Dare to (Not) Compare: Check in Day Three

Well, this was interesting. I had anticipated not having a lot to say as I checked in, something along the lines of “well, I consciously didn’t compare yesterday and that was interesting . . . ”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I was shown about a dozen images of very thin, idealized, media-saturated bodies in class and told to compare my own body to them, then rate my satisfaction with my own body. Interesting how I choose a week to consciously make an effort to appreciate myself without reference to other women, and I’m instructed to do that in a classroom setting.

Now, before we all go up in arms (as I surely would if I didn’t have the background), let me contextualize this. A faculty member in our psychology department came to my wellness class to talk about eating disorders–their classifications, risk factors, treatment, and preventative measures. To illustrate a research study done, she asked us to rate our bodies on a scale from one to ten and write it down. Then, we were shown a series of thin, idealized celebrity and model bodies and instructed to re-rate our satisfaction with our own bodies.

Because I simply looked at the images and tried my hardest to not comply with the instructions, my own “satisfaction” rating stayed constant (I did not write it down, but kept it mentally. The request to write it down made me uncomfortable).

It was a hard one for me to sit through as many of the harmful practices I have indulged in were described. Some of the images shown in the presentation could have been very triggering for someone who is just starring out in their pilgrimage to healing. While I think that there does need to be much more talk, dialogue, and education about these issues I’m not sure in what way. They need to be taken from shameful, stigmatized, dark places and brought to light: but in what setting, and how? I was very uncomfortable with the study re-enactment, but I wonder if I would have been as aware if the plan to not compare wasn’t my focus this week.

After three days of consciously avoiding comparison, I have noticed . . . a quietness. There is a stillness in my mind where there was an almost incessant, disparaging voice.

Have you noticed a change in the inner monologue? 
Have you experienced any educational measures about eating disorders? What did you think?  

Pit Stop Mondays

Happy Monday! What a great weekend. Saturday, I worked on a community garden, went for a run, went contra dancing and then to a party for more dancing! While I didn’t get a lot of sleep, I had fun. Gardening+dancing=best exercise EVER! Especially contra. I didn’t realize how physically active it was, but after a few dances I was sweating quite a bit.

Photo: Sean Green

Photo: Sean Green

Then, last night, I cooked several Oh She Glows  recipes with friends for a community dinner: red quinoa black bean salad and itty bitty carrot cake cookies. We also had garlic bread with earth balance and a huge salad with baby greens, apples, and other goodies. It was deliciously successful.

 

And on to a new feature, which I’m going to call Pit Stop Mondays on my pilgrimage to health. Based loosely on the happiness project, I plan to chronicle mini, one week endeavors intended to improve my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. They’ll serve as check-in points along the route. I have several in mind, involving finances, gratitude, activity, nutrition, and spiritual nourishment. I’m excited!

First on the agenda this week: No negative self talk or comparison to other people, including the person I once was. I talked about  this in my last post , and this week I am making a conscientious effort and refusing to compare myself. It’s been difficult all day. Now that I’m more aware of it, I notice how often I do compare myself with other people–it is an almost hourly occurance. Instead of being critical of those aspects of myself I don’t like, I use every temptation to compare to remind myself that I am beautiful and unique, and my body is healthy and strong.

How do you bite self-criticism in the butt? What did you do this past weekend for your health? 

Vegan Banana Muffins + The Comparison Trap

Hello all!

A few days ago a friend invited me to have dinner with her and bake banana bread…I have such wonderful friends! God has blessed me with some very wise and wonderful women in my life, and these two ladies that I ate with and baked with are definitely in that category.

We started talking about the problem of labeling and choosing to follow a vegan diet. One of the other girls is also a vegan, and one is vegetarian. These past two weeks I have really been struggling with my vegan lifestyle, which is another topic for another time. This conversation came around to the inner battle we face with comparison. I know I constantly compare myself   to other women, wondering why my thighs aren’t as thin and toned, why I’m not as petite or dainty, why my hair isn’t as shiny and healthy, why my skin isn’t as clear and smooth . . . I could continue, on and on, which is really sad. I am perfectly unique and perfectly created, with a healthy and strong body that can do just about anything I ask of it.

God really works creatively. Before this conversation, I had spent a few hours on my computer looking up blog posts about body image and how to achieve a healthy one. I found this list, and one thing that continues to resonate with me is this quote: I choose to stop comparing myself to other women, including the woman I was in the past. That for me is huge. Obviously I have gained weight since I stopped restricting and over-exercising, which is a healthy change. Sometimes, it is hard for me to see that–I look at pictures of myself when I was smaller, and look at my bit of extra cushion now and feel wistful. But this is the other important thing about that quote: I have to make a choice to stop comparing myself. It won’t just happen that one day I stop comparing myself, it is a choice. Now, every time I’m tempted to compare myself, I use that as a reminder to redirect and repeat to myself that I am beautiful. I’m going to keep saying it until I believe it.

When I was really in the midst of my eating disorder, I had pushed away God completely. I knew that if I let God in, I wouldn’t be able to treat myself the way I was. If our “ideal body” is unhealthy and we still try to attain that, our emotional, mental, and spiritual selves will suffer. One of us asked, “do I want a relationship with God, or do I want thin thighs?”  If you spiritually identify differently, the question could be posed “do I want to respect myself and live abundantly, or do I want thin thighs?” When put like that, the choice seems really simple, but it’s still hard. It’s still a daily, an hourly, choice.

Today, I choose to believe the truth! And on to the muffins, modified from this recipe. Not too sweet and completely tasty, with completely safe, lickable batter:

Banana Muffins

4 Mashed bananas
1/3 cup truvia (or other stevia granules)
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 flaxseed/chia egg (1 tsp ground flaxseed, 2 tsp chia seeds+2 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup earth balance (or other vegan butter)
1/4 cup apple sauce (you can try all applesauce in place of the vegan butter, or vice versa)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1. Make “egg” by mixing water and seeds. You want to do this first so it has time to get a little gelatinous!
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Mix together mashed bananas+sweeteners.
4. In separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
5. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients + mix.
6. Melt earth balance, add applesauce and vanilla+ stir into mixture.
7. Pour into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes.


Vegan Fudge Pops!

I am already getting such good use out of the blender my parents brought me this past weekend! It’s only Tuesday, and I’ve used it twice. The possibilities are truly endless!

This little guy is born out of my love for chocolate, smoothies, and snacking. These past few weeks a vegan diet has been particularly challenging for me, especially around desserts and goodies other people were eating. My family was in this past weekend, and I was at Spill The Beans (a local coffee/ice cream shop) not once but TWICE and definitely tempted by the delicious frozen treats everyone was enjoying.

Super versatile and easily modified, these pops can be made out of a variety of combinations and altered easily for taste. (I’m thinking of some strawberry-chocolate and mint chocolate espresso chip flavors in the future!) Keep in mind, many of these measurements are approximate. I tend to shy away from following exact recipes when I cook, preferring to add “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that.” Rest assured, however, that these can’t be messed up!

Spices! Coca powder has antioxidants and fiber, cinnamon helps insulin production, and stevia is a natural sweetener.

I don't have a lot of experience with silken tofu (I usually use extra-firm for cooking) but this worked wonderfully!

Vegan Fudge Pops

1 Frozen Banana
1 1/2 cups frozen spinach (you can’t taste it, I promise!!) 
1 tablespoon almond butter (or any other nut butter)
3/4 cup almond milk (or any non-dairy milk)
 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 tablespoon protein powder 
1/5 packet tofu (I used silken, feel free to omit or use a different consistency) 
1 tsp chia seeds 
1/2 tsp flaxseed
2 tsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
2 packets of stevia  

Blend ingredients together. Pour into popsicle maker and freeze. If you are using the amco express popsicle maker as I was (which I do not recommend), freeze the base 24 hours first and then pour the liquid in and pop it into the freezer for another 20 minutes or so. My parents just brought me the blender and the popsicle maker, and I didn’t know how to use it–I just froze it with the liquid. The pops refused to budge, so I had to let them warm up a bit in the fridge before they slid out.
You can omit the spinach, protein powder, and flax and chia seeds without consequence! I like them because of the added nutritional boost. Spinach is full of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals; flaxseed has healthy omega 3s and fiber, and chia seeds are full of protein, omega 3s, and several vitamins and minerals! Super foods for the win.

Even had some left over for a smoothie, which made a delightful afternoon snack!

I didn’t include a picture of the fudge pops themselves, because as you can imagine they are a long, dark brown log shape. Though they are delicious, they resemble…something unpleasant!

Beloved Aunties, Beautiful Pizza: Self-Love

Last week, as you all know, was my spring break. Woop! On the way back to Greenville from Florida we stopped to spend the night at one of my friend’s parents home in Georgia. After a delicious meal of make your own pizzas (yum!) we all stayed up late talking to the momma putting us up for the night.

Throwing the pizza, Italian style...with a lot of flour!

This thing was a beauty, and I ate it ALL! In stages...it didn't all fit at one go! Part pesto, part tapenade, part sauce for the base...filled with every veggie in the house! YUMM!

In the heart of the home, we covered the gamut of topics–the non-dating atmosphere of our school, problems with education in our country, body image. Which prompted a discussion of what we liked best about our own bodies. It was interesting–as my friends talked of what they liked best, and what they didn’t, I thought about my own body. I’ve spent so much time degrading it and treating it as an enemy, rather than a friend. Body, I’m sorry. I promise to love you better and treat you kinder.

Our favorite attributes ranged–I like my cheekbones, jaw, and lower back best. One friend likes her feet best, another her nose, one likes “the composite” of all her parts. And while my friends listed numerous parts, the house momma encouraged us to continue: “Who here likes her ankles? What about calves?” And I continued contemplating the parts of my body. My feet are odd–large, with tiny round toes. But they are unique, and I can’t imagine another set completing my legs. I was so happy to find that I kept mentally stumbling over little bits of me that I find beautiful, or quirky, or that I can simply affirm that “I like that.”

While there’s a thin delineation between self-confident appreciation and narcissism, I find that many women don’t even toe the line. We focus on what we hate about ourselves rather than what we love, and speak so spitefully and hurtfully to the image we see in the mirror, I’m surprised our bodies don’t up and leave us or rebel. I wouldn’t stay with someone who was viciously hurtful to me. Come to think of it, I think many of our bodies are rebelling from a lack of love, appreciation, and good care. We think and say things about ourselves we wouldn’t dare speak to a friend–how can we treat ourselves so lowly?

Without self-love, “love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t really all that appealing to those around us. After all, who wants to be told they are ugly, useless, lazy, or fat and then abused or deprived as a result? If that’s the way you’re going to love me, Neighbor, you can take your love elsewhere.

What are your favorite attributes? 

*The Aunties: Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies, (I recommend it!) says she decided to treat her thighs as elderly aunties, because then she could less easily be unkind or ungracious to them.

Delicious, Nutritious Breakfast

I know I’ve said it before, but true things bear repeating: maintaining a healthy lifestyle while at school is hard. Granted, it’s hard in general, but I think especially so at school. In college we experience a host of new things: less sleep, more stress, practically unlimited access to junk food, late night WaHo (read: Waffle House) runs, and no parent figure preparing balanced meals. For a lot of college freshman (whether they gain the freshman 15 or not), this can mean a decline in health level.

At my school, all freshman are required to purchase the unlimited meal plan. We can have food from the Dining Hall whenever we so please, with fast food options in another location on campus. Because I am cheap aspire to fiscal responsibility, I am and was determined to get the most out of my meal plan, and avoided purchasing foods for myself. I think a lot of other students run into this same problem–often, what’s cheapest and easiest to prepare in a college dorm room doesn’t have the most stellar nutritional stats. Though I’m right next to the kitchen on my dorm (a luxury many students don’t have) we lack pans and pots to cook in, as well as time. I also love the social experience of eating in the dining hall–I get to see my friends and take a break from class.

With this said, I have a hard time with breakfast and the weekends. On the weekends our dining hall has very limited hours and limited options, and for breakfast I have fewer vegan options than I have at home. Most of the cereals are full of added sugar, sodium, and refined carbs, the potatoes are fried, and the soy milk also has added sugar. That leaves oatmeal and fruit–not bad, but given my extreme hatred for aversion to oatmeal… let’s just say I’m learning to like it, and at this point only enjoy it with added cereal or granola for crunch, peanut butter for flavor, raisins for sweetness, and soy milk to make it like cereal. So the oatmeal I prepare isn’t that much better than the other cereals…

Because I’m trying to limit/remove sources of refined sugar in my diet (more on this later), I’m going to start having breakfast in my dorm room more often. This is good! More time to sleep, less available liquid caffeine to encourage my dependency. My parents are coming this weekend for the first time since they brought me to school last August, and they’ve procured an inexpensive, used blender for me!! Prompted a shopping trip that was heavy on nutrition and easy on the wallet. The fruit is courtesy of our dining hall–I recommend making your meal plan work for you!

That shredded wheat has no sugar or sodium,9 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein! I also got peanut butter that was only peanuts--no added oils or sweeteners!

Enter the breakfast smoothies. At home, I have one every morning chock full of whatever veggies we have in the fridge, unsweetened soy or almond milk, fruits, and other goodies that vary depending on my day and mood. Cocoa powder, stevia, cinnamon,  protein powder, nut butters, tofu , and oats are some of my personal favorites to add in.

I’ve washed and sliced my smoothie ingredients, and they’re waiting and ready to be blended together!

frozen pears and apples!

My poor roommate–I’ve filled our small freezer!

Spinach is my FAVORITE mix in for smoothies. Adds a serving of veggies in the morning, and I can't even taste it.

 Since I don’t get my blender until Thursday, I’m trying out alternatives both in my room and the dining hall. This morning, I had shredded wheat with my special mix of flaxseed, protein powder, and cinnamon (I carry it with me to our dining hall in the mornings in a tupperware container…I get some funny looks, but it’s worth it). The nutritional stats were awesome (about 16 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber), and I was full (even with a hard workout) until lunch!

What are your favorite healthy breakfasts on the go? 

Spring Cleaning

Often at meals my peers will look at my plate and exclaim something akin to, “you’re so healthy!” Or, “What are you eating?” I do follow a vegan diet (with slip ups here and there) and so I tend to place a heavy emphasis on vegetables and other plant based foods. When I’m at school and following a schedule, I find it’s easier to eat healthy at lunch and dinner. Breakfast is a bit of a struggle for me, being a vegan at college I have the option of processed cereals (often laden with hidden sodium and sugars), soymilk sweetened with “evaporated cane juice” (read: sugar), peanut butter (with hydrogenated oils and therefore trans fats as well as added sugar), or oatmeal. Obviously, oatmeal is the obvious choice, and I’m trying to learn to love its slimy, congealing consistency. Learning.

The past few months, however, other foods have been slipping in that I previously avoided all together. “Food” isn’t an accurate description: I’ve been indulging in much more candy and processed food, made entirely of sugar, artificial flavors, and artificial dyes. These had no draw for me in the past, but I think that now that I am vegan when I am in a situation with less than ideal food options I’ll eat anything that’s non-animal based, whether it is healthy or not.

I need to prepare in advance rather than feel remorse looking in hindsight. It is difficult, however, because I find that if I pack food for myself (even if it’s healthy food) I eat it when bored, whether I’m hungry or not. I love the way my body feels when I feed it good, whole foods. I’m energetic and eager to exercise, I feel confident and competent. When I eat poorly, I feel lethargic, unmotivated, and guilty (though food should never inspire feelings of guilt. Ever.)

Time to spring clean my diet and return to my high standards! They may have been mocked, but they make my body happy. No more artificial flavors. No more artificial dyes. No more aspartame or other fake sweeteners. No more partially or fully hydrogenated oils. No more candy that I don’t even like, but that I’m eating because it’s vegan so I technically “can.” No more food that isn’t food. Scientifically, I know it is damaging to my health. Empirically, I know it does nothing to nourish me and only leads to a life I don’t want. I desire energy and clarity, not lethargy or unwarranted feelings of regret.

I eschew the idea of deprivation, and this list of “No’s” seems to be full of that. Rather, I’d prefer to view it instead what I’m encouraging in my life. Vitality. Strength. Self-assurance. Good food. Appreciation. Regularity, if you know what I mean.

The hardest part of this? Sugar free flavors in soy lattes…*

What do you not like in your diet?

Are you going to do any “spring cleaning” in your food choices or exercise regimen? 

*in the interest of full disclosure, I’m probably going to still have some soy lattes, on occasion, as a treat. Everyone needs some “fun foods” in their diet, and those are mine!

On being human

Sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight and sticking my entire hand into my coffee cup to get the foam from my soy latte, I’m experiencing some pretty judgmental stares from my fellow travelers. Seriously, how do you get out your foam, people? For real. I’m not going to leave the perfectly good, delicious foamy remnant of my coffee drink that I drank much too quickly. This way, I can pretend that I savored it slowly–still enjoying it fifteen minutes later!

Anywhoooo, I have to say this one is a bit difficult. That openness, honesty thing? Difficult. Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m not human, because to be human is to be imperfect. When I was in high school I did a really good job of pretending to be perfect: I made the best grades, took the hardest classes, had a part time job, modeled on the side, was a student athlete and the president of every club. On the outside, I was golden–envied by my peers and lauded by my teachers. I convinced everyone, and on good days could even trick myself.

But I’m not perfect. To pretend to be is disingenuous, to try to be is perilous. This blog is about health, yet I am not removed from my struggles to be healthy. In this way, in being real and open and honest, I hope others can be encouraged. It’s ok to drop the facade, and in fact impossible to heal and grow when we’re clinging desperately to a false image of ourselves. I still struggle with food, with body image, with compulsive eating. One bad choice can lead to another and another, spiraling me into darkness. On the other hand, one good choice can break me from my weakening chains and lead to several weeks of freedom.

To be human is to be imperfect. I am learning to be healed, to embrace healing. Sometimes it is scary, and it is always hard. The other night I ended my journal entry with “I am still struggling,” and then realized that to struggle is to fight. Because I struggle, I have not given up, and I will not. I’ve entitled this a pilgrimage, and that is exactly what it is: a journey with hardships, joys, struggles, and happiness along the way. It is discouraging to fail. It is hard to pick myself up, to wage war against the chemicals in my body and the lies of the deceiver. It isn’t a question of willpower, which I think many people don’t realize. It is bigger than willpower, the forces waging are not simple and easily controlled.

My pilgrimage continues.

How do you stop a bad choice from becoming a series of bad choices? What good choices lead to good days for you?

Simple Tips for Health at College

This week is my spring break, holla! I’m working on my social health, visiting my childhood best friend at her school in Tennessee for the weekend, then flying to Tampa to spend the week with my roommate and suite mate. Not practicing very good financial wellness perhaps–but health is all about balance. A trade-off: decreased bank account balance for good times with friends. I’m learning–and I have  a lot to learn about finance management.

While talking with my friend’s friends, the conversation drifted to health, to lifestyle changes while at school. And being healthy physically at school is hard. There is nearly unlimited access to food–sugary, delicious, refined foods. There is less time to sleep–school work and social activities keep some of us from getting the minimum eight hours.

There are upsides, however! At school there is often the convenience of healthy food options if you know what to look for, and easy access to physical activity centers and gyms. My conversations with different college students prompted this post. I realize that not everyone is conscientious or knowledgeable about nutrition, and the noise about “healthy” or “low fat” can be confusing. In the future, I’ll elaborate on different aspects of nutrition and physical activity. I’m passionate about what goes into my body, and you should be too!

Tip #1 Banish negative self talk. No good comes from negativity about ourselves. Without self love, we have nothing–enlist the help of others and agree to ban fat talk, defeatist attitudes, and harmful criticism. When I think about all the time I’ve wasted being critical of myself, it irritates me. My time could have been so much better spent.

Tip #2 Find exercise you love, and do it often! Friends of mine obsess over Zumba, I’d rather shave my head. Almost. For me, running and yoga relieve stress and make me happy. Does your school offer exercise classes? Try a new one! I rediscovered Pilates at school, and it’s awesome. Aim for activity, even if it’s light. Calling your mom? Go for a walk while you chat. Heading to your dorm on the fourth floor? Take the stairs.

Tip #3 Set a time when “the kitchen is closed.” Staying up late, it’s easy to eat junk food at all hours. While it’s a myth that eating at night makes you gain weight, eating when you aren’t hungry does. For me, I don’t like to eat after 8, which is probably ridiculously early for some people. I haven’t been following this guideline closely, and I notice I sleep and feel worse when I eat late because it is typically mindless snacking–rarely is it healthy or conscious.

Tip #4 Meatless Mondays! (Or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays) I’m a vegan, but I know most people aren’t! Setting a day to abstain from meat can prompt you to try new foods and eat healthier while helping the environment. If you’re already vegetarian, try a vegan day. Since becoming vegetarian and then vegan my range of foods has actually increased.

Tip #5 Don’t cut out foods you love. If you suddenly decide you’re going to cut out all ice cream, cookies, and desserts when you’re used to having three desserts a day, you’ll stick to your strict new regime for about two days. Then, you’ll inevitably end up having ten at once because you feel deprived. Continue to eat foods you love, but have smaller portions less often. If you know you’re going to have dessert at dinner, it can encourage you to eat well at lunch.

Tip #6 Get creative in the dining hall. My friends are always amazed with the creations I concoct. I’ll make a massive salad, top it with a veggie burger, guacamole, hummus, nuts and salsa and go to town. Or, I’ll take a stir fry and wander around the dining hall adding little bits that look good. If you like how healthy food tastes, you’ll be more likely to eat it.

Tip #7 Sleep! I get at least 8 hours a night. When I first got to school, I had a really hard time falling and staying asleep. If you have trouble sleeping at school, try to minimize light in your room. You can also take melatonin a half hour to hour before you go to bed, and try to get a routine that signals to your body you are ready to go to bed. For example, minimize screen time (tv, computer, etc.) for an hour before you go to sleep, or do the same thing every night before you go sleep. It’ll help. People who get more sleep perform better and have healthier body weights.

Tip #8 Eat breakfast every day. Eating breakfast kick starts your metabolism and regulates your appetite for the rest of the day. Try to eat within an hour of waking up, and have something with protein and fiber. I’ve been training myself to eat oatmeal despite my history of hatred for the mushy breakfast dish. I mix in peanut butter, puffed rice cereal or granola for something to chew on, flax seed, protein powder, and soy milk. Maybe it isn’t unadulterated oatmeal but it keeps me full until lunch and makes me feel energized! Studies show that people who eat breakfast have more energy, healthier body weights, and improved concentration.

What do/did you do to stay healthy at college?