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 oh.my.god. 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.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday Three

1. This bar is gluten free, vegan, and amaaaazing:

I woke up late on Tuesday and had to rush to get to my workout class (if you miss it, they charge you $15!!!). I had this bar and some OJ and was pretty much good to go.

What I like about the Bonk Breaker is the texture. It's not as gluey as other energy bars, nor is it as sweet as date-based bars.

2. We finally took down our Christmas tree yesterday. I wrapped up all of the ornaments and placed them in our Christmas decorations bin - the one piece of organization in my entire house.

Every year we get a new glass ornament. This year it was a snazzy red VW hippie bus:

I'm sad to see all the pretty lights and baubles go, but I'm glad I made myself do it. Around here, decorations are liable to stay up for months after the actual holiday.

3. What is up with this whole worst-flu-season-in-10-years thing??? 2/3 of my department are sick. Some of them have the flu and some of them have a stomach bug. Last thing I want is a stomach bug. I have a fear of puking. Like, a real fear. And so I try not to do it. My record for not puking is 13 years - between the time I got the stomach flu in middle school and the time I got food poisoning in grad school. I'd like to break that record.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What the heck does a gluten-free vegan eat?

I'm on Day 19 of the PETA 30 Day Vegan Challenge... and so far, it hasn't been nearly as challenging as I'd expected it would be. The rundown on what I gave up:

Meat, including fish: This wasn't very difficult for me. I've never been all that hooked on meat, thanks to the section in my 5th grade science textbook on the hazards of food-borne illnesses (my mom wasn't too pleased when I came home and started questioning her cooking techniques...) On the rare occasion when I crave meat, it's always for a big, juicy steak, which is something I wouldn't want to consume on a regular basis anyway.

Milk: I've been drinking milk alternatives, especially almond milk, for a while now. Almond milk tastes rich and creamy (like milk) but not too sweet (unlike ricemilk), and it doesn't have soy's distinctive texture. No problems here, either.

Yogurt: I mostly miss the convenience of yogurt. It's a great way to get a substantial dose of protein, calcium, and energy in one little bowl. Soy yogurt is readily available, but again, I'm not a fan of the texture. Coconut yogurt is decent, though.

Eggs: Eggs on their own, I can take or leave. It's harder to avoid them in baked products or things like waffles and pancakes, but I just read labels a little more carefully.

Cheese: I thought I'd be craving cheese! I've never met a cheese I didn't like, even the stinky, goopy, blue ones. But I'm not hankering for it. Not yet, anyway. I'm most surprised by this particular aspect of my vegan foray.

Here are some of the things I've been enjoying during this challenge:

Fruits and vegetables, of course!

Almond milk. Oatmeal. Sometimes together.

Carb- and protein-rich basics

 A probiotic drink, since I'm not eating regular yogurt anymore

Earth Balance spread (a little goes a long way, and it's so good) and corn tortillas

I feel good and am thinking about extending the challenge another two weeks once this month is up. Am I ready to commit to a total vegan lifestyle? I don't know yet. I have another work trip (with non-veg coworkers) coming up this month, and although I will have access to a refrigerator and microwave, the kitchen situation is a little sparse. So I'm going to try the vegan thing in that situation and see how it goes. If it's too stressful, though, I'll reevaluate. I travel a lot, and as prepared as I try to be in terms of having snacks on hand and planning where to shop, it's not always easy to find food that meets the gluten free/vegan requirement. Nor do my traveling companions always have patience for what some of them see as pickiness.

Aside from that, though, I am 100 percent behind veganism in that it supports sustainability, a healthy environment, and animal welfare. And those reasons, too, have been part of the motivation making this challenge pretty straightforward.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resolutions for the new year, and a treadmill workout

Happy 2013! Our New Year's celebration was quiet. We got the little man down to bed at a decent time and then we watched a documentary on Netflix called Deep Water. It's about a weekend sailor who decided to compete in a first-of-its-kind round-the-world sailing competition in the late 1960s. The ending was totally not what I expected; I couldn't believe I'd never heard of this guy before now.

We made it to midnight, but barely. Apparently we were not alone. As I checked Facebook, I saw a lot of "It's only 9 p.m. but I can't stay up any longer and by the way I'm officially old"-type posts. 

Resolutions: Do you have any? Or anything you want to do/change in 2013? My only resolution at this point is to keep up the activities and habits I took up in the last part of 2012:
  • Continue going to Xtend Barre classes 4 times a week (I continue to love, love, love this class... Who knew I'd grow so fond of ballet and Pilates?)
  • Find my next race. 5K? Half marathon? Trail run? Not sure yet, but I'm hoping that I'll decide on something close to home, and relatively soon.
  • Finish up my 30-day vegan challenge! I'm on Day 16 (I think), and so far, so good. My only slip-up was when I ordered a salad at Panera and discovered too late that it had feta cheese on it. My least favorite cheese! Argh. I hate wasting food so I ate it anyway. More on the Vegan Challenge in the next few days.
  • And lose a few pounds. I guess that one's new, but I don't want to get too caught up in thinking about it. I'm using the Lose It! app on my iPhone to track my calories and workouts. More on that in the coming weeks, too.
*  *  *
I'm one of those runners who is not too keen on running in supercold weather (and by "supercold," I mean anything less than 30 degrees F - since moving to the South, I've become a winter wimp). I ran on my treadmill instead and made up my own interval workout as I went along. I was pretty happy with it. There was enough variation to keep me from getting too bored. This would be easy to modify based on your own moderate baseline pace:

Easy Does It 60 Minute Workout:

* 5 minutes walking (moderate effort)
* 5 minutes 5.5 mph, 2 minutes walking
* 5 minutes 5.6 mph, 2 minutes walking
*5 minutes 5.7 mph, 2 minutes walking
* 5 minutes 5.8 mph, 2 minutes walking
* 5 minutes 5.9 mph, 2 minutes walking
* 5 minutes 6.0 mph, 2 minutes walking
* 1.5 minutes each of 6.0 down to 5.5 mph (9 minutes total)
* 4 minutes walking