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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Jump-In January: 2/3 Recap!

This month I've vowed to move more. I've decided to jump in to the pool, jump back in to dancing, jump around in the water, and just generally get my movement on. I'm 2/3 of the way through the month and in some ways I have succeeded and it others ways I've fallen short.

To recap, this month I'd decided to:
  1. Go to Aqua Aerobics a minimum of 3 times a week = Totaling a minimum of 12 classes.
  2. Swim a minimum of 1 time a week = Totaling a minimum of 4 times.
  3. Swing dance a minimum of 2 times during the month.
  4. Go on at least 2 long walks during the month of January.
Though all of these are very realistic goals, I have fallen short in some and made great strides in others. I aimed to participate in a minimum of 3 Aqua Aerobics classes a week. I was successful the first week but the past two weeks it has been hard. I successfully went 3 times the first week. The second and third week, through a series of very late night events, I got on to a much later sleeping pattern. This resulted in an inability for me to wake up in time to drive across the city in time to get to my Aqua Aerobics classes. I'm trying to re-calibrate my sleep pattern, but is proving more difficult than I'd wish. 

Aqua Aerobics: Aiming for 3 classes a week. Classes are an hour long.
Week 1 [1/1-1/7] = 3 hours
Week 2 [1/8-1/14] = 1 hour
Week 3 [1/15-1/20] = 1 hour (not a full week)
Monthly total = 5 hours total (I'd aimed for 9)

In regards to swimming, I've also met a few hurdles. I am unable to swim on weekdays because I have to be at work by 11:00am and lap lanes close at 9:00am for Aqua Aerobics. With the pool so far away from my house and my sleeping issues, I haven't been able to get to the pool by 8:00am to be able to claim a spot in the lap lanes. This leaves weekends as my main option for swimming. During the first week I was able to swim on the weekend and I did my old staple of 24 lengths of the pool. This used to be my minimum length swim. Because I hadn't swum in about a year, swimming 24 lengths (each length 24 meters long), was too far of a push for my body to do all at once. The day after the swim I got a massive back spasm and had to rest for the rest of the weekend. The following weekend was non-stop 30th birthday parties for two friends so I was unable to find a time to swim during that weekend. This past weekend I went to Aqua Aerobics and didn't want to over work myself. I thought I might be able to go in on MLK day to do laps, but the pool was only going to be open for a couble hours so I was afraid that there would be too many people vying for the lap lanes. 

Swimming: The pool is a half Olympic which means that it is 24 meters long. I'd have to swim 64.4 lengths of the pool to swim a mile or 1609.35 meters. I plan to swim a minimum of once a week. 
Week 1 [1/1-1/7] = 24 lengths total
Week 2 [1/8-1/14] = 0 lengths total
Week 3 [1/15-1/20] = 0 lengths total (not a full week)
Monthly total = 24 lengths

In terms of Lindy Hop/ Swing Dance, I was right on target as I'd planned to go out a minimum of twice a month. Because I'm planning to go dancing this coming week, I'm right on track to meet my goals. Dancing was super fun, though since most of my old dance buddies have gotten out of the habit of dancing, there were a lot of unfamiliar dancers out and I felt like I hardly knew anyone!

Lindy Hop: Each song is approximately 3 minutes long. 
Week 1 [1/1-1/7] = 0 dances
Week 2 [1/8-1/14] = 13 dances 
Week 3 [1/15-1/21] = 0 dances (not a full week)
Monthly total = 13 dances

Walking was the one area where I felt like I made the most progress. Though I'd initially aimed to just go on two long walks in the month of January, I ended up readjusting my goals. After reviewing my upsettingly low step/mile count for the first week of January, I decided instead to go on at least one medium to long walk a week and walk no less than 2 miles a day. Though I do not have a traditional office job, I do spend much of my day on the computer or in meetings. Making this rule required me to make sure that I got out of the building daily even if it was just for a walk around the block with a co-worker. Merely by making these changes and going on at least one 7 mile walk a week, I more than doubled my weekly step/mile count!

Long Walks: I'll be calculating total steps/miles per week. 
Week 1 [1/1-1/7] = 9 Miles total 
Week 2 [1/8-1/14] = 23.65 Miles total 
Week 3 [1/15-1/20] = 22.52 Miles (not a full week)
Monthly total = 55.14 Miles total

Despite the fact that I really feel like I fell short when it came to laps and Aqua Aerobics (and Aqua Zumba), I feel like I really made some progress with getting back to dancing and getting out walking. I'm still 11 days away from the end of January and by then I'm hoping to have a lot more miles walked, a lot more dances danced, and hopefully a few more laps swum! Onward and forward!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Jump-In January!

*This photo is 3 years old from when I first started swimming.

There are many small changes I've made to make my autoimmune arthritis feel better. Not all of them are always easy to do or the most enjoyable to participate in. Not all of them are things that make me feel like I'm living my life deliciously. 

As with the realization that my extreme love of sugary treats has been causing me more inflammation, so is my realization about how I feel when I'm not active. Though it may seem like a Catch 22, when I am in pain and feel like I don't want to move sometimes the best thing to do is get up and actually get my body moving. A body in motion stays in motion. So, over the years I've tried many types of movement and exercise. Many forms of movement can feel hard and rough on my joints and ligaments or feel like they are grinding my body apart. These have been the times that I did not feel like I was living deliciously. Other people with autoimmune arthritis might like Tai Chi, Qigong, golf, walking, low impact biking, swimming, dancing, or even yoga. I, for one, have found yoga to be the absolute worst thing for my arthritis and though I'm happy for anyone that it works for, I do not plan to continue trying to use yoga as my best form of movement.

I have found over the years through much trial and error that my four best forms of movement for my arthritis are:
  1. Swimming: In my opinion, swimming is the best form of movement for someone with an autoimmune arthritis. Not only are you weightless and therefore not putting any weights on your joints, but you are also able to use all muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones in a continuous fluid movement as you swim. Swimming is one of the only activities that make me feel fully emerged in the moment. I find it meditative and rejuvenating. 
  2. Aqua Aerobics: Though I'm often the youngest person in many of my aqua aerobics classes (by thirty or so years), I find them to be extremely enjoyable and really a great workout. I often make an effort to get to know the instructors so as to ask them how to get the most out of my class and to ask them if they might let me know how I can make any of the moves that they are leading, even more impactful. In addition to having tons of fun in the classes, I rarely feel self conscious as most of the other participants are so welcoming and kind. Unlike being at a gym where I sometimes feel judged by those around me, in aqua aerobics I often feel a communal sense of encouragement and play. I almost always leave feeling like my day is just a little bit better.
  3. Swing Dance & Lindy Hop: I've been swing dancing on and off since 1997. When I began swing dancing as a preteen lead (often assumed to be the male role in dance), I fell instantly in love with everything about swing dance and swing culture. I read books about the swing era, watched any and all movies I could fine with great dance scenes, and tried really hard to get other friends excited about swing dance. Unfortunately it took me another twelve years before I met others who were as excited as I was about everything swing (during which time I learned how to be a follow). I'd only taken classes up to that point and had never participated in the dance scene. I had multiple year gaps in my training. No matter what though, I kept coming back to swing dance. Lindy Hop has always made me feel supremely happy. In 2009, I finally found other people my age who liked to swing dance and began dancing socially. At the same time though, I was going through a massive flare up that lead to my diagnosis of Psoriatic Arthritis in the summer of 2009. Despite my pain, I've found Lindy Hop and my swing dance community to be an anchor in enabling me to push through my pain to find joy in movement. Arthritis and dancing are not mutually exclusive. Knowing that I will dance again makes me feel motivated every day to reduce my inflammation.  
  4. Long walks: As cheesy as it sounds, walking is known as "America's past time." It makes sense though, because walking is literally the easiest way to get up and move. I can always find a way to walk more in my daily life. Though some folks love hiking and walking in nature, my favorite walks are long walks through cities. I've been known to walk 13 miles through London in a day or 10 miles around San Francisco in an afternoon. The best thing about walking is that it costs practically nothing. Once you've found some good walking shoes, you're completely set.
In the spirit of my December challenge to go partially dessert-less, I've decided to use January as a motivator for me to get moving. I'm jumping in this January. I'll be spending the month jumping in to the pool, jumping back in to the dance scene, and jumping in to my walking shoes. In addition to continuing to experiment with how best to fight inflammation through the food I eat, I'll also be experimenting with how best to jump in this January. 

My goals for jumping in this January are:
  1. Go to Aqua Aerobics a minimum of 3 times a week = Totaling a minimum of 12 classes.
  2. Swim a minimum of 1 time a week = Totaling a minimum of 4 times.
  3. Swing dance a minimum of 2 times during the month.
  4. Go on at least 2 long walks during the month of January.
I'm beginning with these three very realistic goals with the hopes that they will help get me back in to old patterns. Since I'm luckily not currently in a big flare-up, I'm hoping that jumping in in the above ways will not overwhelm my body and will help me feel better and more agile. I plan to share updates with you here as well as tips around how to add more movement in to your life as well as how best to eat anti-inflammatorily while jumping in.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dessert-less December In Review

Dessert-less December has just about come to a close (two days left but I will NOT be consuming sugar on either of these days). If you will remember, I began my Dessert-less December as a way to consume less sugar so as to better fight inflammation. I allowed myself exactly seven days of sugar in the month of December. I am a bit of a sugar addict and so it was a challenge to really look in to how sugar (particularly fructose) might be affecting my Psoriatic Arthritis and my inflammation. Though I now know a lot more about what fructose is doing to my body, I don't plan to cut it out entirely. I plan to allow for five celebration days a month (not seven as I found that this was way too many) where sugar consumption can be done in moderation. Starting in 2016, I'll have five celebration days: one day a week, plus a floater celebration day in case anything comes up.

Reducing my sugar consumption this month has really made me more aware of how much sugar affects my body, my mood, and my general inflammation and soreness. It was a great experiment to come up with the seven days that I would allow for sugar consumption in my Dessert-less (-ish) December. During a season of party after party, I really had to prioritize which days would be celebrated with sugar consumption and which would have to be celebrated in other ways.

This is how the breakdown of my seven days went:
  1. December 5th: My Annual Crafting and Cookie Decorating Party
  2. December 13th: Family Friend's Annual Christmas Pancake Brunch
  3. December 16th: Day one of All Staff Retreat For Work
  4. December 19th: Annual Cookie (and Castle Cake) Decorating Day With Nieces
  5. December 22nd: Annual Fancy Christmas Lunch 
  6. December 24th: Christmas Eve Party
  7. December 25th: Christmas Day

My main take aways were these:
  1. I noticed, most drastically, the positive effects of limiting my sugar intake on December 13th because that was the longest period in a row where I did not consume sugar (the 6th through 13th). During the Pancake Brunch I found the syrup and spiced hot apple cider jarring though the pancakes were fabulous as always! (Persimmon pancakes, walnut date pancakes, and lemon pancakes! Yum!)
  2. I really wish that I'd avoided consuming sugar for the entirety of my work All Staff Retreat. I'd allotted for both the 16th and 17th as possible sugar consumption days. I was able to minimize it to only consume sugar one one of the days. I feel that I could very easily have avoided sugar both days, though that is sometimes hard when food is being supplied by an outside source. In the future, I'll prioritize homemade sweets over extremely sweet donuts or other store bought pastries. I found that though it was fun to be able to consume these treats, they were overwhelming and unnecessary. 
  3. Because of the craziness of the holidays, I felt like from December 13th - December 25th, I was eating sugar pretty much every three days or so. Due to consuming sugar so often during that time, I was aware that I felt much more inflamed and generally sorer during that period of the month. 
  4. I will never regret decorating cookies with my nieces or celebrating Christmas day with my family. These two days, above all, are the main days that I could not see myself removing sugar from. Sugar is so integral to both of those celebrations. 
  5. In addition to general inflammation and autoimmune arthritic soreness, on the days after I consumed sugar, I often felt almost as though I had a hangover (even though I no longer consume alcohol).
This is an exact list of all of the sweet things I consumed during those seven days:
Hot spiced apple cider, homemade sugar cookies with and without frosting, a single brownie, candied nuts, a couple chocolate covered graham crackers, maple syrup, a donut, a churro, a single Ferrero Rocher, one dark chocolate dipped pretzel stick, one slice of S'more Pie from Buckeye's, a slice of vegan gingerbread with coconut whipped cream, coconut chocolate pudding, two square of homemade fudge (one made by each of my aunt's who make homemade fudge), gingerbread cookie dough while I was making mini-gingerbread houses for everyone for Christmas dinner, and a slice of homemade chocolate coconut cake (also made by me!).

All in all I think that I did fairly well. It was very hard to cut down to 7 days of sugar consumption in the celebratory month of December. As it was, I felt pressure to add more sugar days here and there. I had to really priorities the days where sugar was integral to the celebrations. In some cases I had to opt out of eating desserts or conversely was guilted in to consuming sugar when I didn't feel I actually really needed it to celebrate. In the future I will find it important to prioritize homemade treats as these really are the best. Often store bought treats are overly sweet and their costs to my joints are not worth it to me.

I believe that anyone can do an (almost) Dessert-less  month and that the more reduce fructose in our diets, the better. In the coming months, I'll continue to share how my sugar reduction is going. In the mean time, best of luck to you as you reduce your sugar intake! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

10 Sugar-Free Stocking Stuffers (For Teens and Adults)

Not just kids have sugar thrust on them all throughout the holiday season, everyone does! Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and all of the sugary goodies leading up to them are hard to avoid. Homemade cookies, cakes, pies, fancy warm adult beverages (if you partake). Not all teens and adults get stockings, but those who do, often find them full of candies, gum, and other sweets just like kids do! So, in an effort to help out Santa and his elves, I've come up with a list of 10 things that he can put in our stockings that won't cause inflammation. 

Some are the same as what I suggested for kids:

1. Flower or herb seed packets!
If your parents are anything like mine, they love to garden. Though we may be deep in the depths of winter, spring is just around the corner. Getting seeds to grow veggies and flowers will give folks a reason to get excited for spring.

2. Nail Polish (or a gift certificate to get a manicure or pedicure)!
Spa day, need I say more?

3. Color Pencils, paints, and crafting supplies!
Just because someone is an adult, doesn't mean they've lost their creativity. Filling stockings with knitting supplies, glue guns, or general art supplies is guaranteed to make many people happy.

Some are more specific to teens and adults:

4. Role of Quarters!
I know that some people will find it crass to give out money for Christmas, but there is nothing more useful than a role of quarters. Particularly college students and folks who live in apartment buildings without laundry machines. Quarters are also helpful for those cities where they have yet to adopt credit card payment options for parking meters.

5. Books!
Though not all books will fit in a stocking, small books will. Over the years Santa has given me many short poetry books, Spanish/English translation books, small dictionaries, and even a novel!

6. Soaps or miniature toiletries!
I love getting toiletries as stocking stuffers! Everyone needs small toothpaste bottles or mini shampoos when they go on vacation. It is sometimes even handy to bring a travel toothbrush or mouth wash to work for those days when you have an important meeting right after you eat your garlic-y leftovers.

7. Tea bags or tea strainers!
Nothing is more calming than tea. Nothing.

8. Tools!
Hammers! Wrenches! Screwdrivers! Measuring tape!

9. USB!
We could all be better about backing our files up and an extra USB in our stocking is a great way to remind us!

10. Fancy Corkscrew or bottle opener!
Whether you're popping open some bubbly or opening a ginger ale, having a bottle opener is an important tool in your adult arsenal.

Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Sugar-Free Stocking Stuffers (for Kids)!

Between Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and all of the treats leading up to it, there seems to be sugar everywhere we go. Hot cocoa, homemade cookies, cakes, pies, and then on top of all of that, there are all of the treats we find in our Christmas stockings. So, in an effort to help out Santa and his elves, I've come up with a list of 10 things that he can put in our stockings that won't cause inflammation. 

1. Flower or herb seed packets!
Though we may be deep in the depths of winter, spring is just around the corner. These seeds will give children something to look forward to and will be fun to watch as they grow.

2. Bubbles!
Children, dogs, cats, and even grown-ups, love bubbles! If Santa puts a bottle of bubbles in your stocking, you're certain to have a good time.

3. Toy cars, trains, or dinosaurs!
These small vehicles and animals are great because they are not only fun to play with but they're great for the imagination.

4. Nail Polish!
Honestly I think this can be given to anyone. Not only is it fun to paint our nails, but the posh is also great for paint jobs of toy cars and other fun creativity.

5. Crayons and Color Pencils!
Kids are super creative and giving them the tools to build up their creativity helps them to feel inspired and motivated.

6. Stickers!
Whether or not they are car stickers, flower stickers, stickers with characters from their favorite movie, sparkly stickers, glow in the dark stickers, or even fuzzy stickers, kids love to decorate their school supplies, their rooms, and even themselves with stickers.

7. Temporary Tattoos!
Temporary tattoos are fun and make kids feel tough. Get them some fun temporary tattoos that they can cover their arms with.

8. Glow in the dark Stars!
I had these as a kid and they were great! They made me feel like every time I was laying in my bed starring up at them, I was looking out in to the great expanding universe!

9. Finger puppets!
Kids can build up their imagining skills by creating whole stories between their puppets.  

10. Mittens or gloves!
For warm fingers on cold days!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recipe: Fructose-Free Swedish Snowball Cookies // Adapted Family Recipe

I am becoming more contentious about my sugar intake to reduce my inflammation.

Despite my desire to fight inflammation and generally be more aware of the effects sugar (fructose) has on my body, it has been hard getting through the holiday season without my holiday go to treats. One treat in particular has been hard to go without: Swedish Snowball cookies. These cookies consist of powdered sugar, SO MUCH BUTTER, walnuts, flour, and really nut much else. They are a tradition in my family and are really only made once a year during the holiday season. 

A christmas without Swedish Snowballs seemed impossible. So, in an effort to think outside of the box, I decided to purchase Dextrose. Dextrose is also called d-glucose and is what our body converts in to energy. So, unlike fructose or sucrose (table sugar usually used in baking), it is not solely absorbed by the liver. 

I did have to make a few adaptations because Dextrose absorbs moisture in a different way than sugar does. 

1 Pound Butter (2 cups)
1 Cup sifted Dextrose
2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/3 Cup almond milk 
4 Cups unsifted flour
1 1/2 Cups chopped walnuts

Note: These directions can be made VEGAN by replacing the pound of butter with a pound of Earth Balance or other butter replacement. 

1. To begin, pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Then use your hand or stand mixer to mix together the pound of butter and cup of sifted Dextrose.

2. Add in the vanilla extract. 

3. Slowly add in the 4 cups of flour. Mix until one solid ball of dough. 

4. If the dough isn't solidifying in to one whole unit, slowly add in the 1/3 cup almond milk.

5. Chop up walnuts.  

6. Add chopped walnuts into the dough until they are evenly distributed.

7. Once the dough is fully incorporated, roll dough in to balls that are approximately one inch in diameter. 

8. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.

9. Let cookies cool for about half an hour or until they are not warm to the touch. 

10. Once cookies are cool, roll them in Dextrose to make them look like they are covered in snow!

11. Enjoy!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and that it helps you get through the holiday season! Adapting this family recipe has really helped me make the holidays better and made me feel like I wasn't missing out on my favorite holiday treat. I like knowing that though there is still a lot of butter and flour in them (and thus, I should still consume them in moderation, at least I know that the sugar I am consuming in the form of Dextrose/Glucose is giving me energy rather than just feeding my sugar addiction and inflammation. Despite the fact that these cookies turned out deliciously, they were nowhere near as sweet as traditional Swedish Snowballs. Though I love eating and enjoying them, I haven't felt an uncontrollable urge to eat all of them at once. 

***Warning: Just because these are made out of all healthy whole foods and natural sugars, does not mean you should eat a crazy ton of them. Just like with regular cookies, you should eat them in moderation. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sugar Confusion

There are three primary forms of sugar:

  1. Glucose 
  2. Galactose
  3. Fructose
These three forms of sugar are not interchangeable. Each is used by the body differently. Some forms of sugar are our life force energy and others are considered by our body to be tantamount to poison. I'm going to try to quickly sum up how each form of sugar works within our body:

  1. Glucose
  2. Galactose
    • Galactose is only found in milk sugar. It is almost instantly turned by our liver in to Glucose. 
  3. Fructose
There is much confusion over the idea that Fructose is bad for us. Because many of us grew up being told that "an apple a day will keep the doctor away," we are not willing to think of fructose as potentially negative. We associate fructose specifically with fruit and we associate fruit with health. When we eat fruit, our body consumes not only fructose, but also fiber. The fiber in fruit helps limit the absorption of fructose. When you refine sugar (which pretty much means that you remove the fiber from the sugar), you absorb the sugar (fructose) all immediately. Your liver becomes overloaded with fructose and ends up converting it in to liver fat. This is why consumption of straight fructose without fiber (fruit juice, soda, honey, agave, sucrose - the combination of glucose and fructose, or generally any time that the naturally occurring fibers that were attached to the fructose are gone) causes us to gain liver fat.  

The more fructose we consume, the harder our body has to work. When we eat too much sugar (read - fructose), our immune cells secret an inflammatory messenger called a cytokines. When cytokines are excreted, our bodies become inflamed. As someone with an autoimmune arthritis who is fighting inflammation constantly, I now monitor my sugar consumption for this reason. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Anti-inflammatory Eating Journey

I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis in 2009. Since that time, I've gone through massive flare ups, long periods with an inability to walk in the mornings, days when I could not climb down steps at all and had to slide down on my butt, massive pain, and so much frustration over the fact that I have to live with an autoimmune arthritis. I was so frustrated about it, in fact, that for the first few years after diagnosis I told very few people what I was going through. I went through the pain alone, fought it, pushed through it, and often made it worse in the process.

I didn't take control of my situation. I felt a victim rather than empowered (I'm happy to say that I now feel empowered). I assumed that whatever a doctor was telling me to do, was the best solution. I'd never met anyone else my age with arthritis. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with that information.

In the past few years though, I've finally shared my story. I have taken control of my experience. I have tried acupuncture (it hardly helped). I've bought orthopedic (but stylish) shoes. I've changed the way I eat.

A few years ago I began to look in to how my diet may be affecting my autoimmune arthritis. I met others with autoimmune diseases. I spoke to them about their diets. I made changes. The first change that I made was to remove lactose and dairy from my diet. In addition to just generally making my digestion work better, I realized that I must actually have been lactose intolerant all along. I do not drink milk, eat cheese, or really consume any dairy products anymore (like ice cream, whipped cream, butter, etc). I feel that removing dairy has impacted my arthritis positively and made my life generally better. 

Despite the fact that removing dairy made a noticeable difference in my health, in 2013 I went through an extremely hard 6 months of flare ups and was having a hard time walking or partaking in my main hobby: swing dance. It was frustrating. So, upon suggestions from a few fellow autoimmune arthritis friends, I decided that I would try to remove gluten from my diet. They all said that it had helped them and I had high hopes that it would help me.  I spent six rather unpleasant months gluten-free. It made literally no difference. I continued to have my worst and most long lasting flare up to date. Going gluten-free was not my solution (much to the relief of my friends and family). It worked for others, but not me.

In the past year, I began to look in to what foods generally cause flare ups and inflammation. I stumbled upon nightshades and a number of other foods to avoid. The prime suspect was sugar. Cutting out sugar seemed hard, though. I love sugar. Like many others, I began to realize that I was pretty darn addicted to sugar. So, I began to look in to what it does to the body. I was shocked. Fructose was pretty much a poison. I'd always been told that an apple a day kept the doctor away and I'd always been told that fruit was fructose. How could it be bad for you? The more and more I read, the more I realized that I needed to cut it out of my life as much as possible. So, last spring I began a challenge where I ate no added sugar OR even things that converted quickly in to sugar. The impact was almost instantaneous. I felt so much better. Unfortunately I was unable to sustain my sugar-free (read fructose-free) lifestyle. In an effort to feel better and generally take control over my body and my health, I've begun the process of really cutting down my sugar intake in a sustainable and manageable way. I'm hoping to get to the point where I only consume a maximum of 5 days of sugar in a month (equaling 60 days of sugar consumption in a year).

I know that sugar reduction isn't the only solution though. I know that I need to avoid other inflammatory foods. I know that I need to take control of my experience with my doctors. I know that I need to continue to try my hardest to make the best of my situation. I am not my arthritis. 

Despite the months and weeks and days of pain that I've gone through since 2009, I am thankful for my arthritis. You read that correctly: I'm thankful for my arthritis. I've had to re-frame my experience. I know that it doesn't make sense, but my arthritis has actually made me a better person.

Reasons I'm thankful for my autoimmune arthritis:
  1. It has forced me to really appreciate when my body is working well and the ways that it moves even when I'm having a rough patch.
  2. It has helped me to become more cognizant of others and both their sufferings and their joys.
  3. It makes me appreciate the people in my life and the adaptations they make to make my life easier.
  4. It causes me to reflect on how my stress and emotions can cause damaging physical effects.
  5. It makes me appreciate dancing and swimming so much more and motivates me to find a solution for my inflammation so that I can continue to feel joy in movement.  
These are only a few of the reasons that I am grateful for my Psoriatic Arthritis. I have built a better sense of empathy from the experience. I have grown so much. I am taking control of my health, my life, and my larger impact on the world. It would be so easy to feel downtrodden by my Psoriatic Arthritis. It would be understandable to be sad. I am not sad, though. I consistently aim to live positively and find the best ways to make my life deliciously joyful despite autoimmune arthritis. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dessert-less December: 1/3 Check In!

We are 1/3 of the way through December, the hardest month to go sugar-free! Just like I recommended to all of you, I chose 6 days that I knew I'd be tempted to consume sugar and left one extra sugar day for any spontaneous celebrations that might come up. For every other day, I've remained diligently sugar-free. On my Sugar-Free Advent Calendar, the strips of purple paper are slipped in to each date that I have gone without sugar. The green slips are placed on any days I'm planning ahead to celebrate and consume sugar.

To keep myself on track, here are some tricks I used:
  1. I allowed for my exception sugar (85% or higher dark chocolate). Though I didn't eat much of it, a small square every day or two, really helped me feel like I wasn't missing out. 
  2. I reminded myself any time that I saw store bought cookies, cakes, pies, or treats (which, unfortunately are around quite often at the office during the holiday season) that homemade holiday treats were so much more worth it! This worked in my favor when, four days in, I was really craving sugar. I was able to look ahead to my pre-planned celebration day on the 5th when I knew that I'd have homemade treats that were much better than any store bought sugary treats I might get to satisfy my mid-afternoon sugar cravings. Waiting until my celebration day was really worth it as I was more able to appreciate the sugar I consumed because I knew everything that went in to it. 
  3. I brought to work my own tea bags, almond milk, and even a larger mug. Often times in the winter months, I'm tempted to go out and buy myself a nice warm cup of almond milk hot cocoa from the cafe across the street from where I work. Instead of doing that (in an effort to both avoid sugar AND save money), I made my own large cups of tea to drink daily.
  4. I brought my own lunch daily as well as small healthy snacks to tide me over in the late afternoons when I often crave sugar.
  5. I did use a celebration day and did not make myself feel guilty for doing so. Because I'd planned ahead for the day, I did not feel like I was going off track. 
See some of the hand decorated holiday cookies my friends and I decorated during my holiday party on my celebration day (I don't generally follow the traditional holiday colors or holiday shapes):

My key takeaways from the first 1/3 of my Dessert-less December are:
  1. My skin is slowly beginning to become more clear. I've found that the more sugar I consume, the less clear my skin becomes. This is partially in reference to general acne, but also in reference to my psoriasis. 
  2. Though the first few days were hard, I've generally become pretty okay with removing sugar. Reading more about Fructose and the effects it has on our body has made me feel more and more like I'm making the right decision in reducing my intake of sugar.
  3. Post-celebration day I was certainly feeling the difference. In past months, I'd cut out sugar and had a similar reaction the days after I'd eat sugar again. This time I felt a strong sense of fatigue and a dull ache in many of my joints that had been less apparent during the sugar-free days leading up to the celebration. Though I generally do have sore joints (due to my psoriatic arthritis), I hadn't had a flare up in a few weeks. 
All in all, I think that the endeavor to minimize my sugar intake has really proven to be the right decision and I hope that I can keep it up for the upcoming 2/3 of the month and ideally in to future months! Over the coming week, I have 3 pre-scheduled celebration days, though I'd like to minimize how many I actually use because three in one week seems a bit much. Ideally, I would cut out one or two of them so that sugar-free days are more spread out. However, I will not let myself feel guilty if I do use them to celebrate, as I've already planned ahead for the celebrations. I hope that you're doing just as well on your Dessert-less December! Let me know if I can help you more in your process of cutting out fructose!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How To Allow For Sugar-Free Folks Who Might Want To Attend Your Party

So, here is the thing: Today was one of my 7 allowed sugar (CELEBRATION) days in December. I threw a festive holiday party and I knew that today represented one of my yearly traditions: My 9th Annual Recyclable Rentable Holiday Party. I did eat sugar, but I also allowed for people to go through the whole party without consuming sugar... if they so chose. Despite the fact that I do not think there was a single attendee that actually did actively avoid sugar, I wanted to make sure to allow for those who might choose to.

Firstly, this was an annual holiday party that I've thrown for nine years. It has evolved over the years but mainly consists of three elements: cookie decorating, christmas card making and crafting, and holiday movie watching. I intentionally separated the room in to three stations: 
  1. SUGAR = My kitchen. This was where the cookie decorating was taking place. I'd made loads of sugar cookies, placed out loads of sprinkles of various shapes and sizes, and displayed bows of colorful frosting. The kitchen was also where you could find the Warm Spiced Apple Cider and Hot Cocoa with the option of marshmallows or peppermint whipped cream.  
  2. SUGAR + SAVORY = The Crafting area. At this table, I placed both brownies and chips. 
  3. SAVORY = The holiday movie watching area. Where I put salsa and chips as well as a variety of veggies and hummus. This way, if folks mindlessly ate while they watched the movie, at least they would be eating fairly healthy stuff and would avoid mindless sugar consumption.
By separating the stations, I gave folks the option to decide if they were going to partake in sugar consumption or not. Also, I noticed that when folks were beginning to feel overwhelmed by their sugar consumption at the cookie decorating station, they'd slowly move toward either the crafting or movie areas. 

In addition to strategically choosing where to place the various foods (sugary or savory), I made sure to have both sugary and sugar-free treats on hand for guests.

Sugary treats:
  1. Warm Spiced Apple Cider (kept warm in a crock pot)
  2. Hot Cocoa - With the option to add mini marshmallows and/or peppermint whipped cream. Also note, that this was only for folks who could eat/drink dairy (also kept warm in a crock pot)
  3. Martinelli's sparkling apple cider
  4. Brownies
  5. Homemade Sugar Cookies, sprinkles, & Frosting to decorate them with
Savory treats:
  1. Mineral water
  2. Tea
  3. Rotisserie chicken
  4. Large Salad with homemade dressing
  5. White bean hummus
  6. Celery
  7. Carrots
  8. Corn chips
  9. Traditional Salsa
  10. Corn Salsa
I do not regret eating sugar today though my body might react to it tomorrow (stupid autoimmune arthritis!). Because this is a celebration that I only throw once a year, I felt that it was worth the sugar intake, particularly because the sugar cookie recipe is a family tradition. Though I did consume sugar, I wanted to make absolutely sure that if someone did not want to consume sugar, they would not have to. 

If you are planning to throw a holiday party this year, I'd highly suggest making options available for those who might want to forgo sugar. Though some folks may love and enjoy consuming sugar, this season can be full of holiday treats almost daily. Some folks might wish to forgo sugar, even if only for one day amongst their piles and piles of holiday parties! You can make that easier for them, by making sure to have sugar-free options at your next holiday party!