A Brief Hiatus

My lovely readers: If you know me at all, you know that I am prone to thinking myself a failure. But I’m trying to move out of that mindset because of the seemingly irreparable damage it does to my wellbeing and to the people around me. And because it’s become so very boring.

In any case, life has been really nutty, lately. Work is way more intense than usual; this diet, though remarkable, is taking up a lot of my time; the ten year anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming up and even though I’m doing everything I can to ready myself for it, I’m woefully unprepared; and, I’ve recently been elected to a co-chair position for a non-profit steering committee.

I’ve learned pretty recently that I often set myself up to fail (i.e. not succeed to the degree that I want to) so that I can justify and excuse my self-loathing practices. Unlike many self-saboteurs, I’m not afraid of failing, and don’t use fear as a reason to not try. I try like hell. I expect myself to put a thousand percent of myself in everything, yet I somehow always-already know that I will not accomplish what I want to accomplish. For example, I will tell myself that I’ll practice an hour of piano a day knowing full well that that I won’t and can’t (since I’ve over-committed to just about everything in my life), so I can have a reason to berate myself. I’ll make a goal of writing a new blog entry per week and use my inability to execute (because there are only 24 hours in a day) as a new source of self-doubt.

I want to break free from this strange self-defeating trend, and in order to do that, I need to change some of my habits. So, to stop using something I love (this blog) to treat myself poorly, I’m going to do something radically different, and rearrange my own expectations. Starting today, I’m going to take an intentional hiatus from Exposed Eats until April 2016, when work and life are less bonkers. Scouts honor, I’ll be back. I just have far too many thoughts and feelings about food and other things to stay away.

Before I go on this self-imposed break, I do want to say a few things about this sort-of-elimination diet we’ve been on the last three weeks.

Honestly, it’s been kind of laborious. I think there’s been some kind of psychological impact in knowing I cannot consume red meat, dairy products, added sugars, gluten, and eggs. Everything we’ve been eating has been quite delicious, but I’ve put a lot of extra work into the meals to compensate for this real or perceived lack. But I’ve been feeling AMAZING.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Breakfast is so important. I know this is a really silly thing to say, since everyone already knows it. For most of my life, I have not eaten breakfast. I don’t like waking up earlier in the morning to prepare something. I find breakfast foods to be very boring, unless they are are a bacon, egg and cheese croissant or german pancakes with caramelized apples. For the last three weeks, we’ve been eating mostly quinoa porridge with coconut milk, berries or fried bananas, and nuts. Though I’m not completely sold on the taste just yet (especially since we can’t add any sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc.), I have to say that I’ve been insanely energetic during the day. I’m already a pretty upbeat and high-energy person, so it’s possible that this new breakfast-eating Yejin is actually a bit terrifying. In any case, when this diet is over, we’re going to continue eating these porridges for breakfast because they’re awesome. With a tiny bit of maple syrup? Ugh, it’ll be so good. And, when we can reintroduce eggs (in a week),  I’m going to be all over that shit. Fried eggs over rice with vegetables. Soft boiled eggs with a touch of sea salt. Yes. Yes.
  2. Consuming too many sweets has dulled my tastebuds. The hardest part of this diet has been the elimination of added sugars. I never had a sweet tooth until recently (I blame my nutella-hoarding husband), but I’ve never really realized how many products have added sugars in them. In any case, after being sad about sugarless breakfast porridges (only sweetened through fruit) and 80+% cocoa chocolates for two whole weeks, something remarkable happened. I started tasting the natural sweetness in everything. I’m not supposed to have alcohol on this diet, but have cheated a couple of times. One of those times, I had a tiny splash of scotch. And it was SO SWEET. I was stunned by how much sweetness I now suddenly tasted in this beverage I have consumed a great deal in the past. I’m also now officially obsessed with really dark chocolates. Oh, and fruit. Fruit is like candy.
  3. Eating with a new level of ingredient-based intentionality can lead to surprising things like weight loss.  I have accidentally lost seven pounds from this diet. I am not eating less than I normally do (but definitely less than I was over the holidays), but am obviously being super intentional about what I’m putting in my body. That’s not to say that cheese or bread or steak or any other amazing food is the cause of weight gain – I just think thinking this much about what’s going into my body has had some interesting results.
  4. I love gluten. Next week we will be slowly reintroducing gluten into our diet to see how our body reacts. I’m pretty sure I’m not intolerant or allergic to it, but I am open to the possibility that it slows me down. However, I’ve never thought I would miss bread so much in my life. This surprises me.
  5. Cravings can go away. I have a weird relationship with cravings, especially as someone who once had an eating disorder. In the last couple of years, I’ve tried fall into my cravings (in moderation) so that I’m not a prisoner to them, and to a certain degree I think I still will. However, for the first two weeks of the diet I had what felt like insatiable cravings for pizza, macaroni & cheese, croissants, and more. I would think about those foods before falling asleep, and they were the first things on my mind when I woke up. But once I entered into the third week, most of those urgent tastebud needs went away. Of course, I still want those things, but I’m no longer near tears because of them. So, yay!

See you in a couple of months, my doves!

Things I’ve Cooked for this Sad Diet

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Pumpkin quinoa porridge with coconut milk, pepitas, dried cranberries, and sliced bananas

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Lentil, roasted broccoli and shallot stew over jasmine rice

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Scallion and ginger shrimp with roasted cauliflower and brown rice

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Hainanese chicken with roasted broccoli and jasmine rice

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Roasted butternut squash risotto made with homemade cornish hen broth

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Roasted cornish hen with jasmine rice and roasted brussel sprouts

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Grilled branzino with roasted veggies and jasmine rice

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Chicken soup with cranberry beans, carrots, celery, onion, chicken, and kale

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Lamb meatloaf (with mushrooms, zucchini, caramelized onions, garlic, raisins, and pine nuts) with roasted veggies and jasmine rice

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Roasted butternut squash, spinach, and chickpea curried stew with brown rice 

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Grilled branzino

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Mixed quinoa porridge with coconut milk,  berries, and walnuts

On Physiological Introspection and a “Clean Slate” Six-Week Diet

Happy 2016, beloved readers! With support from my phenomenal therapist, friends, and family, 2015 was a year of intense emotional and mental introspection. It’s been a mess, but the awesome kind – the sort where you throw all the junk from your drawers onto the floor and see all the ridiculous and wonderful things you’ve been holding onto for years. To supplement this ongoing work, I thought it would be great to pair this work with a more physiological self-analysis. For years I’ve been rather unkind to myself, and I’m curious about how I can be more thoughtful about my body’s needs.

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My husband recently read a book called Mangia che ti passa: Uno sguardo rivoluzionario sul cibo per vivere piu sani e piu a lungo by Filippo Ongaro, who is an Italian physician and expert in functional medicine. Basically, the book discusses nutrigenomics, a multidisciplinary science which studies how food affects our genes, and how individual genetic differences can impact the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat. Essentially, what we eat gives our bodies messages, and these messages contribute to making us feel good or feel bad. Ongaro suggests that it’s important for people to understand how different foods affect our bodies, and recommends we do this by: (1) creating a clean slate for our bodies through a 6-week elimination diet; (2) slowly reintroducing principal food allergens; and (3)  following 10 simple rules. I’m not sure how interesting this is to folks, but I thought it might be helpful to share these three strategies.

Elimination Phase (6 week diet)

This elimination phase helps one to create a baseline in order to determine food allergies and intolerances.

  • What to eat
    • Fresh fruit (except citrus)
    • Vegetables
      • Especially good: broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, artichokes, spinach, cabbage
      • To eliminate: tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants
    • Legumes
    • Spices in natural form (e.g. curry, ginger, wasabi, cinnamon, peperoncino, rosemary)
    • “Milk” – coconut, rice, almond
    • Whole grain rice
    • Olive oil
    • Fish (especially salmon, sardines, mackerel)
    • Meat: chicken, turkey, or lamb (avoid red meats)
    • Nuts and seeds, unsalted
    • Green tea, herbal teas, no caffeine
  • Principal allergens to eliminate:
    • gluten, milk (and derivatives), eggs, products with yeast (wine, vinegar, bread), corn, peanuts, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit
  • Additional foods to avoid:
    • grains rich in gluten (oats, rye, semolina, malt)
    • processed foods, bread, crackers, toasties, potatoes, sugars, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, hydrogenated fat, marjoram, caffeine, beef, peanuts, booze, cold cuts, sausage, meat with skin, fruit juice, liver and organs, olives

Reintroduction Phase (after 6 weeks)

  • Foods to reintroduce slowly after 6 weeks
    • Eggs
    • Whole wheat bread and pasta
    • Oats
    • Red meat
    • Peanuts and peanut butter
    • Olives
    • Milk and milk derivatives
    • Coffee (2-3 / day)
    • Wine (3-4 times a week)
    • Etc.
  • For reintroduction, start with gluten. The day you reintroduce bread, eat a lot of it. Wait 48 hours, but without introducing anything else. Observe possible symptoms (headache, nausea, diarrhea, cramps, slouchiness). If symptoms occur, eliminate this food forever. On the contrary, if no symptoms occur, you can eat it regularly. After 72 hours, introduce another element.
  • Reintroduce things one at a time.

10 Rules

  1. Reduce glycemic load (sugars, jam, honey, soda, pasta, alcohol)
  2. Eat breakfast
  3. Distribute calories throughout the day (eat every 2-3 hours)
  4. Reduce stress
  5. Use breathing to reduce hunger and eat more slowly (take five breaths before eating to activate parasympathetic nervous system)
  6. Do not eat 2-3 hours before bed
  7. Aim at reducing abdominal circumference (belly fat produces tnf alpha and other inflammatory things that slow metabolism)
  8. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
  9. Speed up your metabolism through exercise
  10. Conduct a liver detox (green tea, artichokes)

So, basically, for the next six weeks we will not be eating gluten, dairy products, red meat, and sugar.

It sounds terrible, right? The point of course is not to lose weight or to permanently eliminate delicious things from my diet. That would make me so very sad. The purpose is to better understand how my body works, and how it reacts to things that I love. I will diary my experiences, and will pay particular attention to how I respond to the reintroduction of principal allergens. If, for example, I find that bread makes me lethargic, I will avoid it during times of great stress. As you may know by now, I LOVE having parameters when planning my meals. The secondary goal for me is to learn how to make my food delicious in spite of the sad face limitations of this diet.

For now, I plan to share my weekly menus with you, but if that becomes too annoying, feel free to let me know!

Menu of Meals for Week 1 (January 3rd-9th):

Sunday, January 3rd

  • D: Mooshu chicken with brown rice & garlic bok choy and miyuk guk (Korean seaweed soup) with mussels
  • Make:
    • Chicken broth for week
    • Roasted broccoli
    • Roasted cauliflower
    • Big batch of brown rice
    • Make miyuk guk
    • Make juk

Monday, January 4th

  • B: Miyuk guk with brown rice
  • L: Juk (Korean rice porridge) with shredded boiled chicken and roasted vegetables
  • D: Rice noodle and vegetable stir fry with broiled salmon and sauteed spinach

Tuesday, January 5th

  • B: Spiced quinoa porridge w/ cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, dried fruits, and nuts
  • L: Leftover rice noodle stir fry with broiled salmon and sauteed spinach
  • D: Steamed Spanish mackerel  w/ soy, ginger, and scallion sauce & jasmine rice & roasted cauliflower and broccoli

Wednesday, January 6th

  • B: Leftover jasmine rice, steamed fish, roasted broccoli
  • L: Leftovers
  • D: Italian wedding soup with turkey meatballs, kale, and escarole and steamed brussel sprouts

Thursday, January 7th

  • B: Sliced apples with almond butter
  • L: Leftover Italian wedding soup
  • D: White bean, shallot, and cabbage saute w/ quinoa and steamed brussel sprouts

Friday, January 8th

  • B: Pumpkin quinoa porridge
  • L: Leftover white bean, shallot, and cabbage saute
  • D: Lentils & brussel sprouts with brown rice

Saturday January 9th

  • B: Sliced apples with almond butter
  • L: Leftover lentils & brussel sprouts with brown rice
  • D: Roasted butternut squash, chickpea, and coconut curry w/ brown rice

Sunday, January 10th

  • B: Fruit
  • L: Leftover roasted butternut squash, chickpea, and coconut curry w/ brown rice

Coming Up…Meal Planning 101: A week of meals for those moments when cooking seems like the worst thing ever, plus Week Two of the elimination diet