Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Report: It Starts with Food (Whole30, Round 5)

I've written several times on this blog before about the Whole30 program - it's 30 days in which you only eat vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs and nuts.  No dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, and most importantly, no added sugar of any kind.  Yep, that includes honey.  And agave.  And stevia.

Why would someone who has a deep and abiding love for all of the foods on the "no" list voluntarily do this, you (understandably) ask?

Having done it four times already, and being literally in the middle, on Day 15 of this Whole30, I can tell you - because it feels so. damn. good. after thirty days.  Well, it starts to feel good before you get to the thirty day mark, but the first week can be quite rough as you detox from the sugar addiction.

I can tell you that my skin (I suffer from eczema) clears up, my bloat goes away, my energy levels increase and stay level throughout the day, I sleep better, I feel good in my own skin, and most importantly for me, my mental/emotional/psychological crap I carry around me when it comes to food caaaalms down.  I find other ways of treating and rewarding and comforting myself besides food, and I take all that mental energy that's usually occupied all day long by negotiating and debating what foods I "can" and "should" have (i.e., all forms of chocolate at every meal, cheese, tortilla chips) and put it towards other things of actual value to me.

It doesn't mean that the food I eat on Whole30 can't be comforting, rewarding, insanely delicious, or considered a treat, but it's so far removed from the emotional medicine that it usually is.

We're nearing the end of a summer where health and mortality have been frequent topics in our household and among our friends and family, so it feels like no better time to focus on the number one thing I can control that can support my good health - the food I eat.

This round of Whole30 has been somewhat spontaneous for me.  I usually plan these things out well in advance, and am always mindful not to do a Whole30 during events where I know I will definitely want to drink wine, or definitely want to eat my sister's fried chicken or my mother-in-law's beef stroganoff.

I was getting to a place this summer where my craving for foods that I know make me less healthy (for example - I'm allergic to corn, which I can eat, but which I know aggravates my eczema and gives me a headache...but popcorn and tortilla chips!!!) were getting a little out of hand, my energy was lagging (hello 3:30 energy crash),  and I just wasn't feeling good in my skin.  Having done it previously, I know going back to the Whole30 would be a great way to cut the mental chatter, cut the crap, and go back to consciously and deliberately choosing only foods that I know will make me more healthy.  Basically, it's the best way to force me to eat a lot more vegetables.  And as a bonus, my mom just finished another round - what better support person to have than your mom?

So after mulling a Whole30 for a day and looking at events on my calendar (cause y'all know I'm going to be drinking celebratory wine at opening night of Marc's show), I realized that the best time for me to start was basically in two days.  I not only rearranged my plans so I could spend a day in the kitchen prepping the week's food and some kitchen staples, but I took the first book written by the Whole30 team, It Starts with Food, off the shelf and read it a second time.

This book is fascinating.  Even if you're a vegan or someone who just doesn't give that much thought to the food you eat (is there such a person in this country??), even if you have zero interest in ever doing a Whole30, I think it's so worth reading.  It gives so much insight as to how much and in how many ways the food we eat affects us.  In this country, we tend to focus on one or two nutrition facts in a food (milk has calcium!  carrots have Vitamin A! whole grains have fiber!) without looking at the bigger picture.  What else does the food contain, and how does it interact with your digestive system, with your hormones, with the level of inflammation in your body?

We can be forgiven for viewing food in this piecemeal way - the food/advertising industries together has created many powerful, almost unconscious at this point, associations and perceptions of certain foods.

It Starts with Food can get pretty heavy and overwhelming on the science and the detail, especially for a reader like me who was never so great in science class (and for whom it's been a long time since my last science class!)

The book starts be detailing what they consider the "Good Food Standards."  In Dallas and Melissa Hartwigs' view, the food you eat should promote the following:

1. A healthy psychological response
2. A healthy hormonal response
3. A healthy gut
4. Healthy immune function, while minimizing inflammation

After delving in to what exactly they mean by all of that, they then detail the foods they categorize as "less healthy" and the foods that they categorize as "more healthy," and then into the details of putting their recommendations into practice for 30 squeaky-clean days of eating (including some great recipes).

Despite the detailed science-y portions, this book is so accessible and down-to-earth.  They're not about finding the perfect or morally good/right way to eat - simply about promoting better health.  The Whole30 is a tool, an experiment of one, a reset - not a way of life (unless that works for you - personally, I would never give up wine, cheese, and chocolate for the rest of my life).  Although there are foods they put into the "less healthy" category that you probably eat every single day, and with great pleasure, there's no moral "badness" associated to them, nor are they saying that each person is affected by them in the exact same way.

When your Whole30 is over, you reintroduce the foods that you missed in a methodical, deliberate fashion, paying close attention to how it affects you.  With that information, you then know - either it doesn't affect you at all, or if it does, you can decide when it's "worth it."  For example, my boss avoids gluten for personal health reasons, but sometimes certain things - such as focaccia from Eataly - are worth the belly ache and bloat for her, just like sometimes the red wine is worth a less great night's sleep for me.

Eating and life shouldn't be about deprivation, but about knowing ourselves as best as we can, and keeping our decisions deliberate and informed.  It's a process, not a quick fix.  There's no such thing as a quick fix, and there's no such thing as perfection - to this perfectionists' dismay.

That's one of the things I love so much about the Whole30 - you learn about yourself, you feel amazing, life moves on, and if one day you find yourself somewhat off the rails again or just not feeling good, it's always there for you to go back to.  I find each time that I do, its easier, I feel better, and I'm enjoying my food without obsessing over it.  Even though I definitely spend way more time in the kitchen, I feel so good about it knowing that I'm doing something good for myself.  And despite that time, I almost always find that I have more energy to give to things that aren't food.  And for this sugar addict, that freedom feels amazing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Redemption Run

On August 16th, 2016, I went for a run after taking two weeks off, in hopes the pain in my left heel that had been plaguing me for months would heal itself.  The run was, as I remember and wrote in my journal later that day, amazing.  It felt so great to be back out, I pushed myself, I had new music (President Obama's Summer 2016 Spotify Playlist - sigh!), and I got good and sweaty.  The only downside to that amazing run was that right afterward, my foot pain increased a lot from where it had ever been before.

And of course, two days later at an appointment where I was hoping for a cortisone shot and to be sent on my merry running way, I discovered the pain was due to a torn plantar fascia and was sentenced to six weeks on crutches.  Which of course turned out to be longer than six weeks and would include a long recovery period which led to me not running again until February 5th, 2017.

That weekend of my injury I was supposed to run the France 8K, which would've been my second-to-last race to complete in order to guarantee entry into the 2017 Marathon.  Champagne, French stuff  everywhere, plus everything I love about a NYRR Central Park race.  I got the shirt and the bib (since I picked them up before my podiatrist) but alas, never got to earn them by running.

This past week I've been reflecting a lot at what I've learned about myself the last year, going from injury to recovery to running to the Brooklyn Half and then pulling back to shorter distances again.

I was already moving toward emphasizing cross and strength training before the injury, so I've continued to move hard in that direction, but much more importantly I've learned about forcing myself to stop when my body is giving me signals.  That it's okay to change your plan mid-run - or mid-whatever it is in life you're doing - when being obstinate and sticking to the plan just for the plan's sake would do more harm than good.

I finally ran that 8K this weekend, with my running wife and steadfast cheerleader by my side.  The weather was stunningly beautiful, we did a run/walk ratio of 5:1, and being on Whole30, I skipped the champagne (which wasn't even at the finish line!  We'd have go to hunting for it at the after party...) but I wouldn't have needed it anyway.  The satisfaction of conquering last year's race I was unable to run was more than enough for me.

It was also great running the 8K knowing I've got a plan in place for my next big running goal - running a 5K as fast as I can.  I've got my goal time set (more on that in a future entry!) and I have a training plan set to start on Sunday, September 3rd.

In the meantime, I've decided to take two self-imposed weeks off running.  No running at all until the start of my training period - I'll still work out hard and stay in good shape, but I can feel little twinges here and there in my body that are talking to me, and out of deference, respect, and an abundance of caution, I'm going to do the hard thing, the thing I don't want to do, and listen.  This time last year I wasn't running because I wasn't physically capable - this year, I'm choosing not to because I can feel my body asking me for a break.

I miss it already, but if there's one thing I learned from last year, it's the importance of listening to your body - and then giving it what it requires.  It's almost never easy and almost never in line with what your heart and brain want to do, but we only get one body in this lifetime, and the longer I live the more I learn how important it is to respect it.

Finally, in my Timehop last week, I came across an image that Laura sent me when she was giving me a pep talk when I was feeling down about my clipped wing.  She was a steadfast source of strength, and seeing this right before knowing we were going to run that race together gave me the biggest, most ridiculous smile.  It's a simple sentiment and absolutely true.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlottesville. Thoughts and Feelings.

I have two other blog post topics rarin' to go - I've started my fifth round of Whole30 and reread the book that started it all, and I've come up on a very important injury-a-verysary which is leading to a redemption run this weekend.  This explosion of things to write about is rare, as I'm often scraping the bottom of the mental barrel for inspiration week-to-week.

It's amazing how something can feel so vitally and urgently important and meaningful one day, and beyond trivial the next.  It just keeps happening during this national emergency known as the Trump presidency.

Each day that goes by since this weekend, it's hitting me harder and harder, and in quiet moments when I'm not working or busy or filling my head with podcasts, I just want to cry.  I'm so deeply afraid to live in a country where the President falsely equivocates racists storming a city with the people who stand on the side of racial equality.  When he has to be practically forced to denounce hate groups by name, and then turns around and tell us all what he really wanted to say in the first place.

The absolute worst part of it is - it's not surprising.  It's who he's shown himself to be all along.  And yet he was still elected to hold the highest office in the land.

I'm a Virginian and a southerner and proud to be both.

And I've started and re-started the next several sentences to follow that a billion times.

I don't tend to get political on this blog (or at least not since the election), although I am extremely passionate about my political beliefs.  I could write a book about my complicated history and feelings about the south and the Confederacy and how I understand people who say, "Heritage not hate"  - because I used to be one of them, and I'm related to plenty.  It is a really intense, complicated issue for a southern liberal, and this isn't the place to hash it out.

You know what's not a complicated issue?

People identifying as Nazis, as the Ku Klux Klan, as White Nationalists, as whatever they call themselves, storming a town and spreading a violent message of "cleansing" this melting pot that is our country are on the wrong side of history.  It is wrong.  And it's terrifying.  And if it doesn't terrify you, you need a good, long, hard look in the mirror, a more diverse group of friends, and therapy.

Counter-protesters defending their city from the scourge of these hateful men (and they did all seem to be men, didn't they?) are in no way EVER to be equivocated to them.  It's beyond apples and oranges.  One person likened it to cancer and chemotherapy - yes, they're both aggressive.  But they are not the same.  One is a force for good, and fighting for good means defending yourself.

It's so far beyond politics.  And I'm so fearful for citizens of this country who are not evil people but whose worldview is shaped by such radically warped media that they believe the false equivocation.  That they actually believe the Black Lives Matter movement and activists are violent when nothing could be further from the truth - the aim is to stop systemic violence and promote equality.  Donald Trump has absolutely convinced himself that his beliefs are true, because he wants them to be true.  So do thousands - and God help us, it's probably millions - of his supporters.  This is not a new problem in America.  It's the oldest problem we've got.  But the side of "white power" just got a hell of a lot louder and more emboldened.

This frightens me down to my core.  I'm so afraid of what this is leading to.

So what to do?  How to cope?  What to say?  What to think?

Standing up to racism every single day when we encounter it is a start.  Speaking up and out.  Asking how to help and be of service and showing up to rallies and volunteering your time and energy and ear is a start.

In the short time - I want to share some words that have been helpful and comforting to me in hopes that they're helpful and comforting to you.

"It's strange to be in Europe while horrible terrorism occurs in your home state.  It's even more surreal when in Berlin, where so much Nazi hate and power rose.
The same question keeps ringing in my ears, reverberating in my heart, and weighing like a fetter with every step I take through this extraordinary city's history:  Why haven't we learned?
There is no freedom in ignorance, there is no power in walls, and there is no safety in accusing others as the guilty ones.  The lesser ones.  Those not worthy of life.
Focusing on the speck of sawdust in the eye of a scapegoat when that speck came from the spiteful sawing of the log in one's own eye is the farthest thing from what any loving God would condone.
And the Germans would be the first to tell you that."
Lisa Helmi Johanson, Actress, Musician, Best Friend, Soup Sister, Excellent Human Being

"Us good spirited human beings have a responsibility to use our superpowers to spread joy and kindness and stand up to hate.  Joy-makers unite!"
Joshua Holden, Creator and Star of The Joshua Show, Puppeteer, Joy-Maker, Friend, Excellent Human Being

"We hate the President, we hate the south, we hate the ignorant, we hate the people who don't have the same views.  See the pattern?  Hate begets hate, rage begets rage.  Hate is still hate, even if our hate is standing on the right side of history.  See, when we see ourselves as right in our hatred, we don't see how we are also poison ourselves.  What would happen if you stopped hating Donald Trump and started putting love into action?"
Laura Frye, Actress, Yoga Teacher, Best Friend, Work/Running Wife, Excellent Human Being

And Laura nicely segues into the most important person whose words have given me catharsis and comfort - a woman among the most deeply, profoundly, and permanently affected by this weekend's events, and by the lack of a leader who in any other world would have been present at her daughter's memorial - or at the very by-God least, said her name out loud.

Heather Heyer's last post online before she was murdered in an act of domestic terrorism were, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."  She was right.

Let's feel what we feel.  Let's channel and fuel our righteous and self-righteous anger and outrage and fear and frustration into loving action.  Let's let it go and fill our hearts with love, otherwise that anger and outrage and fear and frustration is going to live in us and marinate in us and harden our hearts - and that self poisoning, that hatred that can't help but make you bitter and hateful is exactly the kind of thing we're fighting against.  That's what makes us on the right side of history.  That's the difference.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Music Share - Mumford for Yoga & Running

My mother-in-law is really really into music.  In her next life, she will be the next Freddie Mercury.  Her passion for music is infectious and always leads to incredibly fun times, dance parties, and sing-a-longs at the LeVasseur's.

In 2013, the year Marc and I got married, she got me into Mumford & Sons.  (This is how out of touch I am with my own generation's music)  I had heard their big hits, of course, but one day when my in-laws were visiting she brought their concert DVD, The Road to Red Rocks.  Seeing them live absolutely floored me and I appreciated their lyrics, musicality, and energy in a way I never had before.

I listened to them a ton during that incredibly emotional, change-filled year, and I always associate it with that time, with our honeymoon, and I always crave it when I'm about to take off on a plane, during late summer, and when life generally has me reaching out for comfort, consoling, and spirituality.

So - I've been in a Mumford place recently.  Luckily two of my favorite activities, running and yoga, lend themselves quite well to their style of music, so I have two playlists for each.  Enjoy, give into the banjo, and maybe receive some comfort and inspiration.

For running, when the relentless build keeps you going (and the slower times signal a walk break!)  Strictly Mumford.

For yoga, mixed in with a couple of other wonderful artists and some instrumental.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Simple meditation

It's been a week.  Marc finally returned home in the wee hours last night from his crazy week-long adventure to Pennsylvania and Seattle to see two wonderful friends from two different parts of his life.

It's been a week of gaining perspective, sending prayers and good thoughts to those in need, and being forced to surrender to what is, when "what is" is no respecter of what you or anyone wants.

So here's what I did this morning, and I hope it can help you too.  Set a timer (with a gentle chime) for as long as you like, or just sit for as long as you like.

Sit comfortably with your back against the wall.

Find something to fix your gaze upon - a candle works well for this.

Keep your eyes open but soft.

Bring your attention to your breath without trying to alter it.

Notice how you feel in your body.  Release any tension that can be released - the eyes, the jaw, the neck, the shoulders, the abdomen, the hips, the legs.

Notice if any emotions are creating physical sensations in your body.  Breathe into those sensations without trying to change anything.

Open your heart to what is, without judgement.

Open your heart to what is.

Open your heart to what is.

Imagine a warming, comforting light around your heart.


Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

One year ago today - on a much cloudier, much colder, and quite frankly very hungover morning - I went out to run.  My goal was either 4 mil...