Thursday, May 29, 2014

Half-Way There!

At this point we're just over half-way through the Step 1 Diet Reset phase (very very much like the Whole30, if you're familiar with that). In some ways it feels like the first two weeks have gone quickly, and in other ways it feels like two more weeks seems reeeeally long. But alas, I have survived. I am on track, and I even weathered a holiday weekend mostly unscathed! I'll say it: I'm proud of myself. At the outset this seemed a lot harder than it has been. I'm not sure if that's because I'm only half-way through, or if it's a sign of my mental determination {really hoping it's the latter}, but I'm feeling confident that switches have been flipped... permanently.

My family really wants to know how I'm feeling. Do I notice any big changes? Is this whole thing even worthwhile?? After two weeks, I can't say I feel dramatically different. I still have the hypothyroid symptoms that set me off on this journey in the first place. But, I also don't think it's realistic to expect myself to be "healed" or "cured" after two weeks either. The point of sticking to a strict set of especially healthy foods for this 30 days is to get the other stuff out of my system. It takes time for the body to get rid of some of the things that were party of my previous diet. Once that 30 days has passed and my system has settled and begun to repair, then I will start paying close attention to see if my symptoms start to improve. At this very minute, I'm sitting under a fleece blanket, wearing a hoodie and my hands and feet are ice cold. Somewhere over the next few months, I'll be looking for them to warm up. Over the past week I've found 3 pieces of my own hair in one dish of food, and a piece in my glass of water that ice cubes had fused around {seriously gross, I know}. Six months from now, I'm hopeful that won't be such a common occurrence. We'll see. It's possible that this change in my diet will help me, but that I'll still need thyroid medication. It is what it is. But that doesn't mean that I've wasted my time eating better. Quite the contrary actually.

Here is where I have seen change: The more I read of Your Personal Paleo Code, the more convinced I am to commit to a Paleo-style diet for life. There is so much information and evidence indicating which foods are the most healthful and which foods are lacking {not to mention potentially harmful}. I've also learned so much about how the health of our digestive system affects so many other conditions and areas of the body. I mentioned before that I'm someone who has always been opposed to "diets." This is genuinely not a diet. The bottom line purpose of this information is health and healing. That you will not find from Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or any of the other common diet plans out there. The goal among them is simply weight-loss, and maybe better health as a side effect. This is something different. Something bigger. Definitely something better. For a while now, despite a handful of people I know endorsing it and encouraging me to try it, I avoided a Paleo diet because I felt like it was unsustainable for me. I thought it was too strict and I just wasn't willing to commit to that for the rest of my life. I could find other ways to maintain my health. Thankfully, circumstances in my own health shoved me toward it to a point where I had to look into it out of curiosity if nothing else. Now that I've learned more and given it a try, I don't see myself going back. Don't get me wrong, I don't intend to stick to the strict guidelines that are used for this first 30 day phase forever, but I don't plan to stray too far from it either. It will remain the basis of my diet. I'll reintroduce some things, like dairy which I've really missed, but I'll probably eat less of it than I did before. And everything else will be an occasional treat. Nothing is banned for life, and for me personally, that helps immensely with my resolve.

So that's where I am at the halfway point: hanging in there better than I thought I could, learning more every day, more convinced than ever that this was a smart choice, and committed. Let's see what the next 2 weeks brings!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Personal Paleo Code: 1 Week In

We've been at this 30-day diet reset thing for a little over a week now {closer to 2 weeks, these posts take me a few days to compose & edit!}, so I figured I'd post an update on what we're eating and how we're doing. First, to give you a framework of what we're eating, the "reset" phase of the Personal Paleo Code consists of: meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. No dairy, grains, legumes, sugar/sweeteners, industrial oils like canola, or artificial ingredients. Sound tough to live off of? It's really not that bad.

For breakfast I've been eating ground turkey with sweet potatoes and apples, berry smoothies made with coconut milk and chia seeds, and of course the incredible edible egg with some combination of salsa/avocado/tomatoes. Who needs cereal {i.e. sugar} to start the day? I will admit that I struggled a little with black coffee. I was used to a little sugar and some half-and-half, and black coffee was just not as exciting for me. I drank it for a few days, then gradually blended it down to half-caff, and finally to none at all. I prefer not to be reliant on a cup of coffee in the morning anyway. I really drank it because I love the taste, and once that aspect was gone there was no point. 

For lunch I stuck to my usual salads, though I switched to olive oil & balsamic vinegar instead of the honey-mustard dressing {homemade} I had been using before. I also had to omit cheese or black beans which I often included before. Instead I added avocado and/or boiled eggs. Sadly that has proven to just not cut it for a lunch meal. I've experienced more than one episode of extremely low blood sugar in the evenings where I start feeling dizzy, light-headed and like I need to eat something, anything immediately. It makes sense since I'm consuming significantly less sugar and carbs than I used to. Hopefully it's just my body adjusting to it's new fuel type. I did some quick online research and some advice was to eat more carbs {fruit or sweet potatoes} and other advice was to stay away from carbs {which could be causing a blood sugar crash} and eat more protein and fat instead. For today's lunch, I decided to skip the salad and go for something heavier.

Two salmon/sweet potato cakes, steamed carrots, and two boiled eggs. I also had an apple after that. 

It did not disappoint! My evening was much better. So, note to self: salad on the side, good dose of protein for the main component.

That brings me to dinner. Dinners have been the easiest and most fun. Some of our dinners have been steaks, burgers with pineapple slices and sweet potato chips, tacos in romaine leaves, pork roast and sweet potatoes, those salmon cakes I mentioned above, and a roasted chicken... all with a variety of vegetables. It's really simple - chose a meat, prepare however you want {within the parameters of the diet, e.g. no cheese}, chose a complementary vegetable.

I've even made ice cream out of frozen bananas using my food processor. Just slice and freeze a banana, place in the bowl of a food processor with other fruit, cinnamon, cocoa powder, nuts, etc. and process until creamy. I'm not sure I'll ever need to buy dairy ice cream again. I also love that it only makes a small amount so it's not just sitting in the freezer waiting to be eaten.

As for how we're feeling- I don't think either of us have noticed anything dramatic at this point. The first 2-3 days were a little rough for me in terms of energy, but I've definitely bounced back from that. I mentioned my couple of episodes of dizziness. Hoping that's just an adjustment to consuming significantly less sugar/carbs than before. I do not find myself hungry or experiencing cravings, which is wonderful and way beyond my expectations going into this. I thought for sure I'd be craving all the things I couldn't have. I used to always eat a bowl of cereal before bed also {a habit from childhood}, and I haven't been eating anything past dinner except the two times we made ice cream. I'm not ready to say that I see or feel my thyroid symptoms vanishing either, but hopefully I'll start to see improvements by the time the 30 day reset phase is ending {which will be June 10}. Without blood tests before and after I won't know definitively if the changes I've made are positively affecting my thyroid function. I do plan to follow up with my endocrinologist to check on my levels. They were only "slightly" off normal before, so it'll still be difficult to say whether any positive change is attributed to my eating habits or not. What I do know is that I've eliminated potential threats. By not eating foods that are known to be problematic both for my immune system and my thyroid, at least I feel confident that I'm not doing harm to myself. 

In addition, eating healthier is... well, healthier. I'm only helping myself in a variety of ways by changing my habits for the better now. My motivation originally came from having an auto-immune thyroid disorder, but the more I learn the more I believe that this change is just a smart thing to do for my long-term overall health. I'm sure there will be occasions and instances where I consume refined sugar or an artificial ingredient, but knowing that I'm careful 95% of the time will make those isolated instances much less of an issue. Therefore, I get to indulge when it's absolutely worth it and still maintain all the benefits of a clean diet. I'd say that's the best of both worlds!

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Personal Paleo Code

Ahhh, I can't believe I'm writing this... So. As I mentioned a few posts ago we recently went gluten-free due to my under-active thyroid. What I thought was an experiment to help my thyroid also proved to highlight the cause of the eczema issues that Carsen had been dealing with. After eliminating gluten from our diet {around mid-February}, I've continued doing research on thyroid disorders- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis {an autoimmune hypothyroid disorder or AITD} in particular. I've read articles, blogs, meta-research, e-books, and watched an online seminar. I have learned A LOT about how the thyroid functions, and perhaps more importantly- what it means to have hypothyroid/Hashimoto's. And I have to say, you can barely read a word on Hashimoto's or AITD without mention of the dreaded Paleo diet in some form. I say dreaded because it's something I've been avoiding for a long time, but in the back of my mind have known was probably a good idea. Anyway, everything I came across was written by a Paleo enthusiast, included testimonials by autoimmune sufferers who had great success on the diet, or included recommendations for it. I imagine the same is true for a lot of autoimmune disorders since that seems to be the connection between Paleo and Hashimoto's. In short, eating a Paleo diet seems to heal/reverse a variety of autoimmune disorders at best, and provide some relief of symptoms at worst.

Since I am most interested in managing my condition with an integrative/functional medicine approach {treating the cause of the problem instead of just suppressing symptoms}, I was rather intrigued by all the positive Paleo talk I encountered, so I went to the library to pick up this bad boy....
Only 394 pages of history, science, encouragement, testimonials, recipes, meal plans, and resources.

In general I'm opposed to "diets," especially ones that eliminate entire categories of food. They just seem really difficult to maintain over the long-term and if I can't maintain it for life then it's not really worth it to me. If you know anything about the Paleo diet, it's pretty restrictive: no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no soy, no refined oils, no artificial ingredients. Boiled down, it's basically meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Pretty rough, right? People do it though. And you can't deny that it's a very nutritious way of eating. I personally just have a hard time with things being totally "off limits." That only serves to make me crave those exact foods like never before. Thus, I have been opposed to the Paleo diet {for myself} from the first I learned of it, mostly on the basis that I felt like there's no way I could maintain it. That is, until I ran into a guy named Chris Kresser along my thyroid research journey.

Chris Kresser has written extensively about thyroid health and Hashimoto's, and even more about autoimmune disorders, and more still about health in general. After reading the articles and e-books on his web site and hearing his talk in the online seminar I watched, I headed to the library in search of his newest book. I figured it was worth reading for free :) At this point, I'm still in the first section and ready to dive into the plan! I can't really believe I'm saying that myself, but I am so ready to see if it can make a difference for me. 

So, how was I so easily convinced after being so totally opposed??
First- From what I've learned about hypothyroid, the vast majority {some sources say up to 90%!} of cases are an autoimmune condition {Hashimoto's Thyroiditis}. I'm kind of terrified that I likely have an autoimmune disease. I don't like that one bit and this is something I can personally do about it.

Second- As such a large portion of our immune system is housed in our digestive tract, autoimmune conditions can be a result of problems like a "leaky gut" {when the lining of the digestive tract becomes irritated and allows tiny particles of what we eat to enter our bodies outside the intestines}. The way to repair a leaky gut is to stop eating foods that irritate it, and to eat foods that are gut healing instead. This is the basic premise of the Paleo diet.

Third- The book, Your Personal Paleo Code, outlines a 3-step plan that makes the Paleo diet much more manageable and customizable than the super-restricted list of foods I described above. It starts out with a very bare-bones diet of foods known not to irritate the gut. After 30 days of gut healing {longer if you want}, the second step is to begin adding some foods back in like dairy or legumes. Dairy will probably be most sorely missed by me, so I'll definitely want to try that one. Some of those "off limits" foods are just plain bad for you though and you probably shouldn't bother adding them back anyway. I mean, going right back to eating refined flour, sugar and oils is just going to put you back where you were when you started. Adding things gradually on a trial basis helps you to identify which foods are well-tolerated and which ones trigger your symptoms or make you just not feel well. The third step is fine-tuning what you learn from the second step: macronutrient ratios, adjusting for your personal activity level, figuring how much and how often you need to eat, and how you can further optimize your health with things like super-foods and supplements. 

Fourth- There's a lot of credible evidence in the book pointing to the benefits of eating a Paleo-style diet. These include not just longevity, but decreased risk for so many of the awful ailments that have become the common causes of death for Americans like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's. Honestly, what happened to dying of plain old age? That's what I'm going for- really old and fairly healthy right to the end. Of course, nothing guarantees long life, or even health. But if there are simple things I can control, like eating better, that can reduce my risks for some of the nasty diseases that could cause me suffering as I age, then why not? Not to mention the benefit of better health, strength, and energy now while I'm young and raising my children. 

Ok, so that's the long and short of it. A journey is about to commence! I'm nervous about sticking with it, but I'm really really looking forward to seeing how I feel and how my body responds to this new healthier way of eating. I think it's going to be a long 30+ days, but hopefully somewhere in there I'll start to see or feel changes that motivate me to hang in there. It seems especially intimidating when I think of the things I won't be able to eat {during the first step, after that he really does encourage you to enjoy anything you want on occasion, and I love that}. But if I stop and think about it in terms of just eating new things it really doesn't seem that bad. I was pinning some recipe ideas on Pinterest this afternoon, and I'll admit to being kind of excited to try some of them. Happily, Josh has agreed to join me on this journey. He has no reason not to, and I do the grocery shopping/cooking anyway so he'd probably be doing it even if he didn't know it! I know that having him on board will be a lot of motivation and will just make it easier for me. I also connected with a Facebook group that's planning to start this plan on Monday, so it will be nice to have a group of people who are at the same point in the process to commiserate share thoughts and ideas with! :D

I'll keep you posted on what we're eating and how we're feeling! Here goes nothing ;)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How We Handled Our Picky Eater

{Image found here}

Picky eaters. Most parents deal with them to some degree at some point in their parenting careers. That's where we found ourselves with our just-turned-four-year-old over the course of the past year {give or take a bit}. As a little toddler, Carsen ate just about everything we offered her, especially fruits and vegetables. It seems we were sadly mistaken in believing she was just a really good eater, because somewhere in the middle of being 2 she decided to stop eating some of the foods she once devoured. After being such a healthy eater for 2+ years, her favorite foods began to drop off one by one until the only things she really wanted to eat were the dreaded "toddler standards"- hot dogs, pizza, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets. Gah! How did we get here? And more importantly, what do we do about it??

I was determined not to make a huge issue out of food. My philosophy on just about everything in life is that if you make a big deal out of it, it will become a big deal. So we tried the casual approach. We encouraged her to eat her vegetables but more and more she declined. We thought maybe it was just a phase that she'd move on from, but she didn't. Like any parent I began to worry about her nutrition. She was still eating normal and fairly healthy stuff for breakfast and lunch, but she was eating less and less for dinner and not much in the way of vegetables at all. I also started to worry that she wasn't eating a sufficient quantity of food in those two meals with what little she was getting from her meager dinners.

Well, we all know what worried parents do... Google. Far and away, the most prominent piece of advice we found, both from people we know and the interwebz, was the "one meal" approach. Simply put, you make one family meal {no short-order cooking}, the kids must at least try each food, absolutely no snacking between meals, and no games/tricks/bribery. They eat or they don't. One mom describes looking her 2 year old in the eye and telling her to "eat it or starve" in this article I read, which I personally found heart-breaking. Supposedly this teaches kids to try new foods and become more adventurous eaters. They'll eat when they're hungry enough, right? ...Right??

We tried. We really did. It's no exaggeration when I say that she would eat dinner maybe once a week. She refused every. single. night. Instead of reducing the stress surrounding meal time, our stress went through the roof. Instead of just fussing at the dinner table, Carsen began asking me what was for dinner the minute she woke up from her nap in the afternoon and would whine and agonize about it all the way through meal time and straight through bed time. Every evening became hours of discussion over what was for dinner, what she did and didn't like, whining, crying, and other generally uncooperative behavior. We were frustrated, annoyed, and experiencing tons of guilt. Our child basically never had a bite to eat after her 12:30 p.m. lunch every day, and was going to bed crying and hungry every night. We don't have a lot, but we have enough food to eat. I can't imagine if I had to send my babies to bed crying and hungry so doing it by choice seemed utterly ridiculous and it ripped my heart out. Worst of all, we were getting nowhere with it.

Then one night while I was making another dinner I knew she wouldn't eat, and she was yet again hungry, cranky, and melting down about everything, I caved and asked, "would you like eggies and peas??" She stopped, I swear to you mid-meltdown, and literally snapped back to her sweet adorable self and said, "Yes I would!" Like flipping a switch, our entire evening did a 180. She began cheerfully bouncing around the kitchen. She ate her whole dinner. She played happily until bed time. After struggling for so long, it was miraculous. I decided that night that if she wanted some damn scrambled eggs and peas every night for dinner that was fine with me.

I immediately felt a million times better and swore to never send my child to bed hungry again as long as I could help it. Sometimes as parents we go against our instincts to follow the latest "expert" advice {or whatever "everyone" seems to be doing at the time}. Truly though, if it causes you and your child stress, it's probably not the right thing to do regardless of what any expert says. The more I thought about the hard-line, no-choice, eat-it-or-starve approach, the more insane I realized it was.
  • First of all, I allow her to choose what she wants to eat for her breakfast and lunch. How confusing and frustrating it must be for her when at dinner time she's told she has no choice but to eat what I've chosen or go hungry. Not to mention as a child she is unable to make her own food and is completely at my mercy. This is a situation she literally has zero control over.
  • Second, "experts" usually advise that in order to get children to cooperate, you should empower them with choices. Let them choose between the yogurt or banana, yellow shirt or blue shirt, hair up or hair down, etc. Yet when it comes to dinner, the expert advice is to allow no choice at all. What sense does that make?
  • Third, my favorite, many experts love to base their advice on how to treat children by referencing how we adults would feel when treated that way. So then my question is: how would we adults feel if we were told we had to eat food we don't like and didn't choose, or starve? I think we'd probably be cranky and out-of-sorts, too. 
  • Fourth, this approach flies in the face of everything I know about Attachment Parenting, a philosophy I am wholeheartedly committed to.
And so, our new approach is to feed her what she'll eat, among acceptable dinner-time foods {for goodness sake she's asking for scrambled eggs and peas, not candy}. We ask her to try three bites of the dinner I make and then she can opt for scrambled eggs if she wants. We also started a sticker chart and give her a sticker every night she eats all of her dinner. Guess what? We're going on 2 months straight that she has eaten her dinners! So maybe we're not actively expanding her pallette. Neither is  offering food she doesn't eat. She can't get any nutrition from it if she refuses to eat it. She loves fruit, smoothies, fruit/vegetable pouches, and eats plenty of healthy protein so she's still getting nutrients even if she doesn't gobble up brussels sprouts at the dinner table. Most little kids don't love vegetables. I will continue to offer them to her and otherwise feed her the best food she enjoys eating. Like I've said before- the best approach {to anything} is always to do what works for you and your family. The current "wisdom" didn't cut it for us in this case, so we tried something else that did and are all much much happier and healthier as a result!

Anyone else have experience with a picky eater? What worked for you? What didn't?

Friday, May 2, 2014

DIY Etsy-Inspired Party Invitations

As you may know, our sweet & tiny little Reaganbaby recently turned one, and we threw a little celebration in honor of the occasion. I DIYed just about the entire thing because it's a lot cheaper that way, and because I like doing that kind of stuff. I also decided to document how I made everything so I could share it with you!

One of the first things needed when planning a party is invitations. Starting with our theme - You Are My Sunshine, and a color scheme - yellow, pink, and a splash of orange, I began searching for the perfect invitations. I first looked at Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, and Snapfish since they tend to be my go-to for photo cards. Sadly they had nothing relating to the theme or colors I wanted. Moving on from there I went more specialty and looked at Etsy. There are tons of great options on there and the sellers are usually very willing to work with you. I found several designs that I liked but that weren't in my color scheme. I could change that for a $5 fee. The other thing I needed customized was two separate dates and addresses because we had separate parties for my family and Josh's (our house just isn't big enough for one big party). That's another $5 fee. Most of the invitations I looked at were $12 for a printable file. So if I add $10 in customization fees, and I only need 9 invitations... I'm spending $22 on 9 invites? That's when I looked at the designs and decided to DIY!

This design {found here} was my inspiration...

I used the following supplies:
  • White cardstock
  • Patterned scrapbook paper
  • Plain contrasting cardstock
  • Grosgrain ribbon
  • Wallet-sized photos
  • Scissors and/or paper cutter
  • Scrapbook-quality glue
Here's how I did it:

{Side note: please excuse the poor quality of the photos. I was doing all party planning & prepping late at night after the girls were in bed, so the lighting is bad + I used my phone = ack}

I first created the design of the text using the word program on my computer. I played around with different fonts, colors and layouts until I was happy with the way it looked. All the while, I had to keep in mind that the cards would be 5x7", so I positioned the text so that it would print where I'd want it to be when the paper was cut to 5x7" {this was fairly simple just using the rulers along the top and side of the screen in the word program}. Once I had the design just the way I wanted it, I printed it out on plain white cardstock.

Since the invitations were going to be 5x7", I was able to print two per page. Once they were printed I used a 12" paper cutter {scissors would also do, you'd just have to measure and mark the paper carefully} to cut them to size.
{I printed in portrait orientation, cut vertically at 7" across, and then cut horizontally at 5" down the page to make two 5x7" cards. Since the cardstock was 8.5x11" I had some extra that needed to be trimmed off the bottom as well}

{What one 5x7" card looked like, printed and cut}

The next step was adding the decorative scrapbook paper. I chose a paper with a yellow chevron design. I wanted a simple band across the bottom of the invitation, so I measured and cut the bands to size and then glued them onto the cardstock with a few dots of scrapbook glue. Glue dots or probably any other adhesive would also work, you just don't want anything that will make the paper too wet so it doesn't look all wavy and wrinkly when it dries!

For the photo, I measured and cut pink cardstock rectangles to be just slightly larger than the size of the photos. I carefully centered the photos on the pink rectangles and glued them in place. Then I glued the whole thing onto the invitations.

The final touch was a band of grosgrain ribbon where the decorative paper met the cardstock. I measured the ribbon to be about 2" longer than the width of the invitation {so about 9"}. I applied a thin stripe of glue along the border of the decorative paper and pressed the ribbon on, leaving about an inch over the edge on each side. Then I flipped the invitation over, folded the ends of the ribbon down, and secured them with a dot of glue.

And the final product looked like this...

Here's another look at the inspiration photo for comparison. Not too bad, right?

It does take a little more of your time to DIY a project like this than it would to upload and order prints of a purchased file, but the cost savings is significant especially if you have some of these supplies on hand. Here's my cost breakdown:

Cardstock (had on hand) = Free
Decorative paper = $0.39 for one 12x12" sheet
Pink cardstock = $0.25 for one 8.5x11" sheet
Wallet photos = $0.50 for two sheets of 9 photos
Grosgrain ribbon = $1.98 for two 6' spools
Glue (had on hand) = Free
Paper cutter (had on hand) = Free

Grand Total = $3.12
Compare that to the customized Etsy price of $22.00 and remember that I only needed 9 invitations! That's over 85% savings.

With a little creativity, this design could be easily customized in countless different ways. A little ribbon, some colorful paper, any type of embellishment like the cute sun in the inspiration photo, or your own photos like I used, and you've got a beautiful invitation completely personalized for any occasion. One of the biggest advantages to DIYing this project, was that my invitations had texture and dimension. If I had purchased a printable file from Etsy, the whole thing would have printed like a photo- the ribbon, the sun embellishment and all would have just been a flat printed image on a piece of paper. I liked that the ribbon was actually ribbon on mine, and the embellishment {whatever I had chosen} was also 3 dimensional.