In Pursuit of Happiness and a Flat Stomach (TheEscapeArtist's Journal)
Why am I here? The short answer is, I'm sick of feeling like sh*t.
The long answer: Been wrestling with depression since the Puberty Fairy visited, lo many, many, many years ago. Damn you Puberty Fairy! I still haven't forgiven you! (In my imagination she looks something like Snooki.)
My go-to strategies to make myself feel better:
[LIST=1][*]Eat (preferably things containing both sugar and wheat) [*]Drink (at my worst, 2 bottles of wine a dayÖI havenít admitted that to anyone before now) [*]Immerse myself in mindless digital entertainment (iTunes is like my crack dealer) [*]Go to bed and stare at my ceiling until I feel better (or what I call ĎJapanese bed therapyí Ė sounds so much more acceptable doesnít it?)[/LIST]Sort of the anti-Eat-Pray-Love when I think about it...except for the eat part.
Of course pretty much all of the above just make things worse and eventually my survival instinct kicks in and I pull myself out of the hole and resolve things are going to be different and launch some sort of grand self-improvement scheme in an effort to fix myself. And they work for awhile, these schemes, but in the long run, theyíve been about as successful as the self-destructive escape routes listed above.
I donít want this to be part of another self-improvement scheme that will eventually crash and burn. So whatís different this time:
[LIST=1][*]I really do think that diet, if not 100% of the problem, is certainly a major factor. As I said in my Ďmeet and greetí post, Iíve tried both Atkins and Zone. At the time I thought I felt better because I was losing weight (been gaining and losing the same 10 Ė 20 lbs for most of my adult life), but looking back I think it was actually because I quit wheat/sugar/alcohol and radically dropped my carb intake. Despite feeling so much better, I eventually fell off the wagon on both of those programs and was unable to jump back on. Some of it may have had to do with the diets themselves (on the Zone was hungry a lot and it really engaged my wacko perfectionist side with all that calculating and measuring), but also with my general attitude, which takes me to points 2 and 3.[*]Iím trying to delete the Dís from my mental vocabulary Ė diet, deprivation, dullÖI canít think of any more right now but Iím sure there are some. Note to self: This is not about losing weight, itís about giving my body and my brain what they need to be healthy and happy (repeat daily in front of mirror if necessary).[*]Iíve never had a support community before. I tend to be something of a loner and (the evidence here not withstanding) a pretty private person. But Iíve been impressed by how supportive people are of each other on this site, and of course, I've been inspired by all the stories. A special thanks to all the ladies out there who posted about PCOS (tick), depression (tick), and sinusitis (tick). Somewhere in all this thereís a PhD thesis for somebody. For myself, I hope that by writing this journal Iím possibly helping others who struggle with some of the same issues (as well as keeping my own ass on track).[*][/LIST]
Will leave it there for now, although lots to report on my first 9 days on the path to primal. Trying to observe Rule #6 and also not bore the hell out of anyone who should stumble upon this post.
The Joys of a Drippins Jar: Triumphs and Tribulations with Dietary Fat
Inspired by Warmbear's strong admonition about not fearing fat, thought I'd write today's post on the triumphs and tribulations of adjusting my fat intake in these first 10 days.
[B]Strategies for adding more saturated fat[/B]
[LIST=1][*]Started a 'drippins jar', as my grandmother called it - a jar that sits next to the stove to collect the drippings (fat) from cooking bacon etc. My grandmother, who lived to be 93, used the drippins liberally when cooking cornbread and veggies - which is why her green beans tasted vastly superior to the ones my mom made. (Mom, bless her, is a lifetime member of Weight Watchers.)[*]Already had a big ol' tub of coconut oil sitting in the fridge, but now I've actually been using it - although still feels like cooking with candle wax to me. Maybe would be better if I kept it at room temp...[*]Have been buying the fattiest cuts of organic meat I can get my hands on. Including one that I swear had a fat to lean ratio of 10:1. Got some great drippins off of that one![/LIST]
[B]Making friends with MUFAs[/B]
I know, I know, not as cool as SFAs and got to watch the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, but still monounsaturated fatty acids may be my new best friends - my go-to foods when I feel a craving coming on are all high in MUFAs. My top three favs:
[LIST=1][*]Avocados - the only challenge is not jumping the gun and cutting into them when they are not-quite-ripe but still getting to them before they start developing big ugly brown spots. I know that even then they are fine to eat but something in me recoils. My dog gets the brown bits (she will eat anything but lettuce - makes you wonder about lettuce...). Suggestions for addressing this challenge very welcome.[*]Olives - black and shiny, green and spicy, dried and wrinkly - I love them all! My favorite convenience store snack? Little tubs of spicy green pitted olives - they come with an ingenious notched fork that fits perfectly in the hole (can't think of way to describe it without sounding dirty). Of course the convenience stores here offer a generally healthier selection of snacks than the ones back in the good old US of A. Can you imagine being able to pick up single serving containers filled with cherry tomatoes, baby cucs or snacking peppers in the 7-11? The world would no doubt be a better place if it were so.[*]Walnuts - yummy and wonderfully portable. Even pre-primal I kept a baggy of walnuts in my briefcase at all times - comes in handy when stuck in meetings or conferences and they bring in the danishes or cookies at the coffee break. So when everyone else is experiencing a sugar crash, I'm still relatively alert (a blessing or a curse depending on the meeting).[/LIST]
[B]Boosting Omega-3 - let them chickens run free![/B]
[LIST=1][*]Free-range organic eggs - found a good source at my local health food store. You can even 'adopt' a chicken through their supplier. You get coupons for eggs and you can watch 'your chicken' as it runs about happily scratching and pecking via the chicken cam (they have web cams stationed outside the chicken house :)). Grass-fed meat on the other hand, more challenging to find here than back in the USA; smaller, much more densely populated country = less room for grazing land.[*]Smoked Alaskan salmon (sustainably fished of course) - this is an old pre-Primal standby. I like it with eggs, in salads and if I'm feeling decadent as a modified sushi roll with a small spoonful of cream cheese and some capers in place of rice. Plus it will keep quite in my fridge for weeks without going off. Please don't say it's bad for me (haven't looked into what the smoking process does yet).[*]Omega-3 supplements - have been taking daily for years. Only downsides: can make you bruise more easily and expensive if you want to get the ones processed to remove the heavy metals, PCBs etc. (although recently read the danger may actually not be so high: 44 popular brands tested all met FDA standards for contaminants - reassuring if you trust the FDA to look out for your health...hmm).[/LIST]
[B]The challenge of cutting down on Omega-6 or why Sunflower Oil is my nemesis:[/B]
I threw out the vegetable oil and the canola oil, but have found it more of a challenge to get rid of the sunflower oil lurking in some of my favorite products:
[LIST=1][*]My mayonnaise - had congratulated myself pre-Primal on finding organic mayo with no sugar added. Dismayed to read that it is 78% sunflower oil! Have been looking for an alternative with olive oil but still without sugar. No luck thus far.[*]Tzatziki from the fancy "Whole Foods"-like grocery store - another pre-Primal find, or so I thought. Only a handful of ingredients, all of them real, recognizable foods. Makes a great dip for veggies. BUT first ingredient, yep, sunflower oil. Such a bummer.[*]Bottled artichoke hearts - always kept some in the pantry to give a little somethin' somethin' to boring salads, and I thought since they're Italian they'd be bottled in olive oil, right? I read the label. OH NO! NOT YOU AGAIN![*]Olives - Ahhh! They're olives! If they're oil-packed, it should be in olive oil! I mean come on![/LIST]Looks like I'm going to have to make my own versions of some of these products or go without if I'm really going to eliminate Sunflower Oil entirely...or I can take the attitude that a little bit every now and then is not going to have such a big impact on my overall health. BTW I vigorously rinsed and then squeezed those artichoke hearts (basically turning them into artichoke mush) before adding them to my salad yesterday. Still tasted good :)
The first true test: A BUSINESS TRIP! AHH!!!
So this past week I had to go to London on business - yes, right in the midst of Olympic madness. I find business trips intensely stressful (like many people) and thus try to sooth myself with junk food and alcohol (again, I suspect, like many people). And so I was very worried that worst case: this trip would propel me into a downward spiral of out-of-control drinking and eating from which I would not soon recover, or best case: I would manage to keep it together but that it would be really, really hard and painful.
I did a couple of things differently, to try to give myself a fighting chance:
[LIST][*]I left armed with 1/2 an avocado, 2 packages tamari almonds, 3 hardboiled eggs, 10 cherry tomatoes, a small carton of dried wurst and a special treat - 2 dark chocolate raspberry truffles (very small ones and sweetened with agave).[*]I told my colleagues that I was on a diet (seemed easier and less likely to cause eye-rolling than telling them I was making 'a life-style change'). This was a big step for me - I've been on many diets before but I always tried to hide it. I don't know why...because it was like admitting I was fat? Anyway, I was the master at secret dieting. But this time I 'fessed up (and really with no shame) which made it easier to stay the course and resist the strong end-of-the-day pull of a glass of wine (or five). [/LIST]
And shockingly it wasn't hard or painful. It was actually...fine. And I felt...good. And the benefits were manifold and...unexpected.
[B]Benefit #1: No more food angst[/B]
I didn't want to be perceived as a picky princess - I was the only woman in a group of men, so I told them not to worry about me when choosing places to eat, that I could make anything work. And I did! And, unlike previous trips when I was doing Atkins or the Zone or whatever, I didn't find myself constantly worrying OMG am I going to be able to find something I can eat?! I ended up eating half my meals at Pret a Manger - their salads are mostly primal or can easily be adapted if you don't mind picking the croutons off. I let myself have a little slack when it came to dairy and vegetable oil, but otherwise I had no problem eating primal...except for my two truffles, which I savored in my hotel room while watching the finals of the men's beach volleyball (I really think the Brazilians should have won - I found it touching how they hugged each other between points).
[B]Benefit #2: Random acts of kindness[/B]
I smiled at people and they were nice to me! I mean how often does this happen: The guy manning the gate at the tube station gives you a free ticket (actually comes over and cancels your order at the ticket machine and hands you a free ticket!); the desk clerk at your hotel upgrades you to suite without you asking; and the harried guy taking your order at some airport fast food joint tells you you are beautiful:o Maybe this sort of thing happens to you all the time, but it does not happen to me. The last time I took a business trip, someone ran over my foot with their wheelie bag and a guy in the airport security line called me a bitch for accidently appropriating 'his bin'. Of course, it could be that in preparation for the Olympics, they started dumping prozac into the London water supply, but I think these random acts of kindness were more likely due to the primal goodwill that I was radiating.
[B]Benefit #3: My own Olympic moment[/B]
Usually before boarding a flight from the UK, I would be heading to Boots or W.H. Smith to stock up on salt & vinegar crisps and chocolate-covered hobnobs, but this time I picked up a salad at Pret, which was at the other end of the terminal from my gate. It was only when my flight was just about to board that I realised I had forgotten to pick up a fork! Could I make it from one end of the terminal to the other and back in four minutes wearing heels? I was hungry but not enthusiastic about eating salad with my fingers while crammed between two strangers, so I decided to go for it. I slalomed in and out of the crowd to avoid slower moving travelers, hurdled pieces of luggage and toddlers, and sailed past homeward-bound Olympic athletes. And all while clutching my suitcase in one hand and my skirt in the other (without my wheat belly to hold it up, it was in danger of ending up around my knees!). I made it! And was thus able to enjoy my victory salad while my fellow travelers were left to choose between cookies and pretzels.
[B]Benefit #4: Resilience[/B]
Usually a business trip will send me to bed for days to recover. This time I slept in a bit later but then I got up and did stuff - made breakfast for my friend (primal omelette), went for long walks with my dog, and even unclogged my sink, which I had been meaning to do for months but hadn't had the energy (you don't want to know what was lurking in there - let's just say it's amazing I'm not bald).
Can it really be this easy? Does what you eat not only largely determine your body composition but also your mental health as well?
The four minute workout that kicked my ass
So this morning - feeling fully recovered from my trip - I decided to do Tabata sprints in the park. For those of you not familiar with the Tabata, you can learn all you need to know from [URL="http://www.marksdailyapple.com/what-are-tabata-sprints/"]Mark's post[/URL], but in essence it's just an interval invented by some Japanese dude: 20 sec full on + 10 sec recovery, repeated 8x. I was introduced to the Tabata on holiday at Wild Fitness where they like to apply it to burpees. I had planned to work in some Tabata burpees on my business trip (possible in all but most miniscule of hotel rooms)...however, I forgot about the necessity of battening down the boobs before beginning. Should have packed a sports bra (or two - I like to double up for high impact).
Anyway, back to Tabata sprints - this was my second round. The first, which I did Sunday before last, was probably the longest four minutes of my life...in part because it was actually five minutes - I somehow managed to reset the timer. I kept thinking surely this must be the last sprint, but then the timer would go beep, beep, BEEP! and I would take off again with a groan. BTW there's an app - actually several; I chose the Tabata-Timer ("Now free for a limited time!") and was pleased with it...except for the resetting snafu.
[B]Running - certainly better for you than heroin[/B]
A little confession here: I used to be a running addict. As far as addictions go, I guess it was relatively benign - as compared to your typical schedule I narcotic. But just like with a drug, I had to have my daily hit to feel halfway decent (and it really was 'halfway'). When I was living in the tropics, I would get up at 5:30 so I could run before it got too hot. When I moved here I would run in the snow. But then at certain point my usual 8 to 10k wasn't doing it for me anymore (maybe something to do with the vitamin D-deprivation?), and so I started increasing the distance to 12 to 16k. At a certain point my knees decided 'this is bullsh*t!' and began protesting the abuse. It got so bad I couldn't run anymore - I guess you could say I'd OD'd on running - at which point my depression issues got much worse, and then I didn't want to run. This was three or four years ago. I tried to go back to it a couple of times but somehow could never find the motivation to sustain me through the painful re-entry.
[B]I can endure anything for 4 minutes![/B]
OK...probably there are many things I can't endure for four minutes - holding my hand to a naked flame, letting a tarantula crawl up my arm, and listening to Celine Dion among them. Sprinting is not on the list. The beauty of the Tabata is that it's relatively easy to talk yourself into.
Primal self: How about some Tabata sprints in the Park?
P*ssy self (in a whiny voice): [I]But that sounds painful. I don't like painful.[/I]
Primal self: Come on! It's only 4 minutes! And then you'll feel so much better.
P*ssy self:[I] Well...I guess if it's only 4 minutes...[/I]
Actually with warmup and cool down it's more like 15 to 20, but still, that's nothing. For warm up I do a gentle 400 meter jog (equivalent to a lap around a track) and then around 200 meters of high knees, butt kicks and side to sides just to give all those muscles a wake up call and to mentally psyche myself up to the actual sprinting part. I managed to do my sprinting back and forth on a short dirt path through the trees where the ground is knee friendly and I can galumph along at high speed without being seen and potentially gawked at.
[B]Avoiding the danger of 'shoulding' on myself[/B]
This time after I finished, I think I even had a little bit of energy left - on the way out of the park, Primal self was eyeing the exercise area where there are stations for pullups, situps, pushups and such like. And I thought 'I [I]should[/I] probably do that too' at which point P*ssy self started to whimper and threatened not to come back. It set off my alarm bells - P*ssy self isn't completely useless. This is what I do: throw myself into something 110% and then burnout. So I walked on by, went home and cooked myself a big ol' three egg omlet with bacon and leftover broccoli from last night. I figure when the time is right I will really feel like taking on more than my four minute workout; for now it's enough.