Minding the Winter Blues

This weekend, I was feeling low. Heartbreaking stories led the news cycle and screamed at me from social media. I was feeling cabin fever after a week working from home sick on the couch. I hadn’t been able to maintain my regular gym schedule because I wasn’t feeling well. I was missing my family who I enjoyed so much over Christmas. It was dark and rainy outside.

Usually I like to watch the Seahawks games—especially the Wild Card game. But the thought of spending 3 plus daylight hours on the couch on Sunday made me even more sad.

I was wondering why I felt so bad, but then I remembered an article I wrote in preparation for Blue Monday. If you’re not aware, Blue Monday is a totally imprecise date calculated to be the most depressing of the year. It’s the third Monday of January—when debt might be piled up, weather is unpleasant, holiday festivities are over, etc. It’s less about that particular day being awful and more of a reminder that this time of year is tough. If you’re feeling it, it’s not just you.

With that in mind, I told myself that I needed to be mindful of my mental health. Sitting in our dark home watching football was not going to make me feel good.

So, Nick and I went out. We didn’t have a plan. We just hopped on a bus and headed downtown. We didn’t need to shop for anything. We were fed, so we didn’t need to eat. So we just started walking and talking. We walked up this street and down that. We stopped into Starbucks for one last holiday drink. We ended up walking to South Lake Union under the gray skies, but just a few raindrops. Then we hopped on a bus and headed back home.

I made an effort to cook proper meals and try to get back into a routine. Today I went back to the office and felt better—not physically but mentally. It helped to be back and have problems to solve.

Tomorrow I start my final semester of grad school. I’m excited for that, too. Though I’ve been told the semester is “when you earn your master of science,” I’m ready to go back. It helps me to have things to do this time of year.

I hope you’re all paying attention to what you need. Know that you’re not alone, too. We’re all in this together. Big hugs from afar.

Leave it there

This time of year, it’s easy to think about what we’re losing: long days of sunlight, sleeping with the windows open, fresh berries and lettuce growing just outside.

Fall is a time of change and growth. I’ve been feeling like it’s time for me to do some of both. But it can feel like losing something instead of an opportunity to gain something else. I’m trying to focus more on the latter.

For example, I’ve been feeling that my fitness routine is no longer working for me. Rather than come up with my own workout at the gym, I’ve been skipping entirely. So last weekend, I decided to embrace something else. I bought some studio classes where a trainer tells me what to do and for how long. Now I’m getting workouts in again.

Another big change is the end of my grad school program. I had a call with my advisor today to determine my big, scary final capstone project. Before the call, I was somewhat mourning finishing the program. When I started, I was afraid of the time commitment and pressure of going to school. Something strange happened in the last two years, though. It became something I love. I find my school readings and projects so interesting. I want to do them (well, most of them). And I want my final project to be something I’m equally excited about.

Sure, some things will be left behind, but that’s OK. It leaves room for the new.

Aren’t you a nutritionist?

I’m 2/3 of the way through a master of science in nutrition program and I’m getting questioned about my own diet.

“You’re a nutritionist and you’re eating fries?”

“You eat bagels? I thought you were healthy.”

“You crave chocolate?”

Yeah, knowing a whole lot about human nutrition doesn’t make a person less human. Here is an absolute I learned since starting this program: You can eat what you want. In my opinion, a good nutritionist will work with you to include your favorite foods because if they don’t, what are the odds you would stick with your diet plan?

Exactly.

So yes, I make room for the occasional fries and bagel. I make room for frequent helpings of chocolate. I allow myself to go wild when I’m on vacation.

But I have made a lot of changes to my diet since starting the program (even when I’m on vacation). Here’s what I’ve changed and a quick explanation of why.

  1. I eat very little red meat. We’re talking about three ounces per month. Why? It’s a known carcinogen and is sustainable at the rate of about 6 ounces per month. Your body and the planet can only handle about one three-ounce patty every other week.
  2. I cut way down on salt. Why? This is the biggest contributor to health-related deaths. Simply put, the salt in a typical American diet is killing you.
  3. I eat more fruits and vegetables. I’ve made it a priority to eat at least 5 servings a day. The reason is my body needs the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. When I consume them, I leave less room in my belly and time in my break to consume less-nutritious foods.
  4. I distribute protein at every meal. The body likes when it gets protein regularly throughout the day. So, I’ll have some nut butter with breakfast, some beans with lunch, and a little chicken with dinner.
  5. Protein is not the star of my meal anymore. Americans eat too much. The typical macronutrient range should be 10-35 percent protein, 20-35 percent fat, and 45-65 percent carbohydrates. Note that ideally carbs are fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
When in Montréal, I eat bagels daily.

It’s all good

Wine in bed is fine.

Lately, I’ve been called calm a few times. I like it. I used to let myself get so stressed out about work. I even cried in a former manager’s cubicle once because I felt like I couldn’t keep up.

That was pre-therapy.

Life still gets hectic and things can be annoying, but I can usually laugh it off. “Friends, get a load of this,” I’ll tell them followed by whatever silliness occurred that week that is causing everyone to scramble. I just roll my eyes and get my part done.

One time, something frustrating happened—I don’t even remember what it was now—but I told Nick about it. He asked if I was mad.

“I’m just going to stomp my feet and then move on,” I told him.

He watched as I literally stomped my feet.
“That’s a very healthy attitude,” he said.

I agree. Most things are not worth getting upset over or wasting time thinking about. I like to acknowledge that it’s annoying and then get on with my life. No point in bringing work stress home or home stress to the office.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious anymore. I do, but I can get myself out of it pretty well, too. Here’s what I do:

  1. Acknowledge my feelings. Oh, hello anxiety. I see you there. Yes, this situation has me rattled, but I’ve got a ground below supporting me. I’ve got air to breathe. I am OK.
  2. Give myself a moment to react. Stomp my feet, be scared, let my mind wander.
  3. Ask myself what I can do about it. Getting mad and yelling won’t fix it. Crying won’t fix it. What will? Giving money to a cause I care about? Volunteering? Calling a friend? Getting to work? So I do that.
  4. Then I feel empowered. Thanks, anxiety. You made me act.
  5. I’ve noticed that too much alcohol keeps me up at night worrying. I’ve made it a point not to drink more than one glass before bed (maybe I’ll have two, if I get started earlier in the day, like when I’m on vacation).

Sometimes I am 100 percent faking a calm attitude, but it’s become much less challenging in the last three years—to the point where current co-workers are surprised to hear I am anxious by default. I was recently given the assessment medical professionals use to diagnose anxiety. I took it and was pleased to see I no longer fit the criteria for an anxiety diagnosis.

I’d love to hear what works for you when your heart starts racing.

#plantmom?

I volunteered to watch some friends’ cat, but they threw me for a loop when they asked if I’d also water the plants.

I tried not to show my panic while I asked pertinent questions. When? How much? How attached are you to these plants?

Cats I can handle. Baby-sit your kids? I’m good at that. But plants are scary. Houseplants don’t survive their time with me.

So as the #plantmom trend began, I sat back with no intention to participate. I watched as my friend Quyn grew avocados and lemons in her Manhattan apartment. Nice for her, but not my jam, I thought.

Until a local friend mentioned she was growing blueberries in pots. I love blueberries. I began to imagine myself picking blueberries off the bush while sitting on my deck.

I went to the garden store and asked a million questions. I left with two bushes (different varieties for pollination reasons, I was told), a bag of soil, a box of blueberry nutrition, and a cute pink watering can. I went to a discount store for plastic pots because ceramic pots are damn expensive!

My loves: Gatito, Nick and the blueberries

All went well enough that summer. For my $100 investment, I got about a quarter of a pint of blueberries and an introduction to plant life. I enjoyed watching with pride as each new blueberry grew. I savored each one I ate.

Then Seattle’s winter rains came and my pots filled with water. My blueberry shrubs drowned to death. That’s how I learned the first rule of container gardening: Pots should have holes drilled in them.

Harvest time!

When I got over my grief, I decided to try again. It was spring and tulips were popping up in Seattle. I wanted in on the Kool-Aid colored flower action. After a few times of slowly walking by the local garden store and peeking in, I had the courage to walk through the gates. I easily found some tulips for my pots, then got inspired by a bowl of three kinds of lettuce. I love romaine but fear the grocery store versions and the frequent e.coli outbreaks.

I asked the staff some questions, and they gave me the confidence that I could, in fact, grow my own lettuce on my deck.

“Harvest it and it will grow back,” the garden expert explained. “When you give it room, it will fill in.”

The city girl in me was astonished. I pluck it, eat it, and it just grows back? What kind of magic, sustainable product was this? When I run out of store-bought lettuce, I have to go back to the store for more.

My little pot didn’t yield quite enough to feed my salad habit, so I went back for more. I also bought catnip so my cat could have a treat when we sit out on the deck together.

Now I’m hooked. Growing my own food is as rewarding as it is delicious. Today I stopped and bought two blueberry plants, a dwarf lemon tree, and mint. I got inspired by the staff at Urban Earth when I wrote this article (shameless plug).

I hope the cat-sitter isn’t afraid to water my plant babies when I go on vacation!

No pressure

This past year, I was working full time on a new team. I was chugging my way through graduate class after graduate class. I also wrote an article for Self magazine, which had been a dream of mine. That article led to an appearance on NBC Nightly News.

I spent Valentine’s Day working. By roses.

I loved it! Creating stories that are meaningful brings me so much joy. It’s the part of my job that I’d happily do until 2 a.m. without realizing it’s so late.

After the Self article was published, I started a list of other stories I wanted to write. The researching and writing part is super fun for me. The pitching and business side is super stressful to me, but I made a new year’s resolution to get 50 rejections this year and I was determined to earn each one. Of course, the hope is that if I get rejections, some are also getting picked up.

Then I went for my annual check-up and my doctor noticed some thyroid oddness. It’s super common, she said. That gland in the neck is very sensitive, she told me. Even slightly elevated stress can throw it out of whack.

As we were chatting, I told her that I remembered seeing a quote while scrolling through Instagram that something along the lines of “What if your hobby could just be for fun instead of a side hustle?”

That post made me pause. Yeah, what if? What if I wrote for the love of writing instead of to earn extra cash? I have a full-time job that pays me all I need to live. I even write a ton for school and those projects bring me joy. What if I stopped putting pressure on myself to sell?

So, I scratched out that new year’s resolution. I decided I wasn’t going to pressure myself to freelance—at least while I’m in school. If a great idea comes up and I decide to pitch that, cool, but it would be out of love, not out of a sense of duty.

On my spring break, Nick and I went to Hawaii. I packed my laptop in case I felt inspired to sit on the patio and write. My brain felt so overloaded from work and a tough semester at school that I didn’t even pull my laptop out until the last day of the trip. And that was OK! I enjoyed experiencing Maui. Had I pressured myself to spend my week writing, I might have skipped the drive to see a turtle migration and a dolphin dancing around while I was eating dinner. I might have missed leisurely swims in the quiet garden pool. Nick and I might not have played an impromptu game of shuffleboard on the lawn or had one more mai tai. Maybe I wouldn’t have paid attention to the sweet juices from fresh pineapple slices rolling down my chin. I might not have appreciated the crisp taro chips I ate each afternoon.

The break helped me power through one more class and now I’m on week 3 of summer break. Again, I thought I’d be writing constantly, but I’ve been enjoying summer instead. I spent a week in Minnesota with my family, took my paddleboard out several times, finally cleared out my storage unit, and even helped a friend with some house projects.

The next article will come—probably when I least expect it.

For the love of a like

Back when Facebook was still cool, I posted a photo that a workout buddy took of me after an early morning workout. We used to meet up at 5 a.m. to run nearly 3 miles, stopping 4-5 times to do strength exercises. So, you can imagine the end result wasn’t glamorous, but sometimes the sunrise in the background was. But there I was, smiling happily and looking content as I laid on a floating dock after the run. It’s my favorite place to do a little stretching and core work before heading home.

It should be turned the other way, but I like it this way

The response from my friends was heartwarming. “You radiate happiness” was my favorite comment.

I decided long ago that I didn’t want my internet presence to be fake. I wasn’t going to stage or post perfect photos. I wasn’t going to shy away from talking about the real stuff. As my niece told me recently, “Everyone has a butt, even you.”

We all have real stuff to deal with. Personally, I find it easier if I can talk it out with someone else who’s been there and doesn’t mind talking about it. Everyone has a butt.

I found the article We’re Overspending for the Love of a Like interesting. 77% of millennials have purchased things to show off on Instagram. They were willing to spend $137 to achieve the perfect post.

I do confess to spending a few bucks on a pineapple for this Instagram pic in Hawaii. So I guess I’d have to check yes along with the 77%.

Why is diet change so hard?

I think I went home and cried the day my doctor told me I needed to cut gluten and dairy out of my diet. So, believe me that I know how hard it is to make a lifestyle change.

Behavior change is something I’m studying in my Nutrition master’s program. I have a lot of empathy for my hypothetical dietary clients. I’m a quarter of the way through the program and am not qualified to give you dietary advice, so I’m telling you what has worked for me.

Here’s what I learned through the program and my own experience. The No. 1 thing I’ve learned is that proper nutrition makes our bodies operate so much better. We recover from illness quicker, things don’t hurt as much. Even mental health issues can fade. Here are some tips I’ve learned:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect. Even trained professionals struggle to put together diet plans with the perfect balance of macro and micronutrients each day. Just aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and some whole grains each day. Add in couple handfuls of nuts and servings of legumes and lean protein each week. Try to cut down on red and processed meat and sugar. I’m sorry to tell you that there’s really no good that can come from red and processed meat or sugar. A little is fine, but a lot is really not.
  2. If you’re not getting your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, pop a multi vitamin. Getting your vitamins is that important. Though, in my opinion, it’s better to supplement just the vitamins you need, which you would know from a blood test.
  3. Making diet and lifestyle changes is never going to be easy. It’s totally OK to mourn the loss of your beloved whatever-you-love. But, making changes before you have a diagnosis really is key. Once you’re diabetic or have heart disease, you’re likely to have to stop cold turkey. If you can learn to eat more beans now or make your beloved food more of a once-in-a-while treat, it won’t be so hard later.
  4. It’s not all or nothing. How about trying to consume 30% less meat and dairy than you currently do? That could be as simple as swapping breakfast meats for oatmeal (I looooove oatmeal with its fun toppings!) or trying some Mediterranean dinner ideas. Mediterranean cooking incorporates more grains and veggies than the standard American diet. Meat is stretched over a few meals instead of a slab on each person’s plate.
  5. Don’t make it a habit: If you have a cookie Tuesday at 3:00 and you crave a cookie again Wednesday afternoon, don’t eat it. Tell yourself you can have it tomorrow. If you make it routine to eat sugar (or alcohol or coffee or whatever) every day, it won’t be a treat anymore. It’ll be a habit.
  6. Carbs are good. Bread and potatoes aren’t evil. Refined and white breads aren’t great. Most cereals are 30% sugar, so they’re no good. But whole-grain breads, rice, oats, potatoes (not the fried ones) are good. Eat them, guilt-free (assuming you don’t have a health condition that restricts your consumption).
  7. Once I started watching what I eat, I became much more tuned-into my body. I now notice how my skin feels tingly after a dairy milk latte. After a sugary dessert, like a cookie, I struggle to keep my eyes open. Two or more alcoholic drinks lead to a sleepless night. It’s been much easier to pass on things when I know how they’ll affect me. Before I didn’t take the time to notice.
  8. Expect to revert. Sometimes when Nick is away, I like to treat myself with dinner from the market hot bar and cupcake or tiramisu. Sometimes I crave one more glass of wine when I’m home writing. About once a month, I want a really good burger. I’m not even ashamed about any of this.

Know that you’re not alone. Diet and lifestyle are hard for everyone to change and most of us could really benefit from some tweaks. I’ve been there. I still am.

Hope!

If you’re like me, the recent climate change report has made you anxious the last couple of days. I’m not going to get into the science here, instead I’m going to give you hope.

The report says we can do something, but we need to do it now.

I have hope that you’ll join me. Please, share what you’re doing. I’ll share what I’m doing. I hope we can inspire one another and do our part.

For starters, I’ll give you my to-do list:

  1. Plan meals. When I don’t plan meals, I tend to rely on prepared foods that are harder on the planet. The more I plan, the more sustainable my diet.
  2. Write letters. One thing that drives me crazy is throwing away packaging. When I’m out of makeup, I just need the little thing of makeup. I don’t need a new compact with a mirror. I’m going to write letters (or maybe email?) to the companies that make these products and ask them for a better way.
  3. Share templates. Once I write those letters, I’ll share them with you, so you can use it as a template to write your own letters to send to the companies you do business with.
  4. Unfortunately a bus commute isn’t an option where I live BUT I know 4 other women who live near me and work at the same company. We carpool occasionally, but it’s time to step it up. There’s no reason to drive 5 cars the same place every day.
  5. Reduce my plastic. This is about 10 blog posts alone.

Your turn. Please tell me what you do and how I can do more.

The great September transition

IMG_2374I always loved going back to school as a kid. When July turned into August, the school supplies were moved to their own hectic corner at Target stores and the September issue of Teen magazine filled with fall fashion arrived in my mailbox. I started counting down the days until I could walk down my school’s halls. I thought about what I aspired to do each year. I’d be super organized and a straight-A student. I’d become more popular or athletic. I’d be the kind of person who is kind to everyone and wears the coolest clothes from Kohl’s.

That September glow has never disappeared from my life. My heart swooned a couple of Septembers ago when Nick told me he’s a September person. He didn’t have to explain. I knew exactly what he meant because I’m a September person, too.

That’s not to say I don’t love summer. I love the long hours of sunshine and the effortless feeling of leaving the house in flip-flops for a coffee run or to walk along the canal. I love the array of colors as flowers bloom randomly on lawns or neatly in window boxes. I love fires on the beach with my friends and lingering after sunset. I love ordering a whole bottle of chilled rosé and sipping with my girls on a patio. I love how my parents’ living space doubles as the deck, patio, and pool area become an extension of the house.

Summer is what we train for. We show off our winter’s work at the gym. Without guilt, we push aside books and turn off TVs. That can wait until October when it’s dark, but right now it’s summer and we must enjoy it.

But in the fall, we return to that structure and the activities that make us stronger, fitter, more educated for next summer. I crave the sense of accomplishment I get each time I finish a workout or a book.

September is transition month when we get to make choices. We can choose how to reinvent ourselves for the school year. We can choose what we want to focus on during the cold months. We even get to  choose whether to get a jump on fall with chunky-knit everything and pumpkin-spice everything. We can also choose to enjoy every second of the diminishing daylight of summer before fully surrendering to closed-toe shoes, crunchy leaves, and cozy blankets by the fireplace.

I’ll do both. I’ll take my paddleboard out to the lake and wear my summer dresses a couple more times, but I’ve also got a pot of chili on the stove and football on the TV.