Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Speed Of Savings... When You Do It Right


Since refinancing my house in February of this year--- when I had to put another percentage down towards my mortgage in order to qualify--- I have replenished half of what I had paid out for the process. I've managed to accomplish in three months what I expected would take me one and a half years to achieve.

For those who have never refinanced a home, the owner must have a certain percentage of the mortgage paid off in order to qualify for the opportunity to get a lower interest rate. Since I've only owned the home for three years, I hadn't reached that amount yet. However, interest rates are bottomed out right now, currently at half of the already low rate where I started. For me, it was worth paying a lump sum towards my mortgage in order to get the lower interest rate. It's all equity for my home, and as soon as I replenish my emergency fund with the amount I spent to do this, I'll be saving money. Initially, though, this was no small amount of cash, and my life savings took a major hit.

Based on my salary--- and the fact that I am now a solo homeowner whose mortgage takes just over half of my monthly income--- I worked out a budget plan that involved setting aside the highest percentage for savings I could muster every month. If I did this obediently, I calculated that it would take me about three years to recoup the refinance costs. Even if it took that long, I'd still have over 20 years of mortgage payments where I'd be saving money.

However, the journey to replenish my emergency fund has gone more swiftly than expected. When I received a tax refund, I put that into my savings (minus the amount to pay for my homeowner's insurance). I've been selling stuff--- mostly childhood toys--- on eBay, mostly for the sake of minimizing and simplifying my life. Profits from sales, no matter how marginal, are put into savings. Commissions from freelance work goes directly into savings. Any money saved because I come in under my budget for the month also goes into savings.

Honestly, sometimes it's really difficult to restrain myself. Going out to a restaurant or getting a new haircut sounds awfully appealing without having to budget for it so meticulously. But then I'd be no closer to reaching my goal, and I'd have very little to show for my lack of discipline. It's not about forgetting to have fun; it's about priorities. Believe me, I have plenty of fun without having to buy alcoholic beverages every week.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Whole30: Day 28


Last week's series of events ended up being a driving force behind compromising my Whole30 challenge. Fortunately, I didn't use life as an excuse to completely disregard my health and nutrition, but instead fell halfway between strict obedience and complete abandon. And now, with two days left of the Whole30 program to go, I am officially declaring the experiment to be over.

In the last week or so, I have at some point eaten everything on the list of foods to avoid for Whole30... with the exception of alcohol. I haven't had a drop. I have, however, eaten gluten and legumes and dairy and sugar. For example, when I had a serving of macaroni and cheese or a slice of pizza, I was consuming both bread and dairy products. Neither of them had an adverse effect on me. I also ate some peanut butter, and it too left no ill effects behind. I had one soda, two days ago (and while I thought I'd enjoy it, it was really disappointing in flavor, so I'll continue to have those sparingly). I've even eaten some sweets, like cookies or Nutella and been fine.

However, on Thursday night I ate a brownie at the beau's work event. I selected the smallest brownie on the plate. It was likely made from a mix, and it was dusted lightly with confectioner's sugar. I left the rest of the sweets table alone and was proud that I indulged in my sweet tooth without overdoing it. Twenty minutes later, my stomach was bloated and sore, and the tremendous pressure made it impossible to sit comfortably.

Yesterday, I made my mom a key lime pie from scratch for Mothers' Day. We shared a slice and it was amazing! It's one of my favorite desserts, and it was a labor of love that was totally worth it! But then I went to my grandmother's house and had a brownie there, and later that night had a small piece of peach-apple pie at the beau's house. My stomach went right back to hating me and I was miserable.

The common thread in all of these incidents? Refined sugar.

I know the stuff is not good for me (or for anyone!) and clearly too much of it quite literally makes me sick. This shouldn't be a shocker to anyone, but aside from desserts it is prevalent in a lot of other foods... including condiments, meats, breads, beverages (including milks), yogurts, "healthy" cereals... you name it, there's sugar in it, for many of the brands. And it is so time-consuming and maddening to stand in the grocery store and read label after label to find which foods do not contain added sugar or sweeteners. I've already spent years doing this and thinning out most of the common brands that are guilty of adding all this sugar, but clearly my sweet tooth encourages me to eat more than my body can handle.

I'm terrified that my body's reaction to too much sugar is a warning sign of health issues to come. I have had regular check-ups and recent blood tests, and I'm perfectly medically healthy with no signs of pre-diabetes. I even lost enough weight on Whole30 to take my BMI into the "normal" range for the first time since my knee injury. That's incredible! But now that I've taken some time away from sugar, I can more clearly receive my body's signals when it tells me exactly what makes me so bloated, gassy, and lethargic.

So many people suffer form the same ailments. For years I was told it was hereditary. I've been encouraged to take over-the-counter pills to counteract the symptoms, but all they'd ever do is cover up the problem. I want to fix the problem! And that means I need to get my sweet tooth under control. No offense to anyone with Type II Diabetes, but I don't want it. I don't want to get to the point where I am required to medically monitor my intake, lest I lose limbs or even die from it. My system has made it very clear that I ingest too much refined sugar, and I'm going to listen to it.

Would I do Whole30 again? Absolutely. In fact, I'll likely adopt much of what I've learned into my lifestyle for good.  My sweet tooth was appeased during Whole30 by eating an orange or a handful of grapes. I even occasionally nibbled on a square of very dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher) to satisfy my craving. And it worked! And I'll still have the occasional cookie or bite of cake on special occasions, but it's more obvious than ever that the best foods to eat are those with one ingredient, or meals I make from scratch so I can monitor every ingredient it contains.

So I don't have a gluten or lactose intolerance, and I don't have any nut allergies. I still don't know what caused that allergic reaction in the first week, but I've been told by several people that my body may have just overreacted to the reintroduction of foods I hadn't been eating. I have not had any allergic reactions since then. Instead, it turns out, my body just revolts against too much refined and fake sugar, and prefers whole foods that are lightly or naturally sweetened. My findings are nothing groundbreaking, and nothing I didn't already know... But now it's imperative that I earnestly apply it to my lifestyle, unless I want my gut to live in misery.

Friday, May 3, 2013

April Results & Whole30 Update

91/365 April Fool! 

Financially, April was a break-even kind of month. I likely would have gone over (again, on groceries), but I had a good month of sales on eBay, so it was basically a wash.

Nutritionally, April was a breakthrough kind of month. I'm now over halfway through my Whole30 challenge, and though there have been a few breaches here and there, the overall effect is impressive. I've lost a little bit of excess weight, but more importantly my digestive system has righted itself. My gut no longer hates me, I have more energy, and even my skin is bright and clear. Though I will likely not give up cheese and pasta forever, it's evident that my body benefits from consuming a majority of foods that have only one ingredient (what a shocker, I know).

Emotionally, April was a heartbreak kind of month. Several events transpired that left me feeling emotionally disjointed and lost. Some days are victorious if I manage to put one foot in front of the other. Others have precious fleeting moments of mundane normalcy. Despite my sadness, I am an optimist, and I feel blessed by my wonderful friends and loved ones for their support. Time spent with them is refreshing and uplifting, and I am grateful to them.

Whole30 has been tricky in this third week because I've gone from not having much of an appetite to craving only a warm baguette with butter (definitely not compliant with my temporary challenge). I've decided to indulge and cut myself a little slack, if I need it.

Ever seeking the silver linings in my life (lest I become a sad, bitter person who can't see the world's many blessings), I made a list of some unexpected benefits and encouragements I encountered this week:
  • I went swing dancing at my old stomping ground the first time in over two years. Not only did I actually remember what I was doing, but many people remembered me as well. I felt very welcome, and by the end of the night, I was pleasantly worn out from dancing and conversation.
  • I dove headfirst into my foreign language practices. I've been using Duolingo, an amazing and totally free language program, to learn French. It has been a wonderful distraction tool that supersedes any other emotional crutch like booze, food, retail therapy, etc. Most of my free time is spent practicing what I already know (currently working on asking questions and present-tense verb conjugation) to master it before moving on to the next level.
  • Other free time is spent reading. I took my current book, "French Kids Eat Everything," outside and enjoyed some sparkling water and warm sunshine out on my patio. I even took off my shoes and enjoyed the feeling of cool grass and soft soil beneath my feet. Note to self: wear shoes outside less frequently.
  • The musician whom I crush on in the most nerdy and shameless way and miraculously became my friend (from this story), has been checking in on me regularly to see how I'm doing. He cheers me up by offering uplifting advice and telling me bad jokes... As in, I'm at home all sulky and weepy, and he sends me a message that he's chopping carrots for the family dinner and, oh, here's a joke about cannibalism. He's a genuinely nice guy who would likely do this for anyone going through a rough patch, but it makes me feel special nonetheless.
  • I've been reinvigorating some wonderful friendships instead of isolating myself in Self-Pity Hermit Land. It's doing some nice things for my social calendar.
  • I started writing in a private journal again. A loved one suggested I start a "grief journal," and the effects of getting all of the yuck out of my head and into text has been enormous.
  • I've been going to bed early and sleeping really well. My cat loves all of the extra snuggle time.

How do you cope with setbacks? Do you lose sight of your goals or do you focus on them even more?