Day 10: Non-Food Stuff to Catch Up On

I am again two thirds away from the end of the program. Yay, double digits! This feels like a good time to go over some of the non-food related items on the program as outlined by my Whole30 Daily emails that I really should start getting a move on.

Sleep: My problem has never been that I don’t sleep enough. In fact, I sleep too much. However, because I have PTSD, and have struggled with depression and TMJD (temporomandibular jaw disorder) for most of my life, the quality of sleep that I get is not very good. What ends up happening is that I sleep too much, and still feel tired. I could sleep 12 hours, wake up, and then 2 hours later have a 3 hour nap- all without impairing my ability to sleep at night. What I want to be able to do is train my body to reduce its sleeping time, meaning I want to be able to sleep only 8-9 hours a night, not take naps longer than 30 minutes during the day, and still be fine. That sounds like a dream to me! My Whole30 Daily emails tell me I should be waking up near dawn. That idea makes me really sad because I’m a night owl. They also say that I should establish a regular bedtime and waking up time, which sounds more realistic at the moment. If I could go to bed at 1:00 AM and wake up at 9:00 or 10:00 six out of seven days in a week, it would be fantastic. Fortunately, I never developed a caffeine addiction (like most people in my country), so I don’t have that holding me back.

Magnesium: My doctor had already told me that I should look into getting magnesium and lithium supplements to help my mental health. Interestingly, she said taking magnesium supplements may help me because I have night sweats, and these can sometimes be caused by a salt imbalance in the body (and magnesium is a salt.) However, she cautioned me to avoid magnesium oxide supplements, as she said that magnesium oxide is basically useless because we just pee it out. This is apparently the same thing that happens with zinc oxide. Instead of magnesium oxide, she recommends 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate, glycinate, fumarate, or taurate twice a day. Interestingly, Whole30 Daily also recommends taking magnesium, and specifically recommends taking Natural Calm before bedtime. I am definitely planning on giving this a try. It is a 350 mg dose of magnesium citrate in the form of a fizzy beverage powder. You mean I don’t have to take yet another pill? Heck yes!

Exercise: Of course I’ve been belly dancing, but I have known for a while that I need to supplement my dancing with another sort of “regular” workout to improve my endurance, strength, and flexibility. My university’s gym offers free group exercise classes, but since I’m not enrolled in classes this summer, I can’t take those until the fall. I hadn’t enrolled in anything else because of money. Whole30 Daily sent me a conveniently long list of exercises I can do without spending any money. Unfortunately, most of them involve running. I hate running. I can’t think of many exercises I’d despise more. And yet… sigh. Maybe I should give this list of 31 exercises a try for the rest of the summer. If I do one each, 6 days out of the week for the rest of my summer break, I’ll finish them all by the time school starts again. I’m more likely to do that than kettle bells, which the emails also suggest. I would probably need to get up pretty early if I’m going to be running anywhere, since it’s summer in Texas and the heat here literally kills people. More motivation to stick to a sleep schedule, I suppose? Also, I hope I’ll be able to go back to yoga again soon, because I miss it.

Look at me, doing all these things I never thought I’d do. Eating eggs on a regular basis. Running. Eating things like beets that I used to hate. Maybe there is something to the “Whole30 will change your life” thing after all. aXm139xjU

I leave you with a slightly confusing, yet oddly insightful InspiroBot quote.

Day 7, version 2: First Week Done, Again!

Yesterday was the end of week one since my restart. I happened to have had a doctor’s appointment. I have made several significant changes to my lifestyle since the end of June, and a follow up was in order. Besides starting the VegWhole30, I also got an IUD placed right before the start of the program, and shortly before that, my doctor reduced the dosage of my medication. It’s hard to say which factor is responsible for any changes I’m experiencing, but given that no factor can be experienced in isolation, it doesn’t really matter all that much. The medication change and the IUD are here to stay, so the only variable that is likely to change in the near future is my diet. I’ll keep that in mind if I start experiencing anything new.

Doc was pleased with my report that since our last appointment about a month ago, my head feels clearer and I feel overall better. She had taken me off a medication that was only there to treat the side effect of my first medication. It feels really good to not take pills I don’t need anymore, and to be taking the minimum dose I really need from the other one (which thankfully isn’t enough to give me the side effect that was bothering me!). I still get tired a lot, but I generally have more energy. I could be seeing things, but I think my waist looks more defined. My belly dance teacher says she thinks I’ve lost some weight, but I feel like it’s more that my body constitution is changing a bit. The most significant difference is still that now I pay much more attention to the food I eat. The food I make is a joy again. It’s not “I’m going to half ass my way through making some pasta and call it a meal.” It’s not “I’m hungry and want to eat, but the only thing that’s prepared in the fridge is white rice, so let’s just put some soy sauce on it and call it a day.” It’s actually “I am so excited to dig into this stew I made today!” Last night I made a tasty white bean and sweet potato stew with collard greens, and got 5 portions out of it 🙂 I had one for dinner last night, gave one to my husband to take to work, and packed away 3 more. Slowly but surely the meal prep thing is coming along!

Another shout out is in order to my Whole30 buddy across the country, Samantha. I know I can ask her all the important questions:

Me: ok, can I ask you a gross question though?

Her: your period changing?

Me: … how were your poops? lol

Her: oh

 the fox and the hound GIF

Everyone deserves a friend like this.

Day 6: Confessions of an occasional pescatarian

I have a confession to make. (No, I didn’t break the Whole30.)

I started on the road to becoming vegetarian when I was about 12. It was then that I stopped eating red meat, pork, and what I call the “weird animals” (tepezcuintle, anyone?) that I was raised to eat. When I was 15 I stopped eating chicken, and the truth is, I didn’t like fish much to begin with either. I used to love fishing when I was little. I got lucky- the first time I ever cast a line into a river, I got a bite. After that, I too was hooked for years. If I would have had to wait for hours like I did on later fishing trips, I may not have been as enthralled by it as I was. As time went on, however, I realized that eating the fish was my least favourite part of the whole experience. I liked being out in the rivers (sea fishing was never my thing), I enjoyed the thrill of the fight when there was a fish on the line, and my inner biologist loved dissecting the fish when it had been caught. But the truth is, the fish itself didn’t really appeal to me that much. The flavours generally felt bland to me, and they weren’t good enough to make up for the fact that even grocery store bought fish had bones which made eating them a hassle. I don’t know what it’s like here in the US, but back home I would eat fish with a bowl for the bones next to me. I had to chew slowly so as to avoid getting stuck in the tongue or cheek. Multiple times I had to fish out (badum-tsh) a bone that had gotten caught in my throat. In the end, I was not that upset to let fish go. Except for sushi (no bones!), which was the last food I gave up before going full vegetarian.

Throughout the years, I can honestly say that I have never once been tempted to eat a beef, chicken, or pork dish again. Deep down though, there have been only two animals that I have been tempted to eat again: tuna and salmon. Particularly salmon.

At some point in the last few years, it’s as is my body started yelling at me, OMEGA FATTY ACIDS PLEASE!!!! I would be going about my day as usual, and then BOOM, I’d get hit with a sudden craving for salmon. So in secret, for the past few years, I’ve been sneaking off to get myself either salmon sashimi or smoked salmon once in a blue moon. For some reason, those are the only two ways I’m interested in having it. If you offer me cooked salmon, I’ll be like “meh, I’ll pass.” The only other exception to my vegetarianism has been tuna, either raw or  as tuna steak. Even growing up in Costa Rica, tuna steak was a rare treat. It was almost impossible to find in the city. The last time I went home, I visited a cousin of mine who lives on a beautiful beach. One morning he went fishing and came back with a haul of tuna that he had a friend at a local restaurant cook into steaks and carpaccio. Who was I to say no?

So all this brings me to this summer. I went to a new doctor a couple of weeks ago, and she suggested that I start taking fish oil supplements. Omega fatty acids are apparently particularly good for people like me who struggle with depression. I told her about my sporadic, sudden, and very specific cravings for salmon. She said that was my body telling me something, and that I should listen.

I was supposed to donate blood on Thursday. I had taken a coconut water and a Lara bar with me to the donation center, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to have my regular Gatorade and chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to donate after all. Normal hematocrit (iron) levels are 38-46% for adult women. Mine was at 33%. This has happened to me before, and I wasn’t particularly alarmed. I was on my period last week, so having slightly lower iron than usual is pretty normal. In all of my years being vegetarian, the last two years are the only time that I have had tests show slightly low levels of iron. Of that, the only period of time when it went on for longer than usual was when I got mono and my appetite went to crap. Besides that, my iron can get a bit low during or right after my period. In any case, my low hematocrit percentage explains why I haven’t hit the proclaimed Whole30 energy boost! I really don’t think that doing VegWhole30 has affected my iron. I think it’s more because I’m a woman and I bleed once a month. I did take a giant nap in the afternoon, because I felt justified in doing so!

I had planned on eating fish after donating anyway, and I figured I might as well eat it anyway even though I didn’t donate due to my low iron. So Eduardo and I went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant, and I had a sashimi salad. Raw salmon, tuna, and yellow tail over a bed of lettuce and avocado. I savoured it slowly and mindfully. Even though I’ve reincorporated some fish into my diet, it’s still such an occasional thing for me that every time I do it feels significant. I also still don’t relish the idea of eating any animal. They say that you become vegetarian for one reason, and stay vegetarian for many others. I became vegetarian because of physical and emotional reasons, and then stayed for those reasons plus the added causes of environmentalism and animal rights. I don’t know how intelligent the salmon that I ate truly was, but I do know that overfishing is a huge problem (some environmentalists would say that “all fishing is overfishing”). I also despair when I think of drift netting, and the helpless whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other creatures that get killed as a biproduct of the fishing industry.

So here I am, at a moral and physical crossroads in my food journey. I really do think that, by me only craving very specific types of fish and nothing else, my body is telling me something much more important than “I miss the taste of salmon”. If it was only a taste thing, why wouldn’t I crave the steaks I used to love so much? I also obviously respect the medical opinion of my doctor, who thinks my quality of life might improve if I took fish oil supplements or started eating certain kinds of fish again on a regular basis. On the other hand, I feel very strongly about how, by not eating fish, I can rest easy in the knowledge that I am not contributing to an industry that is causing the extinction of so much of our ocean life. I do not agree that eating animals or animal products is necessary for a healthy life. And yet, here I am. Accepting that it is ok to not be the perfect activist, that sometimes I need to listen to what my body (and my body alone) is asking for, and doing the best to be grateful and honour the life of the fish that I decide to eat on occasion. May I never get past the point where I stop thanking my food for the nourishment it gives me.

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T-7 Days: Five Reasons I Want to Do This

Instead of jumping in right away, I decided to take a week or so to study and prepare for the program. I had a doctor’s appointment today with a new D.O., and I’m really optimistic about her! I’m super excited that she didn’t just want to shove medicine down my throat. In fact, we’re working together to try to cut down my current medication, and supplement my health with good nutrition and vitamins! I told her I wanted to do the VegWhole30, and she said that was great. Yay, officially doctor approved!

According to the Whole30 website, the first step is to Discover the Whole30. Big claims are made here. “This will change your life”. The philosophy behind Whole30 makes total sense to me. We have all these foods that we know have a negative impact on a lot of people (e.g. dairy, sugar, gluten, etc.) Some of these may be affecting your health without you even realizing it. What would happen if you just took them all out for a month, and then reintroduced them, group by group, and track how you feel with them back in your diet? For starters, I fully admit that I am addicted to sugar. I think that to some extent, most people in our society are. It’s all over the grocery store, in ways you may not even imagine. I was already considering quitting sugar for a month anyway before I seriously contemplated doing the Whole30. How is my life going to change by getting rid of sugar altogether for a month? Let’s break down some of the potential benefits the website gives for trying the program:

1. Low or inconsistent energy levels.

I have struggled with PTSD and depression since I was a teenager. Depression didn’t start manifesting as lethargy until college, however. I used to be really energetic, and while I’ve always enjoyed sleeping in, I never used to take naps. Once college started, naps never felt so good. I heard this was normal. Most of my peers looked tired all the time too. But my naps go beyond the normal. When I nap, I’ll nap for hours. Two hours is normal, but they can go up to five. I regularly have the urge on the weekends to get up late, eat breakfast, and go back to bed. You’d think I have trouble sleeping at night because of this, but I don’t. I will always sleep more than 8 hours if left to my own devices. The worst thing is, since I have PTSD, I suffer from nightmares. I know that the less time I spend in bed, the less nightmares I’ll have. But I just can’t seem to get up. If this program can help me with that, it really would change my life.

2. Relationship with food and with your own body.

I’ve never been a skinny girl, and I’ve struggled with body image problems since I was a child. Something that helped me a lot was getting into belly dancing. Unlike my childhood ballet classes, in which my seven year old self would get on a scale and be sad at weighing 60 lbs, belly dancing is unabashedly body positive. My self esteem went through the roof when I started dancing more seriously. I now am an avid belly dancer, and gig about twice a month. I still struggle with some things, of course. Comfort food can be a problem, and so can cravings (particularly sugar cravings). What would I do with myself if I wanted to comfort myself and chocolate wasn’t an option, for example? I guess I’m about to find out.

3. “More than 95% of participants lose weight and improve their body composition”.

I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a motivating factor for me. In the last year, I have lost 20 lbs. Check it out:

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I did that by counting calories and limiting my sugar intake. I’m super proud of what I’ve done, but I don’t feel like I’m quite finished yet. Counting calories forever is just not sustainable. I’ve kind of reached a plateau of about 144 lbs since I stopped counting calories (hey, at least I’ve kept the weight off!). I’m excited to improve my nutrition and therefore improve my health. Also, at this point I’m more interested in losing body fat than I am in losing weight. If weight loss comes with that, then that’s cool too.

4. Migraines.

I went to a neurologist for the first time in November. She told me “You have migraines. You’ve probably had migraines since you hit puberty, and you’ve just been really stoic about them until now.” I had normalized my pain so much that I just figured everyone dealt with nauseating headaches from time to time. Crazy, right? My neurologist has been super awesome, and we’ve been working together to find good solutions for me. I’m about to get an IUD (eep!), and though I’m a bit nervous, I’m also really hopeful that the steady dose of progesterone will regulate my menstrual migraines (maybe I’ll even stop getting periods altogether, which would be really nifty!). For the migraines that happen when I’m not on my period? We’ll see if Whole30 can help me with those.

As a side note, I am already bracing myself for my first week without sugar: I am fully expecting to go into withdrawal. Everyone I’ve talked to who has eliminated sugar from their diet has told me that they’ve had a headache for about a week. So if I get a migraine in the first week of the program, I’m not going to think it’s a bad thing. Pinky promise to myself.

5. It all comes down to “Food Freedom”.

This is a little catchphrase I’ve found used in lots of Whole30 related readings:

The psychological benefits of the Whole30 may be even more dramatic. Through the program, participants report effectively changing long-standing, unhealthy habits related to food, developing a healthier body image, and a dramatic reduction or elimination of cravings, particularly for sugar and carbohydrates. The words so many Whole30 participants use to describe this place? “Food freedom.”

It’s an interesting concept. Deprive yourself of several foods you’ve grown to love and even depend on, and as a result, be free. The more I think of it, the more I correlate it to addiction literature. We may think we’re free by allowing ourselves to consume whatever we want. But at what cost? Are we really free, or are we subservient to a chemical dependency on these things? I guess it’s the difference between Freedom To and Freedom From. I have always been free to eat sugar and other things that may not be good for me. I’m about to experience the freedom from the influence they have on my life.