Friday, April 17, 2015

Halfway through the Whole30 and the novelty is starting to wear off

So, it's the end of Week 2, the weather is warming up and it's prime happy hour/sit-outside-and-have-a-drink weather. And I'm stuck doing the Whole30.

Granted it's just another two weeks.  If you need a recap, I started a food plan for 30 days that eliminates foods that are irritants for many people--dairy, legumes, sugar, grains and just to make it that much worse, alcohol. I wanted to reset my system for spring and see if this would have any impact at all on anything. But, caffeine is allowed on the plan. I only do half-caf anyway, but that would have been the deal breaker for me.

At the halfway mark, my food cravings are mostly gone and so are those highs that come with anticipating a dinner out, cocktails with friends (ok, that one still kind of makes my jaws tingle), a big bowl of chips accompanied by salsa, and cheese. And chocolate. The lows that accompany those highs are also gone--feeling "sickish" after I eat popcorn, chips or peanuts; headaches after too much red wine, etc., etc. But I'm getting kind of bored.

In the beginning I experienced real hunger and headaches and in panic mode, stocked up on everything I liked that was Whole30 compliant. Now I'm kind of over it. The website says that you do reach a point where you're just bored by it because you kind of know what you're going to eat: salad, veggies, a protein and maybe some fruit. Yay!

The good thing is that I like to cook and experiment so I am trying to mix it up. My new favorite thing is a grassfed burger (I buy them frozen in a bag), wrapped in lettuce with grilled red onion and shiitake mushrooms, a glob of avocado and my compliant mix of ketchup and mayo. Today I added baked sweet potato "fries" with cajun spice. This is my Whole30 version of my favorite Five Guys Little Cheeseburger "all the way". At this point I know it's useless to want the cheese, so I don't even think about it. But usually I would have skipped the sweet potato as "too fattening." I'm learning that it's not.

This already presents big changes. Social events based around food don't seem as exciting as they once did. I'd rather do other things, like "normal" people who aren't obsessed foodies. Yesterday I went out to lunch and ordered a cobb salad, no cheese, no dressing, with added tenderloin and a bottle of oil and vinegar on the side. The outing gave me an excuse to catch up with an old friend, but I could have just as easily made the salad at home. He had even less interest in food than I did (is this how thin people act naturally?) and half-heartedly picked at some calamari. Usually I'd want to dive into that, but I just didn't care.

This apathy is all new to me and it's kind of liberating. It's like finally quitting smoking and suddenly feeling free. I used to love outings because of the food. Now I just love the outings. But losing that familiar food rush is a little like falling out of love.

But, I am discovering recipes to make at home that sound amazing: a compliant pad thai with a mock peanut sauce using sunflower seed butter as the base.  It appeals to me much more than Five Guys, my longstanding guilty pleasure. And who'd have thought I'd ever want to make pad thai rather than just order takeout?

Maybe this will all wear off after another two weeks and I'll be eating out again all the time, and not making "healthy choices." But I really don't think so. It's just calmer and easier this way. I'm in control and that may spread to other areas of my life (they do say the Whole30 can be life-changing). And when you do something as important as fueling your body based on what you crave, it's bound to catch up with you one day. It did with me when my fiery metabolism finally started running out of gas. Plus, a friend told me my face looks "different" and I noticed it too, like I've had "something done"--much clearer and more vibrant. I don't need any help falling asleep and wake up energetic, not like a vampire who can't take the light of day. And I'm much more focused at the gym.

So far, food-wise, and with my family and friends supporting me, I have to say it's pretty much been a breeze. But that support is crucial. I am the cook in my household; my family eats what I make with no additions or substitutions. And, so far, nobody has dared to drink in front of me….

Right now I am thinking I may make this the foundation of how I eat, even after the next two weeks are over. Yes, I'll consume "noncompliant" foods and introduce them all back in, but I'd like to make them the exception rather than the rule. But let's see if I can hold on. Day 15 down, 15 to go!

Even my cat can't bear to hear the words "compliant" or "Whole30" ever again.

It takes a village to make a burger.
Grassfed patties from Mom's Organic Market, sugar-free ketchup and homemade mayo

This meal is a go-to, Whole30 or not. Garlic shrimp, broccoli and guacamole.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What do I have to do to get an olive around here?? One week down on the Whole30 and I'm craving salt.

Today marks the one-week anniversary of my Whole30 spring-cleaning plan and I'm still going strong. I started the program last Friday and never dreamed I'd have kicked my wine habit in a week. (This coming from someone whose Wodify profile picture is a margarita.) The raging headache over my left eye is gone, the sugar cravings are done and my sinuses are clearer than they've been in ages. But on Tuesday, I needed salt.

I've never been much of a sugar junkie; I specialize in fat and salt--gooey, ripe brie and cheesy nachos. So I think because I wasn't overloading on cereal, pasta or cookies before the plan, my sugar withdrawal (er, wine withdrawal) lasted only about 5 or 6 days. But then I woke up craving salt. I looked to my stash of jalapeño- and anchovy-stuffed olives and gherkins I keep for such emergencies. Foiled again.

Every single olive  in my fridge had something in it I couldn't have on the Whole30, namely some sort of sulfite or glutamate. At least the Maille company had the cojones to announce it. Their label reads in all caps "WARNING: ALLERGEN IN PRODUCT." Maybe the French are more picky about these details.

So, then, of course, because I had to have them, I drove to the grocery store and started reading every label in the olive section. I wasn't sure any were compliant, so in desperation, I ended up with a can of green beans. Eureka. Canned green beans never tasted so delicious.

Meanwhile, I sent my husband out to continue the search and he scored. Big time. Jalapeño olives with  just salt. More subtle tasting than my old brand, and every bit as good.

This was also like the week before Christmas. Packages were delivered almost daily, treasure troves of foods that I no longer had the energy to scour the aisles for--pastured sugar-free bacon and grass-fed compliant teriyaki steak. A box from Tessamae's came from the same day with that wonder product, sugar-free ketchup.

This may sound like a lot of trouble to stay "compliant." And it is. But I'm fueled by dreams, nightmares actually, in which I've consumed something non-compliant and was faced with starting over. I actually dreamed I mindlessly picked up a glass of red wine and gulped big sips. I woke up horrified that it really happened. In another one, I took a big bite of store-bought chicken salad without paying attention. Those dreams are warnings, I'm sure of it...

So now everyone in my house is reading labels out loud and reacting in wonderment to what they find. "Did you know the second ingredient in sriracha sauce is sugar?" "There is corn starch and sulfite in our green chile!! " and the clincher, "The horseradish has soybean oil, sodium metabisulfite, and high fructose corn syrup!!" It's become like "It's Academic" at mealtime.

But so far I'm feeling good. I actually had so much energy this morning that I thought maybe my thyroid prescription was too much. My daughter is following it with me (during the week) and we are getting creative with our meals. A friend commented that I sounded so much better and less congested. And I sleep like the dead. One week down, three more to go. I've heard this can really get boring and bad around the 12-day mark. If you've tried this and have any suggestions, please pass them on!

While this company makes my favorite cornichons, I have to pass during the Whole30. At least they let me know.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Whole30 Day 4--post holiday weekend

When you find yourself eating leftover "compliant" guacamole out of the container with a fork (and using words like "compliant") you know it is another day of survival on the Whole30 program, which I started last Friday (right at the start of a big holiday weekend. Let's just make it as hard as we can).  I'd waited too long to make lunch today, and at 2 pm, I grabbed the nearest, ready-made and edible thing to have as an "appetizer," while my grass-fed burgers cooked.

It's not like there isn't plenty to eat on the plan. There's more than enough food, quantity-wise. It's that the food I'm eating is all "real,"which can be a little trying at times, like the constant dull headache, a kind of dizzy, foggy feeling and a hunt for ready-made "compliant" foods. A couple of crackers and a low-fat string cheese aren't making the "real" cut on this 30-day regime, which is geared to thwart systemic inflammation and reveal any food sensitivities and provide a "reset" for your body.

I've been warned about all of these symptoms and I didn't expect that a lifetime of eating a certain way would change overnight without consequences. But I did change what I eat overnight, and it is mostly a very positive experience. Just one that I'm hyper aware of.

I have to make simple convenience foods from scratch. I couldn't find a store-bought mayonnaise that I could have on the plan--they all  have soybean or canola oil, and/or sugar. So I had to make one. I followed the recipe provided on the Whole30 site and had to get lemon juice. I wanted to buy a big bottle so I wouldn't have to slice and squeeze lemons every time. But no I couldn't, because they had sulfites (bad). So I bought fresh lemons and ended up with the best mayonnaise I've ever eaten. Who knew? The same with hot sauce I needed for a recipe (jazzed-up hard-boiled eggs). It took a scavenger hunt through hot sauce labels in my fridge until we finally went out and bought one without any offending sugar or oils.

Almost the whole Tessamae salad dressing line is "compliant" as are 11 types of Larabars.  I never cared about Larabars at all until I discovered that some are COMPLIANT. Now they are amazing.

You're not supposed to snack, so I have a half-inch bite of one with a meal just so I don't cave and buy a box of chocolate chip cookies. I'm slowly learning how to eat mindfully.

Today, while out buying spinach and lettuce, I discovered that I can breathe deeply through my nose. It was a revelation, almost shocking. Some people on the plan have found that it helped their asthma, because those "trigger" foods were eliminated.  I also find that I go to bed earlier and sleep more soundly, which is a real positive for someone who regularly gets a second wind at let's say, 11:30 pm. I've had adrenal issues, and getting enough sleep is a game-changer. So something is working here.

So, while it's not easy, so far, so good. I've been able to eat at home, but that's not going to last forever. As for Easter and Passover (yes! of course we do both), I skipped the matzoh, ate the boiled eggs and took a pass on the charoset. Our Easter dinner was barramundi fish with a lemon sauce made from, yep, my homemade mayo. But restaurants and events are full of temptations and hidden non-compliant ingredients just calling my name.  If any of you have done this and have any comments, support or ideas to offer, please feel free to chime in. Four down, 26 more days to go!

My homemade mayonnaise is the best I've ever had. Ever. It's also a good base for sauces and salad dressings.

Fresh lemons are key and add amazing flavor. I use them in everything from the mayo, to fish, to sauces and to liven up fresh veggies. They also go sliced into my sparkling water.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Whole30 Starts Now

Whole30? Whaaaa?? I wanted some sort of clean eating plan. The kind where you eat actual, real unprocessed living or once-living things that you cook yourself. As a Crossfitter at DC's 202strong, I've heard all about the now-famous paleo diet and have followed it off and on for a couple of years. But let's face it. As with all good eating plans, and the best-laid intentions, life has an insidious way of sneaking in and sabotaging the whole unprocessed, no sugar, no carbs, happy, healthy lifestyle. It did for me, big time. First off, wine. Red wine. And lots of it. Of course I blame the holidays, and stress and, dangit! Why does that red wine always find itself in a glass in my hand!? Oh, and the warm, soft, delicious bread at Le Diplomate, Lebanese Taverna, or  [put anything here]. How can I give that up? You only live once. Right. And that's exactly why I'm stopping the madness.

After realizing I'd eaten an entire box of Trader Joe's deliciously crispy pita crackers followed up by their equally tantalizing Pane Guttiau (like matzoh on crack), countless "little tastes" of cheese, chocolate, margaritas, chips, breakfast burritos, and ginormous burgers with breaded onion rings, I thought it might be time to take a good, hard look at what I'm cramming into my body and why the heck my knees started aching, my hip hurt so badly it affected my walking, and my once-flat stomach looked like I'd swallowed a pony keg. I could blame the aches on working out, but I'd been traveling when they became acute. I needed a plan.

Now I love plans: the reading material, the mental prep, the buying of good healthy food, the whole "this is going to change my life" mentality. LOVE THEM. Only thing is the novelty usually wears off by day three and I'm back at happy hour having a "cheat meal" of two margaritas, a couple of baskets of chips, guacamole (healthy choice) and salsa. The brightly colored fresh veggies turn to a soggy green mess in my fridge and the plan ends.

But now I'm ready to get serious. Today is Day One of the 30. The Whole30 is a plan to help "reset" your body by knocking out foods that can be irritants leading to food allergies and inflammation. (And yes, vegetarians can do it, too. For the complete plan, click here.) So one down, 29 to go. I will check each day off. The people at Whole30 provide endless information, printable lists and support--all free. For a small fee, they will send you an email every day to keep you on track. This seems like the real deal. I'm all in. Let's see how I do. Help keep me accountable so by the end of 30 days, I can tell you all about how it went and what I accomplished. And, we're off!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Five and a half Shades of Blue: Warby Parker launches Half-Decade limited edition specs

Five and a half Shades of Blue
Warby Parker launches Half-Decade limited edition specs

This socially conscious company is going places--fast. In just five years, eyeglass innovator Warby Parker has expanded to 500 employees, opened 10 stores throughout the U.S., and distributed glasses to over a million people in need. And, it just made the top of Fast Company's list of Most Innovative Companies 2015. Warby Parker specializes in fashion-forward prescription eyeglasses starting at just $95 and best of all, offers shop-at-home convenience. You can pick out five frames you like online, try them on at home, order the one you like and return the try-ons.

To celebrate their birthday, the company has just launched a new Half-Decade line in signature blue hues with the number 5 inscribed on the temples. The blues are sophisticated shades that work on any skin tone. The fresh color should soon overtake the ubiquitous tortoise and even those oversized black frames that everyone suddenly seems to be wearing. Think of them as a fashion statement for your face.

The cutting-edge company not only provides great service to its retail customers, but works with nonprofits to ensure that those in need around the world with glasses, too. You buy a pair, they give a pair.

My friend Rob Koebke, co-owner of gym 202Strong in downtown D.C. has been wearing the frames for three years. "I've received so many random compliments about my Warby Parker glasses it's become a running joke with my friends when we go out as to whether or not someone will make a comment," he says. "Warby Parker has done an amazing job crafting the experience of buying glasses.  Everything from browsing their website, to trying on the glasses, to the actual frames themselves."

The Half-Decade frames retail for the same price as all Warby Parker prescription glasses and, like all the others, will guarantee that a person in need will also receive a pair. Win win. And, if you're really feeling like making a statement, go for the Atlas Blue monocle, appropriately named "Colonel". Here they are, making their debut today.

The  Huxley
Eastern Bluebird Fade (LOVE this one)

My very favorite Wiloughby
Striped Indigo
I see myself in these with everything from black, white and all colors in-between

The retro Fillmore
Harbor Blue
Appropriately literary

The stately Roosevelt
Blue Slate Fade
Sharp and to the point

And the sleek Nedwin
Blue Sapphire
Subtle and fresh

And last but not least, the Monocle
It speaks for itself.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday gift guide: VND jewelry

When I met Valerie Nahmani Gitelson of Valerie Nahmani Designs (VND) a few weeks ago for coffee, a couple of people had already stopped at her table to ask her where she got her rings. And her bracelets. The answer was easy. She made them herself.

The gorgeous druzy pieces definitely merit a double take. I found them both unique and affordable and wanted just about everything she had. (I only like to blog about things I actually genuinely like and the jewelry from VND definitely makes the cut.) While I love all things druzy, what I loved about these pieces were the unique takes: the "dagger" necklace (above and below) ($220 at Bloomingdale's Chevy Chase).

I also loved the rings.

Most pieces are 24k gold-plated or filled and crafted from semi-precious stones like labradorite (one of my favorite stones) and jade. She also incorporates polished lapis, onyx and turquoise in her pieces. Because the pieces are all different and one-of-a-kind ), Valerie suggests if you see one you like, get it. Because once it's gone, it's gone. Find them locally at B Scene at Cabin John mall and every weekend through Christmas at Bloomingdale's Chevy Chase. She also donates a portion of the proceeds to The Children's Inn at NIH and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. You're welcome.


Valerie displaying her jewelry at the Bethesda Quartermaine where we met for coffee.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Drybar opens on Bethesda Row

A giant Buttercup, Drybar's mascot, on Bethesda Avenue
Drybar owner Alli Webb
(all photos taken by Karen Watkins)
Bar menu

On Saturday I was lucky enough to get my hair styled at Bethesda's new Drybar, which features a shampoo and blowout for $40. I also got to meet the fabulous Alli Webb, who came up with the concept two years ago as a stay-at-home mom. Now, she plans on having 26 locations by the end of the year. The Bethesda site is No. 18.

A former stylist, Webb wanted some "adult time" while staying home with her two boys. She advertised at-home $40 blowout services on "mommy" blogs and websites, and soon couldn't keep up with demand. She opened a space so clients could come to her, and thus, the first Drybar was born in Brentwood, Ca.

"Women don't want to pay $70 for a blowout from their regular stylist," she says. "Plus, then if they decide you need a cut and color, you could end up paying $300."

The Bethesda location is one of the biggest, according to publicist Barbara Martin of BrandlinkDC.  The pretty, feminine setting is done in all-white with signature yellow accents and chick flicks playing on a widescreen TV.  The sleek white blowdry bar stretches around the room with decanters of spa water, iPhone ports and magazines within reach. There is also a private party area and a shampoo room with comfy padded sinks. Most notable: the chandelier made of yellow Conair dryers.

Growing up in a business-oriented family gave Webb a business sense at a very early age. "My parents had a retail clothing store for older women in Boca Raton [Fla.]", she says. "They taught me about customer service." She said her father had about eight or nine chairs set up for their customers' husbands. "He would go out and bring them all bagels," she told me.

Drybar is also a family affair. Her brother Michael is the CEO and marketing whiz, while husband Cameron is the creative genius behind the branding and web design. You couldn't miss mascot Buttercup, the signature yellow blowdryer, parked outside for the opening.

The bar menu features six different styles: the signature Straight Up, the Mai Tai, Cosmopolitan,  Southern Comfort, Manhattan or the  kid-friendly Shirley Temple. I've never been able to manage a blow-dryer with any finesse and came out loving my "Mai-Tai" do. My stylist, Julie, who was in town from California, talked with me first about what I wanted and set to work. First the shampoo, then the style. Alli is definitely right when she says: "it always looks better when somebody else does it."  The whole experience was relaxing and my hair looked fantastic. Call or book appointments online. When I was in, the place was packed.
Celebrating my fab hair in the party room

All stations were buzzing on opening weekend

How cool is this? Vintage Conair chandelier