September always feels like a chance for a new beginning! Growing up, this was because of the new school year, while as I’ve grown older, it’s because of lease cycles, which usually start and end on September 1st here in Boston.
This “new year”, I’m thinking a lot about the habits that I’ve picked up over the past few years, and what I want to mindfully bring with me into the new year, and what to leave in the past.
This week, I’m thinking specifically about my eating habits!
Fasting and Intuitive Eating
I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting on and off for the past three years. I was curious about the purported health benefits, including controlling blood sugar and insulin levels, especially because diabetes runs in my family. I figured that I had nothing to lose by at least trying it out!
I started out by doing a strict 16:8 (16 hours fasting, 8 hours feeding), using the app Zero to track my feeding windows, generally from 10PM – 2PM. I’ve also tried 20:4 and OMAD, though those patterns have been harder (and ultimately less enjoyable) for me to follow. Since starting, I’ve learned a lot about my own eating habits and became more in tune with the way that various foods and feeding windows affect my body.
I learned that I can’t balance a strict fasting schedule with marathon training, and slowly became comfortable with setting my fasting goals aside during training cycles. I did lose some body fat early on, but quickly plateaued. I became more comfortable with not eating at specific times just because I was used to it, and learned when my body is truly signaling hunger, and not just getting me to eat out of habit and/or boredom. I even experienced the productivity rush that many report when fasting, though not as often as I was hoping I would!
Quarantine has been both a blessing and a curse for my fasting. It’s easier to not grab breakfast on the way to work and hunger doesn’t strike as quickly when I’m only moving from my bed to my living room. On the other hand, my kitchen is always only a few steps away, and because Bryan does not strictly fast, it’s sometimes hard to resist temptation when he’s whipping something up for breakfast or lunch, especially when it smells delicious.
Moving into the “new year”, I want to continue experimenting with fasting.
- I’ve moved away from using Zero because I want to be less strict about my feeding windows. Instead, I want to move toward an “intuitive eating” approach, using the cues that I’ve learned while fasting to honor what my body needs at any given time. I’m learning to sit with my fullness in the morning if I have an extra large dinner the night before, or let myself have a snack before dinner if my lunch wasn’t particularly satisfying. As time goes on, I realize that I’m not eating the same things every day, so my eating patterns won’t look the same every day either!
- I’m also starting to feel more comfortable with consuming small amounts of calories, instead of completely cutting out all calories, during my fasting windows; for example, I won’t let myself feel guilty about having a splash of oat milk in my morning coffee or tea if it makes me feel more satisfied. (Maybe this isn’t really fasting anymore, but who’s keeping track? If it makes me feel good, then that’s good enough for me!)
Growing up, my parents tried many, many times to get my brother and I into eating brown rice, to no avail. Why eat chewy and earthy brown rice when you can eat tender and fluffy white rice?
(I once told my mom that I made kimchi fried rice for dinner, and she asked, “White rice?” and tutted disapprovingly when I said yes. And, for the record, my kimchi fried rice is delicious.)
Earlier in quarantine, I lugged a twenty pound bag of white rice back from the grocery store and we finished all twenty pounds of it! Not all at once, obviously! But that image really drives home the amount of rice that Bryan and I eat on a regular basis.
While in quarantine, I’ve had a lot of time to think of ways to make my diet more healthy, and switching to brown rice stood out as an “easy” change to make. At the same time, Bryan was once again reconsidering his diet and how it affects his running, so he also decided to go all-in on brown rice with me.
As a kid, I didn’t have the same appreciation and understanding of why brown rice is better for your body than white rice – I just knew that brown rice tasted different, and therefore I didn’t like it. However, as I get older and more conscious of my health and the ever-present threat of genetic health issues like heart disease and diabetes, it feels like a minor change to make in order to have long-lasting health benefits.
All that to say, we now have several bags of brown rice piled up in our cabinets, and I’ve filled up our white rice container with farro, another whole wheat grain. We’ve even pivoted to buying whole wheat bread and eating oatmeal for breakfast as well. There’s no turning back now, baby!
We’re a few weeks into our brown rice switch and the only discernible difference is that brown rice takes a lot longer to cook than white rice, so there’s a little more waiting for the rice cooker to flip to ‘done’. That being said, we’re in quarantine, so I don’t mind doing a little more advance planning! I have nothing else to do!
Pickled and Fermented Food
After reading about the importance of the gut microbiome for general health, I’ve thought about buying probiotic supplements. However, I can never actually bring myself to buy them. Every time it comes up, I think, why would I buy a supplement when I could just eat my probiotics? Why would I turn down an opportunity to eat more?
I’ve always had a jar of kimchi and a tub of yogurt at the ready in my fridge at all times – less so because of probiotics specifically, and more so because they’re just tasty and everyone should always have them on deck too. I would also occasionally grab a kombucha if I find a bottle on sale near the cash register at the grocery store.
In quarantine, I’ve been trying to expand my probiotic horizons further. I’ve learned how to pickle vegetables, like carrots and red onions, which came in handy when we received surplus vegetables in our Misfits box. We had extra cabbage a few weeks ago, so I learned how to make my own sauerkraut (which, right now, mostly tastes like salty cabbage… but practice makes perfect, right?). I even learned how to brew my own kombucha!
Moving forward, I would love to continue making my own pickles and probiotics, though I am worried about not having the time to sit and massage salt into cabbage once life starts back up again (it is as moist as it sounds). Either way, I’ll still find a way to incorporate these foods in my diet no matter what!
Cutting Down on Meat and Dairy
I’ve been experimenting with a “flexitarian” and plant-based diet for the past couple of years. Like my fasting, I started this out mostly because of the health benefits, though unlike fasting, these benefits have been studied and proven on a greater scale. In my day-to-day life, while cooking my own meals, I try to stay away from buying and cooking meat, instead focusing on vegetables and grains. I’ll still eat meat at restaurants, or sometimes at home if Bryan cooks it.
I still have many, many reservations about going completely vegetarian and/or vegan, including:
- As I mentioned in my Cauliflower and Potato Adobo post, meat plays a starring role in a lot of Filipino food, and I don’t know if I could ever leave that part of my culture behind.
- For a while, Bryan tried out a vegetarian diet with me and was more open about it. Unfortunately, I was discouraged to see how his friends gave him a hard time for it. Because of that, I felt like I couldn’t share my own observations, struggles, and wins with anyone but him, out of fear of also being teased, even though I know having a support system makes such a big change a lot easier. (I know that’s just their sense of humor but intent doesn’t change the way it makes me feel!)
- Finally, a vegan diet has always felt out of reach because of my nut and peanut allergy – I know it’s still possible for to go vegan with these restrictions, but it has always felt like a minefield of nut-based substitutes that I’ve never really been well equipped to cross.
All that said, I do feel like I generally feel better when I cut out meat as much as possible, and want to continue this habit into the “new year”. My digestion is more regular, my energy levels are higher, and my exercise feels easier! When I do eat meat, I try to go with organic, grass-fed options. Though these are more expensive, the quality is much better, which makes them more enjoyable as an very occasional “treat”. It’s also much easier to clean up in the kitchen when you don’t have to deal with cross-contamination with meat products!
Additionally, I would like to continue moving toward using more nut-free dairy alternatives. I tried a dairy-free cream cheese on my bagels that was the perfect texture (though the taste was admittedly different, but when you drown it in Everything But The Bagel Seasoning anyway, does it matter?). I’ve also been adding a splash of oat milk to my morning coffee (dairy-free or not, I think oat milk is just tasty!). I’m nervous about moving into cheese alternatives, as there are very few nut-free options, but I’ll continue to be on the lookout!
I do have additional reasons for wanting to cut meat and dairy out of my diet, that I will talk about more in my next “New Year, New Me” post about… the environment!