Monday, March 26, 2012

My language with food.

I think about food all the time, but not just about consuming it. I think about cooking it almost constantly these days, so I'm wondering if my obsession is more than just putting it in my body; it seems to be more of a language for me.

Since I can remember, I have enjoyed cooking for people. I would get up early on the weekends and make everyone breakfast in bed. That usually meant hard scrambled eggs (I mean really hard), some form of juice or milk, and probably toast or cereal. I didn't know how to make much in the way of breakfast, but I would often even go to the lengths of printing out a menu and asking everyone to order something. Sometimes, I would create special items that I knew we didn't have or I didn't know how to make, so I would say, as I learned from restaurants, "Oh, I'm sorry. We are all out of that! Could I make you some scrambled eggs? They're my specialty!" (Yeah, I was pretty cute back in the day.) After breakfast stuff, Mom taught me how to make grilled cheese, then spaghetti, then all kinds of stuff, so by the time I was in college, I had a bunch of simple recipes I could share with my friends that were both delicious and easy. I was also a very picky eater growing up, so I knew if I could eat it, most of the people I knew could eat it. That idea was very appealing to me.

During my first year of college, I decided to go on the South Beach Diet to lose weight and control my insulin resistance, and I fell in love with most of the recipes from the first book I got. I loved cooking things from the book, and I would often invite people over for a meal to introduce them to my new eating lifestyle. One thing that I enjoyed about it the most was making the healthy substitutions and realizing that the mock up tasted just as good as the real thing, sometimes even better! To this day, minus the juice fasting, I still follow the recipes from the South Beach Diet when I cook. I have all of the cookbooks I could find, including one just for holidays. The recipes are exactly what I love the most: delicious and easy. I'm sure I'll talk more about SBD recipes as time goes on. (If you're shopping for new, healthy recipes, you must get The South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook. It is an absolute must-have.)

When I lived in the dorms with kitchens, my roommates and I would have specific nights where we would cook for each other. I went all out and I loved it! I would also include some strange fruit I'd never eaten before as dessert just to be adventurous. After every meal, I had everyone rate the meal. I got some pretty high scores most of the time. It started to be a pretty big thing for me, so I'd invite other people to join us. There were a few times where we didn't have enough chairs for everyone. (Of course, most of the extra dinner guests were boys. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, right?)

Somewhere in there, I started to offer to cook for my family all the time. If ever I'm home, I'm trying to cook something. In fact, I cooked for my brother and his wife a few weeks ago in Atlanta, and then again for my parents and my other brother and his wife a few nights after that - all while I was on a juice fast. I've cooked for my house guests who were traveling during this time. I've even thought about dropping off baked goods for some of my neighbors these days "just because." (I will probably still do that, by the way. I know you're probably reading this, Anna.)

Anytime I want to figure something out, I always try to have an audience. After my stay in Thailand, I tried my hand at cooking Thai food for family and friends. After Costa Rica, I tried the same thing. Any trip I took, I was whipping up something I had for someone else so they could be apart of that experience with me in some way. I'm constantly trying to figure out what is in something I'm eating so I could recreate it at home or for someone else. (Up next: East Side King's-style beet fries with Gina!) Some people know that I semi-secretly *love* picnics. [Check the 2 wicker baskets, picnic-specific blanket, and new-to-me vintage picnic plate and utensil carrying set. You can call me a hardcore picnicker.] They also know that I *adore* pot lucks. (I'm great at theme parties, too. What can I say?) This has been a normal thing for me for most of my life - cooking for people, enjoying our food together - because I don't just eat to live, but sometimes, I do live to eat because for me food is love.

Most people know this as a truth. When your mom, g-ma, or aunt – usually just someone older than you who knows how to freakin' cook - makes something AMAZING, you just want to hug them or cuddle with them afterward because a) you are so damn full of delicious goodness and b) they just slaved over an incredible meal for you just because they care. It's such a beautiful thing! And in my family, when we get together, we will sit at the table for hours, full plates to empty plates, and just talk and connect, usually over the food at first. Some of the best conversations I have ever had in my entire life have been at my kitchen table. Stories. Laughter. Tears. Joy. Love. What brought us there? Food. Delicious, amazing, wonderful, incredible food. I feel like saying Amen right now! (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for being so loving and providing as you were unknowingly shaping me into the human I am through these lasting experiences and outstanding meals.)

Fast forward to a few months ago, I felt myself getting a little stuck in the same routine with the same food staples there for a little while before this juice fast. It was no wonder that I would find myself in a restaurant more often than not, making choices that weren’t the best for me. Now that I'm juicing all of this fresh produce, I cannot wait to cook it and eat it! There are so many different flavors of lettuce out there that I am excited to build different meals specific to each one. I've juiced things I wouldn't have touched before, and now, I'm looking up recipes for when I can consume them whole. The same goes for roots and fruits and all kinds of other fresh, wonderful things.

This stuff - this beautiful, beautiful produce - is so much love for us. It is grown in our earth, put here by our Creator, for us to have and enjoy so our bodies will be strong, well, and vibrant. I'd ignored so much of it for fear, I guess. What else could it have been? Now that my eyes are opened to the rest of the produce section, not just a select area, I am planning feasts for my friends and family along with simply delicious, healthy meals all for myself.

It feels like I'm learning a new language, which is something I made as a goal for myself not too long ago, so it's interesting how that goal is shaping up into a different form. This new language with food is like a deeper understanding of love, and I am slowly but surely approaching the testing period - that is, life post-juice fast in 19 days - where I'll use this language of love for myself in the best way that I've learned how. Just thinking about eating is making me really happy, but not because I'm going to go out and eat fried pickles (which are delicious, by the way) every night. It's because I'm going to listen to what this new language is telling my heart and my body and make the best choices I possibly can, at home or wherever. This is such an empowering time for me right now that I have no fear inside me that I'm going to just go crazy and start consuming small children because I've been so deprived. That's just silly! If anything, I may fear restaurants that fry everything and use Paula Deen-esque globs of butter on otherwise ridiculously healthy things, but even then, I'll know that there has to be some option for me. If not, I'll create one for myself because I guarantee I have that power.

I love myself, I love food, and life after this fast is going to be so much fun. Of course, you'll read all about it!

If you are interested in learning more about what I'm doing and the film that inspired my roommate and I to take this journey, please come with us to Whole Foods Market on N Lamar this Friday around 5 pm on the plaza outside for a viewing of "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead." Joe Cross, director and star of the film, will be there. He's coming all the way from Australia! Needless to say, I'm super excited. Well, I was already excited, but to meet the guy who inspired the journey you're currently on while you're on the journey is kind of a dream come true. Join us! You can find more information right here on the Facebook.

By the way, I love you all. Thank you for reading this. Seriously.


Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm calling it a miracle.

As of today, I've officially lost 30 lbs. since I began my daily count of consistent exercise. It's day 57 of that journey, and day 38 of my juice fast journey. Realistically, I have about 70 lbs. to go to get to my "healthy" weight range (according to doctors and charts, etc.). I think I'd be ok with losing just 50 more. There's no rush, really. The effects of what I'm doing now are already healing my body in miraculous ways. There is one in particular I'd like to share, if you don't mind.

Some people get very uncomfortable during talk of menstruation, and I was one of those people for all of my life. My friends, including some males, would get on to me, telling me it was a beautiful part of my body that I should embrace. I would just shake my head, shudder a bit, and refuse to talk about it. For a very long time, I used other words to replace the word "period" like "that time of the month." I also resorted to naming it "George," you know, something very non-feminine. I cringed at commercials that talked about pads and tampons. (Pads were gross to me, so I wouldn't use them or refer to them at all. I called tampons "bullets" so I could "shoot George." I really hated "George.") The whole idea made me feel really gross like I was the carrier of this horrible disease that no one should ever talk about, and I would take commercials from Tampax, Kotex, or blah-blah-ex/ax brand selling their *amazingly* absorbent materials very personally. My face would often get red during said commercial breaks. I don't embarrass too easily, so I think you get the point that this was something I did not discuss. Never ever.

Obviously, that isn't the case today. Over the past few months, I've come to terms with this part of my body. I have accepted that it is a natural occurrence, but it actually did not occur naturally within my body as it would most other females. Because of my PCOS condition, I developed amenorrhea, and I would menstruate maybe once every year or year and a half. I can probably count how many times I've had my period throughout my life. My former mindset celebrated the fact that I "didn't have to deal with having a period" since I detested the process so much. As my mindset changed and focused towards health, I knew something was very wrong with my body and I needed to do everything I could to change it.

On March 5, almost a month into my juice fasting and just over a month into my daily exercising, I menstruated for the first time in about 2 years. I never thought I would be so happy to have my period, but I cried tears of joy. And for whatever reason, I knew it was going to be a normal thing for me from then on out. Sometimes, when you know, you know, and since that was the longest I had ever gone without menstruating, I knew that it was my body's way of responding to what I am doing to make it stronger and healthier every single day.

Now, I talk about this more than I've ever talked about it before, and gladly so! Thank God for this! I am ecstatic! I believe that this is my body healing itself without needing medication or anything really crazy. It's just taking care of itself because I'm doing the right things to improve my overall health. I needed this miracle to prevent any further damage that was happening inside me, and I am most definitely looking forward to every single time of the month - sorry, every period ;) - as something positive and beautiful, just as I am in all parts of my healthy, amazing human body.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Balancing Act: I Am What I Eat

Quick correction to the last post: I was on Day 28, not 27! That's a good mistake.

One thing I've come to realize throughout this journey is that my eating choices and habits are direct reflections of my life balance and imbalance. I am what I eat, essentially, so if I am feeling chaotic, I'll eat something that resembles just that. If I'm feeling great and happy and stable, I choose the foods to follow that as well. It gets really tricky when I'm stressed out because I won't put eating correctly (or sometimes, even eating at all) as a priority to the task at hand. If I have a dress that takes 6 hours to complete and I literally only have 6 hours, I won't even "waste" time to use the restroom much less feed myself anything substantial. Those times may be ahead of me in the future, too, but my hope is that I will learn some balance in all areas of my life to maintain a healthy lifestyle all around.

Before this juice fast, I could eat almost anything packaged or processed, mostly due to their nostalgic value. My favorite babysitter growing up would give us Vienna sausages, highly processed cheese, Chef Boyardee, Easy Mac, etc. and I loved it! I thought it was great! Even in recent history, I would make a snap decision to get a large order of onion rings from Sonic just because the craving hit me. I'd eat them with ranch, and I'm pretty sure Sonic puts sugar in their batter. (Breading doesn't normally taste that sweet!) Afterwards, I had zero energy and I felt really gross for consuming something that was fried, fattening, and sugar-coated. Often, I would need a nap afterwards so my body could cope with the shock to my system. Truthfully, though, I could probably eat some of that stuff today. But do I really want to? That's a big fat HELL NO, but honestly, is the rest of fast food any better? Would I grab a burger and fries from some place like P. Terry's? Maybe. They're pretty delicious, and even though they are touted as a "healthy fast food," I'm not sure that's a place I need to go when I'm in a bind. Luckily, there's Snap! Kitchen, which I forget about too often, and Whole Foods and Central Market both have prepared foods areas I can grab from if I'm in a hurry. Thundercloud and Subway aren't the worst, but I do have to watch that I don't just put a ton of meat and cheese on a sub with a little bit of lettuce and call it a meal. I'm hoping to train my body to crave more plant fuel than animal or bread fuel, mainly as a result of the past 34 days of feeling amazing and full of good energy. Oh, and another cool, relatively mindless alternative to fast foods: Juice! I have virtually no excuse to resort to processed, pre-packaged foods again because I know that I can live off of juice if I need a meal, and juicing takes only a few minutes.

Balance is really important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and the connection to food is absolutely related to my daily life. I look forward to re-learn healthy choices as each day progresses and to realize that I am in control of my future through every single healthy, nutritious, delicious bite - or sip!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bright today, bright future.

I'm writing this from the Atlanta airport as I wait to board my flight back to Austin. My juicer is safely tucked away in my checked baggage. I've been away from Austin on a 6-day trip in Georgia with my family, and I must admit there were very tempting times that made me want to put a pause to my juice fast. As I head home, I can proudly state that I did not break my fast the entire time!

Food is more social than it is fuel for almost everyone, especially my family. I love to connect over great food with people in general, but something about a big meal really brings families together. It's been a huge part of my family interactions. We always ate dinner together at the kitchen table where we would sit, for hours sometimes, just talking and eating whatever deliciousness my mom prepared for us. I grew up with incredible food, although I was a picky eater for most of my life until I started traveling internationally at 19. We have a close family, and our parents brought us up with the notion to appreciate everything that we have - especially food. When we had family gatherings involving my mom's extended family and a few adopted family members, everyone would cook something! My uncles and brothers and their friends would barbecue, while the ladies would prepare the other stuff. If you want to see a feast, just come to my house at least once a year when the family comes to town. It's pretty amazing and delicious!

With that said, I don't recall ever pacing myself at our get-togethers. I've never known a time with the family where my stomach didn't hurt from being stuffed with slow cooked barbecue, broccoli slaw, and some form of dessert, most likely banana pudding or Ms. Donna's cake from Heaven. I always prepared ahead of time to wear my stretchy pants. This trip was different, though. I drank my fresh juice while talking to my family members. Most people understood why I am doing what I'm doing, other implored me to take a break for just one night [Read: Horrible idea.]. It's a little awkward to just not eat around my family at times, but once I explained everything, I was met with encouragement and respect. Seems as though the toughest people I know could "never do something like that." I begged to differ, but it did give me a tiny sense of pride.

I've concluded that after these 60 days are up (currently on Day 27), I will literally be able to do anything I want. I have been tested and passed with flying colors so far that I really view the next 33 days as a breeze. My body is responding very well to this process and I feel happier, lighter, and brighter than ever before, and that's just today! I'm gladly anticipating the next month or so as my body, mind, and spirit grow with the changes and excitement of learning more and more about self-healing and wellness as I stay on this magical journey.