A Brief Introduction to Life with PCOS

No matter how much you attempt to surround yourself with those things that make you feel comfortable, it can inevitably often feel as if the battles you fight are fought entirely on your own. This is how I have always felt when it comes to PCOS. Unlike many women who are diagnosed with PCOS in early adulthood, I have actually been aware of my condition since I was about 13 years old…almost 3 years before I ever had my first period.

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and it refers to a disorder within the female reproductive system. It’s widely believed to be incurable, as well as the direct cause of a slew of hormonal imbalances which include irregular periods, hair loss, uncontrollable acne, dramatic mood swings, and fertility problems, (to name a few).

In addition to the entirety of that short list, I’ve experienced most every catalogued “symptom” related to PCOS. However, rather than a path of discovery through these issues, my journey in navigating my disorder has been a bit backwards.

Let me start by speaking a bit on how my experience has unfolded thus far:

How I Learned I Had PCOS:
Pretty simply, my mother has it. When I was “coming of age,” I complained of severe migraine headaches, and unbearable pain in my abdomen, coincidently around the same time every month. I hadn’t yet started bleeding, but my mom took me to see a gynecologist who confirmed her belief that I had inherited the curse of small cysts forming on my oversized ovaries, then bursting around the time of my menstrual cycle (the fluid causing the pain and discomfort). The doctor immediately prescribed me a low dose of synthetic birth control, and sent me on my way. I was 14.

The symptoms subsided within a couple of months, and I was honestly ecstatic. I was able to maintain an active lifestyle throughout high school, and rarely complained of any side effects. I loved my birth control regimen because as a young teen, it made everything so much easier. When I did get my period, it was consistent, and easy to navigate. I never shared with any of my girlfriends that I had a hormonal condition because I didn’t have to. Birth control masked my imbalances, and once I got used to it, made me feel “normal.”

What Happened Next:
I wasn’t only private about my hormonal condition in high school, I was also close-lipped on the little pills I was taking with my lunch every day. To me, I had an “issue” for which I was taking medication, and I would have felt embarrassed if all of my classmates knew I was “different.” Once I got to college, I quickly learned that A LOT of girls were taking birth control, but not for the same reasons I was. They were taking it to literally control whether or not they gave birth. This may seem like a stupid realization to have after I had been taking it for years at this point, but you have to remember, that was never why I started taking it. To me, it was a medicine I thought I needed to mitigate the side effects of my condition. It had nothing to do with having sex.

Once I learned that was not the primary motivation for most of those using an oral contraceptive, what happened next is kind of hard to explain – I just started to feel a little uncomfortable. Here I was, almost 20 years old, and I had been religiously taking a pill I knew little to nothing about every day, for almost a quarter of my life!

I wasn’t sexually active at the time, and I was more afraid of the risk of not knowing, so without really thinking about it, I decided to stop taking it. Just like that.

In what seemed like an overnight change – I immediately felt better than I ever remembered. Within just a few weeks, I lost nearly 15 pounds. Meanwhile, my appetite and energy levels dramatically increased to a healthy level. I was overall lighter and happier.

Fast Forward:
Of course, nothing good can last (without maintenance). After graduating, I experienced both a level of stress and a variety of emotions that I had never known before. More specifically, my physical health was struggling, and I had no idea what was wrong. I drank easily an entire pot of coffee a day, and quickly gained back all the weight I had lost in college. I was rarely active, and always anxious. I had hair growing in the most random of places, and acne showing up in places I had never experienced before! And they weren’t little bitty blackheads. It was cystic (hormonal) acne, always around my chin and jawline and it never went away! (More on this later).

I visited a psychologist to try to talk through my uncontrollable mood swings; I saw specialists who tested for food allergies like celiac disease, and lactose intolerance; I was even recommended to have multiple tests done to scan for rare cancers in my breasts and colon. Thankfully, none of these tests proved fruitful, but unfortunately, the mystery of my long-list of discomforts remained unsolved.

You have to remember, it had been almost a decade at this point since I last even spoke of PCOS with a doctor, and almost four years since I had given up the pill, cold turkey. It truthfully never crossed my mind to tie anything I was feeling to my hormones. In hindsight, I didn’t really know enough about my condition to know all of the symptoms, and it wasn’t something I had ever consciously thought to allow to play a role in my life.

A Push, Then A Shove:
In late 2015, results from a routine pap came back as “irregular,” and “inconclusive.” I pretended not to panic, and reminded myself that I had never really been that convinced I’d ever have children, anyway.

“What should I do differently?” I asked my doctor.

“Nothing you can do,” she explained. And told me to make sure I get another check up in a year to make sure it’s nothing serious.

What?! Nothing I can do. The cells in my cervix were showing up “irregular,” and the results of whether or not I had cervical cancer were “inconclusive,” yet there was nothing I could do over the course of 12 months to ensure the next test was better?

For the first time, I shared with my doctor that I had a condition called PCOS, “they told me about it when I was young,” I explained, “but I haven’t taken birth control in a while. Do you think either of those things could be impacting my results?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, “but PCOS is incurable. I would strongly encourage you to reconsider birth control.”

I was floored. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. This time was different than when I was a young teen because I felt as if I had more knowledge. I surely didn’t know all there was to know about my PCOS still, or even birth control, but faced with a hormonal issue, I certainly couldn’t believe the solution would be to chase it with synthetic hormones.

Womancode:
In the Summer of 2016, shortly after my move to NYC and starting a new life, I started researching more seriously the condition and came across a lot of great resources which helped me to feel more educated and empowered than I ever imagined. One book was especially interesting to me: Womancode, by Alisa Vitti. I skimmed it half-heartedly, but didn’t implement any of it’s recommended strategies until months later. What she suggested in the book seemed almost too simplistic, and so I was afraid of it not working for me. I was terrified that maybe what the doctors had told me my whole life was true: there was no hope; I am incurable, and I could never have children. I would always be defined by this condition.

As my symptoms worsened, and the fear for my fertility (and happiness) loomed, it became blaring that I could not continue to live my life this way. The day-to-day symptom I was affected by the worst? Mood swings. I felt as if I was losing my mind, literally, and it was making me miserable. I decided to take a stand of my own. I dove back into my research, determined to win this supposed would-be life-long battle. This would not be my story, I was sure of it.

I decided the following Spring to take a leap of faith. Everything kept pointing me toward Womancode. Armed with new knowledge and understanding I had gained from my research, I had already read Vitti’s book, but now it was time to study it like the Bible. I cried as I read through the testimonials she spoke of. “This is me,” I thought, “this is exactly how I feel.” My confidence was restored, even before taking action. I felt empowered through her words, and for the first time, as if I was not alone in this experience.

I learned so much about listening to my body, and giving in to my feminine energy to stay in tune with my cycles in order to optimize my abilities, but the journey was also a testament to a patience and perseverance I didn’t know I had.

How Did It All Happen?
The first task I challenged myself with was balancing my blood sugar. I learned a lot about what can cause sudden drops and spikes in blood sugar, which seemed to be a major culprit in my uncontrollable mood swings. Now, I try to eat every few hours, even if only a small snack, in order to maintain this balance.

Overall, aligning my diet with my hormones was the easiest part. Womancode includes a super-easy to follow list of cycle-friendly foods, so you know what is best for you during the different phases of your cycle, and what to avoid. What worked best for me was doing a 21-day elimination diet to determine where I might have food sensitivities, and then continuing to avoid those foods as mindfully as I can. I also got to try a lot of new foods I’d never otherwise think of incorporating into my recipes!

It took me almost three months to fully churn my bathroom cabinets, but eliminating harsh products was the next step I took. Harsh toxins can disrupt the endocrine system, and that can lead to hormone imbalances, as well. I studied which parabens specifically tend to appear in which types of products, and used helpful apps like ThinkDirty to determine if what I was already using would make the cut. This was sometimes sad, because I had to say goodbye to a lot of products I loved, but also exciting because I was able to try new things. After a few months of getting used to my new products, I found I love them just as much and it’s great knowing they’re better for me!

A few other key strategies I try to implement into my lifestyle as much as possible include:

  • As much stress-relieving activities as possible – journaling, herbal tea, long walks/runs when I am feeling overwhelmed, using essential oils (I love clary sage), yoga, meditation, using hormonal complementing herbs (I love ashwagandha), self-care splurges like a pedicure or massage every once in a while. I also have recently adapted some special mantras that I like to speak to myself when I am feeling especially stressed, or as if I am losing control of my mood.
  • Limiting sugar – this has been a more recent discovery, but I’ve always known sugar sensitivity is common in those with PCOS. At the beginning of the year I did a 31-day sugar detox in which I consumed absolutely no sugar. This helped to “reset” the way my brain thinks about sugar, and as I slowly reintroduced different types, I’ve been able to keep my intake at a minimum.
  • Cutting out coffee – yep. from a pot-to-myself a day to no coffee at all. I recently reintroduced coffee after my elimination diet this year and confirmed the subtle theory that this too was contributing heavily to my mood swings, and hormone imbalances. I plan to stick to matcha (if necessary, but not every day), and avoid coffee as much as I can!
  • Cycle-syncing my workouts – you read that right – and no, I’m not making this stuff up. There is a whole section in Womancode which talks about the different physical exercises that are better during different phases of your cycle. To me, this mostly just means listening to my body. If I’m in my menstrual phase and don’t feel like going to the gym, I don’t go. I also try to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things during my Follicular phase, when I know I am in a good position to discover something new I might love!
  • Limiting carbohydrates – ok, if you’re reading this and I’ve ever spoken to you about carbs before, you know how much I value them as a source of energy for our bodies. However, consuming carbohydrates in moderation is important for everyone, not just those with PCOS. I try to avoid ingesting more than one complex carb per meal, (for example, at Chipotle I might order beans, but no rice). I also try to avoid carbs entirely for dinner. If I can’t avoid a carb heavy dinner, I at least try to complement it with plenty of protein and fat to balance it out, and then opt for more protein and fat the next day. Another great couple of books I’ve read which speak more to diet as it relates to the brain and hormones include Grain Brain by Dr. David Pearlmutter, and Unleash the Power of the Female Brain by Daniel Amen.
  • Maintaining a consistent morning routine – arguably one of the most impactful things I done to improve my health has been drinking at least 32 ounces of water as soon as I wake up (before anything else), then making sure to eat breakfast or at least protein/collagen within the first 90 minutes of being awake. This helps to ensure you’re blood sugar is off to a proper start, and provides you with stable energy to positively impact your mood first thing in the morning which can set the stage for your day as a whole!

It is safe for me to say that following the Womancode Protocol has changed my life dramatically, as well as has continuing to learn from other authors. Within 2 months of becoming more mindful about my diet alone – that means none of the other stuff I mentioned, just eating food recommended for each of my cycles – I experienced the first regular period I had since stopping birth control…my first regular period in over 7 years! I also noticed differences in my mood and overall happiness after only a month of cleaning out 90% of my products (not even all of them, because I was using most of them until they ran out).

What’s Next?
Ever since learning more about PCOS and my hormones, I feel excited talking about the topic, and I want to share with others that there are ways to take control of your body. You can change the way you feel. It all starts by working with your hormones, rather than against them.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s definitely still a journey, but that to me is exciting. I am still battling some skin purging, and sometimes I still struggle with my mood swings…but I am able to look at these now as “flare ups,” which I can tie to specific causes. KNOWLEDGE is powerful, and it helps me to feel in control – something I never felt I had before.

If you or someone you know is dealing with PCOS, or maybe has some of the symptoms I discussed but doesn’t understand why, you are not alone. PMS, hormonal acne, mood swings, irregular, painful periods, and difficulty conceiving are not normal. We were not designed to struggle as women, we were designed to thrive. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling, and seek support for attacking these issues. If you’re willing to face them and make a change, I promise you, it’s possible to overcome.

 

Shopping List, Recipes, and All Things Elimination Prep, OH MY!

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling lost or confused as to what could be ailing you…maybe you have stomach issues that never seem to go away, experience skin flare ups or breakouts randomly, or have a digestive system that barely allows you to sleep through the night – it’s possible that an elimination experience is right for you.

An elimination diet is a short-term eating plan designed to eliminate potential “trigger” foods that could be causing allergies or other uncomfortable reactions. After a short period of cleansing your body’s system, these triggers are then reintroduced slowly, one at a time in order to determine which could be not as well tolerated.

The first time I went through an elimination experience was almost a year ago, and the more I’ve thought about it over the past year, I think my reasoning for submitting to such a challenge was simple: I was curious. In my opinion, curious is always an okay place to be…as long as you are open to what your curiously may uncover.

So I took a large step toward better understanding my own body and health and it turned out to be so eye-opening, I decided to do it again.

Fast forward through a whole year of learning and growing and developing, and I’m more excited than ever for round 2! There are a lot of posts about my first experience, and what I ate, or didn’t eat, and how I felt from last year’s posts, so I will just cut to the chase here and start with what you probably want to know:

Which foods are removed during an elimination diet, and for how long?

There are 6-8 foods which most professionals consider to be “common allergens,” so these are always a good place to start if you’re not sure what to eliminate: milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, wheat/gluten, soy, fish, and shellfish.

However, elimination diets can and should vary depending on what you personally want to identify about yourself. Here is what I plan to eliminate this year:

• Gluten
• Dairy
• Soy
• Eggs
• Peanuts
• Corn
• Alcohol
• Caffeine
• Processed food/preservatives
• Refined/added sugar/sweeteners

I also have a hunch that even small carbohydrates in certain foods could be the culprit to some lingering digestive discomfort, so I will be sticking primarily to low FODMAP foods, excluding the above list. You can learn more about the Low FODMAP Diet plan here, an article shared by one of my sweet friends, Lauren Palm.

Most elimination experiences last a total of about 4-6 weeks, as it takes at least a few weeks for your body to rid itself of any antibodies which could be lingering due to a negative reaction (you read that right – so if you choose to never identify what your body could be negatively reacting to, you essentially run the potential of having perpetual antibodies just hanging out on your insides…ugh!). After this initial few week healing process, the next part of the experience is reintroduction.

How to do an elimination diet:

It’s really quite simple, and more than anything else I will mention, simply takes a little bit of extra focus and attention.

First, stop eating whatever foods you choose to eliminate. Maintain an otherwise healthy and fulfilling diet for 3 weeks, absent of these foods.

During this time, carefully read food labels to ensure you are avoiding even trace amounts of your triggers. It might seem like now, more than ever, is a good time for a cheat day but trust me on this one – you’d only be cheating yourself. The elimination diet WILL NOT WORK if you cheat even a small seemingly insignificant amount. The first step is allowing your body to heal, let it.

After three weeks, begin to slowly reintroduce one food group at a time. Don’t go wild and crazy, here. It might seem fun on the first day of reintroduction to make pancakes or go to a fancy Italian restaurant, but the point is actually to be pretty conservative through the reintroduction phase, introducing a single serving amount (1 cup or less, typically) of the food group in as simplistic and pure a form as possible. You want to introduce one food for 1-2 days before moving onto the next one.

This might look like a cup of whole wheat pasta on the gluten reintroduction day, or a glass of cow’s milk on the dairy reintroduction day. Pay attention to how you feel within about 20 minutes of consuming the trigger food, and be sure to record any symptoms or differences. If you calculate that one food or another left you with a negative experience upon reintroduction, you can confirm this food as a trigger food by eliminating it again. Essentially, the entire process is simple trial and error. The most important task throughout the experience will be to take notes, and listen to your body. If this is something you’ve never done before, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by pairing mindfulness with consumption.

 What foods can I include?

So as mentioned earlier, I plan to follow (as closely as I can) the low FODMAP directory of foods, additionally eliminating any low FODMAP foods which are captured by my essential elimination list.

Previously, I ate about 70% vegetables, and 30% lean meat, with the occasional and unintentional sprinkle of healthy fats. Since last year, I’ve been on a mission to learn more about what other potential eating habits could be affecting my gut health, and leading to uncomfortable digestive issues. At a high level, foods that are considered high FODMAP foods mean they contain high levels of sugars and sugar alcohols, which if poorly digested, can ferment in the lower part of your bowel causing the intestine to stretch and expand. The result? Pain, bloating, and other related digestive issues.

With this added knowledge, this time around the goal will be to aim for about 30% fresh vegetables, 30% clean protein, and about 40% healthy fats. Notice this leaves no intentional room for grains or carbohydrates…lending to another topic I’ve been continually researching as of late, but I won’t go into that too much now…

Vegetables, especially leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like Brussel sprouts and broccoli, mushrooms, squash, radishes, and sprouts are all good for healing your body! In addition to avocados, some other healthy fat sources include coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

If you can’t imagine going without any source of grains, try to keep them at bay by only including them as about 10% of your food intake, and stick to gluten-free lighter grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and gluten-free oatmeal.

What else can I eat, and how about some recipes? 

So the real juicy inside info I know many of you have been waiting for – my shopping list, and recipe book to meal prep for the diet.

To preface, I’ve always imagined this could be a bit of a letdown if your expectations thirst for flare and excitement. The honest truth: this experience is very plain when it comes to ingredients. I mean, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – that does NOT by any means lead to tasteless, boring, or repetitive meals. I just mean to be upfront that what you see is very literally what you get, and you’ll notice the recipes are just as simplistic as the ingredients. Surely you can hit up some other spaces on the internet to find more shazam for your kitchen, if that’s what you’re into. For me, however, I find it easier to stay motivated as long as my food taste good, and minimal work is involved.

So without further ado – my shopping list:

Some other staples include plenty of spices, herbs and other flavor adders such as Salt, Pepper, Turmeric, Coconut Aminos (taste exactly like soy sauce), Avocado Oil, Red Chili Flakes, Everything Bagel Seasoning (from Trader Joes), plus I drink pretty much allll the herbal tea – just make sure to read the ingredients and especially watch out for soy letchin.

So what do you plan to eat?

Like I said – to me, simple is key. I plan to stick to a protein smoothie for breakfast, using vanilla Garden of Life plant-based protein. The ingredients might look something like this:

Breakfast Smoothie
1-2 scoops vanilla protein
10 frozen berries
bunch of spinach, kale, or other green
1/2 – 1 cup almond milk or water
handful of seeds, if desired

I typically will pack snacks for at least the first few days, in case I find myself hungry between meals. I will plan to share some fat-ball recipes later this week! In my experience, however, this lingering hunger between meals will go away as my body starts to heal, so snacks will become less necessary overtime.

Snacks
5-10 Sprouted and roasted almonds
1-2 Small kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 Medium clementine, mandarin, or orange
Couple slices of pickled beets
1 Cup fresh grapes

In my opinion, lunch should be especially easy since it typically has to be prepared ahead of time. I tend to stick to salads, or take leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. My first week lunches will probably be something like the following:

Chicken Salad
1 Cup of chopped romaine
Unlimited amount of kale, if more greens desired
1/4 – 1/2 Medium avocado, chopped
1/2 Lb plain boiled chicken, shredded or cubed (I love the Simple Truth chicken selection from Kroger)
1 Slice cooked bacon, crumbled
1-2 Anchovies, if desired (excellent added low carb source of protein!)
Avocado oil + balsamic vinegar
Everything Bagel Seasoning, if desired

I also like adding pickled beets to my salad, and you can pretty much add any vegetables you want! Carrots, celery, bell peppers? Salads are an easy way to easily and quickly experiment while you food prep. Just be careful to stick to clean dressing options, like a fat-based oil, and natural herbs or spices to add flavors.

Egg Roll in a Bowl (Recipe makes 3-4 servings)
1 Lb ground pork
16 Oz bag of coleslaw, cabbage and carrot mix (avoid preservatives and artificials!)
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1/3 Cup Coconut Aminos
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
Green onions, for garnish/topping

In a small bowl, combine the ginger, coconut aminos, and oil – set aside. Brown the pork in a large skillet, then add in the cabbage/coleslaw. Add the sauce mixture to the meat and veggies and stir to combine, cooking for about 3-5 minutes until the veggies are wilted. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

When it comes to dinner, we tend to stick to just simple meat and veggies. This week we will likely enjoy salmon and cooked Brussel sprouts or carrots a couple of nights, then maybe make a soup to last the next couple of days. Brenen has been talking about curry a lot lately, so here is what my soup recipe may look like:

Chicken Curry Soup
14 Oz Chicken Broth (Pacific, found at Kroger, is a great brand!)
14 Oz unsweetened full fat coconut milk
1/2 Tbsp Curry powder
1 Jalapeno chili, seeded, minced
4 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/4-3/4 inch pieces
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 Cup chopped green onion
1/4 Cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium saucepan, combine chicken broth, coconut milk, curry powder, and chili and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add in the chicken and simmer until the chicken is cooked through (5-10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Mix in the lime juice, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Add in the lime wedge, green onion and cilantro as a topping right before eating. This soup is also excellent with cooked white rice, but we will be avoiding rice, personally!

I know this was a longer read, but I hope you find the information and recipe/shopping ideas helpful. I am so excited to begin this journey (again) with some awesome friends joining along, so please feel free to share any other ideas you might have, questions I can answer, or just general thoughts on how things are going along the way. 🙂

I will be back with more updates soon! Good luck, and have fun!

A note on expectations.

What does it mean to have expectations? Especially in the health and wellness community, we hear the idea of casting aside expectations thrown around a lot. How can you omit such an abstract concept? How can you proceed with most anything in life without setting up a certain expectancy?

One of my favorite rituals I’ve picked up over the last year is that of truly “being.” Being present, and being in the moment. Simply existing without over-thinking too much about it. I learned this practice through meditation, which even after years of practicing yoga, I admittedly only first started habitually committing to earlier this year. While I enjoy meditation in itself as a relaxing and energizing part of my day, the outcome of this present mindset is the reason I keep coming back. Through the challenge associated with living in as crazy of a city as New York, plus the added difficulty of trying to find my place in the world, writing + mediation were largely impactful tools that assisted me in reaching this state.

Like anything else, a certain mindset is a practice, and to master it will continue to take a lot of time. But when it comes to being present, I’ve noticed through my practice that there is really only a short list of obstacles which prevent this from being a natural part of our existence as humans. Imagine how you view change for a moment. Any kind of change – big or small – is typically exciting to some extent, however this excitement can often be joined if not completely clouded by worry, stigmas, and preconceptions. Now imagine how you could view these situations differently if you cast aside those negative feelings. Or more specifically, the ROOT cause of those negative feelings: expectations.

Did you know that of all the animals in the world, human beings are the only species that create their own stress specifically by worrying about the future? No matter how much we plan or how hard we work, often it seems inevitable that something could (and probably will) go not according to plan. And the crazy thing is, even knowing this and often preparing for it, rather than just awaiting the outcome of a situation and dealing with it when it actually happens, we stress about it now, and we stress about it later. Double stress.

Believe me – I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have grown to believe that a certain level of uncertainty can be powerful, and freeing. In our society, change has been delivered as a scary, typically negative “thing,” but in reality, change can be the most beautiful experience we are privileged to know. Synonymous with “NEW,” experiencing a change means you have the ability to start fresh – whether you’re starting a new job, moving to a new city, entering into a new relationship, or even just taking a new route to work this morning – embrace the changes around you. Every single day is an opportunity for change. Every single day we are privileged with the opportunity to do something new. I’m grateful for New York State of Mindfulness for comforting me just enough to step out of my comfort zone over and over again throughout the past year, but I know my relationship with change will only continue to be tested moving forward.

Just some food for thought, and something I am going to challenge myself to continue to be mindful of through my upcoming transition: Are you enabling your existence with expectations and worry, or are you embracing your opportunity to lean into change, and take advantage of your ability to be free? Welcome to the world, TenikaTime.com – I can’t wait to see what all changes come from this new space.

The ACV Chronicles

It’s no secret that I tend to “go through phases” when it comes to experimenting with my health. Unique to this cycle, Apple Cider Vinegar has been an ongoing “experiment” for over a year. The first time I tried it, I took a shot of it straight (from an actual shot glass), and chased it with room temperature water. It was horrible! I remember thinking, “why would anyone ever do this to themselves…this cannot be worth it!” But, with all the trial and error that is my wellness journey, I knew that was just a mindless reaction to something new and uncomfortable and I owed it to myself to keep researching, and learning before writing it off for good. Over the most recent several months, my relationship with ACV hasn’t dimished, or even faulted by more than a day or two – usually onset by travel, but it has evolved in terms of everything from concoction, routine, and appreciation.

What I’ve learned? I’ll separate it into categories:

The Benefits – WHY drink this stuff in the first place? The regimen initially sparked my interest because of it’s natural effects on detoxification, and anti-inflammation. I was experiencing gut related discomfort, and this seemed it could potentially be an easily accessible and inexpensive solution.

But the perks don’t stop there. Incorporating ACV into your diet can help to improve your overall health by positively impacting your digestion, helping to regulate your bowels, strengthening your immune system, and even improving bad breath! And listen, I’ve become so obsessed with it that I’ve recently been using my Apple Cider Vinegar as a toner for my skin…but more on that another time…

What keeps me coming back specifically? Well I wasn’t consistent right away and I actually NOTICED the difference in the way I felt when I didn’t drink it. Even now, missing a few days here or there due to travel, my energy level drops, I can sometimes lose focus more easily, and often times I’ll get chest/stomach pains from indigestion (I suffered from acid reflux for years and ate tums like candy before ACV – now, it’s a complete nonissue when I drink it on a consistent basis!).

The Method – HOW do you drink it? I will admit, the first several trials were rough – as I mentioned, I was just straight up ripping this like it was cheap vodka in college, and trust me, the experience was eerily similar. In my experimentation, I eventually ruled out several juice options as chasers as well. A few were good, like actual apple cider, but these options eventually got to be too expensive.

You can also try some mixed concoctions using grapefruit juice, honey, cinnamon, lemon juice, and more!

I can’t really remember where the logic came from, but for some reason I recall feeling concerned diluting the ACV would minimize it’s benefits – NOT TRUE. Right around the time I got to the comfort level of drinking it straight from the bottle (talk about building a tolerance), I found it’s actually BETTER to dilute your intake.

The recommended mixture is anywhere from 1/3 ACV to 2/3 water, or 1-2oz ACV with 8oz water. Sometimes I’ll add honey, which is of course optional, but I sometimes like to add it if I’ve had any kind of hiatus from my routine and need a little pep-talk for that first dive back in.

When do you drink it? I also learned that while it matters less when you take it, and more so just that you do, the most optimal time-frame for your daily concoction is first thing in the morning – after 8oz of water to jumpstart your system, but before any amount of caffiene. When we are sleeping, our bodies are working to clear-out, and get ready for a new day. Taking the ACV early in your day can help to optimize it’s potential benefits with minimal distractions floating around your system.

Early in my experience I was taking it at night, right before bed. I was drinking it straight, so it was irritating to my esophagus, possibly distracting me from noticing it’s impact. When I started chasing it, I was able to notice my typical evening-bloatiness lessen overtime. I also woke up more refreshed, and still less bloated than I was used to.

During the real wild straight-from-the-bottle era, I was keeiping it on my desk at work and would swig it in the middle of the day, or just on my way out of the office in the evening. I was able to coorelate it with thinking clearly, and an improved ability to focus, and though still present, the inconsistency in schedule seemed to lessen the positive impact it had on my bathroom habits.

Finally, with most of my kinks worked out, the first thing I do after I get home from the gym in the morning is mix 2oz of ACV with 1/2c of water and toss it back like everyday is my birthday! Immediately following the shot, I refill the measuring cup with water and wash it down further (I usually drink it from a measuring cup…two birds, one less dish to clean). I could have just had the best workout of my life at the gym and I still don’t feel fully awake until I have my ACV. I’ve also noticed the regularity of the routine heightens it’s benefits (at least for me!).

Whether you needd to get your gut in check, or if you’re just looking for a step in the right direction toward improving your overall health, look no further than that nasty stuff your grandma used to give you if you said a bad word! I highly recommend apple cider vinegar above almost anything else in my healthcare routine. It’s natural, it’s cheap, and it’s super beneficial for serveral reasons! Make sure you get it organically (if you can) and always with the mother!

Now that I think about it, I probably should’ve sworn a lot more as a child…

The Best Laid Plans

A lot has happened in a year, but more importantly for me, a lot has happened in 26. In all the attention I try to give being mindful, it wasn’t until a few days ago, realizing my birthday was approaching, that I really took a moment to reflect on turning another year older. And let me take a moment to speak about reflection: whether you regularly keep a journal, or regularly force yourself to “snap out of it” anytime you notice your mind losing focus on a task at hand, you should always make time to reflect. I would never encourage “dwelling” on the past, but rather, I truly believe the best way to grow in our present is through analytical and respectful acknowledgement of the experiences from which we’ve come.

I digress.

As I reflected this past weekend, and as my thoughts really started to marinade, I was able to remember so many pivotal moments from over the past several years. Despite seeming so small and insignificant then, these moments have contributed majorly to so much of my surroundings today: loving who I am as a person, taking pride in being 100% my own biggest fan, and overall just being happy, healthy, and strong. But just over a couple years ago, I didn’t feel this way. I was depressed, pretending to be content with complacency, and I was as chalk full of fears as I was of excuses. I was trapped on a cliff, considering staying there forever instead of jumping into the unknown water below.
One of my favorite quotes, I’ll always say, is Ghandi suggesting that, “not everything you do in this life will be significant, but you must do it anyway.” The beauty about real life is that usually the cliff is just a metaphor, and hopefully you’re jumping in the direction toward something that’ll make you happier. I’ve had some pretty specific instances in life where I’ve had no other choice but to go with the flow, and when the opportunity to make a decision presented itself, I tried to run backward, or at least jog in place for a really long time. I disguised myself with avoidance because even though the water seemed inevitably deep, the threats it potentially contained were too great a risk. Plus, even if I did survive, why should I believe in myself enough to safely swim ashore?

I think I’ve discovered that in actuality, the most difficult position to be is on that cliff, staring down below. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make have turned out to be some of the best. I owe so much to where I’m from, especially because of the sentiment it carries in this journey. There were many cliffs I’ve turned my back to over the years – I certainly didn’t face them all. In fact, I’ve probably faced very few at this point. But that’s exciting to me because it means there are even more to come. More learning to happen, and more growing to take place.

My advice to anyone staring down their fears, unsure of what could happen if they took the leap: a little faith goes a long way. Believe in yourself. Give yourself a chance. Then acknowledge that feeling – I mean really feel that feeing of being afraid. Feeling afraid means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and at the absolute very least, you’ll learn something new about yourself. So own it, and be proud of it, and then, “do it anyway.”

Jump off the damn cliff.

How To: Elimination Diet

Three months now since the start of the most dramatic experience of my own nutrition journey, I can honestly say I would do it again!

So you’re wondering if participating in an Elimination Diet is the right decision for you? Three months now since the start of the most dramatic experience of my own nutrition journey, I can honestly say I would happily do it again! A few quick and dirty details from what I’ve learned: I no longer drink as much caffeine, I no longer eat as much sugar, I find my meals are wayyy more balanced (without even trying), I rarely feel the need to snack between meals (because of this balance), and my alcohol consumption has decreased majorly! Additionally, I am much more in touch with how different things I consume affect my mood, energy, and overall health, and I am more sincerely interested in understanding how to listen to and communicate effectively with my body. But more on each of these topics to follow…

I had a lot of people ask me about the diet as I was going through it, questions regarding what I was eating, how I was feeling, and what exactly was the objective of the experience. I always enjoyed these conversations because talking about the experience as it was happening had a way of reinforcing my motivation to stay focused, and always brought me back to the original intent I had in starting the diet in the first place.

Since it’s obvious now to most people with whom I interact on any kind of regular basis that I no longer follow any kind of strict or specific dietary restrictions, the questions have taken a little bit of a shift. I’ve had a lot of friends and family ask me recently about that original intent, as well as what exactly I took away from the experience that allows me to speak so highly of it. Most impactful, I’ve found, has been the fact that while my dieting habits truly have changed since completing the experience, I have not felt the need to completely restrict myself from enjoying any of life’s greatest offerings in terms of food and drink. Some friends have even asked me to help them to begin the design process for starting their own elimination diet. This makes me the most excited, as I mentioned, I’d love to do it again myself and so I strongly encourage everyone participate in an elimination experience at least once in their lives – regardless if you consider yourself extremely healthy and aware of your body’s reaction to what you consume, or are just looking for a starting point in figuring this all out.

In order to create this “sort-of” guide through my experience, I thought I’d start by breaking down the “why.” Why did I decide to do this, and why do I think it was a good and important decision?

Why the heck did you do this?
I’ve never been a big fan of taking medicine, because I have always truly believed there should be, and probably is a natural remedy for most things that ail us as humans. (Truthfully, this was sparked after a bad experience with an antibiotic I was allergic to as a kid, but I digress…). After all, we are just animals, so why shouldn’t we fuel our bodies similarly? While I am thankful for the cures to diseases and illnesses that exist, I have always felt strongly that I could be doing more to prevent my body from feeling the need to take chemically engineered drugs in the first place.

When I first graduated college, I was under an extreme amount of stress (as most recent college grads are), and I found myself visiting doctors who would test me for a slew of crazy-scary things including crohn’s disease, and celiacs. Thankfully my tests always came back negative, however these experiences led me to really start to question why I was visiting these doctors in the first place. If I was so “healthy,” why was I having issues with my digestive system which were causing doctors to even consider I might have some kind of more serious issue?

Fast forward a couple of years and my body likely adjusted to the stress of being in the real world, so I felt as if the digestive issues began to subside, when really it was more likely that my system was beginning to learn how to cope with them. And even still, what remained were a random assortment of other “discomforts” that were difficult to link to one another, let alone one specific cause. When I really think about it, the answer to the question of why I ultimately took the plunge of the elimination experience can be summarized with one word: headaches. As of November of 2016, I felt as if for as long as I could remember I’d had at least a headache a day. It might sound as if this has to be some kind of a hyperbole, but the truth is, despite considering myself pretty healthy, including drinking a ton of water throughout each day, I somehow was still chasing off these mysterious painful murmurs in my head whether it be with essential oils, meditation, or often with Motrin and ibuprofen.

If I really was drinking enough water and eating the way my body needed and wanted me to on a regular basis, why did I seem to always have a headache?

As mentioned in my original post on beginning the diet, I was sparked onto the idea by a blogger I followed along with via Instagram. She was influential to me because of how passionate she was about the results she was seeing, but also because I was able to relate to her in other areas of health and wellness, including a rare hormonal syndrome I have had since birth. So I just decided to. I decided this could be something really great for my overall well-being, and I was immediately really excited for the possibility of kind of discovering myself and my body for the first time. I thought, “I’ve never even asked my body what it wants and needs. Who am I to assume I just know?” For someone who has spent the last several years getting in touch with my body physically and spiritually through exercise, yoga, and meditation, it felt it only made sense to connect with myself nutritionally, as well.

How did you know where to start?
The simple answer to this question, and the truth: I didn’t. I had no idea, and it was incredibly overwhelming to try to figure out because the internet is never-ending! I committed to the idea around November of 2016. At this point I was a little over 3 years removed from college, yet still carried a lot of the same habits as my 21-year old self: I drank nearly every night, even if only one glass of wine, and I was no stranger to several desserts in any given day – I don’t mean to suggest that these things are completely wrong, but I knew they weren’t necessarily ideal habits, and I hadn’t even given my body a chance to really communicate with me clearly as to whether or not they were good for me.

So I started to research. I am used to always having something to read for pleasure, so I set aside my typical novel-on-the-train routine, and instead would dedicate any free moment of time I had to reading as much as I could about different elimination experiences. I would even print off articles at my office so that I was guaranteed to have materials for my commute in case the internet from my phone was unavailable. I was 100% dedicated to the idea of completing the diet, but I was admittedly terrified of doing it incorrectly, or worse, putting myself through some kind of hell to not get out of it what I really wanted: clarity and understanding of what I should be consuming for my body’s health and wellness optimization.

While I was learning a lot, the research was still very overwhelming. The biggest takeaway I found overall: there is no right or wrong way to complete an elimination diet. But some of the more useful tips I carried with me throughout my experience included the following:

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan – I was nervous about a few different things specifically. Firstly, I was afraid I would have no idea what to eat. Secondly, I was afraid by not knowing what to eat, I’d end up not consuming enough food, and my body would miss out on important nutrients. Thirdly, I was afraid I didn’t understand enough about the different varieties of foods out there that I would not really know if what I was eating was appropriately aligned to my restrictions, or not. All of these fears were resolved through planning ahead. I planned everything. EV-RE-THANG! I planned my shopping trips by the day of the week I would make them happen, what meals would be prepared through that trip, and what all ingredients (down to the spices) would be acquired through that trip. I planned what I would eat every single day, of course, but I also planned what snacks would be on deck, just in case I was hungry between meals. I also saved myself from begin stressed over the responsibility of planning, by scheduling out time to plan/research. For example, I started the diet on a Wednesday, but really only had the first three days accounted for at the time that I started, because I knew I’d have free time Friday night to get my weekend in order, and then free time on Sunday to plan for the following week. My advice when it comes to planning: Do what works best for you and your schedule; be realistic, and don’t feel the need to plan lightyears in advance as long as you know you have a few hours in your schedule, and especially if there’s a nearby grocery store. 🙂
  2. Chill Out – As I mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to do an elimination diet, and so while I was strict to the parameters I set for myself, I was also pretty lenient on the way in which I monitored and altered my progress. I allowed for change throughout my experience, and I wasn’t too hard on myself if I realized I needed to make such a change. I knew it would be a stressful journey if I took it too seriously, so I approached everything as a learning experience. I also knew it would be more expensive than what I was probably used to spending on food, so if I bought something new but ended up not liking it – I didn’t get too torn up about it. I ended up donating quite a few things at the end of the experience, and while I could’ve looked at this as a waste of money, I decided instead to view it as part of the process. I was way happier knowing the food I didn’t want would go to someone else who would eat it, rather than I would have been forcing myself to stomach something I didn’t enjoy, or just throwing it in the trash. Plus, I found out a lot about my tastes, and new ways to prepare foods so that I actually do like them. On a separate note: my taste buds changed A LOT (but more on that later).
  3. Focus On The Positive – I won’t sugar coat it, it was tough. But much like running a marathon, getting started is always the hardest part. I found the first two or three days were incredibly rough for me because I somewhat threw my body and mind into a total phase of shock, and both had to learn on the go how to adjust to my new lifestyle (one of the hardest things I gave up was caffeine). Thinking back on it now, I know it would have been soooooo easy to give in within that first week (and trust me, I really wanted to), but I realized very quickly not only was I developing a special connection with my body and different internal systems, but I was also developing a special connection with my mind. I was uncovering a will power I didn’t really know I had within me. When I learned to take this as a positive focal point, I felt empowered more than I did anxious, or stressed. By the end of the first week, I was sailing. It was easy. And truthfully, the only other time I struggled was the last couple days before beginning the re-introduction, but I think this was mostly because I was so excited and anxious to see my hard work become fruitful. (As another side note, I wholeheartedly believe it was in part the will power that was developed through this experience that allowed me to finish a kick-ass half marathon, my first ever, only a month later).
  4. Hold Yourself Accountable – I have always been somewhat of a writer so this was second nature for me, but I found to journal about my experience was something I ended up looking forward to a lot. I knew I would need to write about what I ate each day, and how it made me feel, so I was cognizant about these things enough to reflect on them and be mindful of the experience. I also had the blessing of Brenen participating with me throughout the experience, so it was really motivating to know if I was hitting a wall, I could talk to him about it, or we could brainstorm recipe ideas together or discuss how we were feeling on a regular basis. However you need to do it – holding yourself accountable through any experience is probably one of the most important tasks you can do. The process of reflection was especially special to me because it really added value to the results I took away from the diet – I was able to clearly compare before, during, and after.

So with these ideas in mind, it was around late December that I decided I was pretty much ready…but that I also needed more time. I could have totally started after only a few short weeks of research and planning, but that would have run me into the holidays, and like I said, I was not exactly confident that I would even be able to do the damn thing, so I wanted to set myself up for as much success as possible by avoiding as many temptations as I could. I dedicated myself to another few weeks of learning (went to Shake Shack on Fat Tuesday), and my diet officially started on Wednesday, March 1. I sat up in bed and beamed as bright as I did on Christmas morning declaring, “Today’s the day! Today my diet starts, and my life will forever be changed, I just know it!” And it was precisely this attitude that carried me through the next five to six weeks.

So how did it actually work?
The “not one size fits all” theme is mostly referring to the way in which individuals eliminate foods throughout the experience. The science behind the diet is that it takes about 20-23 days of detox before your body should be considered completely clear of a substance. This of course varies from human to human depending on consumption, body fat, exercise routine, water ingestion, etc. So the strategy is: remove different potential trigger foods from your diet for 20-23 days, and then reintroduce this trigger food slowly, in a controlled amount, monitoring the affects it has on your body, including your mental and emotional state.

A trigger food should/could be anything that could be considered less than natural for a human to digest. Think the Paleo diet, which largely consists of one only eating what would have been consumed during the age in which humans had to literally hunt for their food. If a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can someone following the Paleo diet…and essentially neither could I during my Elimination Diet. Since there is a large spectrum of what could be considered a trigger food, I found that many online blogs and forums identified the “easy” way to go about the diet would be to break it up into 3-4 rounds of processing. This would be “easier” to some because they wouldn’t have to worry about eliminating so much at once. For example, they might eliminate dairy, eggs, and soy for 3 weeks, re-introduce each for the following 2-3 weeks, then begin again with another round. I never really even considered doing it this way because patience (believe it or not) is not my strongest suit. I decided if I was going to do it, I might as well just go all-in.

So all-in I went, and MY elimination diet removed 11 items from my diet all at once, beginning on Day 1. The list of potential triggers I removed included:

  • Gluten
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Tree Nuts (except coconut)
  • Peanuts
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial Sugar
  • Artificial Color
  • Alcohol

*As a note, I also did everything I could to avoid preservatives, but I didn’t think it fair to assume I completely avoided it since I did eat at restaurants quite a bit. S/o to the NYC health-food scene!

As I alluded to with my Paleo comparison, essentially my diet wound up consisting of about 70% fruits and vegetables, and 30% lean meat.A typical day for me began with overnight gluten-free oatmeal for breakfast, a hearty salad for lunch, and some kind of meat with vegetables for dinner. To see more day by day breakdowns of what I ate, check out some of my posts that carried me through the process back in March.

I practiced this (for the most-part consistent) diet for 21 days, and on day 22, re-introduced the first contender. The order in which we re-introduced each food group was largely impacted by our desires, and less so by much of what research had recommended. But again, no right or wrong. 🙂 First up for me was caffeine (Brenen didn’t give this up), then gluten, then dairy, soy, eggs, and alcohol, and then the artificials, tree nuts, corn, and finally peanuts. Actually, most of what I read recommended doing an order somewhat completely opposite of this. The reason being: you are more likely to have a reaction to some of the more obvious triggers such as gluten and dairy, so it makes more sense to leave them for last, getting the less likely trigger foods out of the way first. All the same, believe me, we got our results. You can also learn more about our takeaways by checking out my after the diet post, which I added back in April.

Life after Eliminating
As I mentioned at the start of this post – my diet really has changed. A lot. I never feel as if I can’t eat certain things, but I know exactly how I could potentially feel if I choose to. I know how my body will respond to almost anything that I give it, solely based on whatever it is that item might be composed of.

So why all the fuss, and why are we still talking about it now? Like I said, for me the goal was to learn. I talk a lot about this stuff – health, wellness, best practices, mindfulness…but I wanted to actually walk the walk. The goal for me was never to change much about my lifestyle, but rather to discover more about what made the most sense for me as a human, to learn more about my body, which is my temple, and to learn more about health in general through the research that went along with my process. To say I achieved these goals would be an understatement. The takeaways from this experience far outweighed the difficulty that came with completing it. If you’re interested, I’ll name a few:

  1. The headaches? GONE. While it doesn’t feel as if my diet has changed drastically since finishing the elimination experience, it kind of has. No, I didn’t immediately start to completely avoid any one thing, but I am much more mindful about what I consume, when, and how much. Before March, drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day was normal. Did I need it? Probably not. Do I still need to drink coffee now? No. And because I gave it up for so long, it’s easy to still enjoy a cup every once in a while, however getting away with 4-5 a week was one of most dramatic changes I took away from the diet. Similarly, I eat way less sugar than I ever thought possible. I am just not attracted to it the same way I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my donuts 🙂 but to be completely honest, their appearance in my diet has diminished a lot. It’s somewhat sad to think about, but at the same time, I know it’s because I truly don’t like eating them anymore as much as I used to. I developed a whole new sense of intuition when it comes to my body, my diet, and my overall feelings, and I know that while a few bites of a donut would be magical, I’d likely end up wasting the second half because nine times out of ten, I simply wouldn’t be interested in finishing it. (Okay, I actually did have 3 donuts this weekend, but they were the first donuts I had in probably the past several weeks. That’s saying a lot from a gal who used to eat at least 2-4 every week!). The same goes with other treats I used to love like peanut MnMs and sour patch kids. I used to always have a bag of one of these treats in my desk drawer or purse, but they’ve now been replaced with fresh fruit, or dark chocolate that would’ve been nearly acceptable during the diet. As I mentioned before, my taste buds underwent a major development. What might have seemed less appetizing than the aforementioned, or even “gross” because of it’s health-factor, has now actually become the types of snacks and foods I am most attracted to for those exact reasons.
  2. I’ve never slept better! Many people who I’ve spoken with directly about the experience know that the most prominent takeaway for both me and Brenen was the power it had on our sleep. Remember, he didn’t give up caffeine, either. Yet, within just 2-3 days of the detox, we both agreed we’d never experienced such a wonderful, completely full and re-energizing night of sleep. It was truly incredible, and I feel I’ll never really be able to describe it fully with just words. I wouldn’t have even necessarily considered myself a troubled-sleeper before, but even now, I am envious of the sleeps I got during those few weeks of being completely clean.
  3. The mood of a champion, and the energy of a thousand suns seems realistic enough of a metaphor to summarize my overall aura throughout the process, and even most days now.  I think most would agree I am a positive person by nature, but I was on a whole new level during the experience. I already spoke to my confidence increasing, and how the diet contributed to me continuing to work hard toward achieving additional goals, but truly the source was in the process itself. I was cleaning my system of all the crap it didn’t need/want, and as a result, I was functioning all around better! Perhaps, living my best life?

So…all this is great, but how do you know if it’ll be as great for you?

YOUR Elimination Experience?
From one of the many sources I took a page toward preparing for my diet, I think FeedMePhoebe said it best:

“The immune system is a funny beast. When we are consistently eating foods that cause an inflammatory response, it leaves our immune system in a constant state of hyperactivity. The fog of ongoing war makes it harder to pinpoint an acute response to something you’re allergic to; the symptoms aren’t as severe because your baseline “normal” may already include said symptoms.

When you remove these irritants, however, your immune system has a chance to calm and recede. And like any overworked army, once your antibodies have had that rest period, they are that much more capable of attacking invaders with all their might.”

As I have already mentioned (probably too many times), I strongly feel that this experience can be and should be for everyone. If you’ve spoken to me in person about it, you’ve likely experienced my passion for the process firsthand. This is because to me, it’s simple: this is your body we are talking about. At the end of everything, what else can you count on? All of the systems inside a machine depend on the fuel which it uses to operate. That’s why we don’t put milk in the gas tanks of our cars – they weren’t designed to run on milk, so while they might be able to, it probably wouldn’t be the most efficient source of energy for them. The same can be said for me and you. There is a world of deliciousness out there, and it’s often fun to indulge in new and fun foods. I don’t plan to ever stop trying new things. I love eating and drinking and donuts and coffee. But I also love having a deep awareness about how everything I consume contributes to how I sleep at night, how effective of a workout I’m likely the have the next day, where my newest pimple probably came from, and why my hair might not be growing at the rate I want it to. To me, I enjoy being in control of my diet and what comes from the way I eat, rather than feeling as if what I eat is in control of how I feel. Not to mention, I decided if my body truly doesn’t like something enough to make me feel super icky and run-down, I really probably shouldn’t overdo it on that particular thing. And I’m okay with that. Some people I’ve spoken to about the experience will say, “well, I’ll never stop eating whatever I want, whenever I want.” I think that’s great! You shouldn’t, and you don’t have to. The Elimination Diet isn’t necessarily a gateway to alter your intake of certain foods, for me at least, it was simply an opportunity to learn more about the most important thing in my life – the thing that gives me that life in the first place.

Maybe you have some issues in mind already that you’re considering might mean this experience is perfect for you. Maybe you’re not sure of what ails you, but you feel something may be off.  Maybe you just want to be brave, and try something new with guaranteed positive results 🙂 Whatever it may be, below is a list of common symptoms which could mean the Elimination Diet is a good challenge to consider. And after all, the best part is there is not a negative outcome. To me, those are the best kind of risks to take.

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain/inflammation
  • Skin breakouts/rashes
  • Headaches
  • Bowel changes/pain
  • Bloating
  • Confusion/lack of focus
  • Sinus/respiratory issues
  • Digestive issues
  • Mood swings
  • Weak Immune System

One final note: have fun! If you’re not having fun, why are you doing it (whatever it is)? And if you are having fun, you’ve already won (A mantra no stranger to my middle school days)! Brenen and I were able to enjoy the diet because we tried so many new things! Granted, we had the privilege of exploring some restaurants because NYC luckily has a variety of places that fit the bill, but more often than not, we prepared our own meals.

To be honest, I’ve felt I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery for some time now, but this experience lit a whole new fire I never knew existed. I am already excited for the next adventure of my body and mind…and I SO look forward to those who decide to take a leap of faith and step up to the challenge. Please!!! Ask me questions, pick my brain, and tell me how it goes!!! I love sharing in other’s discoveries and excitement. It’s incredible what you can learn when you listen to your body.

A Prune A Day

An apple a day is a great idea…because who doesn’t like apples? A prune a day on the other hand – I’ve found it a little more challenging to get my friends to participate in this practice.

The age old saying was actually originally phrased as, “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” According to Caroline Taggart, author of “An Apple a Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs and Why They Still Work,” and Margaret Ely with The Washington Post, the idea first gained popularity in the 1860s, then continued to evolve and change in phrasing over the course of the several decades that would follow.

Long story short, yes, it’s true that apples are good for you! Will practicing an otherwise unbalanced, unhealthy diet be completely rectified by eating an apple? Probably not. But I think you probably already knew that, too.

So what’s with prunes? With so many delicious apple choices, why should we be eating prunes? And everyday?! In honor of my favorite human/grandmother who has been blessed to celebrate another birthday yesterday, I wanted to share a little insight on the magic of a dried plum.

Aside from prunes being high in dietary fiber (3% of recommended daily intake), they also contain high amounts of sugars which contribute in a positive way to encouraging the digestive system…aka they help you have healthy poos! 🙂 Additionally, prunes are good for your heart, hair, skin, and vision, and are considered a powerful antioxidant! But to be honest, none of these reasons alone are what make me interested in the dry fruit.

Believe it or not, a dried plum/prune can positively impact your brain power, i.e. boost your memory! How? Those antioxidants I mentioned help to aid or neutralize cell-damaging free radicals which affect how our brains “remember.” According to yourhealthtube, eating 3-4 a day is actually more recommend than just one, but all the same, incorporating the snack into your regular diet will not only boost the function of your brain, but help to improve your ability to remember, and learn new information.

My mom was who actually discovered the magic of the prune (meaning all it’s aforementioned benefits) just a few years ago, and shared it with me. Unfortunately influenced by the presence of dementia in our family, I’ve continued to make eating prunes a part of my daily routine – I even keep a snack bag in my desk at work! I will admit, they can take a while to grow on you if you’re not that into plums, or dried fruit, but I think most of my friends (who I’ve forced into giving them a try hehe) will agree, they can be tasty. And isn’t everything a little more enjoyable when you know all the good it’s doing for your insides?

It’s no secret that as we age, memory loss is more and more common, even without a disease diagnosis. Why not try to fight that commonality, even if only by slight measure?

My favorite prunes (much like my favorite everything) are just $2.89 for a 16 oz bag at Trader Joe’s. Even sharing a few here and there, this will last me about 3-5 weeks!

 

Another good ol’ prune is the individually wrapped Sunsweet Ones, which you can get in a 12 oz bag from Walmart or Target for around $5-$6. These are good if you want to throw a few in your purse or gym bag, and always have them available to you on the go.

Happy pruning, happy remembering, and happy birthday, to my sweet, sweet Grandma! 🙂

BACK at it.

This blog is OLD. NEWS. Honestly – this baby has been sitting in a metaphorical corner gathering dust for several years. And while I am definitely one to exaggerate, that is no hyperbole. I have been writing as long as I can remember, and I’ve been clacking on this keyboard into this window specifically since it was originally a Tumblr page (and people actually followed it hah!). But the Tumblr app hasn’t graced my phone in many moons, and followers are much harder to come by these days…so somewhere along the road, I stopped. Why? I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe because I never really had anything exciting to write about after college, maybe because after my stint as a teacher I went through a little cloud of depression struggling to figure out my place in this world, maybe because I still am not sure what that place is supposed to be?

For whatever reason, I lost my will and drive to do the one thing that has otherwise always kept me motivated, energized, excited, and truly has given me LIFE: writing. I LOVE WRITING. I might not be able to fully explain why, but I figure my close friends and family would probably say it’s because I love talking, too. I just love an idea and a thought and a word as much as I love breathing, and donuts, and a good summer rain. They’re natural, everyone knows about them, but they deserve more attention than is typically afforded to them, in my opinion.

So where do I start? Well, I guess I mean, where do I go from here? This cute lil’ site is full of my personal “ramblings,” as I mentioned, but I decided it’s high time we drive this baby in one specific direction. If I’m gonna talktalktalk, I want it to be about something I love as much as writing. For now (and the undefined future), I’ve decided that is going to be health, wellness, fitness, and just being. And as an ode to my re-return, what better topic to kick off such a thrill than that of the BACK.

What?

Yes, the back.

Super weird, I know. Why would I want to talk about backs? What even am I actually referring to when I say ‘back’? I’m talking about the rear surface of the human body, running from your shoulders to your hip-line: your freakin’ back. Does your back hurt? I actually would be more surprised if you answered ‘no,’ because believe it or not, we use our backs as much as we do our arms, legs, and hands. It’s involved in almost every movement we make (and don’t make), in any given day. Your back is under pressure when you’re sitting, when you’re standing, when you’re running, and even when you’re lying down. Because of this, it’s also probably one of the strongest parts of your body. Hell yeah, go back!

So why do I want to say a few words on the back here and now? Well, other than just receiving my new foam roller in the mail that I legit can’t wait to get home and use on my back, when I first started really reflecting on my personal fitness journey, I came to the conclusion that it all started with my back. To fully do the tale justice, let me take you BACK a few years…ok, I’ll stop…

During the beginning of my second year of teaching, times were seriously rough. It took getting through the first year of my inner-city program to realize I had no life, whatsoever. I worked a minimum of 60 hour weeks, slept on average 3-4 hours a night, and when I did have free time, I was using it to research how to make my work-life easier (i.e. lesson planning!). Right out of college, I also had very little insight yet as to how completely bad this was for my overall personal health. I once had a phone meeting with my mentor and she asked what was one thing I planned to do for myself the approaching weekend, and I said I was excited to go to the local supply store to get new monthly supplies for my classroom. And I remember that I was truly, really excited! Her response? “Um, Tenika, you realize that is not for yourself, right?” I didn’t. I loved being a teacher, and I loved my students, but my body was taking a beating, and so was my mental and physical health.

So before I let the thick of that second fall semester get the best of me as it had the year before, I decided to commit to something – anything, to try to beat the busy-blues. A coworker was super into yoga and said she looked forward to the practice as a means of release at the end of the school week. She went religiously every Thursday evening, so I decided to join her onc week for my first ever class. Holy buckets was my world changed in a quick 45 minutes. I became obsessed with the idea of letting go of my stress, and clearing my mind for an hour – so much so that I yearned for it more and more. I joined a studio near my house and started going on my own accord. My commitment? I left my classroom everyday within one hour of the dismissal bell either to attend a yoga class, or at least to work from home where I could feel a little less stressed. Obviously yoga was my primary choice on most days, and by spring, I was attending classes five times a week! To my friends, I became the go-to yogi, and often would drag them along to experience some of me favorite instructors, or break-out practice opportunities around the city. The best part was that it was actually working – I was not only developing a better, more healthy work-life balance, but I was happy, energized, and felt like I had a personal life again.

Everything was going smoothly until one April evening, out to drinks with a few friends, as I was walking from one end of the bar to the other, I collapsed unexpectedly due to an indescribable pain in my back. Within 20-30 minutes it escalated from something sharp and quick, to something dense and throbbing. My friends had to help me to my own car, where I laid flat in the backseat demanding they drive me straight home rather than to a hospital. My beloved roommates helped me to put some biofreeze on the area, and I was able to move around and stretch a bit before bed, leaving me to think everything would be fine by morning – boy was I wrong. I woke up the next day with thankfully just enough mobility in my left arm to text my roommate in the next room and tell her I couldn’t move from my bed. I legitimately thought I was paralyzed, and it was terrifying. She brought me a painkiller, and called my school for me to let them know I wouldn’t be able to make it in.

Fast forward a few hours and it turns out I had severely disrupted a joint in my back called the Latissimus Dorsi: one of our largest muscles, which explains why it was affecting nearly my whole body. I had to undergo a couple months of physical therapy, remained seated constantly at work over the next several weeks (which as a teacher is torturous), and ultimately, realized I had been overdoing it with my yoga classes. It wasn’t that I was doing yoga too often (#yogaeverydamnday, amiright?), but I wasn’t doing it as properly as I should have been. I wasn’t warming up appropriately every time, and outside of class, I was known to #stopdropyoga into random poses without warning! I guess I grew to love my new hobby so much that I was overly excited to partake whenever I could, as often as possible, and in turn, I learned the hard way that there is a right and a wrong way to do fitness.

But I didn’t learn my lesson right away…no, that’d be too easy.

Fast forward a few months later and I found myself back home, sleeping on my sister’s couch. This wasn’t a big deal because I intentionally signed myself up for some detoxifying time off post the second school year, and truthfully, it was a great opportunity to really grow in my love of fitness and exercise. It was during these short months that I first discovered #TeamKayla, the #BBG workouts, and quickly became known among my circle as the friend who was always up for a trip to the gym. Since I had a flexible bar-tending schedule, it was typical for me to hit the gym in the morning for a weight-lifting circuit, and then again in the evening, or during my lunch break to get a run in. (Side note: I HATED running long distances – growing up I was a sprinter. Since I had been running every other day a few miles here and there, I thought I’d try my luck at a 10k in October 2016…it was awful and I could barely finish. I kept training anyway, and last month I finished my first half marathon (April 2017) with an 8:27 split).

It could have been that during this time at home, I was bored, and didn’t have a lot going on career-wise or socially. Whatever the cause though, I found I thrived in the gym. My friends from college used to joke that I was “most comfortable” listening to chill music in bars, probably completely by myself. I now realize that comfortability has evolved, and my place of choice involves sweating, grunting, and a good up-beat Beyoncé song.

When I moved to New York, I lost a lot of time on my fitness journey because it took me several months to really figure out my groove in the city. During a ski trip in January of this year, I got knocked down pretty hard, and it was back to the back doc. I discovered alongside a moderate concussion, I also had pretty bad strains to both of my rotator-cuffs. Granted this was a completely separate injury than the first time I found myself with pain in my back, and with a completely separate (mostly out of my control) cause, the experience lit a fire in me that I hadn’t felt before. Up to this point I had spent so many hours at the gym, so many mornings traveling there early, free hours from the work day, and even often times late in the evening – anything to get in my lifts, my miles, and my yoga practices. Yet, with one foul swoop of a wreckless snowboarder, I was on my ass and back in physical therapy. How could this be? I decided it was time for a change. To an outsider, I may have always appeared to live a super healthy, active lifestyle, and to be in “good” shape. To me I felt tired, heavy, and like I was spinning wheels and wheels of energy all to still feel weak.

So in the months that followed this recovery, I no longer committed to just working out, just running the miles, or just attending the yoga classes. I flipped my own health & wellness world on it’s head and cleaned out every corner of my life until it became better aligned with my goals – see: my elimination experience, for example. I wanted to not only walk the walk, but also talk the talk. When I am not at the gym, I’m researching ways to be better at the gym. When I’m not measuring my macros, I’m learning more ways to get the most out of my physical routine by aligning my nutrition, sleep, and mental health. And my favorite part so far? It actually feels like it’s working. My commitment has become my passion, and my passion is slowly becoming my lifestyle.

I guess it’s a little bit of a stretch to think the injury in 2015 lead me here, but maybe it’s not. Maybe everything happens for a reason, and maybe even that snowboarder a few months ago was a part of the puzzle. Jeez, I’m all emotional now…that happens a lot when you’re doing something you love, I guess. It has taken a lot of courage and dedication to get to this point, especially when nowadays (especially in New York), you can’t blink an eye without someone offering you their unwarranted opinion on the movement. And when I look back at the person I was five or even three years ago, it’s mind-boggling to see the difference. I know a lot of people promote their physical/fitness journeys from a place of physical transformation, and I think that’s great. For me, my transformation physically is important, especially because I do aim to get stronger everyday. But most importantly, I know a world has passed through my mind over the course of this journey, and to me, that’s what mindfulness means.

In short, I’m thankful for the injury(ies) that prompted the mental and physical strength I’ve developed, and the feeling to finally have something to write about again. If you’re reading this now, I hope you’ll stay tuned for what’s to come…This journey is what gets me out of bed in the morning (that, and the strength I’ve continued to build in my back!). 😉

Finally, I’ve included some of my favorite back stretches below. These were a few favorites to get me through the separate rounds of recovery, and thankfully, I’ve always been a fan of #1. Keep moving, keep breathing, and keep trusting the process. Enjoy!

#1 Wall Supported Handstand

 

Yes! I’ll do anything to flip upside down – anywhere, and anytime. My yoga instructor in Indianapolis recommended that I focus on my handstand practice in lieu of pretty much everything else during my rehab in 2015 (see featured photo on my front porch in downtown Indianapolis). It takes a lot of practice and core muscle to be able to stick one of these babies out in the open, but kicking up into an easy handstand supported by the wall, and tightening your back and butt, is a good way to strengthen your body’s most valuable muscles.

#2 Legs Up The Wall

 

Maybe my second favorite pose/stretch – legs up the wall is an easy go-to for adding strength specifically to your lower back. It’s easy to kick up your legs when you’re just lying around the house, wathing tv, or reading a book, and this can undo hours of sitting at a desk all day!

#3 Bridge

Bridge is a tough one to do if you have an injury, but is a great pose to incorporate into your practice to prevent the injuries from happening. It’s good for targeting your thorax, and neck – just don’t look side to side, and instead stay focused on the ceiling.

#4 Crunch

 

Not just good for abs, most crunch-type exercises actually target the back, too! This standard crunch pose is a good one for adding strength to the lower back muscles, as well as the full core, by simply balancing for 10-20 seconds per rep.

#5 Front Bridge/Plank

 

Similarly, an exercise usually looked at for ab work, the forearm plank, or front bridge pose can be good for strengthening the back, too. To make this more focused on the back, rather than your abdominal muscles, simply lower your shins to the ground, and focus on arching through your mid-section.

Poses/exercises to avoid when you have a back injury:

When nursing a back injury, I’ve found it’s best to avoid all strenuous exercise, as it likely involves stress to your back in some regard. The worst thing you can do is not give your body time to heal and rest. Just as well, if you start to feel better, and then push yourself before your muscles are ready, you can end up worsening the injury, putting you out of your typical routine for longer, or worst case scenario – end up with permanent damage.

But if you want to still take it easy, from my experiences, the most important exercises to avoid when you have any kind of back injury include any of those which include twists, backbends, forward folds, and running.

If you do have back pain and are unsure what to do, definitely consult a chiropractor, or physical doctor for the best advice! And don’t be afraid to befriend a foam roller! 🙂

Re-Freakin-Introduction!: My Elimination Experience

Finally! The day(s) have come to reintroduce all those beloved favorites I’ve/we’ve missed so much…you know what I’m talking about: chocolate and bananas, of course – the straggler triggers we eliminated mid-process, plus all those other goodies: corn, ice cream, and least we neverrrrr forget GLUTEN! I am so. freaking. pumped! I’ll add a brief, all-inclusive recap below:

We had to be strategic in our planning of the re-introduction phase because it is SO important in order to get the most out of the whole experience. If you aren’t careful about re-introducing the food which had been eliminated, then all the struggling and cleansing was basically for nothing. This being an obstacle enough as it is, Brenen’s birthday is coming up, and you know we gotta celebrate appropriately (pancakes, ice cream and beer=mandatory). So we decided to take a less common approach upon reintroducing, and DIDN’T do less obvious triggers first. Instead, we got alcohol out of the way early, each enjoying a plain cocktail with soda water, kind of as a celebratory toast to our diet’s plateau. Brenen went with tequila and I gave vodka a try. One drink was enough for me to realize I did not really miss that much at all (lol), so the next day we actually attempted some food. First up was gluten, and cue the most unexpected reaction ever: on schedule to knock out a 10 mile run Thursday morning, I woke up from a perfect sleep that followed a mere 1 cup of whole wheat pasta the night before and I felt I had gained 100 pounds! It was incredible, and feels almost impossible to properly explain. I felt as if I had never run before in my life, my whole body was just overall heavy, and I had to stop running every 1/2 mile or so to catch my breath. It was the weirdest experience of my life, and I was so shocked to feel this way after almost 3 full weeks of otherwise feeling perfect! I went from being pumped, to legitimately being fearful of introducing the next item. For that reason, it took me almost 3 full days to move on to the next food group: dairy. I drank half a glass of 2% milk with dinner, and then held my breath until my body and mind forced me to sleep. I woke up the day after feeling completely fine, and decided to continue with the process. Soy, caffeine, nor eggs gave me any trouble (although Brenen wouldn’t be able to say the same for himself), but I continued to stay away from gluten for the full week that would follow. Finally, after my final trigger: peanuts, I decided to give gluten a final try. Again, I woke up the following day feeling sluggish, and just “not my best.” I figured the conclusion was just that gluten was something to which my body, specifically mood and energy level, must be sensitive. It’s not the end of the world – this is why I did this diet in the first place! Right?

UPDATE: Several weeks removed from the experience, I have decided I cannot (and do not want to) run from gluten forever. I have stuck to 100% whole grain items that contain gluten, and have worked my body upward to a level of being able to maintain a level of energy and a positive mood I can be proud of, while still leading a completely full, balanced diet. I’ll update soon with some of my favorite gluten-go-to’s, for anyone looking to keep the good ol’ boy around, without letting it weigh you down! 🙂

Torture and Wonderment and Elimination

So here it goes! I’ve committed. I’m doing it. The idea behind starting such a feat admittedly came from first reading about the experience from one of my favorite health enthusiast, @leefromamerica. While I’ve always been interested in leading a healthy lifestyle, nothing quite captivated me much as did the concept of first needing to take the appropriate steps in determining what was exactly healthy for me. Sure, there are the healthy habits by which we should all aspire to live – exercise, water, moderation of potential toxins…but what really got me thinking was the idea that, as far as I know, I am living as healthy of a lifestyle as could be, yet still often struggle with symptoms I might be able to control if I just take the time to first examine their source. For example, I often feel fatigued, very seldom do I see true definition in my muscles, and I truly feel that admitting I have a perpetual headache is not that extreme of a claim. I know I drink a lot of caffeine (teaching took care of that miscalculation), and I know the handful of alcohol I consume in a week doesn’t seem like a lot, even though it probably is (college took care of that miscalculation). But I also realize with full humility that I am human, and it is a gooooood human feeling to eat cheese, drink beer, and reward myself with donuts whenever I feel like it!

Here is the conclusion I came to – to be honest, I am healthy. I wake up every morning between 5 and 6am, go to the gym, eat oats (& blueberries) everyday for breakfast, and usually a salad for lunch. I have an ever-running list of friends and family whom care for me deeply, and I am so beyond blessed enough that I’ve never had to face a life-threatening situation in which I was forced to change my diet in any kind of extreme way. I am healthy, but I am also lucky. I know a lot of people who cannot say the same. If I’m being completely honest, there is a large possibility that I could continue just as I am now for the rest of my life and I may never have any issues. I may even live into my 90s! But if I’m being realistic, there is also a large possibility that this isn’t the case. I figure a major part of my world (and everyone’s!) is the fuel that provides us the privilege to inhabit it. Without fuel, we are immobile. We are dead. Our bodies really are, or should be, our temples. At least for now.

So at the very least, I figure I owe it to my body to do myself a learn. I study and read and practice and experiment so much with different recipes and foods, but I’ve never really done so with my body. What I have learned to be true is that everyone’s body is different, and is constantly changing and evolving. MY Elimination Plan will revolve around ME, and my only goal for this adventure (as if with most any step I take in life) is to be mindful. 🙂 I want the experience to be one by which I learn more than I ever have – including continuing to try new foods and new recipes, but also paying attention to how what I am consuming is impactful, as well as whatever I am not eating may be.

Up to this point it’s been an astounding (and quite) several MONTHS of preparation. Yes months. I have plans, and lists, and ideas, and dates, and charts, and…well you get it. I am ready. We are doing this.

Stay tuned for all the torture and wonderment. I am SO excited.