The Writing Detox

Writing Myself a Healthy Life

Archive for the tag “health”

Setting Goals, and Jam

I revisited the My Goals part of this blog last week after “revitalizing” the blog itself. Originally, my goals had included a huge detox and cutting out a lot of things from my diet. I’d still like to find a way to phase sugar down and out, but I’ve definitely come to the conclusion that healthy living has very little to do with sweeping restriction.

I started working from home again a few months ago after working in an office for nine months. I really enjoyed my office job and the people I worked with, but sitting at a desk for eight hours, with no windows or fresh air was making me quite sick. Now that I work at home, I can go for walks around the field, grab snacks regularly that are healthy and homemade, and I move more. I’m losing weight as a result. Not a lot, but enough to know that it was a good decision.

One of my favourite things to do growing up was to bake. My sisters and my Mom and I used to bake regularly. It’s therapeutic and social and homey and creative. The other thing about baking is that you know exactly what is going into it, so you know how much butter and sugar and flour you are ingesting, and you also know that you are not ingesting preservatives or food dyes or “natural flavours” (which usually just means MSG), or other chemicals.

I love sugar. It’s clearly one of my biggest addictions and challenges. But when I’m baking things at home and eating home baking, I feel a lot less worried about my future than when I’m grabbing a cardboard, empty-calorie treat from Tim Hortons or Starbucks. When I’m eating a real, home baked chocolate chip cookies (my ultimate kryptonite), then I at least take time to really appreciate the phenomenal experience that is a real, home-baked chocolate chip cookie.

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The peach jam we made – more sugar than fruit, but at least it set!

This weekend I had friends and family visiting and we made peach jam. There are five cups of sugar to the four cups of peaches in jam. It’s obscene. And it’s way too sweet. Sometimes, even homemade is hard to justify. But knowing exactly what was in it meant that I only ate a small spoonful and I really tasted it, so I’ll call that a victory toward my overall goal of a healthier life, even as I think about what my specific goals are going to be in and around this blog.

What I’m sure about today? Health includes enjoyment, not just restriction.

 

Is it a Coffee or Death Situation?

My favourite coffee mug from Girls Inc.

My favourite coffee mug from Girls Inc.

Every morning I wake up and I feel sluggish. Hung over. Everything feels heavy and weighted, like I can’t quite get the blood moving. And then I drink coffee and start to feel alright again.

I have this growing suspicion that I’m addicted to more than one substance right now.

But coffee! Coffee is such a good one to be addicted to! Other than the sluggish morning aches, the caffeine withdrawal headaches if I sleep too long, the bad breath, and the need to add sugar to make it palatable…it is good for me, right? It will keep me from killing myself, getting Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, although it seems that the optimal amount to drink varies. Honestly, I drink about half a mug a day, which probably isn’t enough to have any health benefits at all. I used to drink lattes, and then my espresso machine broke, so now I drink coffee but I usually quit half way through the cup when the caffeine kicks in and the coffee gets cold.

I miss the lattes, but I have to admit that the calories on the coffee with milk and sugar added are still a lot better than a latte with honey. I’d like to argue that the calcium in my latte was vital, but really, I get a lot of calcium in my diet. When I stop eating that block of cheese daily, then we’ll talk about calcium intake.

I’ve always drank a lot of milk. When I was a little kid, I’d drink a whole bag of milk by myself at dinner. My best friend’s mom used to joke that she would need to buy a cow if I was going to keep visiting. I’ve since cut back, and I’ve always preferred skim milk, so I think we can safely say it’s not milk that’s keeping me from reaching my goals. (It might be cheese, however…)

My big dilemma right this second is that I’m not sure whether to keep on the coffee train – the one with the unpleasant side effects, but the delicious taste and potential, theoretical health benefits that seem to include improved mental health – or whether I should abandon the coffee train and drink green tea.

My coffee is glaring at me now, scorning me for thinking such a thought and ordering me to drink more so that my arms don’t feel so heavy on the keyboard.

But what do you say? Coffee addiction great, okay or pure evil? And what are your favourite morning boosts?

The Productivity Problem

There is a part of me – the creative part – that is okay with spending the day staring at the ceiling and letting my brain empty of all the noise. There is another part of me – the part that likes to eat – that needs to pay the bills and so must actually produce some work for my contracts once in a while.

I work for myself, from home, doing contract work. It’s heaven. Except when it’s hard.

It can be very hard when I’m struggling to be productive, and I know the only thing that will push me into the zone where I will get things done is if I go drink a big glass of coke and eat a huge block of cheese. The boost will push me along far enough until I can get into the zone and get shit done.

But in the meantime, I’ve just digested 10 tsps of sugar and a whomping 500 + calories of cheese (estimation because I’ve never been able to figure out what a 1 inch cube of cheese really looks like, but I’m pretty sure I just ate five times that amount).

I’m reading Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss and I just spent the whole morning reading about how Coca Cola is engineered to make me drink it. I resolved to be stronger. I resolved to use my educated understanding of the chemicals and how they interplay with my brain to stop drinking coke. And then I went downstairs, poured myself a glass, and sat down to do some work.

Addiction.

Is there a 12 step program for sugar addiction? I imagine there is. If they included a workshop on productivity without chemical enhancements, it would be gold.

I think I could overcome any addiction as long as I didn’t have to use my brain at all during the withdrawal period.

 

Dinner Parties

Recently, I moved back to the area where I grew up. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time with people I knew in my childhood, especially friends of my parents. Many of my parents’ friends became my friends as I grew older and whenever I visited the area I would stop in to see them all. Now, living here again, they are some of our best friends.

Several times we’ve had dinner with them, and for the most part it’s a lot like having dinner with any of our friends. We talk about beer and food, and travel, and other people, and the politics of the day. I’ve noticed lately though, that often we talk about nutrition. Everyone has their own ideas about nutrition and weight loss and healthy eating. Everyone is on some plan or another and is very proud of how well it’s going. Everyone thinks you should try it.

I, of course, am very proud of how well I’ve been doing at slowly changing my lifestyle. It hasn’t be a quick change with immediate results, but I am developing new habits and I feel good about it. However, I would never tell someone that I thought they should go gluten free just because it is working for me. I’m sure I’m just as guilty as the next person of sharing health and lifestyle advice that I think is valuable, and perhaps it is not always welcome.

Maybe this is just me feeling sensitive about how much weight I’ve gained since high school, but I often feel like these conversations are born from my older friends trying to “mother” me into a healthier lifestyle. Since I have a mother who has always been very good at encouraging me to eat better, I often leave these dinner parties trying feeling like I’ve failed the whole neighbourhood by not adhering to a strictly organic, vegan, high-protein, low-carb, glycemic-index-based, Mediterranean, regularly-spaced mini-meal, no fat-with-carbs, no-fruit-or-any-kind-of-sugar, vitamin-supplemented diet.

You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

I can make small changes, adopt new habits, find my own inner motivations and sustainability plans, and see what works for me. I may not be losing 2 lbs per week like clockwork, but I feel like I am doing something good for myself and I feel like I have made it sustainable.

I no longer think in terms of a timeline (e.g. I will not eat sugar for one week). Now I think in terms of forever (e.g. I will cut refined sugars from my diet entirely except on special occasions). Eventually, I will add new habits, like cutting all refined and non-refined sugars from my every-day life, or reducing the amount of cheese I eat, or increasing my legumes and protein.

I can make small changes, adopt new habits, find my own inner motivations and sustainability plans, and see what works for me.

 

Constant Vigilance!

It turns out that even your tools can become excuses. I haven’t been writing in the blog because I didn’t want to make excuses for any failures – so of course, I had no accountability to myself or anyone else (real or hypothetical).

I was tracking everything I ate, and I lost five pounds. I only ate sugar once in March on the boyfriend’s birthday, and I have been gluten free since the beginning of March. It’s been good. Gluten free hasn’t been too hard. My family is used to accommodating it because my Mom doesn’t eat gluten. Sugar free was harder, but I’ve been managing. I ate sugar at Easter because…well…there were jelly beans. I’m hopeless before jelly beans.

Other than that, I haven’t done too bad. But the thing was that I lost five pounds. And once I started to have some success, I stopped keeping track of my food. I decided that I must have the hang of it, and I gave up writing and tracking – the two things that will really make the difference in longevity on this project. Mad-Eye Moody was right – “Constant vigilance!” is the only way to succeed in life. With a few treat days.

I did go for a run yesterday. It felt amazing. I ran for a full 15 minutes – almost 2 km – and then turned around and walk/ran home. Today the boy and I headed out for a walk and I wanted to run. My muscles were aching to get back into it. Walking ended up being a good switch though. It felt like there were different muscles at play. I will run again tomorrow. I will start keeping track of my food again. I will write here again. I will keep going because this is a long-term investment in my own longevity, nothing less.

Mood Swings

Last week I gave in and ate three cookies. I’ve never been  much for moderation. They were gluten-free cookies, so at least I’ve stuck to it on that point.

The next day I felt very out of sorts. I was grumpy. Anxious. Angry. Moody. I chalked it up to hormones and we went out to dinner and a movie. We were going to see the Hunger Games and I was excited, having looked forward to it for weeks. But I was so grumpy, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to silence, by any means necessary, all the other inane people standing in line with us. Especially the guy in front of me who wasn’t saying anything. What was his deal??

I decided that since I’d looked forward to the movie so much, I would treat myself and have a pop. I stared for a moment longingly at the Yogen Fruz, but the line was too slow and I decided just to go with the root beer. Bad choice. The root beer was unsatisfying and I kept thinking about strawberry frozen yogurt all night. Actually, I’m still thinking about it because they had a sugar-free version.

I drank half the pop and didn’t want the rest. The movie was amazing and I was cheered up for the ride home. But the next day, all the anger returned. I was a grumpy, moody, weepy mess.

I’m not entirely sure that the correlation equals causation, but it was noticeable that after I went back to not “cheating”, I started feeling better again. I’ve been a bit more even keeled the last few days, and every time I think about eating sugar, I think about how miserable I felt on Saturday morning and I decide to wait. Just in case. It’s even made me question whether I will in fact cheat and have dessert at Easter. I may just make some of my chocolate truffles with maple syrup (which, oddly, doesn’t seem to have the same effect – or at least not to the same degree).

Food affects your hormones and your mood. How, exactly, is a different question. But I’m beginning to see a link between sugar and feeling miserable, and I’ll take happiness over candy any day.

Dirty Little Secrets

I keep thinking about cheating. On my diet that is. But then I remember I’m not on a diet, I’ve simply changed my eating habits.

I’ve gone back to eating cheese, and now cheese is the number one reason I can’t stay under 1800 calories per day. Even with exercise, I eat so much cheese that I’m always over budget. Cheese! Dammit. I love cheese.

Aside from that, I have successfully gone three weeks with no gluten (except for the time my brother-in-law forgot and cooked the fish in flour…) and no refined sugar (except for Tyler’s birthday when I made a gluten-free cake, had a slice and stayed up all night…). The fact that these are the only exceptions are big victories. Oh wait, there was also the time I realized there was no good replacement for ketchup so I ate it anyway with my…wait for it…grilled cheese sandwich.

Big victories. I have given up gluten, theoretically for good, and I’ve given up sugar and committed to at least three months without it and the possibility of a permanent extension, at least until such a time when I think I could control the cravings. Ha.

The bigger victories have been the times I’ve stared at the candy that I stashed in the freezer, or the gluten free cookies I bought when I thought that sugar would be a temporary elimination, and I think “no one would know…it wouldn’t matter! It would be my dirty little secret.” And then I turn away, and eat cheese because I would know. I would know that I’d cheated and failed. This isn’t a victory calories wise, but it’s a huge victory for me, for now. I am gaining some control over my addiction to sugar. This is the first step towards avoiding diabetes.

Sugar Cravings

I feel a little bit better today. My head is still a bit wobbly and my stomach still a bit nauseous. Today after lunch my intestines were unsure about the whole procedure and were a bit cramped. However, I enjoyed my lunch of chicken, arugula salad, hummus, carrots and olives. It was tasty and nutritious. My main goal is to eat lots of greens every day, especially while I’m not eating red meat, to keep my iron levels up. The arugula is spicy and delicious, and I squeeze a bit of lemon juice onto the leaves instead of salad dressing and it’s really delicious.

The hummus has been a life-saver for sure. Whenever my energy is down, I just eat some carrots or celery with hummus, and I feel full for longer than if I’m just eating veggies. I’ve been eating a lot of fruit too. I know that some people think that fruit should also be on the give-up list because it’s mostly just sugar as well and because anything that sparks an insulin reaction can lead to fat-storage, it’s not a good idea to overdo it on the fruit. However, I cling to fruit during these times as my only source of sugar. As someone who considers myself a recovering sugar addict, the fruit keeps me from going completely nuts when the cravings kick in.

Today, I’m full-on craving candy. I know myself well enough to know that the first few days of a detox are painful physically, but it’s once the physical symptoms start to abate that the mental games begin. I have to find strategies for resisting sugar.

Some evidence suggests that sugar is a highly addictive substance, even more addictive than cocaine. I have no trouble believing this, as sugar has always held an incredible pull for me.

I have always had an addictive personality, and several years ago my binge drinking led to my body rejecting alcohol. I gave up all alcohol for three years. More recently, whenever I drank, it was usually in moderation and with a more concentrated mental awareness of what I was doing. But it was always a risk that I would slip into enjoying drinking too much and I would start to binge. The thing that helped was that most people now know I don’t drink a lot, and most people don’t make a big deal of it any more.

My goal is to create the same situation for myself around sugar. I need to let people know that I no longer eat sugar. I need to create a mental, emotional and physical response to sugar that is negative enough that I won’t cave and eat it when it is in front of me, or in response to someone else’s guilt or feelings about food (such as the all-too-common idea that food is love and therefore if I don’t eat your brownies, it means I don’t love you). In order to create these associations, I focus on the way eating sugar really made me feel. Not the pleasure of the taste, but the low energy, the hang-overs, the weight gain, the mood swings, the poor self-esteem, the lack of concentration and motivation – all of those negative side effects that drastically reduced my quality of life. And if that doesn’t work, I create an association closer to the above comparison – I imagine myself snorting sugar up my nose. An image which grosses me out intensely, and draws more specifically the comparison between addictions – those considered acceptable and those considered unacceptable in society, but both of which can have devastating consequences, including death.

 

 

Nausea and Headache

What a lovely reward for being so “nice” to my body. A girl tries to do good by herself, by cutting out all of the poisonous foods, and what happens? Well, her body expels all the poison and it hurts coming out. I’ve felt wretched since yesterday. I’ve had a miserable headache, nausea and aching all over. It feels very much like a migraine, which worries me, because I used to get migraines and I was very happy that I stopped getting them about a year ago when I stopped taking birth control pills.

But I’ve been told to expect this kind of thing, and I guess it means that my body really had adapted to surviving the abuse I was giving it. Now that the abuse is gone, hopefully it will start to feel better soon.

Feeling Committed

I am committed to a cleanse. Starting tomorrow, I will be ingesting capsules that are essentially glorified vitamins and laxatives. I’ve done this cleanse before, and there is an awful lot of time spent in the bathroom with this one.

I did this cleanse, on the advice of a naturopath, while I was completing my Masters degree. Every morning at 10:00 am I spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom. Inconveniently, this fell during the very middle of one of my favourite seminars and eventually I had to confess to my professor what was going on so that she wasn’t offended by my frequent and lengthy disappearances.

Originally I completed this cleanse to help with my liver function, address my addiction to sugar, and to support my immune system. The results overall were very positive, but I failed to continue the food restrictions after the cleanse was over and quickly fell into my old habits. This time, things will be different.

How? How will they be different, you ask?

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

But here’s how I think it will work. The first two weeks are going to be the hardest. I will have to be prepared with food options everywhere I go and committed to eating a shitload (pardon the pun) of vegetables. After two weeks, I get to introduce dairy and red meat back into my life, slowly, which will make me ecstatic because I really dislike unsweetened soy milk. Having (smaller amounts of) cheese and beef in my life should pretty much make me happy enough to get through the last two weeks of the cleanse part, and then I will simply switch to a one-treat-per-week model of eating sugar only once a week. Honey and maple syrup are allowed so that I don’t go completely off the rails in frustration, but in very limited quantities.

Gluten, I am going to attempt to eliminate more permanently and see what happens. I’ll post my stats and my plan as I go along, and I’ll let you know how my strategies change. Leap Day has given me this extra moment of pause and preparation, and the blog is a good outlet to give me mental strength to avoid the dangerous foods I know are in the cupboard. I can’t bear to throw out food, so I’m hoping that people who visit will eat the bad stuff. Or make me throw it out.

My secret weapon this time will be the blog. Whenever I think I can’t handle the cravings, I’m going to write about it. This may mean that this blog is the site of all of my weakest moments, or possibly my strongest moments.

The most important part of all of this is my motivation. For the first time in my life, my health is motivated not by my own desire to look different or fit into different clothes (although those will be nice rewards), but rather by a desire to be healthy enough to have a baby. I want to teach my children good eating habits, and I want to model a healthy lifestyle for my children. In addition, my health will directly determine their health when they are born, and some studies say for the rest of their lives. It’s time for me to take that seriously and to get healthy enough to have a healthy baby.

I have to admit, I’m scared. But I’m also really excited.

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