Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Goodbye Gluten!

When I started my gluten-free experiment, I hoped that it would calm my stomach down and alleviate my IBS symptoms. What it actually did was completely unexpected. It cured me of the depression that has inexplicably plagued me since October 2007. In varying degrees since then I've woken up feeling sad and lonely, have cried a lot, have had trouble sleeping (and believe me, that's never been a problem for me), and generally have just felt that my life must have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. I've learned to live with it, but have been constantly searching for a way to make my life feel right again.

On April 18th, I stopped eating gluten. On April 19th, I woke up happy. I distinctly remember getting out of bed and telling my boyfriend, "I'm in a good mood." I was surprised, and didn't quite believe that it was the gluten. Maybe it was the placebo effect. Maybe it was random. But I was willing to keep eating gluten-free to find out. Over the next 2.5 months, I felt better and better every day. On June 28th, my birthday, I remember feeling as if it was the happiest day I could remember in years. Life suddenly seemed exciting and I felt once again that I had a purpose.

Fast forward to July, when I started eating gluten again so that I could get tested for Celiac Disease. Up until now, I didn't truly believe that it was the gluten making me so happy. Now, there's no doubt in my mind. In the past 3 weeks that I've been eating gluten, I've cried almost daily, fallen apart at every little thing, and felt incapable of getting anything in my life done. Everything suddenly seemed hopeless, and although I knew I would feel better once I stopped eating gluten again, I couldn't manage to think positively. I felt like my life had no point.

Yesterday, after deciding I couldn't take another day, I called my doctor and told them I needed to get tested ASAP. I had an appointment scheduled for the following week, but couldn't handle the thought of eating gluten anymore. I was amazed when my doctor listened to me and said, "Please stop eating gluten today." It's rare that I've been to a doctor that really listens. She took the blood test, but told me to stop eating gluten no matter what it said. "It's just a test," she told me. "You're the real authority on your body." Huh. Imagine a doctor saying that?

So as far as I'm concerned, today is the first day of the rest of my life. My gluten-free life. I still feel pretty depressed. I still woke up sad this morning and have cried already once today. But I feel a little better now than I did yesterday. And hopefully tomorrow, I'll feel a little better than I do today. I have no interest in ever eating gluten again. No sadness about giving it up. I stopped at Trader Joe's and picked up some gluten-free goodies. And now I can start using the cookbooks I got for my birthday. Gluten-Free Quick & Easy and Babycakes (Thanks Grace and Grandma!). Now that I know this is a lifelong thing for me, I'm ready to spend the money on gluten-free flours and start learning to bake. My first challenge? Gluten-free cinnamon rolls. I'll let you know how they turn out.

And I'll let you know how my gluten-free life turns out. I'm thinking things can only go up from here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Folly Of All Or Nothing Thinking (And Roasted Chickpea And Crumbled Tofu Salad)

All or nothing thinkers don't just eat one cookie and put the rest away for later. They don't eat half a pizza for lunch and then have a salad for dinner to compensate. Instead they have the other half of the pizza and some ice cream too. They don't exercise three days a week. They exercise every day and get frustrated that they're so hungry all the time. I understand this because I've always been an all or nothing thinker. I used to try so hard to diet, but the second I screwed up, I gave up for the day. Oh well, I already messed up lunch, I might as well eat badly for the rest of the day too! The problem here is obvious, but how do we change our all or nothing mindset?

The shift came about for me when I was seeing a therapist at NYU about my binge eating. She asked me to think of my eating on a scale of 1 to 5. A 1 was a perfect day and a 5 was the worst possible day I could have. Everything else was on a scale in between. Up until then I had always berated myself any time I felt like I hadn't eaten the way I planned. And as soon as I started beating myself up over it, I would feel so bad about myself I would go and eat more. It was a bad cycle that I could never seem to stop. Until my therapist put it in perspective. She reminded me that I didn't need to be perfect to be healthy. What she asked me to do was rate myself on that scale every time I felt like I had a bad day. My goal was to avoid reaching a 5 on the scale. That was in 2006. I can't deny that I've binged since then, but in the past three years I've only hit that 5 once. And I can honestly say I don't think I'll ever go there again.

I'm a perfectionist. I'm hard on myself and I don't usually give myself enough credit. But when I have a bad eating day, I ask myself, "Was it a 5?" If not, then I let it go and I move on. And without the guilt and self-loathing that I used to put on myself, I don't feel the need to keep eating badly all day. Half a pizza for lunch might not be the healthiest thing, but if I follow it with a salad for dinner, I'll feel a lot better the next day than if I finish off the other half. After all, every meal is a chance to eat healthy. You don't have to turn one not-so-perfect meal into a whole not-so-perfect day.

Roasted Chickpea and Crumbled Tofu Salad
Print-Friendly Option

1 16-oz container of firm tofu
1 20-oz. can chickpeas, drained (but not rinsed)
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups mushrooms, quartered
alfalfa sprouts
1 carrot
1 zucchini (if you can get it fresh from a farmer's market, it will taste 10x better than at your grocery store)
mixed salad greens
1 cup dried cranberries
1 lemon
2 Tbsp. olive oil
wheat-free tamari
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

  1. Over the sink, squeeze the tofu to get excess water out. Crumble it into a bowl and stir in a little tamari (about 2 tsp.). Set aside to let the flavor soak in.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Put the chickpeas, green peppers and mushrooms in a casserole dish. Drizzle the olive oil over them and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (as much or as little as you like). Turn the chickpeas and vegetables a few times so they're evenly coated with oil.
  4. Bake for about 35 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the peppers are tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  5. On 4 salad plates, arrange a mix of salad greens. Over the greens, grate the carrot and zucchini. You can add as little or as much as you like.
  6. Add the crumbled tofu and dried cranberries (1/4 cup per plate).
  7. Add the chickpeas and vegetables and a sprinkling of alfalfa sprouts.
  8. Lightly squeeze a little juice from a lemon and add more tamari if needed.
* To keep calories down, I enjoy this with just the tamari and lemon juice, but your favorite dressing or a simple mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar can be added.

Serves 4

Dietary Exchange Per Serving
1 starch, 2 proteins, 1 fruit, 1 vegetable, 2 fats

This post is linked to Friday Foodie Fix.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mild Vegetable Curry

To continue with the theme from my last post, I've been experimenting with different variations on curried vegetables. This is generally hit or miss since I just throw in a hint of this and a tad of that with very little knowledge of how much of each spice I should really be using. But playing around with food is half the fun. If the finished dish doesn't taste amazing, at least it's more fun than plain steamed vegetables. And if turns out wonderful...well, ironically those are usually the days when I didn't write down how much of each ingredient I used. But I'm learning. And thanks to this blog, writing down ingredients more often.

Today's mild vegetable curry was a hit.

4 cups of your favorite non-starchy vegetables (like carrots, peppers, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower), cut into bite sized pieces
1 clove garlic, diced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
2 cups fat free plain Greek yogurt
8 Tbsp. organic crunchy peanut butter

  1. Spray a large pan with pam (or whatever cooking spray you like) and heat on medium-low.
  2. Add in the garlic and saute for a minute.
  3. Add in the vegetables and let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Stir in the canned tomatoes (with the juice). Stir in the spices and cover the pan. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Uncover the pan and continue to simmer another 20 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes, until the tomato juices are thickened.
  6. Turn the heat off and spoon the vegetables into 4 bowls. Stir 1/2 cup of yogurt and 2 Tbsp. of peanut butter into each bowl.
  7. Garnish with red pepper flakes if you like a little heat
Serves 4
Print-Friendly Option

Dietary Exchanges per Serving:
1.5 vegetables, 2 fats, 1/2 dairy

Low-fat tip:
Eliminate or reduce the amount of peanut butter for a lower-fat version.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Simple, Low-fat Ways To Spice Up Your Veggies

We all know that vegetables are a key ingredient for a healthy diet. But when life gets hectic, what's the first thing to disappear from our plates? It's usually vegetables.

"There's no time to cook."

"I'm tired of baby carrots and lettuce."

"Vegetables are so boring."

This is what I hear from my clients who aren't eating enough vegetables. My answer? Vegetables don't have to take a lot of time. When I say salad, I don't just mean lettuce and carrots. And vegetables are meant to be added to. Don't just steam them and eat them begrudgingly. Have fun with your vegetables! Here are some of my favorite ways to spice up my vegetables:
  • Keep low calorie flavor enhancers in stock. I always have low-sodium chicken broth, low-sodium tamari or soy sauce (San-J has wheat free), red pepper flakes, sriracha sauce, garlic, and mustard on hand. A quick veggie saute can be made with any combination of these. Play around with them and see what you like. In the photo above, I sauteed broccoli and carrots with tamari, mustard, garlic, and red pepper flakes. And you can't use time as an excuse for this one. I knew it was going to be a long week, so I bought broccoli and carrots already cut up, and even the garlic was pre-mashed. It literally took less than 10 minutes.
  • Grill your vegetables. If you have a George Foreman grill, it's really easy to marinate them in some soy sauce and throw them on the grill.
  • Roast them. Add a bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until all the veggies are soft. Mushrooms and cherry tomatoes taste amazing this way!
  • Want something to dip your vegetables in without all the calories of ranch dressing? Try hummus, salsa, or tsatsiki made with fat free or low fat yogurt.
  • When you need something completely different, try pickled vegetables. I have to admit I've never actually made them myself, but this is on my list of fun recipes to try.
  • Don't make boring salads. Lettuce and carrots? Sad. Spinach, red onions, walnuts, goat cheese, and strawberries? Much more exciting! When it comes to salads, anything goes. And spinach goes great with fruit. Try a spinach and fruit salad for breakfast. Or if you still haven't tried smoothies with spinach, it's time you got out your blender.

What fun ways do you have to spice up your vegetables?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Gluten Filled Adventure

Yep, that's cake. Gluten-filled, delicious cake. After going gluten-free for about 2 1/2 months, I bit the bullet and went back to gluten. And I have to continue to do so until August 4th when I see my doctor to get tested for Celiac Disease. It's a strange thing to think that after the last two weeks of eating everything, what I want more than anything is to give up gluten again. But I can't until after the test. I feel like a little kid pouting because I can't have my favorite toy.

I want my gluten-free diet back!

Perhaps a little recap is in order: I've been in San Diego for my older sister's wedding for the past two weeks. The first couple of days I tried to stay gluten-free. My sisters and I made salads and had hummus and veggies and ate lots of fruit.

But there was also a lot of eating out. After a couple of days of stressing everything going into my mouth, I decided that since I was going to have to start eating gluten again before getting tested, I might as well just start now. The main difference I had noticed after going gluten-free was that my depression and mood swings seemed to disappear. So I was afraid to eat gluten for fear it would bring on the permanent PMS during my sister's wedding. But the stress of trying to be gluten-free on vacation overcame my reservations. I figured if I started getting grumpy, I'd know it was the gluten and just stop eating it.

Well, there's something I didn't consider. The last two weeks have been an emotion filled adventure as well as a gluten filled one. I did feel like I had permanent PMS but I didn't know if it was the gluten or simply the circumstances. My older sister was getting married, my younger sister and I were helping her with all the last minute details, I saw my half-sister who I hadn't seen in eleven years, and I met my dad's wife for the first time...there's more, but this is enough for you to get the picture. I was a basketcase and trying to hold it all together because, after all, I wasn't the one getting married.

And then I decided to completely overhaul my diet on top of all that. A diet that made me feel better than I've felt in two years. Probably not the smartest idea.

So now I'm back in NYC. It's not as sunny here, nor is there the soft breeze that keeps the humidity away. I'm feeling a little (ahem...a lot) depressed, and again, I can't say if it's the gluten or simply the fact that my vacation's over, I don't know when I'll see my sisters next, and I have to go back to work tomorrow. Once again there are valid reasons to feel like an emotional wreck.

But I suspect it's the gluten. I went through a period of feeling extremely depressed about two years ago, and it didn't completely go away until I stopped eating gluten. The last 2 1/2 months I started feeling excited and hopeful about my life again. And now I feel...well, just about the way I did when it all started two years ago.

I'm not sure what the test will tell me. It might sound odd, but I'm hoping my doctor will tell me I can't eat gluten because then at least I'll understand what's going on with me. A lifetime without gluten is 100% worth it if it means I get to feel happy again. And if the test comes out negative? I'll be going gluten-free again anyway. My boyfriend's been present for all of this, so he saw the difference when I went gluten-free, and his comment was, "Who cares what the test says? You know what's right for you. I'll write you a doctor's note saying you can't eat gluten! Please don't eat gluten anymore!"

Well, after August 4th, I won't.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Quinoa and Heirloom Tomato Salad (Plus Tips for Staying in Shape While Traveling)

Trying to stay on a healthy eating plan when traveling is not always easy. Actually, let me rephrase that. It's almost never easy. After all the traveling I've been doing, I have a much greater appreciation for what my clients go through when they're out of town. Being on someone else's schedule, not always having control of what or when you eat, not having your normal exercise routine...these are all factors that come into play and make you have to work extra hard to keep those pounds from creeping back on. It's ironic really...we spend months trying to get in shape for our vacation only to gain weight as soon as we get there.

Don't lose faith though. Gaining weight on vacation is not inevitable. Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy yourself. Here are a few tips for staying in shape while vacationing.
  • Drink lots of water. You're probably going to be eating and drinking things you don't normally have very often, so don't forget to hydrate to keep things moving.
  • Start your day off right. A healthy breakfast will set the tone for the rest of the day. As soon as I got to my sister's house, I picked up ingredients for green smoothies, and my favorite Trader Joe's gluten free waffles. I may not be in control of what happens the rest of the day, but I can plan on a healthy breakfast.
  • Pack healthy snacks. You might not be able to eat as often as you're used to, so bring some healthy snacks with you wherever you go so you don't get into "I'm starving and I'll eat everything in sight" mode. Some good ideas are bananas, apples, larabars (I like the Jam Frakas...they're supposed to be for kids but are half the calories of a regular larabar and a perfect snack size), nuts, and dried fruit.
  • Stay active. I was the first one awake this morning (I'm still on East Coast time), so I got up and went for a long walk around the neighborhood.
  • Don't be afraid to make your needs known. My sister doesn't eat every couple of hours the way I do, so I had to let her know I needed to go to the grocery store to pick up some snacks. You might feel like you don't want to inconvenience anyone, but remember that your friends and family will want to help you feel good about yourself.
  • If you're in a situation where you can cook, make a healthy meal for everyone, like this Quinoa and Heirloom Tomato Salad that I made to accompany the fish we had last night.

Quinoa and Heirloom Tomato Salad
Print-Friendly Option

2 cups uncooked quinoa
2 cups heirloom tomatoes (any cherry or grape tomato will be fine), quartered
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
6-8 fresh mint leaves, minced
small handful of fresh parsley, minced
1.5 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 lime
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the box. Allow to cool.
  2. In a large serving bowl, mix together the tomatoes, black beans, onion, mint, parsley and goat cheese.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and the juice from the lime. Pour over the tomato mix and stir in to coat.
  4. Add the quinoa, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley or mint sprigs.
Serves 8

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.


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