Getting Greek in Astoria – Greek Couscous Salad

It’s been quite a while since I posted a recipe.  I will confess that after the Whole30 ended I fell off the wagon for a while until I realized how miserable eating dairy, gluten, and (too much) sugar made me feel.  While I’m certainly not going back to any sort of restriction diet (<3 whole grain bread and jelly beans), I’m trying to my best to stick to food that don’t make me feel physically and mentally gross.

Another reason I derailed was due to the fact that my kitchen was out of use for a while.  Don’t worry, no pipe explosions or hostile take over by the water bugs – my kitchen was in boxes because we moved!  We said so long to the Brooklyn and hello to Queens.  It’s only been a week, but I have to say Astoria already feels like home.  Not only does the area feel like friends and family, we also happen to be walking to distance to friend and family!  With a new back yard, I’m looking forward to adding some grilling recipes to my repertoire.  Sadly, it’s still winter in the city so I’m still confined to my stove, but at least I’m back in the kitchen!

Last week I needed a side dish to go along with tilapia, so I decided to embrace our new greek neighbors and came up with a greek couscous salad.  I used large pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, because I find it works better with the ingredients I used, plus I found a whole-grain version!  I used feta cheese sparingly – even though I try to limit dairy, it felt wrong not to include it.

I’m looking forward to exploring our new neighborhood and making more meals at home again, now that our kitchen is unpacked and ready to go.  Maybe I’ll venture into more mediterranean cooking.  Bring on the hummus and falafel!

Greek Couscous Salad

Yields 4 servings

1 cup uncooked whole-grain large pearl ( or Israeli) couscous

1 Tbs EVOO

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes

Large handful of fresh spinach, chopped

½ cup kalamata olives, chopped

¼ cup feta cheese chopped

Cook the couscous according to the package.  Chop tomatoes, spinach, olives, and feta – feel free to add more/less based on personal preference.  Let the couscous cool for a few minutes and then pour into a bowl.  Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.  Enjoy!

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Working Out Isn’t An Option For Me

Working out is not an option for me. I don’t mean that in douchey “I can’t lose my gains” way because exercising to achieve physical strength and better fitness is only about 20% of the reason why I drag myself to the gym 5–6 times a week. I exercise for sanity.

Exercise, nutrition, and getting enough “down time” is my anti-drug i.e., the key to me living a happy, healthy, and medication-free life. I believe medication is a wonderful (and in some cases, extremely important) tool to help people live their best lives. It did not do that for me. Over the course of about eight years I was put on ten different medications and various combinations. They made me:

  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Feel like things were constantly vibrating (super annoying)
  • Sleep-deprived
  • Unable to sleep
  • Lethargic
  • Overstimulated
  • Never hungry
  • Constantly hungry
  • Numb

The last one was the final reason I decided to go off meds. Even though the meds helped with the dramatic mood swings and intensely negative feelings, they began to rob me of any feelings. I wasn’t depressed or anxious, but I also wasn’t happy or even aware of what was going on most of the time. It felt like I was merely existing rather than living, and I was not about that life.

I told the doctor I was seeing while I was away a school (who I hated) that I wanted to go off meds and try alternative ways to treat my bipolar disorder. She said that was impossible and I would need to be on meds for the rest of my life. After that I never saw her again. I told my parents I was going off my meds, which promptly caused them to panic and call my doctor at home to make sure I wasn’t about to lose it. She said that people who suffer from mental illness, depending on the severity, can live without medication as long as they find alternatives. Exercise and nutrition were the top choices. I was in.

It’s been about six years since I went ‘on the wagon’ and while it’s not always an easy choice, for me it was absolutely worth it. Popping five pills in the morning was easy, getting up in the morning and going to the gym is not. However, I’ve built working out into my routine and found something that really works for me (after much trial and error).

Taking care of my mental wellbeing is my number one priority, because if I don’t I can’t do anything else. I realized, very early on, that no one was going to do it for me so I had to learn how to really take care of myself. Certain things that seem simple and natural are actually a lot harder when you’re battling a mental illness. In the beginning, I had to remind myself to take showers regularly. I know that’s gross, but when my mood shifted to depression I would go an unpleasant amount of time without a shower. I had to learn how to eat properly so I could give my body and mind the nutrients I need to be healthy. I quit smoking and started running, which I promptly realized was not a sustainable exercise for me (too boring). I’ve done yoga, pilates, boot camp, weight training, spin, barre, team sports, and pretty much any other class or activity I could find. It took me several years to finally find the right combination for me (because we’re all different); CrossFit and spin.

CrossFit helps me build muscle (which help me deal with a permanent back injury) while also allowing me to feel like I’m part of something. I used to alienate myself when I feel depressed, manic, or anxious, which only made me feel more depressed, manic, or anxious. The community of CrossFit makes me feel included, and gets me to the gym in the morning because I know if I skip class I’m going to hear it from my coach.

Spin just makes me feel good. Although I like being part of a community and being around people most of the time, there’s another part of me like relishes solitude. Spin is a great way to workout in a group while still being alone. I can show up to class and not say a word to anyone (without looking like an asshole) if I’m not feeling up to talking to people. It’s great.

Exercise also nutrition go hand in hand since I need to make sure I’m eating enough quality foods, which has helped tremendously with the body issues and unhealthy relationship with food I’m still dealing with. I also don’t feel as bad if I indulge in one (or four) cookies after spin class or power lifting at CrossFit. I can’t tell you how much this has improved my overall wellbeing.

Regardless of your mental health status or situation, I strongly encourage you to clean up your diet and hit the gym. I cannot say this enough — eating well and working out will change your life. I know it’s hard to find the time or spend the money, but it’s become something that I don’t even give a second thought about. If I were physically sick, I would do whatever it took to make myself better and I hope you would do. Mental health is just as important than physical health, so do your body and mind a favor and take care of them simultaneously.

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Sausage Deliciousness

Even though the Whole30 is over, I’m still all about making nutritious and delicious dinners.  I also had a spaghetti squash taking up valuable real estate in my fridge.  This dinner was just meant to be.

Last night was my first experience cooking spaghetti squash.  My mom makes her own very tasty dinner with spaghetti squash that is one of personal favorites of hers.  I need the recipe for now that I am an experienced spaghetti squash chef.  I’ve watched my mom make spaghetti squash dozes of times and it always looked quick and easy.  However, I have also watched my mom cut a spaghetti squash in half and it looked…difficult

I will be honest – it was not easy.  At one point I got my knife stuck in it, then got a second knife stuck in it trying to get the first knife out.  But I was determined to cut this beast in half so my poor boyfriend would not come home to a mutilated squash and me crumpled on the floor yelling “it’s better than me!”  Word of advice – let the squash get to room temperature of stick it in the preheated oven for a few minutes before you come at it with a knife.  Your future self will thank me for this advice.

After I finally got this thing cut open, the rest couldn’t have been easier.  Don’t let my squash struggle put you off from trying this recipe. Instead, use my experience to guide you so you don’t throw your squash (and your good knife) out the window.  That could cause multiple problems.

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Sausage

Yields 4 servings

You’ll need:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • EVOO
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 12 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

 

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the squash in half, vertically – god speed.  Scoop out the seeds and guts – reminiscent of carving a jack-o-lantern. Lightly grease a baking sheet with EVOO (or spray if you have it), and place the squash open-side down.  Bake for 45-60 minutes – until you can very easily penetrate the inside of the squash with a fork.

In a frying pan, cook the onion and garlic with 1 tsp of olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Cook for 5-8 minutes and then add the turkey.  Once the turkey starts to mostly brown (about 8-10 minutes), add the tomatoes and seasonings.  Cook for another 8-10 minutes, until the turkey is fully cooked.

When the squash is done, use a fork to scrape out the insides – this will give it the spaghetti feel.  Pour the turkey inside the squash halves and dig in!

 

 

Challenge Completed! Whole30 FAQ

I did it!  I went 30 days without gluten, sugar, dairy, soy, or booze.  I’m really excited that I was able to do something that sounded near impossible 30 days ago.  While the whole experience was filled with ups and downs, it was overall really great and I’m definitely glad I did it.

A lot of people have been asking me questions about it, so I thought I would do a little FAQ.  Feel free to post any other questions or comments you have.

Do you feel better?

Overall –  yes.  My clothes fit better, my energy is generally higher (minus the dips from stress), and my performance at the gym has been tremendously better.  I feel and look leaner, which was a big part of why I wanted to do a Whole30.  My cravings also went away – finally!!  Even though it’s over, I still packed a Whole30 breakfast and lunch, and will be making a Whole30 dinner.  I feel good eating these foods and they also sound good to me.  Pizza and cake doesn’t sound very appealing…at least not today.

Although I’m very pleased with the physical benefits, the mental health benefits were not as profound as I had hoped.  I did have a solid week where I felt like nothing could bring me down, but I also had those weeks pre-Whole30.  Unfortunately, eating better did not have as strong an impact on my mental health as I had hoped, but it certainly didn’t hinder it in any way.  However, because I was eating better and feeling better about my body, I was able to perform better in the gym which definitely helped my stress levels.  I am still a strong believer in the correlation between healthy living and mental health.

Did you lose weight?

A little.  I lost 6lbs, but I wasn’t really trying to lose weight.  This will make me sound like a dick, but I also didn’t need to lose weight.  Weight loss is not the goal of doing a Whole30, it’s just an added bonus.  I lost 6.5 inches which is what I’m most psyched about, especially the 2 whole inches I lost from my waist.  Those two inches were definitely wine, cheese, and candy.

What was the hardest part?

Going out.  If I was going to go to a restaurant I had to research the menu beforehand and ask the server annoying questions, like what the food was cooked in or if I could substitute half the meal.  Also, being at a bar sober is not fun.  I know some people don’t mind it, but it’s not for me.  My company’s biggest party of the year fell on a Thursday during the Whole30.  I was not happy about that.  Although I had a great time, it was really hard to walk past the whiskey tasting we set up for the after-party back at our office.  The food at the party also looked amazing and walking past the donut table (yup, a whole table of just donuts) made me die a little inside.

What was the best part?

Performing better at the gym.  I hit PRs (Personal Records) on multiple lifts and workouts while doing the Whole30.  We did a WOD (Workout Of the Day) at the beginning of the Whole30 and repeated it at the end – 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps, 4 reps, and 2 reps of thrusters (with a weighted barbell) and burpees over the bar.  It was unpleasant the first time and it was just an unpleasant the second time, except for one new factor – I did the workout the second time almost a full minute faster.  That was an amazing feeling.  I feel stronger and that is way more important to me than I number on a scale.

Another thing I really loved about doing this was learning so many new recipes.  My boyfriend and I made something new about 4 times a week and almost every recipe was worth repeating.  We’ll definitely build some Whole30 recipes into our dinner repertoire.  

Are you going to have an epic cheat day?

Nope.  After not eating gluten, dairy, or sugar for 30 days, I’m slightly horrified about what will happen if I aggressively reintroduce them to my body.  There’s a Whole30 reintroduction plan that I’m going to stick to.  The only twist I’m going to put on it is I’m going to allow myself to have booze in moderation.  Some candy might be ok here and there as well.

Would you do it again?

Absolutely!  Although I’m very dedicated to living a mostly paleo life going forward, I know there will be times where I’ll fall off the wagon.  If that starts to happen too often then I know I can do another Whole30 to get back on track.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to do one?

PLAN AHEAD.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Meal plan, meal prep, and always have something on hand just in case (I keep an Rx Bar in my purse).  I brought my breakfast and lunch to work every day because it was too hard to have to try and find something – and I work in Manhattan.

A few other results I want to share:

  • One of my pairs of jeans is now too big for me to wear, and the other pair that barely fit before now fit quite comfortably.
  • I haven’t had a headache or migraine (which I get fairly often, especially when stressed) since I started the Whole30.
  • I’ve had enough energy to go to the gym after work – something I haven’t had the energy do since I started my job about 8 months ago.
  • I got my front squat weight into the triple digits and can deadlift more than my bodyweight.
  • I haven’t had heartburn, acid reflux, or the feeling of being over-stuffed in 30 days.
  • I have not had a panic attack in 30 days!!!
  • My back has not spasmed in 30 days (I have chronic back pain from a high school injury).
  • My recovery time from working out skyrocketed.
  • I no longer feel like a slave to sugar.  I finally slayed the sugar-addiction beast!

If you’re considering doing a Whole30, I strongly encourage you to do it.  Don’t say you’ll try it, do it and commit to it.  It’s really not that hard and you will feel so much better, I promise!

Whole30 Stuffed Peppers

As the world’s longest week winds down, I can safely say I’m grateful for a fairly empty weekend ahead.  The only things on my agenda are CrossFit followed by a Whole30 cooking class at the gym, yoga, grocery shopping, and meal prepping.  In no way do I find this lame or depressing.  After a week packed full of meetings, planning, and lots of ‘writing’ (i.e., me desperately trying to figure out how to word things I don’t really understand) – I’m looking forward to shutting down my brain.  

Plus, having a weekend like this allows me to mentally prepare for all the fun ahead next weekend.  It’s Chowderfest AND the Super Bowl – how convenient that the Whole30 is over Tuesday!  However, I’m fairly concerned about what dairy and gluten will do to my body so I think I’ll be more of an observer than a participant.  But then again, I’ll be reunited with whiskey so who knows what will happen.  Either way, I’m excited to see my friends and not have to ask waiters “what was the salmon cooked in?” anymore.

Last night I mustered up what little energy (and brain capacity) I had left to try something I’ve never made before; stuffed peppers.  These Whole30-approved peppers are lightened up with turkey and a sneaky helping of spinach.  I also made sweet potato chips as a side.

Sweet potatoes have become one of my favorite foods ever.  I eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and I can’t seem to get enough of them.  This is my favorite way to eat them:

  • Peel one large sweet potato and cut the gross ends off.
  • Thinly slice them and line them on a baking sheet.
  • Drizzle them with EVOO (only 1-2 tsp depending on the size of your potato) and season with adobo (2 tsp) and pepper (½ tsp).  Use a spatula (or your fingers) to flip them and make sure the seasonings and oil get to each slice.
  • Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes (flipping halfway) or until the edges start to turn brown.

Amazing.

And now for the peppers…

Stuffed Peppers

You’ll need:

4-5 bell peppers (depending on size)

1 tsp coconut oil

1 medium onion

1-2 lbs ground turkey

Salt & Pepper

1 cup of spinach

1 cup crushed tomatoes (or about ½ of a 28oz can)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp salt

What you do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare the peppers – cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds and ribs of the pepper.  Set aside.

Heat up 1 tsp coconut oil and add the chopped onion.  Season will salt & pepper and cook about 5 minutes, or until tender.  Add the ground turkey and stir to combine.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the turkey is brown, and then add the spinach and tomatoes.  Add spices and stir to combine.  Cook for another 5 minutes or so – until the spinach has cooked down – and then spoon into peppers.  Bake for 20 minutes – until peppers are tender.

Whole30 Lunch: Tuna “Sandwiches”

One week left to go!  As I mentioned last time, I’m not feeling the omgwhenwillthishellbeover way I anticipated.  Life dairy-, sugar-, and gluten-free is actually pretty enjoyable.  But not sober…I miss you booze.

I’m also surprised that I haven’t gotten sick of my breakfasts or lunches as they’ve remained fairly the same for the past 3+ weeks.  Breakfast is typically one hardboiled egg, a banana (or other fruit I find around my office), and almonds.  Occasionally I have an apple with almond butter (plus the egg) or swap the fruit for leftover sweet potatoes and/ or brussel sprouts.  I love brussel sprouts and find them as enjoyable for breakfast and I do for dinner.

Although I typically stick to salads for the most part (arugula, chicken, olives, and balsamic vinegar with the occasional avocado), today I subbed in a new revival of an old favorite; tuna.

Even though mayo is not Whole30 approved (plus I find it disgusting), I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying some delicious chicken of the sea.  Instead, I used half of a VERY ripe avocado and a sprinkle of salt and pepper per can.

I buy White Albacore Tuna in Water because it grosses me out when it’s canned in oil – also pretty sure that’s not Whole30 approved because God knows what type of oil they use.  It took me less than 5 minutes to mix the tuna, avocado, salt, and pepper, put it in a tupperware container, and place it in my awesome new lunch tote.

You’re probably wondering what I used for bread (or not because you saw the picture)…Romaine lettuce leaves!  You just place the tuna in one of the leaves (mine were fairly large so I only needed two for one can of tuna), and roll it up like a burrito or eat it like a taco.  Quick, easy, and delicious*.

*Fun fact: tuna is surprisingly delicious with mustard! I know – I was shocked too. Just make sure it’s Whole30 approved!

Whole30: It’s the Final Countdown

Great, now “The Final Countdown” is stuck in my head as I’m sure it will be for you too now.  Sorry.  Anyway, there are 9 more days left on my Whole30 journey.  Some of my friends have been asking me things like…

  • “Are you SO excited for this to be over?”
  • “Are you going to eat everything in sight when it’s over?”
  • “You’re going to eat a whole block of cheese, aren’t you?”

And my answer…drum roll pleaseNOPE.

I know, shocking.  Believe it or not, I actually really like eating this way.  Meal prepping can be kind of annoying, but as a borderline control freak, I do enjoy knowing my meals are already decided for me (and by me).  It’s been especially helpful since work has kicked into high gear.

I also feel better overall.  Going this long without a hangover is a pretty remarkable feeling.  As is not having acid reflux, bloating, or that feeling after you eat a huge, unhealthy meal and regret everything.  It’s also really great to be free of cravings.  Although, the lara bars were getting a little too good, so I had to stop eating them.  I am committed to breaking free from my addiction to sweets.

While I’m committed to eating better, I’m certainly not committed to eating better 100% of the time.  I’m thinking 80% paleo/19% ‘healthy’/1% ‘I do what I want’. Will I have the occasional cheese plate with a friend?  Absolutely.  Will I snack of three cheese sticks at work?  No.  I actually haven’t missed dairy at all (I know – weird).  This is more about choosing when a ‘treat’ is worth it.  Instead of mindlessly snacking on jelly beans, I would rather save a sweet treat for a trip to Dough (the world’s best donut shop) when friends come to visit.  Ok let’s be real, I would totally wait on line at Dough by myself.  But the point is, it will be a special occasion and not something I build into my weekend routine.

Drinking, however, is the one thing I have missed.  Being at my company party sober was actually a lot of fun…but it would have been more fun if I could have participated in the whiskey tasting.  Or had a drink at 3:30pm when our drink cart came out.  Or had a whiskey with my boss during our bi-weekly meeting.  Geeze…we really drink a lot at my job.  The point is that I miss having a drink with coworkers, friends, or sitting on the couch with my boyfriend when we’re snowed in.  Although booze will be the first thing I’m going to reintroduce, I’m going to do it (and maintain it – hopefully) in moderation.  But I’m not eager to have dairy, gluten, or even…sugar.  Pretty much, I just want one drink.  Because I’m pretty sure that I would be buzzed off of one at this point.

We’ve got more tasty recipes on the horizon, so make sure to check back for the recipes!  This week, we’re all about the single-pan dishes:

  • Shrimp, spinach, and sweet potato skillet
  • Chicken, apple, sweet potato, and brussel sprout skillet
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Sausage with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Chicken thighs with bacon, brussel sprouts, and apple

Whole30 Shepherd’s Pie

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but this shepherd’s pie is so delightful!  Ok that was lame, but this recipe is great for this type of weather.  We made this last night in preparation for a weekend of staying cozy while the wintery death descends upon us.

White potatoes are Whole30 approved, as long as you’re relatively active, so I got to stay true to my Irish roots for this recipe.  You could also use sweet potatoes for a slightly lighter option.  See how sweet potatoes compare to white potatoes in this potato show down.

Whether you’re team white or sweet potato, this recipe is a great lighter version of an Irish classic.  Stay warm!

Shepherd’s Pie

What you’ll need:
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 8-10 carrots, chopped into tiny pieces
  • Green beans (probably about 1/2 the bag), chopped into tiny pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepperpepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Potatoes
  • 1 Tbs almond milk
  • Salt & pepper
What you do:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Peel and chop the potatoes.  Cook on high for 8-10 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot.  Add the almond milk and season with salt and pepper (to taste).  Mash the potatoes (use a hand mixer if you have one) and set aside.  Add more almond milk if the potatoes are lumpy
In a skillet, cook the onion in EVOO. Add the turkey, beef broth, and seasonings. Cook all the way through.
Spoon turkey into a baking pan, leaving some of the “juices” in the skillet.  Add the veggies and cook until the veggies are slightly tender.  Poor the veggies (and any juices leftover) over the turkey.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the veggies and turkey. Put under the broiler for 2-5 minutes, until the potatoes start to brown.  Dig in!

Homemade Larabars aka Coconut Crack Bars

Larabars. Are. Crack.  Seriously, they’re super delicious and they don’t come with deep regret like candy bars do!  For those of you who don’t know, larabars are fruit and nuts bars.  That’s it.  No added sugar, no grains, no dairy; just sweet, delicious nature.

While they’re light on your figure, they’re not so light on your wallet.  At Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, they hover around $1.30/bar.  Not too bad, but if you live in New York and try to buy them at a convenience store, they can run $3.00/bar.  Because f*ck you (says New York).

The Whole30 does not allow “recreated desserts”, i.e., paleo versions of cookies, brownies, etc. (lame), but it does allow larabars as part of a meal or much needed snack.  Snacking is supposed to be avoided, but so is starving so larabars are a great way to have something that’s sweet and filling (blueberries just don’t cut it).

I made my own version of the “coconut creme pie” bars.  Eating them was a religious experience.  I highly recommend you stop what you’re doing and make these.  You don’t even need to bake them!

But keep in mind – coconut and nuts have a lot of fat in them.  While it’s true that good fat (i.e., from nature and not laboratories) is an important part of everyone’s diet, you don’t want to go overboard on these.  One bar has about 210 calories and is way more filling than it looks, so if you inhale three of them you will regret everything.  Like I did last night.

Coconut Cream Larabars

Makes 8 bars

You’ll need:

  • ⅔ cup raw almonds (I used slivered almonds)
  • ⅔ cup walnuts (or cashews)
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 ½ Tbs coconut oil
  • 1 ½ cups pitted dates

Process the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped (leave a few chunks).  Add the coconut, oil, and dates.  Process until everything blends together.  Press the mixture into a glass baking pan (you can use also parchment paper in a loaf pan).  Smooth out the mixture and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Cut into bars and leave them in a tupperware container until you’re ready to eat them.  Try not to eat them all at once!

Building the Wall: Healthy Living & Mental Health

Today sucks.  Nothing particularly frustrating, bad, or tragic happened, it’s just one of those days where I feel pretty bad.  I feel incompetent, depressed, and alone.  Nothing specifically brought on these feelings, which is the most frustrating part.  On days like today I curse having an open office.  I feel exposed and vulnerable.  I feel like people can see that I’m not happy or they’re checking to make sure I’m working on some stupid document that no one will ever read.  I’m sure neither are true, but that’s how it feels.

I think the sad truth is that no matter what I eat or do, I will always have these feelings.  Everyone feels down from time to time and I honor that.  I felt so happy and confident last week that I unrealistically thought it would last forever.  My energy dipped and I haven’t been sleeping well again, but that’s not because of the Whole30.  I feel fairly certain that my energy and sleep would be a lot worse without the Whole30 right now because there’s a deeper, darker culprit than sugar withdrawal (which is thankfully over); stress.

I am stressed out of my mind at work.  I bit off way more than I can chew and it looks like I won’t be getting the help (i.e., a junior writer) for much longer than I had anticipated.  Stress is so incredibly powerful, it amazes me how it quickly knocks down all the barriers I put up to protect myself.  I looked at eating well, exercise, and sleep as a kind of ‘Berlin Wall’ that protects what I think of as my ‘self’. This ‘self’ is made up of my feelings, emotions, and thoughts; it’s essentially who I am.  ‘Self’ gets beat up a lot by internal factors (like changes in my brain chemistry and hormones) and external factors, so I try to keep it safe from the inside out.  Eating good foods actually has a tremendous effect on how I feel physically and mentally; that I can say with full confidence and back it up with scientific evidence.  Exercise, sleep, being around people I love, reading good books, writing, and drawing are all things that make ‘self’ beam.  Doing these things, especially eating well, exercise, and sleep build a protective wall around ‘self’.  

I need this wall because my particular ‘self’ (we all have one), is extremely vulnerable since it has outside forces and inside forces (stupid brain chemistry) attacking it.  Stress tries to break down the wall.  When I feel extremely stressed, it feel like there’s a breach in the wall.  Stress oozes in like tar and attacks ‘self’.  Suddenly things like drawing, exercise, and even being around loved ones sound horrible.  Stress poisons the ‘self’.

But order can be restored.  I’ve realized that bingeing on candy or booze to kill the stress actually kills the ‘self’.  Eating an apple instead of a candy bar certainly doesn’t give the same relief…at least not immediately.  But in the long term, skipping the sugar and having a cup of green tea or going for a quick walk becomes and even better relief.  Sugar and alcohol screw up the positive thoughts that can rejuvenate the ‘self’.  Instead of thinking, “Stress is right, I can’t do all of these projects”, the ‘self’ can think, “F*ck off stress – I can do these things, not just all at once. I’ll find another way.”

Making healthy decisions is not bullsh*t; that’s the point of this post.  Everyone has a ‘self’ that needs a wall to protect is from stress, trauma, and other unpleasant emotions and experiences.  Some people try to build this wall with alcohol, drugs, sex, and bad foods, but that’s like trying to build a bridge with match sticks; you need a solid base if it’s going to last.

You don’t have to do a Whole30, but look at what you put into your body – do you think it will build a strong wall?