Project Takeout Breakout!

I’ve set a new habit goal for 2017: cook any recipe from this list 100 times this year. 

I live in a city with great Vietnamese, Thai, Lao and Cambodian food, and one of the areas I can definitely cut back my spending is on takeout food. I have tried in the past to cut back but never seemed to be able to sustain the change.

Then it hit me: if I am not excited about the food I am cooking at home, why don’t I just learn to cook the food I want to eat? Many of the dishes I like can be made quickly, cheaply and easily; it’s just a matter of getting comfortable working with the techniques ingredients.

I already have the cooking skills and the cookbooks and have stocked my pantry with the ingredients I will need, so now it’s just a matter of jumping in and getting comfortable. I made a list of recipes I like to eat, and where they can be found in my cookbook collection. My goal this year will be to cook a recipe from this list 100 times. How’s that for a fun New Year’s “resolution?”

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Year in Review: Outcomes of My Second Year of Habit-Based Self-care

When I started two years ago, deciding to track healthy habits instead of a number on a scale or clothing size was unfamiliar territory for me. I decided I wanted to be open to whatever outcomes would come.

Last year, I listed the following outcomes I experienced after one year along on a habit-based, weight neutral health journey:

Looking back on what I wrote last year, I am happy to say that most of those outcomes have continued throughout year two. I did have some depression and back pain creep back in when an injury required me to stop lifting for a few months. With adding lifting back into my life, both of these conditions are improving again.

I also experienced some other cool things in year two.

Looking back, I feel really proud of what I accomplished this year. It didn’t seem like I did much of anything until I actually went back and read all my older posts. What I feel most proud of is keeping up a consistent self-care routine during a very challenging year.  My family had a lot of challenges: my husband got injured, I got injured, we lost our pet, we had a terminal illness and death in the family. I feel so proud that I took excellent care of myself so that I could face these challenges well.  Honestly, the self-care felt like the easiest part and I know that is because of the habit-based approach.

So…..to give credit where credit is due, I feel very proud of myself this year. I’m excited to see what year 3 brings!

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And Here I Thought Lettuce Was A Guilt Free Food….

I dont actually believe in feeling guilty about food. It’s just a snarky title 😉

I feel a little sheepish about the content of this post, because I work on a vegetable farm and grow a garden, and I have been having trouble getting excited about eating vegetables.
I used to gush over vegetables. Even as a kid I loved them. And as an adult even more so. Until I got pregnant with my son and became a picky eater for the first time in my life.

The funny thing is, my son is not a picky eater at all. But even now, 4 years postpartum, I am still a picky eater at least two weeks out of the month. 

I have a CSA share from the farm where I work and have lately been having trouble using everything because I don’t feel excited about cooking it. I have been giving some away to neighbors who have been helping me look for my cat, and some has unfortunately been going to waste -some before I cook it, some after. (Yes, I realize this means I am privileged in this area.)

Anyway….in my intuitive eating practice, I realized something that hadn’t occurred to me: it’s okay for me to buy the veggies I want, if they aren’t in my CSA share in the quantities I will eat. I had been resisting doing that because I am feeling some money pressure and therefore telling myself I should eat what is already in my house….but that is not always working out for me. Apparently people don’t like feeling pressure to eat certain things any more than they like feeling pressure NOT to eat certain things.

So, believe it or not, all summer I have guilted myself OUT of buying lettuce (oh the irony…).

I love eating lettuce. I love just tearing it up into a big bowl and adding some chicken or tuna and some salad dressing and sometimes other veggies, and eating it with whatever cheesy, starchy thing my picky self wants to enjoy (pasta? Pizza? Mmmm). But I wouldn’t let myself buy it, even though it is a veggie I would enjoy eating daily, because of other veggies I had in the house that I may or may not have eaten.

So I decided this week that is silly. If it’s a choice between eating veggies and feeling guilty over not eating veggies, I know my body feels better when I eat veggies. I can spend five extra dollars a week and buy lettuce and I shouldn’t be giving myself a guilt trip over wanting LETTUCE, of all things. Even if I do work on a farm. Even if it is disgusting economic privilege. I will do my best to share the food I can’t finish with my neighbors and friends, and then I won’t sweat it.

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Habit Update (And An Injury Update Too).

If you’ve been here a while, you have probably read my habit series, and maybe you recall that, for me, it all started with setting two goals for 2015: eat a green vegetable every day, and do 150 strength workouts.  Maybe you recall that I tracked my habits on a spreadsheet, and I added a bunch over the course of the past year and a half.  And that all worked quite well for me for the first year and change.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how my habit practice was changing and evolving, and I was considering taking a break from tracking all my habits on a spreadsheet.

Well, I did stop tracking them, so I haven’t written about my own habits for a little while. Here, I am, checking in with an update, for those who have asked/wondered.

I am still very happy with how my habit practice is going. Several habits have become second nature.  Here are some thoughts about specific habits, in no particular order:

  • Strength workouts are mostly on hold due to injury, but I’ve substituted swimming and found a groove pretty quickly with fitting it into my schedule. It is a lot more time consuming than lifting in my pajamas in my living room – since I have to commute, change, shower, wash my suit…. Anyway, it started off with a learning curve (even though I was a pretty strong swimmer as a kid!), and now I’m getting faster again. I even managed some sprints this week!
  • I have the forced habit of physical therapy twice per week. It eats up a lot of time. We do some strengthening exercises there. I’ll be glad when I am cleared to start lifting on my own again.
  • Walks have been a little more sporadic, because I hate summer. Last year I worked around this by taking my kid for walks on shady trails. This summer that is not an option for me due to my spinal injury (yes, I can walk, but all my walks have to be stroller-friendly since I don’t have the option of carrying my kid on my back when he gets tired). I’m not sweating it. Sometimes I push the stroller to the garden. I get in what I can.
  • Parking at the far end of the parking lot has become second nature.
  • Hanging from bars at the playground – I am getting this in once or twice per week, depending on time and weather. Again, not sweating it; just playing.
  • I’ve been keeping the plants in my garden alive so far, so that’s cool. I was the top harvester in the community garden for June in terms of pounds harvested. I probably won’t be for July, just looking at what I have planted and when it should be ripe, and looking at what others have planted and when it should be ripe.  Perhaps I will catch up in August. Fun fact: I’ve harvested around $105 worth of produce so far. I hope I at least break even 😀 .
  • When I do walk, I’ve been picking up the pace on the hill I have to climb to get home.
  • I’m rocking the green vegetables and eating a vegetable with at least 2 meals per day.
  • I’m also rocking eating a protein source with at least 2 meals per day.
  • I had been doing really well with taking my Vitamin D and then I ran out. I bought some more and am getting back into the groove.
  • Sleep habits have been improving in consistency. I am more likely to go to sleep by 10pm (and some nights I am able to get to bed by 9:30).  I very rarely start watching a TV show after 9pm.
  • Looking at my gratitude habits, I am not really sure how I am doing in that area. I’m feeling more positive in general, but I’ve also had a lot of negativity and anxiety creep in around my injury and the routine changes it has brought, so I’m not super focused on these right now and I am okay with that.
  • I am leaning a bit more on my husband for things than I would like, yet I am grateful that he is able and willing to help.
  • My motivation for intentional cleaning has gotten very low again. I figure that is probably normal as I have a lot going on right now. Again, feeling thankful that my husband goes with the flow and steps up hen he can, and tolerates the mess.

So, those are some of the habits I had on that spreadsheet, and I’m quite happy that a bunch of them are sticking well and helping me feel as well as I can.

I’m working on a new habit, and experimenting with tracking just the one habit at a time with an app on my phone (I have an Android and am using Habitbull). The new habit is Intuitive Eating related: asking myself “why do I want that?” when I want to eat something, then naming the feeling (hunger, boredom, no-particular-reason-just-habit, etc). Since “all day long” is probably too tall an order, I am specifically focusing on dinner, up to and including bedtime.  Though I’m actually finding the rest of the day reasonably easy as well.  So far this new habit feels good.  Some of the habits I had on my spreadsheet can still use some more consistency, but I’m feeling like prioritizing this one now.

And, speaking of habits: this blog is one year old! I stuck with it for a year! Yay! Thank you for being here and encouraging me and reading my stuff :).

And, only tangentially related, for those who have been asking about my injury: I haven’t had any back aches since I discovered that the hot tub worked magic on my back muscles! I’ve been using the hot tub 3 times per week after swimming and it has worked wonders for the aches. I still have occasional tingling in my right leg when standing or walking for longer periods. I have a follow up appointment at the spine doctor next week.

So, there you have it. An update for those who were following for the habit stuff :).

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How’s Swimming?

The most common question I am getting asked this week is “how is swimming going?”

Swimming is coming along well. I am getting used to it again. I swim laps. Right now just freestyle and breast stroke. Sometimes I play with a toy like a kickboard or noodle, but mostly I find that boring and I prefer just swimming laps. I still need to focus a lot on my rhythm, form and breathing, so it feels very meditative.

At physical therapy they have me hanging out from these floating dumbell  things in the deep end, dangling my legs to take some pressure off the compressed portion of my spine. So, at the Y, I started leaving some dumbbells at the side of the pool, at the deep end of my lap lane. Then, if I get bored or tired and need a rest, I rest in the deep end instead of the shallow end, just hanging out dangling my legs. It’s pretty relaxing.

I have a good system down for showering at the Y now.

Oh, and I signed up for an Aqua Zumba class that starts next week. I am looking forward to trying it

The one piece of the routine where I dropped the ball last week was packing food to eat after swimming, so I could just go on to my next thing without going home. I also had a very busy week at work, and I started physical  therapy. I ended up buying a lot of meals out last week,  as a result.

So this past Sunday, I chose to to stay home instead of going to visit my inlaws with my family. I needed to decompress before the next work week.  I didn’t feel emotionally up for a two hour drive one way, and getting home late on a Sunday before  a work week.

I stayed home, cooked a bunch of food for the upcoming week, and binged on season 4 of Orange is the New Black. It was a good choice. I made a huge veggie tray, hardboiled eggs, baked teriyaki chicken, a couple meals (lentils and rice with fried onions, and noodles with sausage, bitter greens and broccoli). Plus a birthday cake for my husband.

Last night I knew I was planning to go to the pool today, so I packed a couple sandwiches for us ahead of time.  So far this week is going more smoothly, thanks to giving some conscious effort to self care this weekend. It is a new routine and has a learning curve but I am starting to get the hang of it.

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What My CPAP Has Done For My Bloodwork Numbers

….absolutely nothing.

But there is something cool and dramatic to share. Read on.

Backstory:

I have been getting regular blood work every three months for over a year now, mainly for monitoring purposes. Last year, I went to my doctor because I was having extremely infrequent and heavy periods. My doctor ordered bloodwork for a full hormonal panel, adrenal function, thyroid function, and more.

When the results came back, my cortisol was deemed to be too low, and I was deficient in Vitamin D. My blood sugar was also slightly outside of the normal range (by one point), so in subsequent follow ups, my A1C was tested as well.

My doctor has been really happy with the results over the past year. Everything has been slowly and steadily improving. My blood sugar has been in the normal range in every follow up reading. My cortisol levels and Vitamin D levels have been steadily improving. My thyroid hormone levels are all within normal ranges. My A1C is hovering just above the high range of normal, and it hasn’t budged much, but my doctor isn’t worried because everything else is looking great.

But I just got a CPAP machine in the past three months, and so many things have dramatically changed for me, along with my sleep. My energy levels. My ability to focus. My motivation levels. My recovery from heavy lifting.

So because everything has been going SO. MUCH. BETTER. for me, I was expecting Dramatically Different Results on this quarter’s blood work.

What Actually Happened

Well, I got my test results back this week, with a note that said “the doctor wanted me to let you know they look amazing.” And I saw them, and I saw that they were pretty much the same as last time, and I was actually disappointed, because I was hoping for some really dramatic difference.

So I Examined My Self-Talk

Why is it that we want drama and drastic changes to see if something is working? Is it not enough that I am doing things around the house I have never done, and actually able to sustain a healthy lifestyle now, and that I am a better parent and friend and can focus at work again, and that I don’t need to be sedentary for 23 hours per day to recover from a one hour workout? Why do I need dramatic blood work results too?

The Answer: Comparison

A friend of mine on Facebook, Patrik, has been posting about his own health journey, and it has included some dramatic changes in his blood work numbers. Within the past year, his A1C levels have dropped from 9.6 (diabetic) to 4.9 (normal).  His doctor has taken him off the medication he takes for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides. He went from spending hundreds of dollars per month on medication, to spending just $5 per month, as only one medication remains. He no longer needs the CPAP machine he needed before.  He was previously sedentary, and now he has recently run his first 5K and is getting stronger in the gym all the time. In the process of changing all these numbers, his body weight also reduced by about 30%, give or take.

Now, Patrik improved his health using a very different approach than I have been using. Instead of making small changes over time, he made some very big changes. He went from a sedentary lifestyle to doing regular CrossFit workouts, and adopted a lower calorie ketogenic diet.  I started questioning, momentarily….should I go back to CrossFit? Should I do what he does?

And I realized that I need to keep my eyes on my own journey and not compare myself to someone else.

See, Patrik and I come with different health histories, different needs, and different responsibilities. While I am beyond excited for him that he got off almost all his medication doing a restrictive diet and regular CrossFit workouts, I have already tried that route, and it didn’t work with my life in a way that I could sustain and it didn’t make me healthier. Does that make it “wrong?” Not for Patrik, it doesn’t. For me, it does.

So, let’s talk about those “dramatic” blood work changes I was wanting, and how I was disappointed to see stability. Patrik was on several medications, and his levels were still high, before he made lifestyle changes. He had room for dramatic changes. Whereas I am on zero medications. Shouldn’t I be grateful that I don’t have far to go? Yes, I should. Instead of being disappointed that I didn’t see any dramatic change, I should be grateful that my body functions normally without medications. How’s that for perspective?

For Patrik, his medical reasons for adopting a restrictive diet are obviously compelling. For me, with a history of disordered eating, any potential benefits do not outweigh the risks. I know, because I have done it in the past, and after years, it led to bingeing and weight gain and disordered eating patterns. So, even though I know I could probably nudge A1C down into the normal range by restricting certain food groups, the benefit is not worth the cost to me at this time. I am healthier and happier being more free with my food. And I am grateful that I have the luxury of doing so. Instead of being disappointed that my A1C is stable, I should be thrilled that it is stable, that my blood sugar is in the normal range, and that my body can handle the food I need to eat to maintain my mental health. Again, instead of being disappointed that I didn’t see a dramatic change, I should be grateful that I don’t NEED to see a dramatic change.

Patrik was able to stop using his CPAP machine in the past couple months. His energy levels and sleep improved on his new lifestyle, with his healthier habits. Whereas I have tried maintaining healthier habits throughout my life, and something always was wrong, even when I was much thinner. I recovered incredibly slowly from workouts that gave most people my age no problems. My hunger levels seemed abnormally high. My motivation at home was always low, and my motivation and focus at work took a lot of effort to maintain.

And I tried to make drastic changes, like Patrik did, over the years. I’ve done restrictive diets and high intensity workout regimens in the past….and they always ran me into the ground, more than they should, and I couldn’t continue. (Isn’t exercise supposed to make you feel better, not worse, over time?)

….Until I got my CPAP machine. Now MY energy levels are off the charts. My motivation levels and focus are at an all time high. I’m finally able to recover well from the workouts I do. So, while Patrik was thrilled to get rid of his CPAP machine, they may have to pry mine from my cold, dead hands.

In addition to having different health histories, we also have different responsibilities in our current lives. His daughter is a teenager, and my son is a preschooler. Until last month, I was still a breastfeeding mother.  Our day to day (and nighttime) parenting demands are different (I know nothing about parenting teenagers, so I am not going to say it is easier. Just different). So, the food and exercise routines that fit into Patrik’s life are different than the ones that will fit into mine. Again, I should be grateful that I don’t have health challenges that require me to make more drastic changes to my life.

So, there is no good reason for me to be dissatisfied with my own progress because it doesn’t look like my friend Patrik’s. We are completely different, and my progress is great too.

Three years ago, I had hypothyroidism. Now, even with a 40% weight gain (some muscle, some fat), my thyroid function consistently tests as healthy and normal.

One year ago, I went to my doctor to talk about extreme fatigue. I needed frequent naps. Now, I almost never need naps. I feel as energetic as I did 10 years ago and 50% lighter.

Since my pregnancy, I had severe brain fog that didn’t go away for years after I had my son. Now, I am thrilled with how mentally sharp I feel.

Even alongside a weight gain, my blood work is healthier today than it is one year ago. My cortisol levels are back in the normal range.

Now, my hunger and thirst levels feel much more manageable. I no longer need to eat or drink frequently to keep my energy levels up.

So, clearly, I need to be more grateful. My health has indeed improved dramatically. I realized that instead of hoping for “dramatic blood work results,” I can choose to be grateful that I don’t need to see dramatic blood work results in the first place, and be grateful for the amazing changes I HAVE experienced.

And remember how I said that one year ago, my periods were extremely infrequent and heavy? Well, I just got an unexpected menstrual period…..one month after my last one. For the first time in at least 6 years. So, I got my dramatic result after all, just not the one I was expecting. I have never been more happy to menstruate.

Moral of the story? Eyes on my own journey. Patrik is doing an amazing job, and I am doing an amazing job. Both of us are improving our health and quality of life, even though that looks different for each of us. I can be just as happy for myself, too.

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