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.