Category Archives: Addiction

Feeling Sassy and Full of Joy

The week after Thanksgiving when I stepped on the scale to see where I needed to go for the new year, and to see why my blood pressure was so high—I’m trained, like you are, to blame it on my weight, not stress or anything else it might be—I was shocked to find myself sitting firmly at 260 pounds. I’m 5’3″ tall, so 260 pounds is quite a little load to bear for someone of my stature.

I also looked in the mirror and saw someone who had recently come through a really bad depression, and when I say really bad, I don’t say that lightly. The details of that depression are fodder for a different essay, somewhere else, in another time when I am further away from that period in my life. I saw someone who was really stressed at work and who didn’t believe in herself the way I had always believed in myself.

I looked in my exercise journal and saw that I had been faking it at running, always having an excuse: my foot hurts, I’m too tired, or I was standing at work all day. I looked more deeply and saw that I was faking it at trying to play soccer. I played on Monday nights, minimally. I loved it, but I wasn’t pursuing it. I wasn’t swimming, biking, strength training, doing yoga, or anything that I wanted and needed to be doing. I wasn’t doing a lot of what I love.

I was simply existing. Unhealthily existing.

I’ve noticed lots of patterns in my life where I realize I’m drowning inside myself, so I throw out every life preserver I can think of. I change my diet, I exercise like a fool, I quit this that and the other all at once, and then I fail. The failure then makes me feel like I am drowning all over again.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to wallow.

The week before Christmas, I decided to cut out caffeine as a first step toward healing. I chose caffeine first, because I realized I was having difficulty sleeping, even if I quit drinking coffee before 11AM. I also realized that a lot of the caffeine I was drinking was in the form of really sugary coffee drinks, so I figured that would help with my January plan of cutting a lot of sugar out of my diet.

In January, along with caffeine, I cut out most added sugar. I say most, because I do indulge in one sugary snack each day, to allow myself some pleasure. I know me. If I don’t have some pleasure, I will fail. I’ve tried moderation before, and even failed at that, so I get one treat each day. Usually I choose a small hot chocolate with dark chocolate, no whip, and almond milk, but it’s getting too sweet for me, so I’ve switched to a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square with blueberry in it. Yes, I know chocolate can have caffeine, but less than half the caffeine in a double espresso or cup of coffee.

In January, I also joined with my brother to commit to 30 minutes of exercise each day. During the first couple of weeks, even 30 minutes of exercise seemed like hard work, but in February, I added another 30 minutes of exercise each day for a total of an hour each day. I am being very intentional and careful about what exercises I do each day, so that my muscles get a chance to relax and recover between days.

For March, I am adding in strength trainings. See? I’m trying to progress incrementally. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I bike and swim. One Tuesdays and Thursdays, I strength train and walk, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I walk with my wife.

There are four main changes, aside from the above mentioned diet and exercise changes, I’ve made that have made a difference in my mental health, my physical health, and my spiritual health. I quit drinking alcohol. I meditate more frequently. I eat lots of good food. I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace.

I quit drinking. I didn’t think it was a problem in my life, but it was, and I wanted to be perfectly sober for the next four years if you know what I mean. I met with my priest—I say my priest, but I rarely attend church anymore—just to chat about my depression. We met in late July or early August. When I told him about what was going on, he said, “Well, have you tried not drinking? Alcohol is a depressant, you know.” Since he is “only” a priest and not a mental health practitioner, I didn’t heed his advice until January 19, and I haven’t had a drop to drink since then, unless you count the minimal alcohol in kombucha.

For me, alcohol was a huge stumbling block to joy. Did I have a hard day at work? Have a rewarding beer! Did someone piss me off? Have a Scotch to right things! Instead of dealing with the situation that upset me, I’d just drink until it felt better. I’m not sure that makes me an alcoholic, but it sure made me dependent upon a substance for healing when there are so many other things that are better for me.

I meditate more frequently. Whenever I swim, I treat my time in the pool as meditation. I focus on my breath and my form. Since I have my handy Watch to count my laps, I am free to simply focus on the silence of the water, the breath that comes in and goes out, the way body moves in the water, and the way the water feels against my skin.

I also meditate when I am not swimming, using an app called Insight Timer. If you’re reluctant to try meditation, you should check it out. There are guided meditations preprogrammed, and you can set your own program. I sometimes spend time in prayer after meditation or before, and I have to say that people notice a difference in me. A coworker asked me if I was okay the other day. I said yes, why. He said, you just look so calm and centered.

I eat lots of good food. I watched a video courtesy of our wellness group at work, and the nutritionist talked extensively about fixing a broken metabolism by eating enough good fuel. She said that many of us have broken metabolisms from low-calorie diets, from over exercising and under eating, or simply from not eating food that provides sustainable energy for our bodies.

Whenever I have wanted to lose weight before, I have always cut calories and exercised harder. This time I used the Mifflin-St. Jeor calorie calculator, which she suggested in the video, to figure out how many calories I actually need. I was surprised to find out that with my level of activity, I need about 1900 calories per day to promote fat loss. I’d been cutting to less than 1000 to try to lose weight, but according to the nutritionist, that is a level where most people’s bodies think they are starving, so adding calories is way to jump start our bodies into thinking we’re well fueled and can sustain our levels of activity.

I’m seeing my body change, and I am eating food to fuel that change. I’m eating food as fuel and for pleasure. This is a whole new way for me to relate to food. And I like it.

Finally, I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace. There are days when I mess up, when I treat people poorly, when I don’t exercise, when I eat things that aren’t particularly good for me, when I don’t meditate, when I wish I could be anywhere else besides where I am, where things are all joy and puppy feet and rainbows.

More often than not, I am in the moment. I am present. With myself. With others. With my pets. With nature. With [Them]. I. Am. Present. There’s a line in The Alchemist that says, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.” I have found this to be true. Instead of looking for what will be, I’m learning that relaxing into what is and improving on what is, brings an eternity in and of itself.

Most days I am filled with joy, because why not be? If a small bit of joy can be found in front of me, why not revel in it? Why not try to use my joy to make others joyful as well?

And finally, I am giving myself grace. One thing about living in the present is recognizing that when I am not present, or when I do not have joy, or when I behave in a way that doesn’t recognize and honor the divine spark in those around me, I can be vulnerable, honest, gracious, and refocus. I can come back to being present. and I can improve on that present.

I’m learning a lot of new things about myself on this new journey.

The Bad Waitress; Wellness Update

This morning my friend Stevi and I went to the Bad Waitress, here in Minneapolis, for breakfast. We both had the Heavy Pedal, which is a tofu scramble with whatever added ingredients the consumer desires. Stevi got some vegan sausage as a side, and I have to admit that it looked amazing. She said when she first tasted it, she thought they gave her the wrong sausage. If I can forego being humble for a moment, I am sure it tasted almost as amazing as the vegan sausage links I make. I haven’t made them for a while, but I should probably make it a point now that I’m vegan again.

I loved my meal, because it was full of good stuff like broccoli, mushrooms, curry powder, and turmeric. I also got gluten-free toast as a side and a delicious Americano to drink. Sadly, the gluten-free toast wasn’t vegan, but I ate it anyway, because it was already toasted, and I hate to waste food. Once I started eating the toast, I was pretty excited because it was the best gluten-free bread I’ve ever tasted. Now I’m on a quest to find delicious gluten-free and vegan bread so I can eat toast at home sometimes. I just love toast. I mean, I really, really love toast. TOAST!

After we ate, we walked down a couple of doors to Glam Doll Donuts, where Stevi bought some vegan donuts to take home to share with her fiancé. They seriously have a dozen different vegan donuts there, and surprisingly, the guy who helped us wasn’t pretentious. I prefer Mojo Monkey Donuts, because the women who work there are all kind and helpful, it’s closer to my house since it’s in St. Paul, and I’ve never had good luck with the folks who work at Glam Doll. However, this visit really bolstered my desire to return there to get some vegan donuts, because the guy was kind, funny, and helpful. Basically, he may have saved my faith in Minneapolis donuteries. Mojo Monkey is still my favorite, though.

On our way back to our meeting point, we stopped at Mississippi Market Co-op, where Bec and I are members, to get some Shea butter and turmeric. I ended up buying organic, fair-trade bananas and a container of organic, fair-trade Shea butter for my super-dry skin. I looked at some apples, but they were all $8-14 per bag, so I decided to buy those at our regular grocery store where I can get organic apples for $6 a bag, and I decided not to get the turmeric right now, because it was also very expensive. I get paid on Friday, so I’ll go this weekend to pick some up.

I have read and been told that turmeric can help to manage inflammation, but I am not a huge fan of the taste of it, unless it’s mixed with curry powder like in my tofu scramble this morning. I thought I would buy some turmeric capsules to help keep my joints from aching and my skin from itching so much. I have to admit, that short of some dry skin, my itching “from the inside” (as I like to think about and explain how my allergic itching feels) is all but gone. I have had one hive in the past two weeks, and I haven’t been taking my allergy medicine at all.

I don’t feel tired, and I don’t have pain when I go for a long hike. I’ve hiked as far as six miles on hilly terrain with no soreness in my joints. I’m at a point where I want to start running again, and I thought I would start again once May got here,  but I’ve decided to hold off until I get back from Indiana and start running again on June 1. I’ve lost 13 pounds since March 28, which wasn’t a real goal, but I’m pleased that it has happened, since being less fat will certainly make running success come easier.

I’m feeling content with my dietary decisions, and will continue them through May 25th when I visit Indiana. I am trying to decide how to manage life with being vegan full time, and will likely compromise with vegetarianism sometimes. As for sugar, well, I am hoping to be done with it, since sugar is neither good for me, nor does it help with my mood stability, and I’m just addicted to it. Once I start eaten M&Ms, I can’t stop until the entire bag is gone. I’m also planning to remain mostly gluten-free, but I have no desire to be insistent about it. Since food is an excellent way to bring people together, the last thing I want to do is cause people to be anxious about preparing meals in which I will partake. I am, however, planning to ask for a food allergy screening at my physical this summer, just to see what things may have actually caused me to feel so yuck all winter long.

Lastly, I got a great shirt in the mail last night. It says, “Eating animals is weird.” The more I think about it, the weirder is to me, and the sadder I am that I ever went back to it. Today, while Stevi and I were talking about speciesism and Danna Hardaway’s book When Species Meet, I was thinking about when I’ve shared the 50-wing platter at the Anchor Bar with Adam or Josh. That’s 25 chickens right there. The thing about veganism, or even vegetarianism for me, is that I feel so much more at peace. More kind. More compassionate. More loving. I’m not ingesting violence. And I feel it. Call me hippie-dippy, but I seriously feel more at ease in this world when I don’t have another animals blood coursing through my veins. And, I don’t have dreams of cows, pigs, and chickens chasing me at night.

25 chickens, dead for one meal.

25 chickens.

25.

Eating animals is weird.

Sunday is Waffle Day

“On Wednesdays we wear pink,” Karen famously says on the movie Mean Girls. On Sundays I eat waffles. Well, I don’t eat them every Sunday, but I have an affinity for big weekend breakfasts, and since my entire food intake yesterday only amounted to 828 calories, I figured I could splurge a bit and make waffles for me and the grandkids.

As a vegan, I’m finding that the same thing is happening to me this time around as happened last time I was vegan, I’m having a hard time eating enough calories. We went for an hour, or so, hike yesterday, so I burned quite a few calories doing that, and I ate a big dinner, but vegetables and other plant-based foods, don’t have a lot of calories in them. I have added an avocado to each day, so I can get a good base of fat in my diet, and I eat beans and rice for complete proteins, but there just aren’t a lot of calories there. I ended yesterday with a net of 237 calories consumed, which isn’t amazing or sustainable.

Because I’m not used to cooking gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan, I looked up a recipe for waffles. I’m not sure I adored the recipe (though it was really tasty) and will definitely tweak it in the future to make a more waffle-consistency batter. This batter was thick and made waffles that were fairly chewy in the middle. Delicious, but chewy. Both my granddaughter and I like our waffles a bit more crunchy than this recipe made them, but my grandson thought they were just divine. Tomorrow I will see if cooking the waffle in the oven for a few minutes, after it has been cooked in the waffle iron, to see if that will make it a bit crispier.

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Anyway, I made a nice peach and orange juice compote to top my waffle with, so I could stay with my focus of not adding sugar to anything. I do realize that fruit and vegetables contain sugar. I get the basics of nutritional science, but my sugar-free is avoiding added sugars. That said, I am still staying under 30 grams of sugar (which is all sugar that naturally occurs in the food, no added sugar) pretty much every day. I have found no recommendation for the amount of naturally occurring sugar  a person should eat, but I did find the recommendation that women should not eat over 25 grams of added sugar (for men it’s 37; why do they get 12 more grams?).

Since last Monday, so for 7 days now, I haven’t eaten any added sugar, wheat, or animal products. I’ve lost 6 pounds, and my itching is all but gone. I was a bit itchy when I got home last night, but I think it may been stress-related, because as soon as I started up Ken Burns’ Civil War and began to relax the itching subsided. Ken Burns, you are a magic man.

“On Sundays I eat waffles.”

What Do You Even Eat?

Since I wrote about my plan to leave sugar, gluten, and animal products out of my diet for the month of April (at least), I’ve found that I have to explain what exactly it is that I eat. Again. Make no mistake, I get that it’s confusing to be my friends or family members, since I change my diet more frequently than the average person. My friend Tish would say I’m like a fart in a skillet, with which I might agree.

I would like to take this moment to point out, though, that I’ve been vegan or vegetarian for more of my adult life than I haven’t. I remember the struggle of being vegetarian at Ball State University in the early 1990s when the best choice I had for lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and for dinner the lovely and magical vegetable tetrazzini that looked (and tasted) like chunky wallpaper paste. In their defense, there were some brownish peas and carrots, likely once frozen, in that tetrazzini. I lived the vegetarian struggle. Looking back I can even chuckle that the jello cup was a vegetarian selection.

Let’s discuss when I became vegan a few years later in the thriving metropolis Muncie, IN. I looked high and low for a single veggie burger, block of tofu, carton of soy milk, or container of nutritional yeast. Most weeks I’d drive all the way to Broadripple to the health food store to find some of the ingredients mentioned in my “Vegetarian Times” magazine.

(Sidenote: I have to give my parents, and I guess my little brother, some kudos here, because, even though it was weird to have a vegan in the family in the 90s in Indiana, they were very supportive. My mom even makes some amazing vegan oatmeal, banana, raisin, walnut cookies. I mean those things are AMAZING.) 

At that point in my life, I wasn’t sure which caused my mail carrier more consternation, my subscription to “Vegetarian Times” or the monthly delivery of the several LGBT+ magazines to which I also subscribed. I only wondered this because the couple of times I met her at the mailbox, the mail carrier would say something like, “Interesting magazines you read,” or “You got a couple new issues today”, but I could never tell for sure if she was bothered by their content, or if that was some sort of awkward Midwestern lesbian pick-up line. As most anyone can tell you, I am really bad at reading those sorts of signs.

But I digress. What do I even eat?

Today I started the day non-vegan because whenever I try to change my diet, I finish off the food leftover from whatever I was eating before. Something I hate more than itching, inflammation, and super fatness is wasting food, so I make a point of trying not to waste. I also have an intense phobia of mold, so sometimes things do get wasted, but I try.

This morning for breakfast, I ate two vegetarian corndogs, and I will have the last two for lunch tomorrow. I also had an Americano with some soy milk, but how exciting is a picture of any coffee drink in a paper cup? Now if I’d had an my drink in a glass or even a ceramic mug, I’d have taken a picture, because Americanos are some sexy coffee when they’re made right.

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For lunch, I had a sofritas bowl from Chipotle. It had brown rice, black beans, grilled vegetables, sofritas, pico de gallo, corn salsa, spicy salsa, guacamole, and lettuce. This photo isn’t mine (I got it from here), but mine looked just like this, and it tasted super yummy!

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For dinner I had a smoothie with some frozen berries, plain almond butter, and unsweetened almond milk. Again, this is not my photo (I borrowed it from Silk), but mine was delicious, tasting a bit like an almond butter and jelly sandwich. A bit.

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Basically, I ate everything delicious today, and I will continue to eat everything delicious for the month of April.

 

Why Practice Abstinence?

I’ve read a bajillion Internet posts about how much better people feel when they give up alcohol and/or caffeine.

You can read here about Gretchen Rubin, the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, a book I read with quite a suspicious eye, and her reasons for quitting drinking. I had quite a difficult time relating to much of what she said, because I kept feeling like anyone could be happy if they had all day to hang out and write and do things to make themselves happy, instead of working 40+ hours a week outside the home, like so many of us do. I mean, I’d be happy if I could just eat, swim, trail run, write, and do art. Any agents out there willing to negotiate a contract for a fat athlete who just wants to athlete and write about it? I promise, I’ll make it a good read.

You can read here about how long it might take for you to return to “normal” after quitting drinking.

You can read here about a year-long fast from alcohol and the effects it had on the writer.

In fact, if you google “a year without alcohol,” you can read a countless number of people’s quests to live a year or more without drinking any form of alcohol. Similarly, if you google “a year without caffeine,” you can find a significant number of stories about how people exist without coffee.

After spending a bit of time googling and skimming other folks’ quests of this nature, I decided to try my own little experiment. Since October 10, I’ve not had any alcohol or caffeine, and I plan to continue this fast or abstinence at least until I go back to Indiana in January, so October 10-January 16, when I will run my favorite night time trail run. What is that? About three months?

After nine days, do I feel better? I wouldn’t say that I notice a significant difference in my body. I don’t feel necessarily peppier, or necessarily groggier. I don’t notice a difference in my habits in the morning, since I replaced coffee with a caffeine-free herbal infusion by Tiesta. In the evening, however, I have to say it’s a bit disconcerting to not have a beer with dinner or to wind down when I come home from work.

I’ve spent some time in the past year shedding some of my bigger addictions, and I feel much better for it. It’s amazing how quickly things that seem innocuous when we initially begin them can become such controlling and overwhelming forces in our lives, how they can begin to color everything we do, and how we eventually let them control how we interact with people and how we think of ourselves.

Though I wouldn’t call alcohol or caffeine, in and of themselves, addictions for me, I will say that I think I rely on them too much, so a few months without will do me well. As of now, I’m looking forward to a life of clean eating, exercise, and an eventual Ironman finish. Today, I can say I am back on track.