Category Archives: Personal Life

What I’m Not Willing to Give Up to Become Healthier

Over the last several years, I’ve started following multiple blogs and Twitter accounts that focus on fitness, nutrition, and wellness. I’ve made a lot of adjustments to my diet and lifestyle in order to make it healthier:

  • Lifting weights a few times a week
  • Getting a minimum of 12,000 steps a day
  • No longer drinking fruit juice
  • Switching from rice milk to almond milk to cut calories and added sugar in my diet.
  • Gradually increasing how many servings of vegetables I eat every day. I always ate enough fruit, but now I eat the recommended number of vegetable servings, too.

There have been many times when these sites suggested an ingredient tweak, a new recipe, or a workout routine that ended up working wonderfully for me. Some of them required a period of adjustment in the beginning, but I was soon able to adapt to them by keeping an open mind on changes that sounded even mildly interesting.

With that being said, there are a few things that I’m never going to stop eating because of how much I love them. I’m sharing them with you today to remind you that you don’t have to give up your favourite foods either. With an adjustment in how you make them or how often you serve them, anything can be part of a healthy diet.

 

Spaghetti

A couple of years ago, I began stumbling across articles about people who peeled vegetables like zucchini into noodle shapes and then served them with spaghetti sauce on top to reduce the calorie count of this dish. They called those noodles “zoodles,” and some of the sites I follow posted multiple entries about different ways to prepare and serve them.

I think it’s great that they found a way to make a lighter version of spaghetti, but I will never make that same switch. Spaghetti is one of those meals that I really look forward to eating in the autumn and winter because of how much I love it.

While I was perfectly willing to switch to whole wheat noodles and replace some of the meat in my sauce with extra chopped vegetables, I’m only interested in eating spaghetti if it has real noodles in it.

 

Maple Syrup

Yes, there are low-calorie, sugar-free syrup substitutes out there that taste okay. I’m glad that people who are diabetic or who watch their calories closely can enjoy something similar to it without raising their blood sugar or eating more than they should.

I love maple syrup so much, though, that I’d much rather enjoy the real thing sparingly than have pancakes every week with imitation syrup on them. The sugar and calorie content in maple syrup is high, so I generally only have it a couple of times a month during the cold season.

When I do treat myself with this meal, I serve it with homemade whole wheat pancakes and sliced fruit. This makes this dish more filling and nutritious. The fact that I have it so sparingly also makes it even more special when I do decide to make it.

 

Sweets

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts here, I cut back on the added sugars in my diet a few months ago. Chocolate and other sweets are a rare treat for both physical and mental health reasons. When I do indulge in them, I go straight for the good stuff.

If I’m going to eat chocolate, it will be something out of the ordinary. Most chocolate bars out there contain milk ingredients, but some of the speciality ones are surprisingly safe for me. I like dark, rich chocolate that satisfies you with a few small squares of it. Often I’ll choose dark chocolate that has nuts or dried fruit mixed into it. I’ve even found one brand of “milk” chocolate that’s safe for me. It’s specially marketed to people who are vegan or allergic to milk, and it’s delicious.

Some of the bars I love the most are between $5 and $10 each. Since I only eat them a few times a year, that splurge is more than worth it.

My other big indulgence is candy corn. I currently have a few containers of it squirrelled away in my cupboards now that it’s available again. I’m going to try to make them last through the winter. It’s not something I’ll eat every day, but it is something I’ll nibble on now and again.

What Do You Refuse to Give Up?

You don’t have to give up everything you love in order to become healthier. In fact, cutting all of the treats in life is a great way to crash and burn in a few days when your self control runs out.

Maybe some of the things I mentioned today are foods that you’re also determined to fit into a healthy diet. If so, cool! If not, what small changes are you able to make to your diet and daily habits? What favourite foods or drinks are you never going to be willing to give up?

Dual Citizens Get Two Thanksgivings

Seven years ago, I became a Canadian citizen. There are many things I love about being a citizen of both Canada and the United States. Having the excuse to celebrate Thanksgiving twice every year is definitely part of that list.

Yes, this is blog post about food.

No, this isn’t about turkey. Don’t tell the rest of the omnivores out there, but I’m actually not a big fan of turkey. It isn’t something my spouse and I eat on Thanksgiving the vast majority of the time. If it disappeared from the traditional menu altogether, I honestly wouldn’t miss it.

While there are many other foods I’d happily eat during this holiday, my ideal Thanksgiving dinner could easily be comprised of nothing but the three dishes below. I am only particular about how one of them is made for reasons that I’ll explain later on this post.

The first mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is mashed potatoes with gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from dehydrated potato flakes and powdered gravy.

Yes, I will love them if they came from a frozen bag of mashed potatoes (so long as there aren’t any milk products in them) and if the gravy was an everyday ground beef gravy.

Yes,I will love them if they came from real potatoes that were peeled, boiled, and mashed to perfection and if the gravy was a fancy one made from drippings, broth, spices, and flour moments before it was brought to the table.

In short, there is no wrong way to make mashed potatoes and gravy. As long as eating it won’t make me physically ill, I will enjoy them however they are prepared. Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food.

The second mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is pie.

We’ve had store-bought blueberry, apple, or lemon meringue pie for the last few Thanksgivings at my house, but any kind of pie will do.

Yes, I will love them if they’re homemade from the finest organic ingredients by someone who thought about nothing but happy thoughts while rolling out the dough.

Yes, I will love them if they’re store-bought, generic, and a little squished from being carried home with lots of other groceries.

Yes, I will love them if they have lemon meringue, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pumpkins, squash, or just about any other kind of pie-friendly filling in them.

If you provide some non-dairy ice cream to go along with the pie, I’ll be absolutely thrilled. This is not a requirement, though, and I actually didn’t bother to eat ice cream with the apple pie my spouse and I enjoyed this Thanksgiving.

I am not particular about this dessert. The fact that it exists at all will almost certainly make me perfectly happy. All pie is delicious pie.

The final mandatory dish for Lydia’s ideal Thanksgiving is angel eggs.

You probably know them as devilled eggs instead. When I was a child, my parents renamed a few foods that had the word “devil” in them like devilled eggs (we called them angel eggs) or devil’s food cake (we called it chocolate cake). Why they did that is a long, complicated story, but when I grew up I never made the switch from referring to them as angel eggs to devilled eggs like the rest of the world does.

They were known as angel eggs when I was three, and I will still call them that when I’m a hundred and three. This is where I suddenly become stubborn and picky about my food.

No, I will not call them devilled eggs. You can call them whatever you wish, but my mind was made up on this topic very early in life.

No, I do not want store-bought angel eggs. I’d honestly rather pretend like such a thing was never invented at all.

No, I do not want anyone who doesn’t know our family recipe to attempt to make them no matter how delicious they think their version of it may be. My mother’s angel eggs are the best ones in the world. Not only are they the perfect blend of ingredients, they remind me of some very happy childhood memories.

Happy Thanksgiving

Now that you know exactly where my loyalties lie, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian readers. I hope this post made you smile.

If you live somewhere else in the world, this Canadian officially gives you permission to borrow our holiday if you’re in the mood for a festive meal today. Feel free to include your favourite foods in them, too, and to ignore the ones you may not like no matter how traditional they may be.

3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

If I have any readers in the southern hemisphere, feel free to switch the word “autumn” for “spring” in today’s post. A lot of what I’m about to say can apply to the shift between other seasons as well with a little tweaking.

In fact, maybe I’ll revisit this topic from that angle in six months once Canada shifts to spring weather? I won’t make any promises, but I will keep this idea in mind for the future.

In the meantime, this is why I think everyone should be taking note of the autumn equinox tomorrow.

It Will Help You Live in the Moment

Over the last few years I’ve begun to pay more attention to the two solstices and two equinoxes we have each year in an attempt to remain mindful no matter what season Ontario is currently experiencing.

There are parts of this time of the year that I deeply enjoy and other parts that I’m not such a big fan of, just like there are things I like and dislike about winter, spring, and summer.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about practicing mindfulness has been how its adjusted the way I see the world at the end of a season when I’ve grown tired of the snow, rain, or heat.

This, too, will pass if given enough time.

Nothing lasts forever, so it’s a good idea to settle into it while it is here and find the good in whatever it is that’s happening right now.

 

There Is Always Something New to Discover

When I was a teenager, I noticed that my grandfather read a lot of books about World War II. While he wasn’t old enough to serve in that war, he was definitely old enough to remember it when it happened. Instead of asking him why he read about a period of history he’d personally experienced, I decided to quietly pay attention to what he kept on the stand by his favourite chair to see if I could figure out the answer myself.

Most of the books he read were about history in general. Many of them were about things that happened decades or centuries before he was born. I think I also remember seeing books related to farming, fixing machines, and other practical topics that applied to his lifelong work.

What I learned from this experiment is that there’s always something new to discover no matter who you are or how much you already know about a topic.

So far the autumns of the 2010s have been warmer than most of the ones I remember from my childhood thanks to climate change. While some of this may be part of the natural process every mind goes through when it decides which memories to keep and which ones to toss away that may have distorted my memory of what September should be like, I also think there is something to be said for paying attention to how weather patterns have shifted over time.

Someday someone might want to hear our stories about what it was like to watch the world grow warmer than its ever been before. We’re living through a part of history that is going to be discussed for many generations to come.

Autumn Is the Beginning of the Holiday Season

I’m not a huge fan of celebrating most of the big holidays hat happen between now and January, but I sure do love seeing all of the pretty decorations for them.

Hallowenn, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Eid, harvest festivals, and many other holidays bring out the creative side of people. The nice thing about living in Toronto is that we get to see decorations for just about every holiday known to humankind during this time of the year. If any group of people celebrate it, a few of them are almost certain to live here.

I am often amazed by just how much thought people put into the decorations they choose for the holidays their families celebrate. For example, look at the gigantic scarecrow above this paragraph. I’ve never looked at a bale of hay and imagined it could be repurposed as a friendly face, but that concept works beautifully here.

The outfit this scarecrow is wearing looks like something that could be hemmed together fairly easily and inexpensively, but the joy he or she brings is immeasurable. If this is something you find pleasure in as well, now is the perfect time of the year to begin looking around and seeing what kinds of wonderful decorations will begin to pop up in your area.

How you celebrate the autumn equinox is up to you, but I hope you’ll consider acknowledging it as the seasons change.

Why Unsolicited Advice Is a Terrible Idea

Yes, I appreciate the irony in writing a blog post about unsolicited advice that could be read as unsolicited advice.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of never giving anyone any advice that they haven’t asked me for, though, and I thought it would make a great topic for a post here while I’m adjusting to the idea of keeping my mouth shut until or unless I’m asked for my opinion.

Perhaps someday I’ll revisit this topic once I have more to say about it? For now, let’s talk about why giving people advice they haven’t asked for is a terrible idea.

 You Don’t Have All of the Facts

Everyone has private parts of their lives that are only shared with very few people or maybe even no one else at all. It could be as simple as a soothing bedtime ritual or as complex as an uncommon hobby that they only discuss with others who have also devoted their free time to perfecting the art of underwater basket weaving.

The parts of someone’s life that others see  almost certainly don’t give a full picture of who they are or how complex their problems – or their perceived problems –  really are.

Sometimes what looks like a banana isn’t actually a banana after all. (Also, I love this picture in and of itself. Isn’t it interesting?)

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I’ve seen this happen multiple times with various friends of mine who are living with serious, longterm mental or physical health problems.

No sooner do they mention having a particularly bad day or dealing with a troublesome, new symptom than someone else will jump in with a half-dozen suggestions for how they should fix their disease once and for all.

Yes, they’ve tried all of those cures already. No, that random Internet article isn’t going to magically fix deep-seated health problems that have been bothering them for decades and that have been treated by multiple doctors and other healthcare professions over the years.

I’ve only ever had this happen to me briefly once or twice, and even that made me irrationally angry. I can’t imagine what my friends who must deal with possibly well-meaning but ultimately wrong and judgemental assumptions about their bodies over and over again go through.

What works for one person can fail miserably for another even if they’re both dealing with similar circumstances or diseases.

 It Doesn’t Work

Advice is only useful when the person receiving it is open to the idea of changing. It’s not like a vaccine that will protect someone from dangerous diseases regardless of what thoughts flutter through their minds while their immune systems are learning how to recognize and destroy inactivated polio germs.

One has to be ready to accept what the advice-giver is saying in order for it to have any hope at all of working. Changing your personality, habits, and/or current situation is such a difficult task that there’s no other way of going about it. Anyone who isn’t motivated to keep going even if they don’t see any results right away is almost certainly going to give up long before any of the work they might have put into their current personal project has had any chance at all to fix things.

Unwanted advice also doesn’t work well for adult relationships in general. When someone who isn’t in an official place of authority over me tries to control what I do or how I live, I feel annoyed and confused. If they continue to do it over a long period of time despite being asked to stop, I slowly begin to share less about my life with them.

Not only does unsolicited advice not work in the short term, it makes me much less willing to listen six months or a year from now if they have something else to say to me.

Rather than prompting me to change whatever it is they think I’m doing wrong, what this kind of interaction teaches me is that they’re not a safe person to confide in. I will often start spending less time with them and guarding myself when I do see them. Their intentions may have been noble, but the results of their poor boundaries are going to be the exact opposite of what they might have hoped for.

Some Lessons Have to be Learned the Hard Way

Not everyone is willing to take the experiences of others as the ultimate truth.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the urge to warn other people about certain types of mistakes I’ve made in the past, but you can’t live someone else’s life for them.

Sometimes they have to find out for themselves that something is a terrible idea regardless of whether it takes thirty seconds or thirty years between their decision and reaping the consequence of it.

The only thing the rest of us can do in the meantime is to respect their boundaries and hope that they’ll learn their lesson as quickly and easily as possible.

5 Things That People Who Have Allergies Wish You Understood

 

1. They’re Not Voluntary

Nobody ever wakes up one morning and decides that it would be fun to become allergic to something.

Those of us who have allergies also can’t randomly decide to take a day off from them in order to make other people’s lives easier.

If you don’t have experience living with allergies, you might be chuckling and shaking your head right now. That’s okay. I’d find it a little hard to believe, too, if these things hadn’t either happened to me or to people I know who are also living with allergies so many times that we’ve lost count of them.

There are some folks in this world who genuinely seem to believe that allergies are a synonym for not liking certain foods or being picky.

I have no idea why they think that, but I’ve run into this attitude over and over again. Someday they  might actually realize the differences between these things. Until then, I’ll keep reminding them that nobody chooses this medical condition.

2. Not All Allergies Are Severe, but Even the Mild Ones Suck

There are millions of people in this world whose allergies can and will kill them if they’re inadvertently exposed to the wrong stuff.

In this sense, I’m lucky. My allergies to milk, certain plants, cats, dogs, and many other furry creatures are mild in the sense that I’ve never been in danger of dying because of them.

This doesn’t mean that being exposed to them won’t make me feel absolutely horrible, though. I still cough and wheeze uncontrollably when I do something as simple as hug someone who owns a cat or sit in the same car where cats have previously spent some time.

When I spend time with people who own cats, I have to plan ahead to reduce my chances of having a reaction when I’m around them. This means that I can’t ride in their vehicles, enter their homes, hug them, or sit too close to them. It also requires me to take allergy medicine in advance, change my clothing as soon as I get home, and maybe even hop in the shower to rinse away any dander that might have clung to my hair or skin.

On the rare occasion when I accidentally eat or drink something that has milk in it, my entire mouth will become extremely itchy and my lips will start to swell up a little. It has been so long since this happened that I don’t know if my reaction to it would be worse if it happened again. Based on how scary my last experience was, I don’t intend to find out ever again if I can help it.

3. No, Alternative Medicine Won’t Cure Them

All of the herbs, vitamin supplements, positive thinking, and homeopathy in the world isn’t going to do a thing to change how my immune system overreacts to certain things.

While I appreciate the good intentions behind these kinds of suggestions, it really isn’t helpful to tell someone who has allergies that they’ll be cured if they think happy thoughts or take the right combination of supplements.

At best, you’re going to be telling them about a treatment that will do nothing to help them. At worst, you’ll be blaming them for something they didn’t choose and have absolutely no control over.

By all means, keep using alternative medicine if you enjoy it, but please don’t try to give us medical advice or tell us that we’ll be cured once we drink a special tea or take the right supplement.

That’s not how any of this works.

4. It’s Never Okay To Joke About Exposing Someone to Their Allergens

If you joke around about purposefully exposing me to things that will make me sick, I will lose trust in you.  It’s as simple as that.

You wouldn’t tease someone about having diabetes or asthma, would you?

Now that I’ve typed that, I have the sneaking suspicion that folks who joke about feeding or exposing someone to something they’re allergic to probably do say similarly horrifying and dysfunctional things to people who have other health issues. Oh, how I hope I’m wrong about that.

The fact remains, though, that this is not an appropriate topic for a joke.

5. It’s Always Okay to Ask Questions

With that being said, it’s always okay to ask questions about what is or isn’t safe for someone to eat, touch, or be around. I’ve heard of people whose peanut allergies were so severe that they could have a reaction to smelling peanut butter.

It takes a lot more than that for me to react to my allergens, so that’s why it’s important to ask questions instead of making assumptions about how serious someone’s allergy might be.

I really appreciate it when people take the time to ask me about my allergies and listen carefully to my responses. It makes me feel like they take my safety seriously. That’s one of the biggest things someone can do to earn my trust, and it’s something I wish would happen more often.

What Do You Read When You’re On Vacation?

I arrived home from a relaxing, tropical vacation a few days ago. One of my personal earmarks of a good trip is what I got to read while I was away. Not only is it nice to get lost in a novel while you’re traveling to your destination, it’s also fun to have something to do during the inevitable… Read More

What I Read in 2016

I’ve been keeping track of every book I read for the last four years. Over half of the books I read were for a review site that I volunteer at under a pseudonym, so I omitted their titles from this post for privacy reasons. The number of books I read overall was somewhat smaller than usual.… Read More