Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Being gentle with myself

*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ I think the kids these days would call this a "selfie"  |  La Colombe Soho }

Here's a semi-covertly-snapped pic of me at my local coffee shop. I figure this kind of post deserves a personal picture because I'm about to get real (and hopefully not preachy) with y'all and share my attempt to be more gentle and good to myself with a couple of changes I've made in the last 18 months or so. These didn't produce the magic fix that I was naively hoping for, but I do think that my life has gotten better.

This is just how I try to live, what's working for me and what I believe in...not at all meant to be a list of "you should be doing this, too!".

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I think a lot about what it means to be healthy. Growing up in the US we're given a lot of things to do and not to do and oddly enough, the more the USDA, FDA, APHA, etc. inundate us with new rules, the less healthy we become as a nation. And, more often than not, the advice we're given is heavily paid for by industry organizations that want to pad their wallets (what does it mean that the daily nutrition guide is backed by the USDA?). Then there are all the side diets and exercise plans that are heaped on top of the government recommendations and no wonder we're all wandering around, lugging our guts and high blood pressure with us.*

Now, I don't have any significant health problems (not even insignificant ones, really, which I know is already a blessing in itself), but there is some history of cancer and heart disease in our family and that coupled with a pervasive lack of energy/obnoxious yawning all day and a persistent stomach ache got me thinking about what the heck I'm putting into my body and what I'm putting it through.

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The first thing that had to go was the nasty tummy aches that I used to get practically every week. I had no idea what caused it so about a year and a half ago I started taking things out of my diet for 10 days or so to see what changed. Luckily removing dairy had no effects whatsoever but removing flour? Oooo boy, it was like I was given a new stomach (and all the other things connected to it). When I do something, I go all in, so I cut out all gluten. My timing was perfect (ahem), since my little experiment was just before a month of international travel (a trip to India for work and then to Sicily to play). Going gluten-free in India wasn't actually that hard, but in Sicily? Not as easy.

But, as the weeks passed, it became a non-issue for me. So I decided to see what other things I could change, not just on my plate, but in my life in general to hopefully continue to improve or prevent the other things that annoyed me (lack of energy) or worried me (wanting to have as much vitality and longevity as possible despite genes that may or may not work against me and getting rid of all tummy problems). I also added another goal to the list: living as cleanly as possible.

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*sparklingly (http://sparklingly.blogspot.com)
{ What breakfast looks like these days }

As I began to read more from great sources, like Sarah Wilson/I Quit Sugar, Dan Buettner/Blue Zones, Mark Sisson/The Daily Apple, and re-teach myself the basics (without relying on government "recommendations" based on outdated research) I started realizing how obscenely toxic my environment was and how much better my life could (potentially) be. That's when I began working these ideals into my routine. Not all at once, and not aggressively, but a little tweak here and small adjustment there, all in the hope of feeling happier, healthier, more at home in my own body and mind and (dare I say?) sparklier.

So, here's my little list of things I do to be more gentle with myself:

+ Any cleaning product used in my house or beauty product put on my body has to be edible: This has been a very gradual shift because I can't stand waste and don't want to just throw out the products that I have, but as I use things up, I'm starting to buy or make products that I wouldn't be afraid to eat. For me it became absurdly simple: why would I ever put anything in my house or on my body that's so poisonous I'd have to call the Center for Disease Control if I ingested it? I'm farther along on the beauty product front and have two words for you: coconut oil. It's like the duct tape of beauty. So many uses (more on this later).

+ Winding down electronic devices (way) before winding down for bed: Apparently the lighting on our devices screws with our systems and prolongs the "system shut down" receptors that help us fall asleep. I installed f.lux on my laptop so that the light becomes warmer as the sun goes down, but since I haven't found a similar app for my phone or tablet, I count on physical books (and willpower to not check my phone) to lull me to sleep...which is hopefully deeper than it would have been had I sat staring at my phone until the second I shut my eyes at bedtime.

+ Walking everywhere: Living in NYC, I'm pretty reliant on my feet to get me around and up and down the subway stairs, but now I build in extra time into my day and just walk everywhere that I can (granted this is much easier in cooler weather than muggy, but I'm going to do this for as long as I can stand it!). Walking the 1.6 miles to and from my office not only saves me $4.25 a day (yes!), but I get some much needed daylight during the winter months and some extra movement every day to counteract the 8 hours I sit on my tush all day while I clackety clack away at work.

+ Changing how I work out—less cardio, more weights: My workout regimen for years has been a weekly mix of yoga, running 3 miles, biking and using the elliptical/stairstepper for 45 minutes, and lifting weights for 15 minutes. The only thing that has stayed the same is the yoga. For the rest, I now do a regular mix of very short bouts of low level aerobic exercise, longer strength-training/full body weight sessions, and intense sprinting. Not only is it much more interesting, but I've gotten better results than I ever did running three miles a day, 5 days a week.

+ Avoiding gluten/sugar as much as possible: The gluten thing was already a piece of cake (ha) to me by the time I began thinking about other positive changes to make, but the sugar thing was a newbie. I had switched to raw cane sugar and honey as my sweetener of choice in college (after a very short stint with the nasties like Splenda made me nauseous and upset my stomach for days!), but I began learning that even unprocessed sugar is still sugar and from what I understand (and choose to believe), it's not something our bodies are made to ingest, so, out they go! I no longer add sugar to coffee/tea and try very very hard to minimize sugar elsewhere. A big help in this was...

+ Making the switch to full-fat dairy: Turns out, fat isn't bad for you. And, adding full-fat, non homogenized, organic milk to your drinks and food not only tastes amazing (cannot believe I drank that bluish skim milk for so many years!), but makes you feel good on the outside and the inside. Especially when you buy local and follow your supplier on Facebook to see weekly pics of tow-headed children playing with the cows your goodies come from.

+ Buying good meat and animal products: This means paying quite a bit more, but I try to do this as much as I can—especially after watching Food, Inc. I make a huge effort to only buy meat and milk from animals that are humanely raised, grass-fed and from small farms and only eggs from pastured, non-corn/wheat-fed chickadees. It's definitely not easy or fun to pay the difference, but knowing that I'm putting the best stuff that I can in my belly and supporting local farms that are committed to gentle raising and butchering makes up for it.

+ Eating a ridiculous amount of vegetables: I never thought my life would include sauteed spinach or kale as the main portion of my breakfast plate everyday, but it does now and I love it.

+ Being mindful: This is probably the hardest for me because I have a tough time turning my mind off, but I'm making a conscious effort to incorporate more time for peaceful thinking/spirituality/what-have-you in the hopes that I'll become a better, kinder, more patient, less stressed and anxious person.

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After about six months full on with all of changes I gradually added in, I can say: I do feel better, but not as good as I thought I would. I haven't gotten the huge boost in energy that I was hoping for, nor the perpetually clear skin, but that's not to say that I don't think these ideas will work (eventually). My less-than-desired results are just a part of being human and slipping up sometimes or being confronted with situations beyond my capability to sanely handle. I honestly think my biggest problem is stress (much of it that I probably bring on myself).

On the happy side: my body composition has changed in a very good way (which seriously shocked me) and I do feel more at ease about the huge reduction in chemicals in my home.

As for the rest? I'll just keep doing what feels good as long as it feels good and see what else happens.

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I'm not sure if there's a label for my "lifestyle", although I think paleo/primal might come close, but labels give me the hives. And, I don't really talk about these things in real life anyway, so I've never really had a need for a label, but thinking about it all here, the best and truest I could come up with is "clean living" or ideally, "gentle living", because my whole goal, really, is to simplify my life as much as possible in as gentle a way as possible. To me, simplifying means just cutting out the bad so I actually have to room to focus on the good.

This is how I live—at least 90% of the time, 100% of anything is really just too much, not counting things like puppy snuggles and love and whatnot.

* I know I sound super anti-government here, but I promise I'm not (at least beyond this topic, anyway)!


  1. waw bravo! I had no idea... I've also had a huge wake up call a few years ago and have been shifting ever since to natural stuff. You should try organic rosehip oil as face moisturizer, i've been using it for over a year, it's been absolute miracle for me. I'm curious to hear about your tips on home cleaning stuff. ((and of course coconut oil!))

    1. Thanks, dear! And, no surprise you were surprised because I'm not too vocals on the topic (apart from the above, of course). So funny bc I just sat down after washing my face and slathering it with my organic rosehip oil. Can't believe I forgot to include my face oils! Fodder for a follow up I suppose, especially since Amazon tells me my order of new ones is arriving today. Lots more on that subject and coconut oil to come, although cleaning products may take a while since I haven't learned/tried as much in that area. Focused on myself first ;). PS. Thanks for reading all the way down!

  2. I love this post! I think your motto about only using products that you could safely eat is such a great way to think about things. I've been phasing out conventional cleaning and body products over the last year or so and I'd be really interested in learning more about what you're using. I recently had a horrible allergic reaction to a new facial moisturizer and so now I'm extra cautious about that stuff. I've been using jojoba oil on my face for a while, but I'm curious to try coconut oil. I'll start with a small spot test though just to be safe. :)

    I know you said you eat in a paleo type of style, but I'd recommend giving the Crazy Sexy Diet a try if you haven't already. I personally noticed a big boost in energy when I ate that way.

    1. Ooo, thanks so much, Amanda! I was a little nervous to hit "publish", but I'm glad I did! I will definitely share a little more about how I use coconut oil (and others!) soon.

      And, I am super interested in Kris Carr's philosophy, the only reason I hadn't incorporated more of her CSD thoughts into my life is because I tend to have problems with plant protein, but maybe it's time to try again, especially with the promise of an energy boost, something I'm sorely in need of!

      XOXO, J.

  3. You certainly are looking great! Also love your first photo caption...

    1. Ha, thanks dear. On both counts!
      Hopefully will be on my way to feeling even greater soon :).


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