I spent a day with some of America’s best doctors and here’s what happened

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The Executive Evaluation Center sits on the top floor of the Sentara medical tower overlooking the swath of water which surrounds the city of Norfolk, Virginia. Its purpose is to provide to people with the most comprehensive day of medical testing possible. People seek this type of place out to get a complete picture of their health and to try and catch issues such as cancers and risks of heart attacks and strokes.  My grandparents generously purchased one of these examinations for me as a graduation gift, so on Thursday (6/15) I got up at the crack of dawn to go see pictures of my insides.

My exam, while made up extensive but not unusual tests, was a really unique experience. Most people don’t consider bumming around a medical center a good time. I had a blast. Here’s what happened and what I learned both about my body and health in general.

The Evaluation

The women at the front desk received me excitedly as I walked in at 6:45 on the dot (I had to get up just before six to get there in time… I was tired) and showed me to my room. Because each day of evaluations hosts a small number of people at once, everyone gets a suite of their own. The rooms are a perfect blend of hotel room and hospital exam area. I had a cozy chair to sit in, a desktop computer and telephone, a TV, and a closet to put my stuff in. A doorway led to a small room with a exam table/bed and some supplies. A very sweet nurse named Joy introduced herself to me and told me she’d be taking care of me throughout the day. They had me change into a pink medical gown and gave me a super cozy robe to wear over it. Joy took my height, weight, and blood pressure.

I sat in the armchair in my room and watched another nurse wheel in a big cart full of vials and syringes. My stomach knotted up. I really, really do not like needles. Most people are pretty afraid of them as a kid and eventually they just learn to deal with it. I seem to have only ever gotten worse. At 18 years old, I started shaking when this nurse stuck the needle in me. That’s a first.

Joy came back in and did an EKG and a test I don’t remember the name of, but essentially she tested the blood pressure in my legs and in my arms to see how my circulation was at the points closest and furthest away from my heart. They had a personal trainer come in and talk to me about my lifestyle. We had a pretty good talk about food and training and came to the conclusion that I need to do more cardio, mainly because I told him right off the bat that I don’t do enough cardio. He seemed to like what I’m doing otherwise with my food and training.

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I gave this robe back very reluctantly.
I was then led out of the room and into a meeting room with big spinny chairs, a long table, and a glass of water ready for me. Like most of the rooms I’d been in, one of the walls was covered in huge windows that overlooked the water. It was a grey day, so the natural light was soft and pretty. A doctor greeted me in a surprisingly British accent when I entered the room. He introduced himself as Dr. Jones and explained to myself and another patient that this part of the Evaluation was called “mini medical school”.

He explained that the Executive Evaluation was conceived when a bunch of doctors got together and asked themselves the following question: “If we could put together a day of testing that would give us the best picture of our health, what tests would we include?” He also told me that usually these tests aren’t administered without an order related to a specific concern and that they wanted to use this evaluation to give people the opportunity to get these tests done as they wished.

The bulk of the presentation explained some of the testing that would happen that day, why they picked those tests, and what they would tell us. He also gave us general health information that would come in handy for understanding our results. He talked about factors that lead to strokes and heart attacks and the functions of different organs and what kind of things can go wrong with those. Long story short, they threw a bunch of information at me in a short amount of time.

I went back to my room for some small tests with Joy and changed into tennis shoes for my stress echocardiogram test. I remembered seeing this one in the movies: they did an ultrasound of my heart, then had me go on a treadmill  with all sorts of little things hooked up to me so they could measure my heart rate at various speeds and inclines. Dr. Oelrich, the cardiologist, was awesome. We looked at the pictures of my heart and he showed me the different parts and helped me understand my results. He also gave me advice for maintaining a strong heart and avoiding complications in the future. He was incredibly friendly.

After that, I moved into the ultrasound room for abdominal, carotid artery, and uterus/ovary imaging. This took a while, but I closed my eyes and tried to rest a bit to recover from getting up so early. When I wasn’t doing that, I looked at the ultrasound tech as she looked at the screen and tried to see if anything was wrong with me based on her facial expressions.

I made my way back upstairs for some food. All I had left was a physical and then to go over my results. I met my main doctor, Dr. Daman, who sat down for me with my consultation. We talked through family history and went through a packet I’d filled out beforehand. She gave me ideas on how to deal with little day to day issues that I had (headaches, for example) and advice on supplements. Dr. Daman was a smart cool lady doctor and I liked her a lot.

We did a physical where she looked inside my mouth, ears, did some eye stuff, and showed me how to self-examine for signs of breast cancer. She also did some weird tests that I’d never heard of. For example, there was one where she tickled the bottoms of my feet and the way that my toes curled was indicative of possible brain issues.

After some feet tickling and reflex checking, it was time to see my results.

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Results and what I learned 

Overall: I’m healthy.

Although I was a baby about the needle, the blood tests told me a lot. Almost all of my levels were completely good and normal (take that, people who think I’m deficient in things because I’m a vegan!). The one notable deficiency that I had was vitamin D, which was puzzling because I take a supplement. When I went home, I discovered the reason: my D supplement is D2, not D3. I can’t believe I didn’t realize that! My supplement is basically useless.

The only other discovery of note on my lab work was that my white blood cell count is pretty low, but Dr. Daman said it could be that I’m naturally that way as opposed to anything fishy going on.

My ultrasounds didn’t show any abnormalities. My heart has a slightly leaky valve, but Dr. Oelrich told me that this was so common and so negligible that it isn’t worth thinking about. I did later receive a phone call telling me I’m a carrier for the hemochromatosis gene, but that I don’t have it myself. I’m grateful to be in good health.

Other than the things I learned specifically about myself, I learned a lot about health in general. Here are three big lessons I learned while at the Executive Ethvaluation center:

1.) Healthy habits are really, really simple. 

When it comes to health, of course there are things we cannot help- genetic things, diseases and conditions we’re born with, cancers, etc. But there’s a lot we can control. Being nice to your body and taking good care of everything isn’t some crazy secret that requires a apple cider vinegar “detox” and an acupuncture treatment every week. All it really takes is eating good food most of the time, taking a multivitamin to try and keep your levels up, and getting some exercise. Get some sleep. Drink lots of water. Also, don’t smoke. Dr. Oelrich stressed this one a lot. I didn’t say that these things are easy, but they are simple. They’re habits that you can build at any age and if nothing else, they’ll just help you feel better. These are the little things our doctors tell us to do that we shrug off, but these are the most basic fundamentals of living a healthy life. None of the doctors at Sentara told me to do anything crazy or difficult to maintain my health, just to keep up with these habits.

2.) Preventative healthcare is the best healthcare.

The Executive Evaluation Center’s slogan is “What you don’t know can hurt you.” I think this is pretty accurate. Most of the time we go to the doctor because we have symptoms. With little things like the flu, this makes sense. It doesn’t work quite as well for big things. Dr. Jones showed us side by side pictures of two people with lung cancer. One of them was experiencing symptoms, one had the cancer but no symptoms yet. The difference in what was in their lungs and in the treatability of the cancers was astonishing. We can’t always catch everything early, but doing things like keeping up with checkups and physicals and getting an idea of when to start screening for certain cancers based on family history makes a huge difference.

3.) Education is so important.

Look, I’m not saying everyone needs to get up and get an executive evaluation right now. I learned a lot while I was there though, and everything they taught me was really practical information that was relevant to me and my health. I was pretty amazed at how much basic information about my body that I didn’t know. You don’t need a medical degree, but it helps to do some research here and there and gain a better idea of how we work. The internet has an abundance of unreliable information, but also a ton of pretty trustworthy websites. It’s 2017 and there’s no good excuse for ignorance.

Overall, I had a fantastic time at the Executive Evaluation center. I learned a lot and all of the staff were absolutely wonderful. Also, they had yummy food. Isn’t that all we need in life?

Advice to my high school freshman self

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Me on my first day of high school. The eyebrow abuse era has since ended.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Look, I’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities, but I would say this quote sums up high school pretty accurately (except for maybe the “age of wisdom” part). High school helped me meet some of the most important people in my life, helped me find myself as a musician, and gave me tons of opportunities that helped me establish a clear vision of what I want to do with my life. On the flipside, I often found myself incredibly stressed, learned what true anxiety felt like, and spent a considerable amount of time doubting my ability to get any sort of job after graduation.

You’ll never hear me say that I wish I could go back in time and do things over again. I believe that every situation, especially the unpleasant ones, are fantastic learning opportunities. If I hadn’t made some of the mistakes I did, I probably wouldn’t have matured very much. If I did go back and do it again, a lot of the stresses would still be there anyway- for example, I would have taken all of those AP classes again every single time. But if I theoretically got the chance to give my past self a couple of “heads up”s about what’s to come, I would tell her these things.

I’ll go ahead and crush your soul in advance: People are doing what you do, and they’re doing it way better.

I spent my freshman year being very naive about where I stood as a musician. I made the All State band on my first try and I thought I was the absolute shit. The funny thing is that I’ve gotten exponentially better at tuba since then, but my confidence has gone down. I’ve been exposed to so many people and groups who were miles ahead of me. I remember the first time I met someone my age who was significantly better than than I was. I was pretty crushed. I spent some time sitting around feeling bad about it. My senior year, I made it into an All National band with some of the best musicians in the country. My self esteem should have been at an all time high, but all I could think while I was there was “Damn, these guys are good. Like really, really good. How am I playing in the same section as them?”

This isn’t meant to be a sob story. The difference between that first time I got stomped on and the more recent times I’ve been stomped on is in how I react. Now, whenever I play with or see someone like this, I am ridiculously motivated. A big fish in a small pond has no room to grow. Whenever I get complacent and my drive to practice slows down, I seem to be put in a situation where I’m working in proximity to someone who I can learn from. It’s great and always sends me into the practice room. At the end of the summer, I’m heading off to school to spend a lot of time surrounded by people who will motivate me in this way. My freshman self would have dreaded this. Present me can’t wait.

Get your driver’s license right when you turn 16.

This one doesn’t require a lot of explanation. I got my learner’s permit the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. I then spent two years basically screwing around because I didn’t feel like putting in the work required to learn how to drive. I finally, finally got my license at the beginning of my senior year because I became sick of being the only one without it.

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Little did I know that permit would collect some dust.

I think that getting your driver’s license is the first real landmark of freedom in life. You don’t have to depend on anyone else to get anywhere and you can just sort of go places. I could have gotten my license as early as a week after my 16th birthday. I really wish I had gotten it then. I have no legitimate excuse for why I didn’t- I was just lazy. My life would have been so much easier.

Stop procrastinating. Seriously. For real.

When it came to my schoolwork, I was a straight up magician. I did just about every assignment the day it was due. I would say “except for huge projects”, but honestly I did a couple of big projects on their due date if it were due for a sixth or seventh period class. I pushed the boundary for procrastinating so hard that I raised the eyebrows of other chronic procrastinators. “You’re just starting that now?” And even if it resulted in a lot of unnecessary stress, I never learned my lesson because I somehow managed to produce work deserving of an A or a B.

My procrastinating career reached a climax at the end of my first semester senior year. My school offered some AP classes online because there was a shortage of those certified to teach those classes. For my online literature class, I felt pretty ambitious at the beginning of the year. When selecting my pace, I decided to go for “accelerated”- this would push my deadline of finishing the course to the end of the first semester instead of  giving me the whole year. I just wanted something that would motivate me to knock out at least one of my online classes early.

If my workload were spread out evenly over the semester it would have been very manageable. The online courses allowed us to be “self paced”, letting us turn in assignments whenever we wished as long as we were at a certain point at the end of each semester. For the average high school student, this translates to “do everything at the last minute”. I did this, and it was extra stressful because I had the whole course to finish at the end of the first semester. I spent a week straight of my winter break doing nothing but waking up, doing online work, eating, sleeping, and repeat. It made me crazy. I had the absolute worst New Year’s Eve of my life- Instead of enjoying the holiday, I was writing essays upon essays for AP Literature.

And I did it. I finished everything I needed to by the end of the semester and came out with an A. But that week was one of the most miserable times of my life. I drove myself completely insane getting all of that work done (plus a ton of stuff for AP Gov). When we returned to school after break, I hadn’t slept the previous few nights, I was shaky, and I was barely coherent. I know it was just a week, but an absolutely awful week of completely preventable misery. It took doing an entire course in a very short amount of time for me to finally learn my lesson about procrastination.

Be nicer to yourself.

It breaks my heart to think about how much time I used to spend being angry at myself. I’ve come to a point where I’m happy with who I am, but this is a new feeling. In high school, I internalized a lot of my problems. I blamed myself for everything shitty that anyone has ever done to me. I became frustrated with myself frequently and often for no reason. And yes, I spent a lot of time being afraid of the mirror.

I think that this is a thing that most teenagers struggle with. You have friend and relationship issues, school is killing you, and you feel pressure from all sides. Even if you’re objectively successful, you constantly feel as if you’re not good enough. You’re always comparing yourself to everyone else and wishing you could be more like them, even when those people are comparing themselves to you in the same way. Even some of the most seemingly confident teenagers battle with their self esteem. I spent so much time in a negative space, but I had so much to be proud of and there were so many things I didn’t appreciate about myself.

“Be nicer to yourself” is easier said than done. And even though I like who I am a lot right now, I’m not entirely sure how I got here. I’m glad I overcame those feelings and that I am who I am today, but I can’t help but think what kind of mental barriers I wouldn’t have had to deal with if I’d felt better earlier.

In conclusion… 

So, I can’t go back in time and tell myself these things, nor do I want to. I know them now and that’s good enough for me. And of course, there are so many other things I could tell my past self. I think I could write an entire book on the subject.

Outside of this post and some thoughts here and there, I’m not really dwelling on my high school experience too much. Living in the past constantly is always a weird way to exist (I’ve been there). I’ve got some neat stuff coming up in the next few months, so I’m just going to look forward.

Moral of the story: I’m glad that I’m done with high school.

 

The beach body myth (is dying)

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Remember when I was blonde? Or more accurately, yellow?

You did it. You survived finals, AP exams if you’re in high school, or maybe end of year classroom behavior if you’re a teacher. The past few months have been a struggle for sure, but you’re pretty proud of yourself. That second semester stress has built up into its climax, but it’s finally gone. Summer is wide open in front of you. You’re ready for sleeping in, picnics, maybe some camping, and definitely some beach… trips…

Shit! With the hours of studying, work, rehearsals, and whatever else you had going on, you’ve completely neglected your physique. You’ve been eating whatever is quick and easy instead of what is healthy. And working out? You don’t even have room in your brain to think up a gym routine, let alone time in your day to actually go through with one. And now summer- the season of shorts and crop tops- is here, and you feel like your current state is anything but your desired beach body.

I used to subscribe to the idea of the “beach body” too. When summer rolled around, I wanted to have nice, smooth legs and the kind of washboard abs that I could display with confidence in a bikini. I don’t really feel this way anymore. The past two years have been a rollercoaster of discovery in the area of self image and body confidence. I learned a lot about myself, and in turn, my attitude toward the summer body ideal has changed drastically.

One thing I realized is that this idea that we need to have our bodies look a certain way just for the beach is kind of weird. I understand bodybuilders who are prepping for a competition or athletes who need to train the functionality of their bodies for a certain event, but why is there so much pressure to look amazing for a few hours of half-assed tanning and sand flying in your face? I understand that yes, we have more skin showing at the beach than we do in most other places, but this is just how we look all the time. I used to be one of the “oh shit, it’s summer and I don’t love my body!” people, but my body exists all year. It exists when I am on the beach and when I am at home wearing sweatpants. It exists in summer, but also spring, autumn, and winter too. The average person spends so little time in a swimsuit. It’s unhealthy to have such a drastic change in self image because it is a certain time of the year.

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I always have so much fun in St. Thomas I can’t be bothered with what I look like!

And yes. I understand. You can make the argument that wanting to look good in a swimsuit is just like any other occasion-based goal, such as wanting to slim down for your wedding. These things can be great motivators for a healthier lifestyle, but over the years the beach body has evolved into something different. Now, it’s not just a healthy goal, but an expectation.

“That woman should not be in a bikini.”

“He needs to put his shirt back on.”

Most of us have heard these types of comments before and I really don’t get them. That woman is in a bikini because she is at the beach and that’s what people wear at the beach. She’s not there to impress strangers and she’s not hurting anybody. The external pressure to look a certain way in a swimsuit has given us as a society deep-seated standards. And where do these standards come from? Why are we so obsessed with the beach body?

Advertising!

My web activity has been SO cluttered with ads for “summer shred”s and “8 week beach body program”s. These ads want you to feel inadequate so you’ll buy someone’s dumb ebook or try some juice cleanse. The worst part? Diets that use this genre of marketing are crash diets. They are designed for you to fail so you’ll keep buying into these products. They are absolute scams and the damage they do to people is disgusting.

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At the end of the day, mother nature’s winning for looks.

Not only does this kind of external pressure target and hurt people with insecurities, but it promotes the idea that there is a single standard for how a body should look. If I could peek into the heads of one hundred different people and see what image comes to mind when I say “perfect beach body”, I can promise you it looks almost the same for everyone. There are so many issues with this. To begin, people’s bodies aren’t even built the same way. We have different proportions of torso and limb length and different weight distribution. It also perpetuates a really exclusive idea of what is attractive.

It’s important to like the way we look and media can make it hard to do that. We also can’t really do a whole lot about the ads. They’re always going to be there. The neat thing I noticed though is that each year, more and more people are giving this standard the middle finger. When I go to the “discover” part of Instagram or WordPress, I am seeing so many body positive posts and it makes me so happy. I see pictures of cellulite and stretch marks and asymmetry and people wearing it proudly. This movement is growing and its message is clear.

Imperfection is in.

Self acceptance is easier said than done. Most people think that they’re better than others who are influenced by the media. Heck, I was one of them. I thought I was free from that influence because I don’t watch the Victoria’s Secret fashion show or aspire to look like a certain celebrity. But I did spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and thinking about changes I could make to fit the conventional idea of what beautiful is. Looking back, I realize now that I was absolutely under the societal spell. Most of us are.

It also took me a really long time to break that. I’m still working on it. When I looked in the mirror at 120lbs and felt just as insecure as I did at 150lbs, I realized that the problem had nothing to do with my body and everything to do with what was in my head. The way I physically see myself is a reflection of how I feel on the inside. I never feel pretty when I’m in a bad mood and I tend to be really confident when in a good mood, but the way I look doesn’t actually change.

So if you find yourself wishing you looked like the guy or the gal in the many seasonal diet advertisements, remember that there’s no such thing as “the beach body”. What exists is “beach body”, and good news! You have one! No matter what you plan to do with your diet or fitness regimen, remember that the transformation that will really make a difference is the one inside your head. And no one can sell you that- it’s something you need to find on your own.

 

I graduated. Now what?

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Oh, it has been a hell of a week.

Front to back, start to finish, it’s been a hell of a week. The past five or six days have already started to blur together. And despite the pretty huge capped and gown-ed personal landmark that occurred on Saturday, I still don’t know how I feel about everything. My thoughts and emotions are in a big tangle. I know that I should untangle them at some point, but when I find them in my path I just step right over. I might go through them and get everything straightened out eventually, or I might just pack them away and move on. I don’t feel particularly obligated at this point to do either.

I hope that this post even makes sense. It’s rainy, I’m sick, and I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in several days. This combination is the perfect recipe for serious brain fuzz. I’m hoping to remedy that with a lazy day and a lot of sleep tonight. I’ll probably still be stuck with this cold though.

Last Monday and Tuesday were my last days of school. They were both sort of the same: seven periods of not doing very much, followed by some sort of awards ceremony (seniors on Monday and band on Tuesday), then some weird graduation emotions. I’d spent all year waiting for the diploma at the end of the tunnel, but in the few days leading up to it I had a lot of “Geez, this is actually weird- do I even want to graduate?” type thoughts.

On Monday, I cried my way over a mountain of anxiety about life after high school. Ask the class of 2017 what we’re most excited about for next year and I can promise you one of the top answers will be “independence”. I’d give that answer too. But I also realized that independence is kind of terrifying. I was also pretty freaked out about not being able to see my favorite people on a daily basis anymore. I know I’ll make some new friends, but I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life. The change is going to be hard.

On Tuesday, I shed some tears about all of the high school band stuff coming to a close. Those were feelings I’d anticipated for a while, but actually muddling through them was weird. High school only lasted four years and so did my time with the band, but given the amount of personal growth and development I’ve experienced through that time, it feels like forever. I also did a lot of band. What I’m getting to here is that JHS band was my whole life. I wasn’t really upset about leaving all of the memories behind, just kind of feeling weird and naked. I’m going to be a music major. I know for a fact that I’ll have that same social circle/performance bond situation soon enough. It’s just the transition.

I had a pretty significant list of things I needed to get done on Wednesday and Thursday. At 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, my body said “screw that” and gave me a graduation gift of some of the worst abdominal pain I’d ever felt and a host of other random symptoms. I went to the ER, my tests came out fine, and they put a stop to the pain with some crazy IV stuff. It was awesome because it made my pain go from a 7-8 to a 0-1. It also might as well have been Nyquil. I was thoroughly knocked out by the time I got home.

I think it was a combination of the pain meds not having totally worn off and the remnants of all the weird stuff my body was doing that brought me there, but my level of functioning remained at “wet towel” through Thursday. Ryan came over and I fell asleep while he was there. My parents sarcastically told me I was an awesome date. He was a good sport.

Come Friday, I still wasn’t feeling good. I never have a good name for what’s going on when I’m sick. “Evolving symptom mishmash” is the best I can do. On Friday my appetite was all but gone, it was hard to breathe, and standing for more than a few minutes was really hard. This is where things really started to blur together.

I had a lot to do on Friday and Saturday. I practiced graduating on Friday morning and 24 hours later I did the real thing. I walked across the stage, took a picture, and sat back down. When it was still on the horizon, graduation seemed like it would be a huge, significant moment. I thought I would be crying/having some huge revelation about adulthood/growing a beard as a sign of sudden maturity/etc. None of those things happened. Maybe I just used up all of my emotions in the week leading up to it. I didn’t feel anything at the ceremony. Maybe I’m subconsciously repressing those feelings and at some point I’ll feel something. Maybe I just hyped it up to be a bigger deal than it really was.

I’ve got a diploma and I haven’t had to go to school in a week. That’s really all that has changed.

My favorite part of that day was absolutely my graduation party. I haven’t had a birthday party in years. I’ve hosted a couple of sousaphone section parties, but that’s different because people are just at my house. Those weren’t about me. This was. I was a little worried that no one would show up. More than a little actually, but I was pleasantly surprised. By about 6:30, my house was filled to the brim with my favorite people. It was a mixture of old friends, family members, and people who I saw pretty often but was still really excited to have over.

It was really weird to think that so many people liked me enough to come to my party. I generally spend more time in my own head than I do anywhere else. Because I get very wrapped up in everything bouncing around in there, I feel isolated most of the time. Being surrounded by all of those people made me realize that I am not actually isolated at all. I spent the entire night just being so grateful to have such people in my life, and as I went around and talked to everyone I felt even more so. I have such wonderful friends here.

I am trying not to think too hard about me not being here in a few months.

So… now what? I have plans for this summer. I’ve written down all kinds of things in my calendar book which I will be doing, but before I really do any of them I need to get rid of this brain fog. I sat for several minutes today trying to remember what I did over Christmas. I couldn’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday or the names of any of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters. I am still getting things done, but it is hard to do them. I don’t think my summer has really started. Is summer hibernation a thing? Maybe that would help.

Eh. I’ll figure it out.

I tried a vegan dinner delivery service

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I promise this isn’t just going to be a food blog… but I also can’t promise that I won’t talk about food a lot. I don’t just like food, I’m interested in it. I like to read about it. I like finding out what foods make me feel the best. Sometimes I accidentally find out what foods make me feel the worst. It’s pretty obvious to most people that what we eat has an effect on how we feel, but as I said in last week’s post, finding out firsthand just how big that effect is was pretty staggering. At this point I can say I’ve used myself as a guinea pig for many food experiments, and I’ll do it again at some point.

So: meal delivery services. If you haven’t heard of BlueApron, HelloFresh, or one of its equivalents, I’ll take a second to explain. The meal/recipe delivery service trend is a relatively recent one. Once you pick which subscription suits your needs the best, you will receive a box every week with a number of recipes and pre-portioned ingredients to make those recipes. Often, people come to these services because they want to eat at home more, get better at cooking, eat healthier (most of these services include a lot of vegetables and are a big step away from highly processed foods), or just to try something new. There are many different companies and plans with a variety of price points to suit different lifestyles.

I looked into some of the more popular food services a while ago and found that while many had a vegetarian option or the ability to pick which meals you want for the week, generally meatless was as close to vegan as you could get. More recently, I stumbled upon a BuzzFeed video where people were trying Beyonce’s meal plan (different from BlueApron and others in that the meals were delivered totally prepared and simply required some heating up). Doing a little research on this led to my discovery of a plethora of vegan recipe subscriptions. I was interested.

For the past six weeks or so I’ve been doing two vegan food services: PurpleCarrot and GreenBlender. Last week, we cancelled both. In this post, I’m going to do a little review of PurpleCarrot and give some suggestions for those interested.

PurpleCarrot

With PurpleCarrot, you get a box containing three totally vegan recipes per week with all of the needed ingredients. Each recipe makes enough for two people, although sometimes there is enough for leftovers as well. I thought this was perfect for me. Given that I am one person, 6/7 of my meals per week would be covered! Prior to my first box, I was at a point where I was too lazy to meal plan/prep on my own. I thought that this would be a one way ticket to a guaranteed healthy meal every night.

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Chef Ryan helping me with last night’s dinner

Pros:

-I really enjoyed most of the meals. Keep in mind, I am not a picky eater. I will eat almost any food that complies with my morals. Some of the coolest dinners I had were “meatball” subs made from beans and vegetable protein, a creamy corn and fennel chowder, and seitan lettuce wraps. I would say there were maybe two or three meals that I didn’t love (last night I had a lentil pasta that left something to be desired), but that’s okay. It’s not realistic to expect to love every single recipe.

-These meals wouldn’t be difficult to recreate. Some of them do have exotic ingredients, but those can be easily substituted or in some cases omitted. The meals didn’t require a huge amount of ingredients and the spices used were rarely more than salt and pepper.

-I felt full and satisfied after each meal.

-Most meals had pretty decent macros. Vegan food can get carb heavy and protein deficient if you aren’t careful, but there were many higher protein meals and plenty of fats as well.

Cons:

-Sometimes I didn’t get enough of an ingredient. Most notably, this happened with a sushi recipe. I used all of the sticky rice I was given and both of my rolls still needed quite a bit more. The picture on the recipe card and a video that PurpleCarrot posted online both showed the rolls with far more rice. Some people complained as well about some ingredients being left out of their boxes, although this didn’t happen to me.

-Each recipe is supposed to take about thirty minutes to prep and cook, but when I was making the meals on my own, it often took me well over an hour. This was mainly because of all of the required chopping and prep. When I occasionally had help (Ryan cooked and ate a couple of the meals with me), things took 30-40 minutes, but otherwise cooking ate up a significant portion of my evening.

-Several of the recipes require a food processor, which many people don’t have. We might (?) have one, but if we do it hasn’t been used in ages. I was able to compensate with our Vitamix, but it had a hard time with some of the recipes.

-Making these recipes often left my kitchen a mess.

-Waste! Most of the food items had individual plastic wrapping which created tons of trash.

-The dinners tended to be on the high-ish side calorie wise. The calories range from 500-800 per serving, but many of the meals were on the high end of that. I don’t track calories anymore, but this might be of concern to someone trying to lose weight.

Overall thoughts on the meal thing

I enjoyed PurpleCarrot. I had really wanted to get in on the meal delivery trend for a while, and PurpleCarrot was a very satisfying adventure. Although I listed more cons than pros above, I would give the quality of food and the service overall a 7-8/10. With the exception of the time and the trash, most of the cons I listed weren’t really dealbreakers.

So why did I stop? It just didn’t work for my lifestyle. I’m really busy. I have a lot of rehearsals and performances in the evenings. I’m also either out with Ryan or at his house a lot. Over the summer, I’ll be out of town several times. Doing PurpleCarrot made me realize that I’m just not at home enough to eat all of this food. I have five meals sitting in my fridge waiting to be made and most of the ingredients are starting to go bad. Once you get behind, it’s really hard to catch up. Not to mention, when I am home, I often just don’t feel like putting in all of the work to make these meals.

I think that meal services are awesome for some people, but just not for me. I think these kinds of things work best when used by a couple living together or just any combination of two people who can cook as a team. Not only will that cut down on the time to make everything, but this means three meals a week instead of six, which is far easier to keep up with. This is also a good option for those trying to eat more vegetables, as the recipes use produce in creative ways that most people generally don’t try.

Then, like I touched on, there is the waste issue. PurpleCarrot is continuously trying to improve its sustainability, but the piles of plastic bags going into my trashcan every time I made a meal made me feel really bad. This is an issue with meal services in general, not just PurpleCarrot. It felt ridiculously wasteful that most of my vegetables were in individual plastic wrap. Most subscription boxes just have a long way to go in this department.

I think that even though it isn’t a long-term option for many, food delivery is a good thing to try for a little while. It taught me some cooking techniques for the future and I now have a stockpile of recipes to use when I feel up to it. I don’t regret ending my subscription, but I also have no regrets in trying it. For those interested, here is the PurpleCarrot website, which lists its weekly recipes so you can get a feel for what they do.

The F-word… No, not that one

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The F-word in question here is “food”. I’m a vegan, so I get defined by my food a lot. I also try to eat sort of healthy, so people often have the idea that I’m a superhuman kale machine. This is a misconception. I would say that I have my shit together in the food department a little more than I used to, but I’m still figuring it out. I’ve come to learn that this is absolutely okay. I’m not going to lie- I would love to be a superhuman kale machine. But I am also a teenage girl who likes chocolate.

So what about the F-word? 

For most of my life, I ate whatever I wanted and didn’t really think about it. A lot of it was junk food and I avoided vegetables like the plague. I wouldn’t even try salad until middle school, and even then it was only Caesar. I was a pizza and pasta and chicken tender eater for the better part of my life. My diet now is not only more ethical but also far more nutritionally complete. I could look back on that portion of my life with disdain, but I actually envy past me a lot. My relationship with food was far healthier than it has been since and my cynical side says that it was probably healthier than it ever will be.

So I kept eating pizza and pasta and chicken tenders without a second thought through my sophomore year of high school. A few months in, my first relatively long relationship ended. I felt so many new and awful things and didn’t know how to deal with them. In the first few weeks, I lost my appetite completely. Then I started eating again, but more. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my appetite and portions steadily increased. I didn’t weigh myself regularly, but at some point toward the end of the school year I stepped on the scale to find that I had gained 20lbs in a pretty short amount of time. I was shocked.

I became more conscious of my weight, but I made no attempt to revise my eating habits. My clothes still fit, but they were uncomfortable. I always had to do the “these are too tight” dance in order to squeeze into my jeans. For a while, I thought I looked okay, but toward the end of spring and into the summer I was tagged in some pretty unflattering photos on Facebook.

It took until autumn of that year (2015) to get sick enough of being uncomfortable to do something about it. I downloaded MyFitnessPal and set a daily calorie goal a few hundred below maintenance and the weight began to trickle off. My goal weight sat at a few pounds below my old comfortable weight. I still ate whatever I wanted, just less of it. I learned how to moderate and bargain- if I wanted to indulge on several things, I picked one of them. I went over my calorie allowance here and there, but when this happened, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world. I counted calories without obsessing. I saw results.

If you know me, you know that I browse Reddit pretty frequently. I read some of the weight loss communities and found nothing but helpful advice and oodles of support. A majority of them advocated for exactly what I was doing, so even though I was pretty new to the whole nutrition thing, it was good to know I was doing something right. The more time I spent on these subs, the more I noticed certain people promoting something called “keto”. I’d never heard of it.

I soon became curious enough to venture over to the keto subreddit. The ketogenic diet, I learned, is an extreme low carb diet. Its followers aim to consume 20-25 carbs or less daily. Meats, cheeses, and some leafy green vegetables get the ok. Sweets, breads, and most fruit have to go. Many foods sit in a gray “sometimes” area. The idea here is to send your body into ketosis, which turns it into a fat burning machine. Added benefits are supposedly appetite suppressant and generally feeling awesome.

I’m not going to beat around the bush. Keto made me crazy and seriously messed up my relationship with food. Keto isn’t a magical diet. I did lose weight while on it, but only because I continued to count calories the way I had been. I felt awful. I didn’t like the food very much. I got tired of covering things in cheese to make them edible. I became afraid of carbs. Reading all of the pro keto stuff every day had me brainwashed, for lack of a better term. I had lost almost 30lbs in total by the end of my three-month affair with that diet. I was petrified of going over my carb limit and gaining back all of the weight I had lost. Occasionally, I ate a “forbidden” food, which then triggered an all-night binge. I would eat everything around me and wake up feeling absolutely terrible the next day.

I cringe now thinking about how miserable I let myself be because of a group of Reddit users. None of these people were health experts! I didn’t even realize that keto wasn’t working for me until far after I stopped it. Initially, I just quit keto because I realized that a diet that discourages eating a lot of vegetables and instead encourages (bunless) bacon cheeseburgers doesn’t really make sense. I didn’t like bananas before, but by the end of my keto phase, I would have killed for one.

March 2016: Enter veganism. I’m going to be upfront and say that I didn’t initially transition to this lifestyle for the right reasons. I wanted to reintroduce carbs into my life, but I felt the need for food-related rules to follow. I decided over the course of just a few days that I wanted to do the vegan thing and threw out all of the low carb foods in my house that I knew my parents wouldn’t eat.

The following isn’t an advertisement for a vegan lifestyle, but here’s the thing: I felt great. Like, really great. I ate copious fruits and vegetables which had been off limits to me. I kept doing the calorie counting thing for another month or two, but then decided I wanted to put some muscle on. I used this as justification to limitlessly eat all sorts of awesome stuff over the summer. I didn’t initially go vegan because I cared about animal rights, but I started to care about animal rights because I went vegan. I may not have had the best reasoning at first for making the switch, but I know now that I made a great decision. Everything just felt right.

Where am I now and what did I learn? 

So over summer 2016 I stopped tracking my calories so strictly because I was done with losing weight. Given that I was bulking, I actively tried to eat a lot of food. I put back on a lot of weight in just a few months. I liked the freedom at first, but after a while keeping up with the portion sizes was a lot and I started to feel a little sick. In October, my schoolwork and band commitments picked up and I stopped going to the gym. I began to just eat whatever I wanted, neither strictly tracking calories nor forcing myself to eat excessively. For the first time in months, my weight and my food took the backseat to other priorities. Between then and now I’ve lost about 15lbs and am back around the number I sat at before I gained that first 20. I’m pretty comfortable and I have no real weight goals except to sort of stay around there.

However, I have a lot of non-weight related food goals. I noticed in December that my food had become such a non-priority that I was forgetting to eat throughout the day, then  when I remembered in the evening, my meal would look something like a Sheetz burrito and a Monster Energy drink. I felt like shit. I learned something really important from this: The best thing you can do for yourself (alongside get adequate sleep and hydration) is to eat a balanced and healthy diet. I’m not even trying to promote a plant-based thing here. I don’t plan to turn this into a full on “how to eat to feel better” post (although maybe down the road I will write one), but eating more vegetables, fewer processed foods, and drinking a lot of water can do wonders for how you feel.

I made a New Year’s resolution to start eating in a way that helped me feel good. I am still trying to do that. I’m getting better, but I still fall off of that wagon here and there (thank you, vegan chocolate and dairy-free Ben and Jerry’s). I do think it’s awesome to indulge in moderation. I’m also not good at moderation. So I guess that if anything, my next step is to find that balance of eating those “feel good” foods 95% of the time and keeping the treats small and not overly frequent.

The other thing I’m working on is repairing my food anxiety and the very strong guilt I get after overindulging. This is a reason that I am now very strongly against keto and other extreme diets. It made me very afraid to eat certain things and I felt so pressured to stick to those strict rules that when I stepped outside of those and went over my carb limit, I felt very intense guilt and found it very hard to forgive myself. It created a lot of unnecessary self-loathing. I still feel that same self-loathing and guilt when I eat something outside of my idea of “healthy” or eat a little too much. The remnants of that strict diet mindset have laced my brain and my relationship with food with a little bit of orthorexia. Extreme diets are very damaging. I did keto for just three months over a year ago and I am still dealing with the aftermath.

All I want at this point is to eat things that make me feel good and to have a healthier relationship with food. I plan to keep working on that. I don’t know if I will ever be that superhuman kale machine, but I can try. I’m also okay with baby steps. Trying to make crazy changes instantly is more damaging than good and will almost always cause you to revert back to eating worse than before. I think that most people want a better relationship with food. It’s cool, because we’re in this together right? Taking those little steps to eating better is such a great way to care for yourself. I wish you all luck in that journey to self-love.

If you read this whole thing, thank you so much for listening to my story.

 

 

I’m a rough draft (and that’s cool)

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Well, here it is. If you’ve ever looked at me and thought, “I would love a direct IV of her keyboard gibberish”, this is for you.

This blog is actually really for me. Don’t get me wrong- I really do hope that people enjoy the things I write and choose to continue reading them. It’s just that writing is a hobby that is really good for me. There are so many half-formed ideas bouncing around in my head. When I can motivate myself to do something about them, I become a writing machine. I create pages and pages of words that usually end up in a half-filled notebook and left at the bottom of a closet or in a desk drawer. I am a serial drafter.

This is my solution. If I can hold myself accountable to one piece of (hopefully) presentable writing a week, I can clear my head a little bit. I can also conquer the world.

…Okay, okay. One step at a time.

A much-needed spring break

Spring break started out with some traveling. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months, but usually for weekend band and choir trips. I get to do things I enjoy and spend time with my friends, so I do have a lot of fun. That fun usually comes with some mild distress to my sleep schedule. There are also performances to worry about, as well as an inevitable exhausted return to school on Monday morning. Going somewhere purely for enjoyment has become a foreign concept to me.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were spent visiting my grandparents in Virginia Beach. Our visits are usually made up of pleasant local outings during the day and vibrant dinner table conversation in the evenings. This time was no exception. Saturday was a long day of college laptop and prom dress shopping, while Sunday was a very windy attempt at a beach trip. I forgot my sunglasses, so I spent a good portion of that afternoon with a towel over my head. I still ended the day a bit red.

On Monday we started our journey home and that evening we stayed in Baltimore. For me, the most exciting part of visiting a big city is the mountain of vegan dining options. I dragged a friend to Verde Pizza. The menu full of unpronounceable Italian food items included a satisfying selection of vegan pizzas. The pizza came in a “definitely-larger-than-personal” size. I ate all of mine anyway.

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The little hummus-y looking blobs are a yummy cashew creme.

By late Tuesday afternoon I was home. I hadn’t had several days at home to myself probably since winter break. With graduation a month away and summer on my doorstep, I resolved to use the rest of my spring break for productivity save the relaxation for later.

It’s not a blog post without the introspective stuff, right?

Like most people, I have a pile of non-urgent things on my plate a lot of the time. These are little things like emails that need to be sent, checks that need to be written, and forms that need to be filled out. These are the little tasks that won’t kill me if I put them off for a few days, but with time they become daunting chores. Although a to-do list bullet itself never changes, I eventually become guilty about not doing it, and that guilt causes me to put it off for even longer. Part of me hopes it will just go away and the rest of me knows I’m just making things worse by delaying action.

With all of the time on my hands, I resolved to endure being a little uncomfortable and chip away at this pile of stuff. I also had to clean my room, which was a task and a half in itself. Or maybe three. I had some online schoolwork to do as well.

I’m happy to report I did make some progress on of these things. Sitting for hours and hours and folding clothes and mindlessly replying to emails did, however, give me a lot of time to think.

I don’t want to say I spent the past week “getting my life together”, because that implies that I didn’t have it together before. I sort of did. But this week I gained some idea of where I am. I realized that I’m sort of like a rough draft. When I’m writing and I create my initial draft, I’m proud of it. It’s not where I want it to be, but I don’t hate it. It’s the most natural way that writing exists. It lacks elegance. It still has charm.

What I really enjoy though is that the rewriting and the revising. When I start into the editing stages of something I write, I have some idea of where I want it to be. I usually don’t discover what I really want until I’m in the process of editing. That’s sort of where I am now with myself. I feel like doing all of these little things and cleaning out my wardrobe and preparing for college is a pretty big editing streak, and now that I’m in the middle of that I’m starting to see who I want to be. It’s still me, but a version of me that replies to emails in a timely manner, practices tuba a little more, and dresses a lot better.

The other neat thing about writing is that there are always changes you can make. You can polish a work and make it more pleasing and grammatically correct. You can make it into a piece that would receive a satisfactory grade from a professor, but there are always parts you’ll look at after a few years and think that maybe there are details you could improve on. “Finished” doesn’t really exist in creative fields. It also doesn’t exist in human beings.

I guess it’s only fitting then that I’m a serial drafter. However, these things are different because serial draftiness is a bad habit. Being a work in progress is an awesome thing. The “it’s not about the destination but rather about the journey” quote is cliche enough that I turn my nose up at it, but it does apply here. If I were at the destination, I would be stagnant. Change is fun and I know I have a hell of a lot of it in my forecast.

I promise that my future posts will be a little more exciting and a little less rambly. But I also felt that this blog sort of needed an introduction, and that this was an appropriate way to set up all of the stuff to come. Hemingway does a really great job of very vividly developing the setting before truly introducing the action. I don’t have the nerve to compare myself to that caliber of great, but that’s sort of the idea here. This is my prologue.