Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Staying Clean- Learning to Live WITHOUT Anti-Depressants

Next week will mark 5 mouths without prescription medication.  I went off anti-depressants a couple times and only stayed free for a week or two- up to a month.  when I went clean in June I knew I was done for good... but I had no idea of the challenges I would face.  I was full of joy, hope and optimism.

Here's the deal, for years (15 +)  I didn't feel the full impact of emotions.  For me the meds blunt the emotions and I don't get the extremes- I felt happy, but not joyous.  I felt sad, but not devastated. I feel those emotions now- I really feel those.  It can be glorious, and also crazy challenging- for me, my family and my friends.

Some days are WONDERFUL- I feel joy and light and so much energy and hope. I can see the struggles, but I am capable! No sweat. No worries.

But other days are overwhelmingly painful.  Last month I was feeling tired and overwhelmed, stressed out and on the edge of being ornery.  I asked myself what do I need to relax and to take care of me?  A hot bath would be a perfect choice.  I got in the tub with really hot water and my favorite bath salt and a happy book to read.  Classic joy, yes.  Not that day.  In the tub my mind started racing, my heart started pounding. Emotions flooded my system. I was paralyzed by them.  I literally couldn't move.  The water in the tub cooled and I couldn't sit up to refill the tub.  Tears flowed down my face.  I laid/sat/reclined that way for almost an hour when my sweet husband came home from work and came into the bathroom to check on me.  He smiled, told me it was ok and helped me out of the tub.  It was ok.  I am ok.

Last Friday was another really hard day.  I had some things that I needed to do: a load of laundry, grocery shopping, cooking dinner.  My kids were home from school during fall break.  It took me all morning to convince myself that I could go to the store.  I can do this!  Shopping isn't hard.  I have money in the bank account, I have gas in the car, I am good to go.  As soon as I could convince myself to move I was fine.  Shopping was great.  I bought myself a treat (I <3 lara bars!)  The problem came when I started driving home.  Tears started flowing.  I parked in my garage and sat in my car crying.  Head on the steering wheel, knees pulled up to my chest, curled tight in a ball.  All because I needed to unload the groceries from the car and put them in the cupboards.  Not hard, not big, but hugely overwhelming!  It took 30 minutes to decide that I could open the car door and walk out.  I did, and I was fine. My family was fine.

Here's the thing I am learning.... I am ok.  Having a bad day is ok.  Having a REALLY BAD day is ok too! On a bad day I am still ok. I am not a danger, disappointment, burden, or a terrible person on a bad day. Is the situation ideal? no. Am I working for solutions? Yes. Am I tracking patterns and learning more about me? YES!

I used to fear those bad days.  I worried that I would someday hurt myself or others. I worried that I would not be a good mother, wife and person because I couldn't pull it together.  All that worry made the feelings bigger, and badder and more to be feared.  The fear escalated and hijacked my mind and my body.

My task has been learning to share my body with these emotions.  I'm learning that emotions are a tool- like a map or a compass to help guide our paths.  They don't have value and they certainly don't validate or authenticate my personal value or worth as a person.  Feelings don't define me. They exist to help me- but they are not the only tool I have in my backpack.  I have my mind; I have my God; I have my husband and wonderful friends.  When I'm driving and my GPS fails and I am crazy lost, I still have options.  I am still ok.  When I am lost in emotional turmoil, I too still have options.. I can use my tools.  I've got this.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Posture and Pain

My friend recently shared this image on her social media page.  I got a good laugh at humanity and how we need to remember that we are all really alike.  But then I looked again and I couldn't un-see what I had seen.

Can you see it too?  Can you see the terrible posture that is plaguing all these people! Can you feel their pain?  Back pain and achy knees for sure!

 If you've been to my fitness classes more than once you have heard me go on and on and and on and on about posture and how muscle imbalance is making your body hurt.

Toes turned out means the quadriceps (upper thighs) are overly engaged usually trying to compensate for the inactivity of the glute muscles.  Look at those hands too. If you can see all 4 knuckles that means their shoulders are rolled forward.  Could be because the pectoral muscles (chest) are overtight (think gym rat, man boobs, bench pressing 300 lbs but not able to do a single pull up).  I'd guess the upper back muscles aren't active and these guys spend hours hunched forward looking at a computer screen.

Modern humans spend so much time doing tasks in front of them, working on the computer, reading a book, cooking, operating machinery,  and then working out at the gym to make the front of us look great in the mirror, that we neglect the other half of our bodies, the half that supports all the work we do in front of us.  Many of us don't even know how to use our backs to support simple moves like biceps curls, or how to use our hips, glutes and hamstrings to balance and support the quadriceps during a squat.

Want to learn more about muscle balance and movement? Come to my Yoga, Pilates and Posture class in American Fork and I'll get you moving toward muscle balance!  Can't come hang out with me?  Here are a couple  books that are AWESOME!!!  Foundation: Redefine your Core and Conquer back pain, and Move with Confidence  by Eric Goodman is a great one.  Pain Free by Pete Egoscue, comes recommended by many professionals including my much loved professors in the Exercise Science Department at BYU. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

In Praise of Broccoli?

I'm picky.  Yes, I will say it again.  I. AM. A. PICKY. EATER!  I have been forever and maybe someday I will out grow this stage; I am making strides.  I hated chicken until I was 34.  I enjoy chicken a couple times a week now.  I LOATHED broccoli- okay, I sort of still do.  One little piece of broccoli floret can ruin an otherwise wonderful creamy cheesy soup.  Yup, even if the broccoli bit has been removed the floret has done its damage.  The soup can not be revived.  All I can taste is the bitter, overpoweringly green flavor of broccoli.

Broccoli stems on the other hand, don't taste so much like broccoli- they taste green.  I'm good with green, just not bitter, green broccoli- I know hard to tell the difference.  As long as there are no broccoli heads, I can eat the stem.  How, pray tell did I discover this gift?  I love pho and was looking for some bean sprout substitutions because my local grocer was out of bean sprouts.  My brave husband suggested a bag of julienne broccoli, carrots and cabbage cleverly disguised as "SLAW."  I tried it in my pho and it tasted like crunchy green veggies.  I tried it in a salad.  It was edible.  I tried it chopped up in my lettuce wraps, and the flavors melded perfectly together.  What a happy vegetable!  So now each week I pick up a couple bags of "Broccoli Slaw" and use it for the different veggie creations on the menu.  I feel better knowing that I am not villainizing this veggie anymore... I'm still not eating the bushy part though!

Mexican Fused Broccoli Slaw

1 package (12 oz) Broccoli Slaw Mix (julienne broccoli, carrots & cabbage)
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 avocado, diced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup salsa verde
1 teaspoon salt
1Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 Tablespoon cilantro
Optional 1/2 black beans or corn

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl.  Let set for 20 minutes.  Eat and enjoy. It tastes even better the next day too. This becomes a super yummy meal paired with Buffalo Chicken!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Twe Weeks Clean...Practicing Patience

Celebrating 15 days free after 15 years of meds.

It is a surreal feeling each morning, not checking to make sure I took my meds- granted I am taking other supplements, but I am still free from my Rx anti-depressant!  I'll be honest here.  The last two weeks have been a bit hairy. Moments of jubilation and moments of sadness; brain racing with more ideas than I could ever do, and so much fog that I can't quite remember the word I was about to say or how to write a simple grocery list.

To be honest, I kind of expected that.  The ride off of meds is unpredictable at best.  Neurological stress is part of the price you pay when you taper... Just like sore muscles earned from an intense bout at the gym after too many months off..  Something is bound to short circuit.  2015's ill fated taper gave me vertigo so bad that I couldn't walk from the couch to my bed without holding a wall for support-- so a little brain fog is nothing to be upset about.  Funny, though, Taper 2016 gave me the gift of an asthma flare.  Anyone else had that happen?  I haven't needed asthma meds for 2+ years, and suddenly last week I woke up in the night not being able to breathe.  Grateful that I  kept my inhaler stashed away and super lucky it was still good! :)

The hardest part for me has been feelings so BIG I don't know what to do with them- feelings about others and myself too!  Life was like a softly focused, sepia toned, romantic picture-- Looking at it, I could see some blemishes and some areas to touch up, but nothing drastic, nothing major, nothing that warranted immediate fuss or stress.  Now I feel like life is under a spotlight- you know the terrible wardrobe and make up lights that pick up every blemish, highlight every enlarged pore and magnify each wrinkle and I am surrounded by mirrors that keep reflecting all those flaws and imperfections, shoving them into my face for constant scrutiny.

I knew anti-depressants modulated mood- narrowing the ups and downs, but wow, I had forgotten how much it blunted and dulled my senses and sensibility.  I have to keep reminding myself that I have changed, not the people around me.

I have to keep practicing patience with me too.  Anyone who knows me well will testify to my persistence and my drive to get it done, whatever that it is.... Well, truth be told, I can get a little, ok, really pushy, demanding, obsessive.  Give it a name and I will own it- and I will hate myself for it being true-- You see, pushy is one of the blemishes, and half the wrinkles I see in myself in the light that is so bright now that I am off the meds. I could list other qualities that make me my own unique self, that I see now as brash, uninviting, coarse and harsh.  I feel bigger, louder, brassier.  Not as soft and mellow- if mellow and Erica ever went together.

So, as I wait, as I continue to adjust, I get to rediscover who Erica is.  Some of the pushy may be part of the neurological adapting, some of the controlling may be feeling out of sync with me.  Maybe in a couple months I will realize that I am annoyingly obsessive and controlling and I can choose to embrace it or work for change. I guess I just need to hold on.  Wait and hope. Practicing patience with myself and others as we each figure out life's challenges.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Coming Clean- Getting off Anti-Depressnats- Baby Steps

I'm counting each day.  Each one is a miracle. 4 days I've been 100% free of prescription anti depressants.  This road has been long, arduous and for sure an adventure! I keep trying to think how I can document this road succinctly... I'm hoping my journey can help someone else. :)

Anti-depressants mask symptoms- they are a tool we can use and do overuse, but they don't fix much.  To fix the situation I had to figure out what was going on in the mind, body and emotion that  created a place of distress.  For me I had to get my body healthy first (diet, exercise, supplements- this took years to sort out -finding gene mutations, food allergies, gut imbalances)  When my body was healthy and supported enough, I was able to begin processing unresolved trauma that I had been ignoring, pushing away and just not safe enough to deal with.  Through therapy I worked through the trauma, and learned coping skills for everyday life- how to manage my emotions in healthy ways, learning to connect emotionally with people (something I didn't do at a meaningful level before)-- relearning how to live life in a healthy way.  When my therapist thought I had all the tools I needed to be successful, I began working with my drs and pharmacists to figure out how to get off the crazy drugs. We tried tapering a couple ways before we found one that worked for my body.  The taper that was successful took 5 months.

Awesomely succinct overview, yes?!?  Ok here are the details for Baby Step #1, getting your body healthy.  These were my issues.  Yours issues will look different than mine, but maybe there is some overlap.

Baby Step #1 Caring for the body

Obviously exercise and sunlight are important for the body - that is really basic. I was an exercise and sunlight junkie for a long time, even before depression and certainly a heavy user during depressive episodes- Running and running for a long time was all that could pull me out of a crazy anxiety attack-- Sometimes I ran multiple times a day-- a bit of overkill, but it was how I coped.  As I reached for more solutions and more tools on how to get well this is what I learned.

1. I have a gene mutation (MTHFR) that affects my body's ability to effectively use b vitamins-- I can't take them from the blood and transfer them into muscle and brain tissue-- the process is called methylation- the vitamins need a methyl-group added to them to be usable; my body doesn't do that process correctly.  No matter how many b vitamins I was taking or how much green foliage I was eating, my body couldn't use it and flushed the nutrients.  The solution is crazy simple... instead of using a traditional b vitamin complex I need a methlyl b-vitamin- I order them online- and that is an easy fix...  Your dr can test you for the gene mutation or you can do your own experiment with the methyl-vitamins and see how they work for you.  A simple google search will show you lots of options that are available.  This is the one I use.

2. Dealing with gut/bowel issues.  My intestines have been messed up and not happy for YEARS-- even before I had depression issues.  We found some food allergies that made my life miserable- but I didn't know how miserable I was until I revolutionized what I ate.  My body doesn't like wheat or rice AT ALL.  It also can be irritated by nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, chilis)  Too many of those, especially raw and life isn't fantastic.  Oh and dairy too.  I get crazy grouchy when I eat foods with dairy in it.  Of all things, I also have issues with high oxalate foods (spinach, romaine).  I experimented with what I was eating, going super simple for a month and then adding in foods and seeing what they did to my system.  Yes there is life and good food even with limited choices...  It can be tough but my life and my relationships are better because I am not a sick, mean irritable person.

I found a some supplements that help me use food and helped the bowels function- and reduced bloating and swelling.  L-glutamine is an amino acid that the body can usually make on its own, In times of stress or over exertion the body may not make enough of it.  L-glutamine is a precursor to the Neurotransmitter GABA and also aids the gut in maintaining the mucousal lining in the intestines.  It is also plays a role in blood sugar stabilization.  I recently learned that my cravings for alcohol in the past were a signal of glutamine imbalance.
I also take a supplement that has a combination of Taurine, Inositol and Choline.  Choline and inosotol help balance blood sugar and help the body break down sugars, and the Taurine signals for the gallbladder to produce more bile which will help break down fats and proteins.  Here are two different ones that I use interchangeably and have been good for me.
Once I stopped eating foods that irritated my system and started taking supplements that helped me process the foods I tolerated well, my resiliency to stress and my ability to cope with life changed night and day! Who knew that a body that gets proper nutrition will work better ;)
3.  Rest is as crucial as exercise... As a person who used exercise as a drug-- the more I did it the better I felt-- it was hard to learn to LISTEN when my body said, today rest is better than exercise.  There is a balance of course, but for a while I had to just let my body rest, rest and rest some more.  And then rest again.  I stopped exercising- due to a lupus flare- and rested for months.  Slowly I worked back up to moving.  I tried running the other day... made it half a mile. :)  oh yeah, the resting is paying off!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Confessions of a Food Geek or Nutrition 101

Little things make me giddy. Things like cooking a good meal; developing an exercise that focuses on a killer muscle group; watching springtime appear in the snow; reading books on nutrition. Yeah, reading books on nutrition.  Cracking open that fresh spine, smelling the brand new pages, learning the digestion processes afresh, and of course weeding out the good information from the postulates and opinions of the author, modifying my opinion based on new facts and information.

I will fully admit that my diet/lifestyle isn't ideal for most people.  Full disclosure, I don't eat sugar, most grains, legumes or dairy... But I am not offended if you do.  They don't work for me, but if they work in your body, HOORAY!!!  Rock it!  Can we all eat a better diet?  Can we all eat more nutritiously? ABSOLUTELY!

So to the confession.... I teach the cooking merit badge for my local BSA troop.  And every time I teach it, I cringe when I am supposed to teach the FDA's food pyramid or MyPlate.  Food groups are good, but there is more to the story than food groups... besides these guidelines are influenced by consumer groups, lobbyists, and dietitians.  Each with their own agenda.  MyPlate is a conglomeration of competing priorities and misses the big picture, in my not really humble opinion.

So how do I get around that?  I tell them what MyPlate says, then I give my own opinion.  I know; you are dying to know what MY opinion is.  BALANCE with a dash of common sense.  Yup that is it.  Balance your nutrients... use some common sense and you will be good. So here is your nutrition 101 according to Erica:

Your body needs certain compounds in vast quantities. Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates.  Every food is made up of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, or a combination of all of them.  Realistically, well to me at least, some fats, carbs and proteins are better than others.  If one carbohydrate is loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals and another is just plain sugar, can we agree the carbohydrate with the bonus nutrients is a better choice?  More bang for your caloric buck.  Right.  A little common sense would tell you to not just eat fats, proteins and carbohydrates, but eat the good for you ones more often than the less good for you ones.

Now balancing your nutrients can be a bit hard, especially if you eat American style food.  We are used to the food pyramid that says we need, grains, diary, fruit, veggies, protein and a little bit of fat.  Yes all of those are good, but where do each of these foods fall in the macro-nutrient continuum?  Fruit, veggies, dairy (milk), grains all fall into carbohydrates.  Meats are your proteins... Dairy (cheese) and other fats are your fats.  Now we have the arguments... Yes grains do provide some protein.  Yes legumes and milk can also provide some protein too.  Yes you can can get all the protein your body requires from legumes, dairy and grains, but you will contribute lots to your carbohydrate load as you accumulate these needed proteins.

Different diets propose different macro ratios as optimal for weight loss, muscle acquisition, or overall health.  Ketogenic platforms recommend a high fat, low protein and low carbohydrate ratio (60% fat, 20% carbs, 20% protein).  Bodybuilding buffs will tell you that your natural body shape (slight frame versus large frame) will dictate your carbohydrate tolerance and thus your ideal macro ratio.

So how much of what do you eat?  I have no idea.  Listen to your body and your body will tell you what is best for you.  You may do better with carbs and not very well with protein..  Great.  Go for it, just make sure you are meeting all your needs.

I also push for "as close to nature as possible."  The more something is changed, modified, diluted, altered, or just sits on the food shelf, the more of the best nutrients can be lost. So I teach that whole wheat, freshly ground and made into bread is a better choice than whole wheat, germ removed, cooked and mixed with additives to prolong shelf life, then mixed with 45 other ingredients to make those yummy twinkies that can survive a 40 year radio-active fall out.  Common sense.  Fresh will usually be better and processed.

So use judgement.  Weigh your options and choose what is good for your body, then what is better.  You know your body.  You know how your digestion works.  Pay attention to what is going on inside.  Then use some common sense.

Because you want to know... what do I eat.  Lots of veggies-- 2 cups per meal is my goal.  Fruits as dessert.  Proteins- and my favorite fats... avocados, coconut oil, milk, cream, and nut butters-- fats from nature as much as possible.

Happy eating my friends.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Taco Soup-- revisited

I've made many taco soups in my lifetime.  Many recipes.  Many delicious dinners.  As I work to clean up my diet I search for foods that work better with my body I have modified my taco soup recipe again.  The feature this time around is the home made taco seasoning blend.  This makes a world of difference for me.  No additives, no junk--better for me.  I also added more veggies to the mix.  I don't do so well with corn or legumes, so I replaced those with some easy for me to digest veggies.  I missed eating the soup with some salt and crunch so I added a bit of fresh shredded lettuce.  That crunch helped me feel like I'm not missing out.  Feel free to add some corn chips, beans or frozen corn to your own mix.  Maybe garnish with some fresh avocado and cilantro.  YUM

Happy Eating

No Grain Taco Soup
1 lb cooked ground meat (I have done shredded chicken and ground beef.  Both great!)
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped veggies (I like a mix of carrots, celery, and bell peppers)
1/4 cup your favorite taco seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons lime juice (or lemon, whatever you have)
2 cans (14.75 oz) petite diced tomatoes
32 oz beef broth

In a large stock pot, combine cooked meat with onion, garlic and veggies.  If using quick cooking veggies like zucchini, reserve those for later.  Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes until onions start to soften.  Add in the taco seasoning, salt, lime juice, tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in any quick cooking veggies.  Simmer 3 more minutes.
Serve with your favorite taco toppings, cheese, lettuce, chips, sour cream or avocado.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taco Seasoning

I hate reading labels and not knowing what things are on the ingredient list.  I have been trying to eat so clean, it is frustrating to feel set back but what I don't know.  So I make my own seasoning mixes.  This one is a FAVORITE.  Really.  I make it en-masse... a couple cups at a time-- this is the paired down recipe.  If you like it, I'll post the expanded version.  It is that popular.  I use it to season my taco meat, make my taco soup, and even flavor my sweet potato chips and baked sweet potato with it.  It is a staple at my house.

I like to combine sweet and smoked paprika to get a smokey, good flavor.  If you don't have smoked paprika, don't sweat it, just use regular paprika and it will still taste great.  Not sure if you will like smoked paprika, come over and smell it... you won't regret it.  For full disclosure, I adapted this recipe from Against All Grains.

Taco Seasoning
2 1/2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons cumin
1 Tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a jar.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hormones- A Balancing Act

Fair warning, another, more than you ever needed to know about Erica post... but the more I have learned about me and how my body works the more I want to share, so you can understand your body.  I hope you have an "ahha" moment or two...

Hormones- female ones- have been the bane of my existence for 25+ years... I came to maturity early and I have endured the gauntlet of PMS symptoms: anxiety, anger, rage, bloating, weight gain (5 pounds most months), headaches, cravings.  The symptoms start a couple days after ovulation and are my buddies until 12  hours before my period starts.  Really, I know my period will start soon when I no longer feel like I need to throw hatches at walls, or for the safety and sanity of my family, lock myself up in a padded room.

Photo Credit
I've seen multiple doctors over the years and the treatments vary with each professional.  Blood work was always within the range of normal, but my symptoms were so off that they were willing to try something, anything.  They started with anti-depressants; then we added contraceptives, then added more progesterone supplementation.  Still I experienced so much angst and so much turmoil each month.  I even had a doctor suggest that we remove the whole female reproductive unit and start over with hormone replacement therapy.

With the threat of major surgery looming in my mind, I started paying a lot of attention to my body... and reading, and researching and learning more.  The more I learned the more I saw that I was just out of balance.  Hormones are meant to balance one another out.  If one is too high you won't feel so good, and your body will  be out of sorts.  If the proportion of estrogen to progesterone is too high your body will experience anxiety, tenderness of the breasts, bloating, and weight gain (um me!).  If the proportion of estrogen to progesterone is too low you may experience hot flashes, forgetfulness, depression or fatigue.

Then I watched my body some more... and read some more.  Things started falling into place.  Those days where I just am not okay with a child giving me a hug, or sleeping on my side because my ladies are UNTOUCHABLE.  Estrogen out of proportion with progesterone.  That crazy, anxious, can't sit still feeling I get after some hanky-panky, while I watch my hunney sleep contentedly.  ESTROGEN (ovaries produce more estrogen in response to rhythmic contraction of the uterus- read orgasm or labor and delivery-- add onto that the huge drop in progesterone production lost by loosing the placenta and no wonder I was a huge mess after the birth of each child!)  That big sigh and I almost feel normal feeling, 12 hours before Aunt Flow comes to visit?  The required drop in estrogen for menses to begin.

So what is the answer?  I'm not sure what your answer will be but I found one that works for me and my high estrogen. 

Indole-3-carbinol or I3C for short.  I3C is a compound found in leafy greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.  What does it do?  I3C helps with the metabolization of estrogen.  Here is the super simplified, almost sciencey version of how it works.

Your liver helps the reproductive system by breaking down excess hormones and flushing them out of the system.  I3C hooks up with estrogen in the body and tells  the liver to metabolize it.  Estrogen levels drop and get back to a better ratio with progesterone.

I help my body by taking I3C as a supplement and by increasing my intake of I3C rich foods during the luteal phase of my cycle (last two weeks).  If I feel that super-charged anxiety after a good time with my man, I take a bit then too.  There are lots of supplement brands that make I3C pills, so go with a brand you trust.

Really I have felt so much more peace and so much less rage since I started supplementing with I3C.. maybe that is just understanding where my body is and what I can do to support and nourish it.  Now go take care of yourself!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forgiving Aunt Flow- A TMI kind of Post

I have a love/hate relationship with my aunt... She visits me regularly and I often look forward to her arrival (if only for confirmation that my attempts at planing parenthood are working), but she always leaves me chafed, irritated, bloated, sore,... well I could go on for days-- because she stays for days.

After 27 plus years of visits- you would think I would be accustomed to my monthly visitor... What a blessing that my body works as it was designed to!  What a gift!  If only tampons and pads and stained panties were as much of a treasure.  For some reason as my body has aged my flow has changed too.  Tampons that used to be absorbent and fool proof (baring the teenage mishaps) now fail frequently and tear that tender skin as I attempt to extricate them from my body.  Those pads- that thankfully are no longer the size of two by fours or held on by belts-- bravely attempt to capture and subdue the raging tide, but wings and super dry mesh are no match for my Aunt Flow.  I know flow mutation is a sign of aging, Peri-menaupause, hormone imbalance, what have you...but really... Flow, Florence, Auntie, can a girl get a break?!?

Then my world was rocked... And I mean rocked hard, like I was 19 slam-dancing at a 90's mosh pit.  It was so awesome!  My world would never be the same... in a good way.  Flow and I are now reconciled, friends on great terms and every month when she leaves, I am almost sad.  Almost...What changed my world.  Two words... DIVA CUP.

This is the Diva Brand
Have you heard of menstrual cups?  Little, reusable, silicone, well for lack of a better word, cups that you insert in the vagina.  They collect the clots, clumps, and dangles along with the good old traditional red flow.  You pull it out, dump the collection in the toilet, wipe the cup down and reinsert it and you are good to go.  No fumbling with toilet paper mummies and awkwardly placed feminine waste recipticales.  No flushing $$ down the toilet each month with every failed tampon blunder.  Plus I am reducing my footprint on the environment... But mostly, I am not chaffed, irritated, sweating profusely down there.  I don't spend a week, laying with my legs spread, trying to air dry my he-haws and kill the moss that no doubt took root.  Flow's visit is a joy.  And if I am really honest, I'll have to whisper this one... I get happy sense of glee each time I empty the cup and can see how full it is.  I almost want to break out a piece of paper and start collecting data to graph and compare flow day to day, month to month.

Another change has occurred in my flow too.  I don't have scientific data to back up my hypothesis, but my periods are shorter.  Flow used to visit for at least 5 day; constant, never really changing, heavy flow.  Now I have 2 heavy days followed by 3 days of practically NOTHING!  My thought is that the cup creates a mini-vacuum internally, creating negative pressure and sucking that flow out instead of just waiting on gravity.  Again, no science; no proof of concept.  Just shorter periods.

There are tons of brands too.  Diva, Luna, Moon.  All have different measurements and different features, but all work with the same premise.  Catch the flow before it exits the vagina.  Don't confuse these cups with Instead... a great cup like product that worked great before I had babies, but never afterwords... (another fun story for another time and place).

Fair warning... there is a learning curve with using this device...(fun times... for another post)  But just like those oh my, I wish I could forget moments when I learned how to use a tampon, and failed miserably, you may have a moment or two with the menstrual cup.  It took me one cycle to get the hang of it.  Six months later, there is NO WAY I would go back.

Want to try it?  I'll walk you through the process and give you all the pointers I can!

Chicken Saag-- a delicious way to eat your greens!

 I have a passion for Indian food.  I love the fact that my favorite local Indian restaurant proudly labels gluten free and vegan menu choices, and the spicy food makes my tongue tingle!  So yummy to eat food full of spice that is creamy and delicious and fits within my dietary restrictions!

My sister introduced me to Chicken Saag the last time we ate out together.  This creamy, spinach based curry packed all the flavor of a Tiki Masala, with the hint of sweetness spinach brings to the party.  The mama, how can I get more veggies into my kids, part of me rejoiced!  A whole serving or two of veggies just in a delicious sauce!!!!

My whole foods, plant based eating friend likes to eat the sauce (no chicken) with veggies or spread on a pita.  So much deliciousness.

I adapted this Rachel Ray recipe to suit my family's needs.  Happy Eating my friends!!!

Chicken Saag
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast cut into cubes
1/4 cup salt (for brine)
1 cup water (for brine)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons tumeric
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes
2 lbs fresh spinach (or frozen, thawed and wrung out)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided

Marinate the chicken in the salt and the water for 20 minutes.  Pre-heat oven to 425.  Drain liquid from the chicken. Spread chicken pieces on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

In a hot skillet saute onion, ginger and garlic in the olive oil.  Add spices, tomatoes, and spinach to the skillet, stir together and cook until spinach wilts.  I tend to add the spinach a little at a time so I don't overfill the skillet.  Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Cook until spinach is totally wilted and soft.

Transfer the hot spinach mixture into a food processor or blender (or you could use an immersion blender). Process the mixture until it is smooth and soft.  Add chicken stock to reach your desired thickness.  I like mine really thick, so I tend to stop with about1 cup of stock.  The liquid amount can also vary based on the moisture content of the spinach you use.

Put the spinach mixture back in the skillet and add in the baked chicken.  Cook for 2 minutes more. Serve over rice or with your favorite rice substitute.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spinach Life Hack

I learned this trick just the other day and it CHANGED MY LIFE!!!  Really.  I eat spinach like it is going out of style, but no matter how much I eat I can never seem to finish the ginormous, feed the entire neighborhood sized bag (that also happens to be the cheapest per oz at my big club store) before it goes bad.  As soon as those first leaves start to ooze, all bets are called off.  I can pick around the first few and close my eyes as I shove them in the blender, but my stomach is revolting.

Solution #1: In my brilliance I thought, I can puree a whole bag with a bit of water, freeze it in ice cubes and pull out some 4-5 cubes each time I make a smoothie.  Great concept.  A couple fatal flaws... the ice cube trays are now dyed green... and I can't get them clean-- an issue for my kids who don't like green tinted ice or any appearance of vegetable in anything that will touch food they will put into their mouths...  Another fatal flaw... The ice makes the smoothie super cold and very slushy... it ruins the creamy factor and getting those cubes fully pureed is a chore.  It will do the job, but it isn't my favorite.

Solution #2: Eat more spinach.  Good in theory.  Hide spinach in meatloaf or soup, juice the bad boys, or heck make chicken saag (heaven!!!)  But even with me pushing spinach in most meals, some still goes bad, and I am left feeling like a failed, wasteful homemaker- my pioneer ancestors are rolling over in their graves.

Then the heavens opened and I learned this trick:  Just freeze the whole darn bag.  (pregnant pause for dramatic effect)  Really it works.  It is like a Christmas miracle every time I make a smoothie.

Fresh spinach, frozen in the bag is just like fresh spinach in the bag, but colder.  It breaks apart in leaf size bits and I can grab it by the handful and shove it down into my blender.  It doesn't congeal together in one big mass.  It doesn't even develop those nasty ice crystals that form on fruit in the freezer. It is malleable and movable.  It really is miraculous.

There is only one downfall to fresh bagged, then frozen spinach-- it takes a bit longer for the cell membranes and fiber to break up in the blender.  I increase my blend time 30-45 seconds and I give the blender an extra shake to move all the bits around.  Problem solved!

Can't wait for big club store shopping day... time to load up on spinach!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Chocolate "Health" Shake

I am a chocolate fan.  I am a chocolate lover.... You might call me a choco-holic.  Going off sugar was crazy hard, because that meant forgoing my favorite treat.  But then I found a way to eat my chocolate and feel no guilt about it.

Hello, Chocolate "Health" Shake.  Unsweetened cocoa powder gives this shake its chocolate punch; banana and spinach sweeten up the party; peanut butter makes it creamy; and the spinach helps with fiber, phyto-nutrients, and really gives this shake the healthy stamp of approval.

The appearance of this shake is not for the faint of heart.  It is a green-brown sludge- a harrowing combination in the nightmares of mothers world wide.  But if you can close your eyes and take a gulp, you are in for a treat!

Fair warning... I like dark chocolate-- I eat the 80% and 90% dark and think it tastes great.  I also want as much green goodness as I can shove into my body... You might want to start low and baby step up the cocoa powder and the greens to suit your taste palate.  I'll provide both variations for your consumption pleasure.

Baby Steps Chocolate "Health" Smoothie

1 whole frozen banana
1 cup compacted spinach
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2-1 cup water (milk would be creamier... but I don't drink milk so I can't say how it tastes)

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Start low with the liquid and add more if the shake is too thick to blend (I like it as thick as possible).... Blend, blend and blend some more-- unblended spinach bits are the worst-- about one minute or until all the spinach bits are incorporated. (frozen spinach will take longer to blend-- next week I'll teach you how to freeze your spinach for smoothies)

Enjoy.  Makes one serving

Dark Chocolate "Health" Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
2-3 cups compacted spinach (as much as I can shove in the mini blender)
2 Tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2-1 cup water (or other liquid)

(I halved the banana and doubled the cocoa so this is dark and delicious--be warned.) Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend, blend and blend some more.  Shake the container to get the spinach loosened from the sides and all the yumminess mixing together.  Blend, blend and blend some more.  (this can take up to two minutes)
Drink right from the blender or pour into a cup.  Serves one.

100% Fruit Jam

I'm not the only one in my family with dietary restrictions... Recently my 12 year old joined me in my "crazy" lifestyle... he does no processed food, dyes, or sugar. (My restrictions include no dairy, sugar or grain-- so he has it "easy" with so many more options available)  But sugar is in everything... how do you make kid food happy with no sugar?  PB& PB sandwiches?  Not so yummy.

Inspired by my desire to have some normalcy for him, I created this 100% fruit jam.  It is thick and spreads like a traditional home made jam and is fantastic on pancakes, bread, or just by the spoonful.  This jam is a combination of mixed berries and pineapple.  The berries give sweetness and color, and the pineapple pushes the sweetness farther while the fiber gives the jam the thick consistency.  Bonus?  This jam is no cook, no mess, 5 minutes from start to finish!

100% Fruit Jam

1 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup drained, canned pineapple chunks

Defrost frozen mixed berries in the microwave- a bit of liquid will leak out of the berries, this is normal.  Drain those pineapple chunks well.  Combine pineapple and thawed berries in a small blender.  Blend together until it reaches a smooth and consistent texture (about 30-40 seconds).

Spoon jam into a jar and refrigerate.  It will thicken as it sits.  Keep refrigerated.

I'm Back

The last few years have taken a toll on my body...  Want the recap?  Diagnosed with lupus.  Diet revolution.  Embrace change.  Enroll in university.  Teach more exercise.  Lupus flare.  "Bed rest" for 6 months.  Finally having enough energy to cook, think, and dream again. Phew!  It has been a tough year!!! But I am feeling good; thinking, planning, dreaming-- not sleeping half the day!!!  I feel great!  So welcome back to triharderlivebetter!  I may not be doing much triathloning, or much exercising yet, but I have learned so much and have lots to share.

In the next few weeks, I'll share some recipes I have mastered for making my diet  lifestyle work for me and my family, and some things I have learned about balancing health, hormones and happiness.