Monday, November 23, 2015

On being more than thankful

I don't know about you, but my heart has been hurting so much the past few weeks. I went into my waitressing shift two Friday nights ago in absolute shock, as I read the beginning reports of what was happening in Paris on my phone. I got home around midnight and sat on the couch alone, watching the news, balling my eyes out. And not only was I sad, but I was scared. I know we are told to not be fearful because that is what "they" want, but I couldn't help it. What happened in Paris, could happen anywhere.

Ten years ago, at this time, I was studying abroad in Paris. I lived in the 11th arrondissement, near the Bastille, and a quick hop, skip, and metro ride to the Marais district. I formed some wonderful friendships in Paris, and we all loved exploring the city together. We got into some trouble too (nothing too crazy), but isn't that what living is about? Of course, all our favorite memories of that time involve food. Grabbing falafels on our school lunch break at L'As du Falafel in the Marais, getting a fresh Nutella crepe at 3am from a street vendor, or stopping at the bakery near school to grab a meat and butter sandwich on a fresh baguette (don't knock it until you try it). All these memories have been rushing through my head these past few weeks. I can't help but watch the news coverage and listen to NPR constantly and feel sick to my stomach thinking about the people involved.

Me, circa 2005, at the real Moulin Rouge

As Thanksgiving is this week, I have been thinking a lot about how this time of year, it is inevitable to think about what we are thankful for. And that's great. And of course, I know we should find something to be thankful for every day, and I think many of us do. However, I wonder if we can shift this idea slightly. Rather, instead of just being thankful, can we commit to showing a little more empathy and compassion towards others on a day to day basis? 

This idea stems from a lot of different things that have been going on in my life for the past year and a half. My transition back to school for a career change has been life-changing in many ways, whether it be living off of cash tips, going from a professional position of leadership to becoming a volunteer, to scrubbing end caps at midnight on a Sunday. There have been times where I have been so over it, and even more times where I've felt very humbled by my experiences, especially my volunteer work at the Veterans Hospital. I've realized this past year and a half, I've been more conscious about the person I want to be. Not the dietitian I want to be, but the person I want to be. I'm constantly trying to self-improve, because at the end of the day, I want to be proud of who I am and also, always remember to treat others with compassion and empathy. The latter, is harder to do sometimes, if I'm really being honest.

So, on this week of giving thanks, can you take it up a notch? Can you show thanks? 

Let's create a better world, filled with good people. 

Let's fill our hearts up with joy, compassion, and empathy for the fellow human. If that is not healthy, I don't know what is. 

Let us be thankful on Thanksgiving, fill our bellies with pie, and laugh. And let us show how thankful we are for this life through our actions of kindness and patience towards others. Because if the events of the past two weeks have reinforced anything in me, it's that this life, is indeed very precious.

Rodin's Le Penseur, from my favorite museum in the world

Monday, October 26, 2015

From a Belated 30th Birthday, 30 Things I've Learned

On Saturday, October 17th, I turned 30 years young. 

I was born 11 minutes after midnight. 11 minutes late. I was due on October 16th. Which is probably why, to this day, I hate being late. This year, at 12:11am, I was closing checks after a long, Friday night waitressing shift. But honestly, it turned out to be the loveliest of birthdays once I got home and crawled into bed. A morning run, brunch with my big sister, an afternoon nap that felt extremely luxurious, and dinner with Brent. 

This past year has been especially life-changing. In tradition with years past, here are 30 things I've the past 30 years.

1. Never stop learning. I really do feel like a sponge right now. I am trying to soak up all the information I am learning in school, while also trying to find time to think critically about this information I am being given.

Look Mom! I made a thickened starch paste (lemon curd) and wrote a lab report on it!

2. Just when you think you know something, you realize - you know nothing. And then there's this. Many mornings I wake up and think to myself, there is so much more I need and want to know. I may know my flashcards, but that will never be enough. This feeling of knowing nothing is what makes me want to commit to a life filled with learning. Slash never go back to school again. Slash maybe get my Masters someday. Just not today.

3. Pay it forward. This is my life's motto right now. I think about a fellow student who graduated from my program last year, and has graciously taken her time to answer my random dietetics questions throughout the past few months. I think about Karen, a wonderful RD and mentor who allows me to volunteer for her, but also, to observe her motivating people in her weight-loss support groups. I think about a new friend I met who recently became an RD, and how she has taken her own time to give me advice. I am so grateful for people who are so generous with their precious time. Everyday, I remind myself to pay it forward. Whether that be helping another student by sharing notes, giving a friend a ride home, or sharing snacks. I am so grateful.

4. Take care of yourself. <-----This was the best advice I got from a former student on how to survive this traditionally difficult time during the RD program.

5. Take care of your loved ones, too. 

6. Cultivate joy every day. For me, I find one thing, at least, every day to look forward to. This is most important to remember on those days when you feeling like nothin' is going your way. Sometimes it's a walk to a coffee shop, fresh flowers I've bought, or an exercise class. On the weekends, it's usually FaceTiming with our adorable two nieces. Brent and I have been FaceTiming with them once a week for over the past year, and it brings me so much joy to watch them grow and develop personalities. 
Walking Lands-End with my amazing Mom

7. Have people to get weird with. I love my fiancé for so many reasons. We can make each other laugh hard even when we're just doing nothing in our tiny apartment. The other day, we attempted the dirty dancing lift in our living room. I have no idea why, but it just happened. That's love, folks. 

8. Invest in exercise that makes you feel happy and healthy. For the past few months, I've been enjoying a little more cardio and strength training, and I am officially obsessed with Barry's Bootcamp in SF. I know my yoga practice will always be with me, but it's felt wonderful to take Barry's classes. As I began Fall semester, I made a commitment to myself that I would prioritize exercise for well-being and stress-management. Though this is challenging at times, given my hectic schedule, I am fairly certain my workouts are responsible for keeping me sane and energized. And, I fall fast asleep every night.

9. Let thy freezer be thy friend. I hate wasting food, which is why I love my freezer. Currently, my freezer is taking good care of some end of the summer organic Strawberries, pumpkin puree, and lots of soup leftovers. I freeze the soups in bags - when I'm ready to eat one, I take it out of the bag, put it on the stove, and heat it up slowly. 

10. You are more capable than you think. Truly.

11. FaceTime is a good time. When Brent and I got engaged, we FaceTimed my Mom. She was beaming, and it was honestly one of the happiest moments of my life thus far. Sometimes, technology just does it right.

12. You can't do everything. I'm still working on saying no

13. Find the good in the challenge. 

14. Always a have a firm handshake. Seriously though - nothing worse than a loose handshake.

15. Be an active listener. 

16. Please be nice to your server. 

17. But in turn, be nice to your customers. The restaurant I serve at has a wonderful customer base. However, sometimes, there may be someone who comes into the restaurant and isn't the friendliest. It happens. So, when it does, I remember that I don't know what this person is going through. Perhaps they just lost their job or lost a loved one. Show compassion, always.

18. Good manners never go out of style. Always say please and thank you! 

19. And neither does the Vitamix.

20. Celebrate food with good friends, often.

21. Don't apologize for everything. I do this. A lot. I apologize for things and situations which are often out of my control. 

22. You'll never regret a workout, especially if it's a workout you love. As I mentioned above, I have been on a Barry's Bootcamp kick the past few months. It's just what my body and mind are craving. In fact, I love it so much, I have had no trouble waking up at 5:20am to get to a 6am bootcamp. The endorphins are so worth it.

23. Don't compete with others; it will not serve you. In fact, I am pretty sure this will cripple you.

24. Enjoy the quiet moments. 

25. Give yourself a little time each day to zone out. I like to take a few minutes to stretch while watching TV, do a headstand, or watch a little TV to give my brain a break.

26. When you need help, ask for it. If you have trouble with this, start trying to do it now. 

27. Be present. Get off your phone. Enjoy whatever moment you are having. Quiet your mind, and be present. 

28. Love fiercely. This guy - need I say more? I am so lucky. 

29. Show up. How are you going to show up today? I love when my yoga teachers ask this during class. Are you going to approach this day you've been given with fear and dread? Or are you going to make this day wonderful?

30. Pay it forward. This is worth repeating.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Little Life Update

Oh, hello.

Nice to be in this little ole blog space again. I keep meaning to write, and then, well, life gets in the way. In mostly very good ways. I finished my six-week intensive Anatomy + Lab course (honestly, the worst idea ever - do not recommend Summer school, ever), and for the past three weeks, I've been refusing to think about school. In fact, when someone mentions the word, I actually shake my head.

I have so many ideas for posts I want to write...posts I've been dreaming up all Summer. But I figured I'd start with a life update. A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

Some endorphins:

It's been just over a year since I quit my corporate, pharmaceutical marketing job and entered into life, full-time as a student. And though I have never looked back on my decision to pursue my passion for a career, this past year has been a challenging transition. Being a full-time student, studying, volunteering, waitressing, sleeping, breathing, and eating, didn't leave much time for ME. So, I decided to take the month of August and treat myself. And I don't mean with lots of desserts. I wanted to get back into shape and feel really energized and strong. Truthfully, I wanted to feel more like myself again - mentally. So, I bought a month-long Flex Academy to Barry's Bootcamp in San Francisco. That means, working out at Barry's 5 times a week for a month. If you're not familiar with Barry's, you can learn more about it here. To sum it up, it's an hour workout alternating between HIIT treadmill intervals and strength training. The workout is accompanied by awesome music and motivating, often hilarious instructors. I'm in my third week and look forward to going every day. Simply put, I feel great. I am all about listening to my body, and by the end of Summer school, my mind and body were begging me for a structured, butt-kicking workout. Honestly, as a student I thought I'd feel guilty for spending so much money for workouts. After two days of bootcamp, I realized, it was the best investment I'd made in a long time.

Some yoga, too:

Did you know that I danced (ballet, modern, jazz) from age 4 to 20? One of the best parts of dancing in a company was forming life long bonds with my fellow dancers. I was lucky enough last week to go to Equinox (Pine Street, SF) and take a yoga class taught by Alexa Silvaggio, who just moved from NYC to SF. We grew up dancing together, naturally. Her class was the perfect hour-long flow, and she had me cracking up quite a bit. I went with another childhood dance friend and it was so fun to all reconnect and laugh together.

All the Summer foods:

I am extremely excited that I am no longer waitressing Sunday mornings because now I can go to my favorite Farmers Market. For me, strolling through the Farmers Market feels pretty darn zen. I always feel so inspired by all the goodies there. Thank you so much, Farmers!

Grab those Shishito and Padron peppers before the season ends!

I plan to eat my weight in Padron and Shishito peppers until they get too spicy (meaning, end of season). I came up with a genius snack last night...sauteed Padron and Shishitos with sea salt and pepper + Marla's Raw Tomato Sauce (for dipping). For the past two weeks, I have made a big batch of Marla's sauce. I basically put it on everything...eggs, chicken, veggies. Please make it immediately before the oh so sweet tomato season ends. 

Dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes + Zebra tomatoes for Marla's Raw Tomato Sauce

A lot of waitressing:

The last two weeks of my precious, too short Summer break have unfortunately been spent working nearly every day. Even though my feet are pretty achey by the end of each serving shift, I am very grateful to work with wonderful people at a restaurant that serves fresh, seasonal food. They make veggies taste so good. (PS, I instagram my staff meals...follow me here!).

Romano Beans "Stracotto" with pancetta & tomatoes (obsessed) + Spigiarello with garlic, chili, & lemon

My heart:

And, my heart is feeling pretty full these days. In late Spring, Brent (and I) gained a new baby niece. In late Spring, Brent and I also lost someone unexpectedly. It's been a horrible situation that has forced me to squeeze my closest loved ones a little tighter. And it's very hard to not worry incessantly about everyone and everything. We became godparents to that precious Spring baby, Jensen, last month. Every time we are with baby Jensen, and her big sister, it's a gentle reminder of unconditional love, joy, and innocence. ... [Insert Circle of Life music]

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The 3 Things I Look at When Reading Food Nutrition Labels

I was at Trader Joes this past weekend, and stumbled across some Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins. I turned them over to read the label, and started laughing...

One, because I am a nerd.

And two, because, the first ingredient listed on the nutrition label was Cane Sugar...aka...Sugar.

This got me thinking about how I approach food nutrition labels. While I would love to shop at the Farmer's Market every week, I can't make it happen with my work schedule. I shop a lot at Trader Joe's for affordable staples (hello, raw almond butter!) and Whole Foods when I can (because it is dangerously located across the street from our apartment). 

I love grocery shopping, which is good for my boyfriend, who loathes it. Our grocery staples typically include coffee (priorities), eggs, chicken sausage, coconut water, greens, sweet potatoes, an assortment of nut butters, plantain chips (Brent is addicted), frozen fruit for smoothies, dried mango, larabars (trying to qualm my post-work late-night snacking), chocolate (#keepitreal), and more veggies.

I thought it'd be interesting to go over what I look for when I read labels; this isn't meant to be pointing out right and wrong or be exhaustive, but rather, highlight which aspects of food labels I pay attention to. 

1. The first thing I look at is the wording on the front label:

  • Is it organic? I really try to buy mostly organic, but if I am being honest, this does not happen 100% of the time. Here are some things I will not compromise on, however, meaning, I always buy organic:
    • Coffee - I love this one from TJs
    • Frozen and fresh berries
    • Apples
    • Frozen and fresh greens
    • Sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root veggies
    • Brown rice and quinoa (the primary grains we eat...when we aren't too lazy to cook them)
    • And finally, eggs: first and foremost, I buy pastured, free-range eggs. I always laugh when I see "vegetarian fed diet" Chickens ARE NOT vegetarians; they eat bugs! As they should. So don't be fooled by the label of "Fed a 100% vegetarian diet." 
  • When in doubt, this list of the Dirty Dozen, compiled by the Environmental Working Group, is incredibly helpful if you are trying to prioritize which foods to buy organic, and which to buy conventional. I love the EWG, as they provide wonderful, resourceful information for consumers, and recognize that many people cannot afford to buy all organic products.
  • If I am shopping at the Farmers Market, and notice that the farmers do not have a USDA Organic Seal, I simply ask the farmers if they spray their crops. The reason I do this is because becoming USDA Organic is a long, expensive process, that takes years for farmers to obtain; many small farms cannot afford to do so. If a farmer is selling beautiful, sweet strawberries, and tells me he or she doesn't spray them, I'm going to buy them! 

2. The second thing I look at is the list of ingredients, in their respective order: I don't buy a ton of processed food, but of the processed food I do buy, I pay attention to the order of the ingredients. Per the Food and Drug Administration guidelines, the ingredients on a food label must be listed in order of amount, with the most starting first. This is why I laughed when I saw cane sugar as the first ingredient on the so-called 'healthy' blueberry muffins. Here are a few of the ingredients I am noticing tend to show up on many labels, as of lately:

  • Corn / Canola / Soybean oils: These are processed, cheap-to-use, refined oils, rich in omega 6 fats. Now, we need both omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats in our diet. However, Americans tend to consume way too many omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3 fats, and this unbalanced ratio can lead to inflammation. I will occasionally buy products with corn or canola oil, but very rarely. Instead, I try to focus on eating healthy, balanced, fatty foods, like grass fed butter, avocados, nuts, seeds, and flax (which I strongly prefer to Chia...I know, I am weird). 
  • Carageenan: Carageenan is actually extracted from seaweed, and is used as a thickener in food products. You'll often see it listed on the food labels in products such as non-dairy milks, yogurt, or ice cream. There is a lot of controversy on the safety of carageenan as a dietary ingredient, especially because it has been associated with gut health issues. I like this article, by Chris Kresser, on the subject. Of course, this is one of the reasons why I love to make my own almond milk. But right now, I got 24 hours of summer school + 25 hours of work per week so...ain't nobody got time for that.
  • Yellow 5, Red 40, aka Fake Colorings/Food Dyes: This is one of my biggest pet peeves as a nutrition professional! I absolutely hate when I see a food label (or even, supplement label) that has fake coloring listed as an ingredient. Honestly, what is the point? If the food tastes good, shouldn't that be what matters? Who cares if it is bright red or yellow?  Did you know that the European Union has regulations on these food dyes, but the US doesn't? Food dyes are linked to a number of health issues, and thus, I avoid them, as I feel they are unnecessary. The Center for Science in The Public Interest did a lengthy report on the use of food dyes, which you can find here.

3. The third thing I look at is the amount of grams and types of sugar:

  • Agave 
  • Cane Sugar
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Beet Sugar
  • Date Sugar
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Organic Raw Sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Maple Syrup

  • These are all common names for sugar, just a few. Organic or natural or not - they are all sugars. Sugar is a controversial topic. And I think that the food industry is picking up on that, obviously, and trying to market products made with sugars such as maple syrup or brown rice syrup, as health foods. Don't get me wrong, I love maple syrup and I love dessert. But in the end, it's sugar too. 
  • I also wrote a post about making sure you watch out for overloading your 'green' smoothies with sugar. You can read it here.
  • It is especially important to pay attention to the amount of sugar when buying things such as yogurt/greek yogurt, nut milks, and so-called 'green juices.' I think that 20 grams of sugar in a small serving of yogurt is way too much. Here is the nutrition label for a Green Juice, marketed with the label "No Sugar Added."
  • Um...28 grams of sugar x 2 servings = 56 grams of sugar for a so-called green juice. Think about it: would you really eat 2 3/4 apples + 1/2 of a banana + 1/3 of a kiwi + 1/3 of a mango + a bite of pineapple in one sitting? Frankly, I would rather just eat 1 apple with some almond butter, and call it a day.

So, those are the top 3 things I look at when I read a nutrition label. 

Now you tell me, how do you look at food nutrition labels? Which things are most important to you?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Journey to Become an RD: 7 Things I Learned In My First Year of My Dietetics Program

And just like that, it's done. 

It's been two weeks since I finished my first year of my two-year Dietetics program, or as I like to call it, RD-school. And honestly, it's taken two weeks to de-stress and decompress into Summer.

I wish I could say the first year went by fast, but this past semester went by painfully slow. Lots of group projects, never-ending rounds of midterms (damn you, semester system), and lots of biochemistry studying. 

My dining room wall art of metabolic pathways...

But, nonetheless, I am done. Free. Ready for a Summer with a tad more free time.

Reflection is a good thing, right? Here are 7 things I learned in my first year of RD School:

1. I am capable.  When I first pondered going back to school to become a Registered Dietitian, I was deeply intimidated by the amount of science required in RD programs: chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, advanced medical nutrition, etc...I feared the worse, told myself I would probably barely get through, and that maybe going into science just wouldn't be for me. However, I made it through all these classes; I enjoyed biochemistry the most, as I got to learn about carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism (the latter, of which, is my favorite, obviously. Because fats are delicious). 

2. Negative energy is not cool and will not serve you: During my first semester, I was shocked by how much negative energy I encountered, specifically regarding how competitive internship programs are for dietetics. To obtain your RD license, you must complete an accredited internship that lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 months; you do the internship after you complete the 2-year schooling. Although these are all over the country, there aren't enough to meet demand. For example, 150 people may apply to one program, which has only 8 spots. I let this negative energy consume me for the first few months and it started to eat away at me. I did not like the person I was becoming. It's been a process, but I have been actively working on staying positive throughout the program, and not letting the negative energy get to me.

3. I learned a lot about mass food production and food safety. I also learned how to torch a damn good creme brûlée. A large part of the curriculum for dietetics is learning how to run a safe kitchen. Think about it! RDs work in schools, hospitals, cafeterias, and food safety is a huge issue. I'm sure you've all heard about the numerous product recalls over the past few months - one that comes to mind is the Listeria monocytogenes contamination in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. For one of my classes, we had to spend three hours a week in the back of a teaching kitchen at our school, preparing a 3-course lunch for faculty. As a Type A person, I definitely prefer to cook freely in my own kitchen. But my school friends and I found ways to make this experience more enjoyable.

Creepy creme brûlée face

4. I was humbled as I learned (or rather, re-learned), to live in a very expensive city on a very limited budget. I was lucky to find a waitressing job that is close to my apartment as well as lucrative in terms of tips. My loans cover my tuition and books, so I pay all living expenses off of my tips; trust me, it's nuts. Adjusting to my new budget has been quite the process and is a constant struggle; this has meant, no shopping, no Lululemon (my fave), minimal meals out, limited travel, and picking up waitressing shifts whenever I can.  I'm lucky to have a boyfriend who takes me out to delicious, nice dinners, and treats me wonderfully. But this whole budget adjustment has been quite humbling. I remind myself, a lot, that it's temporary.

5. Remember to laugh when shit gets weird ----> shit will get weird. I made a few wonderful friends through my program. The peer support is critical to well-being.

6. I am interested in new aspects of nutrition that I never thought I would be interested in. I took a nutrition class called "Nutrition in the Life Cycle" which went over nutrition needs and conditions from pre-conception all the way into elderly populations. I never thought I would be so interested in things like breastfeeding, but I found the research on it fascinating. Then again, I am obsessed with learning about gut health and autoimmune diseases. I even wrote a research paper of Ulcerative Colitis, the role of the gut microbiota, and the possible treatment with fecal transplants (poop is fascinating); cool stuff, for sure.

7. My time is precious. If you want to do well, you have to fully commit, and make sacrifices...aka say NO: I hate saying no to people. I let guilt consume me. But, I've had to say no to a lot over the past year, whether it be for financial reasons or time-management reasons. The RD program is not just school; it's volunteering, lots of studying, and for me, working too. I prioritized my studies, and in the end, I am proud of my grades from this first year. 

It has been, by far, the most challenging yet rewarding year of my life. 

Even throughout all the stress, late nights studying, long hours waitressing, missing out on social events, bloodshot eyes (yes, I actually popped a blood vessel in my eye three weeks ago from too much screen-time), it was worth it. 

I recently saw a bunch of old coworkers from my advertising days, and they asked me "are you happy?" I've been asked this question a lot this past year, and my answer has and continues to be "I've never been so stressed, but so happy. I've never looked back." 

PS: If you are interested in reading more about my journey to become an RD, please check out these:

A Big, Scary, and Exciting Life Change
Journey to Become an RD: My First Week of School
Journey to Become an RD: The Second Semester