Category Archives: Health

Sugar Detox: Recap

30-Day Sugar DetoxWell, I was going to do weekly posts on how the sugar detox was going for me, and I haven’t. Here’s my confession: Out of this six-phase program, I stopped reading halfway through phase four. And phase five was the actual whole-hog detox phase. So I didn’t even do the full detox, and I don’t know what it’s like. Oops.

But I don’t feel guilty.

One could say that I didn’t get the full value that I was paying for out of the program. I can’t really argue with that, it’s true. But here’s the thing: I got what I was looking for out of the program. And I still think it was worthwhile. I did make some serious changes to the way I eat this month. Here are my takeaways from this program.

I am an abstainer for specific foods. I would like to be a moderator… a person who can have just a little bite or two of a sweet treat and be satisfied, and then not have any more. But I cannot be a moderator with specific trigger foods – I have to abstain totally or I will eat unreasonable quantities in a single sitting. I already knew that ice cream, fruit pie and cookies were in the no-fly zone. But since trying to avoid sugary foods, I’ve learned that this problem extends to any food that I consider a tasty snack.

To avoid unnecessary sugar, I need to plan out my food much better, and snacks especially. Snacks are my weakness when it comes to sweets! And half the time, it’s not even due to a craving, it’s just poor planning. If I’m at work, it’s 10 am, I’m hungry and I don’t have any snacks? Guess I’m having a cookie or a muffin from the coffee shop. Having healthy food on hand is key.

There are some really great sugar-free snack options. My favourite go-to snacks now are bananas, pistachio nuts, apple slices dipped in natural almond butter, veggies with hummus, and sliced strawberries mixed with plain yogurt (never thought I’d see the day that I’d enjoy plain yogurt over a sweetened type, but see the next point…)

Your tastebuds & cravings change when they’re less accustomed to a flavour.  Now that I’ve become less used to sugar in everything that I eat, I don’t need as much of it to enjoy a food. And I have been genuinely enjoying plain yogurt with fruit instead of the sweetened vanilla kind, which now tastes cloyingly sweet to me. And today? I found myself craving OLIVES. This is WEIRD. But I’ll take it!

And the big reason I wasn’t really on board with the full detox… I become exceedingly sensitive to sugar if I’m not accustomed to it even in small quantities in my diet. In a bad way. I ate the least sugar for the first week on the detox. I was very proud of myself and my choices. But then when I did have a bit of sugar, BOOM. Debilitating headache, fatigue and dizziness. I am not okay with this.

I want to keep eating some sugar to keep my tolerance reasonable, but not indulge every day. I definitely have successfully kicked the cravings. But I don’t believe in avoiding fruit or natural sugars, and I think they’re necessary to keep my body accustomed to processing sugar without sidelining me with negative side effects. That way I can still indulge in actual treats like birthday cake or gelato on a date in the summer, without eating real sweets every day.

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Sugar Detox: Week 1

Sugar DetoxAlthough it struck fear into my heart, I recently decided to enroll in Nicole‘s 30-Day Sugar Detox program, and boy am I glad I did. It launched at the beginning of June, so I’ve been working my way through the materials for just over a week now, and it’s been rather eye-opening.

I am a bit of a sugar fiend. I have a terrible sweet tooth – heck, my catch phrase is that I like a little coffee with my sugar and cream! I have gotten into the habit over recent years of having a “treat” every day, sometimes more than once a day: a muffin here, a piece of chocolate there, a danish for breakfast on a day that I’m running late. It’s not really a treat anymore if you’re eating it all the time, is it?

Most of the time if I indulge in a sugary treat, I feel like I can’t help myself. And with certain particular items, I feel like I can’t stop at one, either. (TIM TAMS, I’M LOOKIN’ AT YOU). I was aware that when Nicole kicked the sugar habit, she went whole hog and basically eats 100% sugar-free now, but this wasn’t really my goal… I just wanted to avoid obvious sources of sugar for the month and kick the cravings. I wasn’t concerned about added sugar in non-obvious places.

The first phase of the program was focused on our connection with food – really delving into why we eat the way we do, where patterns of sugar-eating formed, and creating alternative coping mechanisms for those instances. One of my most interesting takeaways was remembering a family dinner tradition from my childhood: my mum served dessert of some sort almost every day (even though most of the time it was just fruit or yogurt, it was still a sweet flavour), but my parents told us we had to “qualify” for dessert by finishing some arbitrary amount of our main entree before we could move on to dessert. I had never made the link before, but there it was glaring me in the face. I had learned to equate sweets as a reward. And I do that to this day. Make a big sale? Cake! Finished an intensive study course? Ice cream! Had a super productive weekend? Pie!

I also realized how often I eat crap just because I’m bored, and especially if I’m bored and lonely or stressed. So, the coping mechanisms I came up with when I start craving sweets were the following:

  1. Take a walk
  2. Call a friend, and if I’m upset or stressed, vent
  3. Do something on my to-do list… preferably not something at the computer or at my desk.
  4. Play a fun song and dance it out

I’m now in the second phase, which is the education phase of the program, and this got really interesting for me. You’ll remember that I had no intention of cutting out added sugars in non-obvious places, but I also didn’t think that they were in so many non-obvious places! Nicole gave us a list of all the different names used in ingredient lists for various types of sugar additives. I don’t even think the list was comprehensive, but boy howdy, it was a long list. And after comparing every pantry item in my kitchen against that list, there were some nasty surprises. Rice vinegar! Canned olives! Chicken stock! Black beans! Mayonnaise! My beloved lemongrass had no less than FOUR DIFFERENT TYPES of sugar additives. And I nearly cried to see sugar as the second ingredient in sriracha. (Thankfully, I was also happy to learn that dill pickles, marmite, and my particular brand of salsa, crackers and dijon mustard were safe.)

So, I’m still not giving up my beloved sriracha, but it got me thinking that maybe there are some easy switches I can make that will reduce my sugar consumption without even noticing. First things first, it’s probably time to start soaking and cooking my own beans and chicken/vegetable stock instead of relying so heavily on pre-packaged varieties. I will probably commit to the switch from processed to natural peanut butter. And in some cases, a simple brand change is all it will take… did you guys know that most commercially made mayonnaise has added sugar, but Trader Joe’s brand doesn’t? (Sidebar: I am obsessed with Trader Joe’s and want to start crossing the border every few weeks for a grocery stocking trip, so I’m TOTALLY FINE with another excuse to hit them up). I will be reading ingredient lists on food packaging much more carefully in the future.

The best part? I haven’t even avoided obvious sugar 100% since June 1, but I have definitely reduced it dramatically and I’m pretty sure I’ve kicked the daily cravings. Also? I’ve been breaking through a weight loss plateau without increasing my activity level!

Stay tuned for more about this as the month goes on.

Single Lady Solo Date Night!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I have a confession: As a general rule, I kind of (TOTALLY) hate Valentine’s Day. But for nearly every year since I started dating back in high school, I’ve either been half of a couple or resentfully single on Valentine’s Day. This is the first year I’ve been quite happily single, and it turns out that’s the switch I needed to feel pretty giddy about this love fest.

Why, you might ask? When I’m part of a couple, I feel pressured to find a great gift and spend lots of money. I am not a gifty person; it’s not how I show love, so this annoys me greatly. However, all of a sudden, if I’m resentfully single, all I want is someone to put all that pressure and expense on me because I JUST WANT LOVE, DAMMIT!

Now? It’s a blessed evening to myself that is costing me exactly $21.85 in grocery money. I’m going to celebrate by making Single Lady Stew (aka a spicy, soupy “stew” that contains no meat) and these heart-shaped cookies by Shutterbean for dessert, which will be consumed in front of the TV while watching Grey’s Anatomy and cuddling with the dog. My roommate will be out with her Boyfriend-Like Person Who We Don’t Call Her Boyfriend, and I get the house to myself!

In case this happens to sound like someone else’s perfect recipe for a single lady solo date night, I wanted to share my recipe for Single Lady Stew.

Photo Source: Eat, Live, Run

Single Lady Stew, aka spicy stewed kale & veggies

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run’s Spicy Lentils with Sweet Potatoes & Kale

Ingredients:

1/2 cup quinoa (or lentils, or other favourite grain), rinsed
1 large carrot, peeled & diced
1 yam or sweet potato, peeled & diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small onion, diced small
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale, chopped or torn
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Generous pinch or two of dried rosemary
1 tsp sriracha, or to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for cooking

Directions:

Heat a little oil in a medium pot. Once hot, add the onion, celery, carrot and sweet potato and cook for about six minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and kale and continue cooking until kale wilts.

Add the quinoa, bay leaf, rosemary sprigs, chicken stock, sriracha, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until quinoa is tender and has absorbed much of the liquid.

A note about the chicken stock: I prefer this dish to have a slightly soupy texture to it, so I use more stock than the quinoa will absorb. If you don’t prefer this, use 2 cups of stock instead of 3.

Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve with crusty bread. And because this dish is basically a big pot full of health, you should have cookies for dessert for a properly balanced diet.

Clean Eating: Meal Systems

Three weeks into January, and here’s what I’ve learned so far: some diet adjustments have been much easier than others, and the hard ones were not necessarily the ones that I thought they’d be. Not only that, but I’m not really cut out for 30 days straight of treating food like a colouring book where I have to stay within the lines and not make any mistakes or else DEATH BLOOD DOOM.

My expectation was that the most difficult cravings to overcome would be my morning coffee and sweets. Surprisingly, the coffee was the easiest adjustment. I eliminated it for the month because I load it with cream and sugar, and I’d sooner avoid it entirely than drink it without cream (I find that milk doesn’t cut the bitterness to a degree where I can enjoy the taste). I switched to tea with honey and a little 1% milk, and it turns out I care more about the ritual of a hot morning beverage than the flavour. So that was easy and I will probably stick to this change on a permanent basis, having coffee only occasionally. I have cheated on sweets and consumed some most days, but most of the time I’ve had just a small handful of chocolate chips as a post-dinner snack and that’s been plenty to satisfy the craving. I expected to crave sweets all day, every day! I’ve easily avoided cheese without particularly missing it as well.

What has been impossible to stick to was the rule about no grains until dinner. This was a lack of foresight on my part because I always eat leftovers for lunch at work. So if I had grains with my dinner? I’m having it for lunch too! I’ve just made peace with this for budgetary reasons. I’m not going to make separate lunch items, it’s too expensive to add extra meals to my weekly grocery list. I’ve also been craving non-sweet plain white carbs like nobody’s business. Last week I would have probably kicked a helpless puppy for a big ol’ plate of pasta. So I had one. Hey, it was to save the puppies!

But after allowing myself some small cheats like this, I’ve been happy to get back on the bandwagon. I’ve been able to create some systems around eating clean that have made it much easier for me because they’ve eliminated some tedious food planning. Here’s what has worked for me:

Breakfast: I eat the same thing every day. No sweets or grains, so that left veggies, eggs and meat. I make a veggie scramble every morning with 1 entire egg + 1 egg white, mushroom, zucchini, and bell pepper, with salsa on the side. Some days I’ll add in some ham or turkey. Lately I’ve been cooking up a couple of breakfast sausages on the side. I have this with one mug of black tea. If I really need a break from eggs every day, I’ll make a green smoothie.

Snacks: I have a list of go-to snacks and I pick two each time I go grocery shopping. Those will be my snacks for the week. Here’s the list I pick from:

  • Veggies and hummus or baba ghanoush
  • Banana
  • Ants on a log (remember these from when you were a kid?!): celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins
  • Apple slices dipped in nut butter
  • Rice crackers with antipasto (this breaks my rule with carbs for a snack so I haven’t actually gone for this one yet, but I think it’s ok after the month is up as a healthy snack)
  • Trail mix with nuts, seeds & dried fruit

Dinners/Lunches: As I mentioned, I make extra dinner when I cook and use the leftovers for lunches at work. I’ve created a Detox Pinterest board with lots of delicious and healthy meal ideas, and I pick 3 recipes to make each week, which tends to be enough to feed me for the entire week with leftovers and usually a meal or two at my parents’ or cooked by my roommate. I try to pick one meal each week that’s a soup and one that’s more… solid… for lack of a better term?! I also stock the fridge with salad fixings, veggies and roast chicken so I can throw together a quick salad or roast a veggie and serve with chicken if I don’t have time to cook. On the weekends I’ll use the chicken carcass to make homemade chicken stock, and then use that as a base for the soup the following week.

A few meals I’ve made recently that have been fabulous:

Spicy kale & sweet potato “stew”
Asian chicken lettuce wraps
Chicken and veggie coconut curry
Mushroom & barley detox soup
Lean beef chili loaded with veggies, served with avocado
Turkey meatballs in spicy tomato sauce over spaghetti squash
And I can’t wait to make this lentil soup with sausage, chard & garlic that Smitten Kitchen posted today!

What do you guys do to stay on track with a balanced diet and curb cravings? Got any new snack or dinner ideas for me?

Clean January

I usually manage to quit eating so much chocolate after Christmas, but as a general rule I’ve never had any serious success at a real diet overhaul as a New Year’s Resolution. I quit making those resolutions years ago. But for some reason, hearing Amy and Holly write about doing Whole 30 in January really put a bug in my brain this year and I decided to do a month of clean eating in January.

The idea behind the Whole 30 plan is a 30-day program is intended to be a “nutritional reset”. Briefly, on the Whole 30 plan, you may not eat any of the following for 30 days:

  • All grains including oats, rice, wheat, barley, millet, buckwheat, and corn. I find this overly restrictive and unhealthy.
  • All legumes including beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, and peanuts. I also find this overly restrictive and unhealthy.
  • All forms of sugar and sweeteners including honey, maple syrup and agave.
  • All forms of dairy with the exception of clarified butter (ghee)
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or any sulfites.
  • Any alcohol
  • White potatoes

I couldn’t quite get on board with all of this; it primarily seems concerning to eliminate all grains and legumes entirely. As well, I find eliminating all forms of sweetener to be overly restrictive. But the idea was still there to do a 30 day “cleanse” utilizing real, whole foods and so I decided to do a modified Whole 30. What I really want is to eliminate the foods that are actually a problem in my diet for long enough to stop craving them regularly, so that I can then reintroduce them on an occasional basis. So here’s what my plan looks like for the month:

  • No grains until dinner
  • No pasta, white rice, bread or “pastry” type desserts such as donuts, muffins, danishes, cake or pie
  • No white sugar or artificial sweeteners (i.e. Stevia, aspartame, Sweet ‘N Low). Natural sweeteners such as honey & agave are okay in small quantities for tea and salad dressings.
  • No dairy, with the exception of goat cheese, low fat milk, and small amounts of butter.
  • No coffee. One caffeinated tea on work mornings is ok.
  • No alcohol
  • No chocolate
  • Small amounts of oil okay for cooking and salad dressings
  • Lots of lean protein such as fish, poultry and eggs
  • As much fruit & vegetables as my little heart desires
  • Drink mostly water
  • Legumes, nuts, unsweetened dried fruit, and non-caffeinated tea all okay

I started on the first of the month by weighing myself to get a starting point. Here’s an embarrassing picture I never thought I’d post on the internet:

Starting weight. Image source: my own!

Starting weight. Image source: my own!

I’ve been struggling in a major way with my weight for the last two years. A lot of it is related to physical limitations with exercise due to my herniated disc, but a lot of it is also related to my diet. I’ve been hovering between 180-185 lbs for the last two years and have had very real trouble getting and staying under 180 lbs. I am determined to do it this month and never see that number again on the scale.

The biggest food items I struggle to eliminate usually are sweet baked goods, sugar in just about any form, cream in my coffee (heck I even named my blog after this one!), and cheese. Though I do love them, I don’t consume enough healthy complex grains and vegetables. So my personal 30 day clean eating plan directly addresses these specific food issues and will hopefully create some much healthier habits for me.

I’ve stuck to this regime with only 1 real slip-up this week: I made quickie butternut squash pasta the night I’d been planning to make chili, because my roommate had a date over and was watching a movie with him. My clattering of pots & pans while cooking up a storm would have been loud and distracting, and I would have felt like a jerk! So far I am down almost 2 full pounds in only 6 days. I’ve been more conscious of what I put into my body, more connected to my food, and more motivated to move my body. And the weirdest experience: I have had absolutely no trouble eliminating sugar, but I have had a recurring craving for wine, of all things! What the heck?! This is unprecedented! Watch Clean January transform me from having a wicked sweet tooth into a wino instead.

Living a Full Life with Chronic Back Problems

One of the defining aspects of my life over the last year and a half has been the development of a herniated disc in my lower back. I’ve had problems with back pain for most of my life, but disc issues are not something to mess around with. Though I’ve never particularly enjoyed exercise, I’ve always been at least moderately active. I took pride in being strong enough to lift heavy boxes myself, keep up with my dog on a run, take the stairs instead of the elevator without being out of breath, etc. I also really enjoy food and was able to eat whatever I want as long as I burned it off at the gym. That worked out fairly well for me until my little hernia friend reared its ugly head.

All of a sudden, I found myself in a position where any physical exertion at all was likely to render me immobile with pain. After one particularly black weekend when I couldn’t move off the couch for two entire days without sending excruciating pain shooting throughout my body, I realized I needed to respect this injury and allow it to heal on its own schedule.

So I rested. And rested. And rested some more.

I would try my hand tentatively at going back to the gym or running here and there, always with awful, painful results. And so eventually, I resigned myself in frustration to being a couch potato, thinking I could never exercise again.

But that was just anger and denial that I had to deal with this problem. I’ve now accepted that this is a (albeit annoying) part of my life, but my herniated disc is not going to steal all of my health. I cannot work out like I used to, and I may never be able to again, but that doesn’t mean I am limited to being an immobile lump. So, some lessons that I’ve learned about nursing myself back to health in the face of physically limiting injury:

Respect Your Boundaries: Don’t do anything that will cause you to hurt yourself further. Don’t say yes to snowshoeing with friends because it sounds fun, if you know it will probably sideline you for weeks. Be careful in the sack, if you know what I’m saying – share your limits with your partner! Know when it’s better to rest with a warm bath than go for a run.

But….

Test Your Limits:  I had this idea that if I couldn’t do the workouts that I used to do, then I couldn’t exercise, PERIOD. Well, I’ve had to reframe the idea of what exercise involves. I’m not running on the treadmill at top intensity or squatting a hundred pounds, but I want to be an active person. It turns out I really love yoga and I can go for hour-long walks without negative repercussions. So I do that.

Prioritize Your Health: It was easy to let my health take a backseat for awhile because I was also newly self-employed at the time, and that was time-consuming. But leaving an injury like this to languish just lets it get worse. Throwing some dollars and effort at the problem is worth it to me now, knowing how much it can help! I didn’t give up until I found what worked for me either. I tried chiropractic, physiotherapy, acupuncture, naturopathy, swimming, Pilates, and kinesiology before I settled on a combination of yoga and massage therapy that really works for my body. It’s kind of expensive, but I got a group benefits package that covers the massage and I decided that I can’t afford not to pay for the one type of exercise I like and can handle.

Prevent the Consequences from Spreading: What I mean by that is, this is a medical health issue. It’s going to affect your medical health, there’s no way around that. But here’s what also happened to me: I didn’t reel in my food consumption to account for burning fewer calories, and I gained weight. I started to hate my body. I didn’t feel strong. I didn’t want my partner to see me naked or have sex with me. I didn’t want to go on a tropical vacation because I’d have to wear a bathing suit. I got depressed when I couldn’t go hiking with my friends – one of our favourite activities beforehand.

This was dumb because I love trying new recipes and can still enjoy the same quantity of food if I make lighter (not less delicious) recipes. My boyfriend thinks I’m beautiful and wants to have sex with me, and wants to go on vacation to a tropical destination with me. My friends, it turns out, don’t really care if I can’t go hiking, they just want to hang out, and there are lots of fun things to do together. So… this problem didn’t really didn’t need to spill over into my weight, my mental health, my sex life, and my friendships, did it?

Being active and taking care of the pain with massage therapy, and being proactive about making other areas of my life positive have all helped immensely to keep my back problems from negatively affecting my whole life. These have been hard lessons to learn, though.