Sunday, December 28, 2014

Quick mid-holiday update

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays! I've been busy celebrating Christmas and showing my brother around Japan. Today is one of the only days we have a bit of free time, so I managed to squeeze in this post.

My brother learning how samurai swords are made.

As expected, some of the Christmas gifts I got included food that I'm trying to avoid. And of course it was all food that I love too! So I did break my rules a couple times on Christmas Day, eating peanut butter filled pretzels (gluten) and a couple types of chocolate (dairy).

Apparently I've been naughty, because I also got some coal!

My brother is also trying to avoid gluten, but we both made one exception that was planned ahead of time, because you just can't visit Japan and not try ramen! We went to Ippudo, my favorite ramen shop in Okayama. We thoroughly enjoyed the rich pork broth of their tonkotsu ramen!

So after eating gluten, peanuts, and dairy one day, and then even more gluten the next day, I definitely wasn't feeling too well. I've been strict since then though, and have been totally sticking to my goals.

A couple weeks ago I tried making sauerkraut for the first time, and finally gave it a test today. Delicious! And hopefully those active cultures will improve my gut health.

Homemade red cabbage sauerkraut.

I probably won't write again until after my brother leaves. Here's hoping that I continue to eat well during the rest of the winter holidays!

Happy New Year everyone!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

This, that, and the other thing

Hey everyone, it’s been a while! Miss me?

I’ve been slowly writing this post a paragraph at a time over the past couple weeks, so the end result might be a bit disjointed. I was going to post this two weeks ago, but then I caught a cold and didn’t feel like doing anything. Anyway, here are some thoughts I’ve had.

I’ve been very gradually working towards improving my health over the past ten years, increasing my effort more and more as I felt less and less healthy. Since starting this blog I have focused my energy on what I’m eating, and have been doing a fairly good job overall at sticking to my goals. I think it’s finally paying off! I’ve been feeling pretty good, digestion wise, and I’m starting to notice a couple correlations that I had not realized before, so that’s exciting.

Now that I have my definite trouble-makers, dairy and gluten, mostly out of the way, it’s a lot clearer to me what else affects my digestion. Remember when I said that I was going to quit eating peanut butter and nuts because they’re expensive and I suspected hard to digest as well? So I did that, and all went well. Then I decided to test peanuts, so I had a handful with dinner. I am now fairly certain peanuts give me gas. Pretty deadly too! It’s possible there was another trouble maker in my dinner, so I’ll probably test peanuts once more after I’ve eliminated it again. We all know how much I LOVE peanut butter, so if this turns out to be true, I’ll be really disappointed.

I’ve heard that being tired can make food cravings worse. However, since I almost always crave snacks, I couldn’t really tell that it made a difference. This past week, though, I was doing surprisingly well at not having cravings, even when I felt slightly hungry. It was so strange, and so awesome! I suspect it’s possibly because my body is finally getting used to not having snacks. Eating those carbs just makes your body want more carbs! So anyway, on Sunday I went out to dinner for a friend’s birthday and was out pretty late, resulting in going to bed a lot later than usual. On Monday I didn’t feel too bad, but by the evening I had that overwhelming urge to lie around and eat and eat and eat, with very little motivation to resist it. Hmm, interesting… I guess getting a good night’s sleep is important for even more reasons! Is it totally lame that I’m always excited for bed time? Oh no, a classic symptom of getting old!

So, I realized that I haven’t written about exercise in a while. Exercise used to be my primary focus when it came to getting in better shape, but I guess recently I’ve been concentrating more on what I’m eating to improve digestion. I’m still exercising, though! After six months of recovery, I’m finally able to go jogging without suffering from shin splints. I haven’t amped up to how much I used to run, but I’m working toward it.

I’m trying to exercise at least once a day, but I hate to admit I haven’t really been staying on top of that. I feel like I don’t have enough time these days. I can think of three things that could be taking away from my exercise time. One is writing this blog! Another is the increased time I’ve been spending grocery shopping and cooking so that I can stick to this new food plan I’ve been doing for the last couple months. And finally, it’s winter and it’s cold and I have such a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning! Even though I wake up at the same time as always, I often don’t get up that early.

Don’t expect me to post again for another couple of weeks. My winter vacation just started!! And my brother arrives in Japan on Christmas Eve, so we’ll be busy having lots of fun!

I’m going to continue trying to eat well for my body over the holidays. I’ve learned a lot of tricks over the past few months, like making safe dishes for myself like I did at Thanksgiving and immediately giving away or throwing out anything tempting that could cause me problems. Wish me luck! And good luck to you with whatever you decide to do, including eating all the fudge if you’re so inclined!

I’ll leave you with a couple beginning of the holidays pictures.

Bonnenkai (End-of-the-year-party) #1 - raw chicken

Bonnenkai #2 - nabe

Bonnenkai #3 - sashimi, garnished with a fish head
(Bonnenkai #4 has no picture, but I ate sea cucumber for the first time!)

Christmas in Japan = fried chicken and cake. So popular,
it's even in my school lunch. Why? Because. Marketing.

My presents don't quite all fit under my tree...

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Oops, maybe I didn’t win Thanksgiving after all



NOOOOO!!!!



The day after the party, I ate the giblets and some other leftovers, no problem. Then, later in the week I made a turkey soup with some of the bones. I ate that soup and other leftovers for the next two days, again no problem, and then finished off the last of it on the fourth day. That night, roughly four hours after dinner, I got really bad stomach cramps and felt nauseous while trying to fall asleep. I did manage to sleep, though not well, without incident and felt better in the morning. I figured it was because the leftovers had been kind of old, and honestly I hadn’t exactly followed safe food preparation rules. For example, I let the turkey bones thaw at room temperature rather than in the fridge. And after the soup cooked, I let it cool at room temperature (and forgot it on the counter overnight…) before putting it in the fridge. Granted, room temperature is pretty chilly these days since I’m cheap and haven’t used my heater yet this season, but I still don’t think it’s within safe food storage temperatures. So yeah, my bad, I figured.



This week I made another batch of turkey soup with some bones and a neck to make a nice flavorful broth. I was very careful to prepare everything properly this time, thawing the turkey in the fridge on Tuesday, simmering it for many hours on Wednesday and then promptly refrigerating it, and heating it up on the stove with some added vegetables on Thursday, after which I promptly ate it and put the leftovers back in the fridge. But, like last time, roughly four hours later while I was trying to fall asleep I got severe stomach cramps and felt nauseous. And this time I wasn’t able to sleep it off, and unfortunately was sick. Thankfully it was over quickly, and a couple hours later I fell asleep and felt better in the morning.

So, yeah. I conclude that my beloved turkey hates me. Why must it be a one-sided relationship?? Throwing all that out is going to be really hard. Much harder than the little cakes and cookies so many people felt that I wasted in my last blog.



Speaking of my last blog, it sparked quite the comment thread on Facebook! I know everyone was trying to be helpful, and I apologize for replying negatively, sarcastically, and passive-aggressively. It’s just really hard, what I’m trying to do for my health, and I felt like I was being misunderstood and criticized. That plus a number of other things going on in my life were making me have a super stressful day, so it was particularly hard on me to feel like I was getting negative feedback for something that had been difficult but that I was proud of accomplishing. I appreciate the advice, and will definitely consider taking some of your suggestions. I will also continue trying to do what I think is best for myself. Sometimes you just need to put your own health first!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tracking progress


Last week, Wednesday’s school lunch had everything I’m trying not to eat, and I couldn’t avoid it by not eating one or two of the dishes because it was ALL dangerous. So I shrugged my shoulders and ate my lunch. Up until this point I had had three or four days of feeling great. However, on Thursday I could definitely tell that at least one of the possible problem causing ingredients (dairy, gluten, or egg) was most definitely causing me a problem. I had issues for three days after that. This is the most clearly I’ve been able to notice a difference in digestion when I don’t vs. do eat dairy, gluten, and egg. So now I just need to determine which, if not all, of them is villain.

Very unsafe lunch 

Also, I’ve decided to quit buying peanut butter and nuts. They’re both just too expensive for how fast I go through them, and really packed full of calories. Plus, I think they’re hard to digest in large amounts. So if I’m gonna have something expensive and calorie-packed, it’ll be coconut oil, which shouldn’t be so hard on my guts.

On Monday this week, lunch had dairy and gluten, but not egg. I was expecting to feel the effects on Tuesday, but that was not the case. Does this mean that egg was the trouble maker last week? However, I’ve already established a while ago that both dairy and gluten can cause me problems, and yet they didn’t seem to this time. I know, some foods can cause problems even weeks after eating them, so when I don’t feel well and think it’s because of a recent meal, that might not be the case. Also, some things your body can handle in small amounts, but if you’ve been having too much recently it can be an issue. Digestion is complicated! So I’ve decided to try keeping a food diary. Here’s what I’ve made to begin with (sorry if it’s TMI):

 Tracking the foods I eat and my digestive issues, hopefully to find correlations. 

In addition to that food diary, I have another monthly calendar I use to track my progress attached to my Food Rules. I update my Food Rules every month based on how I did the previous month and what I think I need to focus on. Here’s November and December.

 November

 December - notice a few changes.
Every month has at least a couple updates.

In good news, I've been eating well other than school lunch! Today I found cauliflower at the store, which is not very common so it was exciting, and I made cauli-rice.  Check it out.

Is that fish on rice? NOPE! No grains here, just cauliflower!

Also, I continue to resist the gifts of sweets from coworkers. One of the schools I teach at is quite small so I only go there twice a month. That means I have two weeks worth of sweets piled up on my desk. We've got quite the haul for Today's Trash!

 All of this plus three rice crackers that I could eat was waiting for me on Monday.

 I took it all out of the packages so you could see exactly what I can't eat.

 Proof that I resisted! Goodbye foods that hate my guts. (Get it? Guts? Hehehehe)


UPDATE:

Ok, ok, sorry guys, I take it all back! I absolutely love and appreciate every single school lunch and all of the sugary treats my coworkers so generous give me, and I never EVER throw anything away. That is not, in fact, a trash can you see in that picture, but rather it is a... um... feeding receptacle! Yeah! For Bobifer! He's real, I swear. And he has guts of steel, so he can eat anything, no problem! He is also amazingly resistant to medical conditions, so he'll never have to worry about heart disease, diabetes, etc. Lucky guy! Even though he doesn't have to worry, he's still really supportive of me and this journey I'm taking to improve my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Thanks Bobifer, you're a swell guy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving in Japan, days 1 & 2


Last Saturday one of my closest friends and I celebrated Thanksgiving, just the two of us. She has far more food sensitivities than I do, so we planned out dishes that were safe for her. Anything that’s safe for her is definitely safe for me too!

I spent a couple hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon cooking for our special feast. I really love cooking, just wish it didn’t make so many dirty dishes to wash!

 Making the first dish of the morning, rice bread.

Finished rice bread - kinda chewy but still yummy. Like mochi, but bread!

Unfiltered apple juice + whole spices = spiced cider!


 While one dish was cooking, I prepped for other dishes.
Not much counter space, so these are balancing on my toaster oven and a roll of paper towels.

I cooked so much, I actually gave myself a blister and sore muscles. Chopping, stirring, more chopping, more stirring... Totally worth it!


First course - quinoa salad and rice bread.


Quinoa salad close up


Second course -
lentil soup, mashed sweet potatoes with Moroccan spices, and quinoa stuffing.

 Quinoa stuffing close up

On Sunday I went to a Thanksgiving party hosted by a friend. I brought leftovers from the day before for myself plus some homemade gravy, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat a majority of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes being served.

 Made chicken bone broth a couple days before, chilled it,
and ended up with this beautiful, healthy, nutrient & collagen-packed gel.

 Added some cornstarch and spices to my bone broth,
and got this huge jar full of gravy!

My friend generously gave me a discount since I was only partaking in the turkey.


 The Thanksgiving spread, of which I only had turkey.

The pies weren't nearly as tempting as those peanut butter cookies!
Somehow I resisted.


Got some turkey, added my homemade gravy, stuffing, and mashed sweet potatoes.
Also had a large salad and there in the back is my special pumpkin pie with no crust.

So for two days in a row I was able to safely indulge in Thanksgiving feasting! I am very thankful.

During the party clean up I rescued four (small) turkey’s worth of giblets and bones from being thrown away. Such delicious and nutrient rich parts of the turkey, and they’re all mine!

 This is how much bones and giblets four small turkeys make. All for MEEE!!

 My freezer is half full of turkey. Yes, half FULL, and it makes me so happy :D

Bagged up and froze all the bones and giblets I got. Gonna make so much amazing SOUP. I feel like I won Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ups & Downs, and Thanksgiving plans


Looks like a lot of people took a look at my blog at least once to see what it was, but haven’t looked at it since. The number of page hits is definitely dwindling. That’s alright, though. As I said at the beginning, this is mainly for myself. To quote one of my favorite artists/muscisians/authors, Amanda Palmer, from her recent blog “when i decide that i need to cut something out (like, say, i decide to go sober for a month, which i did the month before i started writing, to clean my system) then the best way i’ve found, is to announce my intentions to everyone around me. that way i’m beholden to my entire network of friends, and my community, and stepping out of my commitments feels like a breach of trust to them, not just against myself. so when i decided not to read any reviews (which came out of a long conversation with Jamy Ian Swiss, my book doula), i told neil, told my publishers, told my team, and them, lastly, told my blog. and i turned off my google news alerts. and after i did all that, i was like: well, NOW if i click on the link i see on twitter saying “17 reasons amanda palmer’s book is made of pure bullshit” i’m really….breaking my promise, to everyone. so, final advice: announce your intentions. it helps.”

Sorry guys, I’ve been breaking my promise to eat a reasonable amount of calories every day. This hasn’t been a great week for me. I’ve been tired and grumpy and haven’t had much motivation to stick to my goals. And I made a recent trip to the import store, at which time I stocked up on peanut butter. I’m afraid I might have to just quit buying it…

I also haven’t been exercising much. Although, I did get one workout in the other night, with a bonus challenge at the beginning which I filmed! This is probably the highlight of this week’s summary, so please watch and join me in laughing at myself. Say it with me now, “I can’t do pistol squats!”

video

This weekend is a three-day weekend here in Japan, and so it’s when we (my group of friends, organized by Dave) have decided to celebrate Thanksgiving. There will be a big gathering with the full Thanksgiving feast, all the works. It’s not a potluck, but instead all dishes are planned and supplies bought ahead of time, then everyone pays to participate. Most of the dishes I will be choosing not to eat. I know, that sounds unbelievable and impossible, but I have a plan! I’m going to bring a bunch of safe and delicious dishes for myself that I can eat instead. I’ll bring a great big awesome salad, maybe with persimmon & walnuts or maybe make the salad Emiko brought to the Halloween party. I’m also going to try this quinoa stuffing recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/quinoa-stuffing/. I’m going to make my dairy-free, egg-free pumpkin pie, but without the crust, so I guess it’ll be more like pumpkin custard. I’m going to make gravy with my homemade chicken bone broth and cornstarch instead of flour. And I might also bring some mashed sweet potatoes that don’t have any butter or sugar, but spices for flavoring instead. So probably the only thing I’ll eat at the party will be turkey. Lots and lots of turkey! It’s the one chance a year I get turkey in this country, so I’ve got to make the most of it.

And to finish off this post, here’s Today’s Trash:

 Actually had to open one to see if it was safe or not. Not.

Hopefully lots of Thanksgiving picture to come!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Soap free? But how? UPDATED: New deoderant recipe!

Here's something I don't normally tell people because I'm afraid of looks of astonishment and disgust - I don't use shampoo, conditioner, body wash, facial scrub, or deodorant. At least, not in the form most people are familiar with. Instead, I use natural ingredients to make my own substitutions for those items.

So here’s what I do:
Shampoo – baking soda. That’s it, nice and simple. Either sprinkle dry powder onto your scalp, rub a bit and rinse in the shower, or make a paste in the palm of your hand and work into already wet hair.

Conditioner – 500 ml chamomile tea (I use Sleepytime, which is chamomile & mint), 100 ml apple vinegar, 100 ml lemon juice (adds acidity to help balance out the baking soda, plus can lighten hair) , and 5-10 drops of your choice of essential oil. I like lavender or rosemary. In Japan I can find two types of apple vinegar, and one is much less potent than the other, so I use it. However, in the U.S. I think there’s just apple cider vinegar, and it can be pretty stinky. I would suggest trying other types of vinegar, preferably something fruity but without sugar. This vinegar mixture works well if you let it sit in your hair, so I generally do my hair first, using a spray bottle to wet my hair and scalp, and then rinse it out at the end of my shower. If your vinegar is stinky, rinse really really well!



Not so stinky kind on the left, really stinky kind on the right.


Body & facial wash/scrub – 1 lemon, a chunk of ginger, and a couple extra tablespoons of lemon juice. The citrus acts as a de-greaser, antibacterial, keeps your skin acidic which it should be (soaps don't), plus the rind chunks are a good scrub as well. Blend it all up until it’s nice and smooth. Keep this refrigerated when you’re not using it! It can last up to a week, but eventually it will start to smell a bit odd. Also, be sure to rinse well! It’s surprising the places you’ll find little pieces of lemon and ginger later if you don’t thoroughly wash it all off.


Making my scrub.
My itty bitty blender is not so strong, so I pre-chop the lemon and ginger.

I’ve substituted lime instead of lemon in the body wash, but it’s a bit more expensive for me and I found that the lime skin was a lot tougher than lemon, so it didn’t blend as well. Other ideas of what to add are apple to cut the harshness of the lemon, orange or grapefruit, carrot for texture, and some refreshing mint. Another idea if you have dry skin is to add some coconut milk. If you try different variations and come up with a good one, let me know!

Some other ideas that I have tried but don't do regularly are oatmeal and honey. You can get some old fashioned oats, blend then up until they're like a course flour, and use that as is. A great benefit is that it's super portable, so good for traveling. Honey has antimicrobial effects and makes a nice moisturizing scrub. It can be really sticky, but getting your face wet first can help it go on easily. I guess I don't use these much because they're my traveling alternative, but recently I've been too lazy and just use regular soap when traveling.

Deodorant – again, you can just use baking soda! If this is too harsh on your skin, mix in some corn starch. I use 50/50 baking soda and corn starch. It’s not an antiperspirant, so you’ll still sweat (which is healthy!), but baking soda is a great odor absorber so it makes a good deodorant. Use a dry cloth or cotton ball to pat in on. For extra odor fighting, use some baking soda while your washing your hair to give your pits an quick scrub too. I then follow this with my regular lemon scrub.

UPDATE: I mentioned to a friend that a downside of using baking soda as deodorant is that it gets all over the bathroom, and she recommended mixing in some coconut oil. She sent me this link, http://worldtruth.tv/how-to-make-non-toxic-long-lasting-organic-deodorant/ and I'm excited to try it! Apparently it's even the same texture as regular deodorant. I bet it's a nice moisturizer too. If only I could find coconut oil for a more affordable price...

 416g of coconut oil for ¥1,650 ($14) is the best price I've seen at Kaldi or Jupiter

In addition, I use olive oil as a make-up remover, and a little bit of baking soda instead of shaving cream. That might sound weird because baking soda is rough, but when mixed with water it actually becomes smooth. I've heard that a tiny bit of olive oil can also work well for shaving, but I didn't like it at all. I felt like it was almost sticky, and gummed up my razor really badly. But it's a good moisturizer, so sometimes I use a bit after I shave.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “So that’s why Laura smells so bad,” please tell me! Everyone is either too nice, or these soap free alternatives work well because I’ve been doing this for 2-3 years now and haven’t had any complaints. Although I’ve also been single this whole time…

At first when you make the change, you may not notice much of a difference. However, now, if I use regular shampoo and soap for more than a few days I can clearly tell that my hair is more dry and frizzy, my skin is also drier and more sensitive, and most importantly, my acne gets way worse. So that’s why I’m totally hooked on soap free! It’s also much better for the environment. Everything that goes down that drain ends up somewhere!
 
Look at that clear complexion!

One exception I have is that I still use regular hand soap. I work with hundreds of children every day, so I wash my hands with soap frequently. In this case I think that not catching the flu is worth it. Although, I should look into getting alcohol-based sanitizer instead.

Slightly related question, why do public bathrooms in Japan so often not have soap? Or when they do have soap, so many people don’t use it. Everyone just briefly runs their hands under cold water, if they bother washing their hands at all! Is this even remotely effective?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kitchen disasters - cornflake crusted fish

Last weekend I had a fair amount of free time, so I did a lot of cooking. For lunch on Saturday I had Hawaiian chicken with broccoli, and it was great.


It made me really happy to eat this
Hawaiian chicken with steamed broccoli.

For dinner I decided to try a new recipe. I was recently given a bunch of magazines, and one of them had a recipe for cornflake crusted fish.

 Recipe picture, from Allrecipes.com

It didn't sound like the most optimally healthy food, but it sounded like it could be good and it didn't have gluten or dairy. So I went to the supermarket to get cornflakes.

Cornflakes is a pretty simple thing, right? Even in Japan, or so I thought. Turns out that plain cornflakes is not such a simple request. There were chocolate cornflakes, frosted cornflakes, strawberry flavored frosted cornflakes, and brown sugar frosted cornflakes. I was already set on making this dish, so I grabbed the bag of brown sugar frosted cornflakes and hoped it would be one of those situations of flavors you don't think will mix end up going great together. This was not the case. This dish went the way of banana nachos, which my college roommates can tell you was an interesting experiment but should never be made again.

If you can imagine the flavor of fish, very sweet cornflakes, dill, and crushed pepper, then you might have an idea of what my dinner was like. I ate it in order not to waste food, but it was awfully weird. And I discovered a problem other than just the taste.

While cooking, I had only needed some of the (brown sugar) cornflakes, so the rest I put in a bag way in the back of my cupboard. I planned on saving them, maybe having a little at a time as a special treat. These good intentions never last long...

After eating my fish, even though it tasted pretty terrible, I started craving the remaining cornflakes. It was like breaking the seal, once I started I couldn't stop. So I dug them out of the cupboard, got a spoon, and ate the rest of them. This wasn't enough, though. Start heading down the wrong path, and it gets harder and harder to get back where you want to be. I continued to crave bad food, and dug my chocolate out of the back of the freezer and ate all of that. As we've seen before, being in this situation leads to unstoppable eating and then feeling bad.

BUT, I see where it all went wrong. I can't let myself have just a little of something bad, and save the rest, because once I start I can't stop. Would I have been ok if the fish was crusted in normal cornflakes without all the sugar rather than brown sugar ones? I don't know. I don't know if it was the sugar or the carbohydrates from the corn, or some chemical in processed food, but something in it acted like that first drink for an alcoholic, like a comment on a previous post so aptly put it. I have more testing to do, but I have definitely learned from this experiment.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday I went to a Hokkaido themed buffet in Okayama with some friends. It was great! I didn't eat any of the fried foods, the noodles, the eggplant in tomato sauce dish covered in cheese, any of the cakes, or chocolate from the chocolate fountain. I was good! I did eat a few vegetable dishes and five bunches of crab legs, or about two and a half crabs. For dessert I had pineapple and zenzai.

For many Americans when we think of a buffet, we think of "all-you-can-eat." This thinking leads to eating too much at buffets. It seems like in Japan many people don't think about buffets as being a good place to stuff your face, but more as a good chance to eat exactly what you want, without having anything you don't want. This is a great way to look at a buffet! If you stop thinking about getting your money's worth, and start thinking about what you do and don't want to eat, you can enjoy your meal and feel great about your health.

Since Sunday I've been doing pretty well, other than the unavoidable bread in elementary school lunch. At junior high today there was both bread and yogurt in the lunch, which I knew ahead of time, so I baked some sweet potato and brought that to eat instead.

 Bread & yogurt I didn't eat at the top of the tray,
baked sweet potato I brought instead to the left.

I've been getting so much omiyage (gifts of small sweets) at work recently, I think I might have to start a regular section in this blog called "Today's Trash."

So here's Today's Trash:

Some Tokyo bananas, and other sweets.

Until next time!

Friday, November 7, 2014

FAQs (aka, questions I’ve been asked at least once)

I tried to explain a lot in my introduction blog, so if you’re ever wondering, “Why the heck is Laura doing that?” refer back there.

So, here are five questions I’ve been asked, plus one I want to ask you:

1. What are you eating and not eating, and why?


I’m trying to completely avoid eating wheat, dairy, and eggs. I don’t know for sure if I’m sensitive to all of these foods, but they are very common problem causing foods. I do know that milk is a problem for me, but I don’t know if it’s because of lactose or casein or both. If it’s just lactose, then butter, cheese, and 24-hour fermented yogurt (the type in the supermarket is usually only 2-3 hour fermented) should be fine. I’m also pretty sure that gluten is a problem as well because I never feel well after eating pasta. Eggs, however, I’m hoping to discover are fine, but have yet to determine for sure.

To find out if you are sensitive to a food, you must first eliminate it completely from your diet for a long enough time that it completely leaves your system - it could take weeks. Then test a small amount and see how you feel. However, if you’re sensitive to multiple foods but only eliminate some of them, you won’t know if your problems are being caused by one you reintroduce or by one you never eliminated. It’s complicated. Anyway, right now I am experimenting and am in the elimination stage. Unfortunately I keep getting foiled by school lunches.

I’m also trying to reduce my sugar intake, including foods that the body quickly turns into
sugars, like rice, corn, and potatoes (in addition to wheat). I use it as a treat sometimes, though, like honey in my tea, cinnamon & sugar sprinkled on fried corn tortillas, or sweet potatoes with a drizzle of peanut oil and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.

Recently I’ve noticed a possible correlation between legumes (like soy beans, fava beans, peanuts, & lentils) and indigestion, so I’m thinking about trying to reduce that in my diet as well. Beans, beans, the magical fruit...

I’m also trying to avoid processed foods because of the additives and also how the manufacturing process can alter the food itself, making it much less nourishing and potentially even bad for your health.

However, I’m not worrying about fats. Fat has been vilified for decades, but recently available information (books, articles, studies, etc) shows that a high-fat low-carb diet is actually far better for the body than a low-fat high-carb one. Especially if it’s based on real food, not processed food. And most cooking oils are heavily processed, so that’s a fat to avoid! But fat from meat, fish, coconut, olives, avocado - these are good things!

So, I’m trying to eat lots of vegetables, meat, and fish, home-cooked as much as possible. I’m trying to use fruit just as a treat, because of the high sugar content. I eat cabbage salad with coconut milk and fish for breakfast, and if I could choose my lunch I would have a large salad and some meat, like pork chops. An ideal dinner in this season might be chicken bone broth soup with lots of vegetables, a seaweed salad, some liver, and a persimmon for dessert. Plus some fermented foods with any meal, like yogurt (soy or coconut), kimchi, miso, or natto, for the probiotics.


SALAD!!!

2. Have you ever tried just having lots of “bad” stuff around - do you just eat it all right away, or does it lose its sense of “special” and become more mundane and easier to resist?

I have not exactly tried this, but I don’t think it would work. Take peanut butter for example. Peanut butter is pretty much my kryptonite. I can put away 2,000 calories worth of peanut butter in one sitting without even thinking about it. The 100% all natural peanut butter (no salt, sugar, or anything else, just peanuts) that I like is not always available at Kaldi or Jupiter (our two import stores here), so when I can find it I like to stock up. The plan being that I’ll have enough to last me even when it’s not being sold at either store. But it never lasts long! I can eat one or two jars (or probably even more) every week without getting tired of it.

3. Have you ever tried barefoot running?

No, I haven’t. I’ve heard a lot of differing opinions about it, although I don’t really have an opinion myself. It appears that there needs to be more research done before any possible benefits or issues can be known for sure.

From what I’ve read, it seems like the main benefit of barefoot running is that it changes how you run, from heel-strike to forestrike, which is better for your legs. I don’t think I’ve ever been much of a heel-striker, but then again I’ve never actually watched myself run. I know I’m not a heel-striker when I walk, though, and in fact sometimes catch myself walking around on my toes for no reason at home.

I am curious, and wouldn’t mind giving barefoot running a shot, but I’m also very cheap and don’t want to buy those special “barefoot” shoes. And running with no shoes at all on sidewalks and roads doesn’t sound very safe. As a kid I used to spend my summers barefoot as much as possible, and I remember stepping on thistles, sharp sticks, bees, and glass, so that wouldn’t be good to do again!

4. What kind of exercises do you do at home?

I get bored quickly if I do the same workout every day, so I try to rotate through a few favorites plus try new ones a few times a week. In the morning I either go jogging or go on YouTube and type in “low impact cardio workout.” I used to just jog every morning, but because of my shin splints I’ve started to do at home workouts instead. I do low impact because it’s quiet, and at 6:00am I’m sure my neighbor wouldn’t appreciate me jumping around! It’s also a nice way to warm up and get going without having to throw myself into it when I’m still half asleep. These workouts tend to be good for beginners as well because they are less intensive. For example, I did this one earlier in the week, and I highly recommend it for anyone just getting into exercising.


To give myself more of a workout, I did it three times in a row. Added hand weights could also make it more challenging.

In the evening I like to do a more intense workout. Here are a few that I’ve been enjoying recently.


http://youtu.be/50kH47ZztHs
http://youtu.be/ZJ8Zdj0OPMI
http://youtu.be/VfkuK3mMowM
http://youtu.be/FTT4W8ygJ7w
http://youtu.be/WfzS2Ov6_1o - This yoga one doesn't seem intense, but man does it leave me sore the next day! 

You may notice that there’s quite a bit from Jillian Michaels, a well-known trainer from The Biggest Loser. My friend recommended her workout videos, and it turns out that they’re a great challenge and I don’t find her annoying like so many others. That’s the great thing about sharing, and one of the things I hope comes out of this blog! My goal is communication and sharing between people with similar goals or values, so please don’t hesitate to comment!

If I’m feeling completely worn out in the evening, I’ll do a slower paced yoga video. This one in particular I found to be good for beginners and very relaxing.

http://youtu.be/OQ6NfFIr2jw

5. Where do you get chia seeds in Japan?

Well, my parents very kindly buy them in the U.S. and give them to me as a gift, but if that’s not enough I buy them on amazon.jp. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you can put your settings in English so you can navigate the page. You can even search in English for many products, although searching in Japanese usually gets more results. This is a good way to get not only chia seeds, but other things like quinoa and spices too.

Now I have a question for you!

What are some good non-food rewards that I can give myself when I successfully don’t succumb to a craving?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How well do you sleep?


In my introduction blog I talked a little bit about my Fitbit, and how it counts my steps and can track my calories in vs out. Another function I like is the sleep tracker. Because it senses motion, it can tell me how well I’ve slept. Usually when I wake up I know if I slept solid or was restless, and it’s fun to look at the graph to confirm what I thought.

 This was not a good night's sleep - tossing & turning all night long.
 

This was a perfect night's sleep.
(Even on perfect nights, I have to get up to pee once.)

Occasionally though, think I slept well but look and see that I was rolling around a lot, or I think I didn’t sleep well but look and see that I didn’t move all night long. I’m trying to pay attention to whether exercise, food, stress, and other factors affect how well I sleep. I’ve noticed that if I have a large, late dinner, I don’t sleep as well. And of course, caffeine keeps me awake! Even if I have it in the morning, it can still affect me that night. So I haven’t had any coffee or black tea in about a week and a half, yay me.

This weekend was pretty good as far as getting some exercise and avoiding possible problem causing foods goes, but not so good as far as not eating too much goes. When I have free time at home, I snack! Especially if I have a busy morning and am really hungry by lunch time; I end up snacking all afternoon.

On Saturday evening I went to a friend’s wedding party (Congratulations, Mayuka!) and really enjoyed seeing a bunch of friends I used to teach at AEON. It was at an Italian restaurant, so over half of the food was off limits for me. 

First course - no bread & cheese or quiche for me,
but I thought the meat & lettuce were safe...

I did well, except a couple times when I realized too late that there was Parmesan cheese in the dish. It was hard to pass up the cake for dessert! Instead, I treated myself to a glass of sangria.

 Gave my cake to a friend...

...and ordered sangria!

As we were leaving, every guest was given a small box of cookies, so I took them home thinking maybe I could give them to someone else later. They lasted a whole 24 hours, taunting me, until I finally gave in and ate them. Oops, that was gluten, dairy, and eggs! So, back to square one, and with an upset tummy.

Good news, though - I learn from my mistakes! Or, at least try to. So today when I was given omiyage (a souvenir) at the office, I graciously accepted it, took it home, and threw it out!

Hello, darling!

Goodbye, darling!

It was hard. And sad. This particular one is quite popular, and I've been pleasantly surprised to find it on my desk many times over the years. I have been known to describe it as "creamy, buttery delicousness." But, like so many other tempting treats, it contains everything I'm trying not to eat. So like the shumai before, it's bye bye, trash time.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

2-in-1: My struggle with shin splints PLUS Help, I'm losing my motivation!


My struggle with shin splints

I mentioned this in my introduction blog, but here’s a little more detail about what I’ve been dealing with recently. Hopefully I can help prevent someone else from having the same issues!

Last spring I was really upping my game in the frequency and distance of my morning jog. I was doing 4 km Monday-Friday and 8 km on Saturday, with Sunday as my rest day. Around that time I had also bought new running shoes because my old ones were starting to fall apart. Because of my really wide feet, my options were limited and I ended up with a pair that did not have as much support as my old ones. So the intensity of my runs and the less than ideal shoes probably both contributed to me developing shin splints.

 Old, falling apart running shoes on the right,
new, less supportive running shoes on the left.

Shin splints are a sharp pain on the front lower part of your legs, and a common ailment for runners and other athletes that do a lot of high impact training. The cure is to stop whatever it is that caused them, let them heal, and then slowly start exercising again and building up strength. Also, good shoes are a must.

At first I didn’t know it was shin splints because I’ve never been much of a runner before. I thought I just had sore muscles, although it seemed like a weird place to get sore since as far as I could tell it was just bone. But I figured I’d keep stretching well and running, and it would get better, right? Wrong!

In July, my mom and step-dad came to visit, and by that time my legs were hurting almost constantly, even when just sitting. My step-dad is an experienced runner, able to do marathons, so I asked for his advice. And that’s when I learned about shin splints.

I did not run at all in August and September, and scaled down my at-home exercise as well. I focused on low impact strength training and cardio, and after I started feeling better I would occasionally go for a walk. I also saw a specialist who did electrical muscle stimulation, acupuncture, and massage – serious deep muscle massage, ouch! Seems like my legs hurt more for a day or two after that, but hopefully they were healing.

As recommended by another marathon runner I know, I bought Superfeet inserts for my shoes, so hopefully those give me the support I need. I gradually starting to run in October. During the week I jogged 2 km only once or twice. Once on the weekend if I had time I alternate jogging for 10 minutes and walking for 10 minutes, and it took 4 rounds of that, an hour and twenty minutes, to do 8 km. I also carried hand weights and did arm raises while walking. This month I'll continue this, but move up to 12 minutes of jogging and 8 minutes of walking with arm raises.

I still find that my left leg hurts a bit if I run too fast or too far, or if I run and also do high impact exercises within the same couple of days. I really like to push myself when I exercise, and it’s been hard to purposely hold back so that I don’t hurt myself again. What’s your favorite low impact workout? Let me know in the comments!

Help, I'm losing motivation!

On Wednesday I did well exercising, and did this super tough Jillian Michaels cardio workout in the evening even though I was feeling a bit lethargic. Those last few circuits, man! I ate well too, although I'm pretty sure the stew in school lunch had wheat flour and milk or cream in it to make it thicker and creamier.

On Thursday I started well with a short jog, and ate well too.

 A good Japanese school lunch - fish, a cabbage dish,
hearty miso soup, and rice with brown rice mixed in.

After work I called the dentist to make an appointment (in Japanese) and figured that this was both challenging and was related to taking care of my health, so I gave myself a break and didn't do an evening workout. I was really craving sugary foods or snacks, but since there wasn't anything in my apartment like that I survived without.

On Friday I had no excuse to skip my evening workout. NO EXCUSE! But I did.

I also skipped a Halloween party, but that's mainly because it was ¥3500 to get in plus all-you-can-drink, but no food. I didn't want to spend that much on what would probably be just a few glasses of juice that I felt like drinking.

Anyway, I was totally lazy and unmotivated to do anything, and was really really craving bad food. But I didn't have bad food in my apartment. This is when things turned ugly. Even though I had a full, healthy dinner, I was desperate for something more to snack on while watching TV.

See, I should have exercised. I'm not sure the mechanics behind it, but I usually don't crave snack foods as much after I exercise. I also should have washed dishes after dinner and done other productive things to distract myself. But on Friday nights it's the beginning of the weekend, so I have no motivation to be productive because I'll have time the next day to do stuff. Friday nights are dangerous times to stay home.

So, I was getting desperate, and before I knew it I was sitting in front of my computer with a bag of sesame seeds and a spoon. Yes, that's how sad and pathetic my night became. I probably ate over 50 grams of sesame seeds. The whole bag. Just plain. Because that's what I could find. And some chia seeds. And a whole bag of frozen blueberries. It gets even worse... The only sugary thing in my kitchen was some molasses. Let's not even talk about what happened next, it's too shameful.

You're completely disgusted in me, aren't you? I am. "Lame, Laura! Gross, Laura! I don't want to be your friend anymore! How could you do that? Nobody else could possibly be that pathetic. This is a dirty, ugly secret, it better not go in the blog!" These are the things I told myself.

I went to bed that night feeling terrible - ashamed, disappointed in myself, and kind of bloated.

I'm sorry, me. We'll try better next time.

I woke up on Saturday motivated to make up for the night before. I did a quick workout, ate a big healthy breakfast, went to see my electrical muscle stimulation/acupuncture/massage doctor again, ran some errands, had no time for lunch, went to the dentist, had a late afternoon snack, and then met some friends for dinner. We went to an Indian place, and because I'm avoiding dairy and wheat all I could eat was just curry. No naan, no tandoori or other side dishes (yogurt was used in the preparation), no lassi or ice cream. But I had some delicious lamb saag, and it was actually all I really needed since I had had that late afternoon snack (which honestly wasn't that healthy, but it didn't break any of my rules).

So far today I'm doing well too. But Friday night still haunts me... Haha, haunts! That's funny because Friday was Halloween. But seriously, Fridays are often really hard. I never want to exercise and eat well and be productive at the end of the week, and often end up just lying around and binge eating, and then hating myself for it. I could really use some support! Any ideas, advice, etc?