Thursday, August 29, 2013

The P Word

It is inevitable that when someone finds out I eat a plant based diet they are immediately concerned about how much protein I get. It's basically a joke in the plant based community, and it would be funnier to me if I wasn't so concerned with how little most Americans know about food and how much of what they know is based on corporate interest.

I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries about food, not just vegan/vegetarian food, but in all different contexts. The knowledge I carry with me today is a product of years of research and a quest to improve my health. One can see why constantly being questioned by people who've never done any research can be wearisome!

Most people know that food is made up of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. For some reason, most people don't focus on the other components of food like vitamins, minerals and amino acids. My new response to people who ask about my protein or calcium is to ask them about their vitamin intake and how many different colored foods they ate recently. I could go on forever about this, but in this post I wanted to tackle the P word because it's one of the most misunderstood components of the American diet.

The first misconception many people have is exactly how much protein the average person needs on a daily basis. This site from the State Government of Victoria (Australia) gives a nice overview of protein and daily needs. Adult women need .75g of protein per kg of bodyweight. To find out your weight in kg, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (or type 150 lbs in kg into Google!). For me at 150lbs, I weigh about 68kg. I then take that number and multiply by .75 to get my daily protein need of 51.1 grams.

Men need a bit more protein, and pregnant/breast feeding women need a bit more than that. Current knowledge is that professional athletes need more, however after reading books by plant based authors like Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll, that need may not be as high as currently believed.

To put my 51 g daily need in perspective, I used the nutritional information for food from the USDA to look at the protein found in some common foods (plant based and not):

1 C cooked chicken breast = 43.43 g protein
4 oz. raw yellowfin tuna = 27.67 g protein
3 oz sprouted tofu = 12.1 g protein
1 C cooked black beans = 15.13 g protein
10 Brussels sprouts = 5.36 g protein
1 C cooked quinoa = 8.14g protein

I think this makes it painfully obvious that:
1. It's simple to get enough protein on a plant based diet without using protein powders or supplements
2. Most people eat WAY TOO MUCH protein! If one cup of cooked chicken is 43g, you can safely guess that most Americans who eat meat/dairy at every meal and snack consume double or triple the amount of protein they need on a daily basis

I used to count calories and also obsess over my macronutrient intake. I have tried many combinations and although I don't currently track my food, I know that I am eating a higher carb diet that is still giving me at least 65 g of protein each day. I also make sure not to go crazy with added fats. It works for me. When I first started working out 5-6 days a week I aimed for more protein each day, some days eating around 100g. I lost a bit of weight but then plateaued in weight loss and in size/shape. After lowering my protein and increasing my carb intake (from mostly high fiber plant foods) I lost 5 lbs and have been steadily shrinking out of my clothes.

Every body is different, but it's important to be sustainable and to aim to increase your vitamin and mineral intake from food. I actually recently stopped taking a daily multivitamin because I realized that the combination of plant foods I eat daily was more than exceeding my daily need for these essential micronutrients. The information you need to make better food choices is out there once you dig past the overwhelming amount of money the meat and dairy industries have spent to market/socialize us into the misconceptions many people hold.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


My morning usually starts like this:

On the left is our Ninja blender filled with a typical smoothie's worth of ingredients. We are too cheap for a Vitamix (but might cave in!), and this works extremely well. Top right is what I had this morning. I have gotten in the habit of making a work week's worth of smoothies on Sunday and freezing them. I take one out right before bed and put it in the fridge. By the time I get to work it's usually ready to eat. Middle right is my post-long run treat smoothie served in a bowl topped with fresh fruit and homemade granola. Bottom right is a typical weekend or non-work day smoothie made fresh. The fresh smoothies are definitely my favorite, I make them so they have the consistency of a thick milkshake.

Most of my smoothies are very similar and I wanted to share my typical smoothie recipe with you. I began my smoothie habit in the winter (which was hard!) and I've come to realize that they fill me up and keep my body working better than any other breakfast option. Some days I still eat granola with berries, oatmeal, pancakes or toast with nut butter for variety but I'd say at least 6 days a week I have a smoothie. Here's my usual recipe.

1 banana (If I'm making it to drink immediately I use a pre-frozen banana - we keep a large container of frozen banana pieces in the freezer at all times. For my weekend smoothie factory I use fresh bananas)
1/2-1C other fruit (usually cherries, strawberries, mango, blueberries or apples)
1 C of frozen broccoli\
4-5 baby carrots
1/3 regular sized cucumber
1 C unsweetened almond milk (or sometimes almond coconut or cashew)
1 C frozen spinach + 1 C fresh kale/greens (for immediate smoothies) or 3-4C fresh kale/greens (for premade smoothies)
Healthy dashes of cinnamon and ginger (or some fresh ginger)
1-2 Tbsp protein powder (optional - I use Vega because I won 4 tubs of it!)

Other optional ingredients:
nut butter
cacao nibs
hemp seeds
chia seeds
cayenne pepper

Since I have the nice Ninja I put everything together. I usually put the frozen things on the bottom, top them with any powders/spices, then add the fresh greens and milk last. The fresh smoothies usually take some time to blend properly and I often stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula.

Not every smoothie I make has the above ingredients. I try to  mix it up based on what we have, what I'm in the mood for and what we have in the house. One of my favorites is to do a simple blend of banana, broccoli, carrots, greens and peanut butter.

I am a big fan of using food as medicine and I always include cinnamon and ginger in my smoothies due to their anti-inflammatory properties. I try to have cherry smoothies after long runs because cherries are also great for anti-inflammatory. I used to use tylenol, aleve & ibuprofen on a fairly regular basis, but now I only use them if I'm desperately ill (like last week!).

Speaking of my illness, today was my last antibiotic. I'm excited for tomorrow because I have a fridge full of kombucha that I've been waiting to drink until after I'm done with antibiotics. I worked out for the first time in a week this morning and I was so pumped to get up this morning! I did one of my usual strength routines and it went better than expected although I did make sure not to push myself as hard as I normally would. I am hoping to get in a 3 mile run tomorrow.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Week of Rest

This week did not turn out at all how I'd planned. My long run on Saturday was underwhelming, I think due to the oppressive humidity that morning. I did a solid 6.5 but it felt hard and I wanted to go for 7 before setting out but that became an impossibility. Sunday's I have reserved for my HIIT sets and they went well. Monday I did my usual set of 30:20:10 intervals, upping to 14 total with one minute walking between the first and last 7. All relatively good.

When I got to work on Monday I started sneezing and having watery eyes - I thought I was having an allergy attack. As the day wore on into evening I got progressively stuffier and felt worse. Tuesday was arguably the most important day at work for me since I started and I did my best to push through. I got through about 3 hours before I had to go home, and spent Wednesday at home too. The early days of my illness felt like a sinus infection but I had hopes that rest, tea, and eating clean would knock it out. I worked Thursday and Friday, and by the time I got to Friday I started feeling a constant feeling of there being a catch in my throat and that I couldn't breathe properly.

I stopped at urgent care on the way home (no doctor here yet), and found out I have an upper respiratory infection. I started a z pack of antibiotics on Friday. The nurse told me it was good I came in before it turned into pneumonia or bronchitis. She also advised me that I should absolutely not exercise until I was 100% better because forcing myself to breathe deeply or rapidly could worsen my infection. I have not gone this long without exercising in at least 2 years.

I'm trying to make the best of it and really rest. It's easy to not let yourself rest properly, there are a million things to do and I hate feeling like I'm being lazy. I don't want this infection to linger so I've been taking naps every day and spending time in bed reading. I won't say that I'm addicted to exercise, but not being able to do it is taking a toll. I even got jealous today watching a scene in a show where someone was exercising!

I have trouble turning off the negative voice in my head that's fretting about gaining weight, losing muscle tone, and a weakened aerobic capacity that is likely going to follow this much time off. I did weigh 150lbs fully clothed in the mid-afternoon at the urgent care, so I have to remind myself that I am surely exaggerating these concerns. I saw a quick article from Vega this week about extended rest and I'm trying to harness the attitude that this time away has been like a full recharge of my batteries, and will help me re-ignite my passion for what I've been doing.

In other blog news I decided to go back through my old entries and tag my recipes. I'm not done but when I am I hope to put a link to posts tagged that way on the home page. I also hope to post more recipes!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Aspiring to Inspire

When I was trying to figure out my career path I looked long and hard at becoming a nutritionist. There's not much I enjoy more than talking about health and fitness, but ultimately, librarianship won the battle. I relish any opportunity to speak with people about my weight loss and the way I feel about food and exercise. Part of why I started this blog was to share that journey with others.

I've had quite a few conversations recently on this topic. It feels good to hear positive feedback and get the "there's no way you could have been fat" comments, but it's even more rewarding when someone reaches out to ask for help. One of our student workers in the library came to me on Thursday and asked if I lifted weights because I looked like I was in shape and she wanted to get some tips for how to get started. I shared my story with her, and it took off like wildfire through the staff that were there. I sent her an email with some resources and must have spent an hour of my day talking about my relationship with food and my weight and exercise.

My biggest takeaways from conversations like this are:
1. Significant weight loss takes time and can be maintained.

2. Make small changes one at a time - adapt to them before you try the next one. My first suggestion is to cut out soda and/or fried food depending on their predilections.

3. If you want to lose weight, you need to change the way you think about food and you do NOT need to go on a diet. "Dieting" (as we understand/manifest it in our culture) isn't sustainable. Learning more about food is crucial to understanding how the choices we make impact our weight, our bodies, and our overall wellness.

4. It's more about replacing than removing. I don't see my plant based diet as "Oh no, I can't eat cheese" but as "Oh yes I can eat as many vegetables as I want!". Admittedly, this attitude has taken years to cultivate but I started small. I realized that baked sweet potato chunks taste better than deep fried ones. I learned to pay attention to my body's feedback - eating junk makes me feel like junk, eating well makes me feel like the Energizer bunny.

On a related note, this weekend we went to our first Meetup and I got to talk quite a bit about my diet with some new people. People are fascinated by veganism. I used to get ridiculous questions about my queerness, but that has died down a lot in the last few years as the queer experience is better documented in popular media. Veganism is still an unknown other, and people ask some great questions but also have a tendency to say silly things to me about it.

Inevitably, the protein question comes up. Someone always says "I couldn't live without XYZ food (usually cheese)". I try to make the best of these questions/comments, although I am tired of them. I always stress that I eat a plant based diet for health reasons, and this seems to go over well although in our society people don't seem to grasp the connection between what we put in/on/around our bodies and our well-being. I did get into some interesting conversation about politics/ethics vs. health concerns and I hope that I've been able to at least get people to think past the standard American message about food.

Lastly, I've become addicted to Instagram. I never jumped on that boat but now I see the value of posting endless photos of my food there and not clogging up my Facebook for uninterested parties! I have also found this to be an amazing way to get inspired by others and to do the same in kind. If you want to check me out on there, I'm digitalcarrie.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Keeping Promises

I made a promise to myself to revive this blog and I am keeping it! We had a very busy weekend and I spent the first two days of my work week in a New Faculty Orientation, so I haven't had time to write until today (spent yesterday catching up on the mass of email and tasks that built up during the orientation). Making promises is an important part of successful lifestyle change. Accountability is crucial. Some people need to be accountable to others (such as posting an intention to work out on social media or having a running buddy) and others can get by on their own.

I fall into the latter category. I often surprise myself with my own motivation and ability to stay committed to things. I don't think I could have successfully lost 170 pounds and maintained that loss without having incredible willpower. Fortunately, technology makes it easy for people who don't have that willpower to stay accountable. Online food journaling was crucial for me when I got started and as I shifted through various dietary habits. I used Calorie Count for a long time at the beginning, and switched to My Fitness Pal after a calorie counting hiatus due to some of their features like smart phone access. As I mentioned before, I stopped counting calories in December and it's still working for me. A lot of the research I've read suggests that food logs are essential when changing dietary habits, however, they don't need to be specific to the calorie.

Every week Carly and I plan a menu for the week based on what we have in the fridge/pantry and around any special circumstances. This helps me get away from journaling because everything else I eat is pretty routine. We use an app called Our Groceries to make the menu, keep track of meal ideas, and make grocery lists. We typically eat lunch & dinner at home 6 days a week, and always eat breakfast at home. This is something I'm proud of and I enjoy our time in the kitchen together.

I'm now working on putting those old journaling skills to work with my fitness plan. I read a great article this morning from (highly recommend this site!) about making a running plan that made me realize I could be doing better. I went back through my chart of planned activities for the last few weeks and added in my mileage and made the chart reflect what I actually did. Part of my problem right now is that I don't have anything scheduled that I am training for. I'm doing a 5K in September but it's a charity event and Carly and I might do it as a walk rather than a run. The event is a Heart Walk for the American Heart Association. I'm walking in honor of my Uncle Gus who passed away last September due to complications with heart surgery, and for my Dad who suffered a major stroke in May of this year. I am almost to my fundraising goal of $300, and would welcome any donations to this important cause.

I know I need to sign up for a 10K next. I'm already running that distance on Saturday, and I do about a 5K distance twice a week. I know I can do it. I think after that I will look for a half marathon sometime in the early Spring. After reading Chi Running I realized that I needed to plan my runs specifically for different functions. I'm reading "Finding Ultra" by Rich Roll right now. He's a recovering alcoholic who at age 40 decided to get fit and adopted a plant based diet. He then completed several crazy endurance races and is considered one of the fittest athletes in the world. In one chapter he discussed his initial Ultraman training plan where he maintained a threshold heart rate for long distances to improve his body's ability to use oxygen. I know I'm running too fast a lot of the time and not achieving this goal, so that's something I know I need to work on in the future.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Let’s Try This Again

I've been wanting to take up writing in my personal blog again for a long time. When I started it I think I had high hopes of hitting blogger rockstar status, mostly because I was feeling bored in my job and stuck in a creative rut. I got a little bit intense and obsessed last time around and wasn't in a good place to keep writing. I think I was flirting with orthorexia for a while there and knew I needed to take some time off. That being said, life has changed a lot for me since the last time I blogged here in January.

I began job hunting last winter and accepted a job offer in late March for my current position as a Regional Campus Librarian at the University of Central Florida. We moved to Orlando on May 1st and I started my new job on May 10th. The day after we moved my Dad had a major stroke. He spent a few weeks in the hospital, a month or so in an intensive rehab facility, and is now in a nursing home where he is still receiving physical, occupational, and speech therapy. It’s been a challenging time but I’m happy to report that the healthy lifestyle changes I’d adopted before all this disruption have stuck with me. Part of the reason I want to get back into personal blogging is because I’m trying to become a published writer in  my professional life. The more I read about how to accomplish that, the more I come across the importance of writing every day. I keep a work related blog but I only post about once a week. I have an article that I’m struggling with, but I thought it would be good to have another outlet to hone my writing skills.

In terms of the healthy lifestyle changes referenced above I thought I’d give a little update on where I am with food and exercise right now. I don’t quite remember what I wrote in my last few blog posts, but one big change for me is that I stopped counting calories in December. I did it a few weeks before we went to Curacao on vacation because I knew that I didn't want to be worried about that stuff there. I've been following the basic principles laid out by Brendan Brazier in his Thrive books and Thrive Forward online program. When I was still in NC I was weighing myself regularly at the gym and although I've stopped that now, I can safely say that my weight has been very stable based on the way my clothes fit. If anything my clothes are a bit loose but I think my weight is stable because I’m changing the ratio of fat to muscle in my body.

Most mornings I have a smoothie for breakfast. I've gotten in a habit of making a bunch on Sunday and freezing them for the week. I take one out each morning before I work out and eat it once I get to work. I’ll occasionally throw in a homemade cereal or toast with nut butter and fruit breakfast for variety. After my long runs I've been eating my smoothies in a bowl topped with extra fruit and granola…kind of inspired by acai bowls. My smoothies are usually a combination of 1 frozen banana, ½-1 c some other fruit, a handful of baby carrots, a big handful of frozen broccoli, two or three big handfuls of greens, 1 C unsweetened almond milk, cinnamon, ginger and 1 tablespoon of protein powder. Sometimes I add in other things like beets or chia seeds or cacao nibs.

For lunch I either eat leftovers or a salad or leftovers on a salad. I like big salads for lunch because they take a long time to eat and I can eat bunches of low calorie nutrient dense foods. Dinners are where I get the most variety. Some favorites lately have been Vietnamese bun salads; grains, greens & beans with plantains; taco salads; hearty soups/stews; and grilled veggies with corn on the cob. For snacks I've been having roasted chickpeas, trail mix, fruit, protein bars, and oatmeal. Good stuff and I don’t have to think too much or obsess about what I’m eating each day.

On the workout side I've been trying to stick to 6 days a week of exercise plus one rest day of yoga each week. Due to my work schedule and weather and lack of gym membership I’ve started working out first thing in the morning. I tried to transfer my gym membership when we moved but found out that since I pre-paid I wasn't able to do so. I decided to save my money and start running outside again. I also used credit card rewards points to buy a weight bench with a set of variable dumbbells. We also bought nice bikes about a month and a half ago.

I got to a point where I was getting tired of running, but then I ran my first 5k at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago in late June and caught the running bug again. I completed the 5K in 28:41. My goal was under 30 so I was ecstatic. When I got back I read the book “ChiRunning” by Danny Dreyer and it has completely changed the way I run and the way I feel about running. More about that in a future post!

My schedule lately has looked something like this:
interval run
strength 2
mile splits
strength 2
long run
strength intervals
interval run
strength 1
mile splits
strength 1
long run
strength intervals

Strength 1 and strength 2 are weight lifting and core sequences I've developed based on the “Thrive Fitness” book. Strength intervals is a 3 set series of strength, cardio and core exercises based on the research from the American College of Sports Medicine on the most efficient full body workout. My long runs have been creeping up in distance. Last week was 5.75 miles, my goal for this week is 6! For the interval run I've been doing a sequence of 30 seconds walk, 20 seconds jog, 10 seconds sprint. My goal is to add one extra minute each week. For splits my goal is to do 3 miles at negative splits, which means each mile is successively faster. Today was the first day I did that successfully!

I’m really happy with this routine although I think I need to up the intensity of my strength 1 & 2 routines. I’m trying to work in bike riding but have had some issues with my bike (taking it to the shop this weekend). I hope to start posting again regularly. I don’t want to commit to a certain number of posts but as I said before this is a good outlet for me to keep my writing skills fresh.