my nutritionist answers your food-related questions!

Dana James, Food Coach NYC
Dana James, Food Coach NYC

This year I made a decision to change my life. Tired of feeling sluggish, exhausted, fogged, confused, angry, and sick, I sought out Dana James to help me embark on a mindful health journey, one that required a commitment and presence. I had to confront some challenging aspects of my character (read: a carb addiction, using food as an anesthetic instead of fuel, etc.) in order to get to a place where I FEEL SO DAMN GOOD. Now, I’m present at every meal and I choose foods that nourish instead of deplete me. And I couldn’t be more grateful for Dana for her compassion, honesty and perspective. I’ve written a great deal about my health journey, and I wanted to share some of Dana’s wisdom with you guys. I’ve gathered a bunch of your questions, and she was kind enough to field responses, below. -FS

What are the best snacks that are portable and available on Amazon? Preferably on Prime? Snacks are there to keep the blood sugar levels from dropping too low. Most snacks on amazon (i.e package goods) are too carbohydrate-heavy and thus I don’t recommend them. Instead, eat fresh fruit, drink green juices and snack on raw nuts and seeds. One company on amazon that I like is Go Raw. They have inventive creations like flax crackers and watermelon seeds. Most of their products have less than five ingredients.

I’ve got a question re: pre or post workout snack not involving nuts. I’m a clean eater, but my husband is super allergic to nuts which means I can’t really eat them or have them in the house. Would love nut free suggestions. Unless you’re training for 90 minutes or more, I don’t encourage pre-workout snacks. You’ll burn more fat in a fasted state. For post workout snacks, time your exercise so that it immediately precedes a meal like breakfast, lunch or dinner.

What are her thoughts on the “I Quit Sugar” phenomenon? IQS is a Paleo diet with no fruit. Sarah Wilson has done an amazing job at creating an IQS community and this is extremely helpful when removing sugar from the diet.

How can you “retrain” the body not to crave starch and sugar but still eat them occasionally without throwing progress out the window? This is a big question and I covered it in a video course I created called “How to Ditch Sugar”. The principals apply to sugar or starch. It’s changing what you eat, why you eat, and rebalancing your biochemistry. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s worth the liberation that emanates from mastering this. This link is HERE.

I’d love to learn more about the impact of calories vs. how full you feel. Calories are an archaic measurement of food. They were valid when we believed that our fat cells were simply fat. Now we know that our fat cells are active organs which store not only fat but also produce hormones and inflammatory mediators. This means we want to eat foods that balance cellular inflammation and regulate our hormone levels as well as keep us actively burning fat. Protein paired with plant based foods (think steak with sautéed spinach) will turn on the body’s appetite suppressing hormones as well as decrease inflammation and stimulate fat loss.

How do I figure out false positives on my Alcat? I am working with a naturopathic doctor for my food sensitivities but do to cost of visits I have to spread them out. From my experience false positive include black pepper, vanilla and garlic. The mild can be completely ignored unless you know you are a sensitive to a food on that list. If you have lots of sensitivities it’s more likely you have “leaky gut” and the key is to repair the lining of the GI tract and not stress about taking out all of the foods that presented themselves. I suggest removing anything in blue and red and pick and choose from the orange column.

What are some easy changes I can make to my diet? Also what are done food dinner options? I don’t like to cook and dinner is the meal I eat too much or nothing. Think about assembling your dinner not cooking it. That means tossing together an arugula salad with cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and poached eggs or making a spinach salad with grated carrots, beets, sunflower seeds and Rotisserie chicken. Very quick options. All you need to do is commit to nourishing your body and having the foods available.

chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.

Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.

So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:

Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.

It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.

So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled

For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.

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for the love of snacks

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Leaving a country where I feasted on sticky mangoes, seasoned tofu, charred chicken, and rice soaked in coconut milk was challenging in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Although parts of my recent holiday revealed stresses of which I hadn’t anticipated, it was still easy to make mindful choices when it came to food. Fresh fruit and vegetables were abundant, gluten and dairy were virtually non-existent, and when given the opportunity, choosing to indulge in coconut ice cream rather than a slice of sheetcake, seemed like the obvious thing to do. Every meal felt like a celebration (especially since our remote hotel was intent on not feeding us), and I didn’t have the triggers that would normally have me pining for crumb cake or slippery noodles drenched in pesto sauce.

And then I came home to a chill that settled into your skin and remained there. The days were mostly filled with rain and dark, and I vacillated between a hectic work schedule and checking in with my father on his upcoming surgery–all the while attempting to recover from jetlag. I’d envisioned that this Thai holiday would give me clarity, deliver me the kind of solitude that would allow me to make some important decisions about my life, what’s next, and the like, but my holiday wasn’t as peaceful as I would have it, and part of my recovery in New York was, ironically, recovering from my vacation. What I’d left still remained and the two weeks exhausted me. I had no desire to cook. I cancelled appointments. All I wanted to do was recede, sleep. As a result of this abbreviated hibernation, I became less present when it came to what I consumed and I found myself cleaving to potatoes and rice like it was the apocalypse. I started drinking soy coffees again, and yesterday, before a meeting, I had a bite of homemade crumb cake and proceeded to endure the inevitable itch for the rest of the afternoon. My beloved vibrant fruits and legumes had been replaced by root vegetables and I looked my plate and then looked at my photographs, and all I wanted to do was return to Thailand and start over.

It was only until this morning when I felt some semblance of normal. When I returned to macro bowls filled with cabbage, brown rice, kale, nori, beans, roasted carrots and squash. When I wandered the aisles of Whole Foods after a morning spent with a dear friend, and finding delight in having discovered herbed roasted cashews. When I finally tried kelp. When I finally ate something new (something once abhorred) to the point where I started to crave seaweed in salads. This is HUGE because I associate seaweed with FISH and I hate fish–not as much as the wretched MUSHROOM, but damn near close. Today I felt the need to replenish my snacks instead of eating sliced sausage and roasted chickpeas, and need I remind you that I had to issue a chickpea fatwa some time ago because I’d become addicted to the legume.

Snacks keep me sane, and I try to eat whole foods as much as I possible can. Snacks are my bridge between meals and I try to mix up my options so I’m never bored. I always carry apples and nuts in my bag (because you never know when you’ll be stuck underground for 45 minutes on your way home from work and hunger invariably strikes). I also stockpile on sugar-free dried fruit (read the labels. If something had multisyllabic ingredients, RUN), EVOlution or Go Raw bars, cut vegetables and hummus, and leftovers from meals (small portion of butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds). I’ve even purchased mini eco-friendly glass containers where I’ll store leftover, portioned eats for the following day.

In the midst of madness, I’m making my focal point, my place of calm, mindful eating–a source of strength and calm that will hopefully take me through the frenzy that are the holidays.

butternut squash + coconut soup with crumbled sweet sausage

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I live in a world where Charlie Manson gets married. I live in a world where a woman tries to “break the internet” by choosing to remove her clothes. Our clamour smothers the world’s collective sorrow, drowns out the massive achievements so many other women make. I live in a world where ISIS buys and sells girls as if it’s another day at the market. I live in a country where some people don’t own a passport, and have no wish to see beyond what they know. I live in a world where people prefer to live in a perpetual darkness but they resist the very thing they seek when it’s presented to them. I live in a world where people tell me I’m lucky when I’ve spent most of my childhood mothering my mother and my adult life working for every single thing I own. Luck? Huh. I live in a country where people tell me I should write a book and I laugh and say dark isn’t for sale, kids. What’s fresh in the market today? YouTube stars, people who can’t string a sentence together but they’ve got that blog, their audience and pockets flush with Reward Style affiliate money. Because everyone’s in the business of dealing. Who wants art when you can profit off your personal brand? This is the world.

And I choose to eat soup.

INGREDIENTS: Serves 4
2 lbs of butternut squash, chopped into cubes
Olive oil, salt and pepper
2 tbsp. coconut oil
3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 lb sweet sausage, casings removed

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Add the squash, olive oil (just enough to coat the squash), salt and pepper to a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, turning the squash around midway through so all sides are browned and even. Remove the sheet and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large pot on medium heat, add the coconut oil, shallots, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions are slightly translucent. Add the squash and toss to coat. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk.

Using an immersion blender or Vitamix, blitz the soup until smooth. Allow to simmer on the stove on low while you cook the sausage.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Allow to cook for 4-5 minutes and then stir the sausage in the pan until all sides are browned.

Add sausage to the soup + CHOW DOWN!

coconut pancakes + falling out of love with new york

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This is the New York I know: wrenching johnny pumps in the summer because who could afford air conditioning? (white people) We felt cool and slicked as our denim shorts and dollar-store t-shirts clung to our skin. We feasted on hot dogs and icy in Sunset Park, and swam from one side of the 16-foot pool to the other. In the pool, the boys were in the business of acquisition with their cat-calls of shorty, sexy, and dame lengue. What am I, a lizard? My tongue isn’t something I’d willingly give. New York was about flashing old bus passes when you cut class and forgot to pick up the new ones, and getting kicked off the bus because this month’s color was blue and you were still rolling with yellow. We hopped and crawled under the turnstiles because who was stupid enough to buy tokens for the subway? (white people) Come nightfall, we’d inch home and settle on the stoop while mothers braided hair, boys sipped on Colt45 out of brown paper bags and everyone was in the business of dealing. Everyone was working their after-school, after-second-job hustle. Back then, everyone had a plan. Back then, you were prosperous if you owned a color TV with a remote control. Because who could afford cable? (white people) Back then, you made friends with their girls whose mothers made the best rice. You hoped you’d be invited for dinner. You hoped you’d have to bring one of the chairs from the living room and plant it on the linoleum floor. Back then, everyone made room. Everyone ate with their elbows on the table.

The city? WHAT???!!! When you lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan was a whole other country. Uncharted territory, you’d need a compass and map to navigate it. We rode the elevated trains into the city and gawked at the people uptown (white people) and found our home downtown. Back then, you didn’t venture below Avenue A unless you rolled right (translation: didn’t roll white), and we trolled Broadway and hit Unique, Antique Boutique and pawed the spray-painted and sequined denim jackets we couldn’t afford. Boys dressed like girls, yellow cabs, hot pretzel carts and shopping bags–what an unreal city! I had not thought death had undone so many, wrote Eliot. The city glinted–someone in the neighborhood once told us that the sidewalks were paved with glass so we winced and closed our eyes so we wouldn’t be blinded by the glare. The city was clean even with the peepshows and pimps in Times Square, before Dinkins, before Giuliani, before the postage stamp of land in the 40s would transform into Disneyland for the peanut-crunching lot. The city was cleaner from where we’d come. Everyone knew whether you were from Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens (I can’t tell you how we knew, we just did. I do remember someone asking me if I was Puerto Rican from Brooklyn because I wore red lipstick, but right now it’s been too long to remember how we knew), and we’d observe the hierarchy as our tribes wove the streets amidst the “city kids” — a mixture of LES Puerto Ricans and the rich kids who wanted to pass, who scored for tricks, and tried to roll with the poor kids for fun.

Quite frankly, the city was exhausting, and we were glad to come home although we’d never admit it.

When someone moved, we talked about it for months because no one was supposed to leave. Your whole world was reduced to a mile surrounding the block in which you lived. You had your church for those who wanted so desperately to believe; you had your Carvel, Gino’s Pizza and the Italian bakeries on 13th Avenue and in Bensonhurst; you had the boardwalk in Coney Island and the hot sun in Brighton Beach (although, if given the choice, we’d always choose Coney Island and Nathan’s Famous–a treat!); you had your C-Town supermarkets, your bodegas. You had your cemeteries, funeral parlors, parks, and drug dealers–and know that I’ve included all of these places, in this order, deliberately. Because back then what more did you need? (white people’s flights of fancy)

What I loved about growing up in New York was the smallness of it. Contrary to what the tourists and the people who’ve lived here for ten years (Who made up that rule that if you lived here for ten years you were automatically a New Yorker? Someone who didn’t grow up in New York, obviously) would have it, your whole world was in your neighborhood, and unless work or school took you somewhere else, the notion of leaving was unimaginable. I lived in Brooklyn for the first twelve years of my life and I never once set foot in Williamsburg. You had your tribe, and although I moved a great deal and attended a fancy college, everyone I knew until the age of 19 mostly hailed from New York.

Back then, no one thought of New York as a cupcake, an oft-quoted episode of Sex and the City, home to SoulCycle and drunks who brunch. Back then, no one personified New York (Oh, New York. You’re killing me!–Are you fucking kidding me with this syrupy stuff from romance novels?)–New York was the place in which we lived. We described it based on the people we knew and the places we loved, but not as a real person to whom we would speak or invite to shoulder our sorrow and grief. We were snobby, true, but not about those things. Mostly we complained about the subways, and the anger we felt when we discovered the places we loved shuttered, replaced by new places. Glinting places. Expensive places.

What I’ve grown to hate about New York is the largeness of it. What I’ve grown to hate about New York is memory. Things have moved around like pieces on a chessboard, and I’ll find myself in neighborhoods feeling lost. This used to be here. That used to be there. I suppose everyone who has come before me feels that too, although these mounting losses feel palpable. Everyone’s moved away and meeting someone who has grown up in New York is now a novelty when it used to be the norm. The rampant materialism, which I’m sure existed when I was small but wasn’t as exposed to it, is subsuming. Everything’s loud, everyone’s busy and the subway ride back to Brooklyn feels less comforting than it used to.

Maybe this is what happens when you grow older. You start complaining about everything. I acknowledge that.

Or maybe I’m just tired of living here. But this is home. This is all I’ve ever known. I went to college and graduate school here. I know most neighborhoods. I can make my way. I don’t have to drive. And although this place feels less familiar, it’s more familiar than any other place, I suppose. But do I stay because of the familiar? Do I leave because of the unheimlich? I find myself wondering why I work so hard each quarter to save up enough money to flee the country. I wonder about lots of things.

My return from Thailand this week was difficult. Returning from the glaring sun to the unwelcomed dark was almost too much to bear. I’ve only just recovered from jetlag, but I miss the the space in Thailand (ironic when there’s 12 million people in Bangkok compared to New York’s 8), the warmth, the quiet I was able to cultivate. And while you say, can’t you cultivate that same sort of quiet here, much like these pancakes you’ve recreated from your Thai holiday, I’ll say that I’ve tried and tried and the constant trying is what exhausts me.

I don’t know what this all means, which is to say that I don’t know if I’ll move away anytime soon or if I’ll be able to find my quiet and light in a place that feels like strange, unfamiliar, with the passing of each day. I miss my tribe. I miss how my home used to make me feel.

For now, I’ll have my coconut pancakes and warm home and keep writing my way out, to what’s next.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Foodie Fiasco
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp coconut flour
1 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp coconut manna (purified coconut)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen’s Coconut Milk)–make sure you stir the milk (as the ingredients will separate in the can) before you add to the batter)
pinch of salt

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, manna, baking powder/salt until completely combined. Coconut palm sugar tends to be gritty and the manna has a thick consistency, so you want to completely pulverize them. Add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract, almond and coconut milks and beat for a good minute on medium. To activate the coconut flour, you need to beat the mixture for longer than you think (don’t worry, you’re not rolling with gluten, so you won’t get hardened discs for pancakes). The mixture should be incredibly thick.

In a large greased pan (I melted some coconut oil), add a 1/4 cup mixture (to make large-ish silver dollar pancakes), making sure you have an inch between the cakes. Cook on one side for a minute or until the top starts to bubble a bit and the edges crisp and flip (gently!) to cook on the other side.

Serve with maple syrup, fruit and nuts!

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when you’re not eating rationed food at my hotel, food in phuket is GLORIOUS

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As I’ve mentioned previously, the chefs in my hotel are intent on reminding me of the eight pounds I need to lose. For lunch, I was greeted with two ounces of grilled chicken and six French fries in a thimble (you better believe I counted them). While I waited for the rest of my food to arrive–I might as well have been waiting for Godot–my friends and I grew flabbergasted over the fact that every meal, while delicious, is meant for residents of the Barbie Dream House.

Have I mentioned that I require copious amounts of protein and a rainbow of vegetables at every meal?

When you’re not eating at my hotel, food in Phuket is GLORIOUS. Since we’re close to sea fish is plentiful and my friends feasted on crab, shrimp and lobster while I inhaled grilled chicken, sticky rice and mango, noodles that texture of silk and my weight in watermelon. Fruit smoothies are the staple in Thailand, and in Phuket Town you’ll find no shortage of shops and carts that will serve up a blender mixture of fresh fruit, ice and simple syrup alongside grilled meats and fish. Here you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetables free of GMOs and egg yolks that are so rich and yellow they’re practically phosphorescent. And when you’re not feasting on rounds of fluffed rice and juicy crab, you’re clearly buying BAGS OF DRIED COCONUT, JACKFRUIT AND MANGO, because you are. And if you’ve never heard of jackfruit, please revisit my slew of S.E. Asia posts in 2012 which attest to its greatness.

Thailand is a gluten- and dairy-free paradise. Menus are filled with noodles made of rice flour, rice, vegetables and fresh fish and lean protein. The only danger is the soy sauce, however, soy isn’t a mainstay in most Thai dishes. With the exception of my hotel breakfast, which offers toast, muffins, croissants and all the things a woman can’t consume, Phuket is rife with insanely affordable, delicious eats.

I’m going to try to hit the markets and a few more restaurants before I leave so I can share my must-chow list.

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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: what’s next…

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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 what’s next. And candidly, I’m not too sure what that is.

Right now it’s evening in Seoul and my friend tells me that she expected something different, something else. We’d travel fourteen hours on a plane and it’s as if we’re back in New York with its illuminated shops and iPhone cases in the shape of ferocious animals. My other friend bids us leave, opting to roam the streets and alleyways of the city where the scent of fried chicken, bone broth and perfume hangs heavy. Even though the sky is painted black, it feels very much like afternoon here–the streets are packed with kids tapping on their phones and everyone feels as if they’ve just woken up. As if the day is new to them, while I stand in the middle of it, jetlagged, exhausted.

Caught in the betweens.

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I spent the better part of my plane ride sleeping and the other thick in the business of self-reflection. There are things I want to talk about but I can’t talk about them online and somehow it hasn’t been enough to share them, even with my closest friends, in “real life.” Exquisite, remarkable, astounding but too dark, they say. Relentlessly so. I have to shake my head and say, no, you haven’t even see dark. I haven’t shown you dark; I’ve given you light. You just can’t see it. Waiting for one person to see it.

A memory: When I was in high school, I always placed second in writing contests. Invariably, this one girl, ES, would win. She beat me in clarinet because her notes were precise while I was creative and sloppy and she won all of the awards because her stories were tidy. They were the kind of stories moms were proud to read in PTA newsletters, while mine were the sort that got me sent to the guidance counselor’s office. I remember one year when a teacher (who’d been a judge) pulled me aside and said that my story was supposed to win, but how could they give an award for a story so dark? About a girl who hung herself, and I realized then that I was getting punished for writing about the places people didn’t want to go.

Years later I traded emails with ES, who told me that she always felt like a fraud getting those awards. When I pressed her on it, she said, because it was obvious that you were always better. You just scared people. What you write unnerves people. I imagine that you still do.

This is how I feel right now. Sleepless in Seoul.

What this food journey has been for me is a way to shed that last vestige of feeling anesthetized. Food has this beguiling way of making you feel as if it understoods; it’s the friend who will never leave. They’re one of the cruelest of attachments, and we tend to give part of ourselves to the thing that we’re consuming in hopes that what you eat will somehow, someway devour the pain. You say to yourself, I have this pain and I don’t know where to put it. Where do you put pain? Do you put it in a box and lock it away? No, it’s easier to bury it in a plate of pasta. To hide it neatly in the folds of a butter croissant. But what you don’t realize (until perhaps too late) is that when one pain disappears another bolder one takes its place. My stress was replaced by a physical sickness and while I’ve battled the last vestiges of deliberately self-medicating myself through food, it leaves me in a tricky spot of having to see the pain, the heartbreak and disappointment on the horizon (the wise rises, warbles light a note held for too long and then descends like plague), and I have to weather it. I have to play every hand as it lays even if there are multiple games on the table.

Now that I’m present physically, mentally, emotionally, now where there’s nowhere to hide, I’m forced to sit with myself and ask myself the questions I’d been artfully evading. I’m nearly 39 and I’m still unclear what it is that I’m doing with my life.

Here’s what I know. I know I’ve made a deliberate choice not to be a mother because I think there are other ways you can mother and mend without reproduction. I know I can’t be tethered to a desk five days a week for the remaining 40 years of my life. I know that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I’m meant to do it. I know that the people with whom I surround myself are greater than the work I’m tasked to do. I know I want to feel unsettled at the start of every project. I know I want to say no regrets, no regrets, and mean it. I know I need to stop being angry watching younger women making oceans of money by posting photos of them in their finery. I know the thing that brings me the greatest joy is writing.

Some of my writing is dark, true, but dark is relative. Dark is necessary, Dante once remarked, in order for us to be engulfed in light. One has to travel to hell to reach paradise but no one wants to know about the train you took, whom you met along the way, they just want you to cue angels and gossamer curtains and billowing robes. They want to hear about the pay-off, the destination, the ending. They want to hear that I’m clean and sober but they don’t want the details. They want to say I’m this remarkable writer but they don’t want to settle into my work. They want to pay people vast sums of money for their “writing”– these are people who can barely string together a sentence–but me, me, can you write this for free?

Presence and the clarity that comes from being this healthy (these constructs are not mutually exclusive) has given birth to an interesting idea. One that merges type, image, voice. A form that combines podcast, blog, photography and sound. A new one way to tell the story in the event the motley lot won’t fall in love with the ones I’m already telling.

I’ve made a very risky financial decision to leave one of my corporate projects in November to spend this trip and the month of December trying to figure out my life. I miss love, feeling wrapped all up in it. I miss the start of new projects and the failures and tiny victories along the way. I miss meeting some new people. I just wish every decision I made wasn’t tethered to rent and student loan payments. I hate that I’ve spent my whole life making decisions that rely on the kind of income I bring in.

What I’ve learned on this food journey? There are a lot of fucking bandaids coming off and this is A LOT for me to handle right now. A lot of good. A lot of confusion. A minor disturbance in one place, so bear with me as I try to breathe it out. What you can count on is more of this. Longer posts, further introspection, pictures of friends (when they’ll allow me to share them as I’m fiercely protective of the men I date and my friends and their private lives), my stories and the stories of others along the way.

What’s next? Fuck if I know. I’ll be 39 next month and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still looking for a few people who can see my vision.

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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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    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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