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 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Elimination diet in the U.S.

If you've read my introduction post or FAQ post, you know that I'm experimenting with what I can and cannot digest well by doing an elimination diet. At first I just cut out dairy, gluten, and eggs because those are all very common problem causers. I couldn't really do it though, because these ingredients often showed up in the school lunches I had to eat at work. So my recent move back to the U.S. has been a great opportunity to finally eliminate these.
In addition to dairy, gluten, and eggs, I realized a few months ago that peanuts are probably a problem as well, so I've cut those out. Peanuts are not actually in the nut family, but are legumes. Another legume that commonly causes problems for people is soy. Living in Japan, it was nearly impossible for me to avoid soy, but back in the U.S. I figured I'd try eliminating and testing that as well.
With peanuts and soy already cut, it seemed like a good idea to eliminate all legumes. After all, beans, beans, the magical fruit... And tooting is one of the main symptoms I'm trying to fix with all this diet experimenting :P
(Oops, I just realized that peas are legumes too. Guess I haven't been eliminating that for three weeks already like I thought I had...)
Finally, both caffeine and alcohol most definitely affect my digestion, so I've eliminated those as well.
To help anyone who is cooking remember all this (including myself) I made a list on a white board and put it by the stove.

It's easy to update, so once I've successfully eliminated all of these foods and have at least one week symptom free, I'll start testing them in small amounts, one by one, and keep track on the white board what I'm doing.
I also keep a daily food diary about what I'm eating, how my stomach feels and how well I'm digesting, plus whether or not I have a headache, how my mood is, and if I exercised. As I'm often saying, I believe our physical, mental, and emotional health is all connected, so I'm curious to see if I can notice any patters and correlations.
The really great thing about living in the U.S. now is that there are so many alternatives to the foods I am no longer eating. For example, my milk options in Japan were cow, goat (but it was hard to get) and soy. Now there are all those, plus almond, rice, cashew, coconut, and more. Don't even get me started on ice cream (Coconut Bliss!!!).
Also, coconut oil is cheap! Fruit, vegetables, and meat are cheap! The only thing that's more expensive is fish, but that's ok because it's not too bad at the Asian market I recently discovered.
This might just be a honeymoon phase, but right now I feel like the U.S. is food heaven. And food makes me HAPPY :D <---this links to an unrelated but very happy video I made recently

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I like it HOT!

I know I haven’t updated in a really long time - the longest I haven’t posted anything since I started this blog. So if you’ve been waiting, I apologize!

I mentioned a couple times before that I was moving back to the U.S. after being in Japan for over five years. So yeah, that happened.

A lot has happened since I last wrote, and I have way too much for one entry, so I’ll try to remember the important thoughts I’ve had and spread it out over a few posts. First, let me tell you about my last day in Japan. If you read to the end, I promise it does have to do with health and being “genki.”


It was a Tuesday morning that started with waking up in a beautiful hotel room overlooking Okayama Station. My mom and I enjoyed a morning jog along a nearby river, the Nishigawa, under the cherry blossoms.

Our jogging path

This was followed by a healthy breakfast at a Japanese restaurant in the hotel featuring a buffet of typical Japanese dishes - lots of veggies, fish, and great stuff like that. So the day started with me feeling great - healthy and happy.

My mom and I went in to Kurashiki, where I had to pick up my final paycheck at City Hall. We enjoyed the rest of the morning walking around the city and visiting the main shrine, Achi-jinja. Kurashiki is beautiful in the spring, especially the Bikan Historical District.

View from Achi Shrine, overlooking the Bikan Historical District

After a quick light lunch, it was time for getting stuff done. In addition to picking up my last paycheck, there were a lot of other loose ends I had to tie up before flying out the next morning.

I went to cancel my bank account, only to discover that my branch was closed and being torn down! Thankfully I was able to read the signs directing me to the temporary location and got that done. Then it was time to cancel my cell phone contract. They canceled it and ended my service right away, happily enough, and I quickly no longer had a working phone. But I still owed them for my usage since the last bill, plus a cancellation fee. I was ready to pay it all, right then and there, but was told I couldn’t. Huh? The lady tried to explain to me why, but my Japanese knowledge doesn’t cover the vocabulary she was using. So then I explained to her that I was leaving the country the next morning, had no more bank account for them to automatically withdrawal from, and no address to send the bill to. She still seemed reluctant, but said she would call and make a request to see if I could pay that day. So I waited. And waited. She told me that whoever she was trying to contact (I didn’t understand, but maybe headquarters or something) was very busy, and she had not be able to get through yet. So I waited some more.

By this point my mom and I were exhausted from being out and about all day, and when we were informed that we might have to wait another hour on top of the hour we had already waited, we were ready to bail. Since our hotel was back in Okayama, and we were currently at a shop in Kurashiki, I asked the lady if I could go to a different shop later in the day and finish paying there. She said that was fine, and looked a bit relieved to be done with us.

So, we got back to the hotel and I was feeling grumpy and getting a headache. I still had things to get done, but I did my best to put them out of my mind while I did some yoga in an attempt to feel better before going back out. It didn’t really help. All I wanted to do was just be DONE with everything, but I wasn’t yet and my brain wouldn’t stop nagging me.

I set out to finish my to-do list, and stopped at the post office first to send my last box of stuff home. I had already filled out the customs form and everything, and thought it would be a quick drop off. But the guy working there wanted me to translate everything I had written on the form that was in the box. Ok, sometimes I’m asked to do this, no problem. Then, for each thing I translated, he wanted to actually look in the box and see it to make sure that’s what it really was. What?!? I’ve never before had someone at the post office want to look through my box. But whatever it takes to be done with my errands as soon as possible. Then he became concerned about one of my items - a kitchen knife. So I had to wait forever while he called and talked to the Japanese customs office. He then informed me that it was ok with them, but he did not know about the U.S. regulations, and so he thought the box could get stopped in customs on that side. So he wanted me to talk to the person I was shipping the box to, and have them contact the U.S. customs office to confirm that it was legal. I explained that I was shipping it to myself because I was moving the next morning, and that yes, it is fine with U.S. customs. But I guess he didn’t believe that I actually knew that, and would not ship the box with the knife in it. By this point I had been in the post office for over half an hour, and this guy was making me MAD. So I snatched up my knife (all bubbled wrapped and safe, don’t worry) and shoved it in my purse, filled out a new customs form that didn’t include it, and finally sent my box.

I stormed out of the post office with my headphones blasting some loud yelling music with a knife in my purse, and headed to the mall where the cell phone shop was. I got all pumped up walking there, like YEAH I’M GETTING THINGS DONE AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME!

And then I hit another road block when I had to go through the whole song and dance about my cell phone all over again. The guy told twice that I couldn’t pay that day, and I kept telling them I had no other option. Seriously, you’d think they would want my money. I was getting ready to just leave, because it wasn’t my problem and I was happy enough to keep my money. But he asked me to wait while he contacted whoever it was to get the authority and the exact price to collect my last bill. So I waited. And waited. And waited. And the guy wouldn’t even make eye contact with me while I was waiting. Then FINALLY he handed me a bill, I paid, he didn’t even say thank you or any of the customary phrases Japanese store clerks use to excel in customer service, and I left.

Right as I was leaving and getting ready to go back to the hotel, I got an email from my mom, who was waiting back in our room. Even though my cell service had been canceled, I could use wifi while I was in the mall, so I tried to read her email. But it was ridiculously slow and wouldn’t load. I walked around the mall trying to get a better signal, but it still wouldn’t load. I kept trying everything to load my email thinking maybe she was asking me to buy something while at the mall, but after half an hour I had finished at the supermarket, was ready to leave, and gave up on email. By that point I was so angry, if I were a cartoon character I would have been bright red with smoke coming out of my ears.

While storming back to the hotel, I saw a familiar figure riding his bicycle down the sidewalk toward me. It was my good friend, and he stopped to say hi and how’s it going.

 We've been through so much together. Like front and center for Muse.

I looked up at him and said, “I’m having a really bad day,” and burst out crying. That was how bad my mental and emotional state had gotten. So we stood there, in the middle of the sidewalk in the middle of Okayama, while I cried on his shoulder for a few minutes. I finally pulled myself together because I did still need to get back to my mom waiting in the hotel room, find out why she had emailed me, and then figure out what we were doing for dinner.

So now, finally, we get to the point of this whole story. And yes, I feel it was necessary to tell that entire store so that you fully grasp what had brought me to this point.

It was time to decide what to eat for dinner. I was completely wiped out. My body was tired, my brain gone to pudding, and my emotional state teetering on the verge of collapse. This is a dangerous time, when it’s tempting to throw all the rules out the window and do whatever you feel like, because you couldn’t give a flying f- anymore.

We were trying to decide what to have for dinner, and all my body was telling me was to eat donuts and deep fried cheese and have a shot of tequila. Pretty much as bad as you can get and guaranteed to make me very sick, because we know my body doesn’t handle any of that well. The only thing that stopped me was imagining what it would be like to have an upset stomach on an overseas flight the next day. No one enjoys a ten hour flight, and I knew I had to do everything possible to make it as non-stressful and uncomfortable as possible.

We finally decided on Thai food. For anyone in Okayama, let me recommend Rocket Kitchen in AEON Mall! Especially the green papaya salad. It is so spicy and so delicious, and it made me feel completely better. That’s the great thing about spicy food, it releases endorphins that make you happier, and it’s totally healthy. So even though I felt like I could breath fire, and was having a hard time finishing up the last of it because it just burned, my mood had done a complete 180 and I felt amazing. It burned so good!

The lesson from this is, next time overwhelming cravings for sugar, carbs, alcohol, and other terrible foods hit, instead go for hot. Bring me the fire, baby!

Monday, March 9, 2015

A short fishy story

I’ve always loved fish and all kinds of seafood. Growing up, it was something I would only occasionally have; it was a special treat. These days, living in Japan, I eat fish all the time. Especially small fish, ranging from the size of your finger to the size of your fingernail or smaller. Fish so small that you can eat them whole, heads, tails, and all. And I love it! 

Can you see the little fish in there?

Eating smaller fish is much better for the sustainability of the oceans, since they are lower down on the food chain, so more energy efficient and available in great amounts. And, according to National Geographic, “Those (species) smaller and lower on the food chain … can reproduce quickly to sustain their populations.” It’s the larger (and more popular) types that are over-fished and at risk.

We all know that fish is really healthy, packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and other awesome nutrients. Eating these little fish whole is also even healthier than eating larger fish. For one thing, fish lower on the food chain have lower levels of mercury.

Source: Wikipedia - mercury in fish

Also, by eating them whole, you’re getting calcium and other nutrients from the bones as well. I love shishamo (a type of smelt), which are not only eaten whole, but with their bellies full of eggs!

Delicious fish and roe, all in one!

At the supermarket, I always look for fish I’ve never tried before. I have found many delicious kinds this way. So last week when I saw some iwashi (sardines, not canned) being displayed on the end of the aisle, I snatched them up. They looked dried, or at least drier than the iwashi I’ve bought before in the fresh fish section, and I’m pretty sure the display they were in was not refrigerated, although it was next to the refrigerated section. And the name in Japanese was イワシ丸干, which my dictionary translates as “dried whole sardines.” So I assumed they were safe and ready to eat, and was looking forward to having them that night. Especially since many of my favorite snacks consist of dried fish. I was craving some good fishy snack time!

Crunchy little dried fish with slivered almonds, my favorite snack!

I cozied into my kotatsu table, found a tv show to watch on my computer, and excitedly lifted an iwashi with my chopsticks to my mouth. Head fish, I chomped down on the little guy.

Once, when I was very young, I dreamed that I was eaten by a giant. He just picked me up, tossed me in his mouth like popcorn, and swallowed me whole. It turned out ok, because the inside of his body was more like the inside of a building, with a staircase for his throat and a lobby area for his stomach. I escaped by taking an elevator down to his big toe, where his toenail was a window that I could open and crawl out of. Unfortunately, he saw me running away and caught and ate me again. And this time he chewed. I still vividly remember his tooth pressing into my back, and I woke up just before he bit down, with my body all contorted and my back arched trying to avoid certain death.

The feeling of small crunchy bones, chewy muscle, and gooey brains & guts that the giant would have felt chowing down on me is probably quite similar to what I experienced when I bit into this iwashi. It was disturbing, to say the least. I immediately spit it out. Only then did I notice, right there on the front of the packaging, a sentence saying to please fry them in oil and then enjoy eating them. Not quite as ready to eat as I had thought…

That bite had been so gross, I couldn’t bring myself to cook and try eating them again until the next day. But I love fish and hate wasting healthy food, so I wasn’t about to give up.

So yesterday I dumped them into a frying pan with generous amounts of coconut oil, and once again excitedly looked forward to eating them. But the weirdest thing happened while they were frying. It was like their stomachs exploded. Everything else stayed intact, but that round area just below the mouth had burst open on all of them, and dark colored fish guts were mixed in with the oil, all over everything in the pan. It’s not like I wasn’t planning to eat that part, since it’s part of eating fish whole, but I wasn’t expecting it to become an effortless surprise sauce either.

End of the story is, they don’t look real appetizing, but they are at least edible. I will happily enough eat them all, but I doubt I will be buying them again in the future.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I made a thing

Just a little thing I thought of while walking home from work last week. I don't even think it's interesting enough to be worth sharing. But if I don't share it, what's the point of having made it?

So, here's the thing that I made.

If you can't read it, it says:
Winter's bare branches
Give way to pale plum blossoms
Life, under grey skies

Here's another thing that a friend and I are making. It's more exciting, I think. Totally not done yet, though, so this is just a teaser. Eventually it will be part of, "Happy - A Rainy Day in Ehime."

I went to visit her last weekend, and it was the last time we'll hang out before we both move back to the U.S. I'm sure we'll get up to more shenanigans in the Seattle and San Francisco areas!

So, what do either of these have to do with the theme of my blog? Let me tell you!

If you may recall, this blog is all about health, encompassing physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I believe creativity plays a huge role in the mental and emotional aspects of health.

So, take for example the first picture, my February haiku. That day I was feeling lethargic, kind of down, but looking forward to the near future. These feelings come across, right?

Then, in the video I am clearly happy. This is because I was hanging out with a close friend whom I hadn't seen since Thanksgiving. But I also had a headache. Imagine how much more energetic and happy I would have been if I had been feeling physical healthy as well.

So that's all I have right now. Expect my posts to be shorter and less often this month, since I am really busy getting ready to move overseas. I apologize in advance!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

10 things to learn from a belated Festivus party

10 things to learn from a belated Festivus party

1. Awesome friends are awesome.

Seriously, so many interesting and hilarious conversations to be had. Did you know that reading HarukiMurakami while listening to jazz can cause an implosion, creating a wormhole that leads to Portland? Don’t forget to pack a mustache.

2. Bringing food that you can eat (to share with everyone, of course) is necessary, because almost everything else is potentially problem causing.

One of the salads had pasta in it, another one had cheese. Lots of mashed potatoes made with milk & butter. Then there were the endless baked goods…

3. Turkey is the most delicious source of protein. Ever.

There’s nothing better than some moist dark meat!
Moist dark meat. Moist dark meat. Yeah. Even though this joke is failing, there is definitely chuckle-worthy potential there for the gutter-minded folk.

4. Beef is nasty to those unaccustomed to it.

You might think to yourself, “Beef production is so terrible for the environment, I shouldn’t eat it. But all these other dishes are so terrible for my digestion, I shouldn’t eat them. Guess I’ll be selfish and have some beef.” Bad idea. Gross.

4. Mead is too sweet. And deceivingly strong.

Sip one – wow, that’s got some kick! Sip two to twenty – oh, look, my glass is empty already, how’d that happen? Repeat three times. Why does my mouth feel all sticky, syrupy, and gross?

5. Jalapeno cornbread, brownies with peanuts, and old fashioned donuts are impossibly difficult to resist after sugar & alcohol (a.k.a. mead) has already been consumed.

You came prepared with your tried and true safe dishes of mashed sweet potatoes with Moroccan spices andquinoa vegetable stuffing. You ate multiple servings of these dishes, plus a lot of turkey. This should be enough, but for some reason you still feel hungry. Desperately hungry. Cornbread is made with a cornmeal and flour mix, right? So that means it has a lower amount of gluten than the other baked goods, right? So just one piece should be fine, right? And once that piece has been eaten, it wouldn’t be any worse to have one more, right? And now that you’ve already broken your rules, you’re screwed anyway, and might as well break them even more. Right?? See, once you start down this slippery slope, there’s no turning back…

6. Trying to sneakily eat baked goods when your friends aren’t watching makes you feel like a junkie hiding a bad habit.

Is anyone paying attention to what I have tucked in the palm of my hand and am occasionally snacking on? Did anyone notice that earlier I made a big deal about how I couldn’t eat any of this, and just now picked a piece up off the plate like a sly thief? Are they not saying anything to be nice, but secretly judging me? I’m such a terrible hypocrite.

7. Admitting it later is even worse. But it’s part of the self-improvement process.

Hi, my name is Laura, and I’m a carb-oholic. Oh, and a peanut addict. Sometimes I’m really good and have amazing will-power. But occasionally it all flies out the window. Please help me be stronger.

8. A belly full of stomach-upsetting foods and drinks leads to a very restless night’s sleep.

Collapse into bed feeling slightly nauseous. Toss, turn, toss, turn, wake up drenched in sweat and kick off the blanket. Toss, turn, toss, turn, wake up parched and get a glass of water. Shiver and pull the blanket half on. Lay there wide awake with your heart pounding for no reason. Drift back to sleep, toss and turn some more, wake up parched again. Get a glass of water. Kick off the blanket again. Find a lighter-weight blanket to pull on. Toss, turn, toss, turn, wake up to the alarm going off. It’s a work day. Mutter profanities.

9. Sunday is a bad day to break diet rules.

Monday’s school lunch always has bread, so gluten on Sunday leads to double trouble. Indulging in lemon poppy seed cake on Saturday makes that a triple whammy.
Eating too much, even if it’s all good food but especially if it’s bad food, on Sunday is also bad if you do your weekly weight and waist size check on Monday mornings. Oh dear, February keeps getting worse and worse…

10. Yeah!

I don’t actually have anything for number ten, just felt like it was a nice round number for a list. If I ended it at nine, I’m sure you’d be left feeling unsatisfied. So, you’re welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

One sufferer's experience of one type of migraine

Migraines come in many shapes and forms with varying symptoms that depend on the person and depend on each specific migraine episode. One migraine sufferer could have a very different experience from another. And those who are lucky enough not to have migraines often have no idea what it actually means. No, it's not just a bad headache.

My mom wrote a great post debunking migraine myths and explaining clearly what they really are. I re-posted it for everyone to see, so PLEASE give it a read.

I only occasionally have migraines, and each one is its own individual beast. This is the story of just one experience.


I woke up on a Saturday morning, happy and refreshed having slept in a couple hours later than on weekdays. I greeted the day with a jog - nothing too strenuous but still a good workout. The rest of the morning went as Saturdays usually do, with a big healthy breakfast, a load of laundry, and a couple long Skype calls with my parents. I had a healthy lunch, and then sat down at my computer to work on updating my resume.

I was having trouble concentrating on the work, feeling restless, and had a bit of a headache in the front part of my head, behind my eyes. This is fairly common for me when I spend a lot of time motionless at a computer, and a bit of exercise often helps, so I decided to go for a walk and stop at the store while I was out. The store I wanted to go to was pretty far, and it made more sense to go by bike, but I often enjoy going for long walks on the weekend.

I set out, enjoying the warm sun and plum blossoms signaling the approach of spring. I tried to ignore the fact that the sun seemed overly bright, always shining right in my eyes. I also tried to ignore my runny nose and tingling in my sinuses that seemed to be reaching back into my brain, like too much wasabi.

After about an hour I was getting really tired and glad I had just reached the store. I could feel my pulse in my head, and thought maybe I should take the bus rather than walk back home after finishing my errands.

I only had five things on my mental shopping list, and I like to shop efficiently, getting what I need in the order than it's laid out in the store. So I walked straight to the escalator, heading to the department where I wanted to pick up a gift for my friend.

Department stores seem to be full of middle-aged and elderly women, and a surprising number of yelling children. There are also many lights, colors, sounds, and smells.

I found myself wandering in a circle, briefly forgetting what I was looking for and where it could be found, my brain fuzzy, not being able to sort through everything bombarding my senses. "The noisy part of the store, what I want first is probably near there..." I thought, changing directions once again. "Did they reorganize the store? Or is it just not here? Oh, it's probably seasonal. I have to wait until summer. I won't be here anymore then." My thoughts came slowly, one at a time, while my feet trudged along trying to bring me to my goal.

A sudden wave of nausea hit me, and I had to stop and take a deep breath through my mouth. My eyes were only half open, as I tried to filter out the light and relax my face and temples. "Ok, next. What do I need to buy next?" I walked very slowly, all the while breathing deeply but not through my nose to avoid smells that made my stomach churn. I picked up a couple items and tried to buy them, but I was at the wrong cash register. Department stores in Japan can be so confusing. I backtracked, looking for dotted lines on the floor letting me know when I had left the section my items where from and looked for the big ¥ sign within those lines, all with half-closed eyes.

Looking back, I should have just skipped the store completely and taken the bus straight home. But migraines make me think slowly and not clearly, and it took far too long to realize how bad it really was. I had set out with a goal, and I wanted to finish my goal.

I then set off for the supermarket on the first floor to get a couple items before heading home. I could no longer remember what was on my mental shopping list. I knew there were five items, one I had not found, and two I had already bought. I literally stood in the middle of the store counting these off on my fingers, because my brain could no longer just visualize it. So, two more items, and they were both food. But I could only remember what one of them was.

I walked up and down a couple aisles in a daze. I stood staring at juice for no apparent reason. I noticed a young girl and her mother were looking at me and talking intently to each other. This meant I had been this girl's English teacher, and she was working up the courage to say hi. I pretended I didn't see them, and continued staring at the juice that I didn't need. They walked up, and the girl said, "Uddo Ro-ra Sensei?" Oh great, now I have to put on teacher face and talk with them. I said, "Hello!" trying to radiate a joyful expression. Smile, Laura, smile. We all stood there awkwardly in silence, beaming at each other. The girl's mother started talking to her daughter, "It is her! Aren't you glad you said something? Why don't you talk to her?" As sensei, I realized it was my job to engage with this child. I said in a big, happy, clear voice, "How are you?" The girl grinned and hid her face behind her mom. Her mom continued to encourage her. This exchange of me trying to force my brain and face to do the appropriate things and the mother trying to get her daughter to speak more continued for a few more minutes. The whole time I was internally screaming, "Go away! Go away! Go away! I just CAN'T right now!"

I couldn't process anything outside of my immediate sphere - the overly enthusiastic mom, the shy girl, juice that I couldn't remember if I wanted to buy or not. Bright lights. Deep slow breaths. Churning stomach. Static in my brain. Static that I could FEEL, like a million little pin pricks.

Finally we said our farewells, and I turned back to the juice. Green. Green is good. Get some green juice. And GET OUT OF HERE. My brain had finally realized that I needed to go into serious emergency mode.

I bought my items, trying not to inhale the scents of the nearby bakery, and made a beeline for the door.

I'm not sure how long I had wandered through that confusing nightmare of a store, but by the time I left the sun was disappearing, the wind had picked up, and it was really cold. I crossed the street to the bus stop, and looked at the time schedule. I comforted myself seeing that the bus would come in about ten minutes, not too long. I then sat down on the bench, the first time I was off my feet since I left my apartment earlier.

I dug through my purse, pulling out the little container I keep a stash of medicine in. I considered, "Should I take two or three ibuprofen? No, wait a minute, don't make the mistake of underestimating a migraine, it's time for the big guns." I pulled out a triptan, and put my pill box away. I then realized that the foil had already been opened, and there was no pill inside. In a previous migraine haze I had probably put the empty foil back into my pill box. So I dug into my purse again, praying that there was a second triptan. There was, and I made sure to properly throw out the packaging this time.

I huddled on the bench in the cold wind, waiting for the triptan to kick in and waiting for the bus to arrive, ignoring the people and everything else around me, focusing on my breathing and trying not to cry.

A bus pulled up, and I almost grabbed my bag and got on, but thankfully realized that it wasn't the bus I wanted. It had the same end destination as my bus, but took a different route to get there - a route that would completely miss my apartment. This time I looked up the time table on my phone, knowing that I had the correct bus line bookmarked, and wouldn't make a mistake like I had with the numerous signs posted at the bus stop. I checked the time. My bus wasn't coming for ANOTHER ten minutes. Deep breath, don't cry.

While waiting, two more buses that weren't mine went by. I was the only one left at the stop. The wind was biting through my sweatshirt. I started to doubt my ability to think clearly at all, and wondered if I was even at the right bus stop. "Isn't there only one bus stop? How are there so many buses? I didn't know there were even that many bus lines in this little town. Am I, like, a block away from where I should be? Will my bus ever come? This has to be the right place, I've caught the bus here before! Haven't I? I need to pee. I think."

Finally my bus came and in my excitement I stood up too quickly and nearly fell back down. I stepped onto the bus, searching for the card reader to scan my ICOCA card to pay for the bus fare. I was dizzy, everything was fuzzy, and I could only focus on one thing at a time. Step up. Card reader. Beep. Step. Sit. Don't cry. Old lady smells like old lady. Deep breath. Home soon.

I half sat and half lay on the seat, my eyes mostly closed and my mouth hanging open. I couldn't even find enough energy to keep my mouth shut, although I was fully conscious of how ridiculous I probably looked, and hoped nobody I knew was on the bus. I couldn't bother to actually look around and check.

When my stop was announced, I lifted my arm in slow motion, like moving underwater, and reached to push the button signaling I wanted to get off. It gave me an odd sense of pleasure, that it was exactly within reach of my outstretched arm.

Once home, I dropped my bags on the floor, slowly and deliberately used the bathroom and washed my hands, and then collapsed in sobs. My brain felt like an old dish rag being wrung out, and crying made it feel like it was also being beat with a hammer. I grabbed a stuffed doll and started whacking it against the wall out of frustration. "WHY?!?!" I screamed, as tears and snot dripped down my face.

Taking a few deep breaths, I collected myself, and went about making myself comfortable - made a mug of tea and brought it along with some dark chocolate to my kotatsu table. I curled up under the blanket with the heater on, hydrated, nibble at the chocolate, and put on an old episode of Whose Line because it required no energy and made me laugh.

Eventually the pain and frustration faded away, my stomach settled, and I felt ok. Kind of out of it, but ok.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dear friend in health, let's share ideas.

Email from my aunt:

Hi Laura,

I just wanted to let you know that I have been looking at your blog.  

I have done some changes in my diet for the sake of our new insurance that says that we need to stay healthy and get more healthy.  My body weight is at the border line of being too heavy and I have too high cholesterol.  My new diet is:
1. no snacking between meals (if I have to, eat veggies or nuts)
2. cut carbohydrates in half, eat whole grains
3. no butter or jam or honey on my bread during the week
4. no sweets during the week
5. no eating more than two helpings at meal times
I let the weekend be the time I allow a sweet treat or eat something I don't eat during the week. 

Success: managed to cut out jam, butter, honey during the week, mostly good about not snacking between meals.  Mostly been good about sticking to no more than two helpings during meal times, drinking more water, eating more salads, veggie sticks, and nuts, etc.

Unsuccessful: Still fall into eating too much carbohydrates. Example: crackers, muffins, biscuits   pasta, homemade breads, brown rice and white rice, pancakes, waffles etc. I cannot find a substitute that gives the same comfort feeling and fullness I get from eating carbs. Once in a while I end of eating way too many sweets, especially during the holidays.  When I was 26 I ate a whole batch of cream cheese frosting and got really sick for three days.  When I was 16 I had a lot of pastries filled with berries and only stopped when I realized I gained 5 pounds from eating them almost every week day.  I am hoping that I can managed to control my sugar intake when I turn 36 two years from now.  

Generally I eat well and I did get a great grade for my health, but there is always room for improvement.  The thing I have the most problems with is exercising.  I am really lazy, but I am trying to work out a little bit more.  My husband and I do 15 to 30 minutes of exercise twice a week together in the mornings. 

Well, I better go now.
God bless

My response:

I’m glad you emailed me! One of the reasons I started writing a blog was because I was hoping it would spark some conversations. Also, I sometimes wonder if there’s actually a point in writing and posting, so it’s always nice to hear from someone that they do actually read it!

Making changes to your lifestyle is definitely challenging, and I think you should be proud of every step. Even if you can’t do what you want to right away, take longer than you planned to achieve your goals, or frequently have to restart your efforts, just the fact that you ARE trying is great.

I’ve found that the best way to go about it for myself is to make small changes, implement them, then once I’m used to them make some more small changes. If I tried to jump from my lifestyle five years ago or even three years ago to now, I’m afraid I would probably fail. It can be overwhelming and discouraging if you try to change too much at once.

I find that with both food and exercise, if I exceed my daily goals by a lot or set my goals too high (very low calories or very hard workouts), I can do it for a couple days, but then I not only won’t be able to keep it up, but I’ll swing to the other extreme and do very poorly. For example, maybe for two to four days I eat 1000 calories less than I burn. Then for the next couple of days I’ll overeat by 1000, 2000, or even more, completely ruining all the previous hard work. However, if I have moderately challenging goals, like eating 500 calories less than I burn, I can maintain that all week, and not have wild swings that I later feel awful about.

Having goals concretely written out, like you do, I find to be very useful as well. I also like to put those goals somewhere I’ll see them regularly. Especially a place where I’ll see them when I’m tempted to not follow them, like on the fridge or on the wall next to my computer, because I often want to snack when I’m watching TV online. And have a visible record of when you achieve those goals, like putting stars on a calendar for each day you succeed.

Given how scientifically minded everyone in this family is, it’s no surprise that I have similar thinking patterns and ways of understanding the world. Because of this, I find that the more information and knowledge I have, the better motivated I am. Just deciding to cut carbohydrates because that’s what the doctor recommends isn’t enough for me, and I probably won’t do it well. But if I read about how the body digests and absorbs carbohydrates versus protein and fat, and how each of those affect different functions of the body, and why a high protein and fat but low carbohydrate diet is therefore the healthiest, based on such-and-such research (give me facts!), I can fully understand, internalize, and then follow these diet recommendations.

Like you, I have found it challenging to feel satisfied and full after a meal low in carbohydrates, especially when I was first trying to cut back. Some tricks that help me are:
1. Eat TONS of vegetables. When I make a salad for myself, I use a mixing bowl and fill it completely, then eat it all. That’s how much many people usually make for the whole family. Yes, it takes a long time to eat, and a bunch of vegetables on their own might not satisfy, but it helps fill the physical space in your belly.
2. Get your calories from protein and fat. If you’re cutting carbohydrates, your body needs to get used to burning fat for energy instead. Fat has been vilified for decades, but research shows that the human body needs fat to survive, while it does not actually need grains and other high carbohydrate foods at all. Sure, people who eat lots of fast food are unhealthy. But why exactly are french fries so bad? The fat, the carbohydrates, or the fact that they're highly processed? If you’re always cooking for yourself and/or cutting carbohydrates, I say don’t be afraid of fat! Add avocado, tuna, olive oil, nuts, etc. to salads, don’t remove the fat from your meat, sauté vegetables in coconut oil, eat Greek yogurt if you’re ok with dairy, and so on.
3. After dinner I always drink a large mug of Bengal Spice tea (by Celestial Seasonings). It also helps add to the feeling of fullness by taking up space in my stomach. Plus, it has a very strong cinnamon flavor, which I associate with dessert, thereby making me feel like I’ve had dessert, even though there’s no sugar, sweeteners, or calories at all in the tea.
4. If all else fails, I have sweet potato or pumpkin. They give me that full feeling, while still being packed full of vitamins and minerals and relatively low in calories. It’s also easier for the body to digest than grain-based foods. And again, don’t be afraid of fat! I drizzle olive, peanut, sesame, or coconut oil on my sweet potato or pumpkin after grilling it. For a savory taste, season it with salt and other herbs and spices. For something more dessert-like, use cinnamon and cloves or even cocoa powder (but no sugar!).

As far as exercising goes, I approach it the same way I approach food – by making small goals, and slowly improving my overall lifestyle. For many people, having someone to exercise with can help you stay on track because you are holding each other accountable, so it's great that you and your husband are doing it together. And if exercise isn’t really your thing, keep trying different methods until you figure out what works best for you. Some people prefer weight lifting, jogging, or joining various types of classes offered at the gym. Personally, I get bored if I’m always doing the same type of exercise, so I like to change it up all the time. In one week I usually jog three times, do a low impact cardio workout two or three times, high intensity interval training about three times, and yoga once. For examples of each of those, check out the videos I posted in my FAQs blog. Also, don’t push yourself too much or you’ll burn out! Start at whatever your level is. Even if you’re a complete beginner, there’s no shame in that. Go at your own pace, always challenging yourself a little. When I started jogging, I couldn’t go more than five minutes, but now I can go for an hour or more!

Finally, something that can help a lot with motivation is rewards. I have a friend who is trying to lose weight, and she has various reward levels as she reaches different weight goals. If you like buying clothes or shoes, motivate yourself with the thought that you’ll need new clothes if you lose weight! Want a new dress? Get that one you’ve had your eye on once you’ve dropped a size or two! Or your favorite author just released a new book? You can buy it if you’ve stuck to your goals for x amount of time. If I have stayed on track with exercise and diet all week, I’ll reward myself by taking a break from my daily workout and watching a movie on Friday night. Just try to avoid food or drink rewards, because they defeat the purpose! So what’s something you’d like but wouldn’t normally get for yourself? Choose small rewards for small goals, and something really awesome for a big, challenging goal!

Thanks again for reading my blog and also emailing me! It makes me feel good about what I’m doing when I know I’m not alone, and I hope it is similarly encouraging for you. Keep me updated on how you’re doing! Good luck!


And for those few readers who made it all the way to the end, I leave you with this.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Yummies and stuff

Hey everyone, it’s been a while. Not much new to report. I’ve been pretty much on track all week, exercising once or twice a day and eating well. A couple weeks ago I chose not to go to a dinner party with friends because I figured it would be really hard to eat enough while following my rules, so I ate at home and then met up with them afterward for the second party. Another friend of mine did the same thing, which was awesome because it felt like we were comrades in this fight to be healthy. Any more comrades out there? Send me some comments so we all know we aren’t alone! What are you working towards, what do you find challenging, and what have you had success at? Even if we have different approaches to health, let me know! We all have different goals, different bodies, and different beliefs about what’s healthy, but we don’t have to agree to support and motivate each other!

In food related news, last Friday at school the fifth grade students made mochi. For those of you not familiar with this, it consists of cooking a special glutinous variety of rice and then pounding it with a large wooden mallet until it’s a big glob of sticky gooey deliciousness. It is then separated into smaller pieces and formed into balls that can be eaten right away or allowed to harden and saved for quite a while. Hardened mochi can be cooked to return it to its original texture by being toasted, grilled, fried, or boiled in soup. One of my favorite ways to eat it is fried and then put in soup, or with kinako (soy bean powder) for dessert! But this fresh mochi was great to eat as is, and I very much enjoyed my two pieces! It might not be the healthiest of foods, since it’s a lot of carbs and not a lot of nutrients, but it didn’t break any of my rules! Plus, it was Friday, so why not have a little treat?

Right after it's made is when mochi is at its best!

And in other food related news, I cooked some pretty awesome dishes this past week. Check it out: crazy looking cauliflower, slow cooked pork with spinach, wakame and tomato salad, and Hawaiian chicken.

This is so much more exciting than regular, round, while cauliflower.

Craving laulau, made this instead.

Love me some seaweed. Plus the secret ingredient, sesame oil!

First a laulau substitute, then Hawaiian chicken... I must be missing Hawaii.

Friday, January 23, 2015

How I learned to stop scorning yoga and appreciate it's benefits

I never did school sports as a young kid, or any other kind of class for exercise or health, other than the required P.E. class in school. When I was 12 or so I joined a jujitsu school because my mom wanted us kids to be doing something active with our free time. At first I went to a few classes a week, and then I started going every day after school, sometimes doing as many as three classes in one day. These were highly active classes, always beginning with a challenging workout, and often including sparing drills (like kickboxing), as well as other strength-intensive training activities. Toward the end of class we generally had a bit of free grappling or sparing and grappling for the higher ranks. Basically, it was one to two hours with almost no down time. And it was FUN! It was exciting, got my heart pumping, and made me feel great. In comparison, yoga sounded so boring!

I didn’t know much about yoga when I decided that it wasn’t for me. I basically saw it as fancy-pants stretching for people who were too lazy to do real exercise or had too much time on their hands. I know that probably offends a lot of people, but come on, do you really burn that many calories when you’re not even working up a sweat? Plus, I’m not very flexible. I’ve spent most of my life not being able to even come close to touching my toes. So I had no desire to do something that I was probably really bad at, and didn’t seem to have a point to it anyway.

Yoga wasn’t just a passing fad, though. It stuck around and is still really popular. I continued to blow it off, until I realized that a lot of my peers and other people I highly respected, like the singer Amanda Palmer, made yoga an important part of their lives. And these were genuinely healthy, active people, so yoga for them was not just a lazy way to have a false sense of being healthy. What, then, was the appeal?

When I found out that my friend was a yoga instructor, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. I really just wanted to support her by going to her class, and I was between jobs at the time so I felt like I had plenty of time to waste.

The first class was pretty much as I had expected. I felt awkward with my butt up in the air, uncomfortable with my body twisted all around, and overall just bored. It did not get my heart pumping, I did not work up a sweat, and I felt like I had accomplished nothing. We spent the end of the lesson just lying on the floor with our eyes closed, for god’s sake! I even heard one person snoring. If taking a nap helps you lose weight, I can easily do that for free at home! Despite this initial experience, I continued going occasionally to support my friend.

My new job started and it was initially pretty stressful. There were so many new situations, I was thrown right into everything with minimal training, and I was dealing with the energy of elementary school children! So when Friday rolled around, I was wiped out and really not feeling up to my usual workout at home. I didn’t want to just do nothing, so I had a bite to eat and then hopped on the bus to go to yoga.

This was maybe my third class, so I basically knew the flow and how to do the regular poses. I concentrated on listening to my friend, trying to understand as many Japanese words as I could, and focused on doing the poses really well. I thought about my body, where each arm and leg should be, how to make straight lines, keep my spine aligned, and hold different positions with strength and balance. My mind was empty of everything except what I was doing in each and every moment. I didn’t look at or think about the people around me, but concentrated only on myself. And when we “took a nap” at the end, I didn’t have various thoughts running through my head, but just laid there feeling connected to myself, the ground, and the background music.

At the end of this lesson, I finally got it. I finally understood why people do yoga. I felt so much better! I had let go of my stress and felt like I was now complete. I felt at peace, fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.

I’ve been doing yoga either in that class or at home about once a month since then. I haven’t had such an amazing experience again, but I think that on that particular day I really needed it and was in the right mindset to get the most out of it. I learned that yoga does indeed have benefits, so now I can appreciate it much more. While I may not always get the same fulfillment out of it, I no longer feel like I am wasting my time when I practice yoga.

(In case you were wondering, my friend who is a yoga instructor is Hiroe, and I take her class at Shanti Yoga Studio in Kurashiki, although she teaches in other places as well).

ADDED 1/25 - here's an amusing video about yoga that I think fits nicely with this post.