It's that gloriously lazy-yet-still-sort-of-stressful week between Christmas and New Year's! We're all recovering from our holiday hangovers, food comas, and, in some cases, jet lag or family stress. I always say this ought to be a national week off - who's focused on work this week? We're coming off the high of Christmas (or the holiday of your choice!) and gearing up for one last big bash of the season before becoming virtuous resolution makers.
As I've said (probably a million times), I love New Year's. I love the countdown, the resolutions, journaling my heart out reflecting on the past year and looking forward, and of course, eating black eyed peas for dinner on New Year's Day for good luck. (Each pea you eat equals a good day in the coming year so say my southern forefathers-and-mothers!)
I haven't sat down and sussed out exactly what all my resolutions are going to be yet. Inspired by The Happiness Project, I've actually been much more actively engaged in my month-to-month goals and resolutions than ever, but an entire year's worth? I haven't quite touched that yet.
However, there is one particular resolution I'm going to follow for the month of January 2012. Much like my gluten free journey of last March (which I'm starting to think I could have done a better job with...), I'm entering the world of abstaining from a food group - this time one of my favorites.
I'm doing a Dairy Free January!
Why on earth would I do this when cheese is one of my all-time favorite foods, and an ingredient in most of my other favorites? I think it all started when my dear vegan friend Laura introduced me to Kris Carr. Carr wrote Crazy, Sexy, Diet, detailing the diet and lifestyle that has naturally kept her cancer-free for nine years, and Laura has been sharing tidbits and wisdom with me. (And thanks to Marc, I got my very own copy for Christmas! Thank you, love!)
I haven't read the whole thing yet, but I remember very clearly reading a couple of her essays on dairy and its links to asthma, allergies, and eczema - three afflictions I've suffered from my whole life.
This really struck a chord in me. I had an allergy test done on me when I was 12 and the triple threat of those conditions was getting to be too much to bear. I tested positive for nearly all 35 allergens they injected into me (that was a fun day), including a whole host of foods - Wheat, Corn, Milk, Eggs, Chicken - seriously, you name it, and I am at least mildly allergic to it.
Mild being a key word - I never, ever changed my diet to accommodate my afflicted body. Not once. In fairness, I was 12, a monstrously picky eater and my mom had enough of a hard time finding anything I'd be willing to eat, let alone putting me on a super restrictive diet. I'd probably have just starved out of protest. Or run away to a cheese-and-buttery-popcorn factory (if such a magical place exists...).
So we turned to what most people turn to - drugs. Expensive prescription drugs. Also allergy shots and an operation on my poor swollen nasal passageway and deviated septum so that I could breathe like a normal person.
The asthma, allergies, and eczema have all ebbed and flowed in intensity, but all three have always been a part of my life. I've accepted their permanence as my unlucky, sickly lot in life, especially as, with the help of modern medicine, it is manageable. It honestly never occurred to me to change my diet. If the subject of food allergies comes up, I'll rattle off the list of things I'm allergic to by rote, without really thinking about what I'm saying. I think I figured that as long as it wasn't deadly (my airways won't close if I eat a strawberry or a peanut, for example) that I'd live with the eczema, the constant mild headache - take your pick.
As I wrote in my gluten-free entry, I've always been big on not depriving myself. I eat healthfully, but I always stayed far away from any kind of diet or any food rule which stated something was 100% off limits. Since that time, though, I've continued to read about food, watch documentaries about the food industry and the importance of a whole foods, plant-based diet, and I made the decision earlier this year to avoid meat that isn't either organic, pastured, or local (with the big exception being when I'm being served by my or Marc's family). The latter element hasn't always been consistent or perfect, but I've done far better than my carnivorous self could have imagined.
Once I got the idea to do this, I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to be depriving my body of anything essential that I'd need to supplement. As opposed to meat, which despite all its faults does at least provide our bodies with the essential Vitamin B12, I've come to learn that dairy is thoroughly useless when it comes to our health. The Dairy Industry has spent a fortune convincing us that if you don't drink milk/eat cheese/eat yogurt, you will become calcium deficient and need osteoporosis. Meanwhile, spinach, broccoli, kale, sesame seeds, almonds, and countless other plants, seeds, and nuts provide us with plenty of calcium that's lower in calories, higher in other nutrients, and more easily absorbed by the body.
So as I embark on this experiment, I know my bones will be just fine. I've already worked on replacing the milk I use at home with SoDelicious Coconut Milk, and it's worked out great with cereal and occasional baking. The hardest part of this? CHEESE! I've yet to taste a vegan cheese that I find even mildly appealing, let alone delicious, so I might just abstain altogether from that creamy goodness for the month. Vegan friends, please share your recommendations!
I'm just interested to see the effect this has on my body and my health. Laura and other vegan friends have said they can absolutely see a difference in their skin and their weight when they have cheese in their diet (the real stuff, that is) versus when they're virtuously vegan.
It's only 31 days, and if my skin and health benefit, it'll be worth it down the line. I can't picture myself bidding farewell to my beloved cheese for good, but I can at least prioritize my health above it, and keep it as a spare, special treat.
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