Ignore the Label

Just the other day I was poking around the frozen foods section, something I periodically do.  It’s become a spiritual practice of mine to stare at the ice cream freezer, breath deeply, and boldly walk by without purchasing, while reflecting upon my inner strength and awesomeness.  However, this time something caught my eye.

A colorful new pint of birthday cake ice cream stared back at me.  Not just any ice cream, but Low Cow ice cream.  This little nugget of food technology had a label screaming with healthy buzz words and promises that seemed to good to be true.  On it’s cheerful pink label, it celebrated only 280 calories per pint, and 24 grams of protein.  Oh, and don’t forget, it’s gluten-free.  Basically it seemed so good for you, you could practically skip your long run and just chow down on this laboratory concoction while continuing to build muscle.

Don’t delude yourself with these too-good-to-be-true products.  They aren’t examples of health innovation, but rather an example of reductionism, a clever industry trick to separate a whole food into its nutrient components, which can then be promoted, confusing unsuspecting consumers into believing in the health benefits.  These are food labels at their worst (or best, if you are the food manufacturer).

What does the label forget to mention?  It is made of dairy, so it probably comes with a side of inflammation and maybe even a little animal cruelty, plus a good dose of whey protein for some excessive IGF-1 and cancer risk.  Oh, and it is sweetened with all kinds of gut-disrupting, non-digestible goodness, to leave you running for the potty after you finish that second pint when no one’s looking, because hey, two pints are still half the calories of Ben and Jerry’s, right?  Sorry, birthday cake flavor…at my age, I need to take good care of my body on my birthday, not poison myself.

So basically, if you see a promising food label on a food you traditionally need to stay away from, be forewarned that your relationship to that food matters more that whether it is a high calorie version, or some newfangled health halo version.  If you are a cookie overeater, you will still be eating too many of the gluten-free health cookies and feeling bad afterwards.

Best to ignore the label.  You know what foods serve you and what foods don’t, so don’t let any food manufacturer convince you that their version is the healthy exception.  Just walk away, and reflect upon your inner strength and awesomeness.

Advertisements

Run Out Of Something

I’m going to spend the next few posts focusing on the Munching part of life.  I’ve been reflecting lately on how much progress I’ve made in the food department, and I hope to share some reflections in the next few posts that might get you thinking about your relationship to food, and might add value to your lifestyle.

Look, we’re all on a quest to be happy and healthy, so no matter what our current weight or what our relationship is to food, I can safely say that we have all had good intentions in our actions.  When I used to eat gummy bears, I thought I was making good choices by eating low fat snacks.  When I used to drink Diet Coke, I thought I was making good choices by avoiding sugar.  When I used to diet and restrict my food intake, I thought I was making good choices by limiting calories.  When I switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet, I thought I was making good choices by eating nutritious food in abundance.  But was I making good choices for myself in doing this?

Maybe not.

I think I can fast forward through processed food and fad diets, and assume that most of us have finally come to the conclusion that those no longer serve us, and we are ready for positive change.  So we dive down the nutrition rabbit hole, and learn about gluten-free, and dairy-free, non-GMO, organic, superfoods, etc.  We spend and spend and read and read and get smarter and smarter, while we layer more and more standards into our acceptable foods, diving deeper into next level products, like supplements, fermented foods, medicinal mushrooms, etc.  At least I did.  I can tell you that I thought I was making good choices by dropping some serious cash at the health food store, and dropping some major hours in the kitchen.

In fact, if you opened up my pantry and fridge during this phase of life, it would have closely resembled the aisles of Whole Foods, minus the mood lighting and cool hip display shelves.  The health halo was shining bright, as I gazed upon food products only enlightened people would be savvy enough to buy.  I isolated myself from friends with my dietary restrictions, refusing to join them for restaurant meals.  I stressed out my family with the food rules in place at home.  And yet, I couldn’t understand why my health wasn’t vibrant, nor was my happiness abundant.  In fact, it sucked.

Maybe you are at this point in your life, when you are stressed out and tired over food.  Maybe you need to take it down a notch.  Here’s one thing you can start to do today:  Run Out Of Something.

You heard it.  Use up what you have, and don’t rush out to replace it.  Get down to one flavor of tea bag.  Run out of supplements.  Watch the world continue to turn, and life to carry on.  Understand that you don’t have to be a self-sufficient island of health, and that if you run out of something, you can actually depend on yourself for resourcefulness and your relationship with others for support.  Meet a friend for coffee if you have none left at home.  Brush your teeth with baking soda if you run out of toothpaste.  Be imperfect.

It’s so empowering to know you can succeed with less, without all of the health crutches and superfoods, and to know that your body is strong and healthy on its own, without the high end lifestyle products companies are pushing on you.  If you eat a less than perfect restaurant meal, your body will carry on.  Health is not strictly food, and it’s more important to be a whole person than a broken person eating whole food.

It wasn’t until I realized this that I was able to let go of perfection and for the first time build some gradual consistency in my relationship to food.  No longer did I consider a minor infraction to my usual food routine as a complete failure, leading me to fall off the health wagon into a slump of despair.  No longer did the pendulum swing so wildly between health food, and face in a tub of ice cream when no one was looking.  Finally, I started to chill, and feel good most days, and for me, that was a huge win.

 

Food, Simplified

Food.  So. Very. Tiring.

Have you ever felt like you have reached your limits when it comes to healthy eating?  Like if I have to come up with one more new idea for dinner, I am going to lose my mind?  Like I can’t even read on more click bait article on the latest nutrition trend without skimming it and thinking, ‘blah, blah, blah’?  That’s kind of where I am right now with food.

There is no place in my life where I currently crave the benefits of minimalism more than in my food choices.  This has led me to lots of recent experimentation in my relationship to food and eating.  Food required way too much of my energy and focus, and I felt ready to put eating on auto-pilot in favor of more rewarding pursuits, like living life.

I think it’s helpful to periodically swing the pendulum of your behavior in the opposite direction.  By experimenting to live with too little, we can gain perspective on where a comfortable medium exists.  Here are a few small experiments I have done recently to lessen the role food has in my life, and to help me gain clarity on that balance:

Only buy one food from each category when grocery shopping (one grain, one nut, etc.)

Setting limits on grocery spending or number of items per trip.

Drastically buying less food…no duplicates, no bulk stockpiles.

Fully run out of something before restocking it.

Eat the same thing for breakfast every day.

Salad for lunch, any type.

Eating raw for breakfast and lunch.

One night per week off of cooking to enjoy a restaurant.

Avoiding snacks, and environments/situations where I typically snack (that’s you, TV).

Drinking only water, coffee, and tea.

Eating 3 satisfying meals or less per day.

Limiting sauces and condiments to a few favorites.

Intermittent fasting on travel days or long car rides.

Eating slowly, chewing more.

Repeating meals with batch cooking and leftovers.

Allowing my pantry or fridge to look bare, knowing I still have enough.

Cooking based on ingredients on hand vs. recipes, and trusting my intuition.

Avoiding packaged foods, and my own personal irresistible foods.

Eating larger quantities of fewer, simpler things.

Avoiding cookbooks and recipe blogs, keeping my focus off food during non-meal times.

Asking myself how else I can fill myself up.  Friendship?  A Hug?  A Walk?

All of these small focuses over the past few months have helped move food to the ‘back burner’ of my life.  I certainly did not undertake every focus at the same time.  I simply reflected on where I felt I needed help, and chose one or two focuses per week, maintaining those practices as long as they served me.  Perhaps some of these experiments would work for you, or inspire you to come up with your own ideas for small personal challenges.

After all, food is meant to fuel your life, not be your life.

Vegan Ambition

Plant love has seeped into my lifestyle, and green juice is flowing through my veins these days.  I scour the internet trying to find vegan shoe options that align with my distaste for plastic’s existence in this universe.  I lovingly munch on rice and beans lettuce wraps, pondering what more I can do to promote a vegan lifestyle to others besides eat and shop.  I’ll continue to vote with my dollars as vegan consumer, but I also wish to put out more positive action into the world.  What else could I create and do?

First of all, I quietly persist.  I used to underestimate the social influence of small consistent action.  As I eat my lettuce, and admit to sometimes craving ice cream, people observe.  They see that becoming vegan can be a challenge for me as it likely would be initially for them.  They see that sometimes I struggle to convert a recipe, and that this struggle produces in me an extreme amount of joy and pride, like a difficult workout that leads to long term fitness goals.  Good struggle.  Satisfaction.  Work.

Secondly, I share.  I gift my knowledge and experience to anyone who asks to hear my story.  I do not force my vegan baggage upon people who are not ready to embrace it or are too overwhelmed to carry it.  Instead, I wear my green T-shirt, and wait for them to find the space to notice and ask.  And when they do, I try to welcome them warmly from where they are now.  I show them that the vegan side of the street is a pretty cool place to live.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  He knew his neighbor was vegan, too.  (I just made that up.)

One day, my vegan ambition is to convert more people to this community.  Could I expand my food skills by preparing meals or giving vegan cooking lessons to some hungry souls?  Perhaps I could speak to some food bank volunteers, to see if vegan options might be most affordable and healthy for those in need.  I’ll sneak a vegan cookbook into the little free library just down the street from my house.  I’ll go bigger and figure out how to present a viable business plan that influences dairy farmers to convert their facilities to profitable vegan based agriculture.  Maybe one day I’ll write my own business plan, and finally build that little barn that only serves vegan ice cream, yoga classes, and happiness, while rescued farm animals lounge in style in their own luxury accommodations across my property.  One day, I’ll find a pair of vegan shoes that are super cool and non-synthetic, and I won’t have to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while I walk.

I have a lot of ambition, but for now, I quietly persist.

 

 

The Truth About Going Vegan

Earth Day, April 22, 2017 was the day I went vegan.  Prior to that, I had been a vegan & vegetarian dabbler since the age of 18.  I was mostly vegan, except when I got invited to this party and there was cheese in the appetizer (oh well, I’ll restart tomorrow), but wait, I need to drop weight fast for this race so let’s try bone broth and bulletproof coffee (yuk…what on earth was I thinking), yes, I am definitely vegan, but if I go gluten free won’t I starve to death, so I cheat, but now that I’ve watched Cowspiracy I understand that it’s not just about me, and holy cow I just ran a 50K and got smoked by the vegan founder of Farm Sanctuary, and finally met some other vegans, and I’ve meditated, and asked myself who I am and who I want to be for the rest of my life, and began to feel compassion for the Earth and all animals, and slowly the decision was made.  I would go vegan.  All In.  Even if I craved other food, or felt deprived, or gained weight, or ran slower.  I was willing to risk it because in my heart I knew that this is who I am and what I care about more than superficial personal gains.

So today is August 22, 2017, and it is my 4 month Veganniversary.  I am 10 pounds heavier, my running is slower, and I am slightly tired.  But wait, this is not a post about bashing veganism, or quitting, because I am loving the healing (mental, emotional, and physical) that is taking place, and I am not about to stop.  Ever.  In fact, I’d like to thank veganism for getting real and setting me straight on the truth.

The truth is, even if I longingly gaze upon Instagram images of hair flips in infinity pools in Bali, technicolor fruit platters, and dewy skinned millennials WWOOFING on organic fruit farms in Hawaii, I am still a 40-something living in the suburbs.

The truth is, no matter what the 80/10/10 diet gurus proclaim, I can’t eat as much as I want, or maybe more accurately, some people don’t feel satisfied as easily as others when it comes to eating.  And yes, I am one of those people and sometimes I overeat.

The truth is, I am fully capable of running raw, but that doesn’t mean I will run fast or be able to see my abs any time soon.

The truth is, I am not a minimalist when it comes to food.  I’m overcomplicated, I overspend, and sometimes making my own food still feels overwhelming.

But the truth is, I have never been happier.  I am finally living in alignment with my values, and after some pouting and anger, and more than a few internal tantrums, I have accepted that the key to success in veganism lies in understanding what is enough.  Enough food, but not excess.  Enough passion, but not militancy.  Enough commitment, but not isolation.  Enough progress, but not perfection.  As I slowly learn the process of recognizing enough, my weight and my mood and my fitness will return to equilibrium.  And I’ll be in a much better place than I’ve ever been before.

Thank you for the life lesson, veganism.  I’m glad I didn’t blame you or walk away.  I’m glad I had the wisdom to turn within when I didn’t experience instant success.  I’m glad there is a passionate vegan online community to turn to for answers when I’m struggling.  I’m so glad to call myself a vegan now.

Jello Salad & Other Indiscretions

burger.jpg

I was recently at a family reunion of sorts.  The traditional kind of summer picnic where the only thing available for us vegans is fruit salad, potato chips, and the standard burger topping sandwich:  a bun with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard.  Who hasn’t resorted to this meal at a family picnic before?!

This picnic honored my grandmother and her wonderful talent for creating baked goods.  There were all kinds of sweet treats:  cookies, cakes, and several flavors of good old fashioned Jello fruit salad.  Determined to consume a rare dessert in my grandmother’s honor, I chose the Jello salad with pineapple, so as not to consume the dairy-based cake frostings and egg-filled cookies.

As I finished the last bite, I remembered with horror that Jello is made from gelatin, an animal-derived product.  Here I was, queen of nutrition, and I was so distracted with visiting my family that I completely forgot this dessert was animal-based.  I exclaimed out loud, “OH NO!  I just ate gelatin!” to which my mom replied, “I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”  It’s such a mom instinct, protecting your kid’s feelings above all else.

Problem is, I kind of hurt my own feelings by eating the Jello by mistake.  I might have preferred it if mom had spoken up and stopped me.  Looks like I lost my vegan card…AGAIN.  At this point I realized that I also forgot to check the sandwich bun ingredients for milk or eggs, so there were likely more indiscretions that day.

My perceptive mother could sense my internal battle, so she reminded me that health was not about perfection.  I agree with her, but I also think the animal who gave its life for that gelatin is not feeling so healthy thanks to my choice.  We all deserve health and happiness in my opinion.

I wanted to share this story because I think it is easy to slip up when you are starting a vegan lifestyle.  It is also easy to slip up when you have been vegan for years.  It happens, especially during travel and special events, when food ingredients may be less under your control.  I argue that to give up on travel or family is to compromise your health and happiness in other ways.

So if you slip up, just renew your vegan card with the next meal.  It never expires as long as you continue to feel committed and compassionate towards yourself and towards animals.  Remember, you are an animal too, so give yourself the same love you show all other living things.

 

Easy Golden Milk Mix

golden milk

I have a love-hate relationship with turmeric.  I love it for its anti-inflammatory effects, as most athletes would agree.  I hate it because every time I add turmeric to a recipe, I think how much better that recipe would have tasted, had I only left out the turmeric.  Let’s just say it is an acquired taste.

Perhaps it’s the powdered version I dislike.  So, I hopped onto my online produce delivery service, and ordered the real thing:  a horrific, wormy-looking root that stained my fingertips almost as much as my other nemesis, beet root.  Each day, I reached past the ugly turmeric root in favor of my fresh ginger & lemon, until the sad, neglected plant shriveled up and died in the back of my fridge.

Then I found golden milk.  Ok, not quite as great as hot cocoa, but this I could probably tolerate.  I tried a few homemade recipes, but something about them made me gag slightly.  I am chai tea averse, so apparently, the more spices you mix together, the more my taste buds revolt.  Some golden milk recipes taste overly pungent and complex.

I recently came across a jar of powdered golden milk mix in my online grocery market.  Ok, it has only a few ingredients, so let’s splurge and order it, to see if I might enjoy the flavor.  Or more accurately, so I can copy the recipe, make my own and reuse the jar, thus only paying the $14 premium price once.  Done.  Click.  Purchased.

Golden milk mix arrives at my doorstep with only 6 little ingredients:  Turmeric Root, Date Palm Fruit (what the heck is that), Cardamom Seed (nope, not in my pantry), Ashwagandha Root (that just sounds expensive), Vanilla Bean (confirmed…definitely expensive), and Black Pepper.

Now, everybody knows you’re not allowed to consume turmeric without a pinch of black pepper, or the anti-inflammatory police will show up at your doorstep and fine you for your lack of research on curcumin absorption.  Don’t even think about leaving out the black pepper here.  No one is concerned with your personal taste preferences when it comes to the proper turmeric-absorbing lifestyle.

Just kidding.  Remember, you get to do health your own way…no one is policing you.  So anyway, my jar of expensive golden milk mix was on its last remnants, and so it was time to make my own.  My new streamlined golden milk mix consisted of the following:

1 jar of powdered turmeric (I used Simply Organic brand, 2.38 oz.)

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla bean powder (unsweetened)

1 tsp. ground black pepper

I combined this into a mix and used 1 tsp. of mix per 10 oz. mug of warmed non-dairy milk.  I sweetened to taste with stevia, but any sweetener of your choice would work.  I have to say, it tasted remarkably similar to the original version, and so far, I have had no adverse side effects due to Ashwagandha deficiency.

Vanilla bean powder is simply ground up whole vanilla beans, and can usually be found in the spice aisle.  You can make your own using dry vanilla beans and a coffee grinder if you are feeling ambitious.

I buy vanilla powder when I can find it, as I also like to add it to my smoothies.  My precious supply of vanilla bean powder is currently depleted, so my next batch of golden milk mix might have to be made sans vanilla.  I suspect the world will keep on turning if so.

As long as I am still able to choke down my daily (or weekly, depending on my mood) teaspoon of turmeric, then mission accomplished.  If not, there’s always hot cocoa.