Appearance vs. Reality (Guest Post)

In my high school English class, my teacher always told us to be on the lookout for clues that all was not what it seemed; to pay attention to characters whose inner thoughts were different from their actions, and to focus on the incongruity and what it might reveal about the characters, the story, or the world. I remember my teacher writing “Appearance vs. Reality” on the board over and over during the years I was lucky enough to be in her class. It has stuck with me, and I’m still attuned to it even when I’m watching movies or reading for pleasure.

Sometimes, I feel hypocritical even doing the occasional guest post on a fitness blog, because I feel like a total impostor; like the appearance I try to cultivate is hugely divergent from the reality. My relationship with exercise is on-again, off-again, I don’t excel at any sport (although I genuinely like a lot of them), and I’m not a nutrition expert. Some days, I feel like a total untouchable boss in the gym or in the pool, and others, I feel like an alien or a toddler who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet. I wish I could be someone who rode my bike everywhere (as it stands, I walk pretty much anywhere I can get in less than an hour and take the bus if I’m going any further). I’m a decent cook and like cooking healthy food, but have certainly been known to eat an entire pint of coconut ice cream* in a single sitting. I go through frequent cycles of “YAY I’M GOING TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD ALL THE TIME AND EXERCISE EVERY OTHER DAY” followed shortly by a crash where I eat takeout curry** every night for a week and forget what my running shoes look like.

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[Image description: A greeny-blue pint-sized carton of Mint Chocolate Chip coconut ice cream.] Seriously, you don’t understand how good this stuff is.

Conceptually, I know moderation is the key to avoiding these cycles, but I haven’t quite internalized that.

Because of this, I often feel like I have no business whatsoever in blogging—even guest blogging—for a fitness blog. It seems like the kind of thing that only people who really have their act together should do; people who have it all figured out and are here to impart some epic knowledge. Even though I’ve only done a handful of posts, I dread linking to them on my own Facebook page because I’m totally convinced that people who actually know me in real life will read them and go, “Pfft, what? Who is she to talk?” (I think this is my anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real.) The impostor syndrome doesn’t end there; I’m convinced that someone will realize I’ve tricked my way into my PhD program, someone will notice that all the socks I knit are basically just variations on the same theme (so take no real talent to produce), someone will find out that I have no real competence in anything whatsoever. This is indeed a case where appearance does not align with reality, or so my brain tells me.

I try to manage my worries with an awful lot of private pep talks to myself (and a lot of support from family and friends). But there’s a Catch-22: I normally rely heavily on exercise to manage my anxiety and depression, but occasionally exercise turns into a source of anxiety. For the time being, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the on-again, off-again cycle that I’ve come to know and love (?), but I sure wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not good enough and have managed to trick everyone else into thinking I’m something I’m not. Of course, things are further compounded by the fact that I do genuinely believe that it’s okay just to do things you like doing, regardless of whether you’re actually “good” at them. So then I worry that I’m being hypocritical, and I question why not being good enough is so troubling to me. If you truly believed that it was okay to do things you like doing, whether or not you’re good at them, the little voice says, you wouldn’t feel like such an impostor.

There isn’t any grand lesson or moral to be gained from this post. I just wanted to throw these ideas out there. How about you, readers? Does any of you ever feel like your appearance doesn’t match your reality?

 

*And let me tell you, this is one case where “vegan” is unequivocally not the same as “healthy.”

**Again, “vegan” ≠ “healthy.”

Stretches for my taste buds and exercises for my palate

the 6 tastes of ayurveda: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent

Two weeks ago, when so many people were at hundreds of Women’s Marches all over the US and the world, I was at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness with my friend Norah. While she was doing a yoga nidra and deep relaxation workshop, I was busy in the Kripalu demo kitchen, learning and chopping and observing and smelling and stirring and tasting.   The course was called “5 ingredients, no time”. How could anyone resist such a title?

Since my relationship ended about a year and a half ago, I’ve been cooking on my own. I enjoy cooking, and often have people over for dinner or host parties with nibblies and cocktails. However, cooking for myself day in and day out proved difficult. Getting used to cooking for one most of the time was hard, and a reminder of my changed status. I see cooking as a form of self-care, and my self-care skills were not in great shape for some time. Plus, I tend to gravitate toward carbs for comfort in times of distress. In short, I was not eating in ways that felt healthy-to-me or caring-for-me.

Over time, the shadows of post-relationship sadness have lifted. Hallelujah! Happiness is once more my default state (more or less). I told my therapist recently that I didn’t think I was depressed anymore; I found myself singing songs in the morning. Of course, not like this:

Cinderella singing to birds and mice

But I have felt more of a spring in my step, and I guess also a song in my heart these days. Go me!

However, a change in emotional state does not automatically or effortlessly result in a seamless transition to new and healthy-to-me habits. I know this from past history. I started my current job in fall of 2001. I had been unhappy in my previous job, and in fact got denied tenure. However, I was very lucky to find another faculty position, and in the very city where I most wanted to live. Again, Hallelujah! Let all the people say Amen!

Yellow and black graphic of choir members with arms raised in joy

But it took some time to shift my habits of coping during periods of unhappiness and stress to new habits once the stress had eased.

Back to the present: I had gone to Kripalu in May to do a course on mindful eating, which was helpful. But I was feeling a bit stalled and bored about what I was eating.

Enter the Kripalu weekend cooking course.

I already know my way around a kitchen, and in fact fancy myself a pretty knowledgeable cook. The course went over knife skills and also organizing techniques for efficiency and good time management. Yeah, already knew that too.

But what really surprised me was this: I got reintroduced to taste. I mean all kinds of tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent, and astringent. Kripalu does a lot of menu planning and cooking based on the six tastes of Ayurvedic cooking.

Spices representing six tastes of Ayurveda

Chef Jeremy Rock Smith put together a variety of tastes in combinations that reflected different cooking traditions (e.g. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian). And he created simple recipes that featured these tastes using vegetables, proteins, and salads. He recommended the book The Flavor Bible for anyone interested in exploring flavor combos in more sophisticated ways. I have already ordered it.

The book The Flavor Bible

For proteins, Chef Jeremy offered recipes that would work for tofu, chicken, fish, and other meats. For the most part we cooked with tofu and fish, but did a few chicken dishes as well. One of my favorite new-to-me tastes is courtesy of Za’atar, a Middle Eastern combination of spices that can be used mixed with oil and used as a dipping sauce, used on vegetables, or (as we did in our course) coated on protein for pan sautéing. Here’s a yummy and easy recipe:

Za’atar-crusted tofu/chicken/tempeh with pomegranate molasses

Za’atar spice (you can order it or buy it at spice shops or fancy grocery stores)

Olive oil

3 Tsp pomegranate molasses (same as above)

Dust protein with Za’atar generously (no need to coat it with anything, just dredge it as is). Heat pan, then add olive (or other) oil. Saute protein for 3—5 minutes on each side (more if it’s chicken, less if tofu or tempeh). Remove from pan and let sit for a couple of minutes. Then drizzle with 2 tsp of pomegranate molasses over each piece of protein (slab of tofu or tempeh, breast of chicken, etc.)

The Za’atar plus pomegranate molasses provided a wow combination of flavors that really woke up my palate. I found myself intrigued, and was looking forward to more taste exercises.

I wasn’t disappointed. My taste buds got a real workout over the weekend! Here are some of the dishes we made and sampled:

  • Creamed leeks with coconut milk and shredded coconut—oh man, they were soooo good. This could be a nice sauce accompaniment for fish or tofu, too.

 

  • Braised fennel with orange/yogurt sauce—I didn’t even think I liked fennel very much, and the orange yogurt thing seemed like a weird idea. But it was a taste sensation. We served it with white fish, which was yummy.

 

  • Brussels sprouts with ginger and (wait for it) kimchi—Whoa! Who would’ve thought this was a thing?   Not me. But it was an explosion of flavor—in a good way.

 

Since I’ve been back, I’ve done a bit of cooking, but I really got a chance to try out some of the recipes and techniques on friends Friday night after yoga class. I made grilled tofu with adobo sauce and sautéed sweet potatoes and onions with coconut milk. Both were a big hit. (I overdid both the spice and green chilis on the black bean dish—that’s what happens when I go off-script with new recipes, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad).

So I’m feeling newly energized and equipped to head back into the kitchen with more excitement and purpose, armed with new knowledge and a wider array of flavors to try and enjoy.

So what’s the big deal? Why are a handful of new recipes so important for self-care?

For me, with respect to both eating and physical activity, novelty and variety are important. This isn’t true of everyone, but it is for me. I always have and always will love cycling and water sports, but I like to shake it up and try new things. I want new physical experiences and to tackle new challenges. Ropes yoga is a current novel activity for me (I blogged about my first class here). I’m also starting kayak rolling classes at the end of February, hoping to bring my boat skills to a new level in preparation for a weekend on-the-water course in April.

Why should eating be any different? Yes, I love oranges and avocados and eggs and bacon and tomatoes and arugula and sourdough bread, etc. And I have a bunch of recipes that I enjoy doing—my chicken fricassee is a classic that I love. But I’ve been yearning for something to, well, reward me for healthier-to-me eating that I’ve been trying (but not succeeding) in doing.

The wow-effect of new flavors may just be the reward I’ve been looking for. It requires a little investment of time, of restocking my kitchen with some new things, but it’s gotten me out of my eating rut. It is a source of pleasure, and a lovely act of self-care.

Let me know if you try any of these or if you have alternative ways of doing super-yummy flavorful recipes. If you’re interested I can put recipes in the comments section. And I’d love it if you shared some of your favorite recipes in the comments too!

graphic of bon appetit

 

Sugar free September? Good God no?

 

Image result for sugar free september

We’ve thought a lot about sugar here on the blog. There was Tracy’s plan to dump sugar, your reaction, and her change in plans. See her posts Dumping Sugar: this is not a detox. and Dumping the Sugar Dump: critical follow up.

I’m officially leery of quitting sugar entirely. See Six reasons this feminist isn’t giving up sugar and Sugar on my tongue: In defence of the sweet stuff.

And I think I can safely say, for me at least, I don’t want to open up that particular can of worms again for awhile. However, our experience of blogging about sugar convinced me that it’s controversial and complicated. This issue isn’t easy.

That’s why I was super surprised to see the Canadian Cancer Society advocating Sugar Free September.

About Sugar-Free September

Fancy a month off the sweet stuff to help raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society?

Sugar-Free September challenges you to go sugar-free for 30 days to raise vital funds for the Canadian Cancer Society to create a world where no Canadian fears cancer.

Commit to quitting the cookies and brownies, lock up the doughnuts, ditch the candies and kick the sugar habit by signing up to Sugar-Free September and raise money for life-saving research and vital services for people living with cancer.

Most Canadians consume diets high in added sugar, which can lead to excess weight gain. Research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of cancer.

Get your health and body back on track by reducing your intake of food and drinks with added sugars from your diet for an entire month! It’s a great way to learn how easy it is to moderate consumption while also feeling the benefits of healthier eating.

Image result for sugar free september

I worry that this feeds into food fear and that very little good can come of it. I worry that people who want an excuse to adopt a very restrictive diet will find this appealing. And I worry it will hurt people with a history of eating disorders.

But that’s me. I’m the over-thinking worrying sort. Pretty much an occupational hazard!

What do you think? And if you’re doing sugar free September, how’s it going so far?

Image result for worrying