I don’t hate hot yoga; who am I?

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I’m buying a few peach tops–I thought I should warn you, I text one of my closest friends. This is huge because I mostly wear black and blue, the color of bruises. I’m grateful for technology since it has a way of bringing people whom I love, people who are thousands of miles away, into my home. Even though much of my professional life revolves around digital marketing, I’ve shied away from the tools. Rarely do I Skype or Facetime–I’m old school: I like to see you in front of my face or behind a chat screen. But living in Los Angeles has made that tricky. I can no longer board a subway into Manhattan. I can no longer ride the elevator up. I can no longer collapse onto my friend’s couch and sigh, you don’t even know the fucking day I had. You take that for granted–the small space you occupy with the ones you love. This week I thought about my friends’ homes, how they’ve arranged their furniture, the pictures they’ve placed in frames, the perfume they wear. I think about their hair and how they’ve curled it, or piled it in a bun, or I can’t even be bothered, you know what I mean? I play back the last month of goodbyes–all the tight hugs and faces buried into hair–and I hurt.

It’s been hard coming to this space because I don’t know what to say. I’ve lived a month without furniture and my neck aches from sleeping on an air mattress. A small part of me likes the sparseness of my home and I dread cutting up 49 boxes when my furniture finally arrives this week. Part of me wants to keep the books and toss the rest. It’s hard because I’m shocked by how much I don’t miss New York, but I ache for my father (who, as of late, has been sending me pictures from when we were young), my friends. I’m adjusting to the fact that I can’t find my favorite seltzer in stores, the water tastes tinny, and sometimes girls walk around in bikinis even though we live by the beach but are not on the beach, and I guess it’s cool but it takes getting used to. I’m growing accustomed to making small talk that is less perfunctory and more genuine. I go on a slew of first friend dates, which gives me mild terror (what if I’m too weird? what if they don’t like me?), but I know I have to do this. This is part of the work. This is part of letting people in. This is what it means to build a tribe.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve started a consuming month-long work project, which happened to land the day I received my book contract. So there’s me moving from marketing to murderers over a course of a weekend. At least I’ve a cute, furry editor. Personal pizzas the size of two palms (why is all the yummy food made in miniature?!) can be an effective salve–especially on a day when you have to do So. Much. Work. and your attention gets diverted by some fat-shaming Youtuber, who forgot the laws of basic human decency: don’t humiliate people (marginalized or otherwise) for sport. One can be funny without having to kick someone in the face a few hundred times (also: watch this because we’re all human and let’s try to remember that) /digression

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Whenever I feel in the middle of things, I come back to the mat. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for over thirteen years. I’ve practiced hung over, high, depressed, heartbroken, jubilant, excited, proud and strong. I started practicing when I was an alcoholic trying to get over a coke problem. I continued practicing when I fell in love and brought the man I loved on the mat and our love became the distance between our two bodies. I continued the first few weeks of sobriety when it felt as if the volume on everything got turned all the way up and everything hurt. I continued through love, loss and everything in between. I’ve done hatha, kundalini, vinyasa, ashtanga, anusara (when it wasn’t a dirty word), and Iyengar. I practiced when I was a negative integer and when I was forty pounds overweight, body riddled with burning hives. I fell in love with a practice that acknowledged and celebrated everything that anatomically wrong with me (my uneven arms, which render some poses impossible, while others require the use of a block to balance me out).

The only way to get around pain is to go through it. You have to breathe through discomfort, the dark spaces.

When I first landed in Santa Monica, I walked around with a map on my phone. If I could get a sense of coordinates, if I could the work the angles, I wouldn’t feel so unsettled. But more than that, I wanted to practice. It’d been months since I’ve been on the mat because I’d become obsessed with spinning and the megaformer in the last few months I lived in New York. So I had to accept that I needed to be patient–my body wasn’t going to immediately assume all of its former shapes.

I’m still working my way through the yoga studios in Santa Monica; I’ve enrolled in ClassPass for a month so I can scour the Westside with little risk. I’m still trying to find my studio, my energy, my tribe, and that’s hard. Some studios are great but they’re not so focused on alignment. Other studios aren’t my vibe, reminding me of gyms. I’m about to hit up some spots in Venice next week, but I found one place that surprised me.

Sweat Yoga.

If you asked me a year ago if I’d roll up to a hot yoga class I would’ve countered, are you high? I’d often (and erroneously) confuse hot yoga with the cult of Bikram, and all the unseemly, and downright disturbing, associations. However, the reviews of Sweat Yoga were formidable, and I signed up for a class, downed a gallon of water, didn’t eat for two hours before class (okay, that was really hard), and hoped for the best. I already planned to lay my mat next to the door in the event I needed to run.

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Luckily, I did not die. I even went back for seconds.

What you notice about Sweat when you enter the studio is the energy. The front desk staff are genuinely helpful and effusive (I practiced at a few other studios this week where people didn’t even look up from the computer screen as they handed me a clipboard with a waiver). The space is drenched in light and smells of lavender. The bathrooms are impeccable and stocked with organic products. More importantly, the teachers are the real deal. I recommend coming early to class so you can meet the instructor, share your yoga history and any injuries, and get used to the heat. It took me a good ten minutes to adjust to the 102 temp in the room, but then it felt like a normal packed yoga class in New York. However, in the few classes I’ve taken at Sweat, the classes aren’t packed and there’s a fair amount of space between mats. Over the course of an hour, the teachers take you through a series of poses, focusing both on alignment and the need for everyone to go at your own pace. Modifications are routinely given to dial up and down poses, and for the first few classes I had to come down and rest just to get adjusted to the heat. I also loved the music and how it’s used as a vehicle for those who want to explore the depths of their practice.

Based on some of the reviews I can see how the structure of the class might not be for everyone–especially for newbies or those who want a rigorous, coordinated flow. Will Sweat be my main jam? Probably not. However, it’s a nice respite for those like me who are Type A and sometimes need a break. The space is a sweet juxtaposition to the more formalized yoga classes I crave, and while it may seem minor to you, taking this class was HUGE for me because I’m slowly doing things that are far out of my comfort zone.

It’s okay if I meet new people and we don’t hit it off. Odds are, we will. It’s okay if I walk into a studio and I don’t like the vibe (at least I tried it). It’s okay to miss my friends (we’ll always have Facetime). And it’s perfectly fine to fall in love with Los Angeles, even if I was born in New York.

what we talk about when we talk about good food: munchery

munchery meal delivery service

Years ago, I worshipped at the altar of Seamless Web. Back then I was an equity partner in an agency, working 12-16 hour days, and I’d spend most days in airless conference rooms, on a plane, or tethered to my desk. Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t see daylight, and it had become commonplace to order all of my meals online. When you’re in the midst of frenzy, the last thing you’re thinking about is nutrition. All you want is the comfort you’re not finding in your life. So I’d order an egg sandwich or pancakes for breakfast, pasta for lunch and noodles for dinner and there came a point when my doctor confronted me and told me that I was on the road to diabetes. My insulin levels were that high. My dentist was apoplectic–How did you get seven cavities in one year? WHAT ARE YOU EATING? I was forever exhausted, depleted and sluggish. Over the course of three years I’d gained 40 pounds, and it was only when I could no longer endure retching stomach pain, when I got fed up with my clothes tearing apart at the seams, and my doctors expressed true alarm over my health, did I make a change.

It’s been nearly a year since I first met with Dana James, who sincerely changed (and saved) my life. Words can’t express the magnitude of my gratitude, how she’s empowered me to see the connection between what I put in my body and how I feel physically, emotionally. I’d spent the greater part of my life at war with my body, starving it, hating it, shoveling garbage into it, and over the course of our work I started to recognize that health isn’t a size or a number on a scale. Health is about making conscious choices on how you manage your life. I’m a pragmatist so I realize the pile of cliches I’m feeding you, but it took me months to realize that my weight gain and sickness were a direct result of my inability to manage stress in my job and an overall dissatisfaction with my life. Take that, and add in a predilection for addiction (give me time and I’ll get hooked on ANYTHING), and there goes my health and wellbeing, crumbling before me.

Believe me when I say that I like my anaesthetics. I’m wired such that I deal with stressful situations by turning to things that dull and numb them. This has been my practice for most of my life (insert alcohol and drug addictions), and I had no idea that I’d replaced booze and blow with carbs and cheese. I’d seamlessly moved from one addiction to another without even recognizing it.

I’m grateful to Dana, who’s also a behavioral psychologist and addiction specialist, for teaching me how to rewire my behavior. Instead of reaching for that which soothes the pain, I now confront the source of the pain and make steps to avoid it, where possible. I draft contracts and take on clients in a way that works for me and my need to have complete solitude. I need that time for regeneration or I’ll get panicked and enter a stress cycle. I make sure that I stock my fridge and cabinets with healthy foods and that I skimp on other areas of my life to focus on healthy eating.

For most of the week, I prepare my meals at home, but there are a few days a week when I am in all-day meetings and conference calls. Come nightfall, I’m catatonic, and the only thing I want to do is watch a movie, play with my cat or scroll Twitter. No way do I want to be in the kitchen washing and chopping greens.

Way back when I read a post on Hitha’s blog on Munchery, an affordable, healthy meal delivery service in New York. At the time, Munchery* didn’t service Brooklyn, so I signed up for availability notifications. Recently, they sent me a note, offered me a free meal for signing up for their mailing list, and I’ve since purchased (and enjoyed!) two meals.

Each meal is prepared by a resident chef, and the ingredients are fresh, delicious and locally sourced. What I love about Munchery is the price (meals range from $9.99-$15), transparent nutritional information (each meal has a complete breakdown of ingredients, nutritional and allergen info), the convenience (I order for same-day delivery and I even get texts to let me know my meals are on their way), and the taste (my meals were flavorful, perfectly cooked and plated beautifully).

Part of me wishes I can smuggle this service to California because I can’t get over the quality of the food for the price. What a find!!

*As you know I don’t collaborate with brands for any reason, at any time. This blog is my hobby, not my business, and I only write about things I love and have paid for with my hard-earned money. The link above is part of their referral program (kind of like Gilt), where I get $ towards future meal purchases when people sign up. If that’s not your bag, simply go to Munchery.com and live your healthy life. 🙂

Yes, that's Felix stalking my meal. Luckily, I snatched my plate away before he could dive in, paws first. SIGH.
Yes, that’s Felix stalking my meal. Luckily, I snatched my plate away before he could dive in, paws first. SIGH.

grilled halloumi with strawberries + herbs

grilled haloumi with strawberries + herbs

Nine months and a handful of days (give or take), and here’s me giving birth to a plate of halloumi covered in macerated fruit. We’ve come a long way baby from the days when I thought it logical to douse everything in cheese, and after nine months of keeping gluten and dairy in exile, I’m able to enjoy both again, albeit sparingly. And by sparingly I mean I can only have gluten or dairy every two weeks. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in for a second.

Last week I risked it, got cocky, had cheese on my burger and a bite of a tart, and I ended up breaking out in hives. That night I fell asleep with steroid cream slathered on my arms.

Good times, people. Good times.

The good news is that I’m no longer addicted to carbs. Gone are the pasta and muffin cravings, and I finally understand the joy in eating wonderful, diverse food. My journey was never about weight or fitting into a certain size or getting that “summer beach body” (brief aside: it takes everything in me not to punch people who serve up this garbage as gospel), it was about how I felt and functioned. It was about sleeping the sleep of children. It was about coming to my workouts energized and strong. It was about falling in love with my body and everything I put in it. Your body is your house, and do you want to spend your whole life stripping the floors and stuffing it with trash off the street? No, you want to care for it the best way you know how. For me, that was eating the rainbow and enjoying a mostly plant-based diet.

Over the past nine months I’ve fallen in love with flavors and cuisines I’d previously ignored because why bother when there’s a box of pasta in the cabinet and pesto in the fridge? Dinner in 10 minutes flat. Yet, I was never full. Yet I was always sluggish and tired and forgetful. Now I grate cauliflower and saute it with coconut oil. Now I roast chickpeas and cover them in a mustard sauce. Now I eat a beet burger from Sakara, and think, holy shit, this is actually good.

Now I realize that if I have pasta it has to be the good stuff. It has to be homemade and worth the brain fog that will invariably ensue. If I have a croissant, it can’t be the crap kind from the local deli. And my muffins? I’m no longer into the hockey puck of full-butter game. Every time I touch gluten or dairy it has to be worth it.

And can I tell you that this dish was WORTH IT. I love, love, love halloumi, and the sweet berries married with mint really cut the saltiness of the fried cheese. I devoured this along with a salad and felt sated.

It feels good to be healthy, strong and present in my life. It feels good to no longer view a shrunken frame as a badge of honor or something worth fighting for.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Vibrant Food
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 serrano chile, seeds removed if desired, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (8- to 9-ounce) package halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, agave nectar, serrano, and pepper to taste. Toss the strawberries with the dressing and set aside.

Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat and add the 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add the halloumi slices. Cook the cheese for 2 to 3 minutes per side without disturbing, until a deep brown crust forms.

Remove the cheese from the skillet and spoon the strawberry mixture over the slices of cheese. Serve immediately, while the cheese is still warm.

grilled haloumi with strawberries + herbs

tomato chickpea curry with rice

tomato curry chickpea and rice

You guys know that I’ll find any excuse to make the CHICKPEA. Note that at one point this year I had to issue a temporary fatwa on the beloved legume because every time I fall in love with something I tend to become addicted to it, so I had to lay off chickpeas for a while to get my life back on track. Because in no way, shape or form was I going to return to the avocado sensitivity I had for over 10 years–simply because I believed in eating avocado 14 times a day.

Now I enjoy a casual relationship with the avocado, hoovering only one every week.

For those of you who are wondering, I’m still off gluten. It’s been nine months and while I’m technically able to return to the land of bread, for some reason I’m hesitant. Maybe because I have flashbacks of a limited diet that once was, a body that was sluggish, run down, depleted. Maybe I’m still scarred by the literal plague of hives that covered my body this past summer. Or perhaps I’ve discovered new tastes, flavors and textures, that gluten has lost its sheen. I still can’t believe I no longer crave pasta. Sometimes I need to sit in a dark room, alone with this fact.

Over the past few months I took on a fun project, however, the stress from the commute and the long hours in an office had me returning to some bad habits. I was forever snacking on gluten-free garbage. I slathered almond butter on KIND bars (even though I knew KIND bars are the spawn of Satan) and I started to notice vegetables inching out of my diet.

So I made some changes.

Starting next week I’m giving myself a reboot by going on a week’s worth of meals from Sakara Life (yes, the million dollar meal delivery program), but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. (FYI: If you’re keen on ordering from Sakara, click here to get $50 off–and no, I don’t make any money from this–their referral program will basically pay the shipping for my million-dollar meals of which my friends are telling me I’ve no place ordering since I don’t lead a million-dollar lifestyle, so there’s that). I’m also returning to a more consistent workout schedule now that I have a project based in the city, and I’m slowly stepping away from all the baked goods I’ve been making as of late.

After scrolling through some recent posts I thought: WOW, FELICIA. YOU’RE BAKING A LOT. Tough times call for the third person.

That’s the thing about being healthy–it requires vigilance, constant care. I can’t be complacent in thinking that my healthy habits will survive the challenges that come my way, rather I need to be aggressive in course-correcting detours off the road. (Lots of driving metaphors lately…hmm….) When I see the sweet things subsume the savory I have to reign it in a little bit–not all the way, mind you, because one needs balance–and come back to eating the rainbow.

So this is me, sitting on my floor, surrounded by cookbooks and magazines, trying to find delicious meals that go the distance (I tend to have a cook once, eat twice mentality in an effort to save $ and time), and I couldn’t be more pleased to find this insanely tasty (and filling) chickpea curry recipe. The original recipe calls for including steamed kale, however, I had a smaller portion of this coupled with a large spinach and pomegranate salad. Balance.

All about balance. And awareness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Yellow Table, modified slightly
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 14.5oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup basmati rice
1 cup vegetable stock

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Dust with a little salt so the onions sweat instead of burn. Saute until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add all of the spices, stirring constantly for another 1-2 minutes. Add the drained chickpeas and stir until the spice mixture completely coats the beans. And yes, there’s a lot of stirring involved in this recipe. At least you’re not chopping.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, along with the honey, and let the mixture come to a quick boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. While the curry is cooking, make the rice. Bring the rice and stock to a boil and simmer on low, covered, for 10-15 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the cilantro to the curry. When the rice is cooked, add spoonfuls as a base in a small bowl. Cover completely with the delicious curry and you have permission to commence with the weeping. BECAUSE THIS IS SO GOOD. Bless Anna Watson Carl, creator of said recipe.

tomato curry chickpea and rice

Lunch

creamy avocado pasta + a healthy living update

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I’m going to say something that’s rather shocking: I’m no longer in love with pasta. In fact, I’m glad we’ve been on a mini-break. I realize saying that is antithetical to sharing this recipe with you, but bear with me.

I’ve spent the greater part of my adult life in a rapturous relationship with the noodle. If you count the number of recipes on this space over the years (and I have), pasta will far exceed any dish. I’ve made every kind of pesto imaginable; I was the McGyver of spaghetti–you give me a noodle and I’ll find a new way to cook it. I consumed pasta every day, sometimes twice a day (shudders), and when I first met my nutritionist and she asked me about my non-negotiables, what would be the one food I could not live without out, without hesitation I wrote: pasta. My doctor, after reviewing the startling results of a routine blood work, expressed concern about my insulin levels. What are you eating, he asked? Describe a typical day. To which I responded, oatmeal, kale smoothie, or bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner, a light went off and I imagine he could picture all those refined carbohydrates turning into sugar.

It’s been eight months since I started on this journey to living a mindful life, where I’ve abstained from gluten and dairy (and, for a time, a laundry list of other, unrelated foods), and really thought not only about the food I was consuming over the course of day, but also the composition of food on my plate. Setting the weight loss aside (which wasn’t the primary reason for seeking help, the impetus was related to the severe abdominal pain I’d been enduring for over a year, in addition to a host of other ailments), the journey has been both a difficult and auspicious one, and with a diet primarily comprised of vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains, lean proteins, and good fats, keeping up my pasta addiction was impossible.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve found other cruel substitutes (the potato is quite extraordinary as is dark chocolate)–but I’ve gone weeks at a time without even having a gluten-free variation. Because although the new forms of gf pasta are pretty tasty, the best kinds are made with rice and corn, which are not necessarily rock stars in the nutrition department. Often, I’m left unsatiated, and I find myself eating nuts to quell my hunger. I never really noticed this before–the hit that eating a pesto pasta can give you, that momentary feeling of euphoria, before the crash and the desire to eat again all too soon.

In the past month I’ve had small portions of cheese (in Nicaragua), and without realizing, a small bit of gluten (whole wheat flour in a mujadara I’ve been buying, the ingredients of which I only discovered yesterday), and while the flare-ups from this summer have abated I still feel off. I can’t explain it. Even with minor portions I feel bloated, tired and sluggish, and I’m remembering a conversation I had with my nutritionist when she explained that gluten and dairy, moving forward, should be considered treats, indulgences of which I can take part twice a month.

That’s gluten OR dairy two times a month. For the rest of my life. I’m going to let that sink in.

At first I was horrified because I always initially balk at change, but since I’ve had to go around the gluten and dairy business (and gluten-free substitutions for every dish kind of miss the point of being healthy and vegan cheese does not entice me in the least) I’ve discovered so many other foods and flavors that have rocked the casbah.

I’m not even going to talk about the plantain and bean game in Nicaragua without weeping into tissues.

Over the past eight months I’ve had the joy of reintroducing the AVOCADO back into my life. You guys don’t even understand. For nearly 15 years I couldn’t eat avocados because I spent a summer overdosing on them and, as a result, developed a severe allergic reaction whenever I consumed them (similar to how I used to feel eating copious amounts of gluten). This year I slowly incorporated them back into my life, and aside from the glory that is the GUACAMOLE, I’ve been surprised how often I use avocado as a creaming agent. I’ll throw 1/3 of an avocado in my morning smoothie to thicken it. I’ve made a chocolate mousse; that is so strong you won’t even miss the milk. I’ve added it to soups (squash and tomato are favorites) just as I’m about to blitz the mixture in the blender (a nice alternative to cashew cream and you’ll barely taste the avocado, yet reap all of its nutritional benefits), and yesterday I blitzed up a creamy basil pesto.

My god this was GOOD.

I added in twice as much basil from the original recipe and the juice of a whole lemon, which really made this sauce sing. The noodles have a light coating of cream and they’re absolute silk when you stir in some of the reserve pasta water.

And while I LOVED this dish, I was a little hungry (not as ravenous because I had some good fat from the sauce, but still) a couple hours later and hoovered some nuts before I went to bed. But still, this dish is a lovely indulgence without the weight of cream in your system.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Oh She Glows Cookbook with slight modifications.
9 ounces (255 g) uncooked pasta (use gluten-free, if desired)
1 to 2 small cloves garlic, to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
Juice from a medium lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ripe medium avocado, pitted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1 to 2 mL) fine-grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon zest, for serving

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: In a food processor, combine the garlic and basil and pulse to mince.

Add the lemon juice, oil, avocado flesh, and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add another 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta, setting aside 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and place it back in the pot. Add the avocado sauce (and reserve pasta water) and stir until combined. You can gently rewarm the pasta if it has cooled slightly, or simply serve it at room temperature.

Top with lemon zest, pepper, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.

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my journey to a healthier body, from the inside out: hitting the six-month mark

via @frametastic

Do you know what it’s like to regard the once object of your affection with utter repulsion? Yesterday I was in an elevator with a man who carried a bag of MELT grilled cheese sandwiches, and I seriously thought I was going to be sick. He carried the most glorious of cheeses, gruyere, and I could practically taste the butter staining the wax paper. I felt waves of nostalgia and sickness and I had to cover my face with my hat so I could stop smelling that goddamn cheese smell.

Welcome to a life six months free of gluten and dairy.

We can talk about the incredible changes–30 pounds lost (and counting), muscle mass gained, nights of fitful sleep achieved, a fitness challenge victoriously completed, a host of new foods and tastes discovered–but we should also consider the losses. While I’m now able to incorporate certain foods back into my diet (blueberries, sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberries etc), many of the foods for which I once longed have become terrifying strangers. Since my reaction to gluten was so severe, when I’m able to resume a diet of gluten and dairy, I’m only able to have either of those foods ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS, and I need to start with dairy, which is less perilous to my system. However, with the exception of cheese, halloumi and gruyere in particular, I don’t much care for dairy or miss it. And after yesterday’s bout of nausea, I wonder if I can enjoy the foods I once loved without feeling repulsed by them.

Did I tell you that when I have sugary desserts, the sugar tastes like acid? It actually burns. I’ve made several incredible desserts with the highest quality sugar I could find, but that first bite is brutal. Successive bites are less so, but it puts me to thinking about the first time I had Diet Coke after years of not consuming it and having to spit it out in the street. It was that unpleasant. And while I don’t think I’ll have that severe of a reaction to an almond croissant, I know something in me has changed.

I’m now that sort of woman who gets excited about seasoned chickpeas in a kale salad. Exhibit A, below. Try telling me that salad doesn’t look downright GLORIOUS.

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I’m the sort of person who marvels over the fact I sort of like nori. NORI? From a fervent fish-hater? Who knew? Over the past six months, I’ve discovered scores of tastes and flavors I’ve slowly come to love, and I feel as if the journey has only just begun. I’ve also been listening to my body, really listening, and I’ve noticed how sluggish it becomes when I binge on carbs (hello, gluten-free pasta with vegan cream sauce three days in a row, followed by cake) and how my performance during workouts suffer.

Speaking of which, since I’m forever a month early for everything, I spent some time before a recent Brooklyn BodyBurn class chatting up one of the instructors. This instructor has an enviable figure (it’s hard not to notice), and her classes have been one of the hardest I’ve taken, but I was surprised to hear that, up until two years ago, she barely thought of eating to nourish and exercising for strength. Food was an endless foe that had to be conquered, with exercise being one of the many weapons in her arsenal. She juice-cleansed, starved, binged, couched, and it wasn’t until she got into the rhythm of listening to her body and tuning in to what it needed, did she find herself in the best shape of her life.

We’ve heard these stories before, I read them every month in fitness magazines, but it’s good to be reminded that your body is a house worth preserving, not one worth burning to the ground.

I’ve got eight more pounds to lose (my nutritionist would say 13, but in this we disagree), the last stubborn reserves, and I’ve made some slight modifications to my diet (swapping my almond milk cappuccinos for almond milk cortados, eliminating nuts/nut butters for a month) to get rid of the pounds before I go back to maintenance eating, which is still heavily plant-based, but is freeing in the sense that I can increase the carbs and fat since I’m not trying to lose when I hit my goal. Truth be told, I’m taking this all in stride. I feel good and I’m not in a race with the scale. The weight will come off when it needs to and I just need to focus on being present at every meal. And look at the snap above? Does healthy eating look like torture? HARDLY.

Finally, I’ve achieved the unthinkable: I finished my 30-day, self-imposed Brooklyn BodyBurn challenge without dying. Remember how nervous I was when I started? I was sure that I would give up midway through the month, or fall and crack my head open when it snowed this week, but taking pictures of myself at BBB made me oddly accountable to myself. Before every workout, I’d say to myself that I’m going to do the best I can do, and the fact that I showed up matters. The rest, well, is golden.

I did show up for a month, and I got stronger. And while working out on the megaformer will never get easier, it feels good to show up. It feels good to do the thing you never thought you could do. It feels good to crave healthy foods. It feels good to love chickpeas.

It feels good to be golden.

pumpkin, tomato + squash soup

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You have to know that I tossed all of my delicious cherry + raspberry bars in the bin because binge. Because sugar addiction–even when you hardly consume it, even when you do and it tastes acidic–is real. I met with my nutritionist yesterday (yes, on my birthday because masochist), and after reviewing my food diary and my BBB challenge, she delivered some news. The good news is that I’m the strongest I’ve ever been with a great deal of lean muscle (YAY!). I’m finally starting to make a dent in my midsection, and can I just tell you that is the WEAKEST part of my body, and I’ve never felt more endurance in cruel, sixty-minute workouts. So fist pumps and orange kittens for everyone. Until the bad news…

Not really bad, per se, but I’m 8 pounds from my goal weight and the scale is just sitting there, all tra la la, unmovable. After recovering from a holiday spent with someone who was unhinged, it took a while for me to reintroduce positive, warm energy back into my days and eat like a normal person. And while my meals have been fine, just fine, I’m on a maintenance diet (more fat) rather than one that induces weight loss.

So, for the next few weeks, I have to say farewell to coconut peanut butter (this particular loss is palpable, people), nuts (awesome since I JUST spent a pile of $ on herbed cashews), and macaroons (not the sugar, multi-hued gross cookies, rather the lovely chewy coconut delights). I’ve let me veggie game slip a little in favor of fat (fat isn’t bad, btw, we’re just talking about balance here), so for the next few weeks I’m getting vigilant, focused, and I need every ounce of good protein and veg to help me survive my month-long BBB challenge.

But can we talk about this soup and how I couldn’t stop eating it? This soup is on the OK list because it’s packed with nutrients and it completely fills you up. You feel as if you’re consuming a creamy, rich soup, while it’s just great veg and solid carbs. You can serve this solo or fry up some sausage–savoring this luscious dish for DAYS.

INGREDIENTS: From The Paleo Kitchen Cookbook, with slight alterations
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
diced coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (15-ounce/425-gram) can pumpkin puree
1 (15-ounce/425-gram) can squash puree (if you can’t rock squash, you can simply add more pumpkin or more tomato)
1 tsp dried sage
1 (14.5-ounce/411-gram) can diced tomatoes (or fresh, if in season)
2 cups (480 ml) chicken broth
1 tsp cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup (120 ml) full-fat coconut milk
½ cup (60 grams) toasted salted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
1/4 cup organic honey

DIRECTIONS
Heat the coconut oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, squash, sage, tomatoes, chicken broth, nutmeg, and honey and bring to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 30 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and add the coconut milk. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or transfer in small batches to a blender to puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and blend once more. Garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds and serve.

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mission fit or suicide mission?: a month-long brooklyn bodyburn challenge

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I have this habit of falling off of machines. I’ve never been graceful or coordinated (the only exception is yoga, and even that’s a consistent, devoted practice toward an inner calm, an outward quiet). I was once booted out of step class because I couldn’t keep pace with the moves and the rhythm. So you can imagine how I felt when I took my first Brooklyn BodyBurn class last year. I was apoplectic, on the verge of frenzy. I wore my beat-up yoga pants frayed at the edgings while everyone else sported fancy leggings. I heard the rumors that this workout was the hardest in New York (one of the hardest), and that there are no breaks (oh, friends, this woman takes breaks. this woman comes down on her knees if she has to)–perhaps curiosity (read: masochism) lured me in. After I signed in, I remembered that everyone had this sheen, the women were practically phosphorescent with their hair dipped in gold and skin that never seemed to sweat.

And wouldn’t you know, right on cue, as soon as the music swelled and the class started I fell off the side of the machine. The teacher rushed over to me, the newbie, concerned, and I assured her that I was alive and this sort of thing (me falling off machines) is fairly routine.

After, I bought a class pack because I was optimistic that over time the class would somehow get easier or I’d no longer fear impalement by megaformer. While the workout has yet to deliver my untimely demise, let me tell you this woeful piece of information: IT HAS NOT GOTTEN EASIER. I’ve been doing Brooklyn BodyBurn for a year now, and if anything, it’s gotten HARDER. Think of BBB as Pilates riding high on an 8-ball (my review here). You’re working your entire body on a machine that moves constantly. You’re juggling balance, endurance, muscle strength and cardio in a series of slow, isometric moves that will sometimes make you cry instead of sweat. Luckily, everyone’s sweating (that sheen, the women who never sweat? OBVIOUSLY they’d been crying the whole time during mega-plank to pike) and holding on for dear life so no one will notice your own minor tragedy on your moving carriage.

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You’re probably wondering why I continue to return to a workout that gets harder with the passage of each day. Why not just sit on a spin bike and rock out? I love it because there is no defined end–once you master a shape there’s always another place you can take it. Like yoga, no two practices are ever alike, and the work is about turning inward, feeling the depth and movement of our bodies. Because the way you get around pain and stress and sorrow is by breathing through it, and I often find that 55 minutes on the megaformer or 90 minutes in a yoga class take my body and mind places that no other workout can go. On a physical level I have muscles on my arms and back I never knew existed.

Honestly, I feel strong.

I also love the community. From newbies to people like me who’ve been going for a while, we all share the common refrain: let’s just survive the class. People actually smile and talk to one another in the studio. I’m SO INSANELY SHY AROUND NEW PEOPLE (hence I’m always in the corner against the wall) and I’ve managed to make a few friends and more importantly, really admire the strength and the kindness of the teachers. If I want tough love, I know I’ll go to Abby. If I want more of a yogic flow I’ll go to Andrea or Luke. If I want a teddy bear cheerleader I’ll hit up Marcus or Eileen. There’s a teacher for every vibe, and all of them are passionate, experienced and really, really kind.

So…for the folks who have been following my mindful health journey, which is really about eating food that nourishes me and focuses on getting fit and strong, I’m taking on some challenges in 2015 that will keep me stimulated, inspired and challenged. For the next month, I plan to do the unthinkable: I’m taking FOUR Brooklyn BodyBurn classes for a week for a month. I normally take 1-2, so this should end me or inspire me, whichever comes first. I’ll be balancing the intense training with 90 minutes of yoga 1-2 a week, and noting my progress each week with a wrap post and before/after snaps and #s to see how I’m doing when it comes to muscle and health.

Pray for me. Send orange kittens, etc. Actually, wait. I plan on staring at this snap of Felix while I’m doing MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS.

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nine minutes of gratitude (a practice)

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The past month has been a trying one, to say the least. I coped with occupying a space with someone who had toxic energy, the kind of anger that leaves an indelible mark. The experience exhausted me, causing me to further retreat into solitude because I hadn’t the tools to deal with this kind of energy, which felt like an invasion. All the while, I’m in-between projects and feeling the sting of the constant refrain of you’re a brilliant and serious writer, but you’re too dark, too smart, too fill-in-the-blank-adjective-that-implies-your-reading-audience-will-be-small from publishers. As a result, I’ve been moody, introspective, quiet, and blue.

In yoga, there is a word in Sanskrit, spanda, which translates to vibration, heat, the sacred tremor of the heart. I’ve been practicing a form of Iyengar/Anusara yoga for well over a decade and have encountered this word repeatedly in my practice, but it’s only until this week that I feel as if I’ve finally understood its meaning. The notion of pulsation between two states of being (bear with me) between the shapes our bodies can take, whether it be expansion or contraction is something worthy of constant, studied observation. One cannot operate in the extremes. A yoga practice isn’t about rocking out in a handstand or lying supine in savasana, rather it’s about finding balance between feeling the need to retreat and to rock out.

It should be no shock to you that I sometimes operate in the extremes. Years ago I was more of my mother’s daughter and I would rage and scream at everyone in my wake. My words were a wielding knife that would cut and maim, and it took me years to realize that you find no peace by wounding others. However, I oscillated to the other extreme where someone’s hurtful words or actions would cause me to shut down, get cold, retreat. I would excise people as quickly as I’d warmly usher them in, and I’m finding that this extreme delivers little peace, as well.

So I’m looking for the middle. The space that exists between here and there, the space where you can feel both the light and the dark, but not be shuttered by the extreme nature of either state. I’m trying to find love in existing in the middle of the day, the distance between the blue morning and the actinic dark, both spaces which are heartbreakingly familiar. I’m trying to not live out the painting I’ve made for myself where I exist only under the glare of the sun or the cold of the darkness.

This shift is really hard. Like, really hard.

Today I saw my nutritionist for the first time in a month, and I told her about the events of the past month and how they wore me down, how I allowed some bad habits to creep in (popcorn binge, anyone?), and she encouraged me to embark on a daily spiritual practice. I spoke of spanda, but also of svāhā, the art of releasing, of letting go. In fire ceremonies, you shed the superfluous, the darkness, the skin that bears so much weight on your body. And if I’m to embark on a deeply spiritual practice in an effort to use this as a tool for living, then I have to take in the good but also have to learn how to let things go. You find no peace holding on to your anger so hard.

So today starts my daily nine-minute meditation. Every morning I’ll wake to three minutes of movement to a soothing playlist (of which I’ll share shortly) composed of Indian and African rhythms. The next three minutes I’ll say aloud all the small and grand things from which I’m thankful. The final three minutes are for expressing gratitude now for that which has not come to pass. I’ll talk about how humbled I am for all of the future readers of this space. I’ll talk about how I’m excited to have given my heart so freely to someone in my life. I’ll talk about being grateful for have created art that breaks ranks, even if my readership amounts to a number of people I can count on two hands.

Nine minutes, every day, of allowing the light in. At the same time, I have to remind myself to let go. To stop speaking ill of those who have wounded me. To not be as angry that a particular outcome wasn’t what I had anticipated. To learn to play the hand as it lays. To be okay with the fact that extended side crow might not happen on a particular evening, but be grateful that I have a body that can move.

Make no mistake, this practice is intricately bound to what I eat and how I nourish my body. If I start off my day mindfully, I’ll make smart choices and treat my body as it were a house I so assiduously want to make a home. Nine minutes of spanda, of feeling the space between taking in and letting go.

Let’s see how this goes.

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.