Health & Diet, Self-improvement

This January I embarked on the Arbonne 30-Days to Healthy Living Cleanse. I did this last year too and wrote about it (the Power and Pain of the 30-Day Cleanse). However, this year I was not alone. Somehow, I managed to talk others into doing it too (besides my husband who probably felt that he had little choice). Four other couples and two additional women did it with us, and oh, what fun it was!

green smoothieFor those who don’t know about this cleanse, the following foods are cut out for thirty days: wheat, sugar, dairy, peanuts, corn, soy, caffeine (except for green tea), canola oil (which is in many foods and is inflammatory), all vinegar except apple cider, pork, beef (except grass-fed, once a week), starchy foods (like potatoes), and sugary fruits (bananas, pineapple, etc). Why, you might ask, would anyone voluntarily cut out ALL of these foods? And, what does that leave a person to eat?!  I did this cleanse again because last year it helped with my migraines, my husband did it to lose weight (and he’s a nice, supportive guy in that way), it’s also a good way to get rid of the guilt-ridden pounds and general yuckiness felt after overindulging during the holiday season (which we both did). Those who joined us did it for a variety of reasons: for some it was to lose weight, others wanted to get rid of the guilt too, some wanted to get a good start on the year by eating right, and one other person had mysterious pain issues and wanted to see if a diet change would help alleviate some of the pain.

The cleanse did help with all of these issues. Everyone lost weight. My migraines improved. All of us felt “good” in general (either from not eating so crappy anymore or for paying penance from the month before, we don’t know), and the person who had the pain issue said her body felt better (though it didn’t all go away). If that’s the case, why don’t we eat like this ALL of the time, then? And here is where the list of drawbacks begins.

Convenience: it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eat out or grab something quick during this cleanse. No restaurant or quick eatery has entirely cleanse-compliant menu options (Chipotle is the one exception, and even then, there is one or two items on the menu to have). Meal-planning is essential, which was good in some ways because it forced me to plan, but for those of us who aren’t very creative or enjoy figuring out meals, it was hard. Which leads me to the next one:

Lack of variety: there are only so many ways to cook a chicken, especially when most marinades, vinegars, or any type of sauce is forbidden. I don’t eat meat, so it didn’t bother me, but others who did the cleanse groaned, “Chicken…again?” Grass-fed beef is an option, a very expensive one. Most chicken sausages have a pork casing. And for me, the vegetarian, beans – yet again – got pretty old. After it was over, though, we definitely appreciated some simple foods that we couldn’t have – regular old potatoes, for instance, or tofu in my case.hungry with donut

Missing out: many of us had certain foods or beverages that we realized were hard to let go of. For most it was the beloved coffee, but after the three to five days of withdrawal, many were okay (some weren’t). My nightly cookie with tea was dearly missed, or a Friday night beer (a glass of wine for others). How much of this was habit or actually hard to give up? We’re not sure.

The length of the cleanse got to me in the end. I was flying through it for the first two and a half weeks, finding that it wasn’t so hard because I had given up a lot of these foods anyway (mostly wheat, dairy, and coffee), but after fifteen days, I hit the wall – hard. I was tired of eating the same old things. I wanted chocolate. I wanted my old salad dressing back. I wanted to stop thinking about what to eat for the next week. I asked my husband why we ever decided to do this stupid cleanse (and he said, “I don’t know, why did you decide that we would do this stupid cleanse?”).

But we got through it, just like we did the first time. And, like before, we felt better – all of us did. Now, nearly a month has passed, and some of us are slowly going back to our old foods, others have dived in headfirst (with G.I. payback), and some have given up a few foods entirely. Last night, I asked most of the fellow cleansers if they would do it again, and many said yes. Despite the pain, the inconvenience, and the difficulty of following such a restrictive diet, we would do it again. (Well, I might change it to twenty days instead!). I think that shows how many of us knew we were making the right choices, filling our bodies with real food, and not feeling guilty for eating things that we knew satiated just our brains, not our stomachs. There must be something to that. I’ll let you know next year. Or would you care to join us? 😉

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Health & Diet, Self-improvement

So many moms out there experience these debilitating headaches, and so many of us find little relief. For those of you who have never had a migraine, here is a brief description: extreme, throbbing pain, usually on one side the head, that is relentless. It pounds away minute by minute and is accompanied by heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and even smell. Almost anything will make it worse. Some experience nausea or vomit, some have a weird halo (or “aura”) that obscures their vision, others must hide away in a dark room, and the worst must go to the E.R. because the pain is so great. Most get no relief until they go to bed that night and hope it’s gone in the morning. For many sufferers, it has miraculously disappeared after a good nimigraine1ght’s sleep; for others, it can continue for two to three more days. The pain can be so excruciating that most people are willing try anything to make it go away, and most things don’t work. Adding children to the mix (especially young and needy ones) when a migraine hits tests the strength of the strongest moms!

I have suffered from migraines since the age of 26 (I am now 42). I have researched the topic, tried almost any and every suggested remedy, gone to doctors, acupuncturists, and herbalists. Here is what I learned over the years to hopefully help anyone with these mega-headache blues:

Causes and Triggers:
Following are some common causes and triggers that contribute to a migraine occurring. Note that it isn’t just one of these that will cause the headache, it is typically a combination of them. I spent many years trying to find that one culprit, thinking that I could eliminate that and be cured; and it took me a long time to realize that it’s not the case. Too many triggers experienced at the same time will cause that dreaded pounding to start; there isn’t one source.
– Migraines are typically hereditary. If you get migraines and start asking around your family members, you’ll probably find that someone else gets them too. My dad does occasionally, as well as my aunt who experiences them often, and now my younger cousins. Unfortunately, we’re a migraine family, but they also have been a good resource for me when trying to discover my common triggers. Often, they are the same.
– Getting too little sleep. This is a big contributor to the onset of a migraine, and I know that if I have multiple nights of no sleep, a migraine is sure to follow. Sleep can be nearly impossible with little ones, but try to make it up where you can. Go to bed when your babies do, nap when they do too, or try to find some time during lunch breaks to just close your eyes and rest that poor brain.
– Having too much caffeine. Caffeine, our lifesaver in the morning or when we don’t get that beloved sleep, can also bring on a migraine faster. It constricts your blood vessels and increases your heart rate. It feels good in the moment, but can also make that incessant pounding worse. I finally kicked the coffee habit after many loving years with my darling java, but it has really helped. I still drink tea, a combination of black and green, so I still intake caffeine, but not at the same rate or in the same concentration.
– Not eating regularly, or drinking enough water. In combination with healthy sleep, migraine sufferers also benefit from eating at least every three hours, as well as drinking plenty of fluids (ideally water). The drop in blood sugar really affects those with migraines. Lacking these two essentials just adds fuel to the migraine fire.
– Menstrual cycle migraines. Some women find that the dips and dives in their hormones due to their period cause migraines to regularly occur. At least two moms I know have found that their menstrual cycle is the major contributor to their monthly migraine.
– An onslaught of stress. We all know that stress is unavoidable in our lives as moms, but an influx due to family problems, illnesses, financial worries, and more can add up fast. Taking a break with some relaxation or even a short meditation can help. It might not solve your problems, but can give you a little distance for a short while, and maybe keep that headache at bay.
– Red wine, some cheeses, dark chocolate. That just doesn’t seem fair, does it? All of those delicious foods can cause migraines? For some, yes. Red wine has been a culprit for a long time. Tannins and a substance called tyramine is supposed to contribute to those who are prone to migraines. The same goes for aged cheeses, they contain tyramine, which helps that headache along. Dark chocolate also contains it, and chocolate has caffeine from the higher content of cocoa. My aunt discovered that dark chocolate is her biggest trigger (along with caffeine,) so she avoids it completely.
– Food allergies or intolerance. Foods that your body cannot tolerate or has a reaction to will cause inflammation in your body. Inflammation can help that migraine come into being. After doing a food intolerance test, I discovered that I am intolerant to milk, lactose, cheese, and many types of seeds. I have completely cut those out of my diet and seen positive results.
– Weather changes. This trigger might seem a little silly, but it can be a contributor. Drops in the barometer mean changes in pressure, which can be painful to an already sensitive head. Major changes due to the changing of seasons affect my headaches, as well as visiting other places where the humidity is vastly different (like the southern states). There isn’t much that we can do about the weather! But being aware of it might cause you to not have that extra cup of coffee or stay up a little later.

How to help your head:
– Healthy lifestyle changes: do your best to get enough sleep, don’t overdo it on caffeine (or drink it at all if possible), always be aware of when you ate and when to eat again (do not go over three hours, carry snacks in your purse, always have water with you).
– Track your menstrual cycle along with your headaches. If you notice a pattern, avoid your other triggers when you know might start your period (or whenever headaches occur in your cycle). You also can visit your doctor to discuss trying birth control pills, which has helped those moms I know who get cycle-related migraines.
– Keep a headache log and note any patterns: did you have red wine the night before, what did you eat, did you get little notebook-and-pensleep, are you particularly stressed, is your period coming or did it recently end? The goal is to narrow down any little pattern. That will help you untangle the triggers that bring migraines on.
– Get a food intolerance test. Knowing what foods your body reacts to can help your entire system (from your G.I. to your head). I had no clue that my body doesn’t tolerate milk products, and I’ve been eating them my entire life! You may not like the answers, but if you’re desperate for relief, you might be willing to try.
– See your doctor to get a prescription for migraine medication. There are options out there for us migraine sufferers and I have tried many of them. There are meds to take when a migraine starts to attack and there are some to take on a daily basis to ward them off. Choosing to take medication is personal and entirely up to you, but know that options exist, some of them might be helpful.
– See an acupuncturist who can get you back in balance. Acupuncture is beneficial for chronic pain or any other problem, which is often due to an imbalance somewhere in your body. The right acupuncturist can treat this imbalance, and in turn, alleviate some of your headaches, or make the pain less severe when they occur.

What worked for me:
First, please note that everyone is different and what has worked for me may not work you in the same way. Everyone’s migraine journey is unique; still, some of my solutions might help you too.
– Adequate sleep, eating healthily, and drinking lots of water. If I miss out on any of these, especially in combination, I’m in trouble.
– Exercising on a regular basis – it helps my body and brain, even short walks are something.
– Changing my daily diet. After getting the food intolerance test and cutting out my body’s major reactors, in my case, milk, lactose, many seeds, and some alcohol, I noticed a marked difference in my headaches. As a family we also cut out gluten (due to my daughter’s intolerance), and that has helped too.
– Acupuncture – it took me awhile to find the right practitioner (every acupuncturist has their own theory for your ailment, like a doctor), but once I did, she worked wonders in clearing out and detoxing my body and helping my energy level overall, especially my headaches. I went from having migraines a few times a month to having one sporadically every four or five months. She worked wonders for me, but again, everyone’s experience is different.
– Prescription migraine medication – I have tried a variety of these as well, some with varying success. In the end, I take a common medication (Imitrex) when I feel a migraine coming on. Since I have eliminated most triggers, that medication usually stops the migraine before ballooning into a full-blown attack. Prior to my lifestyle changes and acupuncture, the medication didn’t always work and I would take it much more frequently than I liked. Now, I am not waiting anxiously to fill my prescription.

The migraine problem is a hard one to solve, and it might be that you will always be prone to them, but know that you can cut out some of the major contributing factors and, if anything, reduce the times that you get them (and the severity). Good luck, migraine mamas!

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Health & Diet, Self-awareness

According to Tony Robbins, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” (I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching Tony Robbins videos.) He then gave examples of people who earn lots of money, achieve big goals, or overcome obstacles onlywoman-570883_640 to think, “now what?” Many of us have experienced this thought. We had a problem or a challenge, set a goal, succeed, then felt a little…empty, sad, or possibly depressed.

After listening to an episode of podcast I like, Zen Parenting Radio, they quoted five things that “Tony says” leads to a fulfilling life. None of these include overcoming some type of hardship or setting goals. They are tasks, some daily, that would ultimately lead to a practice and fulfill you on a regular basis. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Feed your mind (20 minutes/day). I assume this means reading, watching, or listening to something that involves new learning, instead of the regular habit scrolling through social media or filtering through email. I have the intention to read on a daily basis; that often doesn’t happen. Twenty minutes a day seems possible, even if it’s broken up into two ten-minute intervals. That can be done while eating lunch or during some people’s bathroom breaks!

2)  Strengthen your body (20 minutes/day). This is another one that we have to set aside the time for, or else we’ll never do it. Fortunately, I have two dogs that get very lethargic then annoyingly antsy if I don’t walk them. This past summer, however, I slacked off due to ferrying kids to swim practice, intense summer temps, or really bad air quality (from wildfires). The effects showed. I put on a few pounds, my dogs did too. The incentive here is not just keeping weight off, though. Using your body and making it work not only makes you feel good; it also contributes to its longevity. I see countless older people who can’t do many of the basic things they used to because they simply don’t do them anymore. It’s worth it just to keep our bags of bones strong and moving!

3)  Find a mission bigger than yourself. This one can be tough. As a culture we’re not often taught to think bigger than ourselves. Instead it’s: work hard, earn as much as you can, and keep it for yourself. But that mindset usually leads to selfishness, jealousy, and a sense of lack (because you always need more). Many people focus on their families and raising their kids to be good humans (I try to anyway), but we can think even bigger. Are there any national or global problems that bother you? Are there any small ways you can help? (No one is suggesting that you get on a plane and help needy people across the world.) What do you think would help make a better society or planet? How can you do something about it in a way that works for you?

4)  Have a role model. This one is also difficult I think, especially for adults, but it’s possible. I have never been one to have role models or think I should, but maybe there is something to it. We can aspire to be like someone we admire, and that could, in turn, make us better. I don’t think that the chosen role model needs to be someone you know, or would ever even meet. It is a person who demonstrates qualities or has achieved things that you would want too. It’s worth thinking about.

5)  Always know that there is someone worse off than you, and that person has overcome their own obstacles. I find thahip-hop-1209499_640t it isn’t always helpful think about other people and their bigger problems because it makes me feel petty and small about my own (i.e. my “first world” problems). But, good or bad, we all have problems; that is the nature of life. And maybe giving ourselves the perspective of knowing that other people have faced problems, similar or even worse, and they got through them, therefore, I can too. It might just be the little lift we need to feel better.

So there you have it, five things to help us feel fulfilled. I’m going to try them, or at least keep them in mind, and see if it makes a difference in my little life. A couple seem easy (like #1 and #2), a couple seem a little more challenging (like #3 and #4). I welcome you to try it too. If you do, you tell me your role model and I’ll tell you mine.  😊

 

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Health & Diet

Starting out the new year, I decided to cut out dairy (I found out that I am intolerant to it) and wheat (in support of my daughter who is intolerant to that). While I was in this mode of banishing foods, I decided to do Arbonne’s 30-day cleanse.  Foods cut out on this cleanse are: wheat, green-juice-769129_1920dairy, corn, soy, sugar (including nearly all fruits), caffeine, and alcohol. I figured “why not? I’m already cutting out a lot anyhow. It shouldn’t be that difficult” (“ha, ha, you fool!” my future self thought).  I also wanted to see if there was a link between food and my all-too-frequent migraines and this would be a good way to find out. Haze, my husband, graciously agreed to support me and do it too. Here is my take on the four weeks and two days.

Week one: It’s been painful. I won’t lie. I’m not a big food person, and being a vegetarian I am used to not having three-quarters of any menu, but cutting out so much is tough. I am personally surprised that I made it the whole week. I kept counting each day. “Day 3, make it through day 3. Okay, day 4, I can get through this day…” and so on; and then, boom, one week is down. Making it to day 30 now seems possible, but let’s be honest, I’m not there yet.

I noticed that I am hungry A LOT. I am tired. I depended on my morning coffee more than I realized and there were a couple of times that I had a cup of green tea (with nothing in it, mind you) because I needed SOMETHING, or at least I thought I did. However, part of my reasoning for embarking on this is to see if there is any pattern to my migraines. Besides the caffeine-withdrawal-dull-ache at the back of my skull that I had for two days, no migraines. In fact, without coffee, my head feels better: no tense jaw muscle or tight neck, and when I get hungry and should have eaten an hour ago, no oncoming signals of a migraine or shakiness. Could my greatest love, the java, be part of problem? Sigh, I hope not.

Side note: I also learned during this first week that you cannot substitute cayenne pepper for chili powder. And eating that incredibly hot chili makes your stomach burn, however you will not feel hungry for quite awhile (until the stomach lining is not on fire any more). I failed at some other recipes too, but all learning experiences.

Week two: The first part of the week went by fast and I was on the path, then by Friday I wanted “flavor” (that’s what I thought to myself). In the end, I think I wanted to sugar or possibly carbs. This continued, with a cranky mood to boot, until Sunday when I thought I might be getting the flu so I laid in bed and felt sorry for myself instead (but the craving went away!). I also woke up that morning with a headache that felt like a pounding sinus headache and would surely lead to a migraine (but didn’t!). Up until this point I haven’t had any other migraine symptoms, to my surprise, which makes me wonder why I’m on the verge of one now. I do keep waking up in the five o’clock hour, so I’m tired, which is always a contributing factor. And the weather has changed from warm to cold with rain which never helps the noggin.

Week three: During week three, a cleanse is added to the cleanse (because we just can’t get enough) with a detox liquid that is diluted in 32 oz of water (tastes like a weak tea) then it’s recommended to drink another 32 oz of water to really flush everything out. Drinking that much fluid, with it constantly going through my body, gave me the added distraction of feeling full from liquid and running to the bathroom to void that liquid. However, by day six, I was tired of drinking so much. I felt a little like Dumbledore  drinking out of the basin for Voldemort’s horcrux (“No Harry, no, please, no more!”). But I got through it. The other added difficulty was overwhelming sugar cravings (due to hormones I learned) that I usually give into, but didn’t this time so I was slightly cranky about that, however I managed to stay the course.

Week four + 2 days: This last week feels triumphant, “Nearly there!” I think to myself on Monday, but the week drags on. On Thursday I woke up convinced that my husband was brewing coffee, and it smelled so good! Then I was angry, “Why is he brewing coffee? We can’t have that!” Once I actually got out of bed, woke up a bit, and went out into the kitchen, I realized that no coffee was brewing. In fact, a skunk had sprayed near the house during the night and that’s what I was smelling. “I’m hurtin,” I think to myself. The week continued on slowly. I had to cover my nose in a meeting because someone made microwave popcorn and it smelled delicious. By Sunday, when I think it should be over and it’s not, I’m ready to give up, but I don’t. The success of not having headaches is obvious. To give in now, to gorge on pizza, beer, chocolate, and coffee (yes, all at once) would be to sacrifice all I’ve worked for this last month. So I don’t. I eat another green apple and carry on.

Final Day: It seems like twenty-nine days was so long ago. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done it! I’m glad and weirdly, somewhat sad. I’m also nervous to go back to “regular food” for fear of bringing migraines back. I’ve decided to make a detailed food log each day to track what might be the culprit.

To end, here is my list of pluses and minuses and Haze’s pro/con list for this uplifting and sometimes anguishing 30-day cleanse:

Jen’s Plus and Minuses:
Pluses
– My migraines diminished significantly.
– I was forced to plan out meals and be organized about it (which I’m usually terrible about).
– We tried new recipes that I would otherwise not make because it didn’t sound appetizing or I was too lazy.
– I knew exactly what I was putting in my body; no questions about ingredients I can’t pronounce or lab-created chemicals.
– Feeling good – I’m not sure if this was due to just eating better or not feeling guilty or shameful for having overindulged in sweets, caffeine, or alcohol. When you can’t have anything, there isn’t much to feel bad about. It also taught me that I can persevere; and if the world ends, I have a Granny Smith apple tree and a pistachio tree that I can live off of.

Minuses
– The same old foods get boring after awhile. This mainly pertains to snacks. I’m pretty tired of those nuts and green apples. My husband would rather feed his daily lunch salad to the goats or throw it out the window of his office. There are a variety of recipes to make, but we’re ready to take a break from beans for awhile (in taste and their digestive payback).
– Planning every meal can be difficult. Grabbing something and going is not an easy option with this cleanse. Traveling for work made it difficult for Haze at times; being in a meeting when they serve sandwiches for lunch is hard (he looks a little weird picking the entire thing apart and munching on the lettuce while scraping off the mayo).
– Going out to eat or to parties is prohibitive. The majority of restaurants have nearly NOTHING that would satisfy all the elements of this cleanse, even a salad would have dressings that we couldn’t eat (and then what’s the point?). Bringing food to parties is an option, but who wants to hang around a bunch of people stuffing their happy faces only to look on forlornly? Not me. We stayed home and had another green apple.man-pumpkin
– Being hungry. The first one to two weeks are hard. I was hungry, really hungry. That is pretty typical when a diet is changed so drastically, but for me it would still come back at times and I was ravenous. Eating more carrots and nuts just didn’t cut it. After awhile it would go away, but sometimes it would be back, my mind tempting me with all sorts of contraband. Haze and I dealt with it (he better than me because he didn’t feel hungry all that often). Knowing there would be other options out there (after it’s over) was helpful to my mind and body.

Haze’s Pro/Con List:
Pros
– Lost weight without feeling really hungry like a regular “diet” usually does (he lost 18lbs and 2.5 inches around the middle; I lost 4lbs and an inch).
– Feeling better (according to Haze, he doesn’t feel “outstanding,” but “feels better” in general).
– Digestion also feels better (again, no real elaboration, but he does think things are going more smoothly than before).

Cons:
– Food limitations – he missed having a nice cup of coffee in the morning (and bread).
– The inconvenience of making every meal (no easy take-out options).
– Lots of gas (no need for elaboration here).

My take-away from this whole experience is that it’s worth doing. Even though it was tough at times, the benefits outweighed the pain. When I asked Haze, “Do you have any real take-away from all of this?” His answer was, “I do feel better than I did before and weigh less, which is good, but you have to get used to farting a lot.”

Oookay, enough said.

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