Reflections on 2016

Just before the start of the new year, I blogged about my goals for 2016. Below are my 2016 goals and how I feel about them. I’ll be doing a separate post on my goals for 2017.

  1. Eat Healthy. I feel like this has improved, especially since we moved back to St. Louis. While we were in Dallas for the first part of the year, I feel like we almost felt like we were on vacation (at least when it came to food). Trying new restaurants and finding new places we loved was one of the more exciting things about our new city. Unfortunately, most of those restaurants served less than ideal foods. After we moved back to St. Louis, I feel like I turned things around with my diet. I have still struggled at finding the right balance with my food sensitivities, but lately, I feel like I’ve been doing well.
  2. Be Active. I improved in this area immensely. While we were living in Dallas and I was unemployed, Copper and I were going on at least two walks a day. Most of these walks were two to three miles. In one month, we walked over 100 miles together. On top of that, Chris got me a yoga membership for Christmas last year, so I was taking classes several times a week. After we moved back to St. Louis, I got sick, so it took me more than a month to get back into an exercise routine. But I started going to yoga twice a week again. Then I ran my first and second 5ks of the year and also started strength training thanks to the Harder to Kill Challenge. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made in the last half of the year and hope to continue my progress in strength and running in the coming year.
  3. Read More. I’m not quite where I wanted to be with this goal. I read intermittently while we were in Dallas. After I started my copywriting gig, it became more and more difficult to have the energy to read after work. Once we moved back to St. Louis, I got back with my book club and am in the midst of my second book with them. In an attempt to read more, I started a book review blog. I have not yet reviewed any books, though.
  4. Unplug More Often. I’ve made some progress here, but not a ton. I really struggled to sleep in Dallas, due to living in a noisy apartment complex in a noisy neighborhood (a mere two-ish miles from the airport!). So I tried to stop checking my phone after a certain time. I tried reading before bed. Nothing ever really worked. I finally started sleeping better once we moved back home. I’m still trying to limit my time on my phone and checking social media, especially. I think in 2017 I’m going to do a social media detox, at least for a while. It has become overwhelming in recent months and I want to spend less time there.
  5. Be Present. This one was connected to my goal to unplug. In unplugging, I aimed to be more present. I have tried to avoid checking my phone during meals and at family gatherings, but I don’t always succeed. Lately, I’ve also tried to limit my phone use even when I’m eating alone. This is another goal that will take some more work in the coming year.
  6. Drink More Water and Tea. I wanted to drink more water and tea and less alcohol. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve really succeeded or not. In most cases, I’m at least a little bit more mindful of when and what I drink. If I’m going to drink a beer, it’s going to be a really good craft beer that’s totally worth it. I do drink a lot more tea than I used to, which I have really enjoyed. Lately I’ve been trying to drink a cup of tea before bed to help me wind down at the end of the day.
  7. Be Kinder to Myself and Others. I’ve been pretty successful with this one, especially after moving back to St. Louis. I have taken more time to be kind to myself by doing yoga, finding ways to re-energize, and get rest. I went on a day-long yoga retreat in early November and participated in the Harder to Kill Challenge. Being kind to myself has always been difficult, but I think I’ve made some great strides in how I think and speak to and about myself.
  8. Have Better Relationships. This one tied in with unplugging, being present, and being kinder. It was especially important to me to stay connected with family and friends after we moved to Dallas. I made more of an effort to send cards to friends and family for birthdays and holidays. And although it was difficult, I tried to make a point to call people more, like my parents and grandma, (I know this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone). Our time in Dallas was pretty challenging as a newly married couple, but I think we are better now having gone through that experience together.  
  9. Budget: Reduce Debt, Increase Savings. I had lofty goals with this one. I did, thankfully, make some small gains here, though. We paid off only one credit card debt this year. We did, however, increase our savings. In fact, just a few months ago, we opened up two more savings accounts. We now have an emergency savings, as well as one for car repairs and home renovations, and one for vacations. We had an unexpected expense come up about a month ago, and it felt good knowing we had enough in savings to cover it. It sucked using it since it had taken quite a while to build it up, but thankfully, we didn’t have to use it all. So now we’re working on building the emergency savings back up to where it was and beyond. I’m hoping to really hit our debts hard in 2017 and make a bigger impact there. It felt really, really great getting that first card paid off, so I want to continue that momentum in the coming year.
  10. Write More. This wound up being a big success and not much of a success all in one. I got a job as a freelance copywriter, so writing is currently my full time job. I spend between six and eight hours a day writing. I also did a fairly decent job of maintaining my previous blog back when we were in Dallas. After we moved to St. Louis, I really lost the motivation because I was sick and trying to get everything unpacked and get readjusted. On the creative side, I have not written much of anything this year. I have had plans to write a memoir, and I still want to do so, but I made very little, if any, progress on it this year. I’d really love to get into the habit of writing for pleasure a little every day in the next year.
  11. Find a Job I Love. Well, I get to write every day, and when people ask, I get to tell them I’m a writer. I get paid to write. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. Freelancing has its own challenges though. Dealing with taxes and health insurance is all frustrating and overwhelming. And although I do have a steady gig right now, the pay is not the same from month to month, which makes number nine on this list more difficult. Overall though, I do enjoy the work I do, so we’ll call this one a win.

Those were my primary goals for 2016. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out. What were your goals for 2016? Where did you succeed and where did you struggle?

I’ll be back soon with another post about my 2017 goals–stay tuned!

-AB

The Harder to Kill Challenge

It’s been a little less than a week since I completed the Harder to Kill (HTK ) Challenge with Steph Gaudreau of Stupid Easy Paleo. The only other “challenge” I’ve done is the Whole30 (several times), and that is focused solely on food. The HTK Challenge focuses not only on the food we use to fuel our bodies but also how we move, energize, and think about our bodies.

The challenge consisted of daily lessons on one or more of these four pillars. It comes with a meal plan for four of the six weeks of the challenge, as well as a fitness plan. The fitness plan places a lot of focus on functional movements, which was really fantastic. Almost all the movements were based on ways we move our bodies every day and were aimed at improving that movement.

At the beginning of the program, we took “before” photos and measurements. About halfway through, I felt really anxious about what my “after” would look like. By the end of week six, though, I realized I had no real desire to take any after photos or to weigh myself or take any other measurements. Over the course of six weeks, my clothes had begun to fit better. More importantly, I noticed my strength improving. I ran a 5k without stopping and in just under 36 minutes.

These changes have been subtle for sure, but I have noticed them, and they have been enough. The fact that these changes were enough also shows me how much my mindset has improved over these six weeks. The two pillars I really wanted to work on during the challenge were energy and mindset. My mindset has improved, but there is still work to do.

My energy has improved significantly. I began tracking my sleep with the app Sleep Cycle. I also adopted Steph’s 90/30 rule. This is similar to the Pomodoro Technique. With the 90/30 rule, I work for 30 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. This repeats 3 times (or until you’ve worked for 90 minutes), then you take a longer 30-minute break. The real key, though, is using your breaks to do things that renew your energy rather than drain it. So instead of checking Facebook or responding to emails, I’ve done things like stretch, color, and read. It sounds counterintuitive to take so many breaks throughout the day, but it has really helped.

Projects that would normally take me from 8am to 6 or 7pm to complete I can now finish by 3 or 4pm. The best part, though, is that I don’t feel completely exhausted when I get done working for the day. I have the energy to get laundry or dishes done, or to exercise if I haven’t already. For me, this has been the most life-changing aspect of the challenge.

Some days I don’t do the 90/30 rule. It’s usually when I have errands I have to run in the middle of my day, so it throws everything off. On those days, I notice the negative effects. It’s still a work in progress, but my energy is so much better in just six weeks.

If you’re thinking about doing a health/fitness challenge to start the new year off right, I highly recommend Harder to Kill with Steph Gaudreau. She is an excellent coach and I’m so grateful for the experience. If you have any questions about the challenge, let me know!

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-AB

 

Turkey Trot Recap

I wanted to write this a little sooner, but things have been busy with the holidays. Last Thursday on Thanksgiving I woke up early and we drove out to Edwardsville so I could run in their Turkey Trot 5k. It was my first ever Turkey Trot. Why Edwardsville? Because Chris’s company was sponsoring the race. Plus I figured the course would be much flatter than the ones closer to home!

Unfortunately, it was a bit colder in Edwardsville than it was in Florissant, but once I started running, it wasn’t so bad. They had a wave start based on your estimated pace and finish time. I was one of the last groups to go, lol. Thankfully, I was right, and the course was pretty flat. It ran along a trail in town that was a little narrow, but fine otherwise. The course also went through parts of SIUE. There was one BIG hill during that part of the race, somewhere in mile 2, I think.

After that, it was pretty flat and smooth. I managed to keep my pace under 12 minutes/mile throughout the entire race. My official time was 35:53 and my official pace was 11:35. I don’t remember my official time or pace from my last 5k in October, but my time was around 38 minutes. So I improved quite a bit in just one month’s time.

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Pre-Turkey Trot

The rest of Thanksgiving was spent with family. We had lunch with Chris’s family and dessert later with my family. I did not attempt to eat paleo or Whole30 at either of those meals. But I was mindful of what I ate. I ate some of the mac ‘n cheese I made, along with turkey, stuffing, salad, and a sweet potato. Chris’s mom made pecan pie and that’s one of my favorites, and I only get it once a year. So I had some pie. Worth it.

I ate gluten and I ate dairy. And I probably ate eggs in some form. I felt okay afterward. I got back to eating paleo this week and have felt much better. I’ve been avoiding eggs, dairy, and gluten in particular. I even remembered not to eat the skin on my baked potato yesterday. It’s not perfect, but it’s practical 😉

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! I’ll be back soon to tell you all about my Harder to Kill Challenge, as it will be wrapping up this weekend!

-AB

More on Food Allergies

When I first got tested for food allergies, I asked them to test for beef and pork, as well as peanuts. They also tested for dairy and wheat, as I’ve had problems with those in the past. Apparently, they tested me for several “basic” food allergies. They made such a big deal about the peanut allergy and the beef and pork that I paid little attention to whatever else they tested me for.

When I got tested, I thought the scale was from 1 to 10. Some of my allergies were a 5 and others were a 7, so I thought my allergies were pretty serious. After some more investigation (more than two years later), I found out that the scale is actually 1 to 15. So what I thought were pretty serious allergies don’t seem to be as serious as I thought. Here are the foods they tested me for and the severity:

Beef: 7/15

Pork: 7/15

Lamb: 7/15

Peanut: 7/15

Egg white: 5/15

Soy: 5/15

Wheat: 5/15

Codfish: 5/15

Milk: 5/15

After all my Whole30s, I know how dairy affects me. I get eczema-like dry, itchy skin on my fingers and toes. And I tend to have more pimples when I eat too much dairy. Too much wheat/gluten upsets my stomach. Things on that list above that I neglected to really pay attention to were soy, egg white, and codfish.

Later, I broke out in hives after accidentally eating soy. So I assumed I was allergic. I didn’t even think to look at the list of things I got tested for. More recently, I’ve still been struggling with dry skin and some awful digestive issues. I decided to pull out my list to see what I have and haven’t been tested for and saw the egg white and codfish. I don’t eat much codfish (almost never as far as I know), so I’m starting to think maybe the eggs are part of the problem.

Now, I’m no saint. I go through periods of avoiding gluten and dairy and then sometimes I find myself bingeing on it (and feeling awful after). But I’m wondering if my failure to also cut out eggs from my diet is part of the reason I’m still not feeling as great as I could. So I’m going to cut out eggs for a while and see if it makes any difference in how I’m feeling.

Fortunately, I don’t eat eggs for breakfast all too often anymore. After my second Whole30, I was pretty well sick of them. More recently, I had been making frittatas, which was nice to have for a quick meal throughout the week. For now, I’ll be skipping the frittatas and eating leftovers or salads for breakfast.

Something I didn’t get tested for is nightshades: tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes, and all varieties of peppers. All my research has revealed that nightshades are another possible culprit of conditions such as IBS. The idea of cutting tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers from my diet sounds horrifying. I did read though that peeling potatoes and making sure you eat cooked tomatoes and peppers can cut down on the alkaloids that are present in nightshades, which is what tends to cause problems.

So, in addition to cutting out eggs, I’m going to start peeling my potatoes (ugh) and avoid eating uncooked tomatoes and peppers to see if that helps. I’m tired of the skin issues and the digestive issues, and if this can help me feel better, then I’m going to give it a try. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but so is feeling bad all the time.

Review: Jaybird X2 Wireless Earbuds

Finally getting around to writing up my review of the Jaybird X2 Wireless Earbuds! The past two weeks have been crazy busy, but that gave me more time to test them out!

The package includes the headphones themselves. Also included are different sizes and types of earbud tips (foam or silicone). So far, I’ve only used the silicone tips. They also come with three different size “fins”, which fit over the earbud and help keep the buds secure in your ear. Then there’s a USB cable to charge them and clasps to make the wired portion adjustable.

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My first experience with them was running my first 5k of the year. I charged them up the night before the race, and then the next day, I tried them on. I thought for sure I would need the smallest silicone tips because I think earbuds are always too big for my ears. I ended up using the largest silicone tips though. Their instructions (which I found online after a little digging) recommend trying on all the sizes so you can get the right fit. I didn’t try any of the foam tips, though.

Next, I had to put the ear fins on. Even the smallest ear fins seemed too big. They really don’t fit my ears the way they show in pictures on the website. I have to sort of fold it up to get it to slide into place. While not uncomfortable, they don’t provide quite the level of security I was hoping they would.

I’ve had these earbuds for almost two weeks now, and I’ve worn them for about six runs total. They have not fallen out once, but I did have one run where they felt loose the entire time and I had to keep shoving them back in there. Aside from that, the earbuds have stayed put. I’m still getting used to the controls though. The instructions say to turn the headphones off, hold the middle button down for four seconds. Maybe I’m just a fast counter, but it’s usually more like six or seven seconds for me. I haven’t quite gotten around to figuring out how to skip songs, answer calls, etc. yet. Fortunately, I don’t typically need to answer a call during a run, and I’ve created some pretty good playlists, so I don’t usually need to skip any songs.

There is definitely a learning curve with these headphones, and they don’t “fit like a glove” the way I’d hoped. But after six runs and only one instance of them feeling loose (not actually falling out), I’d say these have been a good investment so far. The sound is great, there are no wires for me to accidentally pull on and rip the ear buds out of my ears, and so far, they’ve been comfortable. I may give the foam tips a try at some point just to compare fit.

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase, especially since I got them on sale! My only complaint is that the ear fins are still too big for my ears. If you have normal, non-toddler-sized ears, I would definitely recommend them!

Thanks as always for reading!

-AB

My First 5K in a Year

On Saturday I ran my first 5K–the annual Race to the Shrine in Florissant–in about a year. Thanks to illness and injury, I hadn’t done any of the training I had planned on doing since at least August. The good news is, I survived! Not only that, but I finished in 38 minutes. I can’t seem to find my time from last year’s race, but I think it was around the same. My pace was about 12 minutes/mile (I’m a super slow runner), and I unfortunately walked several times throughout the race.

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Our pre-race selfie.

My husband, Chris, agreed to run the race with me, but I started walking too early in the race for him, so he went on without me. I was kind of okay with that, because he was there with water when I crossed the finish line 😉 He ran the race in 31 minutes. He had to stop to walk one or two times too though. This route (and the city in general) are hilly, so that makes it a tougher race.

I felt so motivated after the race that I decided I want to sign up for one of the Turkey Trots taking place early on Thanksgiving morning. That gives me just a little over a month to train properly. I kicked my training off with a 2-mile run yesterday. Unfortunately, I ended up walking some of that too. I’m hopeful that if I keep training and keep eating right, eventually I’ll be able to run much more than I walk.

I ran the race with brand-new earbuds. I was a little nervous to be running with new earbuds, but they worked out. I recently purchased the Jaybird Sport X2 wireless earbuds (on sale!!) and they were great. I plan to write up a full review for you guys later this week, after I’ve got a couple more runs in with them. In short, they stayed put (which is a major hurdle for me), and they were wireless, so I didn’t have to worry about accidentally pulling on the wires.

Today I’m starting a new challenge. It’s call the Harder to Kill (HTK) Challenge by Stupid Easy Paleo’s Steph Gaudreau. It’s a six-week program that focuses on building strength, renewing energy, eating nourishing foods, and having a positive mindset. Today was the first day of the challenge, and we were instructed to create a pledge for the duration of the challenge. My pledge reads: Every day I will honor my body and treat myself with the love and respect I deserve

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I’m so excited to start this new journey. I think the strength training will perfectly complement my 5k training plans, so I’m hoping to get faster and stronger! I also want to focus on the energy and positive mindset. I have seriously been lacking in energy for several months now. Everything–even activities I enjoy–all feel so exhausting. I’d like to get back to a place where I have energy to get my work completed and still work out and do other activities at the end of the work day. As I’m on day 28 of my Whole30, I plan to mostly stick with those eating habits for the six weeks. The HTK does provide meal plans, but since I have food allergies, I will probably have to modify the meals.

I’m planning to write more on the HTK Challenge later this week as we get going with the program.

Anyone else out there training for an upcoming race or starting a health/fitness journey? I’d love to hear about it!

-AB

The Whole30: A 3-Week Recap

I am currently just past my third week of my fifth or sixth Whole30. The program is an excellent way to reset your diet and learn more about your body and how it reacts to certain foods. In fact, it’s how I learned I had food allergies at the age of 25 back in 2014. Previous Whole30s were challenging for me, especially after I had to permanently cut out certain foods from my diet (mainly beef and pork). I’ve been eating chicken and turkey, mixed in with the occasional fish, for two years now, and I’ve mostly gotten used to it. That has made this particular Whole30 a little easier.

I’m also a pro at reading labels now, which also helps. I know all the different, sneaky names they come up with for sugar (dextrose, sucralose, etc). I have also had the confidence to try new things on a more regular basis this time around. Although I have previously perfected homemade mayo (pro tip: use an immersion blender!), I shied away from things like homemade ranch–because I had no idea what “coconut cream” was–and clarified butter. Instead, I bought the outrageously expensive Ghee found at my local Dierbergs.

This time around, I finally bought some cans of coconut milk and stored them in my fridge. Lo and behold, the cream rises to the top–just like they said it would! (“They” being the lovely people behind The Whole30.) With that, I whipped up some homemade ranch, and it was more delicious than I thought was ever possible. My husband even liked it! I also finally decided it was time to try my hand at making clarified butter. The process is actually pretty simple. The most frustrating part is trying to skim the milk solids off the top after the butter melts. I’ve made it twice now, and both times I have felt like I didn’t quite get them all, which worries me that they’ll end up in my clarified butter thus making it non-Whole30 compliant.

I bought coconut flour for the first time and made some meatballs and paleo buffalo chicken nuggets. Those chicken nuggets are a little work, but totally worth it. In addition to my small victories in the kitchen, I’ve experienced one other non-scale victory so far, which is clearer skin. I haven’t noticed a major difference in how my clothes fit so far (so I may or may not be losing weight). I also haven’t experienced higher levels of energy or an easier time waking up like I have in the past. I partly blame the fact that I’m working a full-time job and a part-time job (both from home) and for the past week or so, that has meant working until 9 p.m. or later several nights a week.

I’ve also been struggling with a sore knee for the past week, which has made working out difficult. Unfortunately, I’m running a 5K this weekend and have not trained at all, so I’ll probably end up walking much of the hilly course. I’m hoping by the time the race rolls around my “tiger blood” will have kicked in and that will help get me through.

If you’ve never done a Whole30 (or if you’ve never even heard of it), I highly recommend checking out their website. You don’t need to read any of the books to do the 30-day reset, but It Starts with Food is a great place to start if you do want to learn more about the Whys of the program. They have several new and upcoming books out now as well. I’m hoping to buy Food Freedom Forever soon (and when I do, you can expect a thorough review!).

Thanks for reading! Come back next week for my complete 30-day recap!

-AB