A Post College Post

This Sunday the class of 2013 will be graduating from my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University. With this comes a flood of mixed feelings both bitter and sweet. I am so proud of my friends who will be graduating this year, but this past year has flown by faster than I could have expected, I remember getting ready for my graduation day as if it were yesterday. 

I remember that feeling of great pride, I was actually going to graduate! The feelings of nervous anticipation and excitement for the future. For the first time in my life I wasn’t committed to anything, I was done with school (at least for now) and I could go anywhere, do anything, become anyone, that feeling of freedom was priceless. Plus the overwhelming feeling of pride for actually accomplishing this huge goal I had set for myself was just incredible. To understand how much graduating from CWRU meant to me it’s important to know how I even got there in the first place.

I had struggled in school all my life, always having this great “potential” as my teachers would call it but never following through. I realized in high school that I wanted to go to college, and I did my best to fix my academic path to point in that direction. As hard as I worked I don’t think my high school prepared me for the academic challenges of college, but where I lacked in preparation I made up for in determination and ambition. I was going to go to college and nobody was going to stop me, not even good old Case Western Reserve. You see when I first applied to CWRU the fall of my senior year I had my heart set on it, I had visited the campus and had fallen in love. However the love apparently wasn’t mutual and my heart was shattered when I received my rejection letter. I cried, like full on waterworks and completely inconsolable to any who dared tried. Then after a few hours I pulled myself together and I went online, tears were gone and in their place was determination. I began looking into the appeal process and making a new strategy to get into CWRU, whether it was my determination or stubbornness I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Convincing a University that they made a mistake by rejecting you and persuading them to change their mind is unconventional and extremely difficult, but it was all worth it, that April I received an email from the University granting me acceptance. I had done it, I had succeeded into getting into an amazing University, despite teachers telling me I’d never make it, despite a rejection letter, despite any doubts, I was getting out of my small town and I was going to do something with my life!

Going to CWRU was a life changing experience, but it never ceased to stress me out academically. I was so fortunate to make some amazing friends, be apart of a dance team I loved and join a sisterhood I will never forget. Academics were a different story, not matter what I did I always felt inadequate, ill-prepared and most days down right stupid. No matter how hard I tried or how badly I wanted to do better I just couldn’t focus. It wasn’t till my junior year it happened, I was diagnosed with adult ADD and everything finally made sense. After starting medication I was able to excel in classes the way I wanted to and my gpa jumped up. It hasn’t been until after graduation though that I really began to understand the value of an education and part of me is still upset about not being diagnosed sooner and being able to take more advantage of all the opportunities I had available to me in college. But I take all that I’ve learned so far and use it while looking into graduate schools. Preparing myself for a new challenge, exploring the options and figuring out what it is I want to do with my life. Once I figure it out, I know I’ll have the ambition, determination and stubbornness to achieve it. The problem now is just figuring out what it is I want to do. 

Since graduation in May 2012 I have been working two jobs. The job I absolutely love is working in a specialty food store that focuses on allergen free food, organic, and gluten-free. I have found learning about all the products out there and hearing customer’s stories to be an extremely valuable experience and education. My other job is working in a hospital setting as a clerk in the food and nutrition department, basically making sure patients are receiving appropriate menu choices for their prescribed diets. Also a valuable experience but it showing me how much I probably don’t want to keep working in a hospital setting. I am also living at home with my parents to save money and struggling with the radical change from college life. I have never felt so lost in my life and a year ago I really thought I would have had more figured out by now. It is crazy how life can change so much in a year, and even though I have no idea what my plans are I still feel that excitement for what the future holds because I know I’m too stubborn not to figure it out. 

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Gluten ist Verboten! An introduction to eating Gluten-Free

Gluten ist verboten!

Is hearing all this hype about eating gluten free sounding a lot like a foreign language?

Luckily, learning to eat gluten free is a lot easier than learning german! I started eating gluten free a little over 5 weeks ago so by no means am I an expert. I did however spend months researching and trying out gluten free recipes and products before making the full commitment. Now I am not trying to sell this diet as a “fad” diet to lose weight, solve all your health problems, or make you feel like you feel like a sparkly unicorn. I am saying however that Celiac, gluten intolerances, and sensitivities can go undiagnosed for years since there are a variety of symptoms and they are simply just tricky to put the pieces together. So it may be the right thing for you or it may not, only you can decide that. Now before I get ahead of myself let me explain a little about what gluten is.

Gluten is protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helps it rise and plays a big part in making bread and other baked good so absolutely wonderful. So why take such a magical protein out of your diet? Well unfortunately not everyone responds well to gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, consuming gluten creates an immune reaction that damages the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to the “expected” symptoms of the GI tract, like diarrhea, constipation, bloating and stomach pains. If someone has Celiac then they need to stay away from gluten as much as possible  because even if they may not feel the symptoms the gluten can still be damaging their intestines. Gluten intolerance and insensitiveness are different from Celiac, which I will go into further discussion in later posts. What is important for this post are the common symptoms and possible other symptoms which can consist of irritability, depression, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rashes, neuropathy and migraines. Research is still exploring all the connections gluten has to other diseases and disorders, there is still much that is not fully understood. However there are reasons to believe that eating a gluten free diet can help migraines, autism, ADHD and even fibromyalgia.

I have been suffering from migraines for as long as I can remember. I spent on average 10 days a month with a migraine. That’s a lot of life to be missing out on. If you aren’t familiar with what migraines are they aren’t just bad headaches. They are excruciatingly painful and debilitating. This is why I have chosen to try eating gluten free in hope that I will experience some relief. I’m sure migraines will be a topic that comes up often in my posts since they are a big part of my life.

Now what about actually eating gluten free? First of all don’t panic, gluten free pecan pie exists!!! Most goodies like cookies, brownies and cakes can be made gluten free using alternate flours other than wheat flour, such as rice flour, coconut flour, quinoa flour, almond flour, tapioca flour and many others. Baked good are easy to replace, breads are a little tougher. It’s hard to find a good gluten free bread, they tend to be denser and have a different mouth feel, however toasting gluten free bread generally makes a decent improvement. Pastas also come in gluten free forms, such as rice pastas or corn pastas which are very popular. I find most pastas to be decent and acceptable, most of the time I don’t even notice a difference. Gluten can hide in many products you wouldn’t think of, like licorice, soy sauce, some soups or stews, and even oats. Now oats are a special circumstance, although oats in and of themselves are gluten free they are easily contaminated by wheat either growing next to them in fields or in the plant their are processed in. Eating gluten free require reading the ingredient list on pretty much everything you eat.

Gluten free getting publicity as a “fad” diet is silly in my opinion. It’s not a diet that’s designed to help you lose weight, it is a legitimate lifestyle choice designed to remove an ingredient that may causing or potentially causing you harm. If something is gluten free it doesn’t automatically make it “healthy”, a brownie is a brownie regardless of what kind of flour you use. However some people may find weight loss success on this diet because it suddenly makes it harder to give in to every guilty pleasure. Are cookies, cakes, brownies, doughnuts and all those goodies still available gluten free? Why yes they are! But are they suddenly harder to get a hold of? Requiring special trips to stores that stock gluten free items? Yuppers! I find it’s easier to control how much of those goodies you eat when you have to make more of an effort to make or buy gluten free versions. So eating gluten free can help control your moderation of certain foods. Also eating gluten free encourages variety in your diet. Wheat can be healthy for some people but too much of a good thing is bad for anyone. Wheat is present in a considerable amount of our food today, especially processed foods. So choosing gluten free options are helping you chose alternatives to wheat and creating more variety! So yes if done properly (as in not just bingeing on gluten free brownies with the impression they are void of calories) anyone can benefit from eating gluten free foods. I think anyone could benefit from incorporating more gluten free foods into their diet to increase nutritional variety, there are so many more grains out there to enjoy! However I don’t think everyone needs to commit to a fully gluten free diet. Everybody is different and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for someone else.

I hope this was a useful introduction to gluten free, I’m sure I’ll be posting much more on this topic, especially ones on more specific gluten free topics but I wanted to get the conversation on gluten free started first. I encourage questions and comments about any and all of my blog posts!

Nutrition Summed Up In Two Words

Moderation and Variation

Seems so simple don’t you think? To be honest, when you strip down most nutrition advice out there you will find these two words are common themes. They are in fact a great simplistic way to start looking at what you eat in a healthier way.

I am a firm believer that there are no “bad” foods that should be off limits, for example I love pecan pie and I will never give it up! This “bad” food way of thinking also leads to negative feelings towards foods which is unnecessary and can be very damaging. There’s a time and place for all different kinds foods in your life, and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about enjoying them. Most people have experienced at one time or another that once someone tells you that you can’t have something, it’s all you want.  Having a piece of pecan pie every once in a while is considerable better for you then trying to remove it completely and ending up eating a whole pie yourself… in one sitting… yes, it’s possible… and it happens to the best of us. I’m not just talking about nutritionally better for you but emotionally and mentally too because that much pie is gonna leave you feeling pretty sick, and probably guilty as well, trust me. Self control is a key component of practicing moderation, but you don’t need to stress yourself out and be drill sergeant strict about everything you eat. Food is meant to nourish our bodies but it is also capable of giving us so much more. Everybody eats, it can be a great bonding experience because people love to eat and be social together, it’s good for us, it makes us happy! Being able to relax while enjoying something delicious with friends or family nourishes you as a person. But too much of a good thing can be bad for you, that’s where moderation comes in. Change can be difficult, being more mindful of moderation is a great starting point to evolving your eating habits to benefit you. Start with simple changes like cutting back on soda consumption, putting your snack in a smaller bowl instead of eating straight out of the bag, or fridge. You shouldn’t have to give anything you love up, unless you have a legitimate reason to cut something out, like an allergy. Whoever said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” clearly has never had pecan pie but I’m pretty sure everyone agrees that nothing tastes as good as the feeling of not dying from anaphylactic shock, not even pecan pie.

Another simple way to start implementing some change to your diet is adding some variation. The more variety of foods you consume to more variety of nutrients you’ll get. Now with this I’m talking about real foods, not changing your afternoon snack from cheetos to doritos. Explore new foods, new ways to prepare them. It can seem like an overwhelming task to change your way of eating, but taking it one veggie at a time makes it more fun and less overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Change up how you cook your favorite vegetable, cooking can release certain nutrients in food and make them more available to you but it can also destroy other nutrients in the process, so try your favorite veggie raw or lightly steamed. That way you can get the full variety of nutrients from a veggie you know you already enjoy. Explore new flavors, even if it’s trying one new recipe a week, it’s still helping you build a variety of foods to choose from when you’re shopping, so that you can feel confidant about preparing it, excited about consuming it and proud of choosing it. I find that the more work I do preparing a meal the more fulfilled I feel after eating it. The more engaged you are in the preparation of your food the more it will help reinforce the changes you’re making. You are bound to find some things that you don’t like, or down right hate and that’s ok, everyone has their own preferences, the goal is to expand your horizon and mix it up.

Nutrition can be a complex topic, and can be very overwhelming with where to start. Being mindful of moderation and appropriate serving sizes while trying a variety of new foods will help build a solid nutrition foundation in relation to food, not just nutrients. After all we eat food! Food has more than just the nutrients we need, so to better understand nutrition I find it is best to understand food as a whole, as a part of our daily life, and not just as a nutrition label on the side of a box.

The New Kid

So I’m pretty new to this whole writing a blog thing, I’ve been debating about it for weeks now and finally decided to just go for it. I’ll hopefully have some more posts up in the next couple of days to get this blog started but please feel free to leave suggestions on topics you’d like to read about!