When Life Gets In the Way, It’s Time to Prioritize For the Sake of One’s Health and Well-Being

This entry may be one of my last for a little while, as lately I feel my spare time is very limited. Life has been busy. Chris will be undergoing his cancer treatment in a matter of days. A lot of our time and energy has been focused on making sure we’re ready and it’s been very hard to keep up. I have been sleeping around 3-5 hours a night, and still trying to keep up with my running, but even that has fallen short. This past weekend I missed my weekend long run, and it was the first time that had ever happened in YEARS unless I was on vacation.

I decided to make an assessment of my life. I’m stressed out, losing sleep, stretched paper thin. Obviously certain things need to be set aside because I feel like things are piling up. I also think it’s important to have time to relax, time for “me” even if it’s only 20 minutes. I’m trying to see where I can efficiently maximize my time, and I am starting to adopt some new methods to make my life a little less stressful.

Food prep is a major part of my life, and I realized that I can cut corners to make things easier and more efficient. My friend Teresa advised me of one way to cut corners with food prep, and it works! Whenever I buy fresh produce now, before even putting it away I wash, cut and store everything so it’s ready to grab when needed. In the past I used to just prep as I went along, and I think a lot of things went to waste because I wasn’t aware I even had certain items. Baking is another thing I’m doing in bulk, maybe make a batch of quinoa pancakes that will last for the week and then freeze another batch. Sometimes I will make a large batch of cubed, baked tofu that I store in Tupperware; it’s perfect to just grab a handful and throw into any recipe rather than making it one serving at a time. Make menus so meals can be efficiently planned and I don’t overstock or overbuy on groceries. I’ve been making lists, keeping track of what I need and don’t need so I don’t waste time or money on extra groceries (I can’t tell you how many times I have bought salsa only to find 3 jars in the fridge already). I found this week has been much smoother just adopting a few tricks and committing a couple hours on a weekend day so less time is wasted during the week.

Another point of major stress for me is my daily commute. I get very frazzled, feel like it’s the biggest waste of time in my life, and get extremely aggravated some mornings by the time I waste in traffic. If I commuted by train or bus I could catch up on reading, social media, hell, even pay bills (smartphones are a wonderful thing)! But public transit would quadruple my commute time, it’s just not worth it.  I have an English degree, and I am a huge reader. The books I currently own I fear that I won’t be able to finish them in my lifetime. It’s very hard to find time to simply sit and read, unless I am on a lunch break. The simple solution, which I never, ever tried in my life, was listening to audiobooks. Amazing, absolutely amazing. I actually look FORWARD to my commute so I can “catch up on reading”. If I get stuck in traffic, I get a few extra minutes of “reading” and feel completely at ease, not stressed in the least. I knew of others who listened to audiobooks and never understood it until I realized that this was a BRILLIANT way to fill time that is spent behind the wheel, doing housework or cooking. I signed up for an Audible account, but there is also a free Audiobooks app that has tons of free classics I can listen to that I have been meaning to get to for years. FINALLY I can read Pride and Prejudice, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Huck Finn (to name a few) and do it without feeling like time is being wasted.

I’m also learning to let things go; when bemoaning my concerns to my friend Stephanie she simply advised to not sweat the small stuff. Don’t worry about cleaning all the time. Things can sit and wait. My health and well-being are far more important. If my running is taking over my life, scale it back. Chris echoed the same sentiments. He said I tend to try to take on way too much when some things aren’t of immediate importance. It’s OK to let things sit, the world won’t end if the filing doesn’t get done, the steps aren’t vacuumed. It’s not like royalty is coming over…I need to learn to let things go once in a while to save my sanity. Surprisingly, it worked.

Other things in my life, unfortunately, may need to be set aside for now. My blog and Twitter have to take a backseat for a while. I feel like they can be incredibly time consuming; I simply cannot commit to these things with 100% effort and it’s been very difficult to make a priority. I never know how other bloggers do it, but I definitely can’t keep up with it as much as I’d like. My running is, to me, quite therapeutic, and as long as I am able to run and not lack in other important areas, such as sleep, I will continue to do so. If I have to cut my mileage, I will, it will all just depend on other variables.

So basically, if my blog seems lacking, there’s a reason. If I don’t send any Tweets for a while, there’s a reason. I need to put the needs of my husband, household and SELF before these things, and I gladly would sacrifice everything I have to ensure he has a long and healthy life.  But I do feel that it’s important for everyone to allow themselves a little time to do the things they enjoy, otherwise life just crushes you from all sides. You need time for YOU whether you realize it or not.

I feel more relaxed this week. A little more rested. Simply by cutting some things down a little, working more efficiently in other things, and learning how to relax during even the most stressful times. All of these things will make me a much more capable support to my husband, who needs me more than ever right now. I feel like I am on a better track to a more balanced life, and things can only go up from here.

Namaste!

How do you efficiently use your time in order to make your life run more smoothly? Any tricks or tips you can suggest?

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As a Celiac, I Can’t Afford to Let My Guard Down

When it comes to dietary lifestyle, I think it’s very easy to become a little too comfortable, and ultimately careless, once you are used to living this way for a while. I’ve officially gotten into a groove; it’s definitely not nearly as hard to live a gluten-free plant-based lifestyle as most people assume, and I’m doing great! But sometimes I think when it comes to the gluten-free part, I can get a little haphazard. Lately it’s been happening to me, and I realize that I need to remember to stay focused, not get sloppy, and diligent about research and asking questions. LOTS of questions. My health absolutely depends on it. I can’t afford to slip up.

Lately I have had incidents occur which, if I wasn’t diligent (and as Chris says, using my Spidey senses), would have ended in disaster. Other times, I assume my work is done and I have suffered consequences because I didn’t do my homework. Having celiac disease means being very aware of everything you consume, and never letting your guard down.

One instance was when I was at a PF Chang’s, a place I frequented often and didn’t have too many issues with in years past. I ordered one of my favorite dishes, a Thai Basil pasta that they would veganize for me. The server brought it to the table and I immediately noticed that the food wasn’t on the correct plate. Those of you who order from the gluten-free menu at Chang’s know that the GF dishes come on round plates with the Chang’s logo on the edges. This order definitely came on a regular square dish.

I asked the server if this was gluten-free, and she at first said yes.

I repeated the question and asked if she was absolutely certain, because it definitely didn’t come on the correct plate. She hesitated, admitted her doubt, and said she would take it back and check for me. I was very calm and understanding, but inside my heart was racing just a little. I am not a confrontational person at all, but I NEED to make sure that the order was 100% correct and had to be very firm and insistent that they know.

In the end, it was NOT gluten-free and they totally mixed up the order. While I never expected a comp, the food WAS comped, I was provided a legitimately GF meal, and all was well at the end of the day.  But I had to ask more than once, not just take the first answer at her word. I had to dig. I had to insist she be certain. No matter what, when eating outside of your comfort zone (meaning your kitchen) there is ALWAYS a risk of being glutened. I oftentimes joke that eating out is like playing Dietary Russian Roulette.

Another incident in which I was fairly diligent was at a recent family birthday party where a lot of grilling was going on. For the veggies, my mom made some homemade black bean burgers which were not GF (made with panko bread crumbs), and some Portobello mushrooms. They decided to put all the vegetarian items on the grill first. I secretly watched as my dad used the same spatula and grilling surface, and realized I was going to have to step in and gently chide/educate him on cross-contamination. I said that I needed to have my own Portobello on foil and a separate spatula would need to be used, because grilling all the veggies items together, while thoughtful for vegetarians, was still a glutening disaster waiting to happen. He sheepishly admitted he had no idea, but I thought it was a good lesson and they were happy to provide a safe replacement for me, new spatula and all.

Sometimes though, I’m not so diligent. I get lazy. I just assume things are safe. I ask once, take the answer at face value, and get glutened. One of the more recent incidents was at a Chipotle. Now I will flat out admit that I am not sure if I was glutened at Chipotle, but I was very ill the next morning for my race in Ann Arbor. While all signs point to a glutening, Chris has also suffered a stomach bug earlier in the week, so I cannot 100% say it was gluten or if I had picked up remnants of his bug.

Regardless, I made a few mistakes in this case:

  1. I didn’t check online first, and having a smartphone on a 9-hour road trip I had more than enough time to check.
  2. I asked the employee if the chips were gluten-free, to which they replied absolutely, nothing else is put into the fryer but the corn tortilla chips. I simply took their word for it.
  3. I never asked them to change gloves; even though I wasn’t getting anything with a flour tortilla, they handle those tortillas ALL DAY LONG.

The next day after my disastrous race experience, I started thinking back to what could have caused my illness. Chipotle’s website had a section on their gluten-free selection, and what I read made my heart drop a little.

Their statement on the chips was: “However, you should know that it’s possible our corn may have a small amount of gluten from potentially co-mingling with gluten-containing grains in the field.” This was something that was NOT disclosed to me by the employee, and if I had known that was Chipotle’s final answer I would have declined them with gusto.

I also needed to remember that when they make burritos they dip the ladles and spoons into the various ingredient compartments, and then use the same spoons to get it properly distributed onto a flour tortilla. So it’s also quite possible that trace amounts of gluten were in the ingredients.I am also TERRIBLE about asking them to change gloves, which is incredibly important.  It’s enough to make any celiac never want to eat out again! So many of us still hide out in our safety zones for a good reason.

Yes, on a microscopic level, gluten is devastating to a celiac. A single bread crumb is enough to cause serious reaction. Imagine a Gordon Ramsay accent here: Pretty frightening right? Something I need to take more seriously, correct? Lessons have been learned, yes?

An astounding affirmative on all counts.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding out and not enjoying the world like “normal people”. But it’s definitely hard. When you have celiac, you have to be assertive and ask questions. Check and double-check. Do your research. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts and speak up. I am guilty of being a pretty passive individual, but I am getting better about speaking up  and not remaining silent and submissive. Don’t fear the eye roll. It might happen. I’ve had to get a little snarky when I ask if something is GF: “I’m GF because I have celiac disease and my health depends on it, not because (insert celebrity name here) does it.”

It’s important to remain diligent and not let your guard down. Don’t get sloppy. Don’t allow months and years of healing go down the drain because you assumed that everything was fine. It might not be. I think this is a reminder we can all use once in a while!

On a personal note: It’s been super tough for me to get in any efficient blogging and social media time these days, life has been very, very busy and there has not been a chance for a lot of “me” time, but I will definitely do my best to get back into the groove!

Eats: Gluten-Free and Vegan Breakfast Ideas (Part 2)

Most people assume that on a gluten-free, plant-based diet you can’t eat much more than fruit, and while I do find breakfast to be difficult to find while on the road, it’s actually quite wonderful when I have access to a kitchen!

One of Chris’ favorite breakfasts is one of the simplest: cereal and milk. Since he avoids refined sugar and I avoid gluten, it can definitely be difficult to find a happy medium. So my Cinnamon Chex would be his Uncle Sam’s Raisin Bran. Rather than have separate cereals, we worked to find a happy medium.

There is quite a variety of gluten-free cereals on the market, and one of our main staples for a LONG time was the various Chex cereals. They are gluten-free, but also contain sugar and BHT, both things we would like to avoid. We tried finding cereals that were naturally sweetened, have no added preservatives, and were lower in sugars, which can be difficult.

Here are some brands that are tried and true in our pantry (please note they are gluten-free and free of refined sugars and chemical additives):

One of our go-to cereal brands is Erewhon, they make organic, gluten-free cereals that are low in sugar and have few ingredients, which is always a huge plus. They make corn flakes (frosted and plain), brown rice crispies, and some varieties even have dried fruit.
Nature’s Path makes a lot of good cereals that even include some healthy fiber, such as Mesa Sunrise, Whole O’s (their version of Cheerios), rice crispies, and Maple or Vanilla Sunrise.  Nature’s Path also makes a variety of cereals called Envirokidz Organic that are very kid-friendly. The only brand I will buy for Chris is the Amazon Frosted Flakes (can’t beat it when there;s only 3 ingredients!), but on a whole they are definitely catered more to children. While I love Gorilla Munch, Panda Puffs and Leapin’ Lemurs, they are definitely more of a treat than a healthy breakfast!

I also make a homemade oat-free granola with Erewhon brown rice cereal using a recipe I found on the Attune Foods website. Chris adores this granola, and has dubbed it “Sweeties”. It’s great to eat with your dairy-free milk of choice or just plain, and as long as it’s sealed well, it will stay crisp and fresh for weeks. It is GREAT for road trips, and I have made quick breakfasts using it with just a banana and peanut butter. It’s even great for a sweet treat as well. I’ve tried different flavorings of extracts (coconut and vanilla are especially good) as well as different kinds of nuts for different results. In the end, they are ALL good, so give this recipe a try! There are also a lot of good gluten-free granola brands such as Udi’s and Glutenfreeda, but they do contain oats and as a celiac I tend to steer clear. Trader Joe’s makes an oat-free granola but I found it to be a bit high in calories and sugar.

While we no longer consume sugar-based cereals, I only feel it’s fair to mention that there are some cereals you can find outside of the organic section, but most of them are definitely chemically-laden sugar bombs with little nutritional value like Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles, Gluten-Free Rice Krispies, or Chocolate, Cinnamon, Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon Chex. The less sweetened varieties of Chex can usually be found generic, such as corn or rice squares (basically Chex with different labeling), but the second ingredient is usually sugar, and they usually contain BHT or BHA (quote “to maintain freshness”), which are considered harmful food additives. Since Chris is a two-time cancer survivor, we do our best to avoid foods with preservatives these days. So I do recommend that you stick with the more organic cereals with no chemical additives any time you can.

As for hot cereals, I admit I love grits, and as far as my research has showed, they are gluten-free. One of my go-to breakfasts on my last cruise was grits, GF toast and fresh fruit. Be mindful of the manufacturing disclaimer though, if you see it’s been processed in a facility that handles wheat, I would avoid it. I have mainly seen this with generic brands.
I have found that I have an intolerance to oats, which is pretty heartbreaking, so I stopped using them for meals and recipes in the past couple months; if you CAN enjoy oats, I highly recommend Glutenfreeda. They have various flavored oatmeals, such as banana flaxseed, apple cinnamon, and maple raisin. Their ingredients are all-natural too! They have a wonderful consistency and taste great with add-ins, my favorite being a spoonful of peanut butter, or a sprinkling of chia seeds, flaxseeds, or nuts. Eco-Planet also makes a delicious gluten-free, organic multi-grain hot cereal in flavors like apple cinnamon and maple, as well as plain (the consistency is awesome!). As for a heartier cereal, Bob’s Red Mill has a variety of gluten-free hot cereals as well. I haven’t tried any of them, because I usually like things that are quick and on the go, so the slower cooking cereals aren’t in my pantry as a staple.

Cooked quinoa is also great for a hot cereal, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is by adding raisins, nuts, a little sweetener of choice, and a spoonful of peanut butter. Once warmed up, add a little dairy-free milk or just enjoy as-is, but it’s a delightful protein-packed breakfast! Quinoa is easy enough to make in a rice cooker and yields plenty of leftovers that keep well in the refrigerator. Trust me, one cup of uncooked quinoa goes a LONG way
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As for milk, while Chris is not a practicing vegetarian (but oftentimes eats like one thanks to me!), he stopped using dairy milk several months ago. I encouraged him to try Almond Milk, which was my usual staple; while he was at first quite skeptical, he was immediately hooked and hasn’t looked back. We can’t seem to keep enough almond milk in the house! I’m not picky when it comes to brands, I’ve used Silk, Almond Breeze and Trader Joe’s brands and found them all to be great. The Almond Breeze Coconut Milk is wonderful but very sweet, so I’d recommend it more for desserts (like a rice pudding) than for breakfast. I used to enjoy soy milk but found it didn’t keep as well as I would have liked it to, but there are countless brands that you can choose from, including vanilla and chocolate flavored! Rice milk is also an option, but I always found it to be thin and watery and not to my liking. You can also find dairy-free beverages made from hemp (which I’ve tried and found it to be pretty good!) or coconut milk. The wonderful thing about ANY of these dairy-free milk options is that you can find most of them not only in the cold aisle, but also on store shelves with the dry goods in smaller packaging. This makes it an excellent option for traveling on the road, as long as you have a fridge in your hotel room once it’s opened. They even come in “juice-box” sizes which is very convenient if you’re anything like us and may have more than one destination on a road trip!

Obviously fruit is a great thing to throw into cold cereal, my favorites being the old stand-by of bananas or strawberries, but there are obviously lots of other options you can try, such as blueberries, fresh peaches, raspberries and blackberries. Like a little sweetener? I usually just use a little sprinkling of stevia, but Chris loves honey of all things, which to this day amuses me when I see him putting it on corn flakes. Agave nectar is something I am learning to adopt instead of honey, and I find that a little goes a long way! You can also try a little coconut palm sugar, which is a natural sugar with a brown sugar and caramel taste.

Weekends are my favorite time to splurge on breakfast, and next time I will get into some of my favorite eats, like quinoa pancakes, tofu scramble and bi-colored oven potatoes. Hopefully you’ll love them just as much as I do!

What are some of your favorite gluten-free cereals?