Given that we've hit the end of January, I figured I owed you guys a little (well, not so little...this one is long friends) progress report on the month's goal in my great quest for life improvement leading up to my 40th birthday. (For those of you new to the program, you can get the full low down on "Operation 40" here.)
January's goal was to "revamp my diet." My mission with this particular initiative wasn't to go on a "diet" or to lose weight... Rather, I wanted to discover the best possible way to eat in order to be more energized and sharp and happy and healthy (yes, I believe food impacts all of those outcomes). I wanted to assess my current diet, really paying attention to what I was putting into my body each day, pinpoint the good and bad, compare the ideal state with the current state, and map out a plan for improvement. No biggie.
I knew I couldn't do this on my own. I needed help -- a health guru if you will. Enter (the utterly amazing) Leslie Needleman. She and her business partner Mary Kathryn Bass co-own a fantastic organic juice bar here in Dallas called The GEM. Leslie is also a certified holistic health counselor who received training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition under such healthy living luminaries as Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra. Oh and she's also a mom of three, a cancer survivor, and, by far, one of the coolest ladies I know. Full stop.
As an offshoot of The GEM, the ladies have just launched a 16-week program focused on taking a holistic approach to health and wellness, with individualized coaching on reaching health goals such as reducing food cravings, increasing sleep, and maximizing energy.
I found my guru.
I've been meeting with Leslie once a week since the beginning of January, and in keeping with my goal of revamping my diet, we've focused mostly on nutrition thus far, but we're also beginning to discuss things that I'll deep dive into in the coming months such as exercise (yikes) and stress management. The process has been incredibly personal (it's isn't a one size fits all enterprise), taking into account my health history, my long-term goals, and my satisfaction with every aspect of my life, from relationships to finances to fitness. For the nutrition portion of the program, my specific goals included:
- Drastically reduce my sugar cravings.
- Increase and maintain energy with less caffeine.
- Incorporate more "super foods" into my diet.
- Cook and eat at home more often.
- Get the rest of my family on board with the plan (without making them hate me).
To that end, Leslie assigned specific tasks (I assigned myself a few too) to accomplish each goal. She gave me easy and delicious recipes to try that Bryan and the girlies would dig, and, understanding that beautiful design is something that gets me excited, gifted me a gorgeous cookbook to peruse for inspiration. Here were the six things I committed to and how each one went:
Drink 32 ounces of water every morning before my coffee:
When Leslie first mentioned this one, I balked. Sure a single glass of water with lemon upon waking seemed like a no brainer. But 32 ounces?? Before my coffee??? Holy hell. But she was persistent, assuring me that this would change my life, as I'd have loads more energy, need less caffeine, and be "cleansed" (I won't go into details on that last one, but let's just say it means what you think it means). The first two days were hard. I felt like I was going to float away. I was nauseated. I wanted my coffee right away (not after 32 flippin' ounces of water!). But, determined to be a good student, I stuck with it. Friends, she was right. It has changed. my. life. I am utterly and completely addicted. I even created a little ritual around it. I pour my first glass the minute I get out of bed, add the juice from half a lemon (this is the game changer), and down it. I'm thirsty first thing in the morning, so chugging the first glass is easy. Then I pour the second glass (my beloved Marta coolers conveniently hold 18 ounces), flip on the coffee, and sip the H2O until the coffee is brewed. By the time I'm done with the water, I'm so awake that I no longer feel like I need the joe. I pour a small cup and just, well... enjoy it. It's empowering. I am, without a doubt, more energized. And yes, it kicks off a "cleanse" too.
Do a three day juice cleanse:
Yay...more cleansing. Ok, this one was so, so much harder than the water. I wish I could report that the three days of subsisting on juice made me feel otherworldly and amazing and beyond healthy, but, I'm not gonna lie, I felt hungry and angry...Hangry. So hangry in fact that my family begged me to eat when I got home from work each day. I was torn, as I didn't want to cheat, but damn I was hungry (in case you didn't get that before), so I succumbed and "cheated" with some kale salad, a little fruit, some organic roast chicken, and a few pumpkin seeds at various intervals over the three days. It was still a highly virtuous enterprise, and once I added a little actual food, I did indeed feel otherworldly and amazing and beyond healthy. It also kicked off my now deep and abiding passion for green juice, specifically a kale + cucumber + celery + green apple (just a little) + lemon + ginger elixir that is wildly delicious. As such, I'm planning to buy a juicer in the next couple of weeks so I can work that magic potion into my diet every day.
Buy a jump rope and try to get up to 10 minutes of jumping a day:
Ok this one is technically for my February goal of "Improving My Fitness," but Leslie wanted me to get a head start (damn you Leslie). I bought the jump rope and have been utilizing it every day. It's fun -- Audrey and I have even made a little game of it -- but I've yet to reach the 10 minute daily goal. Three minutes makes me feel like I might go into cardiac arrest. It's a bad scene. But I'm not afraid. I'm going to rock that jump rope...just wait.
Eliminate all desserts and candy for the month of January:
This goal was technically mine, as Leslie would never be this restrictive. She doesn't roll that way. However, given my history with sugar, the fact that I know how hugely unhealthy it is, and my staunch determination to reduce my craving for it once and for all, I went big. I didn't eliminate the sweet stuff completely. I still put a little in my single (!) cup of coffee in the morning and ate greek yogurt, et al, but for 31 full days I was 99.9% successful in not eating a single dessert or dessert-like item (candy, errant chocolate chips, etc...) My two small cheats involved a bite of my mother-in-law's birthday cake and half a brownie at a dinner party. It's been hard (I've actually dreamt of chocolate), but my cravings are drastically reduced. And, the most important part, I feel better. I'm planning to (mostly) stick with this moving forward, although a regular square of dark chocolate will always be a part of my life.
Revamp my pantry:
This is a service that Leslie and Mary Kathryn offer through The GEM program, but I had already enlisted my friend (and D Moms contributor) Holly Davis to do the job as part of a piece we're running in the spring issue of the magazine. I love Holly. She's funny, erudite, warm... But she means business. Let's just say that she let me keep a grand total of five items from my pantry (raw pumpkin seeds, raw almonds, two boxes of whole wheat pasta, and some organic dark coffee), ditched every single bit of the rest, and replaced it with all manner of healthy bits. The end goal was to eliminate as many processed foods as possible, instead filling the shelves with organic raw nuts, seeds, grains, dried fruits, dark chocolate (yay!), green tea, and healthy oils and vinegars. GMO-free, organic, BPA-free boxes and jars (no cans) of soup, beans, tomatoes, jam, nut butters, grade b maple syrup, salsa, free-range broth, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and granola also made the cut. My pantry has largely stayed Holly-ized, but a few things have crept back in due to some very heavy lobbying by Bryan and the girlies. I would call the end-result a 85% improvement. Nothing to balk at for sure.
Whew... If you're still reading, I owe you a drink after this long-winded action. Big time. I'm now on to February's (dreaded) goal of "improving my fitness." I'll report back in a few weeks on how that one goes down. Wish me luck...