budget breaking.

All of these reasons are why when I’ve attempted to do cleanses and detoxes in the past, I’ve failed miserably. I needed to approach this reset differently from before; I decided to make some adjustments, making the preparation quicker and easier so it would be less stressful and take some simple shortcuts that wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the reset.

Below are two recipes to make the necessary foods for this particular diet reset, with one modified for the Instant Pot. I am new to the IP community, so the recipe is probably rough compared to what you might be used to seeing. I wanted to share how easy it was to make these two items for others who are looking for a less stressful way to do a diet reset.

Simple Oatmeal

Original recipe here. Below are my modifications.

Ingredients
1/2 Cup rolled oats
1 1/2 Cups water
1/2 Cup diced, dried apricot
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 Cup raw, sliced almonds (whole are fine, I like the texture of the sliced)

Directions

  1. Combine the apricot, 1 Cup of water, and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce and simmer for 15 minutes or until the apricot is rehydrated and tender.
  2. Add in the oats, 1/2 Cup of water, stir, raise the temperature to bring to boil. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Oats should be soft and water fully absorbed.
  3. Cool, top with almond slices, and serve.

Notes
Double the recipe so you don’t have to make this every morning of your reset. It shouldn’t sit in the fridge more than one day at a time because you do want to keep it fresh.

If you have a pumpkin pie spice mix, substitute that in by increasing to 1/2 teaspoon. The mix contains all acceptable spices during this reset (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) and might be a delicious way to get that pumpkin spice craving if you are doing this reset in the fall.

Instant Pot Kitchari

Original recipe here if you don’t own an Instant Pot. Below are my modifications.

Ingredients
1 Cup basmati rice
1/2 Cup Yellow dal/lentils
2 Tablespoons of ghee (coconut oil for vegans)
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 Cups water
Easy to digest frozen vegetables (reheated)

Directions

  1. Combine the dal with the rice and rinse the mixture until the water runs clear. Put into the Instant Pot.
  2. Add the ghee, black mustard, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and fresh ginger to the rice/dal mixture in the Instant Pot. Stir. Add 2 Cups of water (make sure none of the rice or dal mixture sticks to the sides before closing it up).
  3. Seal and using “Manual” setting, set for 12 minutes. Once complete, allow for 12-minute natural release and then open the value to release the rest of the pressure. Switch over to warm.
  4. Stir in the re-heated veggies and serve.

Notes
Boil some potatoes or sweet potatoes (diced) while the kitchari cooks in the Instant Pot. Stir those in in addition to the veggies.

If you know how, you can saute the spices with the ghee ahead of putting the rice/dal mixture into the Instant Pot. I’ve never done this before, so I didn’t want to put this step in but leave it as a suggestion.

Bonus: Steamed Vegetables

I will let you in on a little secret for this one: I cheat and buy frozen vegetables that have been pre-steamed and just need to be thawed in the microwave. Make sure to select a type that contains nothing but the vegetables in it: no added butter, no added salt, just pure, frozen vegetables.

I am already spending time to make these other dishes that this is a simple shortcut that maintains the integrity of the reset.

Diet Shift

Resetting the Holiday Excess

Holidays can really wreak havoc with our eating habits. Sometimes it is easy to watch how you eat and other times it’s hard to say ‘no’ to that second Santa-shaped ginger cookie.

Now is the time when the weight-loss commercials ramp up for the New Year resolutions. These either work to motivate or discourage us. I will admit, whenever I saw the commercials in the past, I either ignored them or felt discouraged because I couldn’t justify joining a program to help lose weight. It always was a money and time-commitment issue for me.

As I got older, my personal philosophy evolved to this: diets, as they are, don’t work.

Interesting considering a good chunk of my blog is about “diet shifts”?

This isn’t saying that diets are ineffective, they can work if done properly, but diets tend to imply a short-term change to eating habits. Once a specific goal is met, it’s easy to resume previous eating habits and then find that the weight/health concern comes back.

Diets need to be about making lifestyle changes. Actively deciding that any changes in eating habits are not temporary, but are long-term shifts with the occasional indulgence.

Switching to a low-carb diet will be effective in losing weight in the short-term, but if more foundational changes are not made, all progress will be lost once carbs are incorporated back into the diet.

What are these foundational changes?

I am referring to the deeper reasons why we may eat unhealthy or to excess. For some it is an emotional comfort, for others, portions are hard to gauge. The science is clear that the food industry does make food more addictive and therefore it becomes easy to eat high-calorie foods in large amounts without being aware of it. If you struggle for an emotional or hormonal reason, the food industry isn’t doing you any favors.

But don’t let this discourage you in any way.

**Let me be clear: I am not shaming anyone’s reasons for eating the way they do. Everyone’s eating habits are different and their reasons for their eating habits are unique to them. I am referring to some of the more generalized reasons why we eat to excess.**

Sitting down and identifying what is problematic in the diet will help figure out what long term changes need to be made. Then it’s about making some drastic mindset changes to help keep the motivation through the difficult transition periods and temptations.

I don’t think I am a food addict, but I do know that I had issues with food and eating in moderation. It took a wake-up call over the summer for me to realize that I needed to make some deeper changes with how I approached food. I was addicted to sugar and junk food and I needed to change how I approached these types of food. Cutting these food items out permanently may not be the solution for you, but recognizing the need for moderation might be.

Deciding to make the changes for Jai and for myself was enough motivation to keep me going, but see what changes will help push you through to make long-lasting “diet” change this year.

Before starting down this path, consider taking a few days to prepare your body and your mind by “detoxing” or “cleansing” your eating habits.

Continue reading “Resetting the Holiday Excess”

Personal Motivation

Checking In: Coping with Personal Stress

Today a major milestone in my health journey. Five years ago today, I had my very first MS flare-up. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but I was lucky enough to get answers less than a year later.

Today’s post contains a more in-depth tale of my journey to the MS diagnosis and what brings about my flare-ups. Read the shorter version here.

2012: The First Time

A few days prior to my flare-up, I finished up my final classes, got my grades in, and flew up to Connecticut to help my parents move. As an only child with one year of marriage under my belt, my parents wanted to leave the cold hollows of New England and join Ash and me in Georgia.

This was a particularly hard journey for me because it meant that I would be saying “goodbye” to my childhood home. We moved in when I was 6 and I had many fond memories stored inside; there were over 20 years of memories and I was extremely sad to no longer have the ability to visit it.

December 13th would be my last night sleeping in my old room, and on the 14th I would help my parents finish loading up the moving truck and help them drive down to Georgia over the next three days.

I was not in a good mood. I was grumpy, irritable, but most of all, stressed out.

It was my second year teaching college students composition, struggling with normal Graduate school stressors, and now the final stress of losing what felt like a family member was too much for me.

But there would be more.

On the 14th, a little more than an hour away from my location, Newtown happened. I had to keep it together to help finish the moving process, but inside I was really struggling with all of my feelings. I had a tight burning in my chest as I swept and mopped the living room floor. I had to keep everything together.

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The product of my labor: a clean living room floor. Possibly the only time I did this chore in this house.

 

We loaded up the truck around 6pm, my mom and I hopped in her car, and we headed south while my dad followed in the moving truck. We were headed towards Pennsylvania where we planned to stay for the night at a motel.

I slept on a pullout bed which was extremely uncomfortable. I was exhausted, so I didn’t think much about the day’s events, and I fell asleep.

When I woke up, there was an oval spot in my right eye’s field of vision. I had a slight headache and I was feeling unwell. At first I thought my glasses were dirty, but no matter how often I cleaned them, that spot wouldn’t go away. I rubbed my eyes thinking there might be some junk with no luck. I didn’t understand what was happening as we went to get breakfast at the local McDonald’s.

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Found on the restroom door of that McDonald’s. Even with the spot in my eye I could see how dated this was…

I had had migraines before, but I never experienced an aura prior to the migraine. Normally I would not have a migraine and then boom, migraine without warning. My migraines were increasing in frequency. I would have one once a year and I was starting to get them every 6 months or so, so when I looked up my eye symptoms, it seemed like a natural progression.

Figuring it was an aura, I was relegated to being the navigator when I didn’t have a black skull cap I bought at a gas station over my eyes to help manage what I thought were the beginning moments of a migraine. When we stopped in Virginia for the night we all thought the spot would go away with a good night’s sleep.

It did not. In fact, it got worse. It didn’t cover my whole field of vision, but it was more prominent. The day before, I could kind of see through this smudge. Now it was a translucent spot that partially blocked objects.

I was definitely scared. I didn’t know what was happening and how to fix it.

Continue reading “Checking In: Coping with Personal Stress”

Food & Recipes

Immune & Energy Booster Turmeric Shots

Several years ago, I participated in a yoga intensive course which required attending classes at a local studio almost daily and first thing in the morning. This was before my diagnosis, but just after I experienced my first flare-up, so fatigue was an issue for me at the time.

I was complaining to another student while we were waiting to step into the studio about how tired I was and how I would love to have a cup of coffee (we were doing a strict detox diet as part of the course at the time). She pulled this small bottle* out of her bag and handed it to me.

Her: “It’s a turmeric shot. These things are great natural energy boosts.”
Me: “Turmeric? As in the spice?”
Her: “Yeah, have you heard about it? It’s got all these great ayurvedic properties, but it’s been found to naturally boost your energy. It’s more potent than caffeine.”
Me: “And it’s safe?”
Her: “Absolutely. It’s all natural. Just try half of it and let me know what you think after class.”

I tried it and she was correct. I felt extremely energized. I was almost shaking to get class started, that’s how powerful it was for me. I will add this note: it was the first of any sort of energy drink I had in weeks. We couldn’t even drink green tea, so the results might have been slightly skewed due to my body just going into overload.

I didn’t get a chance to follow up with the turmeric as an energy booster after that experience. But it stayed in the back of my mind and when I read about the natural benefits of turmeric in the diet for brain health and as an anti-inflammatory, I decided to look back into it as something to add into my daily diet to help manage my MS.

The Health Benefits of Turmeric

What makes Turmeric the wonder spice is the curcumin. Curcumin is believed to be a beneficial supplement to fight Alzheimer’s due to its anti-inflammatory and brain boosting properties. It also is found to have cognitive-boosting abilities, though this needs to be researched further. It can also help prevent certain forms of cancer.

These two things alone: inflammation and cognition are issues a person with MS deals with on a daily basis. I am not advocating forsaking all other forms of MS therapy, I am saying that by adding it to my daily diet will help supplement traditional forms of MS therapy. And as a runner, the anti-inflammatory benefits is extremely helpful to recovery.

But the energy/metabolism and the immune benefits? This becomes a universal appeal for a daily consumption of Turmeric. Even if you don’t have MS, having a natural way to get more energy and boost the immune system will be beneficial to your health. It may not cure a cold or completely prevent getting one, but it will give you that extra boost your body might need.

Making My Own Turmeric Drink

Before removing sugar from my diet, I found it harder to stomach turmeric even in a drink form. The taste was too weird and I needed something sweet to help cover it up because that’s how I handled flavors I didn’t care for in the past: add sugar to make it more palatable.

A few weeks after quitting sugar, I bought several shots of turmeric for an early morning road trip I was making to Tennessee. I took some sips and found that I actually enjoyed the flavor and felt quite the energy boost.

Sugar struck again as a ruiner of flavors. Now that it was out of my system, I was able to enjoy something I previously disliked.

But what took my breath away was the price per bottle. I could drink one bottle per day for the health benefits, but my wallet wasn’t going to be fond of the ~$6.00 per 3 fl oz. I knew I could make it even cheaper.

I found a couple of recipes online, but they didn’t adhere to the vegan diet (I wanted something I could drink once I switched over), or they didn’t have the flavors I was looking for, so I decided to create my own recipe. Below the break, you will find my recipe and some ideas for modifications.

Continue reading “Immune & Energy Booster Turmeric Shots”

Personal Motivation

Checking In: Losing the Pounds

When I started to make these lifestyle changes several months ago, my main reason was to keep my MS under control, fight my fatigue, and model good eating/exercising habits for Jai.

It was never about weight loss.

In fact, I anticipated that I would lose 5 pounds TOPS and just continue on my way of maintaining a specific weight range as I made these changes. I lost around 20 pounds in the first few weeks after giving birth, but the weight slowly came back from bad habits formed during the first few months of breastfeeding.

I had fallen into the trap of “I am craving this and because I am burning extra calories from breastfeeding, I can afford to eat extra sugar/fried/foods without extra exercise.” It stung to see myself steadily rise back to my pre-pregnancy weight. That’s when I started thinking about making changes, but not really committing to anything productive.

I started this blog and after the first week of dropping sugar, I lost 3 pounds. Within a few more weeks, it was 9 more pounds. It’s been almost a month and a half since my last weight update and I’ve lost an additional 13 pounds. I have officially lost 25 pounds since I’ve started this blog. I have lost even more from my highest weight, though I am not ready to reveal that number yet.

I’m waiting until I hit a specific weight-loss number from my highest weight before I do a “before/after progress post.” I anticipate that will be within the first few months of the New Year. It’s a good goal to reach for when I recommit myself.

Continue reading “Checking In: Losing the Pounds”