My Relationship With Food – A Journey

Food.  Something we contemplate, curate, and consume every day.

Well, perhaps some of us contemplate.  Most of us just consume.  And I have been an unconscious consumer for about thirty years, yet about seven years ago when I decided to get in shape (by working out at the gym) I coincidentally learned something about eating – a way of eating that reduced inflammation and water retention.  My trainer offered me a food plan suggestion, and I followed it to a T. For three whole months.

Then life happened.

I had to travel for work.  I got off schedule.  I was following someone else’s meal schedule (on someone else’s budget), and could no longer eat small meals every two and a half to three hours.

And my gut was not happy with me for choosing to eat differently.

Eating “normally,” most would say. I was eating out at restaurants.  With the sauce. And the fried stuff. And drinks. And dessert. And… Oh, man.  Why do work trips turn into over eating and drinking every night?

Eventually, after returning home, getting back into eating my small meals, mostly sticking to the plan, I self-diagnosed myself with a wheat intolerance problem.  I was bloated, had intestinal pain, and generally not well when I ate wheat (something I avoided on the suggested meal plan, unless it was whole-grain sprouted and only first thing in the morning).  So, I decided to eliminate it from my diet.

This was right around the time that gluten became a thing people were intolerant to, and celiac disease coming into the open. When I learned of these things, I got a little worried and had a blood test done. My first score (I had the test done twice) was 303 on a scale of 0 to 310.

My doctor told me I was fine. 

I ran through the external factors (and facts) in my mind:
1. I had not been eating wheat for months.
2. These scores are determined by the number of antibodies in your blood stream.
3. No wheat had been introduced into my body for months to irritate my system and get my immune system all up in arms.
4. My score was nearly at the top of the chart.

There was no way in He** I was fine. 

A year later, after avoiding wheat as much as possible (although, I would test myself every once in a while), I asked for another test.  Negative again.

Then one day at a market, I met a gluten-free Celiac-diagnosed baker who told me: “You probably need just one more test – those tests have a 75% false negative rate”.

75%??? Why even give a test if you know there’s a 3 out of 4 chance you’re going to get a negative result and it is probably wrong?!?!

At this point, I gained resolve. I decided that I needed to be a “Gluten-Free” person. And this choice has served me well.  I am still not 100% strict, but as time passes, I am growing more certain that I will be soon.  Between my own research, and conversations with others dealing with similar digestive issues has taught me there is only one way to get real results on any of the Celiac tests:
You must eat wheat and gluten for three weeks before taking the test.

Which means, if you DO have Celiac disease, you are quite possibly, literally causing yourself more harm to find out 100% if you can give your problem a name: Celiac.

I have decided that is not for me. A self-diagnosis is enough.
(Although, I have to admit, it would be nice to know for sure what I was up against if this really is a thing I have.  Some interior struggle is going on.  My advice: If you suspect you have wheat/gluten intolerance, do not stop eating these items until you can have the test done.  I no longer want to feel the symptoms to find out. Catch 22. Check out WebMD, or even Celiac.org for more resources on this topic).

And then last year… At my annual check-up, I was filling my doctor in on some of the issues I had been having with digestion (ahem… gas) and allergic reactions to food, and she said: “I think you may have leaky gut syndrome“.

Um… What??? Am I DYING?!?
(Seriously – this name makes this ‘condition’ sound worse than Celiac Disease!!! Please know that I am in no way belittling the giant challenge that Celiac is for those who have the condition. It is a monster to tame, and a battle to eat clean Every Single Day).

So I learned that a whopping 70% of the American population has Leaky Gut and that it is caused by a build-up of yeast in the intestines that blocks nutrient absorption, allows food particles to get through the intestine and into the bloodstream, and then your body attacks the food like an invading pathogen. (Yep – check out WebMD again, if you like).

So, besides some flatulence and bloating (by yeast-produced gas), you actually can develop more sensitivities to foods as your body starts recognizing these as invaders.

I wanted to stop this. Now.

I took the suggested items to avoid list, along with the suggested items to ingest, looked up the referenced website The Candida Diet, immediately got on Amazon and ordered The Candida Free Cookbook, purchased green powdered probiotic, and two weeks later, after mentally preparing (and stocking my cupboard and refrigerator), I committed to following the guide and eliminated ALL sugar from my diet. (Because the sugar feeds the yeast, so it must go).

Yes, ALL sugar. Including fruit. For three whole weeks.

Admittedly, the first couple days were… interesting.  I was having fun cooking (it was easier, really – a restricted shopping list). The second day without sugar, I went out for a run, and found I could not get myself to run more than a block before I would need to walk. After three-quarters of a mile, I wanted to lay down on the pavement at the waterfront and take a nap. The feeling of all this was entirely ridiculous to me, I had no idea what was wrong with me.

(Fast forward to three weeks later when I belatedly read the introduction of the book, referenced the website again, and learned that when the yeast in your body die, they release toxins, and your body has to process and eliminate these. I went cold-turkey off sugar, and experienced these symptoms pretty dramatically. Most instructional books advise easing off of sugar, slowly taking it out of your diet – which I apparently skipped over, and dove in head-first. In hind-sight, it may be more sustainable to slowly reduce the sugar intake, and then eliminate it from your diet. Just a little tip from me to you).

Five days in, I felt amazing.  I was more awake, alert, my body felt good – stronger (I was also in Yoga Teacher Training – this definitely contributed to strength). Within a week my tummy started deflating.  No more bloat. By the end of week three, I was afraid to touch any sugar ever again.  I knew how great I felt (and might i add – looked?) without it, and was terrified to eat an apple.

Fast forward to today, and here is my dinner:

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Now you may look at this and wonder at if this is good or bad.  It’s a vegan dish, all healthy, colorful vegetables. But let me tell you, there are only three things in this picture allowed in the Candida free diet: tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  The squash, carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes are high in sugar.  Also very high in fantastic nutrients, but … very high in sugar. And I can feel it in my belly again.  The bloat.  The unhappy intestinal cries of “what are you feeding me?” 

I have a confession: I have a problem. My body does not process sugar well. And I continue to hurt myself by continuing to eat foods that are high in sugar.

For years, I have been one of the “healthy eaters”.  No, I don’t mean I eat a lot of food.  I mean, I eat what other people perceive to be healthy foods.  A lot of whole fruits. Some vegetables. Baked sweet potatoes! Unsweetened, whole-fat yogurt and granola. Dried fruit. Nuts. And more fruit. (And sometimes ice cream).

Yes, compared to the usual diet you see your average friend (without food sensitivities) eating, I am eating very healthy foods. But that is where it stops.

It is incredibly easy to eat gluten-free in my home town.  There are at least five dedicated bakeries, and almost every restaurant you may choose to dine at has some option for the gluten-sensitive crowd. Unfortunately, most gluten-free bread substitutes are made with simple carb flours and starches (rice, tapioca, corn starch) which quickly convert to sugars (and later fats) in the body.

So I have to make my own protein and fiber rich bread. Like the one below …
with raisins. 

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Interestingly enough, I listened to a web interview on the Hay House World Summit with Joan Borysenko, Ph.D and she described that as a populous, we are split 50/50.  Half of us can process carbs very well, and the other half can process fats.  Well, I know which team I’m on, so what am I going to do? 

Today, I find myself at a turning point.  A crossroads.

I am at a place where I am no longer willing to sacrifice my wellbeing for something that might taste good.

Self-care is not just exercising 30 minutes a day, taking a bath, making time to read a book, or getting your Vitamin D. For me, I have learned it quite literally starts with food.

How we nourish our bodies affects every single thing we do on this Earth. 

Without proper nourishment, our mind is less able, we contract disease more easily, and our bodies eventually fail us (sooner than later).

I have been fortunate enough to be given the option to choose what I feed myself. Organic, Non- GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free all readily at my disposal, and I seek items with these particular labels often.

Now, I am about to embark on a different kind of journey.

Against my nature (of eating food straight from nature) I have committed to a 30 day cleanse. Going through each day with a shake substitute for two meals, and one healthy whole food meal. There will also be two 2-day cleanses – where I will only consume liquids and small snacks to give my digestive system a break.

It’s funny, I felt really shy about telling my sister that I have chosen to try this cleanse  (many would think of this as a diet – currently, I still see it as a dietary experiment). As an afterthought, this is exactly the kind of thing I would (and do) choose to do.  I’m conducting an experiment with my body to see how it reacts to different kinds of inputs – once again.

Why now? Since I cannot run (the broken toe), and honestly I’m feeling slightly detached from my body of late (yes, I have been eating all the foods – except gluten), I felt this was a great time to try something … different. I won’t be worried as much about my eating schedule and amount of protein consumption because I am not on my regular (running) training schedule. Additionally, this specific program is very high in protein, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients which alleviates some worry that I would not be giving my body what it needs.  Since I have never tried a cleanse before, now seems like the perfect time. Besides…

You wouldn’t go 30 years without giving your car a tune-up, right?  

Time to give this body’s digestive tract a rest.  And you can bet you will be getting a play-by-play. If this program is as effective as it claims, this very well may be life-changing.

Please share with me, my athlete and health-food conscious friends:

Have you ever done a cleanse?
Did you enjoy your results?
Were you able to keep working out while you cleansed?

Thanks so much for being here with me on this journey,
~Alaina

Sugar Free Two Weeks Complete: The Return to Normal Eating Conundrum

I feel as though at this moment, I have every right to celebrate and jump with glee – I made it through two weeks without eating anything with sugar.  No added sugar, no starchy-stuff that would convert to sugar, no fruit.  I feel fantastic.  My body is de-puffed, and all of my clothes fit better than ever (nice little side-bonus of not eating anything that makes your body react).

And now, fourteen days later, I get to add items back into my diet!  I met with my coach over the weekend, and she sent me home with my favorite apples – Gala – and this is going to be the first thing I add back into my diet.  I am so excited to get to eat my favorite fruit again!

… and I am terrified to learn how my body feels after I eat sugar again (albeit from fruit!).

I am truly afraid to eat an apple. 

The Gala Apple.  Poison or no?
The Gala Apple. Poison or no?

So even though I have already decided that the apple is my first exploration into fruit sugar again, I left it at home when I went to work today (apples at lunch were almost a daily practice pre-cleanse).  I am so comfortable knowing that what I am eating now does my body NO HARM, fear of reaction has caused me to not even try a bite.  Somehow, I have turned into Snow White.  Although, I suppose, she went ahead and dug into that apple.  Whereas I fear the post-delicious-‘crunch-slurp’-bite-of-apple coma.

Clearly, this is a little dramatic.

Eating an apple will not kill me.

But the fact is, for two weeks, I have been headache free, felt very even energy daily, and to put it quite bluntly, I have had no issues with gas or digestion.  And now… I’m afraid that I may soon find the very foods that were my staples before experimenting with no sugar may be foods I need to continue to eliminate (or that my body is still working on fighting bacteria and I need to continue the diet).  A fact that may indeed be true, and is a little disappointing to think about.

So, I will proceed with caution, care, and at the pace of a snail.  Only one new item per 3 day period.  I get to eat apple today, tomorrow, and Wednesday.  And then I have to decide what add back next… Blueberries?  Yams?  Carrots?  Beans?  So many choices!  (Presuming all goes well and I do get to keep adding items back to my diet).

For now, I will only test the effects of the apple on my system.
Here goes nothing…

To eat or not to eat the apple, that is the question.
To eat or not to eat the apple, that is the question.

(Will somebody please find me Prince Charming just in case I take a bite and slip into a coma?)
Thanks in advance. 🙂

with love and light, and to your health!
~Alaina

A New P.O.V.: Bliss and Gratitude

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For a week and a half, I have been experimenting with eliminating sugar, starch, dairy, soy, all non-fibrous grains, beans…  Pretty much everything except for protein and vegetables in order to sort out some digestive conundrums.  And truthfully, this has made running more difficult – the source of nutrition my body once found to convert quickly to energy is not available, and I have only run twice in the last week!  I have however, chosen to create an intentional practice of yoga while my body is learning how to move again with a different energy source.

And somewhat astonishingly, throughout this giant change of diet, I have not been lacking – I definitely do not miss sugar (although occasionally I crave a dessert or some fruit at breakfast).  I have been preparing and cooking Every Single Meal for myself.  This is a big change for me (I like to go out and socialize with friends at places where they make food for you), and I am finding such great pleasure in spending this time – doing something good for Me.  I do believe this two and a half week change is going to make a lasting impression on the way I eat for the rest of my life.  This will be a change to better my health, and a shift to buying products with a higher consciousness of the food I choose to support and the effect my purchases have on people, animals, and the planet.

The parking lot - late evening at work (a.k.a. Everyone else already went home).
The parking lot – late evening empty parking lot at work.(a.k.a. Everyone else already went home).

Over the last few hot, beautiful sunny days I have found myself in a very different state of mind.  I feel mildly euphoric and incredibly grateful for the life I am living at this moment – regardless of whether or not I worked exceptionally late that day.  I find myself running into genuinely happy people of all walks of life, and enjoying my life in the city more each day (this includes the grey, bearded, homeless men smoking on the sidewalk early in the morning who politely apologized for their colorful conversation as I ran by.  They were lovely gentlemen).

This shift is awesome.

I am lighter, happier, more productive with my days, and sleeping incredibly well at night – and waking before my alarm every single day.

Isn’t it amazing how a small change of habit can dramatically change your perspective and the entirety of your surroundings?

What are you doing each day to feel good in your own skin?
How has this changed how your day-to-day activities?

~ with love, light, and delight ~
Alaina

Carbo-loading, OSF, and My Favorite Meal. Ever.

A runner’s tradition, the pre-race (or pre- long training run) dinner often is thought of as the “carbo-load” meal.  Of course, recent studies have shown that spreading this out over a few days (meaning: eat more carbs and store more energy, a few days prior to your big run/race event) is actually more helpful for storing that energy.  Despite this fact, there always seems to be a pasta feed somewhere within the 24 hours before a big race.  Pasta, spaghetti, meatballs, lots of marinara, and rolls to soak up all that extra red sauce – filling, delicious, and satisfying.

Well, I can’t say that I don’t fall for the same old dinner trick and participate in some grain-carb consumption.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

My absolute favorite place to get my pasta dinner is at the OSF – The Old Spaghetti Factory.  (Now offering Gluten Free pasta options!!!)

Old Spahetti Factory & the signature Blue roof!
Old Spahetti Factory & the signature Blue roof!

Growing up, my Dad’s family took relatives to the Spaghetti Factory for dinner, and so it became an individual tradition for me, as well.  Since graduating from college, I can say I have celebrated more birthdays there than any other location.  We continue to go to the OSF as a big family group on Grandma’s birthday.  These days, I choose the atmosphere of the bar (dark, polished wood, and much more quiet) upstairs over the caboose my sister and I always wanted to sit in during our youth.

Caboose! OSF.
The caboose! http://www.osf.com

A few years ago, I paid a visit to the restaurant on my own – It was a rainy, miserable day, I worked late, and did not feel like cooking, so took myself out for a bite.  I always get the “complete meal” (soup or salad, comes with sourdough and delicious garlic butter, coffee/tea/milk, and a scoop of ice cream!), and when the waitress came to take my order, without looking at the menu I answered “the A la Homer”.  She looked at me, and said “you have been coming here for a while, haven’t you?”  When I glanced at the menu the next time I visited the establishment, I noticed they no longer called out my favorite meal with the Homer reference, it is simply called “Mizithra Cheese & Brown Butter”.  Yep, I’m a regular.

I know what you’re thinking – The Old Spaghetti Factory’s Butter and Cheese dish?  That’s your favorite meal?
My answer is – Yes.  I know this is not the healthiest choice, and I definitely sometimes feel like I need to eat some green vegetables, but… It feels like home.  Butter and Cheese on pasta, OSF style, is familiar, comforting, and downright tasty!

In fact, I missed this dish so much when I went to college I sent the restaurant an email asking what kind of cheese they used!  Someone was kind enough to respond, and also included the recipe of how to make pasta “A la Homer”!  I was shocked and delighted to be honored with such a gift.  (The cheese can be found at Whole Foods, New Seasons, and occasionally Fred Meyer).

I now make the dish at home as often as I visit the big, blue roofed OSF.  (But it still tastes better on location.  I just don’t have the technique!)

What is your favorite restaurant?  

Do you have a place that you visited often growing up that has become tradition?

Enjoy the pasta feed, and happy running!
~Alaina

(For those of you who enjoy indulging in Pasta and Beer – Check out one of my favorite races: Pints to Pasta 10K  It is mostly downhill, and you get a pasta feed and free beer at the finish!  The weather is usually beautiful, the race is quick, and the people are great).

Nourishment: The Food We Make vs. The Food We Eat

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Today, I made a point to eat only food purchased at a grocery store for my meals.  Living downtown, and working in a location with a convenient café, it is easy to form habits around buying lunch (and maybe even breakfast… and coffee…) after stepping out the door.  Coffee shops abound, lining the streets, restaurants are everywhere, and food can be purchased at all hours of the day – prepared by someone else.  Not only does this drain the pocketbook more quickly, but there is no guarantee that the “healthy” meal you are eating is, in fact, nutritious and delicious.

Truthfully, Portland is quickly becoming a hub of all kinds of healthy-style, organic, gluten-free, free-range, locally grown, sustainable restaurant food markets in the Northwest.  (You’ve all seen Portlandia, right?  I admit to only watching the first episode, and promptly stopped because… Well, it’s not fiction, folks.  That’s everyday life here, and it is as cliché as it looks.  And I love my city!).  Even though you know the hen’s history and where it came from, you may not know all the details of preparation, seasoning, and cooking methods.  Variables that make a big difference to the GF, diabetic, high-cholesterol, high blood-pressure, and others of the population with dietary-restricting conditions.

The only problem with cooking your own meals is that it takes timeWorking a full-time job, cooking, training for a marathon, doing the laundry, posting a blog, and maintaining a social life suddenly feels like way too much to do.  I frequently cook quick, very simple meals.  Or chop things up, throw them in a glass casserole, and put it in the oven to bake so I can continue to putter around while my dinner cooks itself.

A girl can find herself daydreaming about having a personal chef on days where she worked late, needed to do laundry, sort through the mail, and sew a couple of pillow cases… AND get up early to run the next day!

I sometimes wonder what it is like for celebrities.  I’m sure many of them have personal chefs.  And trainers.  And housekeepers, for that matter!  What do they do with all that extra time?  Read books?  I miss reading books… 

Do they work together to create a weekly meal plan?  Do they eat the same thing for breakfast every day?  Do they not get a say in any of the food they consume?  Do they secretly hate sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts?

Do they miss cooking?

love baking.  I get less excited about cooking, but I just adore baking.  I started out with cookies and desserts, but quickly learned that MANY things can be baked – sweet potatoes, squash, chicken, casserole, frittata, vegetables… Kale chips!!!   There is something about preparing the food: washing, chopping, seasoning, and placing it in the baking dish in the oven, waiting for the miracle of heat to turn the pieces of food into a warm, aromatic dish.

Baking has somehow become my stress-relief.  I don’t have to think about anything other than what I am doing with my hands, find myself singing, and just having a good ‘old time preparing delicious and nutritious food stuffs for myself.  As much as I think that it would be great to have a personal chef to give me back some of my time during the day, I don’t think I can give my pleasure of cooking my meals to someone else.

Now… If I could get a cooking coach, that I would consider!  Consultation and coaching when diving into brand new recipes, or to give you prompts when you run out of ideas…  That would be very helpful.

Do you find yourself enjoying cooking your meals?  What kind of satisfaction does it bring you?
Have you ever had a personal chef or considered hiring one?
I’d love to hear from you!

With joy in running, cooking, and nourishment…!
~Alaina

Commitments: Heart, Soul, and Feet – Time for Some Nourishment

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Over the past few months, I have found myself (finally) making commitments to do the things that are enjoyable for me on a semi-consistent … let’s say, weekly basis.  Tonight, for example, a lovely weekend-eve Friday night, I got home around 5:30pm after work, put on my Pj’s, poured a short glass of white wine, and snacked on a random assortment of foods including cheese, apple, gluten-free pretzels, carrots, prunes, and salami.  Okay, and a little ice cream.  I was relaxed, comfortable, and just enjoying the peace of being home.  

To be honest, I knew I wanted to write tonight, and I did not want to spend time cooking… and in the end, did not eat a very healthy meal by my standards.  (Can I even call it a meal?)

Truthfully, I eat this way frequently.  Although, generally in a more organized “here is the pu-pu platter” kind of assorted fruits, veggies, meats, and cheeses manner.  Chopping and not cooking is easy, delicious, and I have to say, I think there is something to eating raw that I might like to explore.  I have so much energy when I snack on whole foods!

I do not know when or how it happened, but at some point in my young adult life, I started fantasizing about eating healthy foods.  I was terrible at it in my teens, and my early 20’s.  Dorm food and low budgets do not make for choice selections in the grocery aisle.  I find myself now, reading the ingredients on any food that comes pre-packaged (or on any health and beauty item – there are so many unrecognizable items in face cream!  I mean, really! Do you want …. “whateverthatis” on your face and in your body???)

My turning point came in 2009, when I signed up with a trainer at my local 24 Hour Fitness.  I was relieved when I found out I would be training with a woman – a girl, in fact someone my age.  She had spunk, was super cute, strong, funny, and knew just what to say to get me to do what she wanted.  In less than two weeks, I was on a very regimented work-out schedule, keeping a food (and “how are you feeling”) journal, and pushing physical boundaries I never thought I would be touching.

It’s true, in two months I had lost a significant amount of body fat, gained 7 pounds of lean muscle and I was working out with such focus and intensity, the only time I was approached by a man at the gym it went like this:  Him  – “You look like you’re working hard.” (slight smile on his mouth).  Me – “Yes, I am.” (Matter-of-factly)  Him – ” . . . (crickets) . . . ” (turns and leaves).  I scared him away.  …Must learn how to appropriately engage in conversation with interested men… oh, well.

Over time, I lost my enthusiasm for the gym.  The things I really kept in practice are in regards to food.  Portion size, variety, the importance of having lots of colors in your food, frequency of meals to keep up the metabolism… all of these have had a tremendous impact on my energy level, how I feel in my body, and combating tiredness.  The greatest impact was unintentional – I was instructed not to eat carbs (ie: bread and wheat) except in the morning. Oatmeal or sprouted wheat toast were ok in the early hours when you are kick-starting your body.  By following this advice, I learned how much my body dislikes wheat, and I am so grateful to have been given this knowledge before any number of physical consequences reared their ugly heads.

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Despite all my training and the lessons I have learned, I am constantly striving to eat better.  I want to eat more vegetables.  I want to eat less sugar, in fact, perhaps eliminate all processed sugar from my diet.  I want to cook more of my meals.  I want to eat local foods that I purchase at the farmer’s market to support local business, and make Earth-healthy choices (closer food equals less fossil fuel consumption in shipping goods).      Making these changes takes time, energy, planning, prepping, and spending time at home cooking rather than choosing social occasions eating out.  Lifestyle change – difficult, important, and definitely possible.

So this month, I am choosing to Nourish my heart, soul, and continue to honor and nourish my feet and legs with running (especially with a Marathon and a 50K coming up in the near future).  For my heart, I am participating in a 30 push-ups/day for 30 days challenge inspired by a couple of very cool ladies over at It’s A Marathon AND A Sprint, Colby and Tina (arm and core strength are good for the heart, right?).  For my soul, I am committing to writing every day for the month of May, following the BlogHer prompts for “Nourish” NaBloPoMo.  I love that they have put together a “Write Your Heart Out” theme for every month!  Whenever you decide to pick up the pen, you can find support of other writers, getting their Blog on.

Here’s to writing, running, pushing-up for dynamite shoulders, and eating like we’ve always dreamed so we can feel that good.

Happy Nourish-ing…
~Alaina