Sunday, October 30, 2011

a lovely sunday meal

a lovely sunday dinner, after a long run
solitary meals are often seen as lonely
but me, here, with this explosion of flavor
not too lonely and just right

Normally, Sunday is Potluck Night, but I wasn't feeling much up for it. The mountains of work and the other social events made me just want to burrow at home with Crystal's English as a Global Language, a beer, and a warm bowl of something delicious.  This meal was simple, easy, and satisfying--all a girl home alone could ask for.  Soba noodles cooked in broth with cubed tofu, sauteed beet greens, a hard-boiled egg, and homemade kimchi. Flavor and texture abound.

My month of unprocessed is nearing its end: while I failed to maintain it for the full month, I learned a lot from the experience that I hope to carry into my everyday life.  1.) My body has strange reactions to sugar/highly processed things 2.) A little treat is great maybe once a week.  I might try to aim for that as a goal, perhaps a weekend muffin from my favorite bakery or somesuch.  3.) Simple food is great, homemade food is awesome, but at this point in the semester, it's hard to make a priority.  It turns out that when I'm stressed and short of sleep my body screams SUGARCARBSCHOCOLATE.  I don't much care for that.

Tonight, though: a delightful bowl of soup for an autumnal day.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I was doing so well with the no-processed.  Then came Fall Break, where I slipped a little.  Then I found myself slipping a little more, and it was no good.  Suddenly the blog posts dropped off as well, so I'm making a valiant effort to get back on track and finish out the challenge, extending it into November and Thanksgiving.

It started with me making some "healthy" muffins.  I ate one and felt terrible--even the small amount of sugars hit my system hard.  But it also triggered my cravings for it, and so I struggled to get back on track, slipping a bit more.

My body really hates sugar, though, and I spent the week feeling tired and draggy, and I'm pretty sure the processed food I was eating was giving me headaches (mostly sweets/baked goods).  Good motivation to get back on the unprocessed challenge, right?

It's hard to make such a huge lifestyle change and not expect to slip, especially when I'm surrounded by food at school and other bombardments.  Instead of pretending like the challenge was so easy, I thought I'd  share my oops moments and how I decided to keep working on eating unprocessed foods for the remainder of the month.  It's totally worth it when I feel so energetic and great, especially compared to right now.

This time of the semester is usually when I struggle with eating right and not just giving in to the sugar craze around me.  I know I work better though when I'm not in a sugar-induced haze.  Here's to getting back up and trying again!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweat It Out

In a recent issue of Runner's World, Marc Parent discusses sweating in his "Newbie Chronicles" column.  When he described how he would sweat in many situations that one might not deem sweat-worthy, I totally empathized.  Sweat when nervous? Check. Sweat when moving slightly faster? Check.  Sweat even when it's cold out?  Yep.  I'm not Sister Elizabeth Dunderstock bad, but when I exercise, I definitely sweat a LOT.

Yesterday, I decided to hop over to the HPER for a quick workout before my night class (especially since I missed my beloved Starbucks Wednesday morning run because of rain).  There were only three of us, so she decided to kick our butts with circuits.  After the first one, I was drenched.

I don't usually get embarrassed when I sweat, but glancing at the others in the class, I was the only one who seemed to be dripping all over my equipment.  I felt a little bad, but then kept working out.

It's weird, but I don't feel like I sweat excessively when I run, but maybe that's because I'm usually outside. I like working out outside--it's fun and it's not usually enough to make me want to puke.

Because by the of the class, not only did I look like I got caught in an downpour, but I felt dizzy and weak. I don't normally feel dizzy and weak, even when pushing myself, and I didn't much care for it.  I'm not certain what happened--after cooling down, I then went for a 20 minute run and felt better.  Running is my magic pill, apparently.

I'm sore as all get out today, though, so I know I need to attend those classes more often--I'm trying hard to actually build up strength and keep it.  Do you all ever feel like you just sweat crazy amounts, even when not working out?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oh, the Stress...

This is that stressful time of the semester.  You know, the one where you're curled in a ball with a stack of books and the pot of coffee beside you, which you drink out of straight because a mug is too much to get between you and the caffeine that you need to maintain basic functions.  The time of the year where you have THIS much to do and >this< much time, and so you start skimping on things like sleeping. Eating. Spending time with loved ones. Going to the gym.  Showering.

Yep, it's the middle of the semester.  Despite how much I try to prevent it from happening, I reach a point in the semester where I get completely overwhelmed.  Coupled with some other stressful occurrences (which hopefully are just tiny misunderstandings that the STRESS made me blow out of proportion), I'm a bit of a mess right now.

But then there was the Fall Break.  We get a Fall Break this year, and I'm gladdened and joyful to know that it's just OVER THERE.  All I have to do is make it a couple of more days, and it'll be in my hand and then I can sleep and catch up and maybe even get a little ahead, as long as I don't collapse into a big pile, leaving a residue of coffee behind.

This is usually the time of the year where I eat and eat and eat.  I give up on my attempts to restrict sugar or stop eating pastries or whatever, and I just go for it.  I usually gain 5 pounds, which is enough to set me back on the path of healthy eating again.  I hate it, but it generally happens like clockwork.

Except for this year.  The month of no processed food has meant that I have been avoiding going where people will offer me delicious things full of sugar and delight.  And the more I've been doing it (11 days and counting!) the more I want to keep on.  Because while I am stressed, I'm feeling generally alert.  Sharper. Perhaps it's wishful thinking and I'm really all slow and say really dumb things, but I feel more on the ball lately.  I've been exercising more regularly than normal too, so that seems to be contributing.

Can I keep this up?  I sure hope so.  It's been one less stressful factor that I usually have to worry about--the not-fun feeling of having to squeeze a slightly larger self into clothes is something I'm glad to leave behind.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weight Loss, Grad School Style

How to lose weight in several easy steps:

  1. Enroll in a graduate program, then teach two classes while taking three. Basically, you won't have time to eat or think about eating (or money to afford expensive eating).  Generally, you might be scarfing down an apple and cheese while running to class, especially if you...
  2. Decide to do an unprocessed challenge, where you stop eating and processed/refined foods.  And you attempt to eat your way through a giant box of baby greens on a weekly basis.  Despite the fact that you are eating avocados and large quantities of almond butter and not really counting calories, you will still find yourself losing weight.  This coupled with...
  3. The incorporation of some physical activity, like running or biking or yoga, will mean that you'll build up muscles.  Muscles use more energy.
This is probably the weirdest diet I've tried, and perhaps the most effective, but I think it hinges on #2, otherwise I'd be scarfing down scones and junk food as I run to class instead of chowing down on lettuce, carrots, other vegetables and all manner of fruits.   And let's not forget the almond butter.

Joking aside, I feel fantastic eating no processed stuff and eating a lot more vegetables.  Lots of energy and not a strong desire for massive amounts of coffee in the afternoon, where I usually hit a slump and get really tired.  I'm thinking that this might be a more permanent lifestyle change (with exceptions here and there, like once in a while on a weekend or something).  I'll have to decide how sustainable this is for the long term--but thus far, it seems very doable, since I've found quick and easy unprocessed meals (it usually involves throwing stuff on a bed of lettuce).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Home Again, Home Again

After an interesting brunch-meeting and a visit with some pals (and to retrieve my husband), we headed back north after a quick stop at Whole Foods.  I bought a giant pumpkin, which I'll be roasting tomorrow to freeze and eat.  Yum.

Not much to report on the unprocessed challenge front.  I thought breakfast would be easy today, but it turns out that fresh fruit is not part of a normal conference breakfast...we were offered bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy.  I made a breakfast of eggs and half a biscuit (which I know counts as processed).  My processed food count was as minimal as I could make it, but this morning I just couldn't bear to only eat eggs and coffee (I really was expecting more options, so I did not come prepared), hence the biscuit.  Overall, though, for a weekend out of town, I did very well--I usually return feeling overfull and like my body is completely out of whack.  Not this time!

Upon returning home, I worked on homework, made some more banana oatmeal bars, watched a bit of TV and did some push-ups.  I've been neglecting my strength training, so I'm trying to work a bit back in.  Gotta keep those guns looking good!

I had a great weekend: I got to spend time with friends not seen for far too long, play with small kids (which always reminds me that I love kids but don't want to have to deal with my own right now), present my work, have excellent, intellectual conversations, and escape for a little bit from the pressures of school, of my students, and of the normal daily stuff in general.  Back to the grindstone tomorrow!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Eating Out

As you might imagine, eating out (and traveling) while not eating processed food can be difficult.  I've avoided it thus far, but part of the conference was a dinner out at a nice restaurant.  Since I like to socialize (and think it's important to do at a conference) I went, knowing I could at least find something.

I probably ended up eating something processed, but I tried my best to avoid the main culprits: breads, pastas, and dessert.  The hardest part is just not knowing what they could be putting in/on what might be completely innocent foods, so I probably won't be eating out at all for the rest of this month.  I had a nice piece of fish and some vegetables, and some soup, which was all very tasty, though a bit rich.

I eyed the brownie/ice cream they brought out, but I just called to mind how horrible I'd feel because I knew I couldn't eat just one bite.  I think deprivation is a really bad idea (and a way of mistreating the body and delicious food), so I focused on knowing that I wasn't depriving myself--I was actively making the decision to say no now with the knowledge that I was ultimately treating my body better for it.  It was surprisingly not difficult; instead of thinking so much about food, I focused on having AWESOME conversations with my fellow dining companions.

Which is exactly why I opted to not be completely strict tonight and make do with the best options I had.

Day 6: Travelin' Time

Tonight, I write from not my bed and not my home because I'm a'traveling!  I'm down at my alma mater, presenting at an academic conference and spending a little time with a few of my peeps in the area.  I gave my paper tonight about revision strategies--I thought it went pretty well and is definitely a project that I could develop more.  (Best of all, I got in an academic spat with one of the other folks on the panel, but more about that later).

I was a little worried about my ability to maintain my unprocessed eating ways, but I packed acceptable foodstuffs from home, and I ran by the grocery store to pick up veggies and yogurt, whipping up a quick salad for dinner with avocado, butternut squash, carrots, and Greek yogurt. Pretty delicious and so very easy!  After my quick bite, I headed to a mixer, where I drank a little red wine but shunned the various snacks (which were all extremely processed).  I only kind of wanted it, so points for me!

Okay, back to the academic spat.  I probably shouldn't go into too much detail, but I felt that one of the presenters gave a talk based on bad scholarship.  I didn't really want to confront the presenter about it, but when others seemed to not see the major flaw, I had to say something.  The assumptions and the claims were so baseless and completely drawn from very little data that I am flabbergasted that this person even functions in academia and is listened to.  Given that the individual rolled eyes during my talk and made snide comments about the work I'm doing in my science writing class, I took a bit of pleasure in pointing out the flaws.  In fact, I probably would have kept going except that the moderator diverted the attention to me, where the presenter than sulked off.  I look forward to seeing this person at future conferences and continuing to publicly point out the flaws in the so-called research.  (The person actually cited Google as a source.  Seriously?)

Anyway, off to bed--I have another paper to read in the morning!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Day 5: Different Already?

I really didn't know what to expect physically from eating unprocessed.  Now that I've been in the true swing of things for a few days, I'm starting to notice things about my body.  Apparently, it turns out that even the reasonable (or at least so I thought) amount of processed foods in my diet was enough to possibly affect how I felt.

As someone who reacts to too much sugar (or too much of several other things), I know what it's like to feel bad because of food.  But with processed foods, I find that if you feel tired, you might reach for something processed, which perks you up for a bit before making you feel super tired again.  It's a vicious cycle.

Today is my long day at school--I'm on campus from 9am to 9pm, teaching and learning and working (not to mention that I get up before 5am to go run).  I packed my unprocessed lunch and dinner and snacks, and I noticed that while I felt the desire for my Wednesday afternoon caffeine jolt, I didn't really need it.  And I never really felt sluggish like I normally do in the afternoon, and I felt really alert in class.

Could this all be because of not eating any junk on Wednesdays, like I tend to?  I certainly feel better overall; lighter and cleaner.  I'm not completely willing to dismiss that it could be psychosomatic, but I have a feeling that it is a real difference, even if it has only been a couple of days.  One clue: a dress I bought this weekend was a bit looser in the midriff, and although I feel like I'm eating plenty, I seem to be losing weight because I'm also not as hungry and can't exactly reach for something when I'm just bored or out of habit.

All I have to say is: thank goodness for unprocessed foods that are filling and easy to make into a meal, like almond butter and cheese and apples, bananas, peaches, and salad mix.  And leftovers.  So many leftovers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Day 4: Kitchen Experiments

I love pancakes.  When my friend K posted this link to a recipe for pumpkin "Paleo" pancakes, I was intrigued.  While I generally have little interest in the Paleo diet (a vegetarian diet seems to be the one that keeps me healthy), my desire to make the pancakes stemmed from the fact that they were so very simple. Three ingredients?  No refined grains or oils or other processed stuff?  Taste like pancakes? Let's give 'em a shot for a quick and easy dinner after yoga.

My first pancake(s) were a flop.  Big falling apart flop, so I ate them in their little crumbly pieces. And didn't take a picture, except of the batter.

Second attempt, I made just one big one in the middle of the pan and let them cook all the way through before flipping.  Much better.  And doesn't it look like a normal pancake?  Who'd know it was just pumpkin, almond butter, and an egg!

Man, they are delicious.  Extremely simple, very filling, and I felt pretty good.  I ate mine with Greek yogurt* and sliced bananas and a little drizzle of honey.

This morning, I made them for Lance and me for breakfast.  His reaction was surprise: he exclaimed that they were pretty tasty.  This morning, I mixed pumpkin and banana to make the batter and ate mine with Greek yogurt and honey.  And sure enough, they did a pretty good job of keeping me decently full until lunch time.  I'll try them again tomorrow, probably, for a post-run breakfast (also known as breakfast #2) after my 5:30am run.  Give them a try--they are easy and delicious!

Grain-Free "Paleo" Pancakes
(adapted from The Paleo Project blog)

Makes enough for one serving, but they are easily doubled for two!
  • 1 banana or big scoop of pureed pumpkin (to make two servings, I used both)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 big spoonful of almond butter (probably around 2 tbsp)
Mash/mix/puree all ingredients together.  I used a fork and a vigorous stirring method, but if you feel like dirtying your blender/food processor, go for it.

Pour batter onto hot/greased skillet and cook until little bubbles form on the top and the edges are firm.  Flip and cook on the other side.  Put on a plate and gobble down with whatever topping suits your fancy: I'm fond of fruit, Greek yogurt, and honey myself.

*I think Paleo eaters avoid dairy, so if you're a Paleo person, find something else delicious to eat on it.  Luckily, I'm not a Paleo eater because, damn, I love me some Greek yogurt.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Day 3: In the Rhythm

When beginning this project, I was not prepared for the complete mind shift I would have to make.  For example, I reached for my friend's funnel cake and nibbled on it before I even remembered that I wasn't eating processed food.  I had remembered it earlier when I was offered chips and cookies, and it was pretty easy to turn it down (without lengthy explanations that I'm eating particularly), but when A offered the funnel cake up, I pinched off a piece without even thinking.

Which led me to think about how much of our food choices can be unthinking.  Not that we should obsess about what we eat every moment of everyday--food can be one of the many delights of life, after all--but the unthinking grabbing of a cookie. Or a piece of candy. Or any other mindless eating that we may engage in throughout the day, not because of hunger or anything but for other reasons.  Funnel cakes are delicious.  That cookie was just sitting there.  Someone offered me a cupcake, and I ate it without assessing if I really wanted it or if I was really even hungry.

Now that I'm having to be more conscious and deliberate about what I eat, I realize that I'm definitely someone for whom food is not always a matter of hunger and response to hunger.  There are lots of other factors, and habit is one of them.  It's almost habitual to want a bite of what Lance is nibbling on instead of just waiting for dinner or until I'm hungry.

Anyway, just some thoughts.  I'm definitely not opposed to snacking or sweets, but I think I prefer to be  little more aware of what goes into my body.  This experiment is a lot about cultivating awareness.

A little glimpse of what I'm eating:

Steel cut oats with a little pumpkin puree (that I roasted and pureed myself from the pumpkin you see there!), honey, cinnamon, walnuts, and raisins.  Coffee and half and half.  I really love pumpkin oatmeal--so filling and tasty and seasonal.

Mixed greens with roasted vegetables and edamame avocado salad.  Banana and a dab of almond butter. That Avocado Edamame salad is fantastic--I made it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it, though I think I need to drain off the excess dressing.  The dressing itself is pretty tasty on its own, and it's one thing we so often purchase that can easily be made at home with a few simple ingredients (vinegar, oil, seasonings).

Piece of cheese (without anything crazy in it, so it passes the "kitchen test") and an apple.  It's apple season--I love it!  Apple with cheese is one of my favorite snacks.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Day 2: Complicated Yogurt

Yesterday, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few items for the week, and I decided to get some yogurt.  I figured that my standard yogurt would work just fine, because it's all-natural and organic and made of magical milk and all; however, I quickly discovered that even the high-quality, organic yogurts have ingredients that count as processed.

It was a little disturbing to pick up carton after carton of yogurts and find all manner of additives: inulin, pectin, dry milk powder: basically ingredients that are added to make it thicker.  Inulin is a starch that is naturally occurring, but extracting it requires heavy processing.  I'm certain I could not make that at home.  Pectin I probably could, but not the pectin that they put into yogurt.  Basically, I discovered that most brands of yogurt are more processed than I realized (and that this challenge might be more difficult than I realized).

Happily, I found a yogurt with only one ingredient (cultured milk)--Chobani Greek yogurt.  It's a little expensive, but I like having a little yogurt every now and then, especially since I don't really drink milk much.  It's pretty tasty too, thick and creamy without lots of saturated fat or additives to make it thicker.

Reading the labels really hit home to me that I apparently look only for the obviously problematic ingredients, but I don't think about the nature of some of the foods I buy without really examining the labels.  Sometimes I'm just content to know that it's organic or all-natural, even though I know that being organic (and certainly being all-natural) doesn't mean something isn't junk food or is good for me.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

No Unprocessed: Day 1

 I've decided to participate in a little food challenge called October Unprocessed, where I spend one month not eating anything processed.  Cool, I thought, as I signed up for the challenge.  Now it's day 1, and while I don't think it's going to be that difficult for me, I realized I didn't think all the way through what "unprocessed" would be.

The sponsoring blog, Eating Rules, uses the "kitchen test" rule to determine processed from unprocessed.  The idea would be if I could reasonably make it in my own home, it doesn't count. (So, my cans of tomatoes are cool, but boxed mac and cheese not so much.  Or really any boxed pasta or anything that has weird ingredients or ingredients I couldn't use at home).

So, for one, no white flour or white sugar.  These foodstuffs are typically processed within an inch of their lives, nowhere near their whole form.  Luckily, I can find bread and stuff that's made with whole wheat flour (which I can, theoretically, grind at home because we have an awesome food grinder), and if Lance bakes some bread, I'll probably eat that if it is mostly whole grain.  He told me that rolled oats are cool, though, because they are simply rolled--no craziness (and you theoretically can roll them at home).  I'll probably go for more of the steel cut oats, though.

The muffin I ate at my favorite bakery this morning in my pre-coffee haze was definitely a violation, though.  But now I'm aware.

Mostly, I want to see how hard it'll be to avoid processed stuff.  Most people who know how I eat know that I generally eat healthy with little junkfood, but I sometimes let it sneak in when I'm bombarded by stuff at school.  I want to see how much I let that stuff sneak into my diet--probably a little more than I realized, given the muffin I ate this morning--and how difficult it might be to prepare and cook food for myself while maintaining a crazy-busy schedule (luckily, Lance is a HUGE help with dinner cooking).

I also plan to blog through it and share recipes, so here's my first as a replacement for my morning granola bars: Banana Oatmeal Bars!

Banana Oatmeal Bars
(adapted slightly from

  • 2 large or 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1-3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1/4 cup flax seed
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • cinnamon
In a bowl, mash the banana.  Add the rest of the ingredients, stir.  Press the batter into into a lightly greased 9x9 pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  Cut up and eat!