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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Healthy Hypocrite Ponders Meat

What do you do when your ethics and values conflict with your health needs? I began this blog four years ago to chronicle my transition to raw veganism. My goal and heartfelt desire was to eat in a way that supported my health yet caused as little environmental harm as possible.
After much experimentation, I now know that(today) my physical and mental health seem  best when I eat a lot of protein, particularly red meat. That is not who I want to be. It is, however, who I am now.
Raising beef--particularly cheap beef--has a massive environmental footprint. In the first year, as I ate my tofu, cheese, yogurt, almond butter, eggs, beans, quinoa, rice, and spinach, I'd look with smug disdain at people chomping on fast-food burgers, knowing that their meat was wreaking environmental havoc and decimating rain forests--and that I had made the more superior choice. 
As my stomach rebelled against grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, and soy, and my protein needs increased (because of the benefits of protein for folks with attention issues, along with strength-training and wanting to increase muscle mass), I began eating meat. I was, at the time, eating chicken, grass-fed beef and lamb, and line-caught salmon, so I could still put a big distance between my meat- and fish-eating and those of the environment-wrecking masses. 
Well, that line of demarcation has crumbled: my pocketbook can no longer afford my ethics (and my stomach stopped liking egg yolks and chicken). I go to Trader Joe's now and buy a pound of ground beef, wrapped in plastic, for about six bucks. The label tells me it contains meat from Brazil, Australia, and the U.S. It is certainly not grass-fed. The cheap lamb I
buy comes from Australia or Iceland, and is still cheaper (dollar-wise, but not on the environment) than lamb grown less than a few hundred miles from my apartment. I don't buy salmon much any more, but do buy sole and cans of tuna, even as I know the oceans are over fished. 
When you eat about 130 grams of protein a day, you can't (or at least, I can't) do it all on meat (as there's only about 7 grams of protein in each ounce). I do consume powdered egg whites and whey powder in protein shakes. 
Unfortunately, my stomach doesn't do well with dairy, fermented or otherwise. Although I consume whey isolate (with the least amount of lactose of the wheys) my stomach still has difficulty with it, and sometimes rebels against egg whites, too.  So I can't rely on either one for my primary source of protein. And that leads me back--to meat. 
Also, as I have handled more meat--and more meat that looks like meat (for example, lamb chops or shanks that resemble *my* body parts) I'm quite more aware that I'm eating another being, a dead being killed so I could eat it. I do give thanks to the animal, and have done that for a long time, but even that seems insufficient lately.
So the more meat I eat, the more I feel like a hypocrite--albeit a healthy one. I'm not sure what to do.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fermentation: Sisters Are Doing It For Ourselves!

clear mason jar with metal lid. Inside are shredded, bright orange carrots in a little bit of clear liquid. The jar is sitting atop a light brown bamboo chopping board, and is standing in front of a window. Outsie are branches of the tree in front of my apartment, on a clear spring day.
First batch: fermenting carrots
I've been eating fermented foods (primarily raw sauerkraut) for most of the last year of my food journey. It's (generally) a cheap and good source of beneficial bacteria for gut healing and overall digestive health.
For me, fermented foods deliver several rewards: (1) they must reduce inflammation because I get less puffy and smaller when I eat them; (2) my food desires are much clearer, so I don't graze the fridge as I try to find the nutrient my body  hungers for; and (3) I seem to digest my food much more thoroughly, and (likely as a result) have a lot less hunger.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) food/nutrition plan, has been a major cheerleader for the benefits of fermented foods for mind and body health. Whether or not you subscribe to all of her assertions, research is showing us that poor gut health and inflammation are not only linked to one another, but also to numerous chronic illnesses (e.g., diabetes mellitus, depression, anxiety, arthritis, and heart disease).
I'm the first to admit, however, that sauerkraut doesn't top the favorite foods list for most people (including me). A fellow writer introduced me to fermented ginger carrots, and they are definitely the exception to the nasty food rule: crunchy and chewy, sweet yet tart. Last week I bought some, but at $8 for a small jar of the stuff, I didn't think I'd be eating it often. When I looked at the ingredients, however--carrots, water, and ginger--I decided to embark on my first foray into the world of fermentation.
I found a simple recipe at 6512andgrowing, and tried it out. It will take about three days for the fermenting to finish. Although I do have some concern about the jar exploding and/or me getting botulism or some other food-jockey illness,  I'm hoping for the best.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Learning to See the Avoided Fat Body

Me now.
In the last few months, I’ve been staring at myself in the mirror. That’s an old behavior. What is new is that I now look at all of my body, instead of the few inches of which I’m not ashamed.
I don’t remember when I stopped looking at my body, or if I ever even started. Like many women—especially fat women (or those afraid of being fat)—I’ve long judged and avoided my body, and considered it (and myself) ugly. I long ago learned to look selectively. Even as a skinny kid, I would only look at my face (and just the parts of it, like my eyes and cheekbones, which I considered less ugly) and avoid the rest. I lived from the neck up long before I’d ever heard that phrase.
Being a survivor of sexual abuse was a part of it, certainly; I rejected my body because it had not protected me in my time of need (and had betrayed me, too. Long deprived, I always hungered for any kind of physical contact). A therapist once assigned me the task of looking at seven-year-old girls, the age of the first sexual abuse I remember. “You’ll see how small little girls are,” she said, “and so helpless.” She was right, of course. (Even years afterwards, I’d still turn away and cry whenever I’d just glance at one of those small faces atop a set of tiny limbs.)
For decades—the skinny ones and the fat—I didn’t know what my body looked like because I didn’t look; I was afraid to look, and I was ashamed to look. I wore poorly-fitting and shapeless clothes to camouflage what I did not want to see. I ordered clothes by mail for convenience and to avoid the visibility (and potential shame) of shopping in public. The idea that I could wear clothes to highlight or accentuate my body was an unknown concept. Of course I preferred to make love in the dark, and struggled to accept the slow caress, the lingering, tender gaze.
Exhibit A: Shapeless clothes (2010)
For the last several months, however, I’ve been using mirrors, cameras, and a tape measure to learn myself, a kind of training in seeing. It is as if I am seeing myself for the first time, seeing what I actually look like, compared to the image I carry around in my head. I also now know that I've spent years seeing myself from outside, as one viewed. I am learning how to see myself and my world from behind my own eyes.
One of the benefits of this training is that I can now tell when I’m doing a “perfect parts” self-gaze, versus simply seeing my body. Also, I no longer measure my appearance based on others’ attention because I now have my own base of knowledge. I know, too, that there is a difference between how my body feels to me and how it looks. Because of my increased muscle tone, for example, I feel (and am) sleeker. I am still carrying excess fat, however, so am still bulgy around my stomach, upper thighs, and butt. 
I can’t (yet) say that I love my body, but I am becoming familiar with it, have learned to see it, and do so with diminishing shame.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seeing My Mother in the Mirror

When I was young, I idolized my mother, as many young girls do. I thought she was beautiful (and she was), charming, and vivacious; I was none of those. In fact, I never thought I resembled her in any way. I was quite surprised when my younger sister told me (not long after our mother died) that I looked more like my mother than either of my sisters.
And now that I am getting smaller and less fat, I see the resemblance--and am surprised that I never noticed it before. I've come to believe that I couldn't imagine any similarities between my mother and me, and so couldn't see them.
My mother, Mary E. Ursery
As well, I certainly could never imagine competing with my mother or my older sister in anything--perhaps out of fear, or maybe except in areas (such as school achievement, writing, and mechanical ability) in which they'd shown no interest. I also feared self[-assertion, attractiveness, and sensuality (as is common among those who are sexually abused at an early age). In my mind, however, those were attributes that rightly belonged to other women (especially my mother and older sister) but not me. I think, too, that I somehow believed that the only way I could be attractive would be if I became her--with all of her trauma and danger and pain.
These days, I no longer reject my mother, or our many similarities. I see her when I look at myself in the mirror. I fall into her gait while walking down the street. As she did, I take pleasure in a well-turned phrase and a well-cut garment. I have finally chosen to be myself, including the self I share with her.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From Here to There: Photos (NSFW!)

Today I compared two sets of back/butt photos I've taken since making major changes to my food in March and re-starting weightlifting in May.
I find a couple of things interesting: (1) the weight difference is small (only 11 pounds), but the size difference (particularly in my hips, butt, and arms) is quite noticeable; (2) I would look even fatter if my arms weren't raised in the first photo; (3) I eat about 40% more calories now than I did at the beginning; and (4) I never realized how square my butt was!


The original photos were fuzzy as my forward-facing phone camera is only 3M pixels,so I sharpened and slightly lightened both photos w/Microsoft Picture Manager. They're still not great, but better. Those were, however, the only changes.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Blasting Through the Ceiling

Today I picked 110 pounds off the floor, five times, in a movement called the deadlift. I have never been more thrilled, or felt more accomplished. I have lifted more weight with my 58-year-old body than I ever thought possible, and this is just the beginning.Lifting heavy weights with your body via compound exercises is a transformative experience. (Compound exercises train several muscle groups at once, and include the front squat, deadlift, and shoulder presses.) Sure, strength training does change the body, and quite quickly. It is one of the fastest ways to lose fat, slim down, revamp your posture, and build muscle. The deadlift (my favorite) and squat work every major muscle group in the body. As well, I’m in and out of the gym in about an hour, and train three times weekly.
Great photo; too bad about the caption.
But there are benefits of a higher nature. Strength training—because of the focus on your form and concentration—is quite the meditative experience. You have to stay in the present moment to move a large amount of weight with good form. When I’m lifting, everything else falls away.

Fear of the Triple Digits

What’s curious, though, is that I have been close to lifting this weight before, but was afraid to do so. I’ve been back at the gym now for four months, and focused on compound exercises for the last six weeks. In the last two weeks, I’ve deadlifted up to 90 pounds, and then backed off. There was something about triple digits that scared me, even though there’s only a 10-pound difference between 90 and 100. I was also familiar with the concept and benefits of linear progression in weightlifting—adding 2.5 or 5 pounds to the highest weight I’d lifted the last time I was in the gym. It didn’t matter; I just couldn’t step up. The fear (as is true for all feelings) wasn’t based in logic, but stopped me in my tracks.
An excellent article on adult novice women and weight training by Fran Mason, (owner and head trainer at Seattle's CrossFit 206), informs me I'm not alone in that. Apparently this Fear of the Triple Digits is common to adult women new to barbells and strength training. (In my case, I’d done bodybuilding in my late twenties and early thirties, but did little barbell training.) The article is for weight-training coaches, but several sections really spoke to me.
Mason writes, “Women’s expectations are often too low …Many women don’t know we have significant strength potential, [and] that we owe it to ourselves, just as men do, to explore it.” That was me!  For example, although I deadlifted 50 pounds for five sets of five repetitions (also known as a 5x5) three weeks ago, I didn’t think I be able to lift 100 pounds for at least a couple of months. (Where did I even get that idea?) 
Mason had been one of the women she writes about: she started weight training at 40, and has trained for nine years. That gives her a real-life understanding of her adult women clients staring at a barbell for the very first time.
I love how she characterizes the value of linear progression in weightlifting: “Lifting a barbell for strength is like putting money into a 401(k). Deadlifting 100 is like saving $1000 – you’re on the right track, but it’s not enough to live on when you retire. Keep inching it up. You have no idea where the ceiling is. You might lift twice your own weight someday.” (And if you want to be impressed by what a 49-year-old can lift, check out her training blog).
I thank Mason for her article, for her example, and for our great email exchange. Here are my revamped lifting goals for the next 3 months: shoulder press 60 lbs (now at 40), deadlift 180 (now at 110), and front squat 80 lbs (now at 20). Ceilings be damned!