Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Quit

I finally did it. I smoked (hopefully) my last cigarette on Sunday night. It was a good one, and I savored every second of it (not going to lie). But it was time to quit. I have lost track of how much money, time, energy, and livelihood I've spent on cigarettes, and while I'm hoping this is my first and last quit, I am being patient with myself.

When I started smoking last year, I was in a very different place emotionally, physically, and...geographically. While I was at ERC, we were allowed outside four times a day. Big deal for a treatment center. Most of the time, I would go downstairs with the non-smoking crew, chat about what groups/outings we might have that day and stare longingly at the Starbucks across the street..or pace around, which always got me in trouble.

One day, I decided to go upstairs with the smokers. They got to stand on top of the roof deck (read: parking lot) and look up at the sky over the mountains. It was a beautiful view. I asked someone for a cigarette (camel crush, menthol), and got my first of many head-rushes. I instantly liked it. It provided some stress relief, bonding, and time to stare at the stars. I had someone buy me my first pack the next day.

When I moved out of inpatient into the partial program, I could smoke ANY TIME I WANTED. And I did. I used cigarettes to prepare me for meals or tough outings (and there were plenty of those). I used cigarettes to connect with other people, although I connected with many people who didn't smoke at all. Surprisingly, I never used them to squelch my appetite, despite popular conceptions about smoking and eating disorders.

So here I am over a year later. I've been in one more treatment center that allowed smoking, and honestly, some of my best memories are of sitting on the porch late at night with my friends, comforting each other, laughing at nothing, and dreaming about diet coke and coffee.

But now I'm 28 (almost 29). I am in an incredibly challenging Vet Tech program, work as a grooming assistant, am a surgery extern at a major animal hospital, and volunteer for a dog rescue group. I am emotionally and physically healthier than I've been in...14 years, if not more. I will celebrate my 5 year wedding anniversary this August, just adopted a guinea pig (and she'll be getting a sister soon!), and have two growing, adorable, energetic dogs to care for. I simply don't have the money (that's potentially the biggest motivator right now), lung capacity, and need for cigarettes anymore.

So I quit. It's incredibly, incredibly hard- and I am going cold-no patches, gum, etc. I just keep reminding myself of why I'm doing this. I have a picture of my dad and me on my phone's Quitter app as inspiration. If he quit after 40 years of smoking, I can do this. I'm on day 5 now (actually, day 5, 12 hours, 44 minutes) and have already saved $45.63 and 12 hours of my life.

If you're quitting, too, I wish you loads of determination, strength, and patience. Luck doesn't play a part of it. It's our choice, and as FREAKING hard as it is, we can do this.

Peace and healthy lungs,


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Eat Like a Bird

Ok, so maybe not literally..but birds do eat lots of yummy things (fruits, nuts, seeds) that fit well into a vegan/plant-based diet. One food that find its way into bird feeders and bird seed mixes is millet. Millet, a small, nutrient-packed grain, can be topped with veggies, herbs, and sauces; can be stuffed into peppers or eggplant; can be used as a pilaf. It has a slightly nutty taste, and if cooked long enough, can be mashed like potatoes. It is high in copper, phosphorous, magnesium..all good things that promote good health (you can check out the link above-I didn't feel like boring you even more than I am).

We eat a lot of different grains at home, but we tend to stick to a few favorites: quinoa (so stereotypical, but delicious), brown rice, barley, bulgur and whole wheat couscous. Every so often we'll cook up polenta, roast potatoes and yams, or boil some pasta. We do have some of the less well-known grains, legumes and seeds -and have tried a few once or twice-but they stay in the back of the pantry.

So as part of my goals for recovery, I've decided to try one new, scary, or 'treat' food a week. Millet didn't seem scary, but it was new, and it got me out of my comfort zone a little. I know that might sound pathetic to people who don't have a complicated relationship with food, but even a 'healthy' thing can be scary. I'll give you one example: I love bananas. I get major, major cravings for bananas and cheerios at breakfast, but I'll usually stick to what I'm used to. But the good news is, I'm getting to the point now where I am actually listening to my maybe I'll pick up those cheerios tomorrow.

Back to..THE MILLET.

I did some perusing of the kick-ass Veganomicon (Isa Chandra, you are a goddess). She had a great recipe for basic millet, which I followed to a tee. But I didn't see any other millet recipes that I liked, so I picked some fresh spring veggies to sauté with a little bit of olive oil. I added thawed, frozen baby lima beans for protein, and after cooking for about 7 minutes, served the sautéed veggies and beans over the millet. I topped each dish with fresh lemon juice. And we always have bread and soymilk with dinner-VERY refined.

It turned out to be one of my favorite meals of this spring. The millet was perfectly salted, nutty, and a little less seed-like than quinoa. It fluffed up nicely, and was a great bed for the sautéed snow peas and baby limas.

Here is the recipe:

Basic Millet (From Veganomicon)

Serves 4

1 Cup millet
2 Cups water
1 Tsp. salt

1. Preheat a heavy skillet  (preferably cast iron) over medium. Put in the millet and toast for about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Once the millet is golden brown and smells toasty, transfer it to a pot, add the water and salt, cover, and bring to a boil.
3. Once the water boils, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until the millet is soft.

Sautéed Snow Peas with Baby Limas and Lemon Juice

1 Lb. snow peas, de-stemmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 Cups thawed frozen baby lima beans (can also use edamame)
1 lemon

1. Preheat pan on high for 5 minutes. Add oil to coat.
2. Add snow peas and baby lima beans to pan. Turn heat to medium. Stir frequently to incorporate and so the veggies cook evenly, about 7 minutes.
3. Fluff millet with a fork, and divide among 4 plates. Serve sautéed veggies and beans on top of millet. Drizzle with lemon juice, and if desired, add 1/4 tsp. sea salt.

Enjoy! (And I promise, it DEFINITELY doesn't taste like bird seed...although the bird seed blends with the peanuts and sunflower seeds don't look so bad...)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Photos From The Past

Usually I enjoy looking at pictures from the past. Photos from my wedding, when I was a child, first photos with our pups...but I found a few this week that almost made me cry. We had visited a farm animal sanctuary, and there are photos of me with all of the animals. You can see the joy in my face as I fed a baby cow, cuddled with goats and chased chickens, but my eyes look slightly vacant. I look incredibly gaunt, all bones and little flesh, clothes barely fitting my child-like body. I look seriously ill. It amazes me now that no one said anything, that I didn't get more concerned stares. Most of all, I'm shocked that I couldn't see the reality in the mirror.

I chose not to include the pictures here because they might be triggering and could also be seen as glorifying a starved body. But they're out there.

They were another reminded of how far gone I was in my eating disorder.

I also found pictures of me with my family during a dinner out. It was the middle of the summer, and everyone looks glowing, tan, and healthy. I look pale, bony, and drawn. I can't erase those pictures, and I don't know if I want to-they are a reminder of how far I've come and where I never want to be again.

When I look in the mirror now, I see a little bit of a pot belly, the result of weight gain that has yet to distribute itself to other areas of my body. My favorite pair of jeans no longer fits, and I have countless shirts that are too tight or too revealing. The first time I put the jeans on, I had a minor freak out. Of course, I chose to wear them on a day that was already going to be stressful (we had a party to go to, and I'm still not exactly comfortable in large social situations). But once I figured out they weren't going to button, I put on the jeans that I'd bought when I was in treatment, and they fit perfectly (for anyone reading that's spent time at ERC, I bought them on one of our many Target sprees).

At each doctor's visit, my weight creeps up a little more, proving that sticking to my meal plan has worked. But I'm not just sticking to my meal plan. I'm eating 'outside the box' now, baking more cookies, trying new (scary) recipes, and eating LOTS of peanut butter....things my body is craving.

I have yet to ask my team when 'enough is enough', and I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm afraid of the answer. I feel like I've gained enough, but I don't know if that's the truth.

It's been over a year since my discharge from ERC and this August, it will be a year since I left CEDC. Each time I was in treatment, my weight gain freaked me out so much that I immediately went back to exercising daily. That hasn't happened this time around. I'm learning to appreciate the softness of my body, my ability to lift heavy dogs at work, the curves I've started to gain back (please come back sooner!!). I look less like a sick child and more like a 28 year-old woman.

I don't yet have the strength to throw out my sick clothes, though. It's as a if a part of me believes I'll need them again. But I know soon enough, I'll be making the trip to Goodwill. Hopefully when I'm there, I can pick up some funky things that fit my new and changing body.

So take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and instead of pointing out the flaws, try and thank your body for all it can do and for where it can take you.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Mother's Day Means to Me

Mother's Day can be a lot of things to a lot of people. First and foremost, I see it as a celebration of my own mother. She has been there through thick and thin, guiding me and believing in me no matter how many times I stumble. She taught my sister and me to be kind, caring, inquisitive, and brave. My mom was the one who held onto hope when I was at my lowest points, and always stood by me regardless of how much I pushed her (and anyone who wanted to help me) away. I know she's reading this-because she's a great mom and reads everything I write (hi mom!!), and while she is not vegan or vegetarian (mom...), she listens to everything I have to say about animals and animal advocacy, and never neglects to tell me how proud of me she is.

So mom, happy Mother's Day, and thank you for all you do and have done.

That being said..

Mother's Day also reminds me that there are so many animals who have their children stolen from them so we can eat them, their secretions (yes, milk and cheese and eggs are all derived from animal secretions, as if that isn't gross enough to make you stop eating them), or strip them of their skin and wool. I may only be a mother to two furry creatures with four legs, but I this process is so horrific, and I can't understand how we can continue to support these actions.

Here are a few facts for you about the maternal instincts of animals and what happens to them (and their babies) so we can eat them or their secretions.

Cows: Cows are incredibly maternal animals, and when they give birth, it is love at first sight. Throughout their lives, they maintain a close social and parent/child bond, and when separated, experience extreme stress. Cows that are used for the dairy industry are forcibly impregnated to maintain milk production throughout the year. Upon giving birth, they immediately produce milk and nutrient-dense colostrum to nurture their young. On factory farms or dairies, their infant is rarely allowed to stay with the mother or drink her milk. If they have a female calf, that calf will be taken away and as soon as she is of age, is impregnated so she can produce milk as well. If it is a boy, he is either killed or sold into the veal industry. The cycle repeats itself until the mother can no longer produce milk and is sent to slaughter.

Chickens: Hens are also very maternal, and begin to nurture their young from the moment they lay their eggs. They cluck softly to their young (and their babies chirp back!) and will turn the eggs multiple times to keep them warm. When their chicks hatch, the mother hens will use their wings to protect their chicks from predators, and will refuse to leave their nests even in the case of extreme threat. On almost all farms that are dedicated to egg production, chickens are kept in cages the size of a sheet of paper. They cannot turn around, stretch their wings, or nest. Once their eggs hatch, they are taken away immediately and are inspected for gender. If they give birth to a male, it will be thrown away or chopped into pieces to be used as feed for cows or pigs, animals kept in zoos, or other captive animals. Female chicks will be placed in cages and used for egg production. They are killed after about a year when egg production declines. 'Broiler' chickens do not even reach sexual maturity: they are slaughtered after a few short months of torture.

Pigs: Wild pigs will travel miles to search for the perfect birthing spot and build a large nest in which to birth their young. Their piglets, once born, are kept close by and are nurtured by the mother sow for several months. Pigs are incredibly bright, and studies show that they are as bright (or brighter) than three-year-old children, dogs and cats. On factory farms, pigs are kept in gestation crates and like cows, are forcibly impregnated. Their cages are too small for the pigs to even turn around, and they can develop severe infections, injure themselves extensively by attempting to escape the cage or move around. Right before they give birth, they are moved to farrowing crates which, like gestation crates, barely allow for any movement. They only real difference between gestation and farrowing crates is that their is a small concrete space in the cage so that they have 'room' to give birth. The mother sow cannot see her young (as she cannot turn around), but can suckle them for about three weeks until they are taken away to be raised as meat.

I know this an incredibly long post, but it's important that we realize that the animals we turn into commodities are individual beings with natural instincts, maternal drives, and a desire to live and let their young thrive. If we took a good hard look at the results of meat and dairy consumption and the impact it has on every creature kept captive, I wonder if we'd still be as willing to enslave them and turn their children into feed, trash, or cogs in a machine.

That's all for now, but if you want to know more about these animals or others, here are some resources:

PETA: Animal Moms
Dairy Cows Fact Sheet
Fact Sheet: Laying Hens
Poultry Farming
The Pig Industry

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Learning Curve (and PANCAKES!)

This has been an incredibly challenging year. It was my first year of Vet Tech school, so I knew it would be difficult-but I underestimated how rigorous of a program this would be. I guess that's a good thing, as I want to be as prepared as possible for when I got out into the 'real world' (which seems a hell of lot more appealing than 2 more years of school, but I guess patience is a virtue). I am so grateful I made this career change, though, and the only regret I have is that I didn't do this sooner. While it has certainly been a learning curve (I am way more of right brain person than a science/math person), I have grown a lot.

What's changed? For one, I'm not nearly as hard on myself as I used to be. Yes, I still push myself to do the best I can, but I'm not devastated when I get a B. That might sound lame, but for me, that's a big deal. I'd be ok with getting a C, but my school requires a B- to pass most Vet Tech classes. I've also become (a bit) more social. I find that I enjoy being around other people-and crave it- much more now that I feel better about myself and where I am in my life. I still love my alone time, but it feels so nice to open up a little.

I also started a new job as a grooming assistant. I was fortunate enough to never have to work during school-I know-but now I'm paying for school on my own, so I need to earn some money! I really enjoy getting to work with animals and get PAID for it, so this is perfect. Plus, I get to groom my pups for free. They hate it.

Besides school and work, I've made major progress in my recovery. I'm not longer exercising every day, which doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it's huge for me. I was actually given permission by my team to start going back to the gym a few days a week, but there are days when I just don't feel like it. A year ago, I'd have forced myself anyways. Speaking of last's been just over 12 months since I left ERC. Looking back, I can see how my 'stay' at ERC altered my perspective on recovery. They made me believe it was possible-even if it's ridiculously hard-and while I didn't always believe it, I see it now. I'm having fun with food, taking afternoon naps, enjoying my walks with dogs for what they are instead of seeing them as just exercise, relaxing on the couch for hours with Mike to watch Breaking Bad (JESSE I LOVE YOU), and cooking exciting and scary foods.

What have we been eating? I'll be posting more recipes as the summer goes on, but here are a few things we've made in the past couple of weeks (add to that that I've been eating peanut butte and almond butter out of the There are also a bunch of recipes on my to-cook list, including vegan mac n' cheese, coconut milk curry, peanut sauce with rice noodles and tofu.. the list goes on.

  • Barbecue tempeh sandwiches
  • Falafel (Mike made them..amazing) with homemade vegan yogurt/dill sauce 
  • Pasta with homemade sauce, pine nuts, chickpeas, and veggies
  • Banana pancakes
I know that's a short list, but bear with me, my mind is drained from finals. Anyway, about those pancakes: I used to LOVE pancakes as a kid..Bisquick was my best friend. My dad used to make piles of pancakes for me, and I'd pile on bananas and douse them with Mrs. Buttersworth 'syrup'. Not exactly refined, but for me, that was the epitome of comfort food. I've been petrified of pancakes since I went to CEDC and had to shove them down when we went on our breakfast outings, but I decided to try making them the other week, and I fell back in love. My only complaint? That I didn't make more.

Here is the recipe. Feel free to add any fruit you like as a topping (Mike added blueberries and banana) and use legit maple syrup. It makes all the difference.

Vegan Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes 6 4-inch pancakes. Double if you want more!

1 cup flour (whole wheat or all-purpose)
1 Tsp. sugar
1/4 Tsp. baking powder
1/4 Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 Cup plus 1 Tbsp. unsweetened soy or almond milk.
1 Tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
Bananas, blueberries, strawberries, or whatever fruit you're craving

1. Make the flax egg but combining flax seed with 2.5 Tbsp. of water. Stir and let sit for about 5 minutes until thickened.
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix carefully.
3. In a separate bowl, combine apple cider vinegar, melted coconut oil, and almond or soy milk. Add the flax egg last.
4. Carefully add wet ingredients to dry ingredients by making a well in the dry bowl. Stir gently until there are only a few lumps left.
5. Add batter to a hot, oiled pan (use vegetable oil), and cook for about 2 minutes until large bubbles appear. Flip the pancakes and cook for another minute or two. 
6. To keep the pancakes warm while you cook the whole batch, place them on a cooling rack in a 200 degree oven.
7. Top with sliced fruit and maple syrup and eat up!!!

(This is Mike's..I like to cover my whole pancake with bananas..but feel free to do as you wish!)

Have a wonderful weekend, and I'll be back soon!