Pondering Next Steps in Health

When in early 2016 I began a daily exercise practice, I wasn’t sure how long I could stick with it and I certainly didn’t anticipate I would be writing a health blog six months later. Nevertheless, I’ve now known for more than a year that I wanted to find a way – or ways – to help people to be their healthiest selves. 

At first I considered becoming a personal trainer or getting certification to teach a style or brand of exercise that I loved. I still would love to do that someday, but after a lot of research I decided that wasn’t currently the best use of my money and time. Given my work following the auto-immune protocol, I started this blog to document my health journey as well as the progress I made even earlier through exercise and a mindful approach to my health. I’ve considered becoming a health coach someday as well. But currently, I’m at a bit of a crossroads. 

In my life, I love to do a variety of things. I’m self-employed with a variety of work. I love the arts, food, the environment and improving the lives of the people I care about. I love to write and edit and to help people get organized. And I would love to make more money doing these things. 

So how do you monetize a health blog where your focus is on making common sense choices, developing habits and on learning to know your body? Besides gaining a following and having advertisements, it seems like my best path would be to create a “system” with resources for people to follow or a book to read. And I’m not there yet, and I’m not currently sure if/when I’d be the best person to do that. 

So one of the choices I’ve been considering for many months is to become affiliated with a health company and market their products. M2M companies aren’t my favorite thing, but it would give me a clear path to income IF they had products I could stand behind. I’ve been courted by at least four companies in the last year, and I’m leaning toward one of them, because I can see a clear path where I can test some of their products on my diet and because although they offer a “shake”, their overall approach to fitness can be made to align (perfectly, I think) with mine. 

But I wonder how I will be judged if I make this leap. I know people have enjoyed reading about my health journey, and I will continue to share it. I would just have additional offerings for those who are interested. And maybe I could find a way to “coach” people who don’t need the products too, if they cared to listen? 

I’d love your thoughts. This had been on my mind for months and I’m trying to decide if I’m ready to make the leap! 

(Pictured below are some recent meals in my life!)

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Cheating and Erin McKenna’s Bakery 

One of the things I continue to struggle with in my journey to health is the feeling of being torn between strictly following the AIP (auto-immune protocol), which overall has me feeling MUCH healthier than I used to, and the desire to be “normal” and indulge in a treat or a meal out. When you have food allergies and restrictions, any time you don’t prepare the meal yourself there is a risk of cross-contamination or mistakes…and if you add in ingredients that aren’t on your diet technically – AKA a “cheat” in my world – the risk to your health continues to increase further. Of course the flip side of the coin is that every time you stress out about having to obsessively plan and pack your meals, or have to turn down a tasty homemade treat or meal, your stress level, at least if you’re me, goes up. That affects your health negatively. It’s hard to feel satisfied with eating at home 100% of the time, especially when food is such a social thing in our culture. 

So I’ve been navigating this a lot lately. And my response varies day to day, frankly. Although I was initially 100% strictly following my diet, I enjoy allowing myself a little leniency now and then. I can afford to do this in a smart way, and your mileage will vary. The key is to keep a food journal, limit cheats so that you can track exactly what effect they have on your body, and exhibit self-control. I also recommend you try to keep cheats out of the house whenever possible. I have yet to purchase gluten-free bread for the house, for example, but I’ve had a cookie or pancake outside the house with no reaction. That way I’m not cheating daily and can keep there overall integrity of my diet. 

My husband and I are extremely lucky to be new Florida residents (and full-time travelers) which allows us to have inexpensive Disney World passes. These passes do have blackout dates, so occasionally we get our Disney fix at Disney Springs, a shopping and recreation center with free parking near the parks. 

Yesterday we stumbled on a bakery that opened recently, and I seriously thought I must be dreaming. Erin McKenna’s Bakery is from NYC but now had a beautiful, small Orlando location. The sign outside said their food is dairy free, egg free, soy free, gluten free and certified kosher! It’s vegan too. Plus, the only “nut” they use is coconut!!! For me, that means this is the most “on plan” bakery I can imagine. 

Although some of these treats probably have seeds (a low level reintro for me that I haven’t completed yet), and they have more sugar than I need of course, otherwise I’m unlikely to be cheating at all. So of course I had to stop in with my husband. 

Their menu is almost entirely sweet treats. They do carry soft serve ice cream (I didn’t ask what it’s made of) and they have a few flavors of bagels. But the reason to go here is for the goodies, as far as I can tell. Their offerings included tea cakes, cupcakes, cupcake tops, frosting shots, at least six kinds of donuts, cookie cake, brownie treats and bites, and much more. 

I limited myself (and my husband, who agreed to help) to three treats. Amazingly they accepted our annual pass for a discount, so I paid less than $9 with tax. I went with a cookies and cream donut, a vanilla sprinkles donut (can you tell I’ve been obsessively craving donuts?) and a blondie cupcake with raspberry icing and jam and cookie crumbles. Everything was seriously amazing. The donuts are cakey but very moist throughout, and the frosting on the cupcake top was almost fudge-like. The donuts also weren’t super-sweet which I really appreciated. Also, Mark Bittman at the New York Times has declared these the best donuts anywhere!

My husband, who basically eats anything, agreed he’d happily go back here for a treat, especially a cupcake or cupcake top. This is my new favorite donut place and I can’t wait to try their other flavors!

I can’t recommend them more highly. Find them in NYC, Los Angeles or the next time you’re in Orlando. Or if you’re in the U.S., order a treat online! 

How do you navigate cheats in your meal plans? I’ll be exploring this more in upcoming posts. For me, gluten is a never again, but everything is a conversation right now. 

Thanks for reading!

Committing to Your Health

It’s been too long since my last post. December was extremely busy for me, between preparing for my theater company’s performance, preparing to eat without a car and mainly in a hotel room during my performance week and traveling. January was quick on its heels of course, and I’ve been hard at work on my resolution to get back into regular meal planning. 

I really was in a groove this summer – mainly out of necessity. I generally had to eat both lunch and dinner on the go, so I carried a cooler and got creative, even planning the themes of my meals to match what I’d be facing as I attended a company dinner at the theater company I was employed at. Turning down sugar and delicious free food was much easier when I had amazing meals on hand for myself. 

Somehow, in the last couple of months, I had gotten into a rut. I knew what foods were easy to travel with and I seemed to just stick with them. But one of the perils of eating a limited diet is that if you eat it too much, you can actually become intolerant to the food. So partly out of fear and partly out of boredom, I have vowed to change things up this year. 

I’m happy to say I’m doing much better with variety. I’ve been trying new starches – plantains are AMAZING and really cheap in the southern United States, and my husband is a pro at cooking them. I’ve also dabbled with white sweet potato (it was fun as a baked potato, if a little too sweet, so I will be trying baked goods next). I’ve had cabbage, acorn squash and spaghetti squash within the last month, and I made my favorite, Nomato sauce, to enjoy with spaghetti squash and ground beef. Oh, and how could I forget – I made liver. Beef liver. And I ate it! I’ve also made sure to eat a variety of greens instead of just my go-to, spinach. Ross even fried up some okra for us! Of all of my culinary adventures, my favorite has been making “pizza”! I used a plantain pizza crust, zucchini cheese (another first for me), Nomato sauce and topped it with bacon and black olives. Although it wasn’t quite like pizza, it was incredibly satisfying and surprisingly filling too. We all get into ruts with our health. Whether your exercise routine needs a shake up (mine is going great, with daily walks and weight training) or your meal plans need a few new recipes, making a commitment to yourself and your health is a fantastic way to improve your health and your outlook on life. 

Best of luck to you on your own journeys. And let me know if you have a resolution for this year! 

My First AIP Thanksgiving Adventure

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who have recently celebrated (or who are celebrating late). I’m thankful for my health, my friends and family, and for my body and mind that allow me to creatively find work as a self-employed creative person. 

Since this year’s Thanksgiving would be my first following the auto-immune protocol, it was very important to me to keep it as traditional as possible. I wanted the normalcy of turkey/chicken, stuffing and cranberry sauce. I wanted pie. And I wanted lots of leftovers to enjoy after the fact. 

In addition to needing to design an AIP Thanksgiving menu, I thought I would need to prepare it all in our RV. But as it turned out, a friend offered us his driveway and the use of his kitchen to prepare my menu and share it with a few friends. This proved to be the best of both worlds. 

My friend prepared a few dishes. He modified his usual turkey recipe a bit for me – he used olive oil instead of butter and watched the spices. He cooked it on his big green egg charcoal grill and it was probably the best turkey I’ve ever had! He did use a little bit of sugar and a little bit of wine, but since it was such a small amount I knew I would be okay with moderation. 

He also prepared brussel sprouts in a fun way (with lime juice) and gravy, which I told him he could prepare however he wanted since I don’t like gravy! And he put the sweet potatoes I’d washed and put in aluminum foil on the coals after the turkey was ready – they were perfect, caramelizing and delicious, no additions needed. 

I had bought a couple of cans of organic cranberry sauce. I know I could have made my own, probably without any added sugars that weren’t natural, but since my traditional Thanksgiving always had the stuff from a can, we went with that. And it was awesome of course. (And easy.) Again, moderation is key here with the sugar content. 

My biggest challenge was executing the stuffing, or dressing as some people call it. There are a million stuffing recipes out there, but the one I crave is the Stouffer’s bread crumb stuffing right out of the box. Box stuffing is all I have ever had and it’s amazing so that’s basically what I wanted. 

But “gluten-free” commercial box stuffings have tons of additives and brown rice flour, which I haven’t reintroduced yet. And if I was going to eat this for many days afterward I didn’t want to get sick. 

So I shopped around for recipes. Most AIP stuffings don’t bother making bread for crumbs. They use a meat or a mushroom base – way easier – or maybe plantains to get something of the right texture. But I wanted my bread. 

In the end, I ended up buying a cookbook, called the Allergy-Free Holiday Table, just to have a recipe that looked like “my” stuffing. Even then I had to leave out the meat and modify the broth, but it seemed to be the way to go. First you make Buttermilk Biscuits. Then you crumble them and combine them with spices, celery, onion and more to make the stuffing. I tripled both recipes to make sure there would be plenty of leftovers. (AIP recipes don’t tend to feed a crowd.) 

Sadly, my Buttermilk biscuits didn’t rise properly. Maybe they needed more apple cider vinegar?  

But I crumbled as best I could and hoped for the best. It was chewy rather than crumbly, but it totally did the job and has supplied me with leftovers for days! I used tapioca flour and arrowroot flour. 

I knew another guest was bringing dessert, so I made only two – apple crisp and key lime pie. But I made an extra key lime for me!

Apple crisp is one of the first desserts I ever made from scratch. Because I can’t have oats, the topping is basically a taste of coconut heaven – coconut flakes, coconut oil and coconut butter with coconut sugar where you’d expect brown sugar. I also had to skip the nutmeg. It’s very tasty and not too unhealthy either! My critics said it was very good – they suggested using the coconut whipped topping I made for the pie on this too, and they enjoyed the Granny Smith apples which make sure the recipe has tang rather than too much sweetness. 

My final goal was to recreate, as best I could, the key lime pie my grandmother used to make. She insisted it had to be key lime juice from Florida and there was no way lime juice could substitute. However, she would use graham cracker crust, pre-bought, and I think she even used Cool Whip on top. So I wasn’t sure how well I could do following AIP. (For what it’s worth, I have found it almost isn’t worth ordering this at a restaurant. It’s almost never as good as my grandmother’s because the key lime filling isn’t quite right.) 

I debated between a few recipes, but eventually I settled on this one from Forest and Fauna. It had three steps. First, you make a crust, using mostly coconut flakes and honey. It’s insanely good even if it’s hard to get it to shape into the perfect crust – no one minded though.  

Secondly, the filling. It calls for about three avocados per pie. Weird as this may seem, ripe avocado has almost no flavor and a perfect texture to be a vehicle for key lime juice. The filling is perfect, insanely tasty and the perfect consistency after you freeze it. Have I mentioned egg-free, dairy-free, grain-free means almost anyone can eat this deliciousness? 

I did the final step right before serving dessert. I used a recipe from my new cookbook for the whipped cream since Forest and Fauna’s website wasn’t working right. (The recipes were almost identical.) I went with maple syrup as the sweetener to pair with the cream from coconut milk. My husband got his arm workout in and we were rewarded with delicious whipped cream that the guests raved about. 

Everyone went nuts about this pie. Even those who don’t normally like key limes and those who weren’t planning to eat dessert. It’s that good. And I managed to fit the second one in my freezer for later! 

Suffice to say, I’m super-happy with how it turned out. The stuffing was just okay (though with an awesome kick) but if I’m enjoying the leftovers on day 3 I must have done all right! And everything else I’m just thrilled with. 

I’m so thankful there are great AIP recipes out there to be found. Thanks for reading – and do what my grandmother would and make a key lime pie this Christmas! It’s my favorite. 

Comfort in Cookies (and Fast Food, Too!)

As you probably noticed in my last post, I got kind of depressed when my egg yolk reintroduction wasn’t successful. One of the major reasons I was depressed is that eggs are so standard in baking. This meant that I’d always have to be careful with baked goods and at the minimum observe extra moderation with them.

So what do you do when you’re feeling blue? Whether it’s election blues or egg yolk blues? You bake, of course!

Early in my AIP adventures, I was missing chocolate. One of the easiest chocolate substitutions is cacao, although it doesn’t agree with everyone. In my enthusiasm at learning it’s on the protocol, I bought cacao powder and chips. Unfortunately I later learned there are a few ingredients that make the chips non-compliant, so I should have made my own, but since I had them on hand, I decided to indulge a little in this case. As I worked on healing and mourning the loss of eggs, I got to work tracking down ingredients for this recipe.

Flame to Fork is where I found this recipe for AIP, Chewy “Chocolate” Chip Cookies. I substituted arrowroot powder for tapioca powder, since it’s what I had on hand, and I think it made them a little extra dense and more akin to a chocolate peanut butter cookie if that sounds good to you.


First you mix a bunch of stuff. I found it a tad crumbly so increasing the liquids slightly might have helped. And I tripled the recipe since we’re staying with friends and I wanted lots of cookies!


Next you roll them into balls. This took way more time than regular cookie dough. But they will do the job, particularly if you follow the instructions and let them set a bit before you remove or eat them.


These took a while to cook. It can be hard to tell they’re done because they don’t burn as obviously as traditional cookies. So err on the side of less time if you’re unsure. After all, there aren’t any eggs, so you can even eat this as cookie dough without fear!

I’m crazy about these cookies. So is my husband. If I had controlled myself and not eaten 6-8 in a day, I think I would have been fine with the store-bought chips, but next time my digestion will thank me when I make them myself. And if my husband has his way, I will be making them a lot!

If you have trouble finding the ingredients, check Amazon. Depending on the area I’m in, I’ve found most of these ingredients at Walmart or local grocery stores and just about everything at a local food cooperative.

One final note: a quick fast-food story. We just spent a couple of days in Minneapolis and of course visited the Mall of America while we were there. I was prepared with meat and fruit bars, but I was hoping for some fast food I could eat without paying for a sit down meal. A quick search hadn’t turned up anything, but finally I thought to ask Piada Italian Street Food what oil they use on their grill. When they showed me the bottle of olive oil I got so excited!

I had a fantastic salmon salad – they let me substitute things I could eat (olives, cucumbers, artichokes) for things I couldn’t and talked me through every ingredient. Amazing service, amazing meal and I can’t recommend them more highly for a healthy and delicious fast casual experience! Look for them in a city near you in Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota or Kentucky.

Thanks for reading, and stay strong! We are so much more than the food we eat but it sure does influence how we feel.

No Crying Over Split Eggs

I won’t lie. This has been a tough week. And what’s depressing is that much of it was brought on by me and my own choices.

Last week I began egg yolk reintroductions. I hadn’t had eggs since I began the Whole30 Auto-Immune Protocol in July, so it had really been a long time – about 3.5 months. I bought the fanciest local eggs I could find for almost $7 to make sure I wouldn’t react to grains or chemicals in them. My husband Ross made me hollandaise sauce to enjoy over brussel sprouts. All is tasty, no negative reaction that I can discern. 72 hours later all is still happy – my lingering sinus infection is still hanging on a bit but nothing else. So I make a quiche-like dish for the week. 9 egg yolks, broccoli, chicken sausage, bacon. It’s ridiculously tasty and I realize how much I have missed eggs. 


I’ve been eating this deliciousness every night with dinner. By day 4, I was dealing with worsening symptoms that it seemed might be dietary. Foggy head, some occasional knee pain, and I was getting tired earlier than usual. Day 5 was worse and overall aches were becoming an issue too. By Day 6, yesterday, I had to admit that egg yolks, at least daily, aren’t agreeing with me. 

Now, this doesn’t have to be a life sentence. First of all, I still have a touch of a sinus infection. Until that’s gone, my body is working a bit harder than it likes to. So maybe my healthiest body could handle eggs a bit better. Also, I am free to reintroduce them again in three months. And finally, I actually tolerated them well initially and then for a few days. So having eggs once or even twice a week is probably a fine treat for me. It just can’t be a daily thing. 

But despite knowing all of this, I can’t help but feel a little depressed this week. I know I’ve reacted really badly to gluten. Now I’m learning eggs are at least somewhat problematic. (Not to mention egg whites…will those be worse? I really, truly hope not.) I feel myself mourning for all of the amazing foods I can’t eat anymore, and mourning the dishes I love to cook that I may never eat again. I’m mourning all of the fantastic restaurants I haven’t visited and may never want to now, knowing the compromises I’d have to make or what it would do to my body. 

And I’m fearful about the other allergies I haven’t tested yet. Like nightshade vegetables, including peppers and my beloved tomatoes. And dairy. Can I ever have dairy again? 

You’re reading the words of a woman who is obsessed with dessert, who has an ice cream blog and who loves to bake and to eat bread. My world has shifted and my options may continue to narrow, and I’m scared and angry, frankly. I know there is much more to life than this. But life without fancy ice cream or real Mexican food would be so much less appealing. 

I’ve also become frustrated to realize that during a more stressful week like this one, my gut instinct is still to overeat and emotionally eat. I want to eat too much squash or sweet potato, even though I know I won’t feel well later. I want to eat all of the sweet things I can find in ridiculous quantities. Do I control myself in the face of temptation? Yes. But the fact that I have to resist overeating at every meal makes me sad. I want to be someone who just eats well to live and occasionally indulges in a treat. I love feeling healthy and thin. But recognizing that the dessert demon isn’t going away is unfortunately a truth I need to acknowledge. I hoped I could break the habit during my Whole30 (really a Whole60) but it didn’t work. 

I hate to end on a depressed note, so I won’t. The good news is there is still plenty I can control. I’m enjoying beautiful sunny days with walks outdoors and time to exercise with weights too. I’m getting plenty of rest and enjoying good for me treats. I bought peppermint creamed honey which is extremely satisfying and reminds me of fudge when I put it on coconut milk ice cream. And my relationships with my husband, friends and family are going well. 

I love my life. And I know that with persistence, I can keep making it better, even if it can never be what it once was. Thanks for reading and stay strong!

Making Healthy Food Choices on the Road

I talked in my last post about my experiences eating out while following my diet, the auto-immune protocol. Although eating out is fun once in a while, as a rule I am much less stressed and happier when I am prepared with my own food as I travel. But planning ahead and packing myself a meal or two looks much different than it used to before I was following the protocol.

Back when I commuted 45-60 minutes each way to jobs across southern NH, I kept bread, peanut butter and apples or bananas with me. That way I didn’t need to be tempted by fast food. Filling, relatively healthy meal on the go? Done. It also seemed like a bit of a treat as I rarely ate peanut butter or sandwiches normally if I wasn’t traveling.

Currently, I can’t eat nuts or bread, and I need to limit my fruit intake as well – I try to avoid more than two servings in a day, although I definitely cheat sometimes. So when I will be traveling, here’s what my planning looks like.

1. Pack a cooler and ice packs. I have one large enough to fit 5-6 Tupperware if needed, which covers me for two meals easily.

2. Keep silverware, plastic or otherwise with you at all times. If a meeting runs over or you forget to pack a fork in the morning you won’t be stuck eating salad as a finger food. Plates and napkins or paper towels help too.

3. I now keep an emergency box in my trunk. It has coconut butter, olive oil, some kind of canned meat that opens easily and a package of seaweed. If needed, I can improvise or supplement a meal with these. My next goal is to buy a can opener for the car.

4. I never leave home with an empty purse. At the minimum, I have a fruit bar and an Epic meat bar with me at all times. Between protein and the fruit I almost have a meal and I can go many more hours without eating at the drop of a hat. (Epic bars are great. I buy them by the case on Amazon. Full of protein from great sources without any fillers or weird ingredients.)

5. Pack yourself legitimate, satisfying meals and use that cooler well. Some of my favorites this season? Chicken salad made with avocado instead of mayo, sometimes on a cabbage or lettuce wrap, approved deli meat sandwiches with avocado on lettuce, AIP approved tacos or salads, make your own sushi with smoked salmon or lobster, avocado and seaweed and much, much more. Even just a fancy salad will leave you satisfied without the fast food regret! And with my sweet tooth, dessert is usually essential. A maple candy, date roll or dried banana help me turn down the ice cream.

I spent the last week traveling in an RV and sight-seeing. To make sure I stayed on track, I packed easy to prepare foods like frozen shrimp, chicken sausages and salmon and I pre-cooked sweet potatoes, veggies and squashes to make things easier. I had an awesome week and didn’t feel deprived thanks to the tasty food options I had on board!

What tips do you use to avoid temptation or frustration while traveling?

Breakfasts of Champions

I love breakfast. I mean, I adore it. I could eat breakfast at every meal if my body would tolerate it, and if there was ice cream on a waffle or something, I would seriously be in heaven.

I have always leaned toward sweet foods, and breakfast is no exception. I have adored making pancakes since I was a kid. (Banana chocolate chip? Yes please!) As an adult, I’ve always had a fun mix or two on hand – buckwheat, gingerbread, pumpkin, etc.

When I go out to eat, not surprisingly, I like to gravitate towards the sweet stuff. Favorites include gingerbread pancakes with ginger sauce, Belgian waffles with ice cream, stuffed French toast…you get the idea. I love an omelet or a fried egg, but those have always been my highlights.

Over the last few years, I’ve made gradual changes in my go-to breakfasts to promote weight loss or maintence. For instance, I went from two slices of toast to one, and I limited the toppings. I went from sweetened yogurt to plain (regular or Greek) and went from less healthy cereals to Kashi or, more often, oatmeal. And I went from eggs (sometimes with veggies) and cheese to more often, just eggs (and veggies), making cheese an occasional treat rather than the norm. These changes seemed to help not only with weight loss but also with limiting the highs and lows of sugar. Less carbs made me feel fuller, much as I didn’t want to admit it. And I became less likely to throw chocolate into breakfast or coffee when I saw that it meant I was fuller longer.

When I made the decision to do the Whole30 AIP, I knew that the toughest adjustment for me would be breakfast. Typical breakfasts for me by this point were usually plain yogurt, cereal and fruit, or maybe a slice of toast and eggs, or oatmeal, and of course I indulged in a crazy sweet breakfast at least once a month. On the Whole30 AIP, almost everything I thought of as breakfast was off limits. No eggs, no oatmeal, bread or cereal. No sugar. No honey in my apple cider vinegar and water drink! Fruit, while allowed, isn’t recommended for breakfast either. No yogurt too, which would make getting probiotics a new challenge for me. (One of the joys of my life has been battling yeast issues for 3 years, so probiotics are key to maintaining balance for me.)

So before I committed, I brainstormed and researched fun breakfast recipes. It would take a brain and body reset, but I knew that with practice, I could embrace my new, not so sweet breakfasts.

The sugar highs and lows of the American diet are crazy. Now I rarely miss caffeine (I can tolerate most tea, but I don’t have it often) and I stay full for 4-5 hours in between meals. Every day.

Here are a few of my current go-to breakfasts. I’d encourage you to try them, even if you don’t have any health reasons too. It’s very healthy food and your body will thank you – and they’re tasty too!

1. Chicken Apple Sausage, Sauerkraut, Sweet Potatoes and a Mushroom Veggie Medley (pictured with a few pieces of sauteed apple thanks to my husband, but know that there was sauerkraut on the side!)

This has become my default breakfast of choice. Sweet potatoes get chopped up small like home fries – or I can slice them thin and dress them like toast with coconut butter and/or cinnamon. I cook them in a skillet but an oven works too.  Aidell’s organic chicken and apple sausage is Whole30 approved, but I have found a few other options as well – all chicken sausage and so far they’ve all been very tasty. Last week I mixed it up and went with hot dogs I discovered I could eat! (That’s right. I totally got excited about hot dogs for breakfast.)

For sauerkraut, I stick to fancy organic brands to make sure I’m getting some nice probiotics. I try to alternate brands or flavors each week. Kimchi will also be in the mix, although so far I’ve stuck to three or so brands of saurkraut. Someday I hope to make my own, but it takes a few weeks and I haven’t dared yet!

For the veggie mushroom medley, I’m incorporating favorites but try to mix it up. I know greens are important for those with autoimmune issues, so that’s a staple. A container of frozen spinach is often the basis, but I’ve done fresh kale, frozen collards, Swiss chard and whatever else is around. I absolutely love mushrooms, so I will do shiitake or whatever is around, fresh or frozen and organic when I can afford it. I’ll season it all with turmeric, ginger, garlic or whatever I feel like. I cook the potatoes and veggies around medium in a skillet and experiment until I like where it’s at!

2. Burgers for Breakfast! 

I got fancy beef and made very fancy (small) burgers my first week on the diet to help me get excited about breakfast. Some days I would top them with avocado, and I sliced up sweet potato slices to use as buns. Sauerkraut and veggies on the side of course. Burgers for breakfast seem indulgent and they’re delicious! For sweet potato buns, there are tons of recipes out there. I tend to just use a skillet on medium and cook them for 8-10 minutes per side (you want them to get roasted but not super soft) but you can bake them too, like this recipe suggests.

3. Breakfast Skillets 

My other go-to breakfast has involved ground beef, sometimes just with onion/garlic/spices and other times mixed in with veggies and sweet potato. This week I tried a Moroccan-inspired skillet and I love it. There are tons of flavor possibilities.

4. “Cereal” for Breakfast

This has become my new once a week treat! It’s not the healthiest or the most filling breakfast out there, but it feels indulgent and delicious.

I still pair it with some meat – either an Epic brand meat bar (check the ingredients first) if I am on the go, or some other meat option.

Ingredients you’ll need:

Freeze-dried fruit – it’s expensive at my local food Co-op ($5.50-$8 for a few servings) but worth it to me. I love bananas and they’re a good cereal shape. Last week I picked up raspberries, my favorite, to mix with the bananas.

Shredded coconut – You’ll probably need a natural foods section for this. Pretty cheap at my go-to supermarket.

Coconut water or coconut milk – Coconut water is much more thin a texture than milk would be in cereal, but it’s still delicious and it’s very healthy and easy to find on AIP. I had to order coconut milk through Amazon to avoid carageenan, and it’s full of fat and calories so I haven’t bothered trying it for this yet. (It would leave me with a partially opened carton…) But I do plan to and I’m sure it will be even more delicious!

Directions: Mix a serving of fruit (or a little less, if you’re like me and want to stretch out the fruit) with 2 TB of shredded coconut and about a half serving of coconut water (not sure how much milk). Let it sit for 10 minutes or so to rehydrate. And then eat and enjoy! I usually eat this on Sunday and I eat breakfast later than usual, anticipating that this light breakfast won’t hold me for 4 hours. More like 3.5.

What do you eat for breakfast? Have you considered tweaking your choices? Any awesome recipes to share with me?

How I Exercised Daily For More Than Three Months Without Realizing It

I have always struggled to develop a regular exercise practice. Here are some of the hurdles I faced, or created for myself.

#1 I hate running!

#2 I get bored with exercise easily – as a dancer, I need variety and ideally choreography to keep me engaged.

#3 My life is insanely busy – and I feel best if I get at least eight hours of sleep. How can I find the time to exercise if I am often busy from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.?

#4 I have generally lived in the suburbs, where getting to a gym involved a 15-30 minute commute. Not to mention that a gym membership isn’t always in the budget!

#5 I live in New Hampshire, where five or so months of the year it’s dark and freezing cold and often snowing, so I don’t want to go outside at all.

More recently, as my health has worsened, I added a few more to the list.

#6 I’m already dealing with chronic fatigue. How can I find the energy to exercise?

#7 I’m not sleeping well like I used to. Even with eight hours of sleep, I feel exhausted and would do better with ten. Wouldn’t exercise make the situation worse?

So, I had seven pretty solid reasons why I couldn’t make regular time for exercise. I would go through phases where I’d work out 2 or 3 times a week – sometimes I’d take an exercise class, or I’d do Zumba on our Playstation 3 (!), or I’d do some yoga on my own or take a hike or a walk. But despite my best efforts, I’d always get off the bandwagon. And part of the problem seemed to be that I’d get tired over the course of the day. Who wants to work out after dinner or after work when they’re exhausted? Not me!

After an underwhelming rheumatology appointment, I felt like I needed to take my health into my own hands. I’ve always known the science that says exercise gives you more energy, makes you happier, fights depression, etc. And despite all of the obstacles, I knew that if I didn’t get into an exercise routine, even if it was just a few minutes a day, I had no hope of being my healthiest self. I didn’t want to blame the way I was feeling on my own stubbornness.

So in late January, it began. I decided I’d wake up a little bit early the next morning and do some stretches and a little walking. As long as I did it for five minutes, I’d call it exercise, and enough. So I did it. Setting my alarm five minutes early wasn’t a big challenge, of course, and although it meant a little bit less sleep, I doubted it would make much difference, realistically.

As the week went on, I continued to get up a little bit earlier each day. I experimented with fifteen minutes. I did portions of free yoga or aerobics videos I found on Amazon Prime. They were pretty atrocious, but I could download them to my phone in advance (important because I had satellite internet with a data cap), have a variety of options and they gave me a goal. And if I wanted to stop early, no problem. On days off, I had more time, so I’d try an entire video, or at least most of one – if it was an hour-long video, I’d do 45 minutes or whatever suited me.

Before I knew it, I’d been at it for two weeks. And I liked it. I started finding better workout options. Depending on how early I could afford to get up in the morning (based on how early I went to sleep, what I had to do, etc.), I’d choose workouts to fit the time I had – generally not more than a half hour during the week. And sometimes, I’d have the urge to do a 45 minute or hour-long video, even mid-week. And you know what? Even if I was waking up at 4 a.m. to fit it in, and really not getting enough sleep, the exercise was energizing me. I wasn’t any more tired during the day – in fact, I was less tired. And I was making time for some kind of movement every day. Even if I wasn’t at home, or if I wasn’t feeling well, I did something.

I had always avoided a daily exercise habit. I didn’t think it was sustainable. But the reality is that exercising daily, at least for me, is more sustainable than anything else I’ve tried. Because if you take days off, your brain starts to want more time off. You did it yesterday – why not take off today too? But if you exercise daily, even if some of those days are just stretching or meditating or holding a few yoga poses, it becomes routine. It’s as natural as anything to wake at 4 or 5 or whatever you have to, to get it into your body.

After about a month, I started seeking other workout options. I was getting bored with my videos. So I signed up for Beachbody’s app, which lets me download up to seven videos a week. It’s expensive, but so far it’s worth it to get even more variety. I’ve upped my game and I’m lifting weights now too – and paying more for these workouts generally means a better workout in even less time, which I love. More than a half hour can really be a nuisance during the week, and I’ve been able to make that work. I’ve learned as I go that due to my new health issues, I have limits. I need to stick to low-impact exercise. Jumping might be fun but my knees will hate me if I do it regularly, so I need to avoid some of the crazy videos and modify if necessary.

After I hit the month mark, one of my friends challenged me to workout daily for three months. I thought that seemed reasonable. Amazingly, by the time I hit the three month mark, working out was so routine that I didn’t even notice I’d hit my goal!

Some of you might be wondering if I saw other benefits from working out. I definitely did. Although I’d already been cutting down on carbohydrates and making other gradual healthy diet changes, the introduction of exercise got me through a plateau, and I lost another ten pounds easily within a couple of months. As I mentioned, it helps me with my chronic fatigue when I exercise, and particularly now that I have cut out coffee, that’s especially important. And for the first time in a long time, after working out with weights regularly (TurboFire is my current favorite series), I found that my arms were really sculpted in a new way. I was used to sculpted legs from working out with dance videos, but being proud of my arms was really a treat! I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with different types of exercises and consistent weight use – but I think of it more as a hobby and an adventure than as something I have to do. I do feel best at this point if I can work out for at least thirty minutes, but as long as I move, it counts.

So if you’re wondering how to get a daily exercise habit, I’d really recommend taking away fancy goals. Don’t make yourself do it for a specific length of time – 5 minutes is a great minimum if you need it. And keep “exercise” loose. You can stretch. You can even meditate. You can walk in circles or walk around your yard. But commit to moving, ever day. And if you’re like me, I highly suggest doing it first thing in the morning. Before you eat breakfast or have your coffee. It’s great motivation and your tired brain will get into the habit easily.

Do you have an exercise routine? What does or doesn’t work for you?

p.s. Thanks to Theatre KAPOW for the photo!

 

 

 

Where It All Began

I think it’s important to give those of you who are interested as much background on me and my health as possible. If you’d rather skip ahead and read about tips you can act on, feel free to skip this one. Word of warning: this is a long one, and it gets very personal!

The Early Years

I’ve always been a relatively healthy child. I loved the outdoors and dancing – and at five, I aspired to be a singing basketball player! I was typically in the 70% percentile for weight and the 30% percentile for height, but I was healthy – no doctor ever wanted me to lose weight and I always felt comfortable with my body – at least when I wasn’t in dance classes with tiny girls younger than me. I did suffer from lots of environmental allergies, and I had sensitive skin (undiagnosed keratosis pilaris, rosacea and Raynaud’s Syndrome occasionally made themselves known in appearance only) but was considered very healthy.

I began piano lessons and typing in fourth grade, and by high school, I was studying the Alexander Method and yoga in bits and spurts that helped to connect me to my body and my surroundings. I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis at thirteen, but upper body exercises helped to keep my shoulders straight and keep things from becoming painful. I was a softball player through my freshman year of high school, and I played a variety of other sports too, although I was most definitely not an athlete and would have preferred to stick to dance, theater and maybe softball if my theater schedule didn’t conflict.

College and Beyond

I remained active in college. I did gain the freshman ten or fifteen, but I was able to lose most of it fairly quickly (desserts at lunch and dinner and bread had been my downfall) and I continued to dance and exercise at least a couple of times a week. I accelerated during my second year in school, and soon after doing so I was diagnosed with mono for the first time. Otherwise I was fairly healthy in college, at most maybe ten pounds overweight, and I was able to graduate in three years which saved me a lot of money.

It wasn’t until after college, when I returned from my first summer of summer stock – where I was often playing the piano for more than twelve hours per day – that I began to struggle with pain along the lines of carpal tunnel in my arms and wrists. I saw a chiropractor for the first time who also practiced natural medicine. She helped get things realigned but scared me when she prescribed me vitamins that made me break out all over, so my visits there were short-lived. After that, I found that as long as I kept doing upper body exercises, I felt pretty good, and if I didn’t overdue it, my carpal tunnel symptoms stayed away too.

The Grand Project & the Aftermath

In 2010, I started a theater company. This new project was incredibly fulfilling, but over the next four years, it took over my life. It also added a lot of stress – sometimes an insane amount – into my already extremely busy schedule. By 2013, which was the most stressful year for me as Artistic Director, I began exhibiting new symptoms. On a visit to the dentist, I was informed that I was suffering from extreme dry mouth. We talked about how medications (like my allergy medications) could be contributing to it, and I was told to use a different toothpaste to combat it. I believe Sjogren’s syndrome might have been discussed as well. When I had my annual eye appointment, we had a conversation about ways to self-massage my eyes to combat my dry eyes – ultimately we resorted to medication, and I now take Restasis to combat this. And in conversations with an allergist, dermatologist and my gynecologist, my dry skin issues were discussed and I was diagnosed with keratosis pilaris and rosacea for the first time. I also unexplicably began dealing with herpes symptoms – we still haven’t figured out how I acquired that, or if it was related to mono! So that added a new medication to the mix as I started taking Valtrex. And I began battling frequent yeast infections that resisted treatment – I was told to cut out sugar when that happened, which did seem to help, but infection would always reoccur soon enough.

In retrospect, it’s very obvious to me that the stress of the theater company was having a very detrimental effect on my health. In practice, everything I was dealing with just seemed like a minor annoyance. I never thought to put it all together, and neither did my doctors, so we continued to just treat the symptoms even though I heard over and over again that “they’d never seen this in someone as young as me”.

By 2014, I switched to a new doctor – finally I had a doctor who was observing and listening and not just taking my money! After I took on a full-time desk job for the first time, she quickly diagnosed me with carpal tunnel, and while I was there, she asked if I had Raynaud’s Syndrome. After I did some research and found out it ran in my dad’s side of the family, I accepted that I had that too! My fingers and limbs had always changed colors in ways my friends’ didn’t, but around 2014, I began having issues with both my hands and feet losing circulation. Once we put a name to it, I began stocking up on fingerless gloves and planning accordingly – I’m much better at managing it now. It was also around this time that I began to recognize that although I had scaled back my theater projects and responsibilities (and although my wedding had passed), I was too tired. Chronic fatigue was making me want to be in bed by 9 p.m. And by 2015, it had gotten worse – it was hard for me to stay awake after 8 p.m. many nights! This was so different from the me who had gone to theater rehearsals 4-5 nights a week that I knew something was wrong.

So in June of 2015, I returned to the doctor complaining of chronic fatigue and wanting to find a solution. We began testing for everything under the sun. Because I’ve always been someone who slept really well, we ignored the sleep study option because it seemed much more likely that something else was going on. When I returned to the doctor’s office to go over my results (all negative besides a very minor Vitamin D deficiency), my doctor was on vacation, so I saw a nurse practitioner. She told me to stop taking Valtrax and she ordered a bunch of additional tests.

One week later, I returned to go over the results – this time with my doctor. Since stopping Valtrax, my symptoms had gone through the roof. Instead of just dealing with fatigue, I had dehabilitating fatigue, making it impossible for me to focus or work for more than a couple of hours a day productively. My doctor mentioned that she’d test me for mono again since everything else was negative – and based on the results we got back, I was told I had mono. Again. Only later did I learn that chronic mono is an unusual thing – I shouldn’t have gotten mono a second time, and if I did, it was due to extreme stress and/or a compromised immune system. Also, the fact that my symptoms worsened after I stopped Valtrex pointed to another possibility, according to what I read online – Valtrax is used to treat chronic mono (off-label) successfully for many, so perhaps I’d actually been fighting it, perhaps since 2013, and thanks to Valtrax I hadn’t had to really deal with the symptoms until now?

My mono, or whatever it actually was – my gynecologist didn’t believe it, and my new rheumatologist has pointed out that although the markers showed I was fighting a disease, they couldn’t have proven it was an active mono infection as opposed to an active something else – lasted about four months. The second half was much more manageable, thankfully, and my boss allowed me to work 4 days a week instead of five so allow me to rest mid-week, which helped.

When my chronic fatigue continued, my doctor referred me to a rheumatologist for the first time. Almost three months later, in January, I had my first appointment.

Adventures in Rheumatology

My rheumatology appointments were odd, to say the least. Although she asked lots of questions, she would abruptly leave without telling me what we’d do for next steps. After my first appointment, I had knee xrays done (they’d given me major issues during a Disney trip) and she tested for a variety of conditions. The only thing I was positive for was an extreme Vitamin D deficiency, which we treated successfully. She tried treating me for dryness, but all the medicine did was give me nausea and possibly some fun rashes, so I stopped the meds. When I called to follow up, I was told she didn’t want to see me again unless my symptoms changed. So much for that….

Soon after I began working with the rheumatologist, I decided I’d start exercising every day. I was already eating healthy food 90% of the time (mostly vegetarian, lots of fresh produce, etc.) but I knew I could stand to lose a few pounds – and more importantly, everything I’d read had pointed to the importance of moderate exercise in managing auto-immune issues. I told myself even 5 minutes counted…and I stuck with it for more than 90 days in a row! Exercise definitely makes me less tired, and I lost my extra pounds too.

A Focus on Nutrition

I also requested a visit with a nutritionist. She wasn’t interested in doing anything but an anti-inflammatory diet until we had a firm diagnosis for my fatigue, so unfortunately I decided I’d have to go it on my own in that department, although I did discuss things with my primary care physician. I generally followed the  anti-inflammatory diet for lack of a better plan, but I kept reading and researching, feeling like I’d need to do more and consider an elimination diet if I wanted to see real change. Although I’d never been diagnosed with food allergies, I had a feeling that I might have a gluten sensitivity – I’d had major digestive issues during mono, or “mono” in the fall, and gluten seemed like it might be a trigger. And I knew that I might have issues with dairy too – it did seem to contribute to nasal congestion, if nothing else.

In researching on the vast and wild world of the internet, I learned about the AIP – the auto immune protocol. I am still only a beginner at understanding what this is, but it’s basically a series of guidelines for those with auto-immune diseases and symptoms. To follow the protocol, one begins by eliminating any foods, drinks or spices that can cause gut irritation for those with auto-immune symptoms. After a period of allowing the body to heal, one begins reintroducing foods – and for some people, they’re able to return to a “normal” diet, but many find that they need to stick to some version of the AIP forever.

It’s a challenge, but the benefits that people cite from this diet are amazing. Many report eliminating or greatly reducing their symptoms – even people who have been severely dehabilitated! So as much as I have always felt like I do best using moderation, not elimination, in my diet, I had to give myself the chance to try this. After all, even if I can’t get a correct diagnosis, if my symptoms go away, I wouldn’t have anything left to resolve with my health! I read the Whole 30 book in hope to gain some scientific understanding of why diets like this are helpful (and not crazy talk). It definitely confirmed for me the importance of a diet like this. It would give my body a chance for a reset, and hopefully it would make it so that everything from my allergies to my arms would be better for it.

So on July 18th, I began following the Whole 30 Auto-Immune Protocol. I will talk more about what this means in future posts, but the list of what I cannot eat on it is extreme. No sugar or anything like sugar (including maple and honey), no dairy, corn, soy, nuts, legumes, grains or anything that resembles grains, no nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, etc.) and any spices from nuts or seeds.

Where I Am Today

As a result, I am cooking my meals daily – eating out is almost impossible – and getting more creative with the food I can eat. I’m already seeing mild improvements in my dry mouth, nasal congestion and fatigue, so I’m optimistic that this can really be effective for me.

So that’s where I’m at. At this point, my new rheumatologist is out of easy tests. Rheumatoid arthritis was the final negative we got. So for next steps, I can either do some serious tests looking for carpal tunnel or Sjogren’s, or we can try treatment and see if it works. So before I take a next step, I’m going to see how I do with my own self-care, focusing on diet as well as exercise, meditation and stress management.

Future blog posts will be focused on a specific topic, generally speaking, and will be MUCH shorter. But thank you for reading and I hope you’ll come back soon! And please tell me about yourself. I look forward to hearing about your own health challenges and how you’re working to handle them – and what you’d like to read about in the future!