Monday, April 22, 2013

Whole30 - Week One Update

I started Whole30 last week in an attempt to figure out if my body's functional problems were related to something I was eating. I was still experiencing some residual effects of the gastrointestinal discomfort for the first day or two, but by Day Three, it had disappeared. By Day Five, my stomach had flattened out. I hadn't really lost weight, but the inflammation in my body from several weeks of distress had finally subsided. It looked like I'd lost a few pounds. I felt great!

The transition didn't leave me with a sugar crash, as I'd anticipated. I had occasional sweet tooth cravings, but I'd temper it with a watered down glass of orange juice or a handful of grapes... and it worked. I didn't believe it would, but it did! (Those who know me understand my love of all things chocolate.) One day, a work lunch featured a taco bar. I loaded up my plate with ground beef, diced chicken, jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes, and olives. I stayed away form the cheese, sour cream, and taco sauce. I took one tortilla so no one would give me bizarre looks (I didn't feel like explaining myself) and discarded it after my meal. My deconstructed tacos tasted wonderful, and I remained loyal to my plan!

On Friday, the beau and I traveled up north for a weekend getaway at a bed and breakfast. I packed a cooler with food to cook in our fully functional kitchen, so I would be prepared to stick to my Whole30 challenge. After seven hours of travel (and briefly getting stuck in a blizzard), I cooked up a Whole30- and beau-friendly meal: Italian sausage made with pork and chicken served over a sauteéd blend of onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, garlic, and jalapeños, covered in a veggie-lover's spaghetti sauce. The flavor combination tasted like pizza! I didn't even miss the crust or garlic bread.

The next morning, I cheated on Whole30. Our wonderful hosts cooked an amazing breakfast of homemade scones with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Yeah, there was no way I could look her in the face and say, "I'm on a special short-term diet, and even though you got up early to cook this for me, I'm not going to eat it." No chance in hell could I say that to this sweet lady! So, I ate it. I also had a baked egg (I did ask for no cheese on the egg) and a sausage link. I waited for several hours to see if my body would react horribly to my diet cheat, but other than my stomach digesting very loudly, I saw no ill effects. For lunch I got right back on the wagon and ordered a broiled whitefish fillet with roasted vegetables at a local restaurant.

The next morning, our wonderful host made Dutch pancakes (oven baked pancakes with fruit in them). Again, I couldn't say no. I figured I'd get right back on the wagon after another delicious B&B breakfast. But at that point I'd already resigned to the fact that I cheated that weekend and so I justified to myself another indulgence at lunch: a grilled cheese sandwich. They are such a delightful comfort food to me, though nothing about it was Whole30! It came with sweet potato fries and an aioli dipping sauce. We also started lunch with a mushroom appetizer.

Boy, did I pay for it. But not in the way you might think.

After finishing my meal, my tongue started to go numb. The sides and roof of my mouth felt sore, similar to that feeling of burning your mouth on hot pizza and experiencing that tingly soreness the next day. My mouth filled with the taste of metal. What was going on? I was having an allergic reaction! Thankfully, nothing severe happened, and these were my only symptoms. However, they did not subside all day. My mouth was still sore and tasted like metal ten hours later, when I was going to bed. I lost my appetite for the rest of the day, nibbling on only a few kalamata olives to put something in my stomach.

Even this morning--- though the reaction had subsided--- I didn't have much of an appetite. I ate a few roasted almonds for breakfast, and brought an apple and orange to work, but I have yet to touch them. I've been wracking my brain, trying to determine what caused the reaction. I believe it was an ingredient in the aioli, or something in a seasoning that caused it. Unfortunately, because I did not prepare it myself, I can't narrow it down further than that.

I am, however, right back on Whole30. I'm even determined to turn it into a Whole32, to make up for the two days I cheated on during my weekend trip. This morning my gut was back to hating me, proving that I need to stick with this in order to get well. I pledge to be far more strict on my intake now, and if anyone tries to tell me a little cheat won't hurt, I'll remember the penalty I paid the last time I broke protocol.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Listening To My Gut


When I first mentioned how I was considering doing the Whole30 challenge to a few people, it was met with some skepticism. The Whole30 program--- which involves abstaining from sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy products, and legumes for thirty days--- probably just sounded like another fad diet gimmick that involves a temporary deprivation to yield temporary results. I was hesitant to bring it up at all, since I've started a number of healthy lifestyle approaches in the past year but have not followed through on them. The less-than-stellar reaction had me actually questioning my ability to follow through with it before I'd even started.

I can't believe I almost let my insecurities conquer me again.

After about ten seconds, I took a deep breath, and explained the idea behind the challenge. The goal is not for me to find a quick-fix weight loss through choices that can't be realistically maintained. I'm choosing to embark on this journey because it involves eating real, unprocessed food: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds, and olive and coconut oils. I want to prove that this can be also done on a budget. The dietary omissions are not for slim-down purposes, but rather to determine the cause of my body's functional issues by using the process of elimination.

For several weeks, my gut has been trying to tell me something. My digestive and excretory systems have been malfunctioning, and not in a pleasant way (see my weirdly popular post relevant to this subject here). What I'd initially thought might have been a "bug" has lingered long enough to arouse suspicion. I started to think that this may be my body's way of telling me that I have a sensitivity or an intolerance to a certain food or group of foods. Though I had not been restrictive in my eating habits for most of my life, I feel that as I've made more healthy food changes over the past year, I've become more in tune with cues my system gives me. Either that, or now those cues are strong enough to speak a whole lot louder.

Eliminating foods that are common sources of digestive issues--- for one month--- will help me to determine if I do have a food sensitivity. Then, as I slowly incorporate these items one by one back into my diet, I will be better able to gauge my body's reaction to them. I have to tell you, quite frankly, that I'm sick of being at work and feeling my stomach cramp and bloat. It's embarrassing, it's miserable, and it's clearly a sign that something is off.

The idea of cleaning out my system is currently far more appealing than the prospect of weight loss... which is saying a lot, because losing dress sizes has been a priority of mine for some time. I'm already mourning the loss of my beloved peanut butter and my comforting bowls of oatmeal and pasta... but then I remember that this isn't forever. It's only for thirty days... that is, unless I discover one of them to be the root cause of this gut rot.

My first day of Whole30 was yesterday. So far, I feel no withdrawal effects, and my stomach has been behaving. If this does work (and if I actually do it, it should work), I'll not only save myself some serious discomfort, but I'll also likely see physical results. And then my insecurities won't have a leg to stand on. What the hell should I care what anyone else thinks, anyway? It's not their body, it's not their digestive system, it's not their choice... it's MINE. And I'm going to keep trying hard to find what works for me.

I'd like to thank the lovely Claire over at The Ascent Blog for sharing her experiences with Whole30 and for being my inspiration to start this venture. (She just got engaged to one of my dearest friends and that makes me so happy!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Conviction, Part Two

(Personal Photo)

Sometimes, it takes days like yesterday to remember why it's important to surround oneself with positive people:

Last night, I went to a concert. I know a member of the band that backs a very well-known artist, and he put me on the guest list. Everything from the moment I parked my car to the moment I got home accumulated into an overall amazing experience. It was the kind of night you hear about other people having and it makes you a little jealous... and now I have had the privilege of enjoying such an evening!

I picked up my ticket and VIP pass (I almost never get to say that!) and found my seat. The woman next to me was friends with the band's tour manager, and she had extensive knowledge of the layout of the Riverside Theater. We took advantage of our passes and she showed me the basement, where I got to see the city's first air conditioner. It took up an entire room, and had been obviously sitting unused for some time. She explained how it had taken water from the river and moved it through a machine and into these massive coils that cooled the building. It was fascinating!
Milwaukee's first-ever air conditioner! (Personal Photo)
My friend in the band wanted to have his picture with the Bronze Fonz, so we jumped the gate behind the building and crossed the bridge to the statue, where I snapped his photo. He and the rest of the band had to change for the set, so my new friend and I went to the back of the theater to hang out with the lighting and sound guys. I ended up sitting back there for the entire show. During the encore, the head security guard let me leave to bring the band a case of New Glarus beer from my car (I'd brought it as a thank-you gift for letting me in to the show). I made conversation with the roadies as they packed up the gear, and then I took then entire band across the street to Mo's Irish Pub. They drank Rusty Nails and Irish Car Bombs and signed ticket stubs for a few excited fans. We talked about the Brewers and eating oysters.

It was nearly 2am when the crew had the tour bus packed up and they were ready to leave for Chicago. Two of the band members, including my friend, insisted on walking me back to my car so I wouldn't have to go alone. Then I drove them back to their tour bus. My stream of consciousness went something like this: "I'm driving a band through downtown Milwaukee I'm so glad I keep my car clean!"

I tell this story not from a bragging standpoint (okay, maybe a little), but because it reinforces how surrounding yourself with great people yields great experiences. Conversely, being around people who suck the energy right out of you can take its toll. Part one of my conviction process was about putting self-improvement ahead of general goal-making, especially when it came to my health. The second part of my meditations on personal conviction revolve around the relationships I have with others.

I reached a point recently where I realized several of my relationships had become unfulfilled at best, and a few were actually destructive. There were friends who would consistently make plans and then break them on short notice, or sometimes with no notification at all. Entire weekend plans would fall apart when several people would flake on their commitments. Repeated offenders, I decided, no longer had a place in my agenda. Perhaps we were close once upon a time, but it seemed that those friendships had run their course and the season had come to an end. I had some amazing memories with those people, and I will forever treasure them, but we'd grown in different directions and it was time to move on.

Social media can make this difficult. It seems impossible nowadays to completely disconnect from anyone. Just a few short years ago, connections would fall in and out of our lives with a healthy ebb and flow. Now, those ties can linger long past their prime, often exceeding what should have been an expiration date. Social networking has a lot of wonderful benefits, and it is great to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, but it is sometimes those re-established connections don't go anywhere (and perhaps aren't meant to). The act of "unfriending" someone can be viewed as a grievous offense, even if the two people rarely (if ever) speak to one another.

I've had to adapt to understanding a whole new kind of reconnection with a number of people from my past. Several of them are guys I've dated, or who had an interest in dating me at one point. I have discussed my concerns with the beau, about how I was worried that allowing re-established contact and being friendly would be somehow misinterpreted as an invitation to pursue something more. Do I just leave the past in the past? Is it okay to talk to these people again? If so, I felt obligated to throw out a disclaimer regardless... so I did. And yet, despite being clear on my stance, I feel there are some who just don't get the hint. Others have been respectful about it, but this is a tricky road to navigate with others, and it makes me wary. I don't intend to mislead anyone, nor do I want to offend, but in specific cases it's just been more trouble than it's worth, and that tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

There are even members of my family that have been energy suckers from time to time, and I find myself avoiding them. Not forever, of course--- I love my family--- but when matters develop that are not serious and yet demand a lot of unnecessary attention, I find it best to keep my distance so I don't get pulled into that energy quicksand.  It's really helped my relationships with my loved ones, because I don't allow myself to be repeatedly burdened and dulled with small irritants, and instead invest my energy in loving them well... and being there during the serious situations. Choosing my battles by choosing to remove myself from the equation has improved how I relate to my family.

Co-workers have been a different battle. I can't really choose to avoid unnecessary crises when colleagues burst into my office with last-minute requests/demands, who then get miffed if I already have scheduled appointments when they "need" me. I feel like my time has not been very respected or valued, so even though I can't change the lack of planning on their end, I realized I can set up a more structured outline on my end. I started handling the scattered communications of phone calls, e-mails, and office visits by telling everyone they will need to make an appointment. If it is of high importance, it's best to give me as much notice as possible. After all, I'm the only person working in this department, so I can only be in one place at one time. Instead of letting these colleagues stress me out, I chose to weed out the fake or avoidable emergencies as much as possible. Of course, instant matters come up and I deal with those accordingly, but now I only check my e-mail twice a day, and if I'm busy I choose to respond to phone messages later on.

Conversely, I now value the richness of relationships I do have that much more. I meditated and spend a lot of time focusing on ideas about my spirituality, my relatives, my beau, my friends, my church colleagues, my uplifting--- and organized!--- co-workers, and even my connections on social media (of which I have removed over 100 dormant contacts). I evaluated them all and navigated through the aspects that were bogging me down. I could conserve negative uses of my time and energy and invest them in more positive areas.

I also took a good hard look at what kind of role I fill in these relationships. Am I a good, reliable friend to this person? Do I serve well as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin? Is this connection mutually beneficial? Am I giving just as much as I'm getting? I need to be held accountable as much as others do. And while on a journey to self-improvement, it is often times imperative that things, ideas, and even people have to be released. It's not always easy, but I've decided I'd rather take the short-term discomfort of "unfriending" over the long-term draining effects of poor relationships.

(I apologize for the repeated references to "energy." It sounds very New Age-y but I can't think of a better way to describe it.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

March Results

March turned out to be a strange month, as mentioned in my previous post. I ended up going over budget--- mostly on groceries, but also because I had forgotten to factor in one expense in my annual budget plan: homeowners' insurance. Fortunately, my tax return will cover it. I was hoping my full tax return would go into savings to replenish the chunk of my nest-egg spent refinancing my home, but my deposit will just have to be smaller than anticipated. From now on, I'll have to factor in an average of $65 per month to offset the annual bill. I really don't know how that one got past me.

I also went to Target for the first time in many months. I was visiting the family at the end of March for Easter, and stopped at the store to pick up a few necessary items. I ended up leaving with much more. I spent over $400, and had buyer's remorse the moment my feet hit the parking lot. Buying it didn't make me feel fulfilled or excited; it made me feel stressed and impulsive. How had this happened? I ended up leaving all of the unnecessary merchandise in the trunk of my car over the weekend and returned it a few days later, reclaiming over $200 of my initial purchase. Phew.

Also, I only posted and sold one item on eBay in March, and the buyer still hasn't paid me for it. eBay is currently filing a claim against them. I'm not broken up about it, as the total in question was for under $20, and the item is still in my possession.

So, in the month of March, I'd managed to overlook a massive recurring expenditure and spontaneously bought a bunch of stuff at a mega store that I didn't even need. And I didn't bother to post my existing unwanted items for sale online. My brain was clearly not operating well! Perhaps it was family-related; my grandmother was admitted to hospice and is not doing well. I went to visit her over Easter weekend, perhaps for the last time

One thing was for certain: in April, I need to get my groove back!

I restructured my 2013 budget plan to include home insurance. This made my "flex money" pool smaller, but that's nothing I can't handle. I need to be more disciplined about my grocery spending. I'm good about writing a shopping list and sticking to it, but I'm not always discerning about what I write on the list. I'll find a new recipe and want to try it, so then I'll add all of the ingredients for it to my grocery list. As much as I enjoy culinary experimentation, methinks I need to rope it in a bit or I'll ruin my budget.