Homeward Bound

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Day Seven, Last Day.

We choose to end our time here on the beach as the sun rises again. I am convinced there is no better way to start the day. We are all together, including the therapists. It feels like a special group. We’re told we were a low maintenance group and we hear, “You are our favorite group.” There is an ease among us now. We have been through a transformation together and it has bonded us. At least while we’re still in one place. Once we get in our cars and onto our planes and back into our lives, who knows.

Of the Fourteen people involved in this whole process from the therapists and cooks to the doctor and the participants I knew five coming in. And I’ll continue to stay in touch with them. But this whole experience is unique because we each had such inward experiences. We were tiny little islands of processes. Our take-away and evolution, or involution, were extremely personal. While we shared the same big house and amazing therapists and helpers, our transformations were ours alone.

We came together in this experience in much the same way we get to know our neighbors right after a hurricane or other natural calamity and vow – at least privately – that we’ll all become best friends and this will become THAT neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. But it’s not sustainable. I’m not sad or wistful about this, just observing it.

People come into and leave our lives all the time. It’s by design.

Today, I meet with Dr. Jain for the last official time. The news is all positive. My agni is up, my ama is down, but there’s still a ways to go. My Pitta/Kapha constitution has been restored but my Vata is still elevated, but not nearly to the degree it was, there are still some stress management practices I will need to continue.

Oh, and, I should be a vegan.

He actually told me this back in August when I brought my husband here for some mini-panchakarma. I nodded and said okay and committed for about 45 minutes. I didn’t totally agree with him. Here’s why:

About 12 years ago I got fed up with food being the enemy and decided to make it my friend by learning as much as I could about it. I found an amazing program in NYC called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It continues to be one of the most profound and life-enhancing experiences I’ve ever had. During the study of  my own self with regards to food I came to the now-educated conclusion that the Blood Type diet held the most positive answers for me. I was also quite taken with the whole concept of Ayurveda, so as a newly minted Certified Holistic Health Coach I used those two philosophies together to heal my own food issues as well as the digestive, weight and stress concerns of others.

All of this to say, my blood type tells me that I should basically eat beef and broccoli. And when I do eat mostly paleo my weight normalizes, my energy is sustained and I feel good. But it’s been a long time since I held to a strict diet of any kind.

So I do what I should have done in August, and ask him why.

Does it have something to do with agni? Does eating meat put the fire out per se? I mean, I’m open to try almost anything that will boost my energy and make me feel shiny again.

“No,” said he, “eating meat has nothing to do with agni. You do not have enough agni right now to digest meat.”

Of course! That makes total sense.

In truth, if I thought I could be a healthy vegan I would completely embrace it. I don’t like the smell of cooking meat. I don’t like touching raw meat. I do love a beautifully seasoned filet made by a Cordon Bleu chef. But I am committed to my own health. I have promised myself, and Dr. Jain, that I will do the vegan thing for three months. My hope is to be balanced enough to add eggs back in. That’s all, I don’t need meat. Maybe a few times of year. Some happy grass-fed, free range animal protein. Or not.

If I had one recommendation about all this food misinformation and conflicting theories – for anyone who is looking for one – that came out of all this experience it would be this: find a way to cleanse so that you can begin to understand the language of your body again. Learn to listen to its needs, not the desires of your tired, worn out ego looking for a sugar bump. Reset in some way and listen.

Really listen.

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Our amazing healers: Casey, Roslyn, Jenny (therapists), Dr. Jain and Michele Jain.

Diet Roulette

Ayurveda

I’m doing it again. The food thing. Changing it up. If you’ve lost track, as I have, let me recount the past few food philosophies I have adopted and what I’ve learned and why I’m switching again.

There was the juice cleanse. The intention was to drink nothing but freshly pressed green juices, mostly my own, for 3-5 days. Eat a little whole fruit in there, perhaps some all-vegetable salads with only cold pressed olive oil drizzled. It went pretty well, but really 3 days of that is not enough to reveal any great insights, and I got so bored. So, I moved on.

I was feeling an unreasonable amount of stuffiness and congestion so I investigated the low-histamine trend. It’s the newest shiny thing in the food world. It’s difficult, but I did it religiously for about three weeks then slowly incorporated higher histamine foods back in. I mean, no avocado? Come on! Plus, I was reading conflicting articles, apparently it’s a very personal thing, this histamine. I did however find relief from the congestion and I stopped my morning ritual of three sneezes upon rising, so a win, I would say. But not sustainable and not intended to be.

That brings us to Whole30. That blog was a few days ago. The Cliff Notes version: It was good and pretty easy for me.

But still, there was this nagging in my mind or gut or somewhere demanding attention that told me I had not quite figured it out.

Circumstances being what they were I was heading to Flagler Beach to take my love to an Ayurvedic Physician. There was a consultation, then the recommendation that he return for four days to do a cleanse for four hours each day. This involved a specific kind of lymphatic massage, a sweat box, a forehead oil drip and something I promised not to mention. Let’s just say, it was a big part of the ‘cleanse’. Back and forth each day. That’s about an hour and a half each way. But it’s the beach, so. Plus, I personally know and love the doctor here. He spent his first lifetime as a general surgeon, then shifted a little more than 10 years ago to Ayurveda.

A quick primer: Ayurveda literally translates to Science of Life, it is the sister science to yoga. Where yoga is mostly a spiritual path, Ayurveda deals with the physical health of the body as it relates to diet, the seasons and the rhythms of the earth. Together they are a comprehensive approach to health. Everything prescribed in Ayurveda is dependent upon your dosha – your body’s constitution. This can be determined by a quick pulse diagnosis by someone who knows what they’re looking for. Often our constitutions are out of balance and some tweaking with food, exercise, lifestyle choices, treatments like massage, activities like yoga and herbs, will help straighten everything out. Other times call for a detox to remove stubborn waste called ama.

As I mentioned in the Whole 30 blog, body intuition goes a long way to recognizing an imbalance, but it is often useful to get another opinion. I also mentioned how it would be so great to be a vegetarian. (That right there is a little thing we call foreshadowing.)

Well, while I was waiting in this spectacular giant home on the water with a pool at my disposal, I decided to schedule a consultation for myself. Turns out, according to Ayurveda, a vegan diet is what is best for me right now. Vegan. No eggs, no dairy, no meat. Kind of the opposite of Whole 30, but I’m game. My first question was, “Forever?”

One year, with check-ins every three months. I’m down. And kind of excited. From past experimental experiences, I can tell you that a vegetarian diet for a month or more always left me feeling clearer and lighter, but I was invariably pulled back to the other side by my habits. The every-three-month thing will probably hold me accountable. Plus, I can have dark chocolate, coffee and wine on occasion. Win.

There is still “no list” food in my home and I am awaiting some herbs, so I plan to use the next couple days to transition and start with full attention on Sunday. In the margins of my life I am also completing a Life Plan as directed by the motivational book Living Forward, which happens to have as one of its “life accounts” Health. This will be completed on Saturday so the stars seem to be aligning.

I’m such an over-achiever wannabe.

Food Intuition

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Why is food such a challenge? I’m not sure when marketers started getting involved but I suspect that’s when we all became confused. We believed what we heard because [mostly] men in white coats were telling us what to do. Celebrities who looked amazing drank diet soda and ate lettuce for dessert, so we did that. No fat, all fat, no carbs, only carbs, no meat, lots of meat. It’s much more conflicted now. Information is moving quickly and the desperate need to get it in front of the right people has created a whole new business culture involving metrics and algorithms. Plus, those with the most money win. The meat and dairy industries throw an enormous amount of capital at advertising – and often misdirecting and making false claims – while the little organic kale farmer can barely pay crop insurance, let alone extol the virtues of cruciferous vegetables.

But then again, maybe it’s all genetics.

But beyond blaming the big guys (or maybe because of them, but let’s take responsibility back now, people) we have lost touch with our body intuition. I know I have. Mostly. As a teenager, Weight Watchers and Seventeen magazine directed my dietary needs. Then came Dr. Atkins and Scarsdale. Then joining a sorority at a southern university and eating the cooking of an amazingly talented southern black woman who cooked with passion, love and lard. Then all the alcohol that comes with college. Then vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, Mediterranean… I’m getting exhausted just typing this.

I needed someone else to tell me what was good for me. I lost trust in my gut.

So, it will probably come as no surprise that I just completed the Whole 30 plan (I just can’t use the word diet anymore). It was good. It is how I normally eat when I am behaving and when I am capable of listening to my body. It follows my particular blood type. (Yes, I did that one too, maybe the only one that really made sense and felt good. So why did I give it up?)

In the end I lost maybe 6 pounds. A small win, but a win nonetheless. I attribute that entirely to no sugar and no alcohol. Mostly no sugar, I had all but given up my red wine habit months ago, opting only for special occasions. Like a normal person.

I didn’t move enough. I have a million valid reasons but really that’s just a pretty way of saying excuses. If I had moved more that weight loss number would likely be higher. But moving is coming.

I have learned throughout this year so many valuable things about my tendencies and my experience of life in general. One of those is: Life will always get in the way. In other words I will always have a valid reason NOT to do something. No sleep, disrupted schedule, travel, sick pet or person, but so what, that is life.

Life cannot interrupt life.

It takes commitment and self-prioritization. And I know that once I get just a few days into a healthy routine of the gym or yoga or walking, my body will beg me to keep going.

Back to intuition. I like the premise of the Whole 30 diet as I do almost any elimination plan. If it’s taken seriously and done correctly it can offer a lot of information about your body’s capabilities to digest and assimilate certain types of foods. It creates and environment of forced intuition that can help rebuild that innate muscle.

It’s as simple as this: Pay Attention.

How do you feel when you eat certain foods? Energized, sluggish, asthmatic, itchy, bloated, nauseous, calm, jittery? These are solid clues.

I know my body is not fond of grains – in particular wheat. It does not take kindly to legumes and it gets very congested on dairy. It LOVES sugar, or maybe that’s all in my head. To be honest, even juice can make my heart race, so sugar isn’t so much my friend as my energy dealer.

But I have discovered that I can tolerate a small amount of any of those things once in a while. I can have a fully loaded cappuccino on a rainy afternoon every so often. A piece of birthday cake does not affect me if I’m not eating wheat and dairy on the daily. Black beans in my burrito bowl are quite tasty, but less is better. Cheese is seductive, but being able to breathe and, well, perform other natural functions, now wins. No cheese. I have also learned that there is such a thing as too much meat for me. I would love to be able to be a vegetarian but without legumes or soy it’s very difficult to find a worthy protein source. Instead I limit my animal protein to eggs from a friend’s happy chickens and some responsibly, humanely, organically raised beef and chicken from a local farm. If I had to catch and kill my own dinner I would live off eggs or learn to like fish. Perhaps a plan for the near future.

Oh, wait, Ayurveda…

 

 

Sugar Troll

Stone bridge over a canyon at the Trolls path in Norway

It’s amazing to me how I can go from gobbling sugar in various forms to not having any at all and being okay with it. It’s like a switch is thrown, but until it is I am stumbling down a long, dark hallway with no windows in the middle of a moonless night groping for it, picking up a piece of candy and maybe a glass of wine along the way.

I don’t fully understand the triggers.

In the book, The Whole30, the authors speak of slaying the sugar dragon. I find this an unfair assessment of dragons of which I have great affection. I know of no such dragon, but I am more intimately acquainted than I’d like to be with the Sugar Troll. He’s ugly and creepy and short with rotten teeth and thick black fingernails. His posture is atrocious and he emits a smell I can only compare to too much cotton candy. When he’s close to me I am disgusted. It’s usually after we’ve just polished off a pint of ice cream or a bag of m&m’s. It’s not often. Mostly he lurks around corners and behind draperies encouraging just a little more sugar in my coffee or another piece of dark – the good for you kind – chocolate.

I don’t want to slay him so much as help him find his bridge. I’m not a violent person.

For the past three days he’s been on vacation. I asked him to go, told him he deserved it. He has after all been working really hard the past few months, and if I’m totally honest, more than the past fifity years. I don’t know how he does it. He works so hard for these intense bursts; bringing me bags of Werther’s and butter rum Lifesavers. When we go shopping together at Michael’s he always insists I pick up a pack of Razzles. It’s a candy AND a gum and big piece of my childhood. I deserve the memory, he winks. He loves parties, admonishing me if I try to avoid the birthday cake, it would be rude not to have a piece. And wine, I should have lots of wine, the red kind, it’s good for me. Like dark chocolate.

And then he hibernates for a while and I back off the cavity-maker in self-abasement. Then, just when the tiniest stress begins to build because of… anything …he’s at my door with a box of gluten free ginger snaps from Whole Foods.

He’s a cheeky bastard.

We’re having heart to heart conversations these days. He‘s taking my desire for him to move out pretty personally. He’s trying to understand, but he’s hurt. There is nothing sadder than a crying, snotty sugar troll. Pitiful. I explain that he could find a nice sugar troll mate and they could fall in love and eat candy together forever.

It’s been four days and I haven’t heard from him. I hope he’s kicking back on the rocks by the stream daydreaming and sighing contentedly a lot. I really don’t want to see him again, but it’s not his fault.

We’re just in two different places. And I’d like it to stay that way.

Travel Enlightenment

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Aaaaannnd, we’re back!

Not that I actually ever left, but there were many distractions and disruptions that led me physically,  mentally and emotionally away for a bit. Now that I have returned I am ready to pick up where I left off and maybe start over a little on some things.

My time away (I led a yoga retreat to India for two weeks and took a week for fun in Spain) revealed a few things to me. It always does, this is why travel is so important to me. (If travel is your thing too, you can read about my wanderings here: allisonswanderland.)

A few nuggets for my own consideration:

Whenever I’m in India I eat completely, 100% vegetarian. And I feel great. I have “been” vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and every other named dietary follower before. And I never truly stick with any one thing for long, but I have learned a lot about my tendencies, likes, dislikes and what my body appreciates.

Conclusion: I am going 95% vegetarian for the summer. Why not 100%? Because one of the things I’ve learned about my body is it doesn’t process legumes well and it loves protein, so eggs, yogurt and a bit of cheese will be my primary sources, not beans. If I get lethargic I’ll need to add a bit of meat for medicinal purposes. [Please note: there was no intention of sarcasm in that medicinal comment. I truly believe that almost any food when eliminated can be added back in, in small doses as a benefit to the body.]

Traveling also always reveals to me that I have an irrepressible need to be outside and to walk. I love to walk. Walking in cities fills me with wonder and purpose. I have also learned through my travels that I can stop in the afternoon for a pick-me-up of a fully-loaded cappuccino and half a creme brulee and still lose 10 pounds. From walking. About 10 miles a day.

But Florida’s summer heat makes me edgy and lazy and the lack of hills makes me a little sad. So I’ve crafted a plan to walk to the gym (about 1.5 miles one way) every morning super early, walk the hills on a treadmill for 30 minutes then walk home all sweaty. By the way I will be passing a Starbucks and a Panera so… can you say incentive? Maybe some days I’ll even strap my laptop to my back and stop at one of the aforementioned places on my way home to pound out a few blogs. Who can say for sure?

I cannot control anything, [insert eye-rolling emoji here] except my reaction. I ALREADY KNEW THIS, but it has been thrown in my face over and over and over again with unnatural force recently. What I continually attempt to control is my environment. I want my house to be certain way, have structure, be organized. I want the same for my office and the studio (I own a yoga studio with two other magical ladies). This is important to me, not for the unexpected visit from Elle Decor, but so I can have head space to be creative. If there is stuff everywhere I feel so tired and uninspired.

Having just acquired most of my mother’s belongings, there is nothing if not a lack of structure in my home. Getting upset about it only hinders the process and there’s so much to learn in the process.

Organizing things, sorting, compartmentalizing and yes, purging, all make me very happy. It’s this weird internal sense of things clicking into place, and it only works with tangible objects. I cannot feel satisfied by sorting through files on my computer. I have to touch and move actual stuff. The Universe has gifted me a tremendous opportunity to go to this happy place, I just need to see it as that and not the furniture and stuff shaped mound of frustration I’ve made it.

There was more wisdom imparted to me but this is plenty to work on and adopt so I’m sticking with these three. To review, I will:

  1. Eat a 95% + Vegetarian diet throughout the summer, which is about 6 months here.
  2. I will satisfy my need to wander through hill and dale (while not meandering abroad) by walking to the gym and climbing on equipment.
  3. I will take my time and practice mindfulness while organizing and continuing to purge stuff from my various environments.

I am also still deeply committed to minimizing my personal carbon footprint by reducing my trash and carefully considering all purchases.

It feels good to have a plan, some structure and goals. As soon as I finish integrating whatever I am keeping from my mother’s gifts I will resume, and in some cases restart, counting all my objects.

It was actually quite therapeutic.

Hey There, Cupcake

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Why is that every time I fall off the healthy food wagon it’s right in front of a bakery, or a cupcake shop? Why don’t I ever get dumped out at a Farmer’s Market?

I have thought about food my whole life, at least as far as I can remember, and not in that foodie kind of way. More in that food-is-the-enemy kind of way.

We start out less than, us girls, never quite measuring up. Fortunately there are ads for diet food and diet pills and Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and Lean Cuisine right next to the heroin-chic super model. It’s criminal. But accepted.

Ten years ago I thought I got it. I stumbled onto this website for a nutrition school in New York City. There were signs that I was to go and so I went. And there, I figured it all out. I lost weight, I felt great, I had it licked.

And then… I don’t know. Snacking flirted with me. A warm melty brie made promises. Ice cream welcomed me back. And some other friends. It was so, so subtle.

What I do know is that I’m done trying to figure it out. I’m just going to eat tiny amounts of whatever I like.

I have most recently been gluten-free – that’s actually helped on many levels including some you’d probably rather not hear about. But at Christmas I ate apple pie. And nothing happened. No bloating, no stomach ache, nothing.

I have given up dairy more times than I care to count. Then I went to India where everything has a bit of paneer or milk in it. Their milk is blissfully different and better than ours, but still, no reaction. I felt amazing the whole time I was there. (I’m pretty positive I have been an Indian in a previous life.)

Legumes – my latest foe. None for me thanks. No lentils, no beans, no dal, just no. Had some hummus, all good here.

Meat was the issue, I was sure of it 20 + years ago, so I stopped eating it. I remember intentionally going to Wendy’s (don’t judge) for a single with everything and cheese, French fries and a coke. Last meal. No red meat after that for over 10 years. I added it back in had incredible energy and lost weight.

Wine gives me acid reflux issues. Ok, too much wine.

Now sugar. Sugar is a problem, of that I am convinced. I notice that I have incredibly low energy if I consume too much sugar, which is to say more than the teaspoon in my coffee. I get heart palpitations and bitchy. My face breaks out. I’ve isolated it. You know on those days when I eat nothing but bits of dark chocolate, sweet tea and anything else that has sucrose in it.

Whole fruit, it should be noted, does not have the same effect.

Through many years of experimentation I am armed with the information that I am probably not allergic to, or intolerant of, any whole group of food. I know if I eat too much gluten my joints ache – Italy: so worth it. If I have too much dairy I get congested and my hands get puffy. Salt sorta does the same sans the mucus. Too much meat is not good for anyone (especially the animal) and there is no one that can’t benefit from more vegetables and water.

Whole 30, Sugar Detox, More Fat, Less Sugar, Ayurveda, Blood Type Diet, Macrobiotics, Juice Cleanse, Green Drinks, sure, let’s try it all. But I already know what to do. Don’t we all? So why don’t we do the good things? Why are habits so hard to break?

Let’s see where this takes us. Conscious eating. Conscious living. That’s the focus this year. Right?