Thursday, June 9, 2016

終わり - The End

Somehow I'm finding the time to write this, even though I don't feel like I have the time to LIFE. But that's because I'm filling up my life with all kinds of awesome, cool stuff, so I can't really complain.

 Kira and I hanging out,
watching my boyfriend's bike race

I have found myself having so much fun recently that I just don't have the motivation I used to for this blog, because I was originally using this to try to fill a void in my life that I don't feel these days. That's the truth of the matter, and I don't think I've talked about it before.

A couple of years ago, I was really dissatisfied with my career. I read somewhere that you can either find a more satisfying career by turning what you love into what you do, or you can just do your job as a job and also do what you love as a hobby, and that may be enough. So I tried to think of what I spent my time doing outside of work, which would tell me what it was I enjoyed doing, and found that almost everything I did related to health. I exercised a lot, enjoyed shopping for good food and cooking good food, and strived to find a balance of friend-time and me-time (which relates to health because it affects emotional/mental health). Given this discovery, I thought I should spend even more time in this area that I seemed to enjoy so much, and share my personal journey, challenges, and accomplishments.

And it has been quite a journey.

Of course the journey is never over, but I recently achieved something HUGE, and I think this is a good final blog entry topic. I mean final in a very loose sense, since I know this blog will always be here when I need it, but I don't want to feel guilty about not keeping up with it anymore.

So here it is, my accomplishment: my elimination diet that I've been doing hardcore since April, 2015 is DONE.

As you may recall, I was having significant digestive issues and just always didn't feel well. Starting when I moved back to the U.S., I eliminated all potential problem causing foods and drinks. This left me being able to eat meat & fish, most fruits & vegetables, and a little bit of rice & corn as my starch/carb source. For about six months, I didn't eat dairy, gluten, oats, soy, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans/legumes (including peas), cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cocoa, black tea, coffee, and alcohol. Not even in trace amounts, and man did oils seriously make it hard to eat at restaurants.

How did I have the patience and energy to do that??? Looking back, I have no idea.

After about six months I was feeling way better and no longer had any of the digestive issues I was working to resolve. Yes, it really did take that long on my strict elimination diet to feel better. So that was an awesome accomplishment, and I got to start reintroducing things one at a time. If I tested an item and it all went well, I got to keep it in my diet, and if it didn't go well I had to eliminate it again and wait until I felt better to move on to the next item. As I'm sure you can imagine, this was very time consuming, and ended up taking another seven months.

The very last item on my elimination diet that I saved till the end was alcohol, and I celebrated reaching this point with a glass of wine on the six month anniversary of my first date with my boyfriend (awww).

 Celebrating goals achieved and new things to look forward to!

So my end result is that dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, and more than a small serving of cabbage upset my stomach. It still makes life difficult, especially in social settings, but it's way better than where I was at a year ago. And now, at least I know. Just knowing is a huge relief.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Beating the food craving monster

Hi all you mysterious readers somewhere out there on the Internet! I apologize for the long absence. This poor little blog of mine has been forgotten about as I've adjusted to a new life and new routine. Gotta be honest with you - I used to write all of my entries while I was bored at work. At my current job, though, I do not have this problem. Which is great (for me)! I have lots of exciting things to write about today, because I've made significant progress in the past 6 months. And then I'll probably disappear for a while again.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, I've been working really hard for a long time on being healthier, and thus happier. Genki-er! The biggest problem I was having was a number of digestive issues, so I have significantly changed my diet in order solve those. I started with an elimination diet, which I did until I was feeling well for a long period of time, and then have been testing different foods one at a time.

At this point in time, I know that I do not do well with dairy, gluten, soy, and cabbage. I have successfully brought back in to my diet eggs, black tea, and pumpkin in small amounts. Being able to eat eggs has been HUGE for me. It opens up worlds, from eating eggs as a cheap and healthy protein source, to being able to occasionally eat gluten free baked items. I actually had eggs and toast for breakfast last weekend!

While I've been primarily focused on digestion and healing my gut, this elimination diet has come with a lot of other great side effects that happened so gradually that I didn't really notice anything changed until suddenly it was a drastic difference.

I've talked before about food cravings, and how difficult of a beast that is to deal with. I purposely don't buy food that might tempt me, because a bag of cookies containing 11 servings would disappear in one sitting. And to the dismay of some of my readers here, when I was given cookies or chocolate or something else I couldn't eat, I would politely accept it, take it home, and immediately throw it away. If I kept it in my house for longer than a day, I would always end up caving and eating it. Even with no snacks at all in my house, I would sometimes desperately eat strange items that I was ashamed to admit to, like spooning straight sugar and sesame seeds into my mouth. I hated myself for this, beat myself up about it, and felt really guilty and shameful. Not only was the sugar not healthy, these emotions were really not healthy.

A few months ago, it suddenly dawned on my that I hadn't eaten my way through an entire bag of chips, rice cakes, etc in one sitting for a very long time. It used to be something that happened every weekend. For more than a year I kept track of my calorie intake with my Fitbit app, and despite my best efforts it wasn't uncommon for me to go one or two thousand (or even more) calories over my daily goal on the weekends. But that trend changed, and with very little effort I found I was sticking to my goals every day, even on Saturday and Sunday. Guys, this is AMAZING!

Here's my theory. My elimination diet has forced me to significantly reduce carbs in my diet. Carbs are addictive, because it just gets processed in to sugar by your body, and we know sugar is addictive. It feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, throwing off the balance of your microbiome, the affects of which doctors and scientists are only just beginning to understand. It also acts like a drug in stimulating the pleasure centers in your brain. Hence my ridiculous cravings while I was trying to be healthier. But my elimination diet gave me really strict rules that I couldn't bend or break without having to start all over again with the whole process. By not being able to eat almost all processed foods as well as baked goods and a number of other items, I made it through the withdrawal and reached a point where I no longer consistently crave these things.


And you want to know what the other great side effect of all this has been?? I discovered yesterday that in the past six months I've lost 13 lbs (almost 6 kg). *jaw drop* Not only have I reached my goal of getting back to the weight I was when I graduated college, I've even dropped slightly below that. And I'm still working out regularly, including more weight lifting than I used to do, so it's not muscle that I've lost. I think I look really strong and lean now, and I feel amazing!

Goofing around taking celebratory pictures with my mom.

It's been an incredibly challenging journey, and it's not over yet, but I'm finally seeing significant success and it has been totally worth it!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Instagram – it’s for food

I got an Instagram account about a year and a half ago because a friend insisted I needed to. I barely used it at all, though, until just recently. Most pictures I want to share with my friends, I post on Facebook. I didn’t understand why in the world I would want to post pictures for anyone to see, because I didn’t see strangers being interested in what I post. Even this blog, which I post without any restrictions, I’m pretty sure is only read by people I know.

A couple months ago I downloaded an app called “Handpick.” It’s a collection of pictures of different dishes, with a list of ingredients for each one and a link to the source. These pictures are collected mainly from blogs and Instagram. It can be used to look up one or more ingredients, and then see all the dishes on the app that have those ingredients. I like looking there for ideas when I’m not sure what I want to cook.

I got to thinking, if they’re pulling some of these pictures from Instagram, maybe I should start posting photos of dishes that I’ve made myself. The more people who do that, the more there is available to make this app really useful. Also, if one of my pictures did get chosen… what an ego boost!

So now I used Instagram as it was, apparently, intended – to post pictures of food. I only post homemade dishes that I’m eating. Usually that means it’s something I made, but occasionally I get a good meal from a friend or someone in my family. This blog used to be the only place to share my dishes, but now you can see them all if you follow @cactuslynx on Instagram.

My profile looks a bit like this:

I’m starting to get the hang of hashtags, so most of the “likes” my pictures get are actually from people I don’t know! It’s super interesting, and the marketing researcher in me wants to find out if certain hashtags correlate to more likes. Excel sheet, coming up!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ooooh that smell. Can't you smell that smell.

I haven't written something new in FOREVER! I think because I do so much emailing and talking on the phone at work, the language center of my brain is just pooped. Which equals no muse :( But we are saved by my mom stepping in and reminding me of some stories I could share, so thank you Mom!

Because of the strict elimination diet I'm doing, I can basically only eat food that I've cooked for myself. So I cook a lot. And I try to cook all of my food for the whole week on Sunday, since I don't have a lot of time during the week.

Last weekend I was working on a few dishes while my family was outside doing yard work. We were all trying to get this type of work done in the morning before it got too hot! Side note: it's currently 1:00pm and 100º F (38º C) outside and we haven't turned the a/c on inside yet. Yeah, that's what we're dealing with out here in Livermore. At least it's not humid like Japan - that makes such a huge difference.

So, to get back to my story, I first started working on a recipe for balsamic glazed beets. Just have to say, not only are beets #deliciousandnutritious, they're also strikingly beautiful!

Roasting some beets! #nofilters

While roasting the beets, I was simmering balsamic vinegar with honey (substituted for maple syrup) to reduce it down to a syrupy glaze, evaporating the vinegar but leaving all the delicious flavor. Both my mom and my step-dad came up to the window and asked, "What are you doing?!? Are you cooking with vinegar? It smells all the way out here!" They seemed pretty doubtful that I was cooking something good, but when my mom tried my beets later she was very impressed and absolutely loved them!

Balsamic glazed beets on a bed of beet greens
and carrot/zucchini/turkey patties with pesto sauce.

After making the beets, I started working on a recipe for eggplant curry with tamarind and mint. I used whole spices as much as possible, and ground them by hand. Freshly ground spices are so much more aromatic and flavorful!

While simmering these spices with coconut oil (substituted for ghee or peanut oil) and crushed tomato, my mom again approached the window, this time wanting to know what I was cooking because it smelled so GOOD.

It turned out GOOD too!

I can only imagine being out in the sun, digging and planting new flowers and bushes, pausing for a second to wipe the sweat off your brow, when you're suddenly bowled over by the pungent smell of vinegar. A while later the sweet scent of a spice mixture wafts by, tickling your nose and your appetite.

Sorry, guys, didn't mean for my cooking to disrupt your yard work! And sorry, but I'm not sharing :P

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Quick note on happiness

Not too long ago I watched this fascinating TED Talk on happiness:

One of the most interesting things I got out of it is that your memory of an event can be completely different depending on the very last part of that event. In the talk he uses colonoscopies as an example, but it can apply to anything.

Yesterday I had an ok day at work. It wasn't really significantly better or worse than any other day this week. However, the very last thing I did before finishing up for the day was call a new client, and it put me in the BEST mood. He was super enthusiastic and excited to get going, and it made me excited and motivated to make things happen too.

I left work feeling energetic and looking forward to the next work week. And unlike most weekdays, I not only felt up to cooking dinner, but actually wanted to make something awesome.

I first thing I said to my mom that night was, "I had a great day a work!" and looking back over everything that had happened, I realized it was all because it had ended with that phone call.

The free taco bar for lunch was pretty cool too ;)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wait, where did May go?

I'm staying up late (past 9:00 pm) on a Friday night to write JUST FOR YOU, my dear readers. All five of you. Just kidding, I keep learning about more and more people who read this, so that's cool. Thanks guys, glad to know I'm not just writing for myself!

Sadly, I've left you without a post since... wow, 25 days ago. I thought moving was what would keep me away from writing, but it turns out that it's my new job. Which is ok, because it's great.

So, I thought I'd check in and give a quick recap of how genki I've been this month. If you're not sure what I mean by genki, I discussed it a little in my introduction blog. Just to recap, in Japanese, genki can have many meanings. As defined by my phone dictionary (which I relied on almost every single day to get through life in Japan) genki means: health(y), robust, vigor, energy, vitality, vim, stamina, spirit, courage, pep. For me, it's an all encompassing word which means healthy in many aspects including physically, mentally, and emotionally, as well as having energy and basically just feeling good.

So, how has my physical health been doing?
  • Stomach and digestion
    • I am still on an elimination diet. Since my last post, I have (sadly) added sweet potatoes to what I'm eliminating, because I had a few poor digestion days last week which correlated to the few days I ate lots of sweet potato.
    • I will continue my elimination diet until my gut is healed, which I will determine by having a week or two straight with no symptoms.
    • In general I'm doing pretty good, just mild symptoms here and there. I want to be totally and completely good, though, before I start testing foods to add back in to my diet.
    • Oh, just remembered, the whole family, including myself, got food poisoning from pico de gallo I bought at a local Mexican market. That sucked and messed up my digestion for a while.
  • Headaches
    • During the first week or two of my new job, I had a mild headache basically everyday. Possibly stress related, or because I'm not used to sitting all day and looking at screens a lot.
    • I had one migraine, but I was at home and was able to medicate and go to bed before it got very bad. It continued for about 24 hours, but was under control.
  • Exercise
    • My legs are healing from shin splints. Again. I got excited to run with my mom when I first moved here, but pushed myself too hard before actually buying some new good running shoes. And as I learned last year, this takes forever to heal.
    • I stretch every morning during the time that I would normally be jogging if my legs didn't hurt.
    • I would like to work out (low or no impact for now) every evening, but have found that with working full time I am only finding time to do so a couple times a week. Hopefully once I get settled into my schedule I can start doing this more.
Next, my mental health:
  • The past three months have been incredibly stressful. During the few weeks before and after my move, I often found myself having absolutely no patience at all, and constantly hitting my breaking point of I JUST CAN'T DEAL every day, sometimes multiple times a day. During the past month, however, I can only think of two instances where I felt like that. So, getting better.
  • My new job has been challenging parts of my brain that have been chilling out since I graduated college back in 2009, so it's kind of fun to get that mental stimulation. I've been in training for these first few weeks, and it feels a lot like being a student again. But with 7-8 hours of classes a day, 5 days a week, it's a bit tiring. Today I coined a new term, "Brain Fart Friday."
Closely tied in with that is emotional health:
  • So, I put stress under mental health, but it has such a strong influence on emotions that I almost put it here. However, what stress isn't actually and emotion, but what it does to my emotions is make them stronger. So anger is angrier, happiness is happier, and so on. More mood swings than I'm used to. Exhibited a lot in my blog about my last day in Japan.
  • I feel like recently I've been really excited and happy about my new job, and this has been giving me a lot of energy. I hope this feeling continues, and isn't just a honeymoon phase.
One more thing that I've never really talked about before is spirituality. Maybe that ties in with mental or emotional health, but I feel like it deserves it's own category here. What many of you may or may not know is that I'm a Quaker. There are a lot of inaccurate preconceptions about what exactly that is, so please do your research before making any assumptions about me. For example, it has nothing to do with oatmeal. And clearly I don't wear a gray bonnet. So, my spiritual health:
  • I became a member of the Olympia Monthly Meeting in April, 2009. While in Japan I did not join any Meetings because I could only find info on one, which was in Tokyo (very very far from me). Since moving, I've been an active member of the Livermore Worship Group. <--- Check it out, I made a Facebook Page for our group. Give it a 'like'!
  • I've been very happy to have this small community of like-minded folks. It's really a very small group here in Livermore, but we're under the care of the Berkeley Monthly Meeting, so I hope to get to know them better as well (and actually meet some people my age). I've also reconnected with some of the Olympia Monthly Meeting members, so I'm definitely feeling the love and connection that I didn't realize how much I've been missing.
  • Getting re-involved with the Quakers has led to a lot of introspection and meditation on my values and how my actions reflect those values.
  • I feel like some of what is important to me may have gotten muffled in the chaos of life, so I'm reconnecting to the Inner Light and trying to let that guide me. It's not easy to listen.
So there you go, a somewhat brief update on my current state. Let me leave you with a picture:

Laura and Daphne: These two cousins were both born not breathing.
So glad we made it through and are alive and kicking today!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Things that have made me happy since moving back to the U.S.

First weekend back, Oakland says, "Welcome to AMERICA."

First of all, I have to say, I STILL LOVE JAPAN. After all, I lived there for over five years for a reason. But instead of feeling homesick, I'm focusing on the things that I am enjoying here in the U.S. that I couldn't in Japan.

To begin with, food - so many options! Such variety! I have been making killer salads, trying all kinds of vegetables, and have had lots of food substitutes available that fit with my special diet.

Black olives can be bought at ANY supermarket!
Also, cheaper avocados!!

I can still have the same awesome breakfast I've always had,
but now with coconut milk based yogurt instead of soy.

I thought I would miss some things from Japan, like little fish,
but there's an Asian market where I can get almost everything.

What's this crazy vegetable? Watermelon radish!
From the farmers market, yay.

Watermelon radish in my salad! Plus, baby spinach & kale, hard to find in Japan.
And various colors of cherry tomatoes and roasted cauliflower.

Artichoke, lamb, and roasted cauliflower

A pork tamale and braised kale

Fuji apples are good, but nothing compares to a tart Granny Smith!

It's not just food that I've been enjoying either. I get to spend more time with my family & their pets, and visit friends I haven't seen in ages. So far I've gotten to see my college roommate and her new baby, and a close friend I worked with in Japan who now lives in San Diego. I also have plans to go visit my BFF in Washington (State, not DC) and hopefully meet up with a bunch of my closest friends from high school too whom I haven't seen in ten years.
I'm spending lots of time with my mom and step-dad, have visited my uncle, his wife & three kids, and will get to see lots more family when they come visit for Memorial Day weekend. Looking forward to seeing you, Grandma!

I have joined a pack. We go running together.

Three little fluffy bundles of love.

In addition to all that, I'm loving all the things I can do here. Like driving a car, going to see my favorite musicians in concert, and living it up in the California sunshine.

Totally bought my dream car.
Yep, been wanting an Eclipse since I was 11 years old.

I know these tickets say Morrissey, but what I'm really going for is
the opening act - AMANDA PALMER!!!!! 
(Also in the background is a job offer - I start in May!)

Panorama of my mom's amazing backyard.

This is actually a screen shot my BFF took of me lying in the hammock
while we were video chatting.

I got to go in a hot air balloon at
the San Diego Wildlife Park! 

To wrap it all up, what does this have to do with being "genki"? A happy mind can help with a healthy body, and vice versa.

"Fitter, happier, more productive" -Radiohead