Saturday, January 28, 2012

losing weight as a vegan

Purple coneflower or Echinacea Copyright (c) 2000 Wendee Holtcamp

This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Psalm 118:24

I had all this stuff to blog about and I literally completely forgot... what can I say?! Generally, things are good, and I've been feeling SO much better, and am very grateful for that. I was going to give an update on my vegan eating, so I'll stick to that for now. Ive lost 5 pounds in like 30 days! Besides just eating vegan (ie no dairy) for a month, the key things I've changed are:

  • I greatly reduced sugar consumption - to almost nothing. This means using unsweetened soy or almond milk rather than sweetened, and no processed foods with added sugar. I use Stevia to sweeten my tea. If I'm craving something sweet, I either have a cup of tea or grab a "raw ball" from the freezer (see recipe here). These have maple syrup in them, but maple syrup has a lower glycemic index than sucrose (aka table sugar) or high fructose corn syrup. And the weird thing is I tend to crave savory stuff now more than sweet stuff whereas it used to be the opposite. And I will just eat one raw ball and be totally satisfied, whereas before (Christmas time, pre-vegan) I would eat like 6 at a time! On the healthy living Yahoogroup I started recently, I just posted a link to this New York Times article "Is Sugar Toxic?" that I reread recently - wow - scary stuff!

  • I put lemon juice in my first water of the day - supposed to crank digestion.

  • I try not to eat solid food before noon. This is from Crazy Sexy diet. I drink green juice or tea. Not every day, but almost.

  • I've been drinking green tea rather than coffee. Green tea is supposed to help weight loss and it also has threanine which helps depression! I started the vegan thing the last week in December, and since then I have had coffee maybe 5 or 6 times total, whereas before it was twice a day every day. And most of those coffees were in the past 2 weeks when I was coming out of my stricter cleanse. I'm looking to create a healthy diet/lifestyle rather than being on a "Diet" so need to be able to be flexible without returning to totally bad habits! I adore coffee but now it's really a "sweet treat" to me rather than something I need every day. Oh and when I drink coffee, I drink decaf, though I do still get some caffeine from my green tea.

  • Using apple cider vinegar and lime/lemon juice as salad dressing (before I used a low-fat Newman's own vinaigrette and I used it once or twice since I started). However apple cider vinegar is also supposed to help weight loss!

  • During this time, I've had 2 juice fast days which means green juice, tea, or smoothies all day. I actually consider my fast until the sun goes down. After that, I don't gorge but have had something small to eat that’s solid on both the times. I don’t know why I cant just go all day with no solids, cuz ive done all juice (lemonade) cleanses for up to 15 days, but I'm trying to not be too extreme. (Crazy sexy diet - or at least her 21-day crazy sexy cleanse - encourages it once a week).

Well I have a busy day tomorrow, so I better sign off... more later. Cheerio!

thankful for a penny!

Sunset on the Galapagos... Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

"If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days." -Annie Dillard

I am feeling so incredibly much better than I was just a couple weeks ago, like night and day, which is surprising given some happenings in my life, but you just gotta roll with the punches sometimes (and, as the amazing quote says above... when you do not have much in the way of expectations, you are grateful for even the small, tiny , well, 'pennies').

Two weeks ago, I was very much in a pit, which was scaring me... so being the take-charge kind of person I am, I took some steps to turn it around. And thank God, it worked. Primarily I credit the 5-HTP I have been taking (5-hydroxytryptophan) -- an over-the-counter natural herbal remedy that is basically a metabolic precursor to tryptophan (you know, the stuff in turkey) which is then a precursor to serotonin. Many pharmaceutical antidepressants are SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which prevents the serotonin you have from being recycled into something else, but 5-HTP actually creates more. It has been used in Europe for a lot longer than here in the US and there are scientific studies showing it's both safe and effective. I read about it in two books which I checked out from the library (part of my quest to wellness): The Mood Cure and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, which I mentioned a couple weeks ago. Anyway I have had some sadness now and then, but of a totally and completely different nature than "the pit" I was in.

Today, I actually felt one of those little jolts of happy energy and hope you feel sometimes, kind of randomly, and it hasn't gone away since it happened earlier. Praise God! I am hoping that it will stay with me for a while. Other than lifting my sorry a$$ out of my pit through spending time with friends, getting my butt back in church not to mention back in the gym, and doing a few theophostic prayer sessions (kind of like therapy, but with prayer), I've also been up to ...

I started attending a study group at my church for The Good Listener, a book on, well, listening. I want to be a better listener, particularly for my kids. There are about 8 women, all married for a long time and I'm the youngest and the only divorced woman and I thought it might be a little awkward but the discussion seemed good and the book is awesome so far. The first chapter made me cry! It told a story about Helen Keller when she came into a room, holding her rag doll and started wildly pulling the buttons from her grandmother's dress. Her grandmother screamed for help because Helen could be really wild and she was holding Helen's baby sister at the time. The father came in, frustrated, and her brother meanly said she should be locked up like the animals. Only her mother kept saying, "No, Wait! Wait! Helen is trying to tell us something. That's it! That's it! She wants her rag doll to have eyes." The mom sewed button eyes on the rag doll and Helen held the doll close and rocked it in her arms, calm and peaceful. The way it's written and the scene is so moving. The power of listening -- not just to the words but to the whole, big picture... to really see a person, as they are trying with their limited vocabulary and communication toolset to be heard and understood, and to have someone take the time to truly understand - to "see" what others may miss for lack of concern, busyness or impatience -- this is a beautiful gift we can offer to people. And I want to be a better listener. There are certainly times when I am a good listener, to friends in particular. But when the situation is challenging - usually family (as they say families put Miracle-Gro on our character defects!), then it can be another story.

I also applied to attend the Knight Science Journalism Food Boot Camp fellowship at MIT (never been to Massachusetts!) - wish me luck! With my obvious passion for food, it should be just a perfect opportunity to dig in and learn more and get some great story ideas, too. I really hope I get in! I may apply for the Vermont Law School Summer Media Fellowship also, and maybe the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting fellowship in Rhode Island. All three sound super fantastic and I'd be thrilled to get into any of them. I love marine science and ecology, naturally, given my educational background and writing history for the past 17 years, but that's also the area I probably least need to "learn" from others in. On the other hand, there are always good story ideas to be had, and networking, and they are a lot of fun. I was accepted for the Scripps Howard Institute on the Environment in Jupiter, Florida in 2006, which was fantastic! In fact, several of us were reunited at the recent SEJ conference in Miami.

And I've been continuing on the (mostly) vegan, low sugar, healthy eating kick and have lost five pounds without even trying - yay! I'll give some more updates and recipes soon. It's time for bed - peace out!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

sadly mistaken

Oh how this song resonates in my soul right now... one of my favorites - heartrending and beautiful, from my favorite singer of all time, Alanis.

"Simple Together"

You've been my golden best friend
Now with post-demise at hand
Can't go to you for consolation
Cause we're off limits during this transition

This grief overwhelms me
It burns in my stomach
And I can't stop bumping into things

I thought we'd be simple together
I thought we'd be happy together
Thought we'd be limitless together
I thought we'd be precious together
But I was sadly mistaken

You've been my soulmate and then some
I remembered you the moment I met you
With you I knew god's face was handsome
With you I saw fun and expansion

This loss is numbing me
It pierces my chest
And I can't stop dropping everything

I thought we'd be sexy together
Thought we'd be evolving together
I thought we'd have children together
I thought we'd be family together
But I was sadly mistaken

If I had a bill for all the philosophies I shared
If I had a penny for all the possibilities I presented
If I had a dime for every hand thrown up in the air
My wealth would render this no less severe

I thought we'd be genius together
I thought we'd be healing together
I thought we'd be growing together
Thought we'd be adventurous together
But I was sadly mistaken

Thought we'd be exploring together
Thought we'd be inspired together
I thought we'd be flying together
Thought we'd be on fire together
But I was sadly mistaken

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning to be the light

The light! Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

This song is my favorite on the Christian radio right now (KSBJ) and it has so much meaning to me... let me know what you think.

Learning to Be the Light by Newworldson

When the stars came crashing down
In tiny pieces to the ground
I was all alone down here
Trapped beneath the atmosphere
Then I, thought somebody called my name
I spun around and caught a flame
I gave into a God I didn't know
And now everything is falling into place
A brand new life is calling and I owe it all to grace

It's so much brighter living in your world
Savior what you did for me
You gave me something I want everyone to see
When we stumble and it all goes wrong
Only you can make it right
So I say
Oh oh oh oh oh
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa

When a heart is cold as ice
You can't melt it with advice
No one wants to listen to
A list of things they shouldn't do
So I build a city on a hill
And I light a candle on the sill
Knowing you'll be always knocking at the door
Oh God I just want to love on everyone
All I have is yours to give so let the people come

It's so much brighter living in your world
Savior what you did for me
You gave me something I want everyone to see
When we stumble and it all goes wrong
Only you can make it right
So I say
Oh oh oh oh oh
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
im learning to be the light

that makes the shadows hide
the light that breaks the curse of pride
the light that takes the weary in it's arms

When it all came crashing down
There was only darkness all around
But in the distance I could see
A Flame

It's So much brighter living in your world
Savior what you did for me
You gave me something I want everyone, and I mean everyone to see
When we stumble and it all goes wrong
Only you can make it right
So I say
Oh oh oh oh oh
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light
whoa, whoa
I'm learning to be the light

Monday, January 16, 2012

vegan living, recipes and mood

Long live veggies! I started getting organic veggies from a local co-oop - this is my first order. For just $18 I got 3 pounds of apples, 7 pounds zucchini (for Zukamole), 3 bunches of kale, one romaine lettuce, 1 greenleaf lettuce, 1 celery - not bad! It all looked really healthy and vibrant too.

Hi pumpkins - how is everyone? I've been cooking up a storm. I've been vegan for 3 weeks now, and have cut processed sugar totally out (will have the occasional raw ball - recipe below) and coffee (ok to be honest, I have had about 4 or 5 cups throughout the entire time, but not one every morn and night the way I used to! And most of these have been this past week...) So all in all, quite a change for me since I have a major sweet tooth. I can't say I feel all that energetic and clear-headed the way a lot of people say they do when they go vegan, or cut sugar out (though I already was vegetarian so it wasn't a huge change). I do love the food, and the recipes are delicious and fun to make, but I am trying to create a lifestyle/diet that I can live with rather than going on a "diet" per se. So it's an experiment. I have actually been really down lately, and not sure what is all going on there. However, I got a couple books from the library (including Change Your Brain Change Your Life which I'd read before during my post-divorce depression- and the other book by the same author Making a Good Brain Great by Daniel Amen, MD and I also skimmed The Mood Cure by Julia Ross which a naturopathic doc friend of mine recommended) - and through reading I realized a few things. One, we naturally gravitate towards sugar and starchy carbs for a serotonin boost. I was doing this A LOT in my "previous life" and the other thing is that meat, milk, cheese have building blocks for many brain proteins. So since I cut out 95% of my sugar (and all white, refined sugar), plus all milk/dairy at the same time (I used to have a major ice cream kick going on) plus I'm vegetarian so no meat.... I'm wondering if all these things aren't affecting my mood... Has that happened to anyone else going vegetarian/vegan or cutting out sugar? Did it change after a certain amount of time passed?

So, I decided to start taking 5-HTP - a supplement that is a precursor to serotonin and clinical studies show it works. In fact in Europe they give it as a prescription. So... we'll see if it helps. I have to say that depression is a very real thing and I believe it has both biological and psychological roots - not one or the other only... In fact the two books by Daniel Amen he pioneered brain imagery for people experiencing different psychological issues including depression and how they changed back after either meds, natural supplements, or various other techniques. The one main thing that stuck with me from the post-divorce-depression read of that book was to "stamp out the ANTS" and ANT=automatic negative thoughts. And I have always had a lot of ANTS! So I'm working on that... the trick is to totally STOP the thought in process when you catch it, but also to replace it with a positive thought. I sometimes can stop the ANTs, but I always have trouble with the positive part... I always thought I was more Winnie the Pooh but now I think I'm more Eeyore...

I have been better the past couple days. But if you ever have a friend experiencing serious depression, here is an amazing and helpful article from CNN Health - How to Save a Friend from the Brink, sent by my friend who said just what I needed to hear at the right time. I love my friends so much, and I have to say there are a hell of a lot of people who don't have any idea how to respond to someone in that much pain. Usually they ignore it, thinking it's not serious, even when you tell them it is. It's society's fault, I suppose, but do yourself a favor and go read that - and let someone in your life who is down know "you matter to me." I mean it - do it now! :) (It wouldn't hurt to tell me, while you're at it!) :)

With that, I'll leave you with some recipes that have kept me occupied. I cooked for hours on Sunday and then again today. One of my secrets to sticking to the vegan lifestyle is to have prepared salads and recipes in the fridge at any given time, so instead of grabbing the corn chips, you have a lot of healthy options - dehydrated kale chips (I've got some drying now!), Mediterranean salad with cukes and tomatoes, toasted quinoa and some beans for protein.
This is what my counter looked like earlier when I was prepping about 5 recipes at once! I made green juice, a huge salad (aka bowl of health), kale chips, and the Mediterranean cucumber-tomato-caper salad. And see below for three of my favorite recipes!

Cauliflower Steaks
I made these the other day - easy peazy.

1/2 a head of cauliflower
one fennel bulb
Olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Slice the cauliflower as you would cut a loaf of bread, making 1/2"-3/4" thick slices, two per person. (Now I don't know if there is some special way to do this so that the cauliflower actually stays together as a "steak". Mine kind of fell apart. But it still tasted great!) Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little oil. Sprinkle with parsley, cheese, salt and pepper. Cut fennel into slices and either bake on a separate dish or together with the cauliflower. (I've never roasted fennel but it is DELICIOUS! I love it raw in salads - it is the same thing as anise and has a slight licoricey taste but when roasted it doesn't. It really adds to the flavor with the cauliflower) You can save the green leafy top part and use it in salads, or in green juice! I use pretty much every part of every vegetable in my house...
Roast steak till golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Flip the slices, drizzle with a bit more oil and roast an additional 10-12 minutes, until browned and tender.

This is what it looks like before you put it in the oven, I didn't get a post-cooking version but Oh. My.God they are SOOOOO good! Both kids loved them too! Ding ding ding we have a winner!!! Next up...

Green Power Soup
1 c cucumber chopped
1 c celery chopped
3 c kale chopped
½ c carrot juice
1 zucchini chopped
2 T lime juice, or lemon
1 T chili powder
2 cloves garlic
2 t flax oil, or olive oil
½ t jalapeno
1 t Celtic Salt
½ c red bell pepper diced
½ c tomato diced
½ c avocado diced

In a high-speed blender, blend cucumber, celery, kale, carrot, zucchini, lime, chili powder, garlic, flax oil, jalapeno and salt. Hand mix in the red bell pepper, tomato and avocado (I didnt do this - I just added it in the blender. I also added about 1" ginger root, and about 1 additional Tablespoon lime juice).
I only used a tiny amount of jalapeno but this pepper must have been spicy because the soup is spicy! I like it spicy but it was interesting - glad I didn't add more! It was really good! Kind of like blended together gazpacho. Serve cold, of course, since it's a raw soup.
(Almost...) Raw Balls!
Makes 10 - 12 (or 24 if you make smaller balls...)

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup raw carob powder (if you can't find raw, regular is fine- that's what I used)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup almond butter (raw almond butter IF you want the recipe raw, obviously)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (I forgot this - oopsie!)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup whole almonds
2 cups shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1. Place the walnuts in a food processor & process until coarsely ground. Add the dates & pulse until well combined with the nuts.

2. Add the carob powder, maple syrup, almond butter, & salt. Process until mixture is thick & smooth.

3. Add the almonds, pulse a few times until combined, but you want them to remain in crunchy chunks so do not over process.

4. Form into golf-size balls with your hands. Roll the balls in coconut, unsweetened carob or unsweetened cocoa powder (I used carob for some and coconut for others).

The dough looks like this in the food processor. It sort of reminds me of the "energy nuggets" you can buy at Whole Foods and grocery store bulk sections. But better!

4. Place in a sealed container in the freezer until hardened.
Ta da! I eat them right out of the freezer and they're so good! In fact, before I cut out sugar, like during the Christmas holiday when I made these along with the truffles, and even my 1 "pre-clease week" (when I cut out dairy, MOST sugar but not coffee yet and not all sugar ie I had some soy ice cream, that kind of thing) - I would eat like 6 or more of these... now I can have one or max two and I'm totally satisfied. Trust me, that's huge progress!
Now go tell someone you love that they matter to you!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Did Tap Water Cause Lou Gehrig's ALS?

Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring - colored by cyanobacteria.
Copyright (c) 2011 Wendee Holtcamp

I wanted to mention my latest article in Miller-McCune Magazine - a story I am particularly proud of - not only because I think it's a compelling and interesting article, but because the topic is one that I've been following for a long time and it has important implications for human health. I first met the subject of the article, Dr Paul Cox, when I was a graduate student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Rice University when he gave a seminar there in 2004 on this topic and I was thoroughly wowed. Any story that involves fruit bats, pond scum and brain diseases has gotta be good, right? Paul is also a great guy, very passionate about helping people and the planet, a fantastic writer (check out his book Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rainforest) and really a brilliant man.

In a nutshell - neurotoxins produced by cyanobacteria ("blue-green algae") may be causing neurodegenerative diseases, like ALS and Alzheimer's. Yep that's right! Read the story - you may not want to eat shrimp and crabs much longer! I wrote another article on this subject in 2009 for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine - Blue-Green Mystery - and I have one coming soon on the topic for Environmental Health Perspectives (just turned it in - love that feeling!).

I hope this story helps bring more awareness to this important subject, which certainly merits more study and attention. And remember when I visited Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming to report the story last September? So go read it, comment, Facebook it, Tweet it, and you will make me a very happy camper! Let me know what you think!

Was Lou Gehrig’s ALS Caused by Tap Water?

A toxic molecule found in pond scum may trigger neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s. Could a group of scientists, led by a botanist, hold the key to a cure?

The story begins...

Rudyard Kipling called it “Hell’s Half Acre,” a geothermal wonderland where people could fall through the Earth’s thin crust or be poached by steamy hot springs and geysers. Most visitors to Yellowstone National Park’s Midway Geyser Basin stroll the wooden boardwalks, but a few hike a short, steep side trail that reveals a bird’s-eye view of the entire valley, including Grand Prismatic Spring, which can be fully appreciated only from above. Mustard-yellow and vibrant-orange mats spread like tentacles from the turquoise pool. “Not even the most talented artist could imagine something as beautiful as that,” muses Sandra Banack, a biologist who studies cyanobacteria, the microbes that create the colorful mats — and that hold a toxic secret.

Click over to continue reading!