Sunday, February 10, 2013


1. I just did some laundry, wiped out the microwave with a sponge, and thoroughly cleaned the fridge. I'm feeling quite accomplished in the domestic department.

2. My son has been talking nonstop for the last two hours. Topics of the day include Angry Birds, iPad drawing programs, and robots. It's gratifying and amusing. And tiring. Occasionally I duck into the bathroom for a break.

3. I went to the symphony last night with a friend. We had wine and dinner at her place and then hopped a cab to the orchestra hall. It was beautiful: the music, the lighting and the way the space shaped the sound. It was also kind of challenging. I haven't been to the symphony in years; It was fun to try something outside my normal weekend activities (which are basically sleeping, eating, and working out).

4. I'm doing a three-stage trail race in April! It's the War at Windrock near Knoxville, TN. It starts with a four-mile run in the morning, a longer uphill run in the afternoon, and a 20-miler the next day.
I'm excited. Also slightly terrified. My trail running experience is very limited, though that will be changing as I train.

5. In today's New York Times, there's an article by a guy who divides his work into three 90-minute blocks. He's apparently very efficient and gets more done this way than by working all day long. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to try it: three 90-minute blocks for the manuscript I'm working on, and then the rest of the day devoted to stuff like answering email, planning upcoming research trips, and other less mentally taxing activities.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

An article, and a trip down memory lane

This article - a great read - was in today's New York Times Magazine:

The Boy with a Thorn in His Joints

It's about a little kid who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and assigned a battery of prescription drugs as treatment. When the pharmaceuticals didn't work, the boy's mom (who penned the piece) decided to take a more holistic approach and sought a supplemental, diet-based treatment. Six weeks after the little boy stopped consuming gluten and dairy products, his illness became inactive, and he was able to ditch the medication.

Of course, it's one kid. It's not proof that going GF cures autoimmune diseases. The author fully accepts this. But as she also points out, "Data on diet and supplements are lacking, at least partly because they are hard to get. It’s hard to design a great study around something with so many variables, like the food we eat. Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, lend themselves easily to randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials."

With the exception of some brief and regrettable forays back into the world of wheat, I've been gluten free for three years now. To a significant extent, I'd forgotten why, exactly, I decided to alter my diet in the first place. So I went back and reviewed my journal entries from around that time. They helped me remember just how sick I felt (headaches, chest pain, acid reflux, sinus infections), and just how quickly relief followed the dietary modifications I made.

A few examples:

Dec. 15, 2009:
I told A. [a naturopathic physician] about my acid reflux issues and how I sometimes feel like my sinuses and throat get all swollen after I eat. She thinks I have a food allergy (maybe several food allergies). Apparently, GERD and food allergies are often related - though did my stupid doctor bother to tell me this during our 15 minute follow-up session this summer? No. (Not real happy with the general practitioners I've seen lately...) A. recommended that I try eliminating soy, wheat, dairy, eggs, and nuts for several weeks, then introducing them one by one. Blurrrrgh. She's right; I need to do it. But it's difficult, especially around the holidays.

I haven't been eating much wheat or soy recently, so I think I'll start with those. The food plan I was following at the end of November didn't include any wheat products, and I can easily substitute my soy milk with rice milk.

I'm pretty sure it IS an allergy, but it's so weird that it developed recently. I never had this issue when I was a kid.

Dec. 17, 2009:
I'm pretty sure I'm allergic or at least intolerant to wheat. I've been keeping track of what happens after I eat it, and usually my body responds in the following way (within 30 minutes or so of consuming wheat products):

-Sinus congestion
-Lump in throat/swelling of throat (isn't too bad, but of course this is a problem and I need to get it checked out!)
-Chest pain

I looked it up and - surprise! - wheat allergies CAN cause chest pain, which was the reason I went to the doc last summer in the first place.

You would think this would have been more obvious to me before now, but... nope. Once I was diagnosed with acid reflux, I just figured all of the above symptoms made sense.

I guess it could also be a dairy allergy (because I often consume cheese with wheat), so I need to experiment more. However, I've been eating cheese for breakfast on many days, and it doesn't seem to affect me.

I know I can give up wheat, so I'm kind of hoping I've pinpointed the problem. I'd rather change my diet than continue taking medicine that isn't helping. I guess I should contact my doctor and ask for a referral so that I can see an allergist in the new year.

Dec 20, 2009:
Eating has been a little tricky. I don't know what my deal is. I seem to be having weird reactions after I eat, but pinpointing what is causing them is tricky. T. made me an omelet yesterday morning before we left, and I felt HORRIBLE after eating it. I basically had an asthma attack. WTF. I've eaten eggs all my life and never had any problems with them. So... yeah. I'm limiting myself to fruits, veggies, and non-processed meat. And Enjoy Life snacks, which don't contain eggs, dairy, etc. I also tried some soy milk today to see if it affected me (didn't seem to, so maybe that's okay?). I don't understand why my body is freaking out on me. I know I need to see my doctor again - because what if it's not allergies? What if it's something else? - but she was such a butthead the last time that I don't really feel like giving her my business. She doesn't listen.

Jan 14, 2010:
Since right before Christmas, I've been avoiding wheat, corn, soy, and eggs. I'm almost certain I have a wheat intolerance. It's known to cause headaches and chest pain, both of which I often had before I changed my diet (I was diagnosed with GERD specifically because I had inexplicable chest pains). I haven't experienced either in the last few weeks. The post-meal throat inflammation is also gone. I had a really strange reaction after eating a couple of scrambled eggs right before we went to Chattanooga, so I'm off those, too. As for soy and corn, they're in so many processed foods that I decided to dump them as well. So far, I don't miss them - or any of them, really.

I am shocked at how easy it's been to give up pastries, cookies (well - except for the Enjoy Life gluten-free cookies, but they're kind of pricey so I can't eat a ton of them anyway), bread, waffles, cereal, etc. It's amazing. Keep in mind that I am not a very patient person. I don't do well with cravings. If I crave something, I eventually end up eating it. But I honestly have absolutely no desire to scarf down processed carbs.

We're doing a lot more of our own cooking using whole, natural ingredients. What I've been eating:

Breakfast: Rice grits cooked with apples, bananas, or other fruit and drizzled with honey. That might sound gross, but OMG, it is so good! I've always had trouble stomaching oatmeal, but rice grits are easy. Sometimes I have a piece of cheese, too.

Lunch: Usually dinner leftovers.

Dinner: Meat and veggies or rice and veggies. We have had homemade beef stew (which was actually really good, though so filling that I felt stuffed for hours afterward), rice pasta and sauce (rice pasta is awesome - it doesn't get as mushy as regular pasta), soup, and chicken and veggies. Tonight, we made baked chicken with potatoes, celery, carrots, and red onion. SO DELICIOUS - one of the best meals I've made in a long time, and the only extra ingredients I used were salt, pepper, and a daub of A-1 steak sauce (which, yes, does have some corn starch in it, but which otherwise has a straightforward ingredients list).

Dessert: I'm eating less dessert than I used to simply because the meals really fill me up. When I do need a snack, I go for the afore-mentioned gluten-free cookies, Enjoy Life chocolate, or dried papaya.

Oh, and? I haven't taken my GERD medicine in a week. I have had a little reflux, but that might be because I can eat like a linebacker. I should be able to quell that by going a bit easier at the dinner table. Since the chest pains and throat inflammation are gone, I just don't see a point in relying on a prescription.

*  *  *
Incidentally, as I was trawling for GF-related posts, I ended up digging through all my other journal entries, too. Just reading them exhausted me. I was an emotional wreck back then. Of course, sometimes I still am - but not the way I used to be. Now I have more good days than bad days. Three years ago? I didn't know what a good day really entailed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Update: Low, tired, vegan-on-the-road, diet. Pause.

1. Low. In the past week, a couple of situations with my advisor have left me feeling crushed, frustrated, and stupid. Based on what I've heard from other people about the final years of a Ph.D. program, this is par for the course. But it sucks.

I love what I do so much, and yet it feels like such an uphill battle because subtle sexism is rampant. Moreover, many of these men don't even know they're doing it, so it's tough for them to recognize the problem, much less change their communication tactics.

I don't want to be treated like a little girl. I don't want condescending lectures about stuff I already know and know well. I am GOOD at what I do - in the field, in the lab, AND in the classroom. I have something to offer! All I want is to be able to contribute to my scientific community and share my passion for science with my student collaborators. I don't want to live in fear that I won't be able to do what I love simply because I don't speak in the same "language" as many of my counterparts. As stated in a Scientific American article published late last year:

"Scientific inquiry is surely at stake, said Mary Anne Holmes, a mineralogist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and former president of the Association for Women Geoscientists. "Women may have a different way of asking questions about the science and communicating the consequences," Holmes said.

Studies have shown that groups make better choices when group members have diverse experiences and points of view, Holmes noted. It's not that women look at the data and see some big feminine question that's not being asked or that men don't ask good questions, she added. Men "just don't ask all the questions."

And it's funny how, when I start talking about this stuff around my male colleagues, I see a lot of eye rolling. Their perspective on this is different, and I end up feeling like a whiner.

2. Tired. I slept all day. This last work trip was an exhausting one: we were pulling long shifts, some of which went through the night. I felt fine while I was there, but as soon as I took my seat on the flight home yesterday, I felt like I'd been hit with a brick. I still do.

3. I'm going to write a post about my attempts at vegan living on the road. The upshot of it is that although I could have done it, I broke down when I discovered a well-stocked candy drawer during my midnight lab sessions. Fun-size Milky Ways taste so. damn. good. when you're exhausted and bored. And once the sugar hit my system, it was allllll over. I singlehandedly decimated that candy supply.

4. Diet. I tracked my calories until right around the time I started inhaling chocolate. Then I decided to "take a break." I'm confident I can get back on track now that I'm home.

5. Press pause. Can I do that right now? Press pause on life and take a time out? Preferably on a sunny beach with an alcoholic beverage? I'd like to.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Blue skies, finally

Today was the first continuously sunny day in more than a week. After being scoured by so much rain, sleet, and more rain, the sky was a brilliant, crisp blue. I decided to be a bad graduate student and skip school (and traffic). (In my defense, I've put in a lot of work this week, gone in early and stayed late, and submitted abstracts and manuscript drafts, so I decided playing hooky was okay.) On my day off, I...

...went to an Xtend Barre class at the decadently late hour of 9 a.m.

...decided to enjoy the sun by going to the park and jogging. I'm not sure where I mustered up the energy, but I managed to run four miles with negative splits, with my slowest mile being 9:28 and my fastest being 9:05. Those are good times for me, especially considering that I never felt like I was going all out.

Evidence of a gorgeous day.

...went on a coffee/hummus date with my husband at a new cafe in town:

The coffee was Panama something-or-other,
and it was amazing.

...borrowed some books from the library, including the new biography of David Foster Wallace.

...did some laundry.

...did not clean my house.

Re: that last one. It's funny how memories that once seemed insignificant - like, why have I remembered it all these years? What was the purpose in hanging onto it? - sometimes take on greater meaning. One such memory is of going to my first best friend's house to play. The place was always a complete disaster area: toys everywhere, sticky countertops, pet fur covering the couches, dust all over the floor. Even as a six-year-old, I noticed the disarray. But it was always so much fun. We let our imaginations run wild building stuff, coloring, moving toys from one room to another, going from inside to outside to inside to outside. Unlike my other friends' moms, she wasn't one to chase after us with broom, dustpan, vacuum cleaner, and annoyed tone. Instead, she was usually reading or writing or cooking or doing something for herself. She seemed to have her own life. I remember feeling really free and relaxed there, knowing that as long as we didn't fight or say/do anything inappropriate, no-one was going to yell at us.

Even with just one kid, it's hard to keep our place clean, and I try far less to do so than I used to. There are legos under pretty much every piece of furniture and Kindergarten artwork on almost every wall. Our ottoman is falling apart, and our couch has a three-inch gash in the cushion. My son's room looks - to me - like a mess, though he assures me that it is actually a house with its own kitchen, bedroom, and art center.

It's not a total pit. It's not dirty. It's just messy and lived-in. Well loved, well used. Nothing like a Pottery Barn ad. I could clean for 18 hours a day and my son could still undo it in a matter of minutes. 

Sometimes I wish it were cleaner (I'm type A: messes of any kind make me at least a little anxious) but then I remember my friends' house and I feel better. That feeling I had when I was there is the feeling I want him to have at home. Freedom to just be a kid and not worry about how an emptied toy box might affect the adult's psyche.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What I learned during one month of veganism

At this point, I have completed one month of vegan eating (with the exception of the time I accidentally ordered a salad topped with cheese, and the time I mindlessly munched through half a bag of popcorn before remembering it had butter on it). It's been a worthwhile experience and a way of eating/living that I would like to continue, in large part because it feels like a contribution that I, as one person, can make towards sustainability.

Ten things I learned during my 30 day vegan challenge:

1) It's easier then ever to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Twelve years ago I became a vegetarian, and people thought I was crazy - even though I still consumed dairy products and eggs. They looked at my baked tofu as though they'd never seen such an oddity. Soy milk was only just starting to be offered as a milk substitute at coffee shops and restaurants. But now, vegetarianism is pretty mainstream, and it seems as though veganism is following suit. With the huge array of grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and veggies offered by even the cheaper grocery stores, crafting a healthy and varied diet is pretty straightforward.

2) You might need to try a range of milk alternatives before you find one you like. I love almond milk, but other people think it's too thick. Rice milk is thinner but sweet. Soy milk is ubiquitous but - for my taste - a little grainy. Coconut milk is still a new one for me, and I've had it only a couple of times. The point is - there are options, and they're widely available.

Same goes for ice cream made with said milk alternatives!

3) Dark chocolate: vegan! Coffee: vegan! Red wine: vegan! One reason this challenge was doable was that I didn't have to give up all of my vices.

4) Flaxseed makes a great egg substitute. 1 egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water. And flaxseed contains much-lauded omega fatty acids.

5) Things that taste amazing when you're craving something rich and umami, but cheese isn't an option: avocados (especially with a little lime juice and salt). Hummus. Stir fry made with sesame oil, nuts, and tempeh.

6) Rice and dry beans are relatively inexpensive. For a grad student, this is a big win. Quinoa is a little more expensive, but now that more stores sell it, prices seem to have dropped.

7) Fresh fruits and veggies are really good at standing on their own or with only a few additional ingredients. That means cooking vegan is easy. For instance: Brussels sprouts, beets, or carrots lightly coated in olive oil and salt and pepper, then roasted. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado chopped up and mixed with a little olive oil, salt, and dill. Baked sweet potato topped with roasted garlic and steamed greens.

8) Vitamin-fortified cereals are a good way to top off daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals (especially iron and vitamin B-12).

9) Chia seeds may be a wonder food, but my Magic Bullet doesn't do a very good job of incorporating them into smoothies.

10) With a little planning and preparation, it's possible to be vegan and gluten-free without feeling deprived. If anything, these dietary changes have made me a more adventurous eater and a more confident cook.

Monday, January 14, 2013

So tired

It's only Monday, but I feel like I'm ready for another weekend. I'm exhausted. After getting stuck in traffic at 4 p.m. and inching home through a wintry mix of sleet, snow, and rain, I saw my bed and crashed. Napped for an hour. Now I'm dazed and totally unrefreshed.

Next time we move, I am living within walking distance of my workplace. End of story. I'm over commuting.

Things have been stressful at school. There's a lot going on in our labs, and people seem a bit on edge. I've been thinking more about my job search, which will start later this year It's totally overwhelming. Grad school is going by so incredibly quickly and soon I'll be out there, outside of the little think tank cocoon I've been in for the past three years. Sometimes I feel like I don't really know what I'm doing. I suppose that's normal... Fake it 'til you make it and all.

I'm a little worried that I'm slightly anemic, despite my efforts to eat leafy greens and fortified cereals.

I'm a little worried that the dreary weather is getting to me.

I'm a little worried that I'm biting off more than I can chew.

And I really wish I could go back to the beach right now.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Using the Lose It! App

When I adopted a gluten free diet/lifestyle/whatever you want to call it three years ago, I lost 10 pounds without trying. It took me a while to figure out what I could actually eat, and in the interim I spent more time hemming and hawing over food labels than actually eating. (Not really, but that's how I felt.) For my height and body type, that weight loss was healthy. I felt great. I thought I'd found my "new normal."

But as I discovered when I made a first-time-in-months trip to the scale over the holidays, I've regained most of that weight. Part of it is possibly due to Zoloft: weight gain is a common side effect of it and many other antidepressants. Part of it is more likely due to the fact that I have more food options now than I used to (including processed foods, thanks to the uptick in gluten free snack production). School has become less stressful in the last few months, meaning that I no longer forget to eat on a regular basis. And I consume quite a bit of rice and rice products. Rice is a calorie-dense food; a little goes a long way. It's also possible that I've gained some muscle mass via the Xtend Barre workouts. That's fine - I'll take that muscle - but given that my jeans have become tighter, too, I'm guessing it's not all muscle.

So I decided to pay closer attention to what I eat - and more importantly, how much I eat - and lose those 10 pounds. To do that, I enlisted the help of a free phone app called Lose It!

Basically, the Lose It! app allows you to track your food consumption, exercise, and weight loss on your phone. You start by setting a goal. I decided on a goal of 1/2 a pound per week for a total of 11 pounds. The program calculates a daily calorie goal:

Then you just log your food every day. You can either use the search engine, OR you can use your phone to scan the bar codes on food packaging. The program will automatically pull the nutritional information from the bar code and save it! Isn't that cool?

You can label each food as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. The program tallies the calories for each of those categories.

Assuming that all of the nutritional information is logged correctly, you can get a daily breakdown of fats, carbs, and protein:

And then you can track your weight. I've been weighing in every day, just as a motivational tool:

You can also download summaries and reports to Excel:

What I like about this app:

1. It's helped me realize (or re-realize) the importance of serving size. Because I eat foods that are generally healthy, I've gotten into the habit of assuming that if it's healthy, I can have as much of it as I want. But three servings of rice at dinner is about 600 calories, which is a huge chunk of my daily caloric needs. Moderation? What?

2. The bar code scanner is easy to use, and the food search engine is pretty robust. That's nice because I haven't had to spend much time inputting nutritional/calorie information piece by piece. That said, I've noticed that sometimes the scanned nutritional info isn't exactly the same as what's on the packaging, so I double check. Also, the exercise list needs a little fleshing out. Running choices are limited to very specific paces, meaning that I have to round up or down in my estimate of energy burned.

3. The program saves your food choices to a handy personal food library. For instance, I've been eating oatmeal and almond milk for breakfast. My selected serving size is saved along with all of the other information for these foods, so I just have to tap on those selections and press save. No adjustments necessary unless I change the serving size.

4. It's visual. I like being able to go to the "Goals" tab and see the graph. It helps me resist the urge to dive into a bag of chips.

5. It's encouraged me to plan ahead a little more, especially for lunch. I've been assembling my lunch the night before and logging it the morning of. That way, I don't have to stop and do it while at school, and I can make sure I leave enough wiggle room for dinner and snacks.

Overall, I really like it! It feels weird to be focused on my weight in this way, but I think I needed a bit of a wake up call.