Personal discovery: Nutrition is a practice and requires planning

Proper nutrition is a practice, I am finding. And not necessarily one where the path is obvious. I am discovering that for me, proper nutrition requires a little research and planning coupled with mindful cooking and eating.

After paying the $50 or so annual membership to unlock the hidden features of myfitnesspal, I have been surprised to find out that what I thought – through rough estimation and intuition, mostly – to be a healthy diet, is lacking in certain areas.

So I started tinkering with myfitnesspal to see what a balanced, healthy day within my calorie limit might look like.

Along the way, I learned some interesting truths and realised some replacements might be in order. Go ahead and laugh at me if these were common knowledge to you:

  • Peanut butter is rich in micro-nutrients, but almond butter seems to have more.
  • Cereals are very deceptive in terms of nutritional content. Amazingly, spoon-size shredded wheat seems to be a winner, with high nutrients and low sugar. Kashi Go Lean Crunch is good too, but has a lot of sugar (and is a lot more expensive).
  • Chips, regardless of how expensive, organic, non-GMO or other attractive, virtuous labelling are truly empty calories.
  • Strawberries are very high in potassium
  • Kale, spinach, swiss chard and collard greens are very high in calcium
  • Beans and lentils are must-eats for iron, potassium, calcium and protein
  • Potatoes are kind of a wonder food: very high in potassium!
  • Bananas are very helpful, as are most fruits
  • Dates are nutrient-rich
  • Avocados are rich in potassium and other nutrients, but very high in fat.

My takeaways:

  • I will add almond butter to my pantry, and when I have two toasts, I may make one with peanut butter and the other with almond butter.
  • Time to cut chips and other “empty calories” out. Eat only what contributes to day.
  • Spoon-size shredded wheat appears to be a great breakfast cereal, when loaded with fruit and berries and eaten with oat milk.
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale and swiss chard need to be a bigger part of my life, as do potatoes
  • Bananas and dates are in. As are avocados, in limited quantities.

Since I have gotten serious about fitness and wellness, I am going to be more systematic about nutrition. Let’s see how this goes.

Remember, I am talking about research and observations for myself here. I am not making any recommendations to anyone except myself. Go do your own research, experiment and find out what works for you.

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A lovely day

I woke up early today (5:30) and made myself an americano and some spoon-size shredded wheat with blueberries and strawberries. Then meditated for 10 minutes and spent the morning working peacefully, writing and editing on the deck as nature woke up around me.

Then an easygoing 50 minute swim at the Ancaster Lions Pool, lunch at The V-Spot in Dundas (noodle salad with spiraled rainbow veggies and thai peanut lime dressing). A treat after – an ice cream from Purple Pony in Old Ancaster then some writing, dinner (tomato and onion on toast with vegenaise), then herbal tea, meditation, reading in bed and sleep by 10:30 (I hope).

I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.

Sleep and not sleeping

Sleep is central to our well-being. It is a healing time when the body rebuilds itself and our mind consolidates memories and learning.

I have found that sleep is a good barometer for how I am doing in terms of day-to-day wellness. I always thought that I only needed 4 to 6 hours of sleep and I wore it like a badge of honour.

People marvelled at it, but now I realise that they were not marvelling at my not sleeping long as an achievement, rather they were impressed that I was willing to make such a terrible sacrifice.

Since my focus on wellness started on Ash Wednesday, I have not focused on sleep. Last night, after a productive day of editing, taking care of things at the office, and an hour-long, easy-going swim, I felt exhausted and slept eight hours. The first time since Ash Wednesday.

I can’t say I woke up rested, but I definitely felt better, calmer, stronger.

I am going to start paying attention to sleep.

Gratitude

I woke up today feeling very grateful.

Grateful for having been blessed with privilege and opportunity.

Grateful for having a supportive family and friends.

Grateful for professional friendships based on trust and warmth that have created opportunities for me to contribute in academia, politics and professional communications practice.

Grateful for life in a peaceful, tolerant and well-managed country, Canada.

Grateful for the warm sun, nearby trails and a cool blue outdoor swimming pool in my town.

Grateful. Warm. Calm. Alive.

The quantified self makes us more human

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the quantified self. Since Ash Wednesday 2016, I started a fast that meant that I went pescetarian.  While I thought that I would miss beef, chicken, pork and duck, the reality has been that I do not.  It helps that my favourite foods have always been fish and seafood.

Being a researcher by nature and by profession, I started reading about the benefits of not eating meat and found them to be legion: farming meat animals is a terribly energy-intensive process that generates a lot of waste water and pollution.

This led to a greater reflection on my life and its impact on others and on the environment. I decided to track what I ate to be able to quantify my diminished impact on the environment and so doing realised that I had been over-consuming calories on a regular basis. Logging the food and drink that I consumed made me aware of the reality of what I put into my body. That was illuminating and brought me some peace, strangely.

I started to add fitness to this regimen and tracked its impact on my net calories per day. I enjoyed the feeling of self-knowledge and personal calibration that I could achieve by tweaking what I ate and the calories I burned through different types of exercise. A side benefit was that I started feeling a lot calmer on the days I ran or swam or rowed and more alert and clear on the days I practised intermittent fasting or was under my calorie goal for the day. It was a good feeling.

It was at this point that I realised what I was doing was an exercise in mindfulness. I was finding that the data and quantification – in my case it was a simple excel spreadsheet and myfitnesspal – gave me a feeling of knowing myself  and being present in my life. That was a very good feeling.

I also started to realise that gently introducing and then tracking new habits wasn’t so hard. I realised that it’s mostly a factor of letting a habit that makes me feel better (like exercise) sink in so that it feels natural and I miss it if I haven’t done it that day.

I realised that my main motivation for keeping a good habit was if it made my life easier, happier or better (after the initial period of adjustment, of course). For me, that meant that the habit involved finding peace. Since then I have added other habits that are generally good for the environment and for my personal peace: I stopped swearing, committed to always obeying the speed limit when driving and to very brief daily morning and evening meditation.

I found that after an initial period of frustration, each of these habits brought me greater calm and a greater feeling of being present in my life and in my surroundings.

My greatest surprise on this journey has been that: tracking these habits became an exercise in mindful living instead of a burden.

I will post on this from time to time during the coming year.

It’s been a good journey thus far.

 

Meditating so that writing becomes fun and not work

Amazingly, I have stuck to two of my New Year’s resolutions: meditating and writing.

Each day, I have been spending two hours (at least) focused exclusively on editing JPC or working on my book project.

I have found that the time I spend writing and editing has become an inspirational and meditative time that I look forward and crave, because instead of stressing about not having written, instead, I think of writing as a relief from the stress of everyday life. This has made all the difference, taking writing from being work and transforming it into something exciting and relaxing to look forward to.

I got here by meditating in the morning, a little at lunch and in the evening. Each time for about 5-10 minutes. During that time, I try my best to calm my mind and then focus my thoughts (or blank them).

This has led to each meditation session being a source of inspiration for my writing or editing.

I will check in again soon with an update if this still continues to work.

On the simple life: find your peaceful thing.

Every new year, I hear many of the people I know express that they want to “return to a simpler life” or eliminate clutter. I often have this noble ambition myself. This year, I asked myself what this really means. I came up with a couple of ideas.

Eliminating clutter doesn’t mean stripping back all things you do. Rather, I think it means looking at why you do the things you do and asking yourself if there is a reason for each. When I went through this exercise, I found that of the things that caused me stress were inherently stressful. No, rather, it was that I simply didn’t really want to do them.

So how do you determine if you really want to do something? It’s a tougher question than it seems. First, you have to ask yourself what it is that organizes your life: is it religion? is your family relationships? is it friendships? is it work? Then, you ask yourself whether that organizing factor brings you peace or whether it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety when you think of it.

If it sends a jolt of stress or anxiety then you have your answer: the thing around which you have organized your life is wrong for you. If it brings you peace, then it is probably that many of the things you do are in sync with the thing that your life is organized around. That means that you are doing things that, in the end, are meaningless to your life.

So, find the thing that your life centers on or is organized by. Ask yourself if it brings you peace. If not, change it. If it brings you peace, then evaluate the other things you fill your life with: do they jive with your organizing center? If not, jettison them.

I am in the process of doing this. It feels good.