my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: getting comfortable in your own skin

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the tough stuff I’ve had to endure throughout this journey and how it made me comfortable in my own skin–from people who want to play armchair physician, to doctors who don’t respect, to analyzing my poop and how to shop for a changing body, I share all the good times.

I have a phrase that I use often and it’s this: You’re either on my bus or you’re off my bus. Over the years I’ve endured admonishments and petty cruelty from the barnacles–those who proclaimed to be my friend to then only suck the life right out of me. The barnacles are sneaky, spindly in the way they cleave and attach, and you practically need a scalpel to excise them from your life. For years, I thought it was normal to surround myself with judgmental, catty assholes, and I’d normally get drunk just to get through a dinner party without throwing things. And for a time I thought it was perfectly fine to befriend people who wheedled and connived, “friends” who made me doubt yourself, made me strive to be my lowest self.

Then I woke up. It was as if I’d been asleep all this time and I suddenly woke up! Removed the sleep from my eyes and grabbed a scalpel to remove all the human lesions that’d formed attachments to my skin. Because make no mistake, surrounding yourself with toxic people,–and I’m not talking about people who sometimes go through a shitty time, because we’re human, not game show hosts–people who thrive on making you feel small will invariably make you feel just that. Small. My circle is well-cultivated and magical; we all bear one another, from time to time, on our shoulders. Because that’s what friends do, bear the weight of our sorrow and wipe the tears from our eyes because one day they know we’ll be there to hold their head in our hands. We’ll be there in our pajamas, bearing a bucket of ice cream, two spoons and a DVD of Bachelorette (the movie, not the show) because that’s what we do. We love without judgment.

So when I started to get sick from all the gluten and dairy, but before hives would make a map on my body, some people would play doctor and tell me about the ailments they thought I had. Pay no mind that I was paying trained medical professionals, no, no, no, once you have a degree from Women’s Health and Marie Claire, playing the part of a physician seems easy, downright necessary. Friends would interrupt me and tell me about their friend (it’s always their friend) who had the same exact problem and it wasn’t gluten, it was XYZ! Or was I really nixing gluten and dairy because I wanted to just lose weight ((wink, wink)Come on, be honest), because haven’t you heard? Hating on gluten is so en vogue.

My response? I politely told everyone to please shut the fuck up and let me deal with actual experts. Because sometimes a friend comes to you simply for comfort, rather than a desire for you to fix everything. I don’t need you to solve my life or tell me about your friend, who I don’t know or care about, I just need you to shut up and be a friend. I need you to be present and here for me, just as I’ve always been present for you.

Even now, even still, people, sometimes complete strangers, want to tell me about how I’m feeling and how gluten sensitivities don’t exist. I have to remind myself that this often comes from a place of kindness (at best) or ignorance (at worst), and I thank them as gracefully. I tell them that I’ve medical professionals on the case. While I don’t need to punch everyone who annoys me, I’ve learned to speak up for myself. I’ve learned to tell people, politely, that I don’t need their armchair medicine. And if they don’t respect that, if they continue to prattle on and talk over me, they are just as politely kicked off my bus.

Because I don’t have time for your nonsense.

Speaking of nonsense, have I mentioned that this journey WAS/IS/CONTINUES to be expensive? After my cat died last year and I relapsed, I spent the remainder of 2013 catatonic. So much so that I forgot to enroll in health insurance, something I sorely regret this year. Thankfully, my doctor of over a decade was kind enough to extend a payment plan, and I see my investment in Dana, in the grand scheme of things, minor compared to what I’d have to shell out if I had major health issues down the road. I don’t mind working longer hours, taking on supplemental projects that I don’t necessarily love, if I’m paying for experts who have my best interests at heart.

Not when I’m paying an allergist $1000 to treat me like a small child. The hives that I experienced as a result of eating gluten and dairy after I’d abstained for two weeks, persisted. Although they covered less of my body, I woke every day to itch and redness, and this baffled my doctor and nutritionist. They hadn’t seen a case this extreme for this long, and they recommended a visit to an allergist, because perhaps in my vulnerable state I’d opened myself up to an allergy? Who the fuck knows. What I do know is this: I wish I’d never seen this allergist. I wish I could have my hard-earned money back. I wish I’d never heard of this woman’s name at all.

I debated for weeks whether or not I should post the allergist’s name, and I won’t because I’M TRYING SO FUCKING HARD TO BE GRACEFUL even though I seriously want to pummel her. Can we start with the fact that I spent more time waiting in the waiting room than actually speaking to the doctor? Even during my first session I felt uncomfortable because she literally pushed my food sensitivity test results aside and said, yeah, let’s get some real tests. She cut me off, didn’t want to hear about my food issues, and pushed me into submitting myself for expensive tests that were inconclusive and sloppily-rendered. I was going to post a picture of the patch test she did on my back, and I relented because the image might give you nightmares. It sure as hell did for me. In the end, she charged me for shoddy work, delayed sending my biopsy results (but didn’t have a problem sending me a bill and hounding me for it), and made every session more about my ability to pay than my actual condition. I sat in my nutritionist’s office yesterday and had a rage blackout when we talked about said allergist, and Dana reminded me that I have to let this rage go.

Fine. I’m letting it go. But I will say this: don’t ever let a doctor (or anyone for that matter) make you feel small. Don’t let a doctor override your instinct. This allergist tried to tell me that these smaller hives were actually worse than my original condition and I honestly regarded her as if she were smoking crack. Because she had no idea what I went through and I know, and my DOCTOR KNOWS, that when I went to see her I was dealing with residual hives. If you’re seeing someone about food sensitivities, make sure the doctor listens to you and has respect for holistic medicine. Remember, you are the client, and they are the recipient of your hard-earned money. Do your research, ask questions over the phone before your appointment, and if you get a strange vibe don’t feel bad about not going back.

It reminds me of a story a friend told me some years ago. About a decade ago she’d developed celiac, and a team of doctors told her that she had depression, that she was making up her symptoms, that she was bonkers for believing that her condition was related to gluten! HA! HA! She told me how she left doctors’ offices powerless, confused, angry. No one deserves to be treated like that. If your doctor isn’t on your bus, KICK THEM OFF. Preferably with a spiked boot.

Inforgraphic credit:  http://www.care2.com/greenliving/what-your-poop-is-trying-to-tell-you.html
Inforgraphic credit: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/what-your-poop-is-trying-to-tell-you.html

Since I just talked to you about a pile of bullshit poop is a perfect segue, don’t you think? While it’s true that no one likes to talk about their bathroom business, it’s a real sentimental education so get out your pen and paper and take notes. If this is too TMI, scroll down a bit to the awkward snap of me on the street.

For the past two years I vacillated between constipation, diarrhea, and bullet stools. Going to the bathroom was NOT FUN, and it got so that I would drink two cups of coffee just to go to the bathroom. Does that sound normal to you? Your body has this arcane and incredible capacity to educate you about yourself–you only need to listen. Your stool is a direct reflection of what’s going on in your digestive system, and while you don’t need to make your poo fodder for brunch conversation, you should be checking out your business on the regular because it’ll tell you if you lack fiber, water, nutrients, etc. In addition to the cute infographic above (cute was reaching a bit, yes?), Sarah Wilson has a terrific, simple post on figuring out your stool situation. Spending time with yourself in this way isn’t always fun, but it’s informative.

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What else gives me vertigo? FASHION. (I mean, look how awkward I look in the above photo? Nothing creeps me out more than having my picture taken.) I remember I used to post outfit photos on this space and I’m so embarrassed that I did–who did I think I was prancing around like that? Spending sums of money on clothing I didn’t need. Clothing I’ve since donated or given away. By no means am I a stylish person–I prefer clothes that are simple and have a function. I’ve no interest in being creative with my clothing, rather, I save that for prose and the food I make and photograph for others. However, one of the biggest challenges was finding clothes that fit during the height of my weight, bloat and overall malaise, and the transition to where I am now. While I’ve about eight pounds to go to hit my goal weight and most of my old clothes fit, I’ve found that my style has changed over the past four years. I still focus on clothing that’s comfortable and functional, but more than ever I’ve made a point in buying less and better.

During my transition, most of what I wore were “legging pants” because they had stretch, cotton dresses and nothing that clung to my body. As I started to lose, I took in dresses that were investment pieces when I hit the 20 pound mark and plan to leave them at that size because I like clothes that are not too form-fitting and have a little give. More affordable linen pants from Old Navy and stretch trousers from Uniqlo were donated, and I replaced them with wool and silk trousers. Last week I bought my first pair of jeans in four years–Paige Denim, boyfriend skinny (love!)

Now I have about 15 items I wear pretty frequently and I’m slowly giving away or donating the bulk of my wardrobe. I don’t need multiples; I don’t care for trends, rather I prefer to buy classic pieces (black, grey and navy pants; v-neck and crewneck wool and cashmere sweaters; one button-down, a few pairs of shoes; one black handbag) and I punch up my wardrobe, which can get a bit boring, with accessories. I really like BaubleBar’s bits and recently purchased this lovely bracelet from J. Crew (on-sale!). I also troll Hitha’s + Grace’s sites because they often find affordable costume jewelry and accessories designers. I also have a bit of a scarf addiction, but luckily I stockpiled while I was in India so I’m all set…for the next six months.

But in the end, I wear what makes me feel good. While writing this post I wondering how I was going to cobble together poop, barnacles, crap allergists and fashion, and I’ve realized that I’m talking about comfort. Be your loudest advocate. Do and act from a place of what feels good to you. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Love and take care of yourself, and whether you’re fashionable or functional, wear clothes that feel like a second skin.

Next Up: Today, I’m traveling to South East Asia (!!!), so hopefully I’ll get time to pen tomorrow’s post on the plane! I’ll post some final thoughts and what’s next on the horizon for me health-wise, and on this blog. I’d love to hear from you. Do you like series like this? I’m trying to experiment with long-form storytelling, and let me know if you’re keen on hearing more of it and if there are any subjects in particular you’d like to see me write about.

And FINALLY. I met with my nutritionist yesterday, and asked if she’d be willing to answer some of my reader’s questions, and she SAID YES! If you have a health or food-related question for a professional, please leave them in the comments section. I’m going to compile them when I’m in Asia for a follow-up post.

my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what I’m eating now

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the way I eat now and how I subscribe to the philosophy that I eat to work out NOT I work out to eat.

Do you miss it? Pasta. Because you must. I know I would. Over the past few months a lot of friends, acquaintances, coworkers and strangers ask me questions about what I eat, but more importantly, they’re fixated on all the things I can’t eat. The lamentations run deep. Wistful sighs are doled out like wrapped sweets because a world without gluten, dairy and yeast is practically inconceivable to them, and make no mistake, they want to remind me of this any chance they get. NO BREAD? NOT EVEN GLUTEN FREE? Oh, the humanity.

Do I miss it? Gluten? Dairy? Sometimes. Occasionally I’ll see someone cutting into a pizza with a paper-thin charred crust (just how I like it) and I’ll wince. I’ll pass by a bakery and remember hot loaves unearthed from ovens, and how I’d slather butter all over the bread that nearly burned my hand. But for the most part, I don’t miss gluten and dairy at all. You crave what you eat, and the only cravings I have are for a dark piece of chocolate and a plate of French fries. I’ll admit, the first two weeks were hard, really hard, but soon I no longer longed for pasta, bread and cheese because I felt so good, the best I’d felt in years.

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Most people ask me what I eat, to which I respond and say, everything else. My diet is plant-based — I eat a lot of vegetables and a little bit of everything else. For breakfast I’ll normally have a protein shake (I actually prefer this since the shakes fill me up and I don’t have to think about making breakfast so early in the morning AND I get to sneak in some greens). I eat every three hours and around 10 I’ll have a snack which is either fruit, a small portion of nuts, vegetables, dried fruit and the like. For me, lunch tends to be my bigger meal because I normally work out in the late afternoon/evening for most of the week. I’ll have a HUGE salad (salads cover 70% of my plate) with 4oz of chicken, tofu, beef, pork, etc. I’ll have a little fat (oils, seeds). Other times I’ll have a vegetable-based soup and a small portion of grains or protein. I’m pretty big on proper food combinations so I can digest my food easily. Now, you’ll rarely find me mixing protein and grains. Both are heavy and abrasive on my system so I’ll consume either with veg. Dinner is usually a repeat of lunch but smaller. Anyone who’s been following my meals for the past few months knows that I’ve gotten inventive with spices and all the ways in which you can use cauliflower. From beef ragouts to meatballs to towering salads and cauliflower tabbouleh, my meals have been flavorful and nourishing. It took a few weeks to get into a rhythm, but I used paleo and vegan cookbooks as a base and then added back meat and ingredients I could have, where appropriate.

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My nutritionist gave me a pile of recipes and menu plans, and while they were incredibly helpful in giving me ideas and reminding me how I should eat, sitting down to a new, created-from-scratch meal wasn’t always realistic and it’s often expensive. Until the end of the year, I’m in an office 3 days a week and I tend to do best when I can make a big batch of food that will last over a few days. For example, I’ll make these veggie burgers or these meatballs or this soup, and pair them up with salads, vegetables, etc, over the course of a week. If you want to read more about how I plan my meals for the week, click here. I tend to review my cookbooks on Fridays, order food, cook 2-3 BIG meals, and then make minor dishes for the rest of the week. I eat seasonal, local and organic, and I don’t have processed or packaged food in my home. Quarterly, I’ll subscribe to a weekly Sakara Life plan because they take the guesswork out of savoring great meals, although it’s an infrequent indulgence. Because, you know, it costs a million dollars.

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However, sometimes a woman needs to eat out with her girlfriends. When chowing down, I follow these important steps for myself:

Pick a Healthy Joint or a Joint with Healthy Options: My friends will give me a few options and I’ll have to reject the Italian joint (why would I eat chicken in an Italian joint when there’s pasta everywhere? Why would I subject myself to such torture?), and also check the menus online. I ALWAYS check menus online, and I’ll find a few dishes that will work. If I’m unsure, I’ll phone the restaurant beforehand and ask about food prep/ingredients, so I don’t have to deal with it when I walk into the restaurant. Most of the time I know exactly what I want to eat before I open the menu.

Fill Up on Sides/Apps: Portions are SO HUGE these days. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a bunch of appetizers and sides and I’ll end up having a few plates filled with the greatness. Shaved Brussels sprouts, roasted kale, a plate of chorizo–sometimes I like playing DIY chef where I can order a little bit of everything to get a satisfying, healthy meal.

Say NO to the Bread Basket: I mean, I’ll break out into hives, but if I order something “off plan” I’ll have the healthy stuff FIRST so I can fill up on nutrients and then I’ll dive into the fries, basked potatoes, etc. When I can chow on gluten again, I won’t likely ever have the bread basket unless it’s GOOD. And I mean really GOOD. Because, quite honestly, most bread baskets are subpar.

Soups and Salads: If you don’t get a chance to do a menu vivisection before you arrive, you can rely on getting a soup and salad. Most soups are pre-made so forget about trying to alter the ingredients, but I’ve had cheese and the like removed from salads.

Be the Healthy Friend!: Fifteen years ago I was the girl you called when you wanted to do blow. Now I’m the “healthy friend.” My friends are more than willing to go out with me because they can load up on veggies and eat the good stuff and feel good. I’m also the workout friend, too.

And sometimes a woman has to board a plane. I’m taking a trip this week and know that I’ll be packing a healthy food bag and bringing tons of bars just in case I can’t find gluten-free breakfast options in SE Asia.

When it comes to packing meals for lunch or a plane or having a meal with a friend, I’m always prepared. I always have a plan. In the end I always ask myself, do you want to feel like how you feel now or then? That answer always drives me to pick the healthier option even on days when all I want are fries. Luckily, those days are fewer and further in between.

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A few nights ago I had dinner with an old coworker turned friend, and we lamented over the fact that no one told us that 80% of how we look (and feel) is attributed to our diet. NO ONE TOLD US! We were reared to believe that the treadmill, spin bike, etc was our salvation. Don’t worry about wrecking our diet, our health, because there’s an instant juice-cleanse fix for those years of damage! Here’s a spot in a SoulCult spin class that will make those last few hours disappear. Over the past year, my mindset toward fitness has taken a demonstrable shift. I view working out as a long-term investment in my muscles and bones. Working out will allow me to punch people when I’m 90, walk up and down stairs, recover faster from those inevitable falls. Working out eases the stress and allows me to quiet the mind, and now I focusing on fueling for my workouts rather than using my workouts as a means to delete my food history.

What I’m trying to say is the thing no one wants to hear or believe: your health is about the long haul. It’s about doing the work. It’s about discipline, presence and love for yourself. It’s about living mindfully every day so you can live longer, better, for every tomorrow. There is no one fix. The juice cleanse isn’t Jesus, it won’t save.

This whole exploration started because I felt horrible and I’d been exercising and saw absolutely ZERO results. Now, I exercise less, yet I’ve been experiencing change I hadn’t previously. I’ve written a lot about my fitness routine, however, these days I keep it simple. I hit a class four days a week. I typically take a mix of yoga, HIIT, spin and megaformer classes so my body is constantly in a state of shock and I’m never bored. I mix my cardio with my weights and settle into 90 minutes of quiet when I’m on the mat. And I’ve noticed that my diet has made a HUGE impact on my performance. I can handle more reps. I can cycle harder. I’m now able to go further and farther, and I can finally, FINALLY, start to see some definition. I feel strong.

One more lesson I learned and it was from a random image on Instagram: Take the stairs until you’re no longer able to. I’m almost 39 years old and I’m not old; I don’t take my age for granted. If I can manage stairs, I take them. Even on the days when I want to lie down on the escalator and sleep. Because there will come a day when the very idea of moving will be a struggle and I want to savor the time between now and then.

Next Up: How I dealt with challenges along the way. From cravings to analyzing my poop to people who think my issues with gluten were of my own invention to spending $1000 on an allergist who had no respect for me or holistic health, I’ll share some of the more unseemly situations I had to deal with on my journey to mindful eating and living.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is meant as a means to inspire, not directly emulate. I’m sharing my specific food journey and interaction with experienced medical professionals who know my medical history. Don’t self-diagnose or play doctor with WebMD. If you think you may have allergies or intolerances, please consult with your doctor.

my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what I ate and how I got wack

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This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about the eating habits that got me sick, how eating the wrong foods can damage your body while the right foods have the propensity to nourish it.

I loved carbs. I worshipped at its altar, revered no other gods. In carbs, we trust, was my mantra. For years I baked cookies, loaves, pies, cakes, crumbles, crisps, crusts, and more variations on pasta pesto than I’d thought conceivable. Pasta was my creature comfort for those long nights in the office when the glare of the overhead fluorescents, married with my computer screen, became blinding. Delicate pastries were my salve on the weekends when I spent half of my time thinking about work and the other half, working. When I decided to catalog all the recipes I posted on this space over the years, I was shocked to see that nearly 90% of the recipes contained gluten.

In gluten, I trusted.

For years I was diagnosed as a binge drinker, which is tricky because on the scale from occasional drinker to full-blown alcoholic, I was somewhere in the middle. Binge drinkers are harder to treat because our behavior is sporadic, doesn’t follow a pattern or a defined reward mechanism, but when something happens or nothing happens, there’s a trigger and we drink until black. I was aware of what I was doing the whole time but I couldn’t stop; I just had to have that glass of wine even though I knew it was my ruin. Bad things always happened after the glass of wine I knew I shouldn’t have. I say this because last year something shifted and when I relapsed, after almost seven years of sobriety, I fell into full-blown alcoholic behavior. Drinkers, you know the drill. You’ve got a rotating list of shops from which you purchase because you don’t want the watchful eye seeing how often you come in, how many bottles of wine you buy. The house rules you once had as a binge drinker? Gone. They’re replaced with getting wasted during the day while binge-watching episodes of Homeland. No longer did I care about drinking during the day–I just drank. A LOT. After two months of this, I stopped and haven’t taken a drink in over a year. There was relief in that, though, the certainty that I can longer manage my drink.

When I think about food and addiction, the way I treated wine is not too dissimilar from how I treat carbs. Because, quite bluntly, I will find a way to self-medicate. The discipline now is in the awareness, in the knowledge of all that history, of the do you really want to return to that dark country? Do you remember it? How the pain swallowed you whole?

When I first met my nutritionist, I breezed in with a titanic ego. Waving my food diary, I’d show her just how healthy I’d been eating! Prideful, I wrote down when I had quinoa and kale and a list of other organic foods, and may I spotlight my morning protein smoothie, filled with banana, hemp seeds, peanut butter, rice milk and the like?

The ego makes you blind, my friends, because I was eating as if it were the end of days, rather than nourishing a human being.

On any given day, I consumed copious amounts of gluten at every meal. Barely awake, I tore into a cereal bar and ate another come mid-morning. I overdosed on nuts. Downed sugary rice milk. And that kale? It was more back-up dancer than Beyonce on the plate. And that quinoa? Mixed with cheesy beef that made me violently ill for hours. My food was “organic” but not whole. Consider a typical day: for breakfast I had oatmeal or cereal (gluten, not a ton of protein); snacks were cereal bars or nuts; for lunch I had a cheesy sandwich, pasta or cheesy beef; for dinner: rinse, lather, repeat. My nutritional intake was low and, in retrospect, I can’t imagine eating that much food ever again. Ask anyone who knows me. I used to eat lunch at ELEVEN IN THE MORNING because I was so protein-deficient. All that bread. All that white flour. All that sugar. All of it, converting to sugar.

Since I was always tired, always crashing, I drank an obscene amount of coffee (now, I have one almond milk cappuccino a week, and I’ve gone weeks without coffee at all). And those “nutritional protein and cereal bars”? Read the label. Take the total carbs, minus the dietary fiber and divide that number by four. That’s how many TEASPOONS of sugar you’re digesting in a single serving. All that low-fat food you pride yourself on eating? What do you think they’re adding when they’re deleted the fat? Sugar, fillers, carbs, gluten.

Over a lifetime of eating this way–where my plate was composed of 80% carbs (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes) and the remainder protein and vegetables (I rarely ate anything beyond carrots, spinach and kale)–I developed a host of food sensitivities, saw my insulin levels skyrocket, and my GI tract was in disrepair. At this rate, I was on my way to celiac and diabetes, my doctor said. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my poor diet was responsible for the following symptons: exhaustion, fatigue, mood swings, unfit sleep (I slept an average of 5-6 hours a night, now I’m at a minimum of 7), bloat, gas, stomach cramping and adominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, foggy brain–many of which are also symptons of gluten intolerance.

A few things, first. There’s a lot of talk vilifying gluten, as it’s become fashionable in some circles to eschew it. Scientists don’t quite understand how a post 1950s consumer can’t seem to tolerate gluten like they used to, and with all the modifications to our food supply and all the chemicals that are so abundant in our food, I’m not entirely shocked that our bodies (and the science of them) haven’t quite caught up to the chemistry. But I’m telling you that this thing with gluten and me (and dairy, too) isn’t some fad or some diet, it was making me sick. Really sick.

Secondly, know there is a definitive difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. While both exhibit similar symptoms, allergies can be life threatening whereas intolerances can lead to a host of other health-related illness and severe digestive problems over time. My primary care physician tested me for celiac as well as conducted genetic tests to see whether I had a disposition to an allergy or a specific disease. The first level of testing relies on simple blood work, but extensive testing, especially for celiac, may require a visit to a gastroenterologist. I also saw an allergist (more on that in another post) who performed skin testing to see if I had any food allergies. I don’t. Separately, my nutritionist had my bloodwork sent to ALCAT for sensitivity testing. The test usually takes two weeks to complete, and it was further delayed because New York State no longer allows for sensitivity testing so my blood had to be courried to New Jersey. Seriously. All of this back and forth took a month, and during that time I had one small bowl of cacio e pepe.

And that SHIT CHANGED MY GAME.

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The easiest way to detect a food sensitivity is to either get a blood test (recommended) or eliminate specific foods from your diet for a period of time (at least two weeks to as long as six–some call this an “exclusion” or “elimination” diet) and then slowly reintroduce them, one by one, to see if and how your body reacts. While I was waiting for my blood work, I thought, how much harm can one bowl of pasta do? PEOPLE. YOU WOULDN’T EVEN BELIEVE.

Within 48 hours, I developed massive burning, prickly hives on 90% of my body. The scars of which are STILL HEALING. I felt feverish and weak, and when I text’d pictures to my doctor he told me to come in immediately. The reaction was so severe that he put me on a week-long cycle of steroids and antihistamines and I can’t tell you how painful it was and how horribly I reacted to the steroids (I experienced aggression, vomiting, and I almost fainted in my apartment after throwing up in a trashcan at 1:30 in the morning). My nutritionist immediately put me on additional supplements and L-Glutamine to repair my GI tract and leaky gut.

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I was incredulous. That little bowl of pasta, that motherfucker, did all that? No, my doctor said. It was an inflammatory response to years of my GI tract serving as a punching bag for the bully otherwise known as gluten. Your GI tract is like the bouncer in a club keeping all the undesirables from entering your bloodstream, and gluten is like a bunch of drunken kids who just want to play Rage Against the Machine and punch people, willy-nilly. So in response, my body went all war metaphor on gluten and dairy–because WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT, ANYMORE!–in an effort to expel the invaders from my system.

Do you know it took two months for the hives to completely disappear, and for the itch to go away? I was the most extreme case my doctor and nutritionist had ever seen, and every time I unknowingly consume any of the litany of foods of which I’m sensitive, I start to itch. For the next seven months, I can’t have gluten, dairy and yeast, and for another 4-5 months I can’t have many of the foods you see below under the columns “Severe” and “Moderate.” I pick my battles and live my life and I’ll have lemons and a vinaigrette (garlic is a false-positive), but even when this time passes and I’m given the green light I can never, ever, eat how I used to again.

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Gluten and dairy will be relegated to the “occasion” meal. So instead of having the bagels, croissants, cereal bars, oats, pasta, any kind of dessert that isn’t vegan on the regular, I will have an occasion meal once a week. Pasta becomes a twice a month treat.

At first I had the reaction most addicts have. WHAT? YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I HAVE TO ABSTAIN FROM/MODERATE/NOT BINGE ON/OR ABUSE X FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE? SURELY, YOU JEST. However, after living without these foods and enjoying a diverse diet rich in nutrients, textures, tastes and flavors, I actually don’t mind it. I kind of like the idea of enjoying a great bowl of homemade pasta with pesto in a restaurant instead of hoovering a third of a box in my home. Because right now I feel so good, so healthy, that I don’t want that itch, that ache, that sickness.

I don’t mind a life that doesn’t depend on gluten or dairy to exist. It feels good to lay down my armor for I no longer fear food. This isn’t a diet, a juice cleanse (STOP WITH THE BULLSHIT CLEANSES ALREADY; THEY’RE CLEANING NOTHING!!!)–it’s the way I have to live my life and once I accepted that, I was golden.

Since I’m a Type A control freak, I needed books, films, websites that educated me about my body and food production in the U.S. These resources kept me sane, even on the days when I wanted to scream into pillows.

RESOURCES

  • Nadya Andreeva’s Happy Belly: A Woman’s guide to feeling vibrant, light, and balanced
  • April Peveteaux’s breezy, hilarious, yet informative, memoir, Gluten is my Bitch
  • Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen: The Girlfriend’s Cookbook and Guide to Using Real Food to Fight Cancer by Annette Ramke + Kendall Scott. While my condition is nowhere nearly as serious as cancer, I found a lot of their mindful healthy eating tips smart, and their vegetarian recipes (most of which are gluten-free!) inspiring.
  • Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook
  • Alejandro Junger’s Clean Gut: The Breakthrough Plan for Eliminating the Root Cause of Disease and Revolutionizing Your Health
  • Favorite food documentaries: Food, Inc., Food Matters, Forks Over Knives and GMO OMG
  • Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. (I also re-read all of Pollan’s books I own)
  • Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
  • John Yudkin’s Pure, White, and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It
  • David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers
  • The four cookbooks (and trust me, I bought over a dozen and a lot of them were MEH) that have become kitchen mainstays are: Angela Liddon’s The Oh She Glows Cookbook (if you buy any cookbook, let it be this one. The recipes are BANANAS.EDU), Juli Bauer’s The Paleo Kitchen (THOSE MEATBALLS), Hemsley’s & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well and Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food
  • Websites/IG Feeds that made me happy and gave me hope when I wanted to cry: Whole30Recipes, Mind Body Green, Oh She Glows, The Balanced Blonde, Dolly + Oatmeal, Naturally Ella, Elena Brower, Celiac.org, No Thyme to Waste, Chelsea Beasley, 86 Lemons, A Couple of Cooks, Clean Food Dirty City, Heartbeet Kitchen, Theodora Blanchfield, The TV Dinner, The Feed Feed, Alpha Prep, Gluten-Free Forever, and I’m sure there are so many more sites I’m forgetting!
  • Next Up: How I eat now. You’ll see my food diaries, sample recipes, and tips on eating out without tearing your hair out. I’ll also talk a little bit about my workouts and how I stay fit + balanced.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. This post is meant as a means to inspire, not directly emulate. I’m sharing my specific food journey and interaction with experienced medical professionals who know my medical history. Don’t self-diagnose or play doctor with WebMD. If you think you may have allergies or intolerances, please consult with your doctor.

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    my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: how did I get here?

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    This week-long series isn’t about how I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months, rather this is about a lifetime battle with my body and how I’m finally traveled to a place where I’m settled in my skin and love it, from the inside out. This week, I’ll be sharing highly personal aspects of my life as well as practical tips I’ve learned–all in an effort to inspire you and remind myself that every day requires self-work and self-love. I was going to introduce this series when I hit my goal weight, but that felt pointless, because this is a journey that has no end until the end, and that’s actually really comforting. Shocking for a Type-A control freak like me. In today’s post I talk about my lifelong relationship with food, my fluctuating weight, and the decision I made this year that would change my life.

    For as long as I could remember I’ve been waging a war against my body. In Brooklyn, the boys at the pool used to shout out, boriqua sexy, and talked about my thick hips and full chest. I was friends with a beautiful girl, Teresa, and the boys told me that I would be pretty, really pretty, if I had Teresa’s head on my body. I was 11. I spent the entire summer between middle school and junior high school swimming from one end of a 16-foot pool to another, subsisting on potatoes and the random 50 cent hot dog. Wondering what it would be to look like my skinny friend. When I walked into I.S. 88 in Park Slope, I was sinewy, lean, flat-chested. That first day of school I wore an acid-washed skirt set (it was 1986, people) and on the shirt read two words: next exit. I don’t know why I remember this so clearly, even now, but I do.

    I loved junior high school! Unlike grade school, where my mother served as a specter, here at I.S. 88, a school that issued bus passes to transit kids like me, the mere distance of the school from our house rendered her invisible. My friends were black, Puerto Rican (girl, you ain’t Spanish?), Italian, Irish and Dominican. Girls with afros and gerry curls, girls with slim hips and girls who ballooned out–the mess of color and shape comforted me. Finally, I felt like I fit. I spent that year smoking loosies, downing Gatorade and fried onion chips, and my weight crept up because I didn’t care. I had friends! I had a boyfriend who had the kind of eyes you wanted to tumble into! A teacher took me aside and said, You’re a remarkable writer, and I shrugged my shoulders because how could I know then that writing would be the one thing that would always, invariably, save? When you’re 12 all that matters is that you carry your own set of keys. You cut French class and pump your feet high on the swings with your friends.

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    That was also the year I moved to Long Island and everything changed. In the three schools I attended (one from which I had to transfer because I was bullied), everyone was whitewashed, paled down to bone. They listened to pop and rock-and-roll, not the hip hop and soul I’d grown up listening to. They had fine hair and slipped their bony hips into tiny jeans and pleated cheerleading skirts. These were girls called Lea and Renee, and they were on the kick team. They didn’t eat their lunch, they picked at it. I, on the other hand, devoured three Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, a buttered bagel, and a large orange juice.

    And that was just breakfast.

    I spent the better part of high school vacillating between binging and purging. I couldn’t go near Cinnabon because I’d devour the whole box and throw it up twenty minutes later. I stopped one day because I almost choked and I feared death more than being fat. Because apparently, those were my choices. But I would go on and off purging for most of my adult life. But back in high school, I just couldn’t find where I fit, so I kept mostly to myself, read books between classes, ate alone and excelled. I hated Long Island with its 99 cent bagel shops, binge drinking, and homogeneity. The more I hated Long Island, the more I hated my curly hair and thick hips, the more I ate and studied. I won awards, scholarships, but during my senior year I got caught stealing. Two teachers rescinded their college letters of recommendation, and I was forced to go to therapy or face expulsion.

    A decade later, I sat in another therapist’s office telling her about all of this, and she nodded and said that it was heartbreaking to witness my trajectory. My need for control, my need to snuff out pain, drown it anyway I could, and how those needs would inevitably lead me to addiction. Alcoholism and an addiction to cocaine were all laid out ahead of me and I didn’t even know it back when I was 17, when I’d been an academic star, a writer of those too-dark stories (Why does everyone have to die in your stories, Felicia? Because everyone does), who baffled the student faculty. How could she do that? Steal?

    At 27, in a therapist’s office, I said, You mean, I could have prevented all of this? I could have avoided a bottle of wine and a gram to get through my day without screaming? Good to know.

    Back then, I was a little angry. Most of my life I’d been angry.

    my dad, me and my mother at high school graduation

    When I received my acceptance letter and a pile of financial aid from Fordham University, I cried. I came down on my knees and cried because the Bronx felt like another country. I’d be free from the hallway whispers (by the end of the year everyone had found out that what I’d stolen and why, and naturally everyone had a field day in reveling in my humiliation), the teachers who regarded me as if I were delicate china, and my mother, who, stormed out of a family therapy session when my therapist asked, Are you angry, Felicia? Yes. Who you are angry with? (Pause) Answer the woman, my mother snapped. I’m angry. (I turned toward my mother) I’m so angry with you. My mother got up and walked out. My dad apologized. I laughed through tears. That’s my mother, I said.

    I was a size 10.

    Four years on a campus near Arthur Avenue. Trips to Europe and Mexico. Everyone hailed from the Northeast and was monied, pre-educated. I was a psychology major who switched to finance and marketing because that’s where the money was. I rolled with the smart kids, the kids who wanted to work in investment banks and the big six accounting firms. I spent most of my time in class, at work, or on the verge of blacking out. I drank and drank some more. But back then everyone drank too much; alcoholism was the church of our worship, and I laid down my hands on the altar and prayed like one of the devoted. When I drank, I’d order oily pasta at 2:30 in the morning and I passed the bulk of my college years eating a lot or eating nothing at all.

    Graduation, June 1997

    After graduation, and before I enrolled in graduate school at Columbia, I spent the early part of my twenties deep in the business of whittling down to bone. I subsisted on Starbucks and Lean Cuisine. I ran 6-7 miles a day on a treadmill or on the sand-covered track on the farm in which my father worked. I was a loose in a size zero, practically a negative integer. I fell in love and nearly married a man who told me I wasn’t thin enough, so I drank until I could no longer hear the sound of his voice. Because how much smaller could you get than a size zero? Oh, there are ways.

    In 2008, I celebrated a year of alcohol sobriety (by then I’d been off of coke for 6 years), published my first book, and no longer looked like a film negative. I’d stopped eating processed food, introduced vegetables into my diet, and nurtured a strong yoga practice. After spending nearly a decade in and out of therapy, I finally felt strong in my own skin. It was then I decided to take a year off to write the screenplay adaptation of my memoir (thankfully, funding for the film fell through) and figure out what is that I wanted to do as a career. I spent most of adult life in large companies working in marketing, but I was bored, passing the days instead of being present in them, and I wanted to take some time to come back to myself. That year might have been one of the healthiest I’ve ever been.

    Below is a snap of my me + my pop at my book party in 2008.

    Me & My Pop at My Book Party

    Then I met a man who would be my boss for nearly four years. I remember the interview, and him asking me an odd question. He’d heard that I loved food, was a bit of baker and cook, and asked, If I were to come over to dinner, have a meal with you, what would you make? I laughed, startled, expecting the usual resume excavation, but I don’t think he’d ever read my resume, rather he was just trying to figure out whether or not I was the kind of person he wanted to share a meal with. Or perhaps he wanted to see how I’d manage curve balls. Over the course of an hour and several follow-up emails and phone calls, I was charmed by his vision, his affection for writers, and the kind of company he wanted to build, and I took a job that would markedly change the course of my life.

    I’m not going to say much about those years beyond what I’ve written here, but let’s just say, for sake of argument, that the man I met wasn’t the man I’d come to know. Behind closed doors, I spent the bulk of those years fighting with this man while my other boss played referee, had us in our mutual corners to cool off. I want to say that the man I worked for didn’t hold my values, and as a result, I allowed myself to become a lesser version of myself. I became paranoid, insecure, plagued with self-doubt and fear, and I was visibly stressed and sometimes cruel toward my direct reports. I say that I allowed myself because while I worked for someone whom I didn’t respect (although, in retrospect, I learned a great deal about business from him), I chose to remain and I have to take responsibility for not leaving. In those nearly four years I cried the most I’ve ever cried. I nearly relapsed. I was broken and put on a considerable amount of weight. The stress, and the pressure I put on myself, drove me to make poor choices with regard to my body and health, and I never put myself first.

    That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.

    When I resigned from this job, I cried in the shower for a week and spent a month in Europe, shaking. That was the year when I suffered a great loss, relapsed after six and a half years of sobriety, recovered, and spent the remainder of the year ripping off bandaids and sitting in a place of self-reflection.

    What had I done to myself? How had I treated others? Myself? I spent time forgiving myself and asking forgiveness of others. That was the year I rebuilt friendships (Oh, you’re no longer tethered to your work email? Oh, you can actually make my wedding?) brick by brick. That was the year I got on a plane for myself, to further my own dream, rather than to forsake myself for someone else’s. That was the year I got healthy (or so I thought) and worked out five days a week.

    But something else happened. None of my clothes fit. I was literally ripping through dresses. My chest had gotten to a size that gave me discomfort. Often I felt sick, experienced sharp pains in my stomach which felt like my appendix were about to burst. I couldn’t sleep and when I did it was the sleep of disturbed children. I was constipated. I kept pausing in the middle of sentences, lost, What was I just saying?. I kept forgetting things–keys, thoughts, what I’d planned for the day or whom I was meeting for dinner. I was working out but always felt sluggish. Bloat and exhaustion were a constant state. I avoided mirrors. I shied away from having my picture taken.

    My body had become a house I wanted to burn to the ground.

    In June, I posted a note on Facebook about wanting to see a nutritionist because I felt powerless, weak. A friend casually mentioned Dana James, someone with whom she’d experienced a degree of success. After Dana’s assistant and I traded a few emails, and I completed a 14-page written questionnaire and three-day food diary, I spent nearly two hours in Dana’s office in a state of shock. That session was a brutal awakening.

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    I was 172.3 pounds, the heaviest I’d been in my entire life. I came off the scale and sat, catatonic, in a chair. I blacked out during our session and all I could see was the weight, so much of it, and the fact that my food diary revealed I’d a severe addiction to gluten. As Dana proceeded to talk me through our goals and a new way of eating, I stopped her, an hour later, mid-sentence, and said, Maybe that scale is broken? I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS. I DON’T EAT PROCESSED FOOD. I EAT KALE! Dana paused and said that the number was just a number. It was information. It was knowledge, and I’ll acquire more knowledge to move that number, and more importantly, my life, in another direction. But I had to commit to changing my life. I know that sounds so textbook self-help, but if I wanted to feel good, healthy, strong, I had to completely re-think my approach to food and reconcile my relationship with it. Because I’d been living this private life where, on one hand, food was at the core of my identity but it was also my nemesis. I needed to find a place in the middle.

    For three months, I made a significant financial, emotional and physical investment. I committed to seeing Dana weekly; I kept a detailed, honest food journal. I weighed in every week and learned how to build a balanced plate. I learned how to eat more, but better. I eliminated gluten, dairy, yeast, sweet potatoes, bananas, grapes, blueberries, lemons, turkey, and a list of other foods from my diet. I followed a customized, realistic meal plan. I bought books, watched documentaries and went to seminars to educate myself on gut health, nutrition and food. I saw my primary care physician more times this year than in the previous 10. I got extremely sick; I endured the side effects (including nearly fainting in my apartment) from taking steroids to control a severe reaction I had to gluten and dairy when I decided to go off plan; I got better again.

    Yeah, yeah, the weight came off and continues to, but nothing compares to how I feel: sharp, clear-headed, awake, strong, and present. I no longer need coffee to get through my days, my skin has that “glow” and even my doctor is shocked at how much I’ve managed to reduce my insulin levels in three months (I was on the road to diabetes, but have since reversed the course!).

    I feel incredible.

    But that’s not to say that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of information I learned along the way. From spending money on incompetent allergists to not fearing the scale to analyzing my waste on a daily basis (quit it with the eww–this is your body and it gives you important information) to reframing my original thinking that my diet was limited because I couldn’t have dairy or gluten to realizing that the elimination of two things actually created creativity and abundance–this week I plan to share everything I’ve learned throughout my journey. And I’ve only just started! Naturally, this is all meant to inspire not to directly emulate. See your doctor, talk to holistic practitioners, educate yourself about how food is cultivated and manufactured and learn how your gut works.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I have enough information, faith and self-love to feel like I have something worthy to share with you. I’ll also share all the resources (books, films, cookbooks, etc) that have kept me sane.

    If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. Nothing with regard to my health is off the table (I mean, I just mentioned poop). If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask my nutritionist before I leave for Asia this week. If I still don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you that as well :)

    Next Up: What I ate that got me into this mess.


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    changing the channel: I’m a bit done with this “curated life” bullshit

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    I’m an addict. If I fall in love with something or someone long enough, I tend to become obsessive to the point where the object of my affection becomes my inevitable ruin. That avocado once craved rots, and the passion I once had for someone becomes a tick, a drone, a dull sustained murmur I’m desperate to snuff out. Over the years I’ve gotten remarkably better at being present and self-aware, in spotting a burgeoning addiction as it starts to harvest and breed, and finding ways to lay my pitchfork down, stop, and change course. It sometimes feels like stopping a hurricane with a paperweight, but it’s in this diligence, this constant observance, that allows me to enjoy small things like chickpeas without becoming fixated on them. (I had to issue a chickpea fatwa, and get off the stuff for two weeks to re-learn how to consume it in moderation, and on it goes).

    Some addictions can’t be controlled, and I’ve learned to live a life without certain things (alcohol, drugs), but what I’ve witnessed is this: what I’ve gained from leaving those two afflictions behind is so much greater than the cold comfort I experienced in succumbing to them. Perhaps it’s the difference in understanding that it’s okay to rip off the bandaid and feel that tear, that very immediate hurt, versus inching off the tape. We take a sip of this or a snort of that to ease the pain of the ripping, but it’s only a delay, because in the end there will always be the hurt. It’s just a matter of understanding our timeline of when we’re ready to experience it. Do you want to face or prolong it? These days I take my pain as it comes and breathe through it to get beyond it. I’m ripping all the bandaids off, even on the days when I really, really don’t want to deal with the pain.

    There’s a point to all of this, I promise.

    Lately, I’ve been feeling adrift in all aspects of my life. I’ve completed a creative project that’s out in the world and I haven’t started something new. I move from business project to business project, and then go through the motions of pitching again. I find recipes to post on this space and then glance at the blog a week later and cringe at it. I feel stuck in a lot of ways, and it occurred to me the other night that this space isn’t exactly what I want it to be. Because, for a while, I became addicted to a thing called traffic. I don’t even know where this came from, but I remember being in Spain, spending hours taking and editing these beautiful photos, finding a way to marry image and type that was purposeful to me, to have people unfollow me on Instagram and scores of people not knocking on this virtual door as often. I was puzzled. I gave so much of myself into something I created and 1. I was basing that worth and art on how many people read it–no bueno 2. Some people really just care more about recipes, and that’s cool.

    So much as I’d read articles on growing your reader base and followers (part of my other life is to read such articles), I couldn’t help but feel the advice was pat, mechanical, cold. Someone I clearly wasn’t or couldn’t be. If I see one more carefully composed image of a suggestion of a life (requisite sunglasses, macbook air and monogrammed mug–honestly, is this how you live because my living room table right now is a fucking mess. Exhibit A, below)–I might just torch the joint (kidding).

    Yes, I like floss (new addiction in the works). Yes, those are birth control pills (how else am I going to remember to take them if they’re not in front of me?). And yes, that was my morning smoothie. That is my real life, and I’ve come to realize I want to share more of this rather than something cultivated.

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    I don’t want to optimize my blog post titles for search. I don’t want to leave comments on other people’s sites simply for the sake that they’ll come to my space; I leave comments because I have something thoughtful to say, although most times I’ll tweet out a post I like or share it on Facebook. I asked myself this: If I never plan on making this space commercial, if I’ll never accept ads or sponsored posts or any of that jazz, why do I care about how many people come to this space? Right? I should care that what I create will resonate with a certain kind of reader and the rest will find other sites to suit their tastes and needs. All of this happened this morning (as that’s when I tend to do a lot of my thinking, or obsessing) after reading this piece. Completely unrelated to the topic at hand, but this remained with me:

    But Carol doesn’t dig much for money anymore. Now she is an organizer at the community development institute she helped establish in an old schoolhouse down the road, working to reconnect people in her community, especially young ones, with their place. It’s what she calls the task of “merging people and landscape back together.” She says that central Appalachia has suffered “erosion—the slow leakage of its people,” and wants to find ways for people to reinhabit the mountains. Root digging is one of them. “Where people are trying to live with the land, there’s always a need of interaction with it. Root digging’s a way to train and educate people to quest, ask questions, be aware of their environment, find empowerment.”

    I realize my writing doesn’t only color outside of the lines, it’s a whole other fucking coloring book. I’ve never really been popular. I prefer a small, quiet life instead of a large one. I get anxious over compliments, but I’m getting better at accepting them. It took me years to publish my email address on my site, and I still think about deleting it. I guess what I’m saying is that I write and think about the things people sometimes don’t want to talk about, out loud. I wrote a book that can be construed as too dark, which makes me shake my head because my book is about children desperately trying to climb out of the darkness, but the need for us to skirt the dark remains. I write long, sometimes dramatic, posts here because the only way I’m able to make sense of anything in my life is to write about it, sometimes here, mostly privately. There is a need for me to get things down, commit things to paper as it were, and I’m finding that we live in world of TL;DR.

    People don’t have time, nor do they often care about reading something long or winded. They don’t want to excavate the mess of a middle; they prefer their posts neat and packaged and pretty.

    Well, I’m not pretty. Maybe not in the conventional sense of the word and much like how I had to quit the chickpea nonsense, I’ve stopped being consumed with this need for traffic, of weighing the value of what I create against the volume of people who choose to read it.

    Going forward, I’m going to try my best to be Carol, that root-digger, to find ways in which I can merge my life, what I love, and art in a more complicated and interesting way. Practically, this means that I won’t have a recipe and pretty photograph every day — I plan to dial the recipes down to 2 times a week and make them SPECIAL. Other times, you’ll find longer posts here. A merger of type, photographs, and handwritten words related to what’s going on in my life right now. In this way, I’m trying to be braver, bolder, more honest with myself, while challenging myself in my work.

    Because I want to be 80 and seeing something new every single day. I want to create until the clock stops ticking. I don’t want to post a pretty picture just for the sake of posting. I want this space to be a record of another kind of art I want to create.

    And I hope you’ll stick around for the journey along the way…

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    grain-free granola (and dear god, this is GOOD)

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    Sometimes I miss gluten, I do. I’ll see an Instagram photo of a thin crust pizza topped with pancetta and figs and I’ll mourn. When I was in Spain, I took an apartment next to a bakery and the waft of baked morning loaves was sometimes unbearable. I don’t miss pasta as much as I thought I would, or the laundry list of foods that contain gluten in one form or another, but I miss bread. I miss oats. I miss granola. Now you may wave your pro-oat flag and tell me that there are gluten-free versions of oats, to which I’ll solemnly shake my head and respond, no, you are mistaken. All oats have gluten, and the gf versions simple don’t have the form of gluten intolerable to celiacs. Thus, it’s safe! Let the gluten-free label mania commence!

    And then there are people like me, who are sensitive to gluten of all molecular shapes and forms, who break out into hives that one day I indulged in some gluten-free oats in my pancakes. I’ll spare you the visuals.

    I thought I’d have to wait 7 more months to have granola until I came upon this paleo-friendly recipe. AND DEAR GOD, ORANGE KITTENS AND CHARRED-CRUST PIZZA WITH CRUMBLED SAUSAGE, THIS IS GOOD. Better than the oat version, my grain and gluten-free friends. Believe me when I say that I didn’t even purchase my requisite coconut or almond yoghurt (don’t believe what people tell you–these versions simply aren’t as good as the dairy-ridden kind)–I ate this granola by the spoonful. I love how it’s at turns salty and sweet, and the softened figs and dates give the granola a lovely texture.

    I could eat this for days. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones, one of the bread-eating, pizza-crust-nibbling folk, living a gluten, fanciful life, this granola will kick your crap oats any day of the week.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Paleo Kitchen, modified
    1 cup blanched, sliced almonds
    1 cup chopped pecans
    1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
    3 dried figs, chopped
    1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/4 cup almond flour/meal
    1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
    2 tbsp maple syrup
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    seeds from 1 vanilla bean (if you don’t have this, add another tsp of vanilla extract)
    pinch of cinnamon + sea salt

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

    In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients. Turn the mixture out onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin, even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring the mixture halfway through the baking process. Let cool completely before serving to ensure that the granola will harden into clusters.

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    on whiteness, on blackness, on sitting in the inbetweens

    mother and daughter

    When I was small my friends told me not to worry, that I could pass. Their assurances were accompanied by a dramatic fingering of my hair, which was a mess of coarse curls, the kind of hair my mother labored over in the bathroom, tried to tame it with baby oil and Vaseline. It made no difference that I grew up in Borough Park, steps away from the elevated train on New Utrecht. It didn’t matter that we purchased the same chicken legs wrapped in brown paper from the bodega or swam in the same pool in Sunset Park or pinched loosies (single cigarettes) when we could–what mattered was my hair. Because where I came from being white was a liability. Being white got you jumped. Being white made you an outsider. You were lesser than because if you had the privilege of that skin, and you lived where you lived, you were considered a joke. It was as if you had a lottery ticket you were too dumb to cash in. But my mother wore Pumas, was ferocious, waitressed at a diner, played her soul records and knew all the right people. So mostly, they left us alone.

    Years later I would walk into a junior high school and be ridiculed for my hair, the very thing that had saved me in my childhood, because it betrayed an otherness. White people didn’t have this hair. White people didn’t speak with a Spanish lilt to their voice. White people didn’t grow up on soul when there was rock and roll (which, by the way, my mother listened to, too). And I remember a group of Spanish girls in my junior high school who took me in, asked where I was from, and the next day no one made comments about my hair. The cheerleaders in their green pleated skirts, the girls named Lea, Ryan and Michelle, didn’t say anything at all. They were frightened and in that fear came the silences. I shook my head, and wanted to say that my last name was Sullivan! That I was Italian and Irish! But while I thought all of these things were truths, I knew they were also somehow untrue. Because I didn’t see anything wrong with being black or Spanish, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I didn’t feel white but I didn’t feel black, either. How do you explain to thirteen-year-olds who live on binary terms that you are possibly grey? When you’re small you don’t understand the gradations of color, the in-betweens. When you are that young, you still believe you have to color in the lines. To the Leas and Ryans of my small world, black men were ball-players, rappers, men who robbed your house. Wait, what? I couldn’t see any of that. Sure, men in my old neighborhood tossed rhymes on stoops, drank 40s out of brown paper bags, but they were also kind, always had your back, and worked from dark to dark. Rhyming, drinking and dreaming were some of the things they did to pass the time, to make their lives easier to bear.

    I have a memory, but it comes and goes in fragments, like swallows, and I just remember the glare of a television in a dark bedroom and I’m lying on the floor watching it. I am small and my mother is in bed with a man named Keith. He is black, striking in his beauty, his man-ness, and they are talking in the way that couples do after they’ve just been intimate. They exist in the space of the after, when conversations are easy, slow, and you talk about the things you wouldn’t normally discuss in the morning. That’s all I’m able to remember, and now I think: was that him? Was that man my biological father?

    Another memory: Another man, another state. We are in Pennsylvania and my mother (a mistress now) travels with her abusive boyfriend to visit his ex-wife and children. I never understood why we traveled to a place where we were not welcome, but we made the trip and the children, sisters, made snide comments about from where we’d come, about how I wasn’t one of them, white. The mother’s name was Virginia and I never saw my mother so afraid when she was in that house.

    Years later I receive a long message on Facebook. It’s from one of the sisters in Pennsylvania. She’d read my memoir, found god, and couldn’t I possibly forgive Father for all that he had done as she had? Reading the note I paled down to bone, and I remember being in an office and someone coming over to my desk and asking me about a plan we were supposed to write. And I glanced at the message on Facebook and nodded at my direct report, and felt paralyzed in the space between the two. Although I will do everything possible in my adult life to not be my mother’s daughter, some of her will always remain. Why I have a hard time letting people in, crying in front of others, or being vulnerable–these are aspects of her that have left their indelible mark on me, parts of me I’m desperate to lose.

    I think back to those girls in junior high school, and my nearly all-white high school, and how everyone believed that black men were to be feared. But no. I shook my head no, because in my experience white men weren’t to be trusted. They hid behind the privilege of their skin. And then I got all confused because had I become one of those people coloring in the lines? Not understanding that the content of one’s character isn’t married to the pigment of their skin?

    The summer before college, I worked at Pizza Hut and I started dating one of my coworkers who drove a nice car and lived in Queens. We bonded over our affection for A Tribe Called Quest, and I remember over the course of our date how he kept playing “The Low End Theory” in this car. He came to my door and met my family, and I remember how my father, Gus, shook his hand and smiled because Gus is the kind of man who will shake your hand and mean it, but my mother, my mother, cowered in the background and scowled. She took me aside and told me she hadn’t known that my date was black, and didn’t I know that his color would cause trouble? Because we were no longer in Brooklyn. And I shook away from her because I knew that I was going to college and college meant freedom, and who was she to talk to me about blackness when there was Keith and all the men who had come before? And, oh by the way, I didn’t choose my date because he was black, I chose to go out with him because he was cool. I said as much and walked out of the house. In the car my date made a comment about my mother being something and I said, she sure is. Something.

    That was our only date. While we spent the rest of the summer making personal pan pizzas, something was off, wasn’t the same. We were still friends. We still joked but we were changed, and I can’t help but think it had to do with the fact that I was white (but not really) and he wasn’t, and I was angry because it didn’t matter when someone loves “The Low End Theory” just as much as you do. When someone can turn the task of dumping frozen pepperoni on a pizza into a game, into something fun.

    I set out today to write something different, to make something and share it with you, but then I read this. At 6:30 in the morning I cried in my apartment. I’m 30% black and have I been hiding behind the privilege of my skin, technology that has the ability to make my hair smooth?

    A few weeks ago I’m on the phone with my best friend of nearly 20 years, and she’s the only person with whom I’ve spoken about my DNA results. She asks me how I feel and I tell her I don’t know what I feel. No, that’s not true. I feel relief to have knowledge, facts, the maths, even if it is 38 years too late. I tell her that I’ve felt that all this time I’ve been passing…for white. I tell her that I don’t feel white or black but something in the middle, and I blurt out all the appropriate and inappropriate questions. Do I have the right to say I’m part black at 38 (yes, I do, logically, but…)? Can I own blackness? Do I have the right to? Do I keep on as I’ve been living? What changes? Does anything change? Do I owe a debt? To whom?

    I don’t yet have answers to any of these questions, and I imagine it will take some time and introspection, but my friend told me that it’s okay to be in the in-betweens. That I should be proud of whatever I am, that I’m not defined by my chemistry.

    mediterranean meatballs + cauliflower tabbouleh

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    Ever have one of those weeks when nothing feels right? When getting out of bed is a Herculean effort? That, coupled with some frustrating emails in my inbox, made for a meh start to my week. And while I have some ideas for my new creative project, I’m feeling stuck. Perhaps it’s the Monday blues because I’m hoping that things will turn around as the week progresses. Luckily, I have leftovers of yesterday’s yummy meatball + cauliflower tabbouleh to come home to tonight.

    Send love and orange kittens.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well
    For the meatballs
    1 pound of ground lamb or beef (I opted for beef sirloin, 85% lean)
    1 egg
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
    1 and a ¼ tsp of sea salt
    ½ tsp of pepper
    ¼ tsp of ground cumin
    ¼ tsp of ground cinnamon
    1-2 tsp of ghee or olive oil for frying
    Optional: 1 pinch of ground chilli or a little fresh chilli

    For the tabbouleh
    2 medium heads of cauliflower, roughly grated by hand or use a food processor (choose the medium teeth on your grater)
    1 tbsp. of ghee, olive oil or butter
    1 medium red onion or 1 bunch of spring onions finely chopped (I decided to nix this)
    4 large tomatoes, diced (I nixed this)
    3 large handfuls of parsley, finely chopped
    1 large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
    Juice of 1 lemon (I used lime instead)
    4-5 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
    Sea salt and pepper to taste
    Toppings: Scatter over chopped radishes, nuts or seeds (such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)

    DIRECTIONS
    Steam your grated cauliflower in a saucepan (lid on) with a couple of tablespoons of water and your ghee or butter. On a medium heat, it should take roughly 3 minutes for the cauliflower to cook (not too soft!), but check there is enough water at the bottom of the pan so that the cauliflower doesn’t burn.

    Drain any excess water and tip your steamed cauliflower into a large serving bowl

    While your cauliflower is cooling, chop all your tabbouleh ingredients and then combine everything together. Taste for seasoning.

    In a big bowl, combine all your meatball ingredients and mix well. Be careful not to overmix, you just want all the seasonings to come together.

    In a wide saucepan, add a little ghee, olive oil or butter and fry a small piece of the mixture to check for seasoning. Adjust the remaining mixture as necessary.

    Wet your hands and shape the mixture into balls. We used roughly 1.5 teaspoons of mixture per meatball but make them any size you like – the larger they are, the longer they’ll take to cook.

    Heat up a little more ghee, olive oil or butter, and, over a medium-high heat, fry the meatballs in a few batches until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through – this should take about 6-7 minutes. (You can always brown the meatballs in advance and finish them off in the oven later if you’re having people round).

    Serve your hot meatballs with the tabbouleh. If there are any leftovers, eat cold the next day with some homemade hummus.

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    coconut pecan fudgy brownies (gluten/grain-free)

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    You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve been having a hard time eating sweets lately because they have so. much. sugar. Since my diet is relatively low in sugar (this is what happens when you’re eating vegetables ALL DAY LONG), baking holds less of an interest for me these days. When I first gave up gluten, dairy and yeast, I was devastated. I felt as if my identity as a baker of sweets was in jeopardy, until a good friend told me that being a baker–a creator of things–is not simply about butter, sugar and flour. I’ve been giving her words a considerable amount of thought over the past few months, and as you’ve likely noticed I’m baking less and cooking more. But I don’t mind it. I’ve been listening to my body; I bake when I have the urge for something sweet, which has been less and less these days. Sweet for me is a small bar of dark chocolate, fruit, rather than cinnamon rolls and pies.

    But make no mistake. Come the holidays, I will WANT A PIE. I’ll just know that I’ll have to make it in order to maintain its nutritional integrity.

    Yesterday, I was craving chocolate, specifically a brownie. I scanned the growing stack of vegan, paleo, and gluten-free cookbooks, and when I came upon this gluten + grain-free recipe, I was skeptical. I had APPLESAUCE SUBSTITUTION FLASHBACKS. Philosophically, I’ve been a believer that baked goods should been enjoyed in all their full-fat glory, and to mar that would be criminal. Yet, this recipe is certainly not devoid of fat (eh-hem butter/coconut oil) and has oceans of sweet flavor (maple syrup), so I gave it a go.

    Know that I hesitated before I a sampled a brownie. I shoved the cooled bars in the fridge, considered dumping them altogether, but I HATE food waste, so I gave these a go, fully expecting burrito flavor in the guise of a brownie.

    NOT SO! The brownies were fudgy, not too sweet, and delicious. They’re quite filling so you’ll likely stop at one, but color me shocked, surprised, that black beans can make a worthy grain substitute. WHO KNEW?!

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, modified slightly
    1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
    8oz Earth Balance vegan butter or coconut oil
    4 large eggs
    1 cup of unsweetened cacao powder
    3/4 cup maple syrup
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    sea salt
    1/2 cup chopped pecans
    2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
    2 tbsp vegan chocolate chips (dark chocolate is fine here, too)

    DIRECTIONS
    Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9 1/2 x 8 baking dish with coconut oil, vegan butter or coconut oil spray (I like Spectrum Organic). Set it aside. Melt the butter/oil in a pan over low/medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

    Place the beans, eggs, cacao, salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract into the food processor. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth. Slowly add the cooled butter down the shoot and mix until completely combined. Stir in 1/2 of the pecans, coconut flakes, and vegan chips, reserving the rest for the top of the brownies.

    Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, making sure the batter is evenly distributed. Add the reserve pecans, flakes and chips, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm but springy and its surface is cracked.

    Leave to cool completely, 30-45 minutes before slicing. I actually put this in the fridge after 30 minutes so it can be slightly. The brownies had such a fudgy texture as a result!

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    buckwheat tortilla with guacamole + fried beans + eating your way to a better body

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    After reviewing my food diary with my nutritionist this week (actually, it was more like open-heart surgery without anesthesia, but I digress), we started to talk about food combinations, fats, carb-loading and the importance of diversity in one’s diet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made myself try one new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store–so whether it’s raw beets, purple cauliflower, snap peas, sunchokes, or bean sprouts, I’m making point to widen my color, flavor and texture repertoire. Back in the day I didn’t bother with strange-looking rutabaga because why bother when pesto pasta takes under 30 minutes to make? A taste that might make you shudder becomes something you crave and love over a period of time. And the nutritional benefits of eating among the five taste sensations (sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and savory) are profound in terms of aiding digestion, and maintaining an overall balanced diet. I think the hardest part of my journey for is the realization that not having gluten, dairy, yeast, bananas, sweet potatoes, turkey, and the other dozen or so foods I have to avoid for the next seven months is, in fact, NOT a limitation. It’s not because there are hundreds of other things I could be eating but have simply chosen not to. Because again, why bother?

    Now I have to bother.

    I’ve also been cognizant of food combinations in order to absorb all the nutrients in my system so I can feel good. I tend to not mix complex grains and proteins because they’re brutal on our digestive system. If you’re interested in checking out the WORST combinations (believe me, I’ve done them all), check out this article on MBG. Grains work best with veg, same with protein. Before I received my food sensitivity results, I was confused why I kept getting appendicitis-level pain every time I had a dish that had quinoa and a protein. Here I was in self-diagnosis land before my slew of test results returned, and Dana told me that since I had damaged my insides from years of gluten + dairy abuse, I was a walking wound. Most people can handle poor combinations, but for me, it’s like getting punched in the face after I’ve received a proper BK beat-down.

    One of the biggest lessons learned? FAT IS YOUR FRIEND. You need fat to absorb nutrients. You need fat to LIVE. I grew up in the age of Snackwell’s + low fat, and what do you think replaces the fat that has been eliminated from your favorite foods? Starches, sugar and salt. Sugar is cute, isn’t it? Especially when it throws a frat party in your liver and you start to become susceptible to all sorts of health-related conditions. If you’re eating fats free of hydrogenated oils (think nuts/seeds, avocados, coconut oil, and nut butters), you’re golden. They’re healthy, they’ll fill you up, and they’ll add that proverbial glow to your skin.

    Every so often I need reminders. I need the nutrition version of getting punched in the stomach because my descent back into eating crap is so easy. Bacon and candied pecans, popcorn, carb-loading (even of the complex carb kind), and suddenly it’s not about moderation or balance, it’s about me with a huge bowl of popcorn in my lap after I’ve eaten a salad. And there I go rationalizing it, but I ate a huge salad, etc, etc. I have to remind myself why I’m eating the foods I’m eating and am I present when I eat them?

    Dana has me switching up my diary format to take stock of all the times I misstep (to drive awareness) and some thoughts on how I feel after a particular meal. I dutifully rolled my eyes when I saw the spreadsheet, however, today I was annoyed that I’d eaten this buckwheat burrito because, while it was OKAY, it wasn’t a potato-with-olive-oil-sea-salt-and-pepper delicious. It was simply a vehicle for the beans and guacamole, which were divine on their own. Similarly, when I return to eating gluten and dairy, I want to eat the BEST PASTA or HOMEMADE BREAD, not just crap out of a box. I want my every meal to be a small celebration, a victory, a minor event.

    cheaper than therapy, and you get great recipes.
    cheaper than therapy, and you get great recipes.

    I leave for Thailand in two weeks and I’m watching (as I type this) a 1.5 hour seminar on eating to achieve your best body. This isn’t a diet or about being skinny, this is about feeling good inside and out. This is about fueling your body. This is about changing your mindset from I work out to eat to I eat to work out. So far, I’m loving the sessions–videos that range from 2-7 minutes in length–brought to you by the founders of Sakara Life. And you guys KNOW how I feel about Sakara Life, so much so that I’ve ordered the lunch boxes for a two-week reboot.

    From how to eat the rainbow (and why it’s important to have color on the plate), and why fat is your friend (please stop eating low-fat), to the importance of eating organic and the need to quit it with the calorie counting, the sessions are smart, digestible, and the founders manage to make heady science intuitive and simple. I also love their 54-page downloadable booklet, which is filled with so much health information and a seven-day meal plan, complete with recipes. While a lot of the information isn’t new to me, it’s that lovely punch I need right now.

    INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Art of Eating Well
    For the tortilla
    9oz (2 cups) buckwheat flour
    1 egg
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 cups of water
    coconut oil for frying

    For the fried beans
    1 tsp coconut oil
    1 garlic clove, finely grated
    1 pinch of cumin
    1 pinch of chili or a little cayenne pepper
    1 15 oz can of black beans drained and rinsed
    sea salt + black pepper

    For the guacamole
    2 large avocados
    1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
    juice of 1 lime
    1/4 scallion of fresh chives snipped
    1 garlic clove, finely grated
    sea salt + black pepper

    Optional fillings
    4 large tomatoes, sliced
    3 handfuls of crunchy lettuce or red/white cabbage, shredded
    a handful of chopped cilantro
    1/4 cup red onions, minced

    DIRECTIONS
    To make the tortillas, whisk together the flour, egg and salt in a large bowl with 3 cups of water. Leave the batter to stand for 1/2 hour. A note on the flour: the burritos in the cookbook look NOTHING like buckwheat. Perhaps buckwheat looks completely different in the U.K., however, the kind I find in the local grocery store is dark grey. So don’t freak out when your tortillas don’t resemble the white floured-looking ones in the book.

    Bring a lightly greased, well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or ceramic pan) about 8-inch in diameter. Brush the bottom of the pan with the oil. Whisk the batter and using a ladle, add enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan when swirled. After 1-2 minutes, when the underside is brown, flip and cook lightly (1 minute) on the other side.

    To make the beans, gently heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic. Add the cumin and chili and cook for a few minutes. Add the black beans, a splash of water, and cook for 5 minutes until the beans are sticky. Season to taste.

    To make the guacamole, mash the avocado + all ingredients in a bowl.

    To serve, pile your fillings (I almost typed feelings, so there’s that) onto each tortilla, as well as any of the optional toppings and chow down.

    knowledge talks, wisdom listens

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    Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. – Samuel Beckett

    Yesterday, I fell. On the way to the train station I was fixated on reading an article on my phone and then suddenly I could see it–the trip, tumble and collapse–but I could do nothing to stop it. I tumbled a few feet and landed on the ground in the rain. I skinned my palms, my knee ached from the impact and a man helped me up and asked me if I was okay. I laughed and said, that hurt more than I thought it would.

    Later on that day I read an article calling food sensitivities a myth, a product of our own psychosomatic invention, and I was angry not because the opinion was blatantly wrong, it was the fact that pretty, popular girls can publish un-researched, un-informed fiction under the guise of journalism and the masses will swarm at their manicured feet. I was angry, still, when a comment I’d posted–something I rarely do, comment on websites–calling into question the lack of research from both sides of the argument, the lack of interviews with trained medical professionals and those who actually struggle with food issues (because should we assume that since our food has been chemically and genetically modified more so in the past 40 years than the past 400 that our bodies would have a reaction of which science has yet to understand, much less concretely diagnose?), was deleted. I was angered over the ignorance and then the silencing. But the world presses on and they sell more branded gloss.

    That night during my yoga class, in the dark, I kept thinking about night driving in California. How I hated being in cars at night because you couldn’t see the road ahead of you. But in California I didn’t mind not knowing, instead allowing the road to unravel ahead of me in degrees. I thought about a trip I took to Tacoma, Washington and being in car with a man who’d been drinking, and then drinking wine coolers in Manhasset, and I’m mixing it all up. All the memories are shards I can’t piece together and I’m angry that I can’t remember everything. That part of my life is gone and I won’t again feel what it’s like to be 24 in a car, sleeping while someone drives.

    We tell stories in order to live, Joan Didion writes. What if the stories are all mixed up, silenced, deleted, not read, not told?

    I met with my nutritionist yesterday and the weight loss slowed because I’d been, knowingly, adding more fat back into my diet. Bacon and candied pecans on salads, extra slices of sausage. I was worried, I said. About time. And I knew Dana wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, I didn’t, because I was acting like every meal was my last when another was three hours away. We tell stories in order to live, but what if time runs out? How could I explain that I worried about the time between now and then? How do I tell that story?

    I met with an old friend and we talk about the business of books and I tell him I’m done with all of those people, all of that, and he shakes his head. Those people don’t matter. That history doesn’t matter. This thing about your introversion, he starts, and I talk over him, a thing I now rarely do, about how I was telling real stories on this space, on all the spaces I occupy, and he alluded to the fact that my letting people in isn’t a singular event. I have to to continue to leave the door open, even if it’s a crack. I have to keep telling stories, honest ones. I added my email to my About page, and you may think it’s not much but it’s huge, HUGE, for me. That’s the door opening, a little.

    There are a lot of stories and I want to tell them but I don’t know. About how I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay but not okay. About how I have this book that I love this much but what if no one buys it, and I know I’m not supposed to wrap up my worth in the business of books but knowing something and feeling something are two different things. About how hard it is to be present because when you’re not present you fall on the ground. About letting my anger go when I see silly articles written or just how many men hate women in this world for no reason. About being young and not loving it then when I was in it and making it all pretty and romantic now when I’ve traveled oceans away from it. About hearing people who are 30 complain about being old when all I want to do is stop the clocks and go back and get a do-over because maybe I would have done things differently.

    We tell stories in order to live, and I realize I write and eat and sometimes live like time is running out.

    I take this picture of me in yoga class and I immediately dissect everything that is wrong anatomically with the pose. I think about the ten pounds I’ve left to lose. I show this photograph to my yoga teacher and he smiles and doesn’t see everything I do. He says, you look strong.

    I think about being awake in the car. I think about driving it.

    the avalanche of books (this month’s recommended reads)

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    Over the past two years I’ve managed to whittle down my life to that which is essential. I have what I need and nothing more. I no longer care about investing in exceedingly overpriced designer clothing, rather I buy sensible clothes for work, home and working out. It took some time, and frequent trips to other countries, particularly Southeast Asia, to make me aware of my excessive materialism. Now, my home is relatively sparse with the exception of books.

    I have a problem with books. I like them. A LOT. So much so that I bring home books I’ve found on the street. Every week I’m greeted by a cardboard box from Amazon. When friends move, I stand aside patiently waiting for the moment when I’m allowed trespass to their leftover book collection. At my height, I stored over 3,000 books in my apartment–now I think I have 1,000. No matter how hard I try to refine my collection, there’s always a new book, always something to learn, always a need to discover what I don’t know.

    Don’t you dare talk to me about e-readers or books that don’t have paper (Pft!). You are likely speaking a language I do not understand. I spend most of my days in front of a computer screen. I equate computers with work or getting things done, and no, no, I don’t want to relegate books to that lot. Books are pleasure. Books must be accompanied by popcorn and feet tucked under blankets. Books are better than work.

    But truth be told, I’m getting a little anxious when I see the towers looming, and I’ve decided to do a mini clean-out this weekend of books I haven’t read in over a year. Pray for my strength amidst all the hardcovers.

    This month’s lot is an exciting one, a combination of street finds, recommendations from friends, and books I’ve discovered through my Twitter feed. Right now I’m thick in Marilynne Robinson’s prequel to Gilead, Lila, and it’s nothing short of remarkable. I only dream that my writing will one day have Robinson’s quiet strength, that steadfast precision.

    Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me might be the first true crime book I’ve owned and I’m SO EXCITED to read it. My hairstylist, Sarah, and I always talk about books; we’re always trading recommendations. Sarah’s one of the few who agree with my belief that Zadie Smith is a far better essayist than novelist (I did order NW, as that’s the only Smith novel I haven’t read), so there’s trust there. Last week I was telling her about my novel, how I’ve become fixated with the dual nature of sociopaths, and she immediately recommended Rule’s book. Rule spent two years working with Ted Bundy at a suicide crisis hotline, and she would correspond with him until his execution for having murdered 40 women. I’d no idea that Bundy, a man who was described by Rule as “sensitive,” counseled people into not taking their own life (the irony!). This striking dichotomy of self got me excited so I ordered the book immediately. I’m actually making myself move through Lila so I can get to this.

    The Rule book promises to be a swift read, so I’ll tackle NW next. The same day I got the Rule recommendation, I scanned Twitter to discover that Sheila Heti (!!!) and Heidi Julavits collaborated on an edited collection of essays, Women in Clothes. Candidly, I was trepidatious, especially after having read Worn Stories, short essays that stood beautifully on their own but grew tiresome in a collection that could have used a heavier editorial hand (as well as a narrative arc). However, I have much admiration for Heti (an extraordinary writer) and Julavits (author + Believer editor), so I’m excited to dive in.

    Finally, I found two books on the street and immediately I scooped them up: Sherman Alexi’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (so hilarious, witty and well-written) and Teresa Carpenter’s New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. Part of me wishes I could keep a diary (I guess this blog is one of sorts, albeit edited for television), so I was intrigued by this exhaustively-researched tome filled with diary entries from Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and other literary heavyweights on being in, or traveling through, New York.

    Suffice it to say, I’ve got a BUSY month ahead of me. What are you reading?