The Elusive Aimee Ault

I put my array down, flip it, and reverse it.

Iceland, ho!

I arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland on Friday morning. Given that I didn’t travelogue my life and journeys in Mexico, South Africa, or anywhere else I’ve been recently, I figured I should give it a shot this time around.

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I have a very bad habit of opening Hipmunk, entering a random city and looking for cheap plane tickets. I’m not sure what provokes this in me, but I do it rather relentlessly. However, Reykjavik was not cheap, at least not 3 weeks in advance. The cheapest ticket from where I was in the US was asking for over $4,000 per round-trip ticket. Somehow, booking separate flights knocked the cost down by thousands of dollars–but was a terrifying gamble given the possibility of the first flight being significantly delayed or cancelled. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and I ended up getting a painless and cheap trip to the land of vikings.

Anyway, here is my list of things they don’t tell you about Iceland before you go to Iceland, with photos which may or may not be relevant to the things being discussed:

  1. Flying to Iceland is eas[y](ier than flying to Paris, Frankfurt, Zagreb, or Barcelona). The flight from JFK to KEF is 5 hours–or 6 awkward naps while watching episodes of Modern Family.IMG_0218
  2. It may be 6:45AM at Keflevik Airport, but every damn person in the airport will have a minimum of 3 beers or 3 glasses of wine in front of them. These viking folk drink like they can’t get their freshman 15 to stick.
  3. You will have a hard time finding vanilla extract in Reykjavik. This is because they keep it behind the counter at grocery stores to deter booze-hungry thieves. There also seems to be no baking soda. It’s kind of amazing of an experience to realize how much we rely on brand to recognize things, like say the orange box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. Icelandic packaging is kind of adorable though.IMG_4923
  4. Despite #3, there is practically no crime in Iceland. People will leave their bicycles unlocked anywhere. There are less than 200 prisoners in Iceland total.Messages Image(2021202931)
  5. When you eat the fermented shark, you are eating rotten shark that has been fermented in urine. People will say this tastes and smells disgusting. It didn’t taste wonderful to me, but it didn’t make me retch or anything either.  I chased mine with a shot of Brennivín, which Icelanders refer to as “Black Death.” It didn’t taste great either, but it also didn’t taste bad.SAMSUNG CSC
  6. Puffin breast? It tastes like liver. It tasted better to me than the kind of liver I ate for Menú in Perú (I’m not a gigantic liver aficionado), far less of the chalky aftertaste.SAMSUNG CSC
  7. 7. Despite the old saying that Greenland is ice and Iceland is green, I’m sad to report that Iceland does experience snow. It’s sort of a charming snow though. Basically, imagine Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole, and spread it out into an entire town and you will have Reykjavik.IMG_4891
  8. Icelanders have very unique Christmas folklore. Their Christmas season starts in early December and lasts through January 6th. Instead of a single Santa Claus, they witness what are called the 13 Yule Lads. The Yule Lads also have a mom named Gryla and a Yule Cat. Most of these characters are more malevolent than anything. For example, each of the Yule Lads makes an appearance every night for 13 nights, doing different things like licking pots and slamming doors. If you’re good, you get presents. If you’re bad, they put rotting potatoes in your shoes  (kids are supposed to leave their shoes in the window for this).IMG_4906If you don’t get new clothes for Christmas, the Yule Cat will come and eat all of the food in your house so you won’t have anything to eat for Christmas. If you’re really bad, Gryla will come and eat you.
  9. There’s like 4-5 hours of day light here in the winter. The sun rises between 10:30 and 11:30 and sets between 3:30 and 4.  You’d think this would be entirely depressing but Reykjavik has astounding night life and being able to see the sun rise and set every day is kind of awesome. It works kind of well with the Christmas-y feel of the city. The snow, the Advent candles in every window, a glowing fading sunlight that makes the streets twinkle a tiny bit.SAMSUNG CSC
  10. Iceland is part of the EU but it is still using its own currency, which is somewhat confusing due to its conversion rate. 1 USD is 124.5 ISK. Being told that your lunch is 1,800 Krona is always a tiny bit alarming. Reykjavik is entirely cashless from what I can tell. That is, you can get cash from an ATM but I can’t think of a single place you would need it. I did overhear someone saying you could barter with a few “herrings” which sounded cute.IMG_4904
  11. Eating out in Iceland is expensive!SAMSUNG CSC
  12. Fortunately, I’m Paleo so I am cooking quite a bit and food staples in Iceland are not quite as expensive… it’s about on par with what my groceries cost when I lived in Portland and Austin. The cool news is that things like coconut flour cost maybe $3/kg instead of $10. Vegetables are cheap and learning vocabulary from shopping at the grocery store is also rad. For example, the word for beet is the words red and earth. I also learned that the word for funeral literally translates to “earth journey.”IMG_4886
  13. We like to think it’s fish, but Icelanders are very proud of their hot dogs. They top them with a brown mustard called pylsusinnep, cronions (crunchy fried onions), and a remoulade. There is also a gigantic language debate amongst Icelanders about the correct word to use. Some people say it’s “pylsa” (which is what I have seen plastered all over the city) while others will argue that it’s “pulsa.” The people who argue the latter claim that by saying “pylsa,” you are saying “hot canine” instead of “hot dog.”SAMSUNG CSC
  14. Icelanders don’t really perceive Americans as foreigners in the same way they do other people. That is, they don’t see us as being “exotic” or far removed in the same way that many other countries often do. I mean, most other countries have huge exposure to American culture but often not quick and easy access to interact directly with Americans–Icelanders easily have that luxury every day. We have such a long, long history with the country. Everyone here… and I mean everyone… speaks English fluently. Even though we are an ocean apart, there are more Americans visiting and living here than from other European countries.
  15. Icelanders have some pretty tasty Christmas beers and quasi-alcoholic beverages. One of them is called Malt og Appelsín, which is a combination of two drinks: Maltextrakt (a low alcohol beer) and Appelsín, an orange-flavored carbonated beverage. The idea of it sounds horrible but the execution is actually quite nice. There are a lot of other Christmas beers that are popular, but so far this is the only one I’ve tried.IMG_4963
  16. The water here smells like sulphur. That’s because Iceland is all geothermal energy. I was expecting to get used to it, but I really haven’t. It smells weird. I haven’t washed my hair yet either and I’m kind of nervous about it because my hair is very thick and curly and I know sulpher is terrible for hair, but especially terrible for hair like mine.
  17. Hallgrímskirkja (the church) is huge! We’re staying in an apartment on the street just south of it and it towers over our street. It’s 220 feet tall, the 6th largest architectural structure in Iceland, and it took over 40 years to build. On top of all of that, it is visually stunning and is a major navigational landmark in the city. If we are ever lost (and oddly, I often am, which I normally am not in other places), all we have to do is look for the church and head in its direction.SAMSUNG CSC
  18. The Iceland Phallological Museum is a real treat if you’ve been wanting to see water-logged whale penises.

I haven’t gotten to explore a lot of the stuff I want to quite yet because of the weather, but in the coming week and likely the next few weekends, I’m hoping to explore some of the geothermal pools, do a glacier hike, visit the huge waterfall, whale-watch, and visit the lava caves.

’til next time!

No-fucking-up-november Over: Success!

Today is the end of my experiment called “No-fucking-up-vember.” And it was a success!

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and sparing dessert, I stayed full paleo, enjoying turkey, ham, collard greens, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato casserole. I was really happy with how everything turned out–it was way better than Thanksgiving food I’ve had in the past.

I’m going to do a fairly lengthy breakdown in this article, explaining what my take-away was and covering some questions and things that might be helpful to you if you should want to try this experiment for yourself.

How I’m Feeling After a Month

Great!

I lost 5 pounds total, my body fat dropped from 19.4% to 18.1%. My skin feels a tiny bit softer. My skin’s appearance… it’s hard for me to say if it looks any different. I took a photo every day in the same light… some days it looked better than other days.

My immune system seems to be better than ever. While others around me are getting sick with colds and flu, I’ve been not even slightly ill or even on the verge of illness.

I feel happier and less stressed. My concentration is improved. On some days, I have more energy than I have had before. Every now and then, I still have days where I feel kind of sluggish, I won’t lie, but those days are a bit more spread out than they used to be.

I don’t have as much DOMS after intense Crossfit workouts as I used to.

I’m posting before and after photos but honestly, I don’t think I look much different… my body fluctuates a bit from day to day… and my body was in excellent shape before this experiment.

Before any CrossFit, April 2014 (a little over 1 month before I started CrossFit–weight around 123 pounds, not sure about body fat or muscle composition but if I had to eyeball it, probably BF 20-20.5% and muscle 32-33%):

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Before experiment, During CrossFit, October 2014 (about 3 weeks before this experiment, weight 124 pounds, body fat between 19.2-19.6% and muscle 34.2%):

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(I know people are probably wondering what kind of weird asshole I am standing around in hotel rooms taking muscle flexing mirror selfies… and the answer is: the most awesome asshole)

November 30th, after experiment (weight 119.5 pounds, BF 18.1%,  Muscle: 34.6%):

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Sadly, I didn’t have any penguins to close out my “after” with.

Obviously, CrossFit is the biggest contributor to change, but the month of paleo and those other rules, I see more muscle definition on the whole (namely in my quads , a tiny bit in my abs).  In general, I find it unfathomable how people lose enough body fat to get those crazy “six pack” abs that you see on fitness magazine covers.

My thoughts on “diets”, Paleo, and health before this experiment

It wasn’t obvious to me when I started all of this just how bad my previous diet and lifestyle was. I might have thought, “Oh, I eat plenty of vegetables!” because I had broccoli with my lunch or diced tomatoes played a role in my dinner. It’s also easy to use relative comparison to think you’re doing okay. We all know someone whose diet is the worst, who eats junk and fast food all the time, and it’s easy to think, “My diet is so healthy in comparison to theirs.”

It also doesn’t help that our society stigmatizes the word diet and associates it with eating small salads and under-eating. To be concerned with your “diet,” people assume you must have a weight problem or are concerned with short term goals rather than caring about the big picture: your long-term health. I’ve been pretty skinny my whole life, severely underweight at times even, so no one has ever pressured me to care about my health as much, and so I had no idea just how bad I was.

Foods You’re Going to Want to Try

  • Sweet potato hash – I made this every Saturday morning, it was that good. It takes a bit of time so it’s not something you’d want to make on a weekday before work, but if you’re not feeding a whole family, you’ll probably have leftovers anyway (or you can double the recipe and definitely have leftovers!). The sausage can easily be subbed with chorizo, turkey sausage, or bacon. Made as is, it feeds 2 people hearty portions with about 2 servings of leftovers.Pro-tip: Skip the step to caramelize the onions to save yourself a lot of time. This recipe works just fine if you sauté them with the sausage.
  • Curried cauliflower soup - “I’m eating cauliflower? Really? REALLY?” This is a very filling, thick soup. It’s especially great if you have guests or children who are picky eaters because you can very easily play up the flavor with a bit more pepper or add some garlic.

  • Roasted red pepper and tomato soup - It tastes exactly what it sounds like. Not much effort either. You basically bake ingredients for 35 minutes… then puree them in a food processor and you’re done. As a leftover soup, it turned into a great cold gazpacho that even Barney Gumble wouldn’t tell you to go back to Russia over. Served hot, it kind of reminds me of eating tomato soup as a comfort food on a cold winter day.

  • Lemon zest poppyseed pancakes – I subbed chia seeds for poppy seeds because who the hell has poppyseeds laying around? Had a sweet lemon flavor to them, not that kind of savory eggy taste that pancakes often have. This also taught me to step up my pancake-making game by no longer committing all the grievous sins of pancake-making.

  • Baked mediterranean chicken – sundried tomatoes, olives, garlic, and onion? Yase. I don’t normally like eating baked chicken… the texture always seems a bit stringy and flavorless than I want, but this is packed with flavor.

  • Home-made cranberry sauce – I test ran this a few times, experimented with different ingredients, and turned my kitchen into a science lab to get it just right. Playing with food outside of the context of someone else’s recipe really taught me how to balance flavor. This will make you want to eat cranberries outside of Thanksgiving dinner.

  • Baked apple slices – So little effort. Slice, core, apply cinnamon, bake.

  • Home-made ketchup – Not much to say, it’s ketchup but it doesn’t have HFCS in it.

  • Rosemary and onion sweet potato tater tots – Goes really well with aforementioned ketchup.

  • Roasted butternut squash soup — The butternut squash and apple in this makes it feel like you’re eating a dessert but you’re actually eating a very healthy, filling, nutritious soup. This is seriously the best soup I’ve ever had.

Things I Didn’t Like Too Much That Kept Popping Up

  • “Faux” anything — Faux rice from cauliflower. Zuccheti (spaghetti made from zucchini). Almost anything trying to imitate bread. The only exception here was a garlic stick recipe… but even that was slightly more crumbly than I’d like. Basically, recipes like these just make you feel like you’re on a diet by reminding you that the thing you’re eating really is a poor representation of what the actual thing tastes like. My suggestion: If you miss rice, bread, or spaghetti so much—eat them for your cheat meal. And yes, do give yourself cheat meals. Cheat meals, not cheat days.
  • Paleo thai red curry — It wasn’t outright disgusting, but it just had a subtle underflavor that made me feel like I was licking someone’s butthole. Which is not something I want to associate with food. You’d think it’d work well because … coconut… and Thai food… but… no.
  • Breakfast pizza — It had coconut flour for crust. Even with garlic powder mixed in, it was gross. If you fancy yourself a pizza connoisseur, I guarantee you will not like this. Pizza is so much about the crust and you just cannot imitate that with coconut flour.

Things You Will Need

You only need minimum basics for cooking BUT I found a few things made it much easier:

  • An immersion blender. — great for quick blending soups, batter, and mid-day snack shakes quickly with almost no clean-up involved.
  • A low-cost food processor. — your recipe calls for diced onion, peppers, carrots, and garlic? Agh. Slice it and pulse it and save yourself like… 15 minutes of dicing.SAMSUNG CSC
  • A couple of chef’s knives and a paring knife. — I mean, do I need to explain? You need to be able to cut things. The knives I got were impressively sharp for their cost. I already had a low-cost IKEA knife too, so you don’t need some fancy full set from Williams-Sonoma to chop up a butternut squash.SAMSUNG CSC
  • A vegetable peeler. — I really cannot imagine peeling a sweet potato without one of these anymore. SAMSUNG CSC
  • If you want to cook batches, a stock pot. — Mine is comically large and kind of a PITA to wash in my sink, but I use it pretty infrequently.

You shouldn’t really need much more than this, tool-wise. Each of those is a link to the exact thing I use, all of which are cheap and work well. These should be affordable even if you are on a budget. The immersion blender isn’t as much of a must as the others (you can technically use your food processor), but it’ll save you a ton of time.

I keep on-hand supplies of:

  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Madras curry
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes

These things play huge and heavy roles in a lot of dishes—save maybe one or two of those, you probably already have these things in your spice rack because they’re just cooking staples.  I bought a rosemary plant. Ordinarily I would have mint and basil plants around but the weather hasn’t been too kind on either in my house so I usually just buy those on demand. If anything, you absolutely need sea salt and black pepper. Your food will taste bland and uninspired without these (common sense to most people, I know).

You will also want to buy: coconut flour, almond flour, and coconut oil. These things will last you weeks despite how often you use them, I swear. There will be an initial sticker shock in price of food (your grocery bill for the first week might suddenly be $200) but understand that this is just a base cost (mine was eventually down to $50-70 a week and I buy all organic). The cool thing is… you will have a lot of control over your food budget suddenly once you start planning and having leftovers. If I really, really tried, I could probably get my all-organic food budget down to $30 a week, but it’s not a huge concern of mine so…

The best part is that your grocery cart will look crazy simplistic.

 

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Would I recommend my rules to others?

This is a hard question! Mostly because all of my rules sort of tie together—that’s the reason I made them. I’ll go through the original list and explain:

1. Drink a gallon of water a day.

I don’t know that I would recommend a gallon of water a day to everyone. I know that sounds weird, like, “Aimee what could it hurt?” but I think drinking half your weight in ounces is fine enough. I found drinking that much water, all it did was make me pee a ton and often the pee was totally clear instead of faintly yellow (which means it’s not actually helping my body at all). Basically, you should drink enough water… and your body will tell you when you’re drinking enough because you’ll start peeing like crazy.

2. No beer or liquor. 1-2 glasses of wine a week max.

I’d recommend the no liquor thing easily, maybe extending it to “only on special occasions and I don’t mean ‘my dog graduated obedience school! shots time!’.” NPR recently had an article that explained that most people who think they are “moderate” drinkers are actually “excessive.” HOWEVER, I somehow messed up my understanding of my own rule so I was having more like 4 glasses of wine a week (1-2 with both cheat meals). This was fine, I think. I am, by technicality, a moderate drinker, and if I’m going to be drinking alcohol, you can’t go wrong with all the resveratrol and heart-healthy antioxidants found in red wine (which is where I tend to swing since I like Malbecs and Riojas).

3. 2 cheat meals a week

I definitely recommend cheat meals. Again, just 1-3 a week total, nothing huge. Don’t do “cheat days” because you’ll feel like shit. I do 2 meals a week. One of those usually falls on Friday night and I like to do it right after I’m done with CrossFit so I’m in a position to eat like crazy. I usually do this meal solo and it’s sort of a very peaceful experience for me because I get to relax by myself and enjoy my food.The other one I keep open for social gatherings with friends but if nothing pops up, I’ll just invite my boyfriend to join me. My cheat meals were never anything seriously bad for me. For example, I’m not getting delivery pizza or Chipotle.

4. Paleo

For most people, sure, I’d recommend paleo. I’m more likely to say “just eat clean,” but I mean… for a lot of people, they have no idea what that means exactly, so paleo is a good starting place. I call bullshit on the whole history and philosophy behind it and think certain aspects of it are crazy (no legumes), but… the point is, you should be eating less processed foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables.

I would not recommend paleo if you have cholesterol problems. You’ll eat a lot of eggs and meat. I didn’t get bloodwork before this experiment so I’m not sure what my cholesterol was (I imagine it wasn’t great). Anecdotally, my heart feels healthier than ever, but I don’t know what my cholesterol levels are so it’s kind of hard for me to recommend it without numeric data to back things up.

I also wouldn’t recommend it if you have nut allergies, because you’ll be eating a lot of nut-based flour (almond flour).

But… I think people who currently have excess weight that they’re looking to shed would generally see significant weight loss from eating this way. I read many stories of people who lost 10-25 pounds in a month going paleo.

If you’re more like me, you might enjoy paleo for more ethical, personal, and scientific reasons. If nothing else, I have learned a lot about sustainable agriculture,  the politics of GMOs, and have involved myself more in media regarding medical science. I’ve also gotten better at picking up on dietary-related propaganda from both sides of the table.

Common sense tips: Your first week of Paleo could potentially be stressful for you since you’re going to be detoxing from processed foods. Pick a week where you don’t have much going on to start it. Don’t pick like, the week you’re moving to a new state, starting a new job, getting married, going on vacation, or having a child–you might feel more tired than usual for a couple of days to start and you may have mood swings. If your diet has been just bad and you know it, ease in to Paleo, maybe go halfsies for a week or two. I don’t want to scare anyone off though so let me point out that very likely things will be totally fine and at worst, you might have an afternoon where you just feel kind of hungry–understand that you’re probably not actually hungry but are just craving things that are bad for you.

5. CrossFit.

So here’s the thing. I wouldn’t recommend CrossFit for just anyone. In fact, I’m more likely to say you shouldn’t do CrossFit than you should.  It’s super intense and super intense just isn’t for everyone.

You can very easily get in just as good shape doing free weights in a normal gym. You just have to have a lot of dedication, a lot of patience, and you have to be a giant bully to yourself, because that’s what CrossFit is good for… accountability and not being allowed to make excuses. The thing about CrossFit is that everyone’s story is different–but no matter where you come from, it will be a brutal start because you’ll be working out alongside people who have been doing it for years. You will be standing next to a girl who is 2 inches shorter than you who can deadlift 300 pounds more than you. You will be flummoxed. But you will change, rapidly.

I’m not as much of a CrossFit junky as others are. A lot of people do 5-6 days a week. I go 3 times a week because that’s just all I can fit into my schedule (I take studio art classes on Monday nights and Pilates on Wednesday nights, meaning I only have 3 days open), but I can tell you that the difference between going to 2 days a week and 3 days a week is huge.   So believe me, every little bit of effort you make? It counts.

I finished Barbara (for time, 5 rounds of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, and 50 air squats) on Friday in 27:42. I don’t think I would have finished it 6 months ago and if I did, it would have been significantly scaled.

I think everyone should be exercising and really busting their balls doing so, but I think you should do whatever makes you happiest. If that involves doing power cleans, awesome, but maybe you’d be just fine doing a 40-mile heavy breather on your bike instead. I’m not here to judge.

6. 8-9 hours of sleep a night.

YES. Not only that, but improve your sleep. Unwind before you go to sleep. Don’t go to bed stressed out. Find a way to organize your sleeping arrangements so you are most comfortable. Clean your bed sheets regularly. Get ear plugs if you need them. Sleep in a dark room. All these things. Getting enough sleep makes gigantic strides in your brain’s ability to perform throughout the day. I always thought my brain was just fine until doing this experiment and now I realize I was actually lost in a perpetual state of brain fog that just never quite cleared up until I actually got enough sleep. 8 hours is generally fine, but if you’re working out regularly, 9 is so much better.

7. Do pilates every week.

 Pilates is kind of funny. It’s such a “girly” activity, like yoga, but it’s so helpful and so not girly really. If you sit at an office desk all day, there’s no question that you probably have very tight hip flexors. Going to pilates will loosen you up a lot. It’ll also make you stronger in your core, which means you’ll probably have better posture as well. It means you’ll be able to perform better lifting weights. The trick to pilates is to ignore all the stupid new-age-y bullshit people try to say in pilates studios and just focus on you.

8. Daily fish oil and Vitamin D supplement.

I’m not really sure if I recommend this. In theory, if you’re eating well, you shouldn’t need either. But a lot of people are vitamin D deficient, new studies are showing that vitamin D blood tests are kind of ambiguous right now too. If you can afford it, at least supplement the bare minimum (400 IU).

9.  Ride 20+ miles per week on a bike.

I recommend you find something you love, something that makes you feel liberated and like there’s nothing but you and it… and do that. That’s all. Biking is that for me. I do it even when I’m sore. Even when I’m tired. Even when it’s cold. People say I’m crazy, but that’s the point. It’s something you love so much you don’t even care if you look crazy.

So I’m done… but am I? Nope! I’m planning on sticking to a mostly paleo diet. I don’t like to say my experiment is really “done” because it sounds like I am free from it… I am way too happy with the results to walk away from it. I may occasionally have a beer or something outside of the rules, but for a majority of my meals, I plan to stick to it and I plan to stay clean. I’m going to be in Iceland for a little bit this winter (leaving next weekend, yay!) where the fish flows free, the water is clean, and Crossfit is a commodity, so I know in the short-term, eating clean should not be a huge dilemma.

Anyway, tonight will be my first beer in over a month! I have no idea what it will be, but I’m stoked! Thanks to everyone who has followed me during this time, encouraged me, and supported my choices! If you are interested in trying out this experiment for yourself, let me know–I’m more than happy to give further advice, recommendations, and general support.

No-fucking-up-vember: Week 3

At the start of November,  I started a month-long experiment based on a set of rules in a quest for self-improvement called No-fucking-up-vember.

Today marks the end of Week 3.

My notes!

  • I’ve started trying to integrate paleo into my more normal not-cooking-3-meals-a-day life. I’ve managed to do paleo at a couple of different restaurants. I am limited still in choices of places I can eat and it really is amazing how little technicalities can stand in the way. I had a striped sea bass dinner that ended up turning into the tiniest of cheating because it came in a miso soup (miso is fermented bean paste so it’s kind of a fine line)
  • I lost more weight again this week. Not as much as last week, but a couple of pounds. I know this sounds like, “Oh yay!” but I’m not trying to lose weight so it’s kind of weird considering I’m eating plenty.
  • For perspective, I started at 124.3 pounds with 19.5% body fat, 34.3% muscle mass. I am currently 118.1 pounds with 18.1% body fat and 35.6% muscle mass. I’ve tried not to focus too much on numbers because when you get involved in weightlifting, body weight becomes very irrelevant very fast. As long as I’m healthy and in good shape, I don’t care too much about my weight.
  • Doing this experiment has really, really helped me understand body image better. Even though I have lost weight, there are still some days where I feel “fat.” I’ve realized this has absolutely nothing to do with whether I actually am fat or not or what I look like in the mirror. What you eat plays a huge role in how your body feels, no matter what your weight.  If you don’t eat enough. If you eat too much sodium. If you don’t get enough variation in macronutrients. If you’re not getting enough fiber. If you’re getting too much fiber. If you’re not treating your body right, you’re not going to feel good.
  • Thanksgiving is looming ahead next week. I’m having dinner with my boyfriend and his parents but I’m going to be cooking some of the dishes. For me, this included making a home-made cranberry sauce that I test-ran this week. When I was a kid, my mom was not a very good cook. She didn’t cook anything with fresh ingredients. We rarely ate fruits and vegetables and when we did, they were canned. So, every Thanksgiving, cranberry sauce was that canned Ocean Spray jellied cylindrical blob. That said, I had no idea how wonderful cranberry sauce could be when you make it fresh!

    Ingredients:
    12 ounces of fresh organic cranberries
    ¾ cup of juice squeezed fresh from Valencia oranges
    ½ cup of raw honey
    1 cinnamon stick

    Mix first three ingredients together in a pot and heat on low-medium for 10-15 minutes. Add cinnamon stick about halfway in.  The berries should start to pop a bit creating a more liquid mixture. Remove from heat, remove cinnamon stick, and refrigerate until ready to serve. I found that the flavor on this really hit its peak about 3 days later, but it was delicious fresh off the stove too. An old friend from school recommended adding lemon zest too but I haven’t tried that yet.

  • I found out in the past week that coffee is actually paleo-friendly (assuming you take it black, which I do). BUMMER that I’ve gone 3 weeks without it. I don’t really miss it that much on a caffeine level because my energy has been through the roof without chemically altering my brain. But I miss bold, flavor-packed coffees and that weird punch you get from a decent cold brew. On the other hand, I’ve really grown to appreciate teas. My favorite tea is Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice. I cannot pimp this tea enough. Even if you don’t like teas normally, you’ll probably like this—it’s so bold and spicy.
  • Collard greens. Oh. man. When I was in grade school in South Carolina, they were often in the cafeteria lunch… that and friend okra… but it was always like, “What is this weird goopy kelp crap?” and I never really ate it that often. But man I can’t enough of it now. I love sautéed kale too because it has a more savory taste than other greens do. Also, kale chips. But yeah, collard greens. Stalks and all. I’m all in.
  • Sweet potatoes are my other love. Oiled with fresh rosemary… it’s weird to me how I never really used rosemary much outside of pasta dishes before. It pairs so well with sweet potatoes. Also: garlic with your sweet potatoes. Aghhhhh. So good. I feel like I eat a minimum of one clove of garlic per meal these days.
  • I’ve been trying to do a strict pull-up for a while now. I refuse to do kipping pull-ups so instead I’ve been doing rows and jumping pull-ups. The other day at Crossfit, I was very close to being able to do one strict! My only stalled spot is at the bottom hang. I’m sooooo close. And it feels amazing.
  • I PRed (set personal records) in the gym a few times the past week! Yay! I celebrated with flourless chocolate cake for my cheat meal.(I could only manage to eat about half of this because it tasted so rich in comparison to anything else I’ve had recently)
  • Albeit a small victory, perseverance paid off.  I’ve been loathing doing power cleans for a while now because my form is off. My coaches finally had a serious moment with me this week and spent some time giving me good feedback. I know I’m like the underdog kid when it comes to olympic lifts, but I’m so not giving up!
  • I watched a couple of documentaries–Forks Over Knives, which was about going vegan and cited that animal protein is responsible for turning on cancer, and Hungry for Change, which was about how we’re eating so much HFCS and simple carbohydrates that we’re overloading our body’s ability to process sugar.  I felt like both documentaries were both smug and yet also on-the-defense, both promoting something or some “fad.” I really appreciated Food, Inc. but trying to claim that you know what macronutrient ratio everyone needs is kind of bullshit, I think.
  • I’m suddenly very sensitive to advertising for unhealthy foods. I notice everywhere I go, people are trying to sell you junk food. And not like awesome-tasting junk food, but just throw-away crap like Little Debbie snack cakes and Dairy Queen ice cream and things that are “okay” but not so good that I can imagine squandering my rare times for eating sweets on things that are just so… mediocre? I mean, I love peanut butter M&Ms and sour gummy worms, but who is buying zebra cakes at gas station convenience stores? I kind of want to punch these people in the face.
  • I’ve got so many glasses of water laying around, it’s starting to look like the movie Signs all up in my house.
  • The weather lately has just been outright painful and has made keeping my Crossfit goals difficult considering I bike. I rode my bike in 16 degree Fahrenheit weather to get to a class this week—I had to wear 3 layers of shirt under my coat and pants over my pants. I’m grateful to my boyfriend who has taken me to and from things in his car whenever he’s available but yeah… the people at my gym said I was crazy and they’re probably right. From this, I’ve learned that it is very important to wick the sweat off your face after Crossfit before heading back into freezing weather. Because yeah, it crystallizes right there on your face and it hurts.

To close, here’s the simplest breakfast in the world:

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(Avocado with seed removed and egg inside with red pepper flakes, baked)

Although this one is a close second:

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(Cinnamon rolls made from almond flour and coconut flour, egg, honey, and cinnamon. I skipped the icing because who really needs that much sweet for breakfast? It was delicious on its own)

 

No-fucking-up-vember: Week 2 Complete

At the start of November,  I started a month-long experiment based on a set of rules in a quest for self-improvement called No-fucking-up-vember.

Today marks the end of Week 2. I really cannot believe I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks already.

My notes:

  • I lost weight this week. About 4 pounds. I don’t really know what to make of that. I don’t feel like it was weight lost from anywhere in particular, but I am suddenly seeing a lot more muscle definition, particularly in my shoulders and upper arms:

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    It only looks that crazy if I flex. I think this is about as decked out as I want my muscles to look. I like having a girlish figure and I have no plans to go into a career of body-building :)

  • I’m eating a lot of wild sockeye salmon. I’m trying to diversify what fish I eat. I sometimes have to google the name of a fish to make sure it’s not a fictitious World of Warcraft or Animal Crossing fish. This is kind of sad. Orange roughy.
  • I’m having a hard time visiting the grocery store without getting really bummed out when I look at ingredients on things. Why is there so much sodium in everything?
  • I’m cooking a lot of things now that I have never made before and in some cases, haven’t really eaten too much of before. I made my first honey balsamic roasted brussel sprouts over the weekend and they were delicious. I also made garlic mushroom meatloaf with my own home-made ketchup and I think it tasted better than any meatloaf my mom ever made when I was a kid.
  • My 2 cheat meals this week didn’t really feel too much like cheat meals to me. The first was pumpkin-seed crusted salmon, butternut squash salsa, sautéed kale, vegetable flan, flourless chocolate cake, and 2 glasses of wonderful cabernet. The second was blackened tofu with mashed garlic sweet potatoes (the tofu does push it into cheat meal territory on technicality but I don’t personally have an issue with soy so…).
  • 2 glasses of wine suddenly feels like a lot.  I had dinner with friends for the second cheat meal and felt mildly drunk when I came home.
  • Forcing Pilates into my schedule has become slightly annoying because no one else in the class does any form of strength training and so the teacher keeps trying to force bands and rings into things to introduce strength-training that I really do not need. All it does is fatigue my sore arms and legs. Core strength stuff is still nice though.
  • I’m noticing significant improvements in my Crossfit performance. I PRed twice in the past week on bench press and push press and doing cardio doesn’t put me as much out of breath as it did before.
  • The biking more than usual rule I don’t think is going to work out for me for the rest of the month due to weather. It was nice fall weather when I started this challenge (50s). There is now snow and 10-30 degree Fahrenheit weather at stake that makes riding my bike feel like I am dying. I still have to do it to get to Crossfit, but I have no desire to ride my bike elsewhere, especially on icy roads.
  • As a result, I’ve planned to travel to Iceland in December. One, as a reward to myself for doing this. But two, to allow myself to continue to be a functional human being there since my bike is my only means of transportation. Why Iceland? It’s actually warmer there despite its closeness to the arctic circle. Reykjavik is highly walkable, it has some of the fastest Internet in the world, almost everyone there speaks English on top of Icelandic so going to Crossfit there will be possible, they have a very healthy supply of fish, and um…. well… aurora borealis and hiking on a glacier? Yes please!
  • I signed up for a “Paleo on the Go” delivery service which does weekly deliveries. They drop 2 meals I order off at my Crossfit box. This is pretty ideal for me because I want fresh food after Crossfit but I don’t want to cook and the guy who operates this service seems like he takes a lot of pride in the food he makes :) The first meal I tried from them was Mustard-glazed roasted pork loin with butternut squash and roasted turnips.

  • My favorite fall drink… pumpkin puree… nutmeg… cinnamon… half of a frozen banana… half a cup of almond milk blended with an immersion blender. This tastes really good, even ignoring that it’s paleo. Also pumpkin has almost no sugar in (the banana on the other hand….)

  • Lowering the amount of sugar I eat, my mouth is now super aware of it when I taste it. I feel like if I ate bread with HFCS from the grocery store right now, I’d be unnerved by how sweet it is. A banana feels like eating candy.

  • The flavor I’ve missed more than sweet is sour. I loved sour candy and sour beer. To deal with that, I like to eat raw cranberries. Not only tasty, but also good for preventing urinary tract infections, I hear. I am slowly craving sour beer less and less though.

  • I finally started to notice improvements in my skin from drinking a ton of water. Not huge differences. But slight. I don’t think you could really tell a difference unless you spent all day looking at my stupid face. But I included before/after photos anyway for comparison. Less redness overall. Skin feels a tiny bit softer.

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    Again, if anyone can really see a difference in that before/after, I’d be really surprised. It’s not quite like that lady who looked 10 years younger after a month. Not sure if I want to look 10 years younger than I already look anyway.

  • I was successful in finally getting 9 hours of sleep. When I get less than 8.5 now, I feel super tired the next day. So that kinda sucks.
  • FIBER: Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 8.41.33 AM

I didn’t take a significant amount of food photos this week oddly, but:

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Baked cinnamon apple slices I made. These tasted ridiculously sweet to me. They’re also extremely easy to make. Just slice an apple, coat it in cinnamon, and bake at 200 for several hours.

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My new go-to breakfast food when I’m feeling like I want carbs. Pumpkin pancakes made from pumpkin puree,  eggs, coconut flour, vanilla extract, nutmeg. They have about the same texture as normal pancakes but I suck at flipping pancakes. They definitely do not taste as sweet as normal pancakes do, hence the definite need for maple syrup or honey.

 

 

No-fucking-up-vember Week 1: Complete

I started a month of self-accountability this month called “No-fucking-up-vember“.

Today is the end of week 1.

Here are the highlights:

  • Even though I only set out to do this for the sake of personal accountability and not getting gross diseases when I’m older… my clothes are fitting me better. It’s not a huge difference or anything, but I can just feel it.
  • As someone who loves to cook, I really am enjoying the aspect of working with base materials that I haven’t used a lot, like nut-based ingredients. Coconut oil, almond flour, coconut milk… they seem to be staples. I enjoy finding new ways to cook vegetables I like as well, like sweet potato chips.
  • Gallon of water a day works. I don’t really see it so much in my skin, but I didn’t have a lot of skin imperfections to start. If anything, I guess my skin has a bit more glow to it now. It definitely shows in my hair though. It’s regained a lot of flounce that seemed to have gone missing in the last year. As someone who has very, very thick wavy, curly hair, I’m seeing a lot less breakage too. Yay!
  • I generally wake up feeling very refreshed and not sleepy. Part of this may be the fact that I have almost eliminated caffeine from my diet. I drink a cup of cinnamon tea first thing in the morning, but that’s it.
  • I have more time to do things that require hand-eye coordination now that I’m not drinking beer at all. Woo!
  • Doing pilates in conjunction with CrossFit has been wonderful. It helps me with core strength I definitely need for weightlifting. The increased flexibility is a nice perk, too.
  • Giving myself cheat meals, oddly, has made me less likely to cheat. I value them too much to waste them on things that are gross.
  • Cheat meals have been interesting. I appreciate the flavor way more than I did when I ate these things regularly, but also my body has picked up a slightly better intuition as to what things are not nutritious. I also noticed I don’t feel sodium bloat after eating these things now since they are rare (my first cheat meal was shrimp scampi and a piece of chocolate cake for dessert for anyone curious).
  • I often have tons of leftovers from things I make. This is great because after CrossFit, I want to do about… oh, 0 cooking and just want to funnel food into my mouth. Leftovers are a godsend for that.
  • I am far more selective about wine that I drink. Only the good stuff. No Whole Foods Malbecs for me, thanks.
  • I’m generally in a happier mood. Doing something good for myself feels good. It makes me feel somewhat more confident as well knowing I can succeed at a very difficult goal.
  • I’m not sure which aspect of it is providing this benefit (I suspect the vitamin D and omega 3 supplements) but I’ve had some rough rotator cuff pain for a long time and it’s loosened up significantly in just a week. Basically, shoving foods with anti-inflammatory properties in your mouth makes your body feel pretty great on the whole.

The lowlights:

  • Have you drank a gallon of water a day? You will pee like 17 times a day. I also gained 8 pounds of water weight in a single day. On the flip side, by day 3, I had lost all 8 pounds along with 3 additional pounds, so… cool?
  • A couple of days I did not meet my water mark. I did drink anywhere from 10-14 glasses of water on those days though (this does not include any tea I drank).
  • Also, drinking that much water will make you want to barf no matter how much you space it out.
  • It took a couple of days for my body to get adjusted to the changes in my diet. I felt a tiny bit light-headed and weak, despite feeling perfectly sated. According to several websites of varying repute, this is because your body goes through a detox when you stop eating tons of sodium, sugar, and processed foods. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I know I felt shaky here and there… and then suddenly, by day 3, not at all and back to my regular–if not more energetic–self. It was kind of like having caffeine withdrawal, if I had to compare it to something.
  • Paleo cooking is time-consuming! On my first night, my boyfriend was over and helped me make dinner. It felt like we were cooking for 2 hours. It was probably just an hour, but just imagine spending 3 hours of your day cooking. I think as I get more used to being in the habit of cooking, I’ll get faster about it.
  • Some vegetables I’m already sick of. I like zucchini, but I’ve seen recipes where it is used as bread and I don’t really enjoy find the texture of a big long slice of it to be very palatable.
  • I still am struggling to get 8-9 hours of sleep. Before this experiment, I was averaging 6-7.5. I’d say at the moment, I’ve increased that number to 7.5-8.25, depending on the night.  I’m a light sleeper and my bedroom is directly above a busy street so I’m not really surprised by any of this.
  • I’ve had a runny nose for the past few days. I like to think this is actually like my body resisting a cold it would have normally picked up. My immune system was pretty crappy. That’s another thing I’m hoping will get better with these changes.

Here’s what it all looks like:
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This is one of my favorite recipes I picked up. It’s granola. You put some cashews, almonds, and unsweetened coconut flakes in a food processor, then coat that mixture in coconut oil, vanilla extract, and a tiny smidge of ginger honey and bake it for 18 minutes at 300 degrees. Then lightly sprinkle sea salt on it after it’s done (I added some dried cranberries to mine too). It made my kitchen smell like vanilla too, which was rad, and tastes better than any granola I’ve ever bought in stores.

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If any of these things look appetizing, the recipes for them can be acquired on Paleogrubs.com

This is my pantry. All the things on the top shelf are things I’m not eating:

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Most of my veggies and fruits are in the fridge. And here’s my other cabinet of cooking-related items:

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It’s a lot of coconut milk!

I worried that these things would taste awful and flavorless but they taste way better than things I was cooking before. I know that sounds really fake and scripted but I really mean it. I had a rosemary, sweet potato, egg, and italian sausage hash for breakfast on my first day that was unparalleled with any scramble I’ve had in a restaurant. I do miss beer though. There is no substitute for beer. I also learned from all of this that there is literally no reason to ever buy any kind of coconut product organic. It’s like the safest thing you could possibly buy non-organic and buying it organic often doubles the cost.

A lot of people go paleo and lose a ton of weight. I did not lose any weight ultimately. I don’t really expect to, though. I do see slight differences in my body’s appearance but I don’t feel like they’re noticeable with clothing on, so it’s not exactly anything I’m tooting any horn about. What I’m saying is… if you’re already in pretty good shape and try this, don’t expect much number-shifting. You’ll feel a lot better but the data evidence to back it will be slim pickings.

On the whole, I’m happy about this change. It does feel like an enormous change and food is suddenly a much bigger aspect of my life than it was before… based on just this week alone, I highly doubt I am going to stick to a 100% paleo lifestyle in the long run, but I think I will stick to the principle of clean eating.

No-fucking-up-vember

In June, I started a foray into Crossfit. It’s been a really wonderful journey into acquiring two tickets to the gun show, but I’m a bit sloppy outside of the gym. I often return from class and eat the first thing I can get my hands on because I’m starving.  Like pizza. Sometimes I forget to eat lunch because I’m busy with work. I think I look great, but I often don’t feel great. So, for me, November will become “No-fucking-up-vember.”

For at least one month, I will attempt to adhere to these rules: 

  1. Drink one gallon of water a day.
  2. No beer or liquor. 1-2 glasses of wine a week max.
  3. 2 cheat meals a week (because it’s practical and also because not doing this would be social suicide, I think)
  4. Paleo (modified though, because I eat things like beans and greek yogurt).
  5. No skipping Crossfit days. Unless I am very ill, if I sign up, I go.
  6. 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
  7. 1 Pilates session a week.
  8. Daily fish oil and Vitamin D supplement.
  9. Although I ride my bike about 5-15 miles a day currently, at least one day a week, riding 20+ miles.

I am aware that Thanksgiving occurs in November. But that doesn’t really mean anything to me. I’ve done vegan Thanksgiving before and Paleo Thanksgiving couldn’t possibly be weirder than vegan Thanksgiving was. Most of these rules I don’t think will be that difficult for me, however I suspect cutting alcohol from my life will be pretty shitty because I love a good ale and whiskey. I enjoy cooking, so I think once I get into the habit of cooking, I’ll have an appreciation for it.

During this time, I’ll be posting weekly updates, including any times I’ve slipped up, any horror stories, or anything I uncover that is generally very awesome and worth sharing.

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On Turning Thirty

I turn 30 today.

And it feels pretty uneventful [in a good way]

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Making the Most of Redis and Sorted Sets

I recently did quite a bit of work on a project that uses Redis for its primary method of data storage. Like many developers, I’ve used Redis before for simple key/value retrieval, but not for much else. What I ended up learning is that Redis works phenomenally for a few very specific functionalities, one of which is very low-cost sorting of data sets. This works really great for leaderboard-type implementations, which is what I used it for on Treehouse. Ultimately, we ended up with a starting Sorted Set including several dozens of thousands of records, based on points and badges that Treehouse students earn while learning.

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On New Jobs and Why I’m Not Afraid of Being Edgy

Most people I’m friends with know that I recently switched jobs. It was a really difficult decision to make ultimately, mostly because the opportunity blindsided me somewhat. I didn’t really think to write about it until recently, though, when I realized that on the upcoming marking of one full decade of me working professionally in development, I have worked over 7 of those years as a remote employee and that’s really something.

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That Time I Got High in Amsterdam

Last summer, I went to Amsterdam for a few days between Stockholm and London. Although I kept a journal while there, the days passed in a swift, vivid, nauseating blur, and the story I share the most from Amsterdam with friends is one I never wrote down–out of complete, morbid embarrassment. Which means it is probably a good story.

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