Archives for category: Health

Behold! The Vitamix!

This, my friends, is the best appliance in the known universe. After a year of easing into a primarily plant-based lifestyle via the inspiration of Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Diet, I have been rewarded (after much saving of the money) with a much desired gift, a Vitamix.

To call this appliance a “blender” would be an injustice, even slander. The Vitamix is a blessed hunk of power that can turn a handful of almonds into smooth almond butter, gently shop veggies into salsa-ready shape, and grind chickpeas into restaurant-grade hummus (FYI: many store-bought hummus brands use vegetable instead of olive oil, which is how they get a smooth consistency without charging $15 a tub).

For the past couple of months, my husband and I have used our Vitamix nearly every single day. We usually each make some kind of smoothie for breakfast, and I can drop kale, celery, or cashews in the mighty Vitamix and still end up with a straw-compatible, nutrient-dense creation. No lie or exaggeration here. I literally dropped an entire salad with seeds and nuts into the Vitamix one day and, seconds later, had a green smoothie. (You might find that gross, but you have to admit it’s impressive.)

So, to honor the appliance that encourages my domestic side, here are a couple of common recipes my husband and I make.

Breakfast Protein Smoothie

  • 1-2 tablespoons hemp protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flaxmeal
  •  1 tablespoon maca root
  • some fruit juice (no specific amount)
  • some fruit (sometimes I drop in a cored apple or pear with some frozen berries, or a banana with some frozen mango and a whole peeled orange)

Instructions: Drop everything into the Vitamix and blend.

Carrot, Orange, Ginger Juice (from the Vitamix recipe book)

  • 1 whole carrot
  • some orange juice (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • a small hunk of fresh ginger

Instructions: Drop everything into the Vitamix and blend til liquefied.

Pure adrenaline.



Before you cry scandal at the opening of my title, let me explain. I am trying to get high, but not from any banned or questionable substance. I am trying to experience a high of a different kind, a runner’s high.

This could be me. Preferably me in that exact location.

I have never been one to seek out cardio in a solitary context. I have played sports (badly, but played nonetheless), enjoyed energetic games with friends, attended classes at gyms, but have never been attracted to what always seemed the lonely world of the most basic heartbeat-based activity: running.

Solo cardio? No thank you. I simply wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t make myself run. I never had the desire, until now…

(Dramatic pause)

For some reason, the newest unexplained phenomenon in my existence is a growing desire to run. Or, to be more honest and specific, the ability to run further than 20 yards without inevitable collapse, which is my current condition. To say I desire to experience this sensation is a slight understatement. I almost yearn for this high.

And I don’t know why.

Maybe my newfound aspiration is the result of sibling-pressure (different than peer-pressure, but profoundly similar). My sister runs. Two of my brothers have run marathons. My other brothers run. Even my husband runs.  Maybe I feel left out.

Perhaps I’m fueled by the result of a recent fitness assessment (to be discussed in detail later) that indicated an averageness that could be partly conquered by increasing my vo2 max, according to my assessor.

Or, maybe there is a more latent cause for this new pursuit, one that has lain dormant for my almost 30-year life only to be just now awakened by a psychosomatic rustle…Wasn’t it James Joyce who once said, “Rapid motion through space elates one”? Perhaps I seek such elation?

Whatever the underlying cause, and whatever the work that must be put in to achieve my high, the beauty of any new goal is that there usually involves some preliminary shopping.

So, I bought some Vibrams. Weird, bendy things with amphibious style. They are designed to allow for the sensation and effect of barefoot running while still protecting our precious little piggies from jagged rocks, asphalt protrusions, or other such ghastly demons that could damage our soles.

I figured that since I have never run enough to encourage injury, I might as well follow current research-meets-yuppie trend and become conspicuously minimalist in my approach.

(As an aside, I love my Vibrams. I really do think they help me develop a healthier gait. Just sayin’.)

Thus far, I’ve only run a few times. I even ran once with my sister. (Although I did get distracted by some deer and stopped to take pictures. She finished her miles then doubled back to find me.) And you know what?

I enjoyed these runs.

Even though I have yet to run very far (latest record is 1 1/2 miles with consistent pace), I am getting the tiniest taste of why people run. I love the thought that I am always both running away from and towards “something,” be it literal or figurative. And I love the feeling of tiredness for a reason other than lethargy or frustration.

Who knew?


My painfully slow journey from vegetarian to plant-basedetarian over the past few months has resulted in some pretty interesting transitions, the least of which being the contents of my refrigerator. While it was never completely unusual to find an odd item now and again in the ole’ icebox, I’ve discovered that my progression to a totally new food plan has reached a humorous level.

Guests to my house practically need an instruction manual to put together a meal.

I discovered this little gem of truth when we had family in for my husband’s graduation last month. Although we did provide “regular” food for everyone, most of that was of a snacky nature and left reason to open the fridge and make something more substantial. Whence opening the door, that little fridge-light shone on some version of this:

The open drawers contain weird leafy greens and pounds of various nuts and seeds. The countertops and cupboards don’t offer much help either, unless one is well versed in cooking with quinoa, amaranth, nutritional yeast, or dried sea vegetables.

Watching our poor family struggle to piece together a discernible meal reminded me of how absolutely lost I was when I first started trading my processed fare for bulk grains and nuts. All of my research seemed to direct me to ingredients I had never heard of, never mind having any sense of how to use, like dulse or maca root or chia seeds. I was completely overwhelmed.

Now, though, I’ve become fairly agile in the kitchen. I am much more comfortable experimenting with ingredient pairing than I was at the fore. As I write this post, in fact, I’m sipping on a smoothie composed of several ingredients I had never put together before. My husband’s reaction to tasting this latest concoction was, “Wow. That’s earthy,” but I took that as a compliment. Earthy is good.

While my refrigerator has transitioned, so has my food literacy. I find that I approach food in a totally different way. Instead of eating according to cravings, I try to eat according to nutritional density. This means always wondering how I can make what I’m eating nutritionally optimal. For example, I started sprinkling hemp seeds on my peanut butter toast, adding chia seeds to my shakes, and dulse to my salads. The convenient benefit to this approach is that any cravings I do have are usually for raw, whole foods (although I can’t say that this is completely true yet).

All this is not to say that I am 100% plant-based. Not at all, in fact. I still sometimes eat pizza, cheese dip (my Achilles heel of food), or even ice cream, but those indulgences are rare and occur when dining out, not when eating at home. Also, I do not mean to imply that our families eat poorly. Quite the contrary. Compared to the average American diet, they are pretty healthily.

What this all does mean, though, is that my food repertoire is expanding, and I’m slowly starting to develop a new conceptualization of meals. Hopefully making the full switch isn’t too far away, but in the meantime I’ll make sure to stock a little more for my guests.


I wanted to briefly acknowledge a book I just finished that was pretty excellent. It’s called Born to Run, and the author is war correspondent-turned-Me’s Health contributor Christopher McDougall. The book is an interesting weave of narrative storytelling and pseudo-investigative journalism about running, ultra marathons (like, running 100 miles), and the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who are affectionately terms the “Running People.”

While McDougall does incorporate some questionable “science” that is no more than speculative mythology at best, he is a prime storyteller and creates compelling sketches of some pretty interesting folks. He discussed his book at a TED conference last year.

What I found particularly interesting was the myriad of ultra athletes who run ultra marathons, including the Tarahumara, who subsist on basically plant-based diets. One such American soul is Scott Jurek, one of the most elite ultra runners in known history who munches adzuki beans and pita on the trails while his peers gobble down expensive energy gels and Power bars. Jurek is rarely beaten in a race.

Running has never been my “thing,” but this book and the whole culture of ultra marathons is pretty fascinating. Even prompted me to jog a bit with the dogs this morning.


“Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.” ~Hippocrates

The wisdom Hippocrates offers about food as medicine is precisely the foundation behind the documentary, Forks Over Knives (which I still have not seen), and popular food plans like the macrobiotic or vegan diets. Celebrity vegan advocate Alicia Silverstone opens her book, The Kind Diet, with this quote from the B.C. physician, there’s a website called Food as Medicine, and there are even ripples of interest and support from the medical community.

Take, for example, Dean Ornish, a clinical professor at UCSF and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute. In a recent TED talk, Dr. Ornish argues that the villain par excellence mercilessly taking lives globally is cardiovascular disease, which is largely preventible simply by “changing our eating habits.”

Sounds radical, I know. When I’m nauseated, I want Zofan or Compazine, not ginger tea and water crackers, right? Silly B.C. wisdom. Surely Dr. Ornish is simply lazy, wanting his patients to treat themselves so he can sit back on his yacht with all that spare time we know doctors have.

(Please sense the sarcastic tone).

We are a prescription nation, which is why I’m skeptical that the trends towards looking to diet as a treatment for poor health will stick. If given the chance, it’s pretty clear that we will choose injections over leafy greens and surgery over treadmills.

Allow me to offer some support for my cynicism.

A few months ago I heard about this creepy craze called the hCG diet. hCG, as many of you probably know, is the hormone that triggers a positive answer on a home pregnancy test. While my research tells me that hCG is present in both men and women, it’s pregnant woman who grow the good stuff.

hCG is a common treatment for fertility, but it’s also become quite popular as a weight loss drug. “Patients” take either daily injections of the hormone or oral ingestion from a dropper or pill, adhere to a 500 calorie a day diet, and reportedly lose a pound a day.

(I know what you are thinking, and I will get back to the obviousness of taking in a mere 500 calories a day as the mermaid tear in this magical brew later).

When I first caught wind of this little miracle plan, my first thought was, “Where do they get the hCG in the first place?” (Well, after feeling queasy at the thought of where the hormone is “harvested,” that is.) While I can’t find detailed information on the process, I did discover that hCG is extracted from the urine of pregnant women, processed into an injectable/ingestible product, and then sold at exorbitant amounts to individuals just desperate to drop those pounds after, I’m sure, trying absolutely every other method. (I apologize for more sarcasm here).

The most effective and sterile way to get ahold of some of this, ahem, “golden liquid,” is through catheter, but a “clean catch” method is also used (think sample in a cup). There are plants in Asia, Singapore, India, and the U.S. I still have yet to determine if there are “donation sites,” if Obstetricians have a little racket going with pharmaceutical companies where they pocket a little extra cash by selling their daily samples, or if pregnant women can sell their “substance” to make a little dough of their own.

Regardless of how the hCG is acquired (which, shockingly, no one really seems too concerned about), a simple Google search will lead to thralls of people who lay there lost poundage at the alter of hCG, and many of their defensive maneuvers are suspect at best. One such individual, for example, asserted that only people who have actually tried hCG are worthy to comment, as those of us who haven’t are speaking out of ignorance. Obviously, that’s absurd logic. I’ve never tried heroine or marijuana (both of which are used medicinally), but I can assure you with much confidence that I’m not a fan of either.

There are, however, many detractors, such as the FDA, which still has not approved hCG for weight loss. Or Dr. Louis Arrone from the NY Presbyterian Weill-Cornell Hospital, who remains in disbelief that anyone would take the hormone for weight loss, or that doctors would prescribe it, as he stated in a March interview with CNN. Dr. Arrone also offered that there are no legitimate studies that support the claim that hCG helps weight loss, or leads to better weight loss, and that even placebo studies have been done with practically no difference between the placebo and “real stuff” groups. He also made the compelling point that no one who takes the drug just for fertility loses weight in conjunction. Intriguing, no?

As Dr. Arrone and countless others argue, including R.D.s from the Mayo Clinic, it’s the restrictive 500 calorie a day diet that causes the weight loss, not the hormone. And eventually a person’s body will pull protein from muscle in addition to “burning” fat, so people with little to lose are putting their overall health in danger for the sake of, well, vanity and a touch of laziness. (Ok. I added that last part.) To adhere “properly” to this diet requires physician supervision. So, every time someone gets, say, a headache, they have to run to their physician to get their sodium and glucose levels checked.

One of the most common complaints about weight loss is time. “I simply do not have time to follow a new plan or exercise.” I would argue that anyone who has time to hotfoot it to their doctor with a headache has time to go for a walk, or even the gym. And everyone spends some time buying groceries anyway, so taking healthy food to one’s home is not a time issue, it’s a choice and self-discipline issue.

I know I sound harsh, and I can say with confidence that I do not follow a healthy food plan consistently. Developing a healthy lifestyle takes self-discipline and perseverance, two character traits I’m desperately trying to develop. But as long as there is a mass willingness to go to extremes rather than developing a work ethic for health–taking a hormone extracted from the urine of pregnant woman, follow an absurd calorie plan, daily injections, etc.–then I simply cannot put much confidence in our society making a more difficult lifestyle choice as trendy as a medicalized, quick fix approach to weight loss, an approach that privileges aesthetic over health.

To appeal to a hyper-medicalized society, perhaps we should change our jargon when it comes to the “antidote” (otherwise known as actual food). Instead of encouraging a certain number of servings of, say, whole grains or vegetables, we could “prescribe doses.” The food pyramid could be reconfigured to resemble a list of medications. Doctors could use their scribbly John Hancock for food instead of pharmaceuticals.

It could work. But I’m not holding my breath.


P.S. I do not mean to offend anyone who has tried the hCG diet, but I am entitled to my opinion as well. I also do not mean to imply at all that I am consistently healthy. Quite the opposite. I put a lot of time and energy into researching healthy lifestyle options, but I haven’t developed the self-discipline necessary to follow that lifestyle completely. Hopefully I will. 

So, I’m officially adding a new pursuit to this blog. While I will still prattle on about sailing, yoga, and learning Italian, I figured I might as well offer an official category, nay, even a page (now that’s commitment), to a goal that takes up a good bit of my time, plant-based diets.

That’s right, folks. No more apologizing for getting sidetracked with posts about my ideal food plan! Au contraire. I now embrace and legitimate this topic that I spend so much time reading and researching. Brendan Brazier, you and your Thrive diet are now welcome.

What compelled this decision, you may ask?

Well, I am thoroughly excited about a new documentary that will probably reach the land of bacon-is-not-meat-it’s-merely-a-condiment by the time I retire. It’s called Forks Over Knives, and it’s now playing in theaters across the country, just not locally…Anywho, this film examines claims about the power of plant-based diets to possibly reverse diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Lofty claim, no?

I’m more than intrigued about this topic as I’ve been trying to get to a plant-based food plan myself, and I’m already pretty convinced that this type of eating behavior is beneficial, both from personal experience and other research. Most of us have probably seen Supersize Me that ended with the filmmaker’s liver recouping after he ate a vegan diet after poisoning himself with Big Macs. Pretty sweet.

Everyone chooses a lifestyle that works for them and their tastes and habits, so my intent in talking about plant-based diets is not to judge or force this issue. I’m just interested in it, and I spend a lot of time and energy learning about it. I might as well write about it to.

Here’s to plants.


A few weeks ago I was one in a line of about 10 people, all of us inverted. We were all balancing on our arms, feet reaching for the ceiling, (thankfully) ballasted by the wall.

While inversions were required elements of our training that weekend (though we were not required to actually perform inversions, just learn about them),  our Master Trainer, Kelli, questioned these poses. She said,

“A lot of people get into yoga because they want to do poses like headstands and arm balances because they look challenging and impressive. I always ask myself and my students, though, what our intent is when trying these poses. Why, for example, would I want to do a headstand?”

Being currently in a supported headstand, I was struck by the realization that I seldom consciously ponder my intent.

(Honestly, my first thought in response was “Why wouldn’t you want to do a headstand?” Not so introspective there, V.)

Kelli’s discussion of intent stemmed primarily from a recent article in Yoga Journal that charted the increase in chiropractic appointments by individuals who had been practicing yoga for a short amount of time. The article (which I am trying to refind) considers how yoga has developed a competitive aspect since gaining in popularity in the U.S., and that competition leads people to attempt poses they do not have the strength to achieve. The result is almost always injury to some degree. Kelli encouraged us all to make our intent a continual consideration when developing our personal practice.

I was reminded of this piece of my training when I saw this pose, Fallen Angel:

I instantly printed off the “directions” for easing into this pose to page protect and insert into my yoga binder. (I will literally organize anything.) Then I felt a little Jiminy-Cricket-Kelli on my shoulder whispering about intent.

What, then, is my intent for trying to master this pose?

To be honest, I have to start by confessing that it just looks cool. But my more mature reason is that in order to do this pose, I would have to work on balance, core strength, and stability, all of which I am trying to improve. So, while my intent is mostly based on physical goals, there is a hint of unabashed attraction to the coolness factor.

(You have to admit, though, this pose looks pretty awesome.)

While we may not necessarily talk about intention overtly, I believe we do consider this idea whenever we ask of ourselves or someone else, “But why?” (I happen to get asked this question quite a bit, in fact, as I just happen to take a lot of “curvy roads” in the day-to-day.)

But I do agree with Kelli that we should be more conscious in asking “why,” or considering our intent, and certainly not just within the context of yoga poses. Perhaps identifying the true or honest nature of our intent would help us to find more motivation for success, or even recognize certain pursuits or goals that may not be healthy or responsible.

While I am presently pausing to analyze my personal intent for present and future goals such as adapting to a vegan/raw food plan, natural childbirth (if, that is, I am blessed with kids one day), not buying a house, feeding my future kids only real food, or making my own laundry detergent (thanks A.Hab!), I do see the need for all of us to be more vocal about asking each other the true intent of our actions or “dreams.”

Feel free to pause and get all existential and stuff in considering intention and action…

I am thoroughly tempted to launch into a polemic on society, but I won’t. For this lovely Saturday morning, I think it’s enough to end by simply asking you all to spend a second with me asking ourselves the intent behind some of the choices we make.

That’s heavy enough for a weekend.


*Image courtesy of Yoga Journal

Pardon me while I situate my soapbox.

Sat down to work this afternoon at the library and caught this interesting little headline in the university newspaper:

“Calling All Coeds: Playboys ‘Girls of the SEC’ comes to the Plains”

(Ironically, this headline is the above-the-fold lead in the Intrigues section, right above a story titled, “Drunk texting may have harmful effects.” There is not time enough to examine the connection between these pieces and the use of “may” in the latter headline.)

I will refrain from employing this post as a personal manifesto against the industry and social impetus that allows for such publications to openly exist (although I am tempted), and instead will take this opportunity to consider a consuming issue for us ladies: physical appearance.

The article that ruined my afternoon was kind enough to interview Grandpa Hefner’s on site dancing monkey, who so deferentially explained the difference between choosing “models” for the standard and collegiate versions of this “publication.” The article states:

“When picking a girl or girls to represent each school, Hagen said they don’t look for the stereotypical model. ‘In college, we really look for someone that is going to be enthusiastic because it really needs to travel in the photography,’ Hagen said. ‘So it’s not just about being a perfect 10 and being super long and leggy or blonde or big, huge boobs.'” [emphasis added]

Ooohhh…I’m glad he cleared that up. They aren’t looking for someone who is just a “perfect 10” with all the accompanying assets. I can see how these college editions class it up by searching also for willing little nudists to bare all with a little extra pep. And what do these centerfold wannabes receive for auditioning without guarantee of their entire epidermis draping over newsstands? A sticker with that creepy little bunny’s profile that reads, “I Posed.” At least anyone these not-just-Perfect-10’s pass on campus will be conscious of their extracurricular endeavor.

Let me pause for a second to iterate that my “beef” is not with the girls who pimped themselves out for pictures (although I cannot understand or respect their decision, and I have a right to this perspective, thank you very much). What I find so revolting in this article is the “not just” phrase that closes Mr. Hagen’s little statement. He describes what we all know to be the aesthetic “ideal” for physical appearance in our society, regardless of how much we may think we have moved past a one-size-pleases-all idea. Anything not fitting description is considered a fetish.

So, what are the consequences for the constant search for the “not just perfect 10”? A search that is sometimes overt, such as the little on-campus tryouts we recently hosted, but always a latent element of our society?

We obsess over our imperfections, and we confuse pursuits for health with pursuits for “that” image. Even if we would never voluntarily face a camera lens au naturale, we still would like to know that we would be sought after so that we can reject the offer.

We read Vogue and Shape and Cosmo and Self, scanning the pages for body-changing, perfection-inducing secrets (as if the real secrets would be published at all). Says here that Gisele Bunchen’s body sprung back to modeliciousness a mere six weeks after having her baby. Seems she attributes the rapid return to incomparable hotness to muscle memory and diet…Oh, and also genetics. Ok then. Flip, flip the pages. Ah, Heidi Klum, good for her then…”Fabulous at 40″ might sound empowering, until we see that those middle-agers include Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and Nicole Kidman. 

And the result of all of this obsession, depression, and marathon fad dieting? Jealousy. Perhaps even a genuine dislike for our fellow females. We encounter a “girl” we perceive to be closer to “perfect” than we perceive ourselves to be, and we automatically make assumptions about how her personality is undoubtedly atrocious, how she must be intellectually bereft since she obviously puts all her energy into her looks, and how she is most definitely “loose,” and therefore a threat to all humankind. (Of course, those donning “I Posed” stickers are at least inadvertently flaunting these perceptions).

To be honest, I’m not totally sure of my point in all this. I’m tired of obsessing about appearance. I’m exhausted with fighting the tendency to equate health consciousness with vanity. But I’ve also had it with “attractive” individuals being automatically branded as having an easier life. I suppose I just needed to open this discussion.

(Frankly, I lay blame on the invention of mirrors as bathroom fixtures and home decor.)