Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Me Halfway

On Sunday I finished my second half-marathon.  It was bittersweet as the anticipation of the race (race days feel like Christmas to me) was coupled with a fear that I was setting myself up for a possible injury.  I had signed up for the race back in the summer before experiencing several set-backs to my training.  I needed to take antibiotics in September for an infection, which left me weak and in bed for ten days.  I was instructed to change my food plan to a low-carb diet and reluctantly re-introduced meats.  I hated my new diet as it left me further weakened; I lost a bit of weight, which for my frame was a big deal.  I subsequently stopped exercising because I couldn't increase my calorie intake to accommodate running.  My energy was nonexistent and running became the furthest thing from my mind.  But I couldn't completely rule out the race.

I managed to get a couple runs in that included an 8-miler about a month before the race.  Given that I hadn't really trained for 8 miles and finished fine, I figured doing a half marathon wasn't that unreachable.  And in the days leading up to the race I cheated a bit on my diet and added some lentils and beans for extra carbohydrates.  It would have been impossible to run without proper glycogen stores.  I learned this during one of my longer training runs where my muscles completely cramped at mile 6 and I had to walk home.  A week before the race, and still recovering from fatigue, I had images in my head of someone having to scrape me up off the pavement.  But the carb-loading over the weekend paid off and my energy increased quickly.  I decided on race day that I would go for it and run.  In the back of my mind I still wondered if I was doing the right thing. 

My friend Robert gave me tremendous support, running the first two miles with me and surprising me at different mile markers.  I only started to struggle during mile nine.  It's amazing what crowds, fun signs (Zombies Are Behind You, Run!, My Mom Runs Faster Than Your Mom, On a scale of 1 to 10, You're a 13.1), and high-fives from kids can do to keep runners energized.  For not having run much lately, I was impressed by getting to mile 9 and feeling great.  And then painful side stitches, presumably from the gu energy gel, and severe cramping in my one calf set in.  There were two moments where the pain almost forced me to stop.  My pace slowed.  I was gearing up for the final stretch and felt it would be silly to stop after everything I had done.  "Why walk?  I'll get to the finish quicker if I run" I thought.  I kept thanking my body for giving me this experience and believed that it would sustain me to the finish.  It was like I was bargaining with it.  "Please get me to the end.  I just want to finish.  I promise to be nicer to you in the future."

The crowds at the finish line were amazing and I had never before experienced such energy at the end of a race.  I usually feel as if my shoes are filled with lead and typically struggle to cross but my body just wanted the race to be over.  It gave me a much-needed jolt to finish quicker.  I was proud of finishing given the circumstances of my health and diet in recent months.  But I wondered if I had done more harm than good to my body by running yesterday.  While I've given up many things (mostly food related) for the health of my body, on race day I put love of racing before it.  Maybe the cramps would have happened regardless of my training.  Who knows?  Runners suffer injuries even when training properly.

After the race I decided to put those worries out of my mind and celebrate with friends; I vowed to train better in the future knowing that this experience was informative and will make me stronger.  But Sunday evening my worries resurfaced and my heart broke to hear that two runners, one half marathoner and one marathon participant, died at and near the finish line.  I wondered what was going on in their minds during their journey: their anticipation, their hopes of finishing, the signs they might have enjoyed seeing on the course, the high fives they gave, the family members they saw or visualized cheering them on, their highs and lows, and if they were wishing away warning signs to stop, bargaining with their bodies, as so many runners do, to get them to them to their destination.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Plenty of Fish

Give a [gal] a fish and you feed [her] for a day. Teach a [gal] to fish and you feed [her] for a lifetime. 
Chinese Proverb

Today I was given an amazing gift.  My friend Robert, a macrobiotic counselor, made a house call this morning to go over my diet and make some revisions.  Currently my doctor has me on a fairly strict diet to starve a slight overgrowth in my GI tract.  This meant going off of all sugar and most starches and taking a hiatus from my vegan diet.  It also meant eliminating any foods that might be triggering a leaky guy - soy, corn, caffeine, alcohol, fermented foods, and gluten (dairy was already out of my diet).  Daily meals have consisted of small amounts of non-gluten grains (like brown rice and quinoa), lots of green vegetables and salads, select nuts and seeds (sesame and almond for the most part) and some organic chicken, turkey and wild fish.

Despite eating foods with higher amounts of protein and eating more greens than I had been as a vegan, I was low on energy and not meeting caloric intake requirements for my half-marathon training.  So I eased up and was only running once a week.  Robert, being an avid runner, wanted to get me back on the running trail, on track with health and with just simply feeling vibrant again.  And what an inspiration he was.

He rolled up to my street with three bags of goodies: a tailor-made list of 7 different breakfast recipes, generous samples of various grains to try, supplements to consider, samples of protein powders, and a couple new brand products to add to my diet.  We went over all the recipes and samples and then started to cook.  He made 5 recipes in less than an hour:

Pressed Salad
Millet Porridge
Veggie Stew
Blanched Greens
Mochi Melt

The foods were delicious and the lessons were invaluable.  There's something so special about a person sharing his time, knowledge, and experiences to help improve someone's quality of life.  And it came at a much needed time.  I felt like one lucky duck today.  Thanks Robert!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

From Here to There

Whenever someone is facing a health issue, be it large or small, chronic or acute, a question that quickly comes to mind is "How did I get here?"

*Was said health issue courtesy of the gene pool?

I had a family history of a GI immune disorder.  Although it's currently been ruled out, it's not clear as to whether or not this disease will develop.  Everyone is born with a certain body constitution.  There's no way to know if my current issue will change.   It might improve but it might never completely go away.       

*Was it a result of my food choices and, subsequently, from sensitivities to certain foods?

That's a "Was it the chicken or the egg?" question.  A weak GI system can lead to food sensitivities; food sensitivities weaken the GI system.  No finger-pointing was going to erase the fact that I had to cut out dairy, sugar, caffeine, starch, yeast, and gluten until conditions improved.  Zero tolerance for now.  I've read that once a GI system is healed and attended to, issues like lactose intolerance might actually be reversible.

*Was it my body's way of saying "f you" and "wake up" to the antibiotics that doctors had prescribed?

It still amazes me, looking back, that doctors never suggested taking probiotics after a round of antibiotics.  And I'm still kinda pissed that one of these doctors nonchalantly wrote a prescription for a "low grade" three month supply of antibiotics for a couple blemishes on my face.  I took them for a month before realizing, low grade or not, it was a bullshit move for my body.  There was never any talk of repopulating the good bacteria that ultimately got wiped out with antibiotic treatment.  And guess what?  My recent test results that actually got to the root cause of my symptoms showed that I was lacking a lot of good bacteria.  In fact, one important strain was nonexistent in my system.

*Was it stress related?

What stress? :P  Stress and stress management play a HUGE role in wellness.  When your body goes into "fight or flight" mode digestion stops so the body can focus on the fighting or "flighting."  This always happens when my nerves get the best of me.  Not healthy. The nervous system is also shaped from birth, which affects one's body constitution.

At the end of the day finding answers to these questions doesn't change where I am.  It would be nice to know the cause, to know that what I'm doing will improve my condition and to know how to avoid issues (if they are preventable) in the future.  But for now, I am here, eating a highly restricted diet and hoping my next test will show signs of improvement.  I'm particularly eager for insight into what my food future holds.  I'm pretty sure a vegan pizza is waiting for me there. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Club C

I'm two weeks into a three month venture of cleaning up my gut.  It took five years to get to the root of my symptoms and I think I'm finally on my way to healing and finding a balance.  It has been really helpful to know people who have gone through similar experiences.  Enter one groovy health nut rock star named Jane.  I turned to her immediately for resources on what to eat on an anti-candida diet.  I was also curious about how she got her diagnosis and what recovery path she followed.  Did she struggle like I had to figure out what was going on (as the symptoms can really apply to a plethora of health issues)?  Were doctors knowledgeable and receptive?  How did she heal her body?  Knowing that she was trying to live a raw foods/vegan lifestyle, how did she reconcile with having to eat meat?

Her story was very helpful to me and I have no doubt that it can help others who may suspect they have candida or are already diagnosed and dealing with it.

When did you first receive a diagnosis for candida?  What were your symptoms and how long did it take to get the diagnosis?  Who diagnosed it and how?

I received a diagnosis for candida in March of 2009.  I met with a holistic nutritionist, Ben Briggs, at Lionville Natural Pharmacy.  I was at the end of my rope with dealing with migraine headaches.  I was making the decision of whether or not to enter a doctoral program, but I was worried that given the frequency of my migraines (4-5 times per month) I would be unable to keep up with the work load.  My husband was missing a lot of work to take care of the kids when I got a migraine.  I started to have a lot of anxiety because I was in constant fear of when the next migraine would hit.  My energy was low, which I attributed to having two young children,  I had frequent headaches, sinus issues, low sex drive (again, attributed that to the kids), and was feeling out of sorts.  I wasn't really depressed, but I wasn't feeling like I was on my A game either.  I had been to medical doctors, chiropractors, homeopathic doctors, but never received any relief.  Before I went in to see Ben, he gave me a questionnaire to fill out.  Based on my symptoms, he gave me the diagnosis.  He said that the candida probably came up after a long term course of antibiotics I had been on for Lyme’s Disease the previous summer.  I got the diagnosis at my first appointment.  It was 1.5 hours (unheard of for a regular health care professional) and did not have to have any intrusive testing to get the diagnosis.  We went over the history of my symptoms and discussed the game plan in depth.

Did you have any support (literature, meal menus, tips, etc) from your nutritionist (and/or others) when you had to make the transition to an anti-candida diet?

Ben gave me a ton of information about what I could and could not eat.  At the time, I was eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the thought of cutting out sugar was horrifying to me.  That night when I got home, I polished off the end of a pint of ice cream and said, "Fuck it.  I'm done feeling like shit.  I quit.  Whatever he says, I will do."  My husband was an amazing source of support.  He was my number one cheerleader.  He would run to the store and get me whatever candida-friendly snack would pacify a sugar craving; he helped me come up with recipes, kept the junk out of the house, and was a total hero during the transition.  I felt horrible for the first two weeks.  I felt like I was a crack head.  I was constantly pacing the kitchen trying to figure out something I COULD eat that I actually WANTED to eat.  I remember the first relief I got was when I mixed 2 packets of Sweet Leaf Stevia with some fresh lemon and lime juice.  It tasted like heaven!!!  Then my symptoms started to clear and I was feeling so much better. 

What was your eating pattern like prior to the diet and during the diet when you changed the foods you ate?  Could you provide a typical week or days’ worth of foods you ate on both diets?

I thought I was eating healthy before my diagnosis.  That was laughable.  I ate a lot of healthy food, but I also ate a ton of crap too.  I loved sugar.  Sugar was a serious issue for me in general.  I ate lots of homemade organic brownies, breads, grain-based foods, protein bars, meat, cheese, cereal.  Pretty much the SAD diet but organic.

An anti-candida diet day might look like this:

Breakfast foods:  Eggs with spinach and onions cooked in organic butter, Fage Greek yogurt with blueberries, or an egg white protein shake.

Lunch foods:  Chicken on a salad with olive oil and avocado; Applegate farms lunch meat; leftovers from dinner the night before; celery with almond butter;

Snacks: nuts and seeds (no cashews or peanuts).

Dinner:  Usually a meat and a veggie.  Last night we ate grilled Salmon and Chicken with broccoli slaw dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

How long were you on the anti-candida diet?  Did you have antibiotics as well as probiotics?  What was your doctor's prescription for wellness?

Ben’s prescription was to follow the diet and a supplement regime.  I took probiotics, but not antibiotics.  At first, because I was so nutrient deficient as a result of the candida, I had to take a ton of supplements, but we eventually weaned off of most of them and now I'm down to a multi-vitamin, iron B12 supplement, and Migrelief (for migraines).

Have you had any recurrences of candida?  Have you had and do you test for it or just intuitively go back on the anti-c diet?

I intuitively go back to the diet.  I have been experimenting with the raw vegan lifestyle because I want SO badly to follow it, but my candida symptoms always come back after a few months.  Once I became in tune with my "health baseline," I can tell almost immediately when symptoms are starting to reemerge.  It will usually manifest itself emotionally with me.  I will get anxious, sad, and depressed.  Then I know it's time to clean house again.

Did you have any "die-off" symptoms that followed the cleansing diet?  If so, was there a time frame on that?  Did it last through the entire diet or just at a certain point in time?

I had TONS of die off symptoms: fatigue, irritability, weight loss (a happy symptom for me, but not for others), and just generally felt like shit.  It lasted for a couple of weeks. I really started getting relief when I purchased a Needak Rebounder and started rebounding. My nutritionist and I both agreed that doing that really helped move the process along.

Have you eaten quinoa, brown rice (rice and pasta), or amaranth as part of the cleansing diet?  I've seen them listed as "ok foods" because they are non-glutenous.  I'm so confused as some sites say yes to them and others say no.  Conflicting info is so frustrating! :)

There is SOOO much conflicting info!  I cut those foods out for about 3 months when I first started, then gradually added them back in.  I still can't eat a lot of them, though.  I don't really eat grains at all unless it is in the form of brown rice protein powder (Sunwarrior brand).  I had to cut out almost all fruit too.  I ate grapefruit, berries, and granny smith apples and in very limited amounts (like 1/2 grapefruit a day) which sucked.

Reactions are so individual; I think that is why the info is so conflicting.  What heals one does not seem to heal another.  What worked for me is cutting out all of the crap completely and eating meats, veggies, nuts, seeds, and a little bit of dairy (Greek yogurt and butter).  I did a little fruit too.  Then, as my symptoms started to clear and after a couple of months of being symptom free, I started playing around with things.  When I would notice symptoms coming back, I would fine tune things again.  I'm still kind of in that phase with my bouncing back from raw to meat.  I end up eating too many fruits when I am on raw and seem cool for a couple of months and then my symptoms come back.

But it's a weird, strange journey and you start to become very in tune with your body.

What is one piece of advice or nugget of wisdom you'd impart to people going through it or those who think they have it?

Change your diet and do NOT look back.  You will get over sugar.  As a former sugar addict and dealer, you think you won’t be able to walk by desserts and not think about it, but you will.  You will get over it and it takes time, but stick with it.  It is well worth the results.  From personal experience, I also need to be constantly reminded by my decision making that the diet works and to stop messing with it.  Even if my personal ethics don’t align (wanting to be raw/vegan but having to eat meat for my health), I can’t live my life feeling like shit.  Sometimes I have to be my #1 priority.

Well said!  Thanks for your contributions, Jane!
Editor's Note: That last sentence is now my mantra.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Judgment Day

With a new diagnosis to inform my health concerns, I was instructed by my doctor to cut out all sugar, grains and beans this past Saturday.  I emptied my cupboards, which surprisingly had some extra-sugary foods I had talked myself into buying.  It's funny how even when I read labels I sometimes overlook sugar.  I had been eating more of it, mostly by way of fresh fruit, when I gave up coffee again last month.  Everyone needs a vice.  But my new vice was making my condition worst.  And now, I had full proof that sugar was one of the culprits.

After cleaning out the kitchen I set up a free grocery "store" in my house and asked friends to haul off the pineapple, oranges, the peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, wheat pasta and other starchy foods.  I saved some of my favorite non-perishables for the future, with fingers crossed.

But a few days into the diet, I realized it was going to be hard for me to get all my calories met with the now very limited options I had in front of me.  Life as a vegan was do-able but restrictive enough.  And now, for the sake of repairing my body, I had to cut out my vegan staples of most grains and beans.  Fermented foods were out too.  Deep down I felt I was going to have to do something I thought I'd never do again.  Eat animals.  

My doctor, a vegan herself, even asked me on my first appointment if I was opposed to meat for ethical or health reasons and if I would consider eating it under any circumstances.  She asked this before any testing was done but I think she suspected I would have to eventually consider it.  I said no.  Some fellow vegans I told took offense to this.  "How could she ask that?  There are ways to get your nutrients without eating meat."  But I knew what her point was.  If it was a matter of improving health and restricting foods that I commonly ate, which were only making my health matters worse, would I consider eating meat for a short-term period?  After going through a few days of making my meals and trying to plan a variety of dishes and thinking of all the food scenarios (raw diet, etc), I made the decision to put meat back on my plate.

Instinctively for health reasons, which is ironic given that I don't believe it's healthy food, I came to the decision fairly quickly.  Emotionally, it was difficult.  When you choose not to eat meat partly on account of ethics and seeing horrible footage of cruelty to animals, it makes a walk down the meat aisle that much more foreign.  I started getting teary-eyed at Whole Foods as I stared at the meat for a few minutes, reluctantly picking out turkey and chicken, types that I never fancied back when I ate meat.  Poor birds. I was sure to get the meats labeled "antibiotic and hormone free" because otherwise it would probably mess further with my situation.  The label said they were raised humanely but who knows?  I certainly hope that was the case.  But can you really ever trust a sticker or a company?

Earlier in the day I considered trying the chicken at Chipotle, given their statements on "Food with Integrity."  But even their website wasn't giving a guarantee that all their chickens were antibiotic-free.  Oy!

I keep thinking that this meat-eating stint is only supposed to last for three months and when all is said and done I can resume my vegan diet.  For now, there's a little disappointment and self-judgment.  Perhaps yet another thing I need to cut out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Last Hurrah

For the past six years I've been on a mission to improve my health, especially my energy levels and my skin.  Both, when less than stellar, can show signs of an imbalance and mine certainly were indicating a health issue.  I visited many doctors, took countless notes, ran a bunch of tests, changed my diet several times, embraced a regular fitness routine, and procrastinated on a mind/body practice.  And on Friday I finally got my answer.  

I recently started seeing a new doctor in the city who specializes in functional medicine.  I had a health care specialist in FM a few years ago but she moved her practice after my first visit.  And these doctors are hard to come by.  My current doctor ran the test that confirmed what I believed was ailing me.

This story, told in the non-TMI version, is meant to inform in general and be a resource for anyone facing similar issues.  It is not meant to offer advice on a means of diagnosis nor treatment (that is always to be determined with one's doctor).  With that said, my test results confirmed an overgrowth of not-so-great bacteria in my gut.  Everyone has this particular strain in their system but the "how much" is what can make or break health.  It never helped me to see what I call "mainstream" GI doctors because none of them that I met recognized Candida overgrowth as a possibility.  But practitioners with a focus on functional medicine do. 

So what did I need to do in light of this recognition and my test results?  I'd have to starve this refraining from sugar...all sugar.  Period.  This would include large staples in my diet: glutinous grains like wheat and oats, all fruits, and beans.  And it would include removing alcohol and caffeine.  The plan today is to keep these items off my table for a minimum of 30 days.  Supplements will also be used to help accelerate removing the bacteria from my system and building up the good bacteria (one important strain was completely missing from my system - YOWZA!).

I woke up today feeling a little bummed by having to do all of this.  First of all, it's isolating.  Everyone else eats fun food while I'm chugging a green juice or salad.  I'll miss most of my comfort foods.  I also expect to go through some sort of withdrawal phase from not having sugar in my system. 

The good news is that all my friends are supportive and they are on full alert that I might, from time to time, get jealous of their food and look like I want to punch them.  Many people who have detoxed have attested to these feelings.  Some of my gals have also gone through this specific detox and diet, so having them as a resource is a HUGE plus.  I'll be getting more vitamins and minerals because the foods that are "allowed" on this diet are mostly veggies and tofu and nuts.  Prior to this diet, when I had the option of eating out and having a vegan pizza or Chipotle over loads of veggies or home-cooked meals, I always picked the former.  With this diet, the veggies finally win.  Yay for them.

The timing on all of this is perhaps perfect as I just started a nutrition course and the class resources will help down the road.  All good things.

After reviewing the results on Friday morning, I decided to have a last hurrah before starting my diet on Saturday.   

Favorite vegan pizza for lunch.

Dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant.

More on the diet later.  Good eats to you!

P.S.  Here's a great video that describes Functional Medicine:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heavenly Greek Salad

Thanks to my roommate Claire, I've been inspired to try out more new recipes.  She is always cooking up a storm in our kitchen and luckily that motivation has started to rub off on me.  My return to the kitchen has also been aided by Abbey and Susan, friends who are a constant source of free rides to Whole Foods.  Translation: no 15 minute walks with heavy grocery bags.  Score!

I didn't know it could get better but I recently stumbled upon a salad dressing that changed my life.  Yes, it was that profound.  It has an amazing blend of herbs that reminded me of the flavorful pizza dough of my ex-favorite pizza place, which doesn't serve vegan pizza :(.  When coupled with tofu, this dressing also reminds me of feta.  It also masks the tofu taste!  Here's how you can healthfully rock your Greek salad.

Heavenly Greek Salad

6 Romaine Leaves, chopped
Handful of small tofu cubes, crumbled
2 tbsp. Herbes de Provence Vinaigrette
4-5 marinated artichokes
Small handful of kalmata olives, halved
Small handful of red onion, chopped

Toss, enjoy, make more salad.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Indian Summer

Walking around Philadelphia today was grand.  I love when there are days with no agenda and no appointments.  You can just simply be.  The weather was great too!  It was fairly cool and breezy this morning and then the temperature warmed up a bit, leaving a feeling that we were somewhere in between summer and fall.  Pretty yummy.  When I got back home I started working on my own blend. 

Indian Summer Smoothie

*Handful of organic strawberries
*1 cup vanilla soy milk
*1 tsp. cinnamon
*a double dash cardamom
*1 tbsp. maca root powder

Blend and find bliss.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


About five months ago I hosted my first juicing party with girlfriends. It was a simple concept. Bring your favorite fruits and veggies; brave some new ingredients too. Throw all contents in a juicer. Drink and be merry. We had such a blast creating new flavors and vowed to do it again.

Juice party #2 yielded an amazing new drink, thanks to the gals. It tastes like an orange creamsicle with a hint of peach. Fabulous.

Mandy, Claire and Jen's "Bliss" Drink

3 oranges, rind removed
1 organic white peach
3 medium-sized carrots

Juice. Make yum-yum noises. Make more juice.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tastebud Retreat

It's no secret or mystery that humans are creatures of habit. Some are moreso than others...whether it's having a certain dish for a corresponding night of the week (Monday is pasta night, Tuesday is Mexican foods night, etc) or resorting to a combo of food staples. I am definitely a part of the majority.

I tend to stick to what's familiar, easy to make, easy to transport (if I'm staying away from home and need quick vegan meals/snacks), and usually something that doesn't spoil too easily. Such familiarity eventually gets boring and when that happens I venture out...out to restaurants with friends, into my dusty cookbooks, and onto the Internet for inspiration.

The past two weeks have been full of new tastes and treats:

My co-worker and I decided to make one of our off-campus work projects a bit more fun with a lunch break at Blue Sage, a vegetarian and vegan friendly grill in Jenkintown, PA.

Crispy falafel fritters in a warm gyro wrapper with cucumber yogurt, carmelized onions, smoked tomato relish, roasted garlic aioli. Served with baby greens in chile lime vinaigrette.

Later that week my co-workers and friends went to a raw foods restaurant where you can try three or five recipe samples for $10 or $15. Great desserts too! You have to call ahead to place your order.

Decadent Carob Cake

My boss took me to a Philly restaurant that serves locally grown food. With a fair amount of vegetarian and vegan options, I tried their tofu cappelini in an effort to broaden my tastes and get into a place of "like" with tofu. I didn't know it could taste so good! The combination of flavors was fantastic!


My Attempt at Farmicia's Cappelini and Sauteed Tofu

Another try at tofu. Delicious! Sabrina's has two locations in Philadelphia. Both provide vegan friendly options. The dish below offers a rainbow of treats - avocado, mango relish, savory soba noodles, and crispy tofu. Friends have also tried this and raved.

Sabrina's Cafe

Crispy Tofu

Tasty, fresh, flavorful. Enough said.

Nam Phuong

Papaya Salad with Tofu

Spring Rolls on Rice Vermicelli

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bring It, Broad Street!

If you're a runner living in Philadelphia then I imagine you are gearing up to cheer or run in this week's Broad Street race, the largest 10-miler in the country. This was my first 10-miler and had been a milestone race for me last year. Thank the Universe that this year is not my first time doing it.

Yes, I completed BSR in good time in 2010. Yes, I completed a half-marathon a month ago. This left me feeling really good about the BSR which would soon follow. High off my 13.1 mile success, I started reading Runner's World magazine on the bus to work, getting giddy at the thought of doing more races this year. I found myself coming home from work exhausted but nonetheless psyched to lace up my shoes and hit the trails. I even got motivated to work on my inclines and speed, secretly racing boys to improve my timing.

But as I was discovering a new-found love of running, I was rapidly experiencing a loathe of my current work situation. I was not taking the best care of myself in the process, resorting to lots of coffee and processed foods to "carry" me through the roller coaster ride. And where did running fit into all of this? Well, it didn't. I tried to run on the weekend but ended up feeling the way I did all I needed to hurl. After spending the day in bed with a throbbing headache and hot and cold flashes, I decided to refrain from any running during what was then the upcoming work week (and the worst work week of my life)...which brings me to the here and now. And my first run in a week...a week before BSR, which, knock-on-wood, went amazingly well.

My roommate asked me if I was nervous about this week's race, given my unexplained illness (likely stress related but not completely sure) and lack of running in the past two weeks. This isn't going to be my first BSR, so I've got that much going for me. I know what to expect, course wise (and it's flat; another bonus!). I don't need to wonder if I can do this race. It's been done before. Completing a half marathon at a decent pace a month prior to an upcoming race was a big check mark on the motivator list too. If I have to rely on muscle memory, dammit, I'll do it. I might feel sick on race day. But I always feel sick on race day!

Here are some extra TLC goals this week for my "Bring It, Broad Street" preparation for both the physical and mental aspects of my recent departure from my running routine.

*Hydrate - the temperatures this year are not likely to come close to last year's record (thank goddess). But going easy on the Joe will help regardless. This week I'll try to refrain from coffee and hydrate with chia frescas. And despite a fun date last week that happened to involve some alcohol, I will try and forgo said spirits at any upcoming date nights. It might have been what instigated the health situation last week.

*De-Stress - leaving work at 5:00 p.m. should definitely help. (most nights I am there until 7:00). Making plans to meet up with friends for dinner this week is a must. Their company makes life more scrumptious.

*Visualize - my dear friend Robert sent me an email last week with a detailed visualization about kicking asphalt at the BSR. In one paragraph, he took me through the course and got me successfully from start to finish. Training is essential but even with a detour in my running plan, I am confident that I can complete this race. Picturing a run across the finish line will help me meet the goal. My only concern at this point is setting a personal record. But I'll figure that out on Sunday. So many factors can affect timing on race day. There's no reason to worry about that now. In the meantime, I'll imagine a fast and solid run.

*Enlist helpers - adding a couple new artists/songs to the iPod gets me groovin'. Latest downloads include Lady G's Born This Way and Adele's Rolling In the Deep. Having friends or family come to cheer is the best. Susie might be making an appearance at the finish line. But even if friends or the fam can't come, picturing them there (add this to the Visualize list above) is a fantastic mood-booster. I did this during my half-marathon. I knew my parents were coming to the race but I had no idea where they'd be. So I pictured them at every mile marker. And this no doubt contributed to my fast finish time.

*Lastly, keep things in perspective - When it comes to terrain, temperatures, training, and timing, any race you or I will run is nothing like this one (sorry). When I was nervous for my first race last year (a 4-miler), a friend popped this documentary in the old DVD player. Watch the trailer. Enough said.

What helps you get ready to rock race day?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: See Jane Save

As I visited with family last weekend, my aunt looked at my $16 worth of groceries - a big tub of organic lettuce, two cans of protein-packed lentil soup, one cucumber, a bag of carrots, and a big tub of amazing kalamata hummus - and asked me, "How do you afford this?" I turned to her and said, "Ask me how much I spend on health care. Zip."

Now I know that was smart-ass of me but it was also the truth. I knew, however, what she was getting at. She's got a family of five after all.

We all know that shopping organic and "healthy" is often perceived as more expensive and in some cases it is. If you were to compare my receipt at Whole Foods (dubbed by some as "Whole Paycheck") to someone shopping at an Acme, there'd likely be some difference. But then again, I'd argue comparing the ingredients and processing of the foods, their origin, and contribution or lack thereof to the consumer's health should also be tallied in the "costs." It's not all about buying exclusively organic. As Jane will tell you, there are ways to save and still be healthy.

In any case, I was curious what the food shopping receipts looked like for families. I definitely feel I invest a good amount of money in food, but it's a little different as a single gal when I don't have to put funds towards childcare expenses. Enter Jane - fellow health junkie, wife, grad student, blogger, and mother of two. I don't know how she does it all! But that's for another blog. Here's how Jane makes magic at the grocery store!

Whenever I go through the check out at the grocery store, there is always a comment.

“You are the healthiest person that comes to this store!”

“Who eats all of this, it certainly isn’t you!” (I wasn’t quite sure if that was a compliment or not)

“What is this? I have never seen this before in my life!”

“Dandelion greens????”

And just today, “Man, you eat a lot of coconuts!”

We are a family of four and my daughter Lilah and I have the appetites of 300 pound men. My husband and other daughter Molly are a bit more conservative with their food intake, but can still throw down with the best of us. We spend about $200 a week on groceries.

I don’t make apologies for feeding my family tons of fresh, organic produce, Lara bars, organic meats and eggs, and the occasional bag of pirate booty. Two hundred dollars a week is a sacrifice for us. We are by no means wealthy. My husband is a construction worker and in a band; I stay at home with the girls and am working on my doctorate. We do not have an exorbitant amount of excess income. Some weeks it is really tough, but healthy eating is something I believe in whole heartedly. I often sacrifice other things to make healthy eating work. I traded my designer wardrobe for designer bananas a LONG time ago.

Healthy eating has to be a top priority if you want to make it work. Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed with the amount of money that we spend on food, but my family and our health is my hobby, my passion, and my love. I am willing to pay for it ;)

Here are some tips to save:

Buy in bulk
- I buy my protein powders and Lara bars in bulk and usually end up saving quite a bit of money compared to buying them one bag or one box of bars at a time. Here are some fantastic sites for discounts on health foods and supplements:

Keep It Clean
- If organic is the goal, but the budget is tight, focus on the “dirty dozen.” There are so many lists online of the best foods to buy organic. The general rule of thumb is that anything with a thin skin, like grapes, blueberries, and leafy greens, is best (re: safest) when bought organic. Bananas, avocados, etc…? Buy regular (conventional/non-organic). Even places like Produce Junction are a great locale to snag lots of fruits and veggies for super cheap!

I always recommend buying organic meat. I don’t eat meat or dairy anymore, but unfortunately the big guy (hubs) is resistant to giving it up. If you want cheap, you can buy chicken legs and thighs organic for usually 3-4 bucks a pack.

Join as CSA, a Co-Op, or both
- Find a CSA near you! You can't get much healthier than locally grown food. If the committment seems too much, divide the share between your household and a fellow healthy neighbor!

Do-It-Yourself -For those of us who go meat-free, I have always been a fan of making my own tomato sauce with a can of crushed tomatoes, fresh garlic, and spices. You can put it over the noodles of your choice (preferably for us, gluten-free). Hummus is another nutritious, filling meal. Cans of chickpeas are often on sale 10 for 10. Buy 10 cans and 1 jar of organic tahini and boom! Hummus. Two cans of black beans, 1 can of organic crushed tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, some salt- bam! Slice some fresh avocado on top and you have vegan chili.

There are so many great ways to eat healthy and organic on a budget! Get creative, look less at the receipt and more at the bottom line - your family’s health is priceless.

Jane Rosenzweig is a wife, stay-at-home mom, and is working on her doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about health, balance, and living a full, happy life with a heavy dose of humor. Check out her blog at:

Monday, April 11, 2011

One Enchanted (Macro) Evening

I recently got to visit with two of my favorite people over dinner and get a glimpse of the benefits of what is their day-to-day diet. Christina and Robert Pirello have been living the macrobiotic lifestyle for over 26 years. Christina was introduced after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Robert was her macro counselor. She adopted this diet under his supervision and guidance to heal but got more than she probably expected. She not only got better; she acquired a super cool man friend and husband.

Together, Christina and Robert have brought their love of this healing diet and way of life to hundreds of thousands of people. They take travel enthusiasts with them on trips to Italy and Israel and soak in the sun with fellow cruisers in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Christina hosts cooking classes in Philadelphia and shows viewers, through her PBS show Christina Cooks, how good the macro life can be.

I had attended some of her classes and read her books. But it's a truly awesome experience to share a meal with this power couple, who are two of the most genuine and giving people you could ever meet.

And I have to say that this meal, prepared by the pros, couldn't have come at a better time. I eat a plant-based diet and try to prepare as many meals as possible. But my work schedule had become more hectic in recent months, I was down on my number of daily veggies, and training for a half marathon had consumed what little free time I had left. Hence, no cooking. Hence, I desperately wanted a home-cooked meal. And presto! Here it was...

I would imagine that when people hear the word "macrobiotic" the following associations might come to mind:

*Is that, like, Biology?
*Nutritionist Science Jargon

A macrobiotic diet focuses on the energetics and quality of food...avoiding or reducing the amount of foods that have an overly yin (expansive) or yang (contractive) quality to them. Extreme foods on the body include caffeine, sugar, animal products and alcohol. But every food has an energy. Balance is a proportion of foods that are yin and yang without going to one extreme or the other (coffee, sugar, etc...will get you there quickly).

While I took a stab at some Macro Monday recipes in the past (and found them to be very soothing and balancing) - Miso Soup, Blanched Vegetables, Burdock for Breakfast, and Parsley Tea, I must say Christina and Robert's dinner menu was much yummier in general and would appeal to a wide variety of palates.


Pickled Eggplant Crostini
Creamy Parsnip Bisque
Farro Salad
Raddichio, Grapefruit and Arugula Salad

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Do you get your macro on? What are your favorite recipes or sites?

For more great recipes, visit

Aside from Christina's books (my favorite is Glow), I recommend Jessica Porter's The Hip Chick Guide to Macrobiotics, and Simon Brown's Modern-Day Macrobiotics.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crazy Sexy Life

We all know life can be sexy (YUM) and crazy (OY) how do we keep the two in balance?

Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Life wellness hub delivers daily tips of goodness to keep you feelin' groovy!

And I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

Here's my article 6 Steps Towards Emotional Wellness.

Enjoy and be well!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Green Goodness

Just finished a super fast run and found myself brainstorming ideas for dinner. I realized I had a bunch of veggies in need of some attention and decided to keep dinner light. I opted for some life-affirming green goodness.

That's the great thing about can pop all your produce into a little machine and bam! Maximize your nutrients for the day. Yum! Here's what I made:

Green Goodness Juice

One head of romaine lettuce*
Two cucumbers, peeled
Two small gala apples*
1-2 Tbsp Lime Juice

Juice the romaine, cucumbers and apples. Add lime juice and stir. Wonder why you haven't made something like this sooner.

*Buy organic. Apples and lettuce are on the Dirty Dozen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Par for the Course

Me and Mom, Post-Race

It's official. My brother and I successfully completed our first half-marathon! I must note my brother also kicked asphalt when he served in Iraq, finishing a 20-mile race in extreme heat. So this was probably a piece of cake by comparison.

The weather was a perfect 40 degrees (only perfect for the runners; for the spectators...that was another story) and the sun started peaking through the trees as I ran past the Washington Monument to the tunes of Sara Bareilles. Scrumptious sites and sounds.

We had had a momentous start to our race, just barely getting there on time; the D.C. metro is lovely and clean but not the place you want to be 20 minutes before a race. But, strangely enough, it built on the anticipation of the run, and when we finally made it to our destination, we were ready to get it on.

Supporters lined the streets with signs. Favorites included:

*Chuck Norris never ran a marathon.

* Toenails are temporary, medals are forever.

* You guys are really good at exercising.

My brother and I completed our race fast and strong, with my parents and sister-in-law (his wife-to-be) looking on. It was an awesome day! While I had this expectation in mind (I highly recommend picturing success in the weeks and months leading up to a race), the day-to-day training sometimes had me in a mental slump.

The cold windy weather that was winter had been getting on my nerves. We had seen a lot of snow and ice, treacherous conditions indeed, and I watched as daredevil runners ran right over sheets of slippery ice patches on Kelly Drive. I did not have such a death wish. I tried to run outside as much as possible but had to resort to the treadmills much more than I cared to. While I had no control over the weather, I had a few tricks up my sleeve...they got me through and helped my performance in D.C.

Dates - great little fuel bites, pre-run...compliments of Brendan Brazier's book on vegan nutrition for athletes.

Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer, Chai Flavor - vegan protein powder, perfect in smoothies but can stand on it's own too...just add water. Perfect for prepping on the go and an overall great recovery drink. It's pricey but worth it. You can find a discount with free shipping on

Chia Fresca - a recipe the Tarahumara tribe uses to hydrate during 50-100 mile runs in the desert. Check out Born to Run for more on the fascinating story. My friend Robert, a vegan macrobiotic marathon runner, swears by chia fresca and introduced me to it. I started out by putting chia seeds in water and adding some honey and lime. Now I can just take it with chia and water. While the cooler temps definitely kept me going, my morning chia fresca was just the thing to minimize my water stops during the 13.1 mile run. It was so hydrating!!!

Daily Mile - I like to run solo but it doesn't mean I don't need motivation and running friends to keep me honest. Think Facebook for runners. Splendid.

I'll add the signs above to this motivation/fuel list as I work to increase speed for the Broad Street Run in May.

What fuels you?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Year of Not Eating Animals

Ok, it's been a bit longer than a year. 387 days to be exact. Many of those days were without milk, eggs and cheese. Occasionally I had some cheese pizza or ate a cookie/cupcake someone made that likely had egg in it...that was pretty much it.

Why did I go veganish*?
*a term I use because on rare occasion I eat cheese.

I had never been a huge lover of animal flesh, especially when it came to cooking it myself. I enjoyed cow tush and pig skin on occasion. But with unexpectedly high cholesterol and a friend who needed moral support for Lent last year, I gave up animal products with him until Easter. Easter came and went and my friend and I got competitive. We decided to see who would go without meat the longest. And we'll be vegetarian for life given our strong wills and egos.

But the road to vegan was much more than that. There was definitely substance and thought that came about over the course of a year...and my decision to not eat animals evolved to include several reinforcements.

1) I did it for health.

I decided to continue forgoing animal products to keep my cholesterol down and arteries clear. I did it to avoid antibiotics and hormones and corn-fed beef (I used to primarily eat meat in restaurants and presumed much of it came from factory farms where these drugs and feeding practices are used). The payoff: I got slimmer, I had more energy and my headaches ceased. I can't remember the last time I had one.

The most frequent question I've gotten in regards to health and an animal-free diet has been, "Where do you get your protein?" I get it from living and plant-based foods...lentils, beans, nuts, green vegetables, peas, broccoli, nutritional yeast. I take a B-12 shot monthly and supplement with Vitamin D.

2) I did it as a concerned consumer.

If you have seen the footage in some of these slaughterhouses, I imagine you are appalled. You might not even care to eat meat again. Not a quality product in my mind. And the companies that produce this meat, judging by the videos, care very little about consumer health. Congress has only recently passed a bill that would give the FDA the authority to recall dangerous food products. Before a company could voluntarily recall bad meat. Seriously. A young boy died because a company delayed a recall of beef. His is just one story of contamination and death.

3) I did it to remove myself from a system that disrespects animals.

The majority of meat in this country is produced in factory farms. Video documenting conditions of livestock is sickening, saddening, and infuriating. Chickens are shown being kicked and thrown around, cows are cursed at and poked and prodded. Dairy cows are not given the right to mother their young. Downed animals (those too sick to stand or disabled) are dragged to their death (this last act has only recently become illegal). Everyone decides what foods are best for them. But I would argue that at the very least, the animals that we consume be respected before their death. Does the thought of chicken or cow chock full of stress hormones sound appetizing?

I wrote on this topic in more depth after viewing the documentary Earthlings.

What's Next? The Year Ahead.

The documentary Earthlings, in addition to revealing factory farm conditions, also raised the concerns of using animals for fashion, whether it be fur coats (there is graphic footage at a fur farm where animals are skinned alive) or feathers for down comforters. It made me look at these products differently...the hand-me-down UGGs I own, the down comforter I sleep under at night, my wool coat.

I haven't gotten rid of any of them yet...But I now seek products that look just as great but are free of animal cruelty.

Latest finds:

*Old Navy Polyester Puffer Coat (but in gray) - Yummy and Warm

* Vegan UGG-Like boots without the UGH

Got any favorite vegan finds?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ready to Run

Nope, it's not what you think. Although there was a lot of intrigue to working and living in the U.S. capitol for a short period of time, the hustle and bustle proved to be too much to become a permanent nesting spot. But I can take D.C. in smaller doses and love visiting for the history, the monuments, and the people. I couldn't think of a better way to experience it all over again than with a run through the streets of the capitol. Check out the course!

After completing last year's goal of running the largest 10-mile race in the country and my longest run to date, I figured it was time to commit to a half marathon. I had wanted to do one sooner, particularly one of the races in Philly this past fall, but by the time I rationalized paying out the wazoo for it, registration had reached capacity. And to think of how convenient it would have been! The race started within blocks of my apartment! I happened to be walking near the course the day of the Philly half and full marathons, feeling all the energy and excitement of the runners. It made me miss race days. I searched for upcoming races but none were being offered locally within the next few months. I checked out the scene in NYC, realizing that you had to have won the lottery AND completed a half just to enter an upcoming half. Yowza!

But the D.C. race had everything I needed...scenic course, no lottery, and previous race time standards for which I qualified. Yay! Did I mention that I'll have a special running buddy with me? Mum's the word for now.

After a rocky start to the January training (ie the flu for 2 weeks!), I'm back on my feet and gearing up for the big day!