Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cleanse: Mid Point Check-In

So right now I am roughly half way through my 21-day yoga cleanse and things have been overall positive.  If you recall, the focus of the cleanse is for us to abstain from the "big five": sugar, animal products, gluten, caffeine and alcohol.  In other words, I have been a very sober, sugar-free, decaffeinated vegan for the sake of this experiment. My initial anxiety was having to give up sugar, but that has been one of the two least difficult items to avoid.  I thought I would be coming out of my skin by now, hopelessly yearning for sugar of some kind.  The monster-sized cravings I thought would consume me simply have not happened.  I am shocked.  As long as I keep sweet treats out the house, I am able to avoid them quite nicely and my kids don't seem to notice the absence of their sugar laden snacks much either.  If I had to name one sugary thing I have missed the most, it would have to be Tropicana orange juice.  Why?  I have no friggin' idea why.  For some reason, when I think of sugar, that is the "delicacy" that crosses my mind first.  Weird, huh?

Avoiding animal products has not been hard either, simply because I have gone vegetarian several times over the years.  However, it is avoiding the dairy items that takes a little more practice.  Let me explain.  When I was a vegetarian, I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian, which means I avoided eating meat but I still ate dairy products and eggs.  This cleanse requires us to go all out as full blown vegans, meaning the dairy had to be eliminated as well.  This still has not been difficult for me, but I did notice that I eat some dairy products out of habit and not always because of taste.  Since I am a self-proclaimed cereal oficianado, switching from cow's milk to unsweetened almond milk sent my taste buds to no-man's land.  Unsweetened almond milk is pretty bland, but it does it's job in the supportive role of moistening my gluten-free cereal just the same as cow's milk.

What I surprisingly have missed the most is my morning cup o' joe.  I never considered myself addicted to caffeine, but not stopping at Starbucks for my soy Americano or Mocha has been rough.  I am pretty certain the baristas at my local Starbucks have put out a missing person's report on me.  They have probably been combing through the obituaries expecting to see my picture, because death would be the only thing to keep me out of a coffeehouse this long.  It is not really the coffee itself that I miss, but the comforting feelings I normally associate with the smell and the warmth of coffee.  It relaxes me and serves as my temporary crutch in the mornings when I am not quite brave enough to face my mornings alone.  Yeah I could try to drink the decaf stuff for the next few weeks, but that would feel like eating diet ice cream when the super rich full fat version is what you really want.

Although I have whined too much about what I am not allowed to have on this cleanse, I tend to forget all the factors that have tipped my opinion in favor of this thing in the first place.  First and foremost, I have lost a little weight while eating filling and satisfying meals all day long.  By staying clear of the processed junk and loading up on the fresh whole foods, I have easily dropped the recommended two pounds per week that so many medical professionals say is the correct amount to aim for.  I have been eating more than my usual amount of food and still remained well below my daily calorie count.  My workout regime has shifted a little during the cleanse, because I am simultaneously doing the 30-day yoga commitment, too.  My running has temporarily taken a back seat until this cleanse is over, because I wanted to keep my focus on the internal changes I was trying to make and not the sweat sessions I usually take pride in doing.  So far the formula has worked.  On any other diet, I would eat a "cheat treat" and then go to the gym and run my ass off on the treadmill, trying to burn off the calories I cheated with in the first place.  This was definitely counter productive, because I would continue to the cycle day after day and never actually lose any weight at all.

The best part of the cleanse for me by far and wide is leaving behind my regretful eating habits.  By that, I mean I can honestly say I have eaten absolutely nothing on this cleanse that I regret eating.  Usually, because of "cheats" and dietary slip ups I would make from week to week, I would look back on my diet and workout journals and be regretful about my awful food choices.  I am such a food lover sometimes that I pig out on the good stuff and the junk in a 50/50 fashion.  For the sake of this cleanse, those percentages have shifted to about 90% healthy whole foods and it feels damn good to be able to say that truthfully.  My cleanse only lasts one month, but I am seriously considering keeping up the vegan portion of the program after the official diet is over.  I will gladly add my delicious morning coffee back to my routine, as long as it is dairy free.  The sugary stuff will take a back seat as well after the cleanse, now that I see I can go without it successfully.  Who knows how my margarita and wine favorites will fall into my new list of priorities, but so far I haven't missed them.  Is it possible that I am beginning a new healthier chapter because some funky new age dietary cleanse?  Let's hope so, because this old body can use all the help it can get.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Isn't Cleansing For the Crazies?

If I had to pick one quality that I love most about myself, it would be the fact that I am always willing to try just about anything at least once.  Whether it is a new hairstyle or a new restaurant, there is always something out of my norm that catches my eye.  This does not mean that I have to fall in love with everything or adopt it as anything permanent, but I do like to step outside of my little box on occasion just to get some variety from time to time.  Most of my try-something-new adventures center around food.  It is amazing that I never became a better cook because good food, not junk, has long been my preferred drug of choice.  I use good food to celebrate, to soothe, to remember, to forget and sometimes just to be a glutton if I am really honest with myself.  My latest new thing to give a whirl is a 21-day cleanse that starts this weekend.  It goes hand in hand with a 30-day yoga commitment I am currently doing at my neighborhood gym, so the two activities are meant to support each other.

As a guide for the cleanse, we are following a plan laid out by author Kathy Freston's book Quantum Wellness Cleanse.  For 21 days, I will avoid what she calls the "big five".  They include (in order of "Oh Hell No!") sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol and animal products.  I purposely listed them in my personal order of difficulty, although others surely may have a different perspective.  I amno stranger to Kathy Freston's books, so it was an added bonus that this experiment would follow a plan I was already kind of cool with.  I have done similar stints like this in the past where I would eliminate animal products from my diet and was in fact a full-fledged vegetarian for two years before I got married.  Why I became a carnivore again after marriage is still a bit of a blur to me.  Somewhere along the way, I must have fallen into a beef brisket and never climbed back out.  I still flirt with the possibility of going back to my old ways and even tried going vegan for a short while last year.  Whenever I fall back into the habit of eating meat, I can never identify exactly why except to say that I become lazy and stop paying attention to what I eat.  Mindless eating for convenience is going to be the death of me, literally.

There are a few factors that make this cleanse different for me.  First, I have never done any type of diet of any kind with a group before.  I usually hate all the gooey gushy sharing that takes place in group meetings, so my method has been to suffer in solitude and do my dieting alone.  Hey, but like I said, I will try anything at least once, so here goes.  I signed up at the gym and we will meet for an hour and half once a week for a month to offer support and swap healthy recipes.  This is all being put on by the yoga department, so we are encouraged to practice yoga daily and record our experiences in a journal that we can share with others if we choose.  Throughout the cleanse, I will be encouraged to give less importance to the foods that are eliminated and embrace new things that I normally would not be willing to try.  Already this sounds like it will be right up my alley.

After you eliminate all added sugars, gluten and animal products, you are left with a mostly plant-based diet.  The biggest pains about actually following a plant-based diet are the constant trips to the grocery store.  Fresh veggies and fruits do not have a long shelf life, so you may find yourself in the store loading up every 2-3 days on average or else you will fall of the diet wagon.  When I did my short vegan stint last year, I do cringe remembering the near constant trips to the store but I did enjoy the food.  I remember the way I felt lighter and more clear-minded throughout my days.  I remember how my weight starting to drop nicely without much change in my fitness routine.  I remember my skin looking healthier and my hair being shinier.  So if I remember all these good side effects from the veganism experiment, why the hell did I ever stop?  Was it laziness after so many frequent store visits or having to plan and prepare meals ahead of time?  Who knows.

Another factor that is motivating me is that fact that I am making some huge dietary changes all at the same time.  In the past when I wanted to drop weight, I would eliminate meat or sugar or alcohol.  I have never eliminated all these things at the same time, so I am curious about how my body will change when I play by all the rules at once.  Will my system go into shock from being too damn healthy?  In my quest to achieve a slimmer figure in the past, I would eliminate sugar or processed carbs and lose about 5 pounds.  After that I would get bored, change up my efforts and accidentally scarf down a cupcake or something.  Before you know it, after a single slip-up, I would throw in the towel and slowly let my dietary vices slip their way back in.  I would end up right back where I started.

Also one sad thing to admit is that anytime I have cleaned up my diet in the past, I've always given myself an "out" or a Plan B, some sort of way to cheat and still claim to be on track to the outside world.  I don't want to be that person this time.  I want to follow the cleanse as closely as possible because I am truly curious what transformation my mind and body will go through.  I actually want to be a good pupil this time and do what the teacher is requesting of me.  When I seriously look at the plan through mature eyes, it does not look so scary.  I mean, it is only 21 days.  Come on, I've had college boyfriends that barely lasted that long.

Based on my experience with no-sugar/no-caffeine eliminations in the past, I can expect the first 4 days to be pure hell.  Headaches, cravings, and plain old all around bitchiness are going to be on full display.  I will have to keep reminding myself that these food eliminations are temporary and I am merely giving my body a break from all the toxins.  My hope is that I will be able to leave some of them out of my diet even longer because ultimately they all contribute to my overall weight gain.  I am carrying around an extra layer of Thanksgiving/Christmas/birthday partying pounds that I have chosen to ignore for the last couple of months.  Now it is time to face the music and dig through those extra layers of pudge to find the body I want.  I haven't seen that body in a while, but I know it will not remain hidden for much longer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lessons Learned: Looking Back at the Streak

By the time you read this, I would have completed my crazy little running streak.  I made it and it actually flew by as if only a few days passed.  The plan was to run a minimum of one mile every day for 40 consecutive days, but it ended up being a little more than that.  This is because my Go-FAR run club girls had a group run the day after my streak was scheduled to be over, plus I had another run with my boys and a post-yoga class run just to sweat a little.  Oh well, one extra run wasn't going to kill me after lasting this long.  Make that two more, or wait, three more extra runs?  I also have a 5K and a half-marathon coming within days of the streak's end.  So total, this will make 46 consecutive days of running.  Whew!  I surely did not see that coming.  I must be a little crazier than I originally thought.  One day I will eventually sit down and calculate exactly how many miles I covered during this time, but that will be a day when my brain is less mushy than it is right now.

So how was the streak, you might be asking?  It was a learning experience in ways I did not expect.  I thought I would be tired, burned out and ready to get it over with.  I thought an injury might happen or my schedule would get too busy.  I thought my family might grow resentful because I was too focused on a silly little promise I made to myself without any rewards to gain.  None of that happened.  Instead of burning out from the daily routine, the running became highly addictive.  I learned that running in the morning before my schedule gets crazy really is the best option.  I have normally been an evening runner because of my super early work schedule, but since I was trying desperately to keep things from getting stale during this time period, I made some adjustments.  So, morning runs won most of the time over evening workouts.  The only thing that could have prevented me from getting my run out the way first thing in the morning was my ability to dream up a worthy excuse.  As long as I did the run in the morning, the stress of squeezing it in later was eliminated.  This meant getting to the gym at 4:30am for treadmill runs some mornings because it was just too damn early to run alone in the dark by myself.

Another lesson learned from the streak was to keep the running light and fun.  I read once that in order to change your attitude towards a given task, you have to change the way you refer to it.  Instead of saying, "I have to run later", you would say instead "I get to run later".  This would make it feel like a treat is waiting for you instead another tedious item to be crossed off your to-do list.  On days that I needed to do longer runs, I made it a point to take my time exploring new routes or even revisiting old ones that I seldom made time for anymore.  I made my way down to Memorial Park for runs at least once per week to keep things interesting.  If you are unfamiliar with my reference to Memorial Park, it is the running mecca in the Houston area and it is easy to rack up double-digit mileage exploring some of the running trails in that park and surrounding area.  I trained for my first marathon doing most of my runs along the Memorial Park and Allen Parkway trails, so in a way this brought me back to my running roots, like some sort of informal homecoming.

Some runs were in mild weather, some were in freezing cold temps and a few were in the rain.  Normally I am not a rainy weather runner, but I got caught out there in a few showers a couple of times during the streak and survived them nonetheless.  I ran alone, with old friends, with new friends, with my boys, on the treadmill, and on the trails.  I ran with music, without music, sometimes without a watch, but always with a clear mind and a free spirit.  It was wonderful and the deeper I got into the streak, I felt tremendously blessed to be able to walk out the door and put one foot in front of the other in good health with a sound mind.  The streak slowly transformed itself into a celebration of sorts, a testimony for all the souls that ever dreamed of running, but simply did not or could not for one reason or another.

My husband has always been the health nut of our family.  Every family has at least one and yes, it gets annoying!  He eats well, lifts weights, bikes, swims, and runs just to keep himself strong.  However, when my husband was sick a year and half ago due to kidney failure and in his weakest state, his weight plummeted 60 pounds.  He could not walk across the room without feeling winded and needing to rest.  Back then, he would have given a pirate's treasure just to be able to walk around our house with ease.  My thoughts went to him and back to that time of our lives when good health was not taken for granted.  Because of those memories, I would end my runs giving thanks to God for the ability to lace up my running shoes and push my body in ways that some others may not be able to do.

This reminds me of a quote I read today that said, "If you really want to do something, you will find a way.  If you don't want to, you will find an excuse."  Isn't this the gospel truth?  This streak taught me to prioritize the things differently so my joy was not trampled by all the "must do's" and "have to's" of my daily routine.  I got to enjoy my oldest hobby at it most basic level and learned to love it again.  The whole experience was so positive that I even considered extending the streak by another 20 days just to see if I could make it.  That idea got squashed because it is easy to let too much of a good thing morph into a bad thing.  There was no need in getting greedy.  My running would always be there and the possibility of doing a repeat performance could remain a viable future option.  Instead, I decided to try a streak of a different kind.  For 30 consecutive days, from January 15th through February 13th, I will be participating in a yoga streak.  No, this is not an original idea of mine.  My gym is sponsoring this 30-day yoga commitment and it will give me a chance to further explore a hobby I have pushed to the back burner for far too long.  If I can experience just some of the joy I gained from this last streak, I should be in a very happy place by the end of the next one.

A Side Note:  On days that I did run with my iPod, I had what I call my "feel good" playlist on a loop to keep my feet snappy and my mood positive.  I shared it here in case you need a little "mood" music too!

My Streaking Playlist:

  • "Freedom" -Nickie Minaj
  • "Madness" -Muse
  • "32 Flavors" -Alana Davis
  • "On to the Next One" -Jay-Z
  • "Hall of Fame" -The Script
  • "Paper Cut" -Linkin Park
  • "Working Day and Night" -Michael Jackson
  • "Life is a Highway" -Rascal Flatts
  • "Are You Gonna Go My Way" -Lenny Kravitz
  • "Home" -Phillip Phillips