Thursday, November 30, 2017

What Being Vegan Means to Me and What I Have Learned so Far

I am going on 2 months of a plant based diet, free of gluten, dairy and animal products (well except eggs). I am feeling amazing! I think this is really fascinating given the last time I went vegan for 3 weeks I was miserable. Several things factored into my misery last time, I believe, 1) I had no motivation other than my IIN Health Coaching curriculum suggesting we try different ways of eating throughout the year-long course 2) It was January in Maine (who doesn't crave meat and cheese and bread in the winter!? I know I certainly do.) 3) I didn't educate myself. I figured, I know about food. I know how to cook. I know how to eat vegan. But, actually I didn't. I needed to approach shopping, cooking and eating differently. And I needed to learn how to cook differently. 4) I removed a key macronutrient from my diet and didn't replace it with anything.

There are 3 macronutrients we all need to survive. Protein, fats and carbohydrates. Depending on the diet you follow and/or your dietary goals, you play around with the percentages of your macros. For a paleo or keto diet you would have protein and fats at really high percentages 60-80% and carbs super low. If you are on a plant based diet you will likely have a lower protein percentage of 10-20%. The key though is, we all need all macros. Remember in the 90s when carbs were vilified and people completely cut out all carbohydrates. Remember the bread rage? We all need some carbs, and just so we are all on the same page, vegetables are in that carbohydrate category. Actually, no one wants to completely cut out carbs, because vegetables are an essential part of any diet. Unfortunately, when most people think carbs, they think simple, refined carbs, like bread, bagels, crackers, pasta, etc. Vegetables are complex carbs and offer fiber, water and vitamins and minerals. Don't vilify carbs. Last time I tried a vegan diet, I just removed protein from my diet and upped my fat and vegetable carb intake. It worked for a while until I was ravenous and had dreams of dancing eggs multiple nights in a row. What I have learned is you can't just remove a macronutrient from your diet and not replace it. You can't just poof protein out of your diet and hope for the best, you will fail. Just like poofing all carbs or all fat, your body rejects this way of eating, and you turn into a hangry beast. 

I didn't, and still don't want to eat a ton of soy products. I know there is evidence, especially circulating in the vegan world, that soy products are in fact, good for you. I don't know, evidence is great, but I am going to trust my gut on this one. While I have introduced some soy products into my life, they are not every day and are in very small amounts. And I still consciously buy products that don't have too much soy in them. (I need to go on a little side bar here, I can't with crap-filled, chemicalized, highly processed vegan foods. They are not healthier just because they are lacking animal products. I still firmly believe that we need to eat as close to how the food comes from the Earth. All the hydrogenated oils and highly processed "healthy" vegan foods are not good for anyone. I don't care how clean-vegan you are. Your body does not assimilate processed foods. I can't. And I won't. And you should seriously reconsider. The end.) With that being said, now that I have introduced some soy products as a form of protein I am feeling much better than with no protein at all. Vegainase makes a soy-free blend, which is awesome. Loving the hell out of that! I have even found 2 vegan cheeses, both of which are limited ingredients and very clean. 1 with soy and coconut, called Chao (side note, this cheese is the best! It actually tastes like real cheese, minus a faint coconut after taste) and Myiokos cashew cheese. I wouldn't exactly eat it on it's own, but it melts perfectly. This weekend I will attempting to make my own vegan cheese, which I am SO excited about! I found this recipeI'll let you know how it turns out.



I had to learn how to cook vegan food. I know this sounds silly. I am a well versed cook. I feel very confident in the kitchen. I rarely follow recipes, I use them more for inspiration, always tweaking as I go. The thing is, that didn't work for me with vegan meals. I couldn't just omit the animal products and gluten, and try a substitute. I actually had to do research. I had to follow recipes. 2 years ago that undertaking felt daunting. This time, I am feeling inspired. I want to expand my ability to cook. I want to learn new recipes. I want to understand how to make something creamy without any diary (cashews people, cashews are the best!). I joined the 22 Day Vegan Challenge suggested my James Aspey, more for recipe inspiration than anything. I ignored a lot of what was going on in the group, because I didn't need that support in the way they offer it, but I did find the recipes that were shared by the mentors and fellow participants super helpful. Oh She Glows, It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, Veggies Don't Bite, Simple Vegan Blog and the Food Monster app are all great resources I have found along the way. Trust me when I say you need resources if your are attempting a vegan lifestyle. I felt extremely confident that I knew what I was doing and realized that I didn't know as much as I needed too.

I love beans and beans love me. Not everyone can eat beans. Don't know? Eat some and see how your body responds. Also certain blood types digest beans better (As and Bs). If you are an O blood type, being vegan may be really, really hard for you. With that being said I don't think veganism is for everyone. I certainly will never be "that" vegan who advocates that everyone should give up all animal products. Yes, I think we could all cut down considerably on our animal product consumption, for our own health, for the animals and for environmental well being. But everyone is different. Every body is different. I think if you are going to try going vegan you need to know your self and your body well. You also have to continually check in with your intention and motivation towards eating a vegan diet.

Eggs. Yup, I said eggs. Die hard vegans would yell at me for still eating eggs. Sure, some could say I am not techinically a vegan becasue I am still eating eggs. First of all, I am not eating eggs every day. Not even every other. I eat them when I want them, which is a few times a week, and not even every week. The eggs I get are from a beautiful farm down the road. The chickens are free range, happy chickens, fed a great soy-free diet. I feel good about my eggs and my consumption of them. So curse me if you must, call me not a real vegan, but for right now that is what is working for me. Which brings me to another thought; strict, cold tofurkey veganism is a major shift for some, especially if you are not replacing your animal protein with plant based protein. So, in my opinion, if you need to gradually work towards veganism, because it is important to you, then slowly get there. Cut out things as you go. Listen to your body.

I have never been one for layering my foods. Unless it is a lasagna, I would make what I make and eat it. I would never add dressing and seeds and nuts, EVOO, and tahini, or peanut butter, etc. What I have learned this time around is layering your foods is important to feel satisfied, and also to get complete proteins. So for example, if I had sautéed greens in the morning with a half an avocado, traditionally that would be it, with some eggs perhaps, but now it is the greens, with a whole avocado, drizzled with tahini, sprinkled on hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and drizzled with more olive oil. Think about when you make oatmeal, don't just make oatmeal, but add coconut oil and peanut butter, while you are cooking it, then add nuts, seeds, non-dairy milk, fruit, etc. Leaving out the essential fats and protein combination leaves you with a high carb meal, which your body digest quickly, leaving you hungry a couple hours later. Haven't you ever been hungry 2 hours later after eating oats? You are missing the layering of fats and protein. Try it out!

Something interesting has happened over the last two months. I cannot stand the smell of meat. It is disgusting! It actually makes me gag. It smells like burning flesh. A has not jumped on my vegan bandwagon, although he will happily enjoy a vegan meal with me. He is still eating meat, which he cooks. Ugh, I can't. I roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving, it was disgusting. Having to unwrap it and dress it, and smell it cooking. I was seriously grossed out. It smelled kind of ok when it was out of the oven all golden roasty. I even ate a small piece, but spit it out. The texture, the taste, ugh. I was actually grossed out. It is not like I planned for this to happen. It just happened. It actually happened with bacon, BACON, to start. A made bacon wrapped blue cheese stuffed dates. I had to go stand outside. I was so grossed out by the bacon and the blue cheese. OMG, what is happening to me!!? I can't speak for anyone else, but man, this was not a shift I saw coming. I have ZERO interest in eating any meat. The smell is so offensive to me, why would I want to put that in my mouth?

Cheese though, well it's cheese. Cheese is my weakness. Minus blue cheese, nope all set. That shit nasty. (Oh my god, who am I??!) Cheese is my crack. Actually they have done studies on cheese and it is actually addictive. It hits the same dopamine receptors in the brain as some drugs and sugar does. Who knew? Anyway, cheese has been harder for me. I had 1 piece of cheese the other day and man was it delicious, but I didn't need or want more, and I haven't had any since. Well except, we went out to a Mexican restaurant the other night and I really wanted a cheese enchilada, so I got one. Bad idea! I was so gassy and uncomfortable all night long. So totally wasn't worth it. That was the end of my cheese dreams. If you are lactose intolerant you know the cheese pain. It's never worth it.

While not even a factor on this journey of veganism, I feel like I have lost some weight. My pants are fitting better, not so pinchy. I don't own a scale, so I don't know exactly how much, nor, do I care. That is not the goal for me. The goal has always been to feel good. To feel better than where I was. And that has been the case. The nagging back/sciatica pain is entirely gone, meaning I'm less inflamed. And I can workout everyday, squats, weights and all, and I feel amazing. It is really nice to be back at a mobility and fitness level I have always been at, but has been lessened over the last year due to nagging inflammatory back pain. That is how I got started on this vegan journey this time. That has always been my motivation, to feel really good and to get rid of that damn sciatica. It has been gone since week 2 of this vegan thing, so why mess with a good thing?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How Back Pain led to Dairy Free and now Veganism

For over the last year I have had this aching, sometimes debilitating, but mostly just irritating sciatica. I have tried diet changes along with many other modalities such as body work, restorative yoga, Yamuna, aerial yoga, inversions, and nothing seemed to help for long. I even bought a sacro-belt and new orthotics for my shoes, which again helped, temporarily. Always a person who loves to workout, this nagging back issue has effected my ability to workout. Squats were out, lunges, nope, any form of weight lifting, ack. I have had this constant pain and started to succumb to the potential reality that sciatica would effect me for the rest of my life. In truth, I have had some sort of hip/back/sciatic/psoas issue since my teens, but never for very long and never as debilitating as over the last year. If I stood or sat too long it would get aggravated. If I lifted heavy things without my sacro-belt, it would get aggravated. If I worked in the garden too much, bending over pulling weeds it would aggravate it. Pretty much everything I did aggravated it. I mean I was able to go about my life teaching my group fitness class, exercising mostly, but avoiding all squatting motions, I even bartended this summer and did ok. But after my 3 back-to back-shifts though, and with a farmers' market booth in between, I was hurting pretty bad Saturday mornings.

Then one day I heard something about how bad dairy really is for inflammation. I mean, of course, I know that. But over the years, dairy has slowly creeped back into my diet. All lactose free or fermented dairy, so I thought I was doing well. I didn't eat much, but as the late nights after my bartending shift accumulated and I was awake and hungry when I got home, a quick quesadilla or grilled cheese would hit the spot. At the time it didn't feel like much, but in hindsight, it was a lot more dairy than I thought.

And then I spoke with a friend who recently cut out dairy and she said it literally made her sciatica go away in days! Really?! I couldn't believe that something as simple as cutting out dairy would make back pain go away.  But always curious about the body and willing to experiment with dietary changes effecting the way I feel, one day I said, 'yup that's it, no more dairy.' I mean I know I shouldn't eat dairy. I know it is inflammatory. I know I am lactose intolerant. I know, I know...but the implementing is always the hard part. So one day, I just stopped eating dairy.

Now it has been about a month and half since I cut out dairy. And literally, I kid you not, 4 days after I cut it out cold turkey, my sciatica was gone. GONE! Not like kinda gone, but gone gone. I felt better, less lethargic, my bowels were better, but all I cared about was that nagging back pain that has irritated me for over almost a year was gone! So eventually I had to try my dreaded squats. I took it easy the first time. Nothing. No pain. No radiating irritation down my leg and up my back. Nothing. Gardening was a breeze. Even last night I took my first Brazilian dance class in a long time. It is a lot of hip action. I was nervous because after the class, as we were cooling down I could feel my back tighten up and get the sensation I used to get before the whole thing would lock up and I would be in pain for the next few days. Today, I feel great! I am sore from not using back, lower ab and hip muscles I haven't used in a while, but it is not like last year when I took this class, where I was out of commission the next day due to the pain.

So dairy free = pain free! At least for me. I kid you not! I didn't believe it either. Give it a try, if you are curious.

This whole body experiment and nutrition is a slippery slope I tell ya (in a good way) 😉, so I have been eating meat, but not much, actually, actively less since I have cut out dairy. Then I asked myself 2 weeks ago, why? Why are you eating meat? I have actively been reducing my meat consumption. I have never been a huge meat eater. I don't digest it well and I feel all over slowed/bogged down when I eat too much meat. Granted, I am only ever eating local, organic and/or grass-fed or pasture raised meat (ideally all of the above). So I have considered myself a conscious meat eater. But somewhere in the back of my mind, veganism has been swirling around. If you recall I gave veganism a try back in 2015, which you can read here and here. It. Was. Hard. I have never craved eggs so much in my life. But this time it feels different. I am already gluten free (Always! Going on 8 years now!) and now completely dairy free and continually reducing my meat consumption, so how far off is being a vegan?

I listened to @yoga_girl 's podcast recently with her guest speaker James Aspey on veganism and something clicked. I think maybe because I was toying with the idea already, I was more receptive. And it wasn't the horror stories James talked about in the meat and diary industry that did it. I've always disliked that freak-out tactic of veganism, but 2 things stuck with me; the way he and Rachel approached it was not forceful and both talked about veganism from a place of love, compassion and education. James didn't even shame Rachel, when she admittedly called her self a hypocrite because she too, has let dairy creep into her life. And who are we to determine which animals we eat. In some countries they eat dogs. I could never even consider eating my beloved dogs and yet I consider myself an animal lover. And pigs are just as smart and personable as dogs. So why do we eat them? And the dairy industry is just as awful as a slaughter house. I am not trying to convince anyone, because I believe everyone's journey is different and happens in its own way towards your goal of feeling your best. So listen for yourself.

I am not one of those crazy vegans, forcibly telling people that you should know about all the horrible things that happen in the meat and dairy industries. I know scare tactics and forceful advocacy wouldn't work on me. So I would never do that to anyone else. For me, this is a personal journey, that started with removing dairy from my diet. Then realizing meat just didn't sit well with me, physically and consciously. Also, because I struggled so hard the first time around with veganism, I was kind of curious to see how I would do a second time. With that being said, I am still eating eggs. I feel without eggs I am doomed to fail and also I feel ok with my choice, because I am getting my eggs from my neighbor and I know they are free range and happy chickens. But to each her own. We all need to be conscious in our bodies and also conscious beings in the world. We make choices every day and I am currently choosing to do what feels best for me, my body, my mind, my soul and my health.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is an amazing thing that most of us don't think much about and certainly don't pay enough attention to, nor appreciate enough, and yet most of us are sleep deprived most of time...


As with anything in my life and my body I am putting myself through a current experiment with food, well more the, lack of some foods. I have been without alcohol or coffee for 2 weeks now. I am actively trying to find answers to a few things: 
• why my liver doesn't seem to be processing as well as it could
• why my cells aren't at optimal turnover and rejuvenation, given my age and good health
• paying more attention to how certain foods on the Eat Right for Your Blood Type diet do or don't effect me. 
All of this inquisitive investigation came from a visit with a new naturopathic doctor I met last month. She mentioned how impressed she is with all the lifestyle and dietary changes I have made over the years. So, unlike most of the patients that go to see her, we were able to talk about optimal health with a fine tooth comb and evaluate the nitty gritty of my diet and lifestyle. As always, I came home and did some research since I am an info junky, and now I am giving some of her ideas a whirl, plus adding in some extras of my own, including: eating my largest meal at lunch time, actively getting vegetables into each meal, drinking only 1 cup of green tea in the morning (that's all I want and need, as compared to my 2 cups of coffee), starting each morning with hot water and lemon, probiotics and yoga, having breakfast everyday (which happened naturally as soon as I cut out the coffee, I am naturally hungry within the first couple hours of waking).

Per the ND's suggestion, I read up on Dr. D'Adamo's Blood Type Diet approach to eating. Of course I know it. I have learned about it, in fact, I did a report on it in school, way back when (again another hint in my academic career that nutrition was the path for me - duh!). Without thinking much of it I haven't had chicken in a month. Crazy, right!? I don't think I ever thought to cut out something so benign and common in my diet. (I guess I've cut out chicken before on the vegan diet, but all I could think about was eggs, read that funny post here.). B blood types should avoid chicken, oddly enough there is a lectins in chicken, that Bs specifically do not assimilate well. I roasted a chicken with veggies the other night, man was it good. But the gas that immediately came after - yeah, not so much. I didn't eat the chicken for a day. Then had a very small amount yesterday, again, gassyness. Weird? Right? Who the hell ever heard of chicken making them fart? But something may be there. Maybe the blood type diet theory is onto something. I eat relatively close to it already, given a few changes, and switching out avoids for highly beneficial foods as a B. From a scientific standpoint it makes sense. We all evolved from certain regions in the world. And based on those regions we had limited resources to food. So our bodies adapted and evolved only knowing, eating, assimilating certain foods, it is in our DNA. It was not like it is now, where we have a global food marketplace and everyone eats everything. The Blood Type Diet focuses on our ancestry. Our blood types are a clue to our regional heritage and with that knowledge knowing how to eat based on how our ancestors ate and is optimal for our DNA. Interesting indeed!

I woke up this morning impressed by my quality of sleep lately. I have always valued my sleep. It is super important to me to get enough quality sleep. In fact, it is even more important for anyone around me that I get enough sleep. I am wretched if I don't. A couple years ago A and I stopped sleeping in the same bed and room because both of our qualities of sleep were being effected negatively that it was causing tension in our relationship. We both have different needs when it comes to the quality of our sleep; down to a difference in blankets, temperature of the room, waking in the middle of the night for water or to pee, lighting, moving too much; let me tell you it is amazing given our many, many sleep-need differences that we slept in the same bed as long as we did. It is not a reflection of the quality of your relationship if you do not sleep in the same bed, by the way! If anything, sleeping in the same bed may be some of the problems in your relationship. Just consider it.

It has always been a bit harder for me to fall asleep. I have to read in order to fall asleep. It is rare that I can crawl into bed and fall asleep. Typically I read for 30 minutes and then fall asleep. God be with you if you wake me up in the middle of the night. Man am I cranky. That also means I do not wake up in the middle of the night. I don't get up to pee or drink water. Occasionally I wake up because of stress and too many thoughts (but not nearly like I used to). And I used to wake up regularly on my period, but not since I started using the Diva Cup. I kid you not, it has changed my periods forever! And for the last 6 months, I have been waking around 3 am most nights, and that was because of my liver. So, now that I am addressing that, no more waking in the middle of the night and I am so stoked about that. I also wake up slowly in the morning. Not groggy per say, just everything moves slow. I don't like to be jolted awake, I hate alarms for that reason. I like to lay in bed, stretch, keep my ear plugs in long after my eyes are open. I like to be silent in the morning, with little talking or interaction, except maybe with Addi, our golden boxer. That is one of the few times in the day she is cuddly, so sometimes she gets in bed with me as I read or write early in the morning.

I typically go to bed between 10-11 p,m, and wake anywhere between 6 and 8 a.m. For the last 2 weeks though, I have been up no later than 7:30 bright eyed and bushy tailed. Still not jumping out of bed and talking a mile a minute (like a certain someone else in my house ;) ), but I am waking very mentally clear and excited and energized for the day. I am eager to write first thing in the morning and eager to do yoga in my PJs and bathrobe. Normally I would get up, go get my coffee and lounge on the couch for an hour or so, depending on the day's agenda. But these last couple of weeks I am excited and energized to get up to start moving my body at 6 am! Speaking of moving, it is amazing my poop lately (yep, I went there, you can always count on me to talk about poop) it just falls out as soon as I wake up. No I am not pooping in my bed, don't worry! But seriously, I open my eyes, I fart once or twice and then I need to poop. And it just slides right out. Boom, done easy, clean. So cool! 

If you had asked me over a month ago if my sleep was good, I would have said yes. In fact, I think I even wrote on my intake forms for my visit with the ND that yes, my sleep is good. But now, having such a close comparison, wow, what a difference! I am sleeping so much better now. My sleep is deeper and better quality. I am waking refreshed and energized and eager to move first thing in the morning, which is new for me. I have always had to wait to do my yoga until an hour or two after I woke up, because otherwise I would get nauseous. Now I am eager to get on my mat. I make my cup of green tea and roll my mat out. I sit with my tea for awhile, and then I slowly start stretching, which turns into a full yoga routine, always ending with inversions in my aerial silk. Never have I been able to do inversions in the morning soon after waking without extreme nausea. It is really fascinating. Similarly in the past, if I have to get up early, like 4 or 5 a.m. I woke up nauseous. Now, part of me is wondering if that was a condition of my lifestyle habits and it's effect on my sleep, more than the hour of the morning. Hmmm....


Bathrobe yoga is the best!

I haven't used an alarm in over a year. I am waking naturally. I have historically fought waking up. I can feel it coming in a semi-conscious state. I can feel my body waking, my eyes fluttering, but I would resist as long as possible. Holding my pee as long as possible, forcing my eyes shut as long as possible, just for a few extra minutes of sleep. But these last 2 weeks. I wake up, eyes wide open, no resistance. I have clear, energized, exciting, creative thoughts and I am excited to start moving and creating and being in the day. Also I have spent a large part of my adult life waking up for coffee. I love coffee. I think coffee is a justifiably wonderful reason to get up in the morning, because I thought it would wake me up and give me that energized feeling, which I am waking up with now, still in bed, without the coffee. It is interesting to watch A get up and his first train of thought is coffee, in a semi-awake zombie state. I have done that same zombie shuffle most of my life too. I now have the comparison as a helpful reminder that I have the power to control what I put in my body and the where-with-all to pay attention to how foods make me feel and sleep. If the goal is optimal health, to live longer, healthier and to feel good, for me that is the most important; I want to feel good every day, why not take the steps towards improving the feel-goodness of life. And what's even more amazing is you don't know until you know, until you have the comparison in a point of your life where you felt like crap and each step you make towards feeling amazing.

Like I said, I would have said with conviction that yes, I sleep great, but I didn't know. Something didn't click until now. And yes, I have given up both coffee and alcohol, many times before in my journey, and yes at the same time, but for some reason this is different. It feels different. And it is so clear that I should have done this 6 months ago when my intuition was telling me that I could be sleeping better and that my liver needed additional support.

We undervalue the importance of sleep in our society. We overvalue busyness and waking up early, as signs of being more productive, but how efficient really is that perceived productivity if the quality of our sleep is crap? I think it is worth investigating. Poor sleep effects our brains, our bodies, our hormones, weight gain, brain clarity, creativity, digestion, productivity throughout the day, our cravings - particularly for sugar and carbohydrates (Let's take a further look at that: we are nation of obese people consuming massive amounts of processed sugar and carbs, and we all feel pressure to work hard, longer and more productively and yet no one is questioning why we all need, no crave, coffee, sugar and carbs - perhaps we should be talking about the quality of our sleep more than the perceived productivity we are all so eagerly chasing), the foods we eat, the amount of food we eat, our reaction times (there is a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture) our moods, our tempers, yes, even our relationships, ever notice how much more annoying your husband, or kids, or the barista behind the coffee counter are after a crappy night's sleep? Sleep is really important! I cannot stress this enough and it is something in your life that you have power to change, make better or worse, and even make ideal, based on your lifestyle choices and diet.

Don't take my word for it, put yourself through a sleep experiment, you will be amazed!