Monday, October 5, 2015

Meditative Eating

One of the things I've been doing - even in this very full work/life time span - is another one of my two week cleanses. Why now, in the middle of chaos? (Answer: Is there ever a good moment to give up sugar??) Well, if there's ever a time I'm likely to crash, it's in October. That's when I've had pneumonia (as a teenager), when I broke my foot, when I struggled with pertussis, when I got the worst respiratory flu ever. Autumn's when the chronic pain hits hardest - and when that bout that lasted what seemed like forever first set in. If I'm going to catch something, it's in the fall because that's when my immune system is down, when the workload is up and when I experience all kinds of unpleasant symptoms of inflammation.

What do I mean when I say inflammation? It's when my forearms start to hurt for no reason, when my myofascial tension flares. My tongue feels too big for my mouth. My throat swells up. My fingers swell. Sometimes, my whole body feels taut with puffiness. Before I had a kid (when I had regularly recurring canker clusters in my mouth), I'd get a batch of these. Lord, I'd have 4 sores in my mouth at any given time for weeks - one batch would go and another would arrive. (Pregnancy seems to have cured me of these, mercifully, cuz that was a long 30 years! Of course, back then, I didn't have all of the other symptoms to manage.)

I should start by saying that I don't love the term "cleanse" in the context of what I'm currently undertaking. See, this time around, I have modified the experience to be sustainable (IMO) and I think it might be more accurate to call this process - obnxiously, admittedly - a meditation on eating. Last time, as you may remember, I participated (on a whim, really) in the My Yoga Online challenge - which was devised by these yoga teachers - and I appreciated many of the features:
  • Daily green smoothie or juice - check!
  • Daily yoga, tailored to the rhythm of the cleanse - check!
  • No booze - check (No exclamation point for this one)
  • No gluten - check! (Really, I'd already been doing this one and have continued to do so.)
  • An emphasis on nuts and seeds - modified check
  • No processed food - check!
  • Drastically reduce sugar - check (this one almost gets a frowny face, but I'm developing new aptitudes)
There were many things, however, that I found, frankly, unsuitable (draconian, one might say) - partly because the original cleanse was actually a "cleanse" (as in, moving towards 2 days of very light and clean food consumption) and, furthermore, it was geared towards the plant-loving yoga set.

Here's what ain't gonna fly for Krissie - not even for 14 days:
  • No caffeine. That's just wrong. A morning double shot of espresso is delightful and I love it. Coffee isn't a gateway drug for me and I don't intend to treat it as such.
  • No meat. What does one do for lunch and dinner??
  • No eggs. What does one do for breakfast??
  • No dairy. Um, just no.
  • The increasingly restrictive format of the Conscious Cleanse - which is, as stated above, is designed to be a cleanse, not an all-the-time, "clean living" experience that moves towards fruits and vegetables only (just for 2 days - but still?!)
This time, I came up with my own plan: Meditative Eating (which isn't entirely easy but which also isn't in any way miserable) and decided to force invite two of my friends from work to participate - so that I wouldn't be lonely. They're like my chat group!: 
  • Green smoothie or juice daily
  • Daily Yoga - This is key and I actually devised separate practices for all three of us. Note: My friends do yoga and I convinced them to sign up for My Yoga Online for a month so that I could direct them to the chosen practices.
  • No booze. Does this ever become pleasant? Say what you will (and I know that wine is straight up sugar / bad for your liver / fattening), it is the elixir of pleasure and I'm not prepared to live a life without it. Two weeks every 3 months (and then only on weekdays, the rest of the time), that I can do. Grudgingly.
  • No gluten.
  • No processed food.
  • Practically no sugar with the exception of small quantities of seriously high quality dark chocolate, fruit and the occasional tsp of maple syrup in yogurt. I'm not going to lie - while this is MUCH easier to do this time than last - sugar is totally a gateway drug for me.
  • As much protein of all the types as I'm hungry for. Nothing is off the list but I'm being really careful with nuts and seeds because, in the last year, I have experienced terrible abdominal pain and a vomit-reflex to cashews and pumpkin seeds (two things I used to eat constantly) and, honestly, it's hideously unpleasant / scary. I don't believe that I have an allergy, but I do think my system is sensitive to these foods right now, probably because - in the nut milk phase of the winter - I was mainlining all kinds of nuts and seeds. Apparently, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I want to allow my body to rebalance.
  • Moderate amounts of dairy (full fat only, thank you)
  • Focus on vegetables of many colours and seasonal things
  • A commitment to considering my motivations when eating: Why do I want that ice cream / wine / cheesies? How can I be with the truly uncomfortable feeling of self-restraint?
What I can happily say is that, this time around, gluten's a mere blip on the radar (honestly, I don't care about it). The yoga portion of this 2 week reset is the most enjoyable part of it - especially since, this time, I designed it to suit myself. A propos of this, I have been doing mainly my own thing (rather than following online classes). My current emphasis is on long inversions (that's a post) and I've actually moved into a period of substantial activeness as the chronic pain continues to abate. Talk about burying the lede!

The fact is that I'm committed to forestalling illness - dare I say, promoting health all winter long - by boosting my immunity, and there's no better way to kick start this process than via the tried and true methods of eating well, sleeping well, moving well and being thoughtful.

The autumn is, in many ways, a terrible time. In the north, we watch our tether to the natural world erode. We live on the spoils of innovation (heat, accessible food, shelter). We feel the encroachment of cold in the bones, the visceral instability. My goal, this time around (and it's only taken 45 years!) is to be  truly mindful of every glimpse of the sun (and warmth it might bring) and to recognize that this is a recessive period. I cannot continue to march through winter as I do through the other seasons. Even as the world gears up in October, I must respect the introversion of this time of year and model my behaviour on it. Let's see how that goes, shall we?

So that's what I'm up to. Thoughts or feelings?


  1. Isn't it interesting what we're willing and not willing to give up in terms of diet? I'm lactose-intolerant and mostly manage by avoiding dairy, occasionally splurging with a lactase pill. I re-introduced moderate amounts of butter recently, but 2 weeks with zero dairy is no big deal. Same goes for caffeine... I don't drink coffee and only occasionally tea, I probably live without caffeine naturally for 95% of my days even counting chocolate (I don't eat a ton of dark chocolate and when you cut dairy it's a lot harder to get chocolate from dessert when you aren't cooking/baking for yourself).

    But gluten! I try to eat carbs in moderation, the way you eat dairy, but a gluten-free cleanse would be a ton of work and unnecessary deprivation for me. And I am not prepared to be a gluten-free vegan, thanks very much (it wouldn't be that healthy for me either since I despise legumes and love soy).

    Like you, sugar is definitely my gateway drug. I've cut back a lot on refined sugars by limiting dairy, but you will pry fresh fruit from my dead hands.

    1. It's so true! I could go a week without eating a piece of fruit. I'm not that into it (though I do like berries and pears - and lots of other fruits). All the vegans I know eat gluten. Being a gluten-free vegan would be seriously challenging but I'm sure it's a reasonably well-represented group, what with all the issues caused by genetically modified wheat and a proliferation of modern snack food.

      Meditating on my urge to eat sugar, I realize that I desperately want it but when I eat it, I often feel terrible afterwards. I wonder how long it will take before I stop craving it. Like, will it be in this lifetime :-)

  2. I am currently in the Kraft Dinner for dinner phase of home ownership. I'll get to the cleanse phase of my life eventually. ;)

    1. I remember that phase! Eat it in good health :-)

  3. Sugar and dairy products will always be my weakness! And I have no desire/need to ever give up caffeine (coffee, dark chocolate). Life is too short for that. ;-) I'm sure I could go a two week stint without feeling terribly deprived though. On a related note, my husband and I have been doing intermittent fasting (IF) for the last month and a half. Just doing two fast days a week (which amounts to an allotted 500 cal intake, divided between breakfast and dinner for fast days) I've noticed a serious decline in that gross bloated feeling that had been plaguing me for years. On those two days I don't have any sugar (except what's in fruits or veggies), dairy, and generally no gluten. Eventually we'll go down to one fast day a week, but I've loved the dietary "reset" button those days give me. It's totally changed my relationship with food, even though I was fairly conscientious to begin with. I'm much more successful giving up certain foods for one or two days/wk instead of trying to do a Whole30 month, or what have you. I always seem to get a terrible virus that keeps me sick for two months every winter... hopefully the IF health benefits will keep that in check this time around!

    1. A friend at work does IF and he loves it. I don't know that my blood sugar could handle it. It's shocking how quickly, without food, I start to lose it. But maybe if I were eating well all the time, it would work for me. I know it's touted for improving the immune system.

      The awareness one can develop, just by changing eating habits for a couple of weeks (not to "diet", of course, but to experience food differently) is strangely notable. I'm making connections that I will maintain because they now make sense to my body-mind. When I used to do try cleanse-eating in my youth, I couldn't focus for long enough to actually understand what I was feeling or trying to achieve by eating differently. Yet another plug for the virtues of middle age!

  4. My canker sores were triggered by citrus -mainly oranges. If I watch my consumption, I can control them. Sugar is a big problem. The more I eat, the more I want. I have lost 26 lbs since retiring. My office was beside a Starbucks and I had a hard time with the goodies , especially during times of stress. I will probably never give up coffee, but try to limit to two small ones a day. I have cut back on portion size, except for veggies. I have lots of aches and pains these days, so maybe I should try eliminating some of the foods that can cause inflammation..... great post.

    1. It's amazing that mere proximity could result in the loss of 26 pounds. When and if you feel ready, Barb, you can eliminate just a couple of things - or even just one at a time to see the impact. Super reasonable. I suggest you start with gluten. Seems a lot of people are especially reactive to it. But you know yourself best!

  5. My cycle enforces a rhythm of deep rest on me every month. I don't like it, don't like that time of feeling drained and useless and hungry... but as I come out of it, I appreciate it for the deep rest my body gets.

    Humans were made for cyclic change, in cycles great or small. I think we err in our modern world of eternal light and eternal moderate work, and it harms us.

    Good on you for honoring the season's change and doing what your body needs to cope.

    Me? I usually crave Vit A veggies around now, squash and carrots and yams. Anything orange. But we don't have the winters you do. Hey, we barely have winter. So it must be something to do with my body, not the weather.

    1. I used to hate it also! But I'm trying to get with it. I'm pretending I'm a bear! You are so right about how we err on the side of constancy. The artificiality of it takes a toll.

  6. It's interesting how our bodies have their own annual cycles; for me February is the bad time.

    1. I know! FWIW, I'm most miserable (mindset wise) in Feb.

  7. As always your health posts really resonate with me. After several years of recurrent and increasingly severe chest infections every autumn/winter, this year I removed gluten, sugar and nearly all dairy from my diet. Apart from having significantly more energy I've passed the date where normally I start falling sick. This despite the last month being a complete festival of gluten sugar and processed foods, completely due to lack of time available to even think about cooking. I'm back on track now and feeling hopeful that whilst I might not completely avoid a chest infection this year, it's severity and staying power might be reduced.
    Here's to wellness!

    1. Evie! How are you! I'm so intrigued to see how this winter goes for you with these changes (and to see how my changes might impact me :-) Moving house in the fall is a bitch. But then, isn't it always a bitch??

    2. I'm intrigued too. I've got fingers crossed and a flu jab booked for next week. I'm also going to try and get a pertussis jab too. The move has been postponed for a wee while (see today's blog post) so I'm planning on chillin', eating well, and hopefully staying healthy! x

  8. You’re writing about things that have been very much on my mind. I really enjoy how sometimes things you take on spark ideas for me, and I’ve thus far found your online influence on me to be very positive. Thanks!
    Your last cleanse got me thinking again crafting a cleanse/habit change for myself more consciously and less by following the paper that was shared with me years ago. What I came up with has been working so well for me (and my husband, which is a serious coup), that we’ve blown past our 4-week original goal and plan to continue indefinitely.
    The main thing we’re doing is avoiding is refined sugar and all the processed foods that go when you pitch that. The amazing bit is that it’s really broken the food = dopamine hit cycle for me, and I’m liking that. Even though we’ll still have pizza on a Saturday night, it doesn’t call me to overeat as it once did. What’s really amazing is that while I’m counting calories for weight loss
    I could go on , but suffice it to say that I’m with you. This is the time of year when I usually start getting depressed and tend to get sick, and I also chose to take that bull by the horns this year and step up self care so I’m as well equipped to stay healthy as possible.

    1. Oh grump! This comment got all under-edited because Blogger doesn't like my browser. I am usually more coherent than this. And concise! I'd cut out that third paragraph at some point. Sigh.